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|December 13, 1999
Below is a transcript of the fifth part of our interview with Mr. James Allen. Questions are in italics. Links to the sound files are in QuickTime format (see the righthand column for more information). Our sound files are provided in two versions, "Good" or "Better." The former is a faster download, but of lower quality than the latter.
I was in charge of the carpenters' shop for a while, so I got pretty well acquainted with the Japanese. And, so I asked this little lieutenant who was in charge of the carpenters' shop, telling him that the carpenters worked real hard and could we have this plot of ground between the brick wall and the electric fence, where our shop was -- if we could have that for a garden. Oh my, yes, he would, he'd get us the seeds and everything, because it was the Emperor, he wanted you to do that -- so whatever the Emperor wanted, theyd do. So we had a garden, we canned tomatoes, we raised tomatoes, cabbage. And of course, the Japanese mess sergeant, he had the Taiwan -- or the Formosans at that time -- to come over and get our carrots. So the carpenters, they didn't like that, so they went out there and bumped them out the road and started gathering them too. And then, somebody come to get me and I got the little lieutenant and he come around, and he stopped the whole game. [Laughs.] He settled it by letting the prisoners keep what carrots they'd pulled and the Formosans keep what they'd pulled. So we didn't get all of our carrots.
We made sauerkraut that year, and had one great big meal of sauerkraut for all the carpenters, in the tin shop. And tomatoes -- now, believe it or not, there's nothing in China at that time; I mean, you had to look hard to find anything. But we'd raised the tomatoes, we had more tomatoes than we could eat, and you had to cook them. So, the Red Cross, the repatriation boat -- they had brought a bunch of medicine and clothing, and -- blood plasma come in a gold can about two and a half inches in diameter and maybe six inches tall, and in that was a vial or a glass bottle of blood plasma. So, I got the idea that those things would be good to can tomatoes in -- they had a nice silver lining in them. And they took the top off like on the old coffee cans, a little key, you'd run around. So we went up to the hospital and had them save those for us. And of course the fellows in the tin shop, why, they fixed it so they could get that lid on the -- they krinkle the top of the lid, put that lid on it. And they could have a fire, which nobody else could, on account of for soldering and what have you. So we put the tomatoes in those cans and they fixed the lids on them and soldered them up. Then we'd put them in this five-gallon can of water, and just boil them and boil them -- I don't know how long, but plenty a long time. So then after we got that done, then we had to hide the tomatoes. So we managed to hide them, and we managed to keep them, and that winter we eat them. [Laughs.]
Can you remember a little bit about what happened at the very end of the war? What occurred to get you out of the camp, and how did you know that the war was over?
On the night of August the Thirteenth, coming home from the docks where we worked in Niigata -- we got home that evening. The Japanese started towards the hills, down the road, or on the road by our camp. Anything that had wheels, or that could pull it someway or another, they had belongings on it. And small children, if they could walk, they had a pack on their back. The mother --the father, he had the least of all. The women and the kids had to do the work. They was going by that night, headed for the hills, night of the Thirteenth.
Now August Fourteenth is my birthday. So I went to work that morning, and on the way to work, through this Japanese village or whatever you want to call it -- they had a bathhouse, a large bathhouse on one side, and two-story buildings, quite a settlement. Well when we went to work on the morning of the Fourteenth, the only noise that was there or activity was the wind blowing the shutters or the windows that had been left open. It was real eerie -- nobody around. And always before, there was all kinds of activity going to and from the bathhouse or what have you.
We worked all day. Then the next day was my day to stay in camp, on the Fifteenth. My number was 965, so the "5" -- two days a month I got to stay in camp and wash my clothes and what have you. "Rest," as they called it. That was the Fifteenth, I was home in the barracks.
In the morning there was a B-29 [American bomber plane] flew over, lone one, way high. Very eerie that morning, because everything was quiet, there was no activity -- there was a foundry across the road from us, but it was shut down. So in a little while, why, there was something fell out of the bottom of this B-29 and it was the most weird looking thing -- it really shook you up, or it did me -- as it come out, because as it started down, it started changing shapes. Further down it got, different shapes. It was an awful long time before we finally figured out what it was: it was leaflets. They'd dropped a bunch of leaflets. And they'd done a much better job on that than they did with laying mines, because those leaflets, by the time they got to the ground, they was right at the edge of town and I mean they went clear across the town, beautiful job. Now it was in Japanese, and I still to this day dont know what they actually said.
So at noon here come the men that was at work, because at noon the Emperor had made a radio address, telling the people to surrender and suffer the worst, or whatever -- I forget just how he stated it. So here come the men home from work. And they said that all the Japanese that they'd seen down there that was in front of a radio was standing at rigid attention while the Emperor was making his speech. So when he [the Emperor] got done, why, when the men got done with their lunch, why, they come home. Everybody come home to camp. And of course that's when we found out that it was actually over. And the Japanese people -- it was just like the Emperor making the speech, it was just like you turning the water faucet off in the kitchen. The war was over, just like that.