80-Kilo Camp, Burma

Four soldiers who survived the sinking of the USS Houston, and survived 20-kilo and 40-kilo camps, finally reached their limit at 80-kilo camp. The cause of death of one man, a sergeant who’d been part of a Marine contingent on the USS Houston, was listed as anorexia nervosa.

It’s amazing any were left to go on. But go on they did, to camps 100-kilo, 105-kilo, and 114-kilo, doing 16-20 hour workdays on starvation rations and no medical care.

40 Kilo Camp, Burma

Eventually, the POW camps in Java are emptied as the prisoners are shipped to Burma to complete a 258-mile-wide gap of the Burma-Thai railroad.

At this point, a little over halfway, Ship of Ghosts becomes a completely different kind of story. Instead of sea battles, we are dealing with jungles and malaria and dysentery.

Self has developed a habit of looking up each new name in the Appendix, to see if that person made it or not. It just occurred to her that of course that person made it; otherwise, they wouldn’t be giving interviews to James D. Hornfischer!

The Appendix was useful in another way, though: to fix the number of POWS who died in Burma. There was a pattern: the dying began in 80 kilo camp, but increased as one got to a higher-numbered camp: 100-kilo camp, 105-kilo camp, and 114-kilo camp (She didn’t see anything higher than 114-kilo camp — so the railroad was still unfinished at the end of the war)

The men at 40-kilo camp were lucky: a Dutch doctor named Henri Hekking volunteered to be sent there. Born in Surabaya to Dutch parents, Hekking’s grandmother was “a committed herbalist and healer, who set him on the path of studying native medicine.” He was captured at the Dutch hospital in Timor and became a POW. He began hearing of the plight of the men building the Burma-Thai railroad and offered to perform medical services on the line. When he showed up at 40-kilo camp, he became the “on-site medical caretaker.” Once there, he began “the most challenging kind of solo practice.”

p. 264:

  • He knew that palmetto mold could be used like penicillin, that pumpkin could be stored in bamboo stalks, femented with wild yeast, and used to treat men suffering from beriberi (it got them pleasantly drunk to boot). Tea brewed from bark contained tannins that constricted the bowels and slowed diarrhea. Wild chili peppers had all sorts of beneficial internal applications.

Another quick look at the Appendix: NO DEATHS in 40-kilo camp! Either there were no American POWs there, or Hekking managed to save them.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Staff Sgt. Roy M. Offerle of the Thirty-Sixth Infantry Division, Texas National Guard

Bicycle Camp, Java:

The survivors of the USS Houston and the Perth all end up being captured and siphoned to different POW camps around Southeast Asia. One day in May 1942, the USS Houston POWs in Bicycle Camp were joined by four-hundred-odd American infantry, who marched into camp “in full dress . . . hauling duffles and all manner of diverse equipment.” So splendid was their appearance that the Houston survivors at first thought they were being rescued. The sad truth came out only later. It turned out that the battalion was ordered to surrender by the Dutch Governor General, who sent a message to the US commander, telling him “It is useless to attempt an escape. There is no way out.” (I tell ya, Hornfischer really makes the Dutch look like out-and-out cowards, at least the ones in Dutch colonial government in Java were)

This Infantry Division was made up entirely of Texans (The Army, unlike the Navy, fostered regionalism: “Each of its batteries was drawn from a single town — D Battery from Wichita Falls, E Battery from Abilene, F Battery from Jacksboro . . . and so on.”) They had a particular brand of Texan humor, too.

Staff Sgt. Roy M. Offerle, p. 202:

  • At a train station, the Americans were presented to a Japanese officer who made a welcoming speech. “I guess that was the first time I’d heard a Jap or heard them speaking . . . He would scream and holler and yell, and then the interpreter would say, ‘The commander says he is very happy to see you.’ Then he would scream and holler like he was threatening to kill us, and then they would say, ‘You will soon go to a camp.’

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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