Memoir of a Civilian POW
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Questions & Answers
Below are questions submitted by the public and answered by Mr. Allen. Questions are in italics. If you would like to ask Mr. Allen a question, send your messages to

Q&A Last Updated Thu, Mar 16, 2000, 12:10:19 PM.

What was the reaction of the civilians and the Marines on Wake when they learned of the voyage of the Saratoga Battle Group to relieve the besieged garrison on the island? Did you know of the Saratoga Battle Group, and even when carrier-borne aircraft appeared over Wake Island did you ever think the battle group would turn around without a fight?

The Saratoga's airplanes never got to Wake. We knew that there was a battle group coming. We also knew later that there was not going to be a battle group coming. Our reaction? Disappointed. We found out that the Saratoga Battle Group was not coming on the 22nd of December, just one day before we were captured.

What do you consider the best book written on the subject?

There are many good books on the subject. The best ones as far as I go (telling what is was like) are: Major Devereaux' book, Cunningham's book, and one by General John Kenney -- his was called Wake Island Pilot. The others, I don't know their [the books'] names off hand.

Why were the Marine garrison and the civilians not evacuated or reinforced between December 7 and December 23?

Obviously, we were besieged. Hindsight says that we should have been evacuated, but we did not know the damage on Pearl Harbor, we also did not know the real danger we were in. We thought we were wining the battle on a few occasions. We ran the Japanese off on the 11th of December. However we also knew after a while that we would have been caught. The reasons the Marines surrendered was (1) they ran out of ammunition, (2) the civilians, (3) there were no airplanes. The Marines were all tearful when they surrendered, and to this day some of them say they would have fought to the end, if there were no civilians on Wake Island.

What types and amounts of food were typically provided for the prisoners? How was food allocated or divided among the prisoners? Did this change over the course of the war?

Rice was the staple food three times a day. We got a teacup per meal. The prisoners cooked the food in large steal cauldrons. To get the food, selected prisoners in each barracks section had a bucket, which they filled with rice, another the same way with green tea, and finally (sometimes we got this) a bucket of stew. To serve the food, the servers had a long handled teacup, which they used to scoop out the rice and serve the tea. The true art for the servers when dishing out the stew was to get an equal amount of the meat and vegetables for each prisoner. Needless to say there were many fights over the equality of food distribution. We called our meals, "Tea Stick, Rice Stick, and Soup Stick".

What happened if a prisoner became ill? Why was the death rate for prisoners so high in general?

If a prisoner was ill, the first thing the Japanese would do was cut their ration of food. This was done under the Imperial Japanese Army mandates for prisoners of war. The prisoners did not like that, so we never would let on someone was ill until it was necessary to go to the prison camp hospital. Somehow the people who worked in the hospital gave the sick more, or just as much food ration as a healthy person well received.

The death rate among prisoners was so high because of lack of food, especially in the Philippine. The common diseases that usually killed prisoners were malaria, dysentery, and, believe it or not, the common cold. In fact the Japanese Commander died of malaria in Woosung China, so even the Japanese were not safe from disease. However, the Japanese had plenty of quinine to treat malaria, but lack of food weakens the immune system something terrible. I contracted malaria in 1942, and as you know, you have malaria forever. Dysentery was bad in the camps, the medicine the Japanese provided was a small envelope of powered charcoal. If a prisoner could not see a doctor for dysentery they ate burnt rice, and drank green tea. I got dysentery many times in prison camp. I was just lucky that it never got worse.

Concerning the lack of food causing death, when I stared my internment I weighted 185, at the end of the war I weighed 130. I was lucky. Being a carpenter I did not have too much physical work. Some prisoners lost almost one hundred pounds or more because of lack of food. [Mr. Allen is 6’3"]

What were your impressions of the Japanese people when you were first captured? How did your views change over time? When you got back to the U.S. after the war, how was your impression the same or different from Americans at home?

When I was first captured…I never saw a Japanese person before so it was quite an experience. American propaganda made me and everyone else believe that we were better than they were. They looked funny to us, their uniform was little, they had mustaches, and they were so short. I was quite a shock at first. At first I did not like them for obvious reasons of capturing me.

Later, after a while of getting to know the customs of the Japanese, their culture was still different from mine. But I remember and practiced the old saying, "when in Rome do as the Romans do." this helped me understand them further. After knowing the Japanese, I noticed that some were nice and some were just bad. Just as you would find in any group of people, regardless of race. One time, I made something for a Japanese solider and when I gave him his item, I bowed to him. He bowed to me, and then he shock my hand in appreciation. Not many prisoners can say that. Just as I said, there are good people and bad everywhere.

In the United States after I returned , I noticed that the American people had no use for the Japanese. They thought that they were stupid. They had nothing but hate for the Japanese people…pity.

What did you know about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki while you were a prisoner? Considering the entire debate among historians about the bomb, with your understanding of the Japanese, do you think using the bomb was the correct strategy to win the war?

I knew nothing about the dropping of the bomb until after I was liberated and on my way home.

I think that the dropping of the bomb was the correct thing to do. It is my understanding that the Japanese officials did not want to surrender. I do know, first hand, that Japan was out of food. Some of the Japanese people had to eat their pets for food. I remember hearing a story from some of the prisoners who worked at a steal mill, that the Japanese soldiers were hunting rats and eating them, in order to have a meal at the end of the war. So Japan was out of food, and things would have gotten ugly if the bomb did not drop.

