The plight of three brothers and their mother during one of the most shameful episodes of World War II.
The abandonment of American servicemen in the defense of the Philippines in 1942 propelled Freeman—a former speechwriter and public relations executive and current board chair of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland—to re-create the tragic story of her uncle, Barton Cross, who suffered a long imprisonment in Japanese POW camps. In a fluid, restrained, and deeply researched narrative, the author returns to the awful chaos just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when Cross, a Supply Corps officer on the submarine tender USS Otus, was wounded by shrapnel in the subsequent Japanese air attack on Cavite Navy Base, Manila, and inexplicably left behind by his ship at Sternberg Hospital. Moreover, while Gen. Douglas MacArthur had ordered the evacuation of the Army wounded on the last vessel to depart Manila before the city fell to the Japanese, the 30-some Navy wounded were again neglected. They were eventually transported over the next three years—along with thousands of other captured American servicemen—from one miserable Japanese POW camp to another. “The macabre displays,” writes Freeman, “were intended to humiliate the captured Americans and brandish the new Japanese dominion over the Filipinos.” Meanwhile, Cross’ two older half brothers, Benny and Bill, “lifelong protectors” and “Annapolis-minted officers,” along with their mother, Helen, frantically lobbied to find news of their lost brother, as conditions in the camps were notoriously bad, and several of the POW ships were bombed late in the war by U.S. attacks. Freeman has reopened the long-closed inquiry into her uncle’s account and scoured the diaries and letters that Helen wrote to Washington, D.C., as well as those written by fellow prisoners. The result is an obvious labor of love, a touching, suspenseful, and deeply troubling story of one family’s patriotic devotion and betrayal.
A grieving family ultimately finds closure in this meticulously researched and compelling history.