A searing chronicle of the indomitable courage of an American POW as he struggles to survive the cruel, inhumane, and often sadistic treatment meted out by his Japanese captors.
Poet/songwriter Pearson’s inspiring account is also a timely reminder that the American experience in the Far East in WWII is not particularly well known. Relying on newspaper clippings about Navy corpsman Estel Myers, as well interviews with his family and veterans who served in the Pacific, Pearson makes Myers’s story the centerpiece of what is as much a biographical narrative as a mini-history of the war. In 1938, young Estel Myers, the eldest of a sharecropping family, left their failing farm in Kentucky, enlisted in the navy, and trained as a hospital corpsman. In 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was stationed in the Philippines. When the Japanese captured Manila, where he was working in a military hospital, he became, together with thousands of other Americans left behind by the retreating US army, a POW. The Japanese, who had not signed the Geneva Convention, tortured and starved prisoners—food was often a thin soup and a few grains rice—provided scanty medical supplies so that surgery on the wounded was frequently performed without anesthesia, and forced the relatively healthy to work punishing hours as slave laborers. Myers cheerfully took care of the sick and wounded as best he could, but in 1944, his optimism was tested when, along with 1,600 other prisoners, he was marched through Manila and into the hold of a freighter, where there was only standing room. Pearson graphically relates how the ship came under American fire near the Bataan coast, and Myers and the other surviving prisoners had to swim ashore. Myers, emaciated and malnourished, next endured an equally hellish voyage to Japan, where he cared for the sick under impossible conditions. Released after the Japanese surrender, Myers weighed 60 pounds, his health permanently ruined.
A stirring but fair account of courage in the face of infamous behavior.