Another reason the bomb was good was that it saved a lot of lives, Japanese and American. If the U.S. did not drop the bomb there would not have been an unconditional surrender. This is because the Americans would not have had a successful invasion, and if the invasion would not have been successful, then the surrender treaty, if there were one, would have been very different.

Also the invasion was scheduled for October of 1945. In October of 1945 there was a typhoon. The U.S. navy lost some ships during that typhoon. If there were ships filled with soldiers, than many of them would have been lost.

Also, the Japanese were prepared to fight to the last man. Many people would have died.

The bomb was a Godsend. Most importantly I think that the bomb was a good idea because there were orders by the Japanese to execute every prisoner the second that the allied forces touched Japanese soil. So I like the bomb.

When did you learn about the Japanese internment in the U.S.? What is your opinion of this U.S. policy?

I knew about the Japanese internment when I was a prisoner of war. I read in a Japanese newspaper in English. The Japanese gave us propaganda telling us about the Great Imperial Japanese Army, telling us about how mean and bad the United States were to the Japanese.

My opinion was that there was no other thing that the government could do. I think that the internment may have saved Japanese lives because of riots in Japanese communities. I have to say that the Japanese did a good job proving their American loyalty. I think that it is great how they helped the war effort. However, I think that once the war was over, the government should have paid the people for their land and time of internment promptly. They should have been compensated sooner. That was a shame, since the Japanese proved that they were Americans.

What is you opinion of MacArthur?

When I was in Niigata some of the prisoners there were part of the Battan Death March. They did not like him. One of the prisoners was in charge of loading MacArthur’s escape boat. He said that he loaded all kinds of valuable items, when he should have been loading people. From what I have read about the guy, I do not like him.

Hello, my name is Irene Brown. My father was one of the civillians that were captured on Wake Island. I know that there were alot of men on the island but I thought that I might ask if you knew my father? His name was John R. Brown and he was from Idaho. He passed away two years ago and he never would talk about his time as a POW. I would like to learn more about his time as a POW and perhaps it will let me understand my father a little better. His brother was also on the island, his name was Robert E. Brown. Any information you could give me would be greatly apprciated.

Unfortunately, I never knew your father or brother. It is a shame about growing old that sometimes your life story is not shared in time. Many of the POWs that I know in both theaters share their story of internment as a form of therapy, however some cannot talk about it. Some people I know still have nightmares. If you want to learn about the POW experience I suggest reading "Guests of the Emperor" -- that might help you understand your father.

1. As you and my father were both carpenters, were you in the same barracks?

No, we were in different barracks. I was in barracks 4 section 4, while your father was in barracks number 3.

2. Were most of the carpenters of your age group or that of my father?

Most of the carpenters were your father's age (42) or in their forties. I was really young for this kind of work, because to even go to Wake Island one needed to have at least ten years of carpenter experience. I, being 23 years of age, had considerably fewer years of carpenter experience.

3. During your year stay in Woosung, what was your typical day and night like?

This was/has been covered already. There was the same experience at every camp, typically.

4. Why were you sent to Kiangwan?

This was/is regarded as a Japanese military secret. I do not know. It was probably to have us closer to Shanghai. There were many problems created by having POWs near the civilians. This was because of the bombers destroying everything, and the terror they produced. I guess it was for our safety as well.

5. Can you speculate as to why my father remained in Woosung?

I have no idea. Location and relocation were matters for the Japanese to decide. The POWs had no say as to where we would be sent. If we did then we would have chosen to return home.

6. In my father's last letter, just 2 days before he died, he mentioned that they had lost their radio. Where do you suppose that came from?

We had, or that barracks had a radio given to them by the Japanese so that they and we could listen to the English broadcast from Shanghai. The Japanese as a propaganda technique controlled this broadcast. Some people in your father's barracks accessed the airwaves and heard American or Australian broadcasts, which was different information from what the Japanese wanted us to have. When the Japanese learned about the illegal listening party, they took away the radio and punished the entire camp. It was a bad thing to be cut off from the world. We all missed the radio. The radio was depressing because we heard about the Russians losing to the Germans. The Russians being on our side depressed us. And we heard about the American losses, which was not a great thing to know about, when you are a prisoner. But what I liked about the radio was the music it played. The radio somehow in its own way brought hope to us, even if it was propaganda and music.

7. At the time of my father's death, his possessions consisted of a watch, ring, glasses, chain, Wake Island Pin, Social Security Card, some gold coins, $83.20 C.R.B. and his union card from Local 1632. I'm glad he had a few possessions. It just surprised that the Japanese didn't take everything. Please elaborate on what they did let you retain. And the CRB, was that a form of script money?

C.R.B. = China Reserve Bank, our currency. The Japanese paid us $55.50 CRB a month. From time to time the Japanese would open a commissary to sell us goods. A jar of peanut butter would cost $500 CRB. So the money was a joke more than anything. We could not even buy cigarettes with it. I do not know why we were given the money, I never could find a use for it, but I kept it just in case. Still have it. On a side note, our carpenter shop made your father's cross for his head stone. I am sorry for your loss. I did not know him personally (because he was in a different barracks), but I did know of him.

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