BERNIE POTHIER - Account 
as told to Linda Dahl 2002

Bernie was a Radio Operator on Clark Field when the Air Field was bombed. His job was to control flight in and out of the area. Bernie 22 at the time war broke out, 26 when he got out.

When the Americans were being bombed – a shell tore thru the truck Bernie was in, tearing thru the transmitter.

Americans shot down one plane and when they examined it they found it was armed with a Browning Machine Gun manufactured in Connecticut.

Only food Christmas Day 1941 was a dried cheese sandwich. Like dry bread that had been sitting in the sun, it was curled up on the edges.

Bernie and many others had no respect MacArthur at all. Bernie expressed he had not even known MacArthur had come "once" to Bataan, as most believed MacArthur never ventured from Corregidor at all. Bernie said, of MacArthur, "He was a lousy commander". And told of the soldiers calling MacArthur "Dugout Doug" due to his "hiding" in the tunnels that ran through the island and Corregidor.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Bernie said they were told MacArthur locked himself in a hotel suite in Manila and refused to come out for hours. "Wainwright was left ‘holding the bag’", said Bernie.

About the mines...they worked 9 days with one day off. Drilling and shoveling coal. ½ mile down.
Dark, only small light by headlamp. 2 meals a day. Rice.

When asked about Camp 17...It was "dog eat dog" in camp. Stayed in small groups, cautious of others. Predators. Anything to get food. "There were some pretty rotten, dirty Americans. But they were also mentally and physically sick." "We talked about food all the time. First food and then our parents".

We would describe how our mother’s made certain meals. We would give detailed descriptions of the meals. They were so elaborate, and most of them were never anything our mother’s even cooked! We would make up meals and tell about how we cooked them, and most of us never even cooked before. But still we would say it as if we had."
"If you were a cook in Camp, well to be a cook was ‘prime’".
"POW's would trade cigarettes for food, even though they were starving. I tell young people I talk to about that addiction. So bad that they would give up food for one cigarette. I never could believe how they could do that".
One civilian told everyone he owned a gold mine. He kept telling everyone he would write them out an IOU for $100  if they would give him their share of food.

Bernie remembers the day a bus load of civilians came in. There were civilians in the Camp.

About the mess kit, (see photo) "Yes, I was lucky it survived. I always kept it tied on my belt. I do not know why the Japanese did not take it. I was more concerned keeping it in camp, due to predators. I slept with it day and night and did not let it out of my sight."

Bernie did not find all Japanese to be bad. He met some civilian Japanese who were nice, even kind. One in the mines said he worked in a bank before the war. He had a house and chickens, but then they (Japanese Army) came and made him go to work in the mines. When he talked to me he would look around to be sure no one heard. He even snuck food in to us.

Bernie attributes surviving to: his faith – Catholic, and because...."I was in very good condition; athletic, excellent shape before the war, so because I took care of myself, I believe that helped. Looking back I must have been a pretty tough guy…I don’t know how I made it".
"It took a lot to stay alive. I saw too many guys who said, ‘I can’t make it. I give up’.
The next day or that night they were dead."

When a Chicago News reporter came to tell Fukuoka 17 POW’s about the "drops" of troops and supplies, Bernie decided he wasn’t going to wait around. He took off on the train with some others. The train zigzagged for over 200 miles. The guards disappeared, "all of a sudden" after they came back from work in the mines.

Bernie expressed that everything seemed "...so strange when I came home. So new, a new world to me. I remember 6 months after returning home, I went to buy a car with 'slave labor money'". The car dealer laughed at him, as he told Bernie he had a waiting list of over 500 waiting for a car.
"So I wrote a letter to Wainwright, telling him my problem and could he help me get a car? Two weeks later I got a call from a Ford car dealership. They had a car for me. A brand new Green Ford Sedan!"

As we ended our conversation Bernie said he wanted to share with me the following...

OLD ITALIAN PROVERB:  If the enemy has nothing to lose, there is nothing to win.

 

PHOTOS:

Bernie-Clark Field     Card from Camp 17     Card from Camp 17 #2   
Bernie 1945
       Bernie and Mess Kit



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