Four survivors of a World War II Japanese prison camp are the subjects of this gripping story.
Colton (Counting Coup: A Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn, 2000) picks up his subjects at a young age. While they came from different parts of the country and different backgrounds, they had in common impoverished childhoods and were hit hard as the Depression took its toll on their families. Chuck Vervalin, from upstate New York, dreamed of becoming a harness race driver; Bob Palmer, from Oregon, joined the Navy when his girlfriend dropped him after she entered college; Texan Tim McCoy figured the Navy would be easier than the four jobs he was working to support his mother; Canadian-born Gordy Cox, growing up in Washington State, dropped out of school because the work was too hard. All ended up on the U.S.S. Grenadier, a submarine patrolling off Malaya early in the war. Bombed by a Japanese plane, its captain and crew were taken prisoner in April 1943. From then until the end of the war, more than two years later, they were imprisoned, beaten, tortured, starved and forced to work in Japanese factories. Colton tells their stories in unflinching detail, looking at their different survival stragegies. McCoy played the tough guy, even taking on one of the guards in a wrestling match; Cox tried to fade into invisibility. Liberated after the Japanese surrender, they returned to their lives in the United States, looking for a new, normal life. The author follows them for a short time, then jumps to the present day, wrapping up their stories in a final epilogue chapter for each man. All showed signs of what in more recent veterans would have been diagnosed as PTSD, though they would have rejected that term. All had marital troubles, and all were at one point heavily dependent on alcohol. But each of them made it into their 80s with full mental acuity, and Colton has given them a fine last chance to tell their stories.
A compelling glimpse into forgotten World War II history.