Frank R. Forsyth - USMC
This is an account by Frank, in part, from the book
“Never Will We Forget: Oral Histories of WWII” by Marilyn M. Culpepper
On a hot summer’s day in August of 1934, Frank Forsyth, who was living in Foxboro, Massachusetts, was swimming with some of his buddies when suddenly the brawniest of the gang announced that he would like to join the Marine Corps. The idea was contagious, and all six fellows took off for Boston to take their physicals. “Ironically enough,” Frank laughed, “I was the only one that passed. They went home and I went into the Marine Corps.” It was a similar story for Conrad Taschner, who at the end of high school basketball season joined the entire team in going to Detroit to enlist in the Marines. As it turned out, he was the only one of the team who passed, and he soon found himself headed for boot camp in San Diego. Frank would become part of the 4th Marines regiment, H Co, 2nd Battalion, fighting in the Philippines. After the fall of Bataan and Corregidor Frank would become a Prisoner of War, suffering the atrocities inflicted on him and others prisoners by the Japanese.
LIFE IN JAPANESE POW CAMPS
After serving in Shanghai where the Fourth Marine Regiment had been protecting the area as an international settlement, Frank S. Forsyth, a Marine from Massachusetts, was sent to Corregidor and there became a prisoner of the Japanese when Corregidor fell in May of 1942. Excerpts from his experiences in various camps in the Philippines and in Japan, along with the testimony of other survivors, paint a vivid picture of the quality of life in a Japanese POW camp.
Survivors of the Japanese POW camps, among them Frank Forsyth, repeatedly testified to the ruthless brutality of the guards who frequently beat the prisoners to within an inch of their lives for not working fast enough, for wheeling and dealing with the guards, for any minor infraction of the rules, or for no reason whatsoever. Beatings were a way of life the prisoners declared. One could expect to be beaten at least once a day. Although not directly concerned with the physical work of the prisoners but responsible for overseeing the projects, American officers got their share of beatings—as did Japanese workers themselves. Even the guards were taken to task by their superiors. “They got the beating too,” Cecil Chambliss remembered. “They’d line each other up and beat them just like they’d beat us.”
In part, Japanese brutality to their prisoners could be attributed to the Japanese tradition of considering surrender or capture not only cowardly but also disgraceful. Better death by suicide than dishonor by surrendering. The shame of submission would reflect gravely on the soldier and eternally shroud his family’s name as well. To the Japanese, their POW captives deserved no quarter whatsoever. They were beyond redemption and deserved the inhumane treatment they were often accorded. Respect for the Japanese authorities was mandatory. Severe beatings and vicious attacks kept the prisoners in line. In some camps, following roll call and instructions for the day, the internees were ordered to bow their heads to the camp’s commandant. Failure to do so could result in brutal punishment—or even beheadings in front of their fellow POWs. Apparently one of the most difficult—if not the most difficult—problem of imprisonment was restraint, that is, not retaliating when, as prisoners, they were insulted or beaten. Sam Abbott knew very well that the results would be disastrous were he or any of the POWs to attempt to strike back.
OTHER AVENUES OF ESCAPE
At least one man, without even leaving the camp, found another avenue of escape from the beatings and beheadings. “But there was some that worked their way out of it,” according to Frank Forsyth, who spent almost three years captive of the Japanese.
There was one man, we called him Red Dog, who grabbed a broom and used it to walk all over the camp, supposedly crazy. And he remained stooped over sweeping. After a while—the Japanese are kind of leery of people who are crazy—and he’d just sweep all over the place. That’s all he did: [he] took the broom to bed with him, would get up and sweep anywhere at all. [He’d] walk in the commander’s office and sweep in there. They’d look at him [and] call him bakka, which means crazy. Well, he continually did that. [He] worked his way out of the mine and they had him hanging around camp. The day that they announced the surrender, he took the broom, threw it off to one side and said ‘I don’t need that son-of-a-bitch anymore.’ He had remained in that position. The doctors had looked at him and they said that the muscles had formed by being continually stooped over [and] that he’d never be able to straighten up. That day he stood straight up. The doctor’s sat there and they couldn’t understand it.
There were, of course, hundreds of distraught prisoners who escaped into a world of their own. The backbreaking work in many Japanese camps, the severe beatings, debilitating disease, the lack of food, and the relinquishing of hope that they would ever be rescued often gave way to depression and the abandonment of the will to live. Some men became completely unhinged, walking around with glazed-over eyes, in a stupor that no amount of prodding or attempted reassurance could penetrate. J. Cecil Chambliss still grieved for the men who simply gave up and died. “They would just have absolutely no desire to live. They just couldn’t face it. That’s all there was to it. Of course, once they developed that attitude, unless we could snap them out of it, which we would try to do, it was just a matter of time before they would go.”
“Of course, there were a lot of prisoners in that camp that died because they wanted to die,” Frank Forsyth recalled. “The Dutch are probably the worst of that. A Dutchman will turn over, face the wall, and he’s going to die.” The doctors would be “madder than hell and say, ‘There’s not organically a thing wrong with that man. He’s just as healthy as you and I are, and yet he’ll be dead tomorrow morning.’ And they would die [for] that reason.”
Frank's Nichols Field Account
Nichols Field was a notorious slave labor detail, the Japanese building an air field at Nichols Field using POW slave labor. So horrific was this detail that men going by on the way to other work details tell of actually "breathing a sight of relief" when they realized they were not stopping at Pasay School, which housed the Nichols Field POW's.
...because Fukuoka 17 was near a huge Japanese munitions dump, Frank and his comrades knew nothing of what had happened at Hiroshima and shrugged off the noise as a monstrously successful bomb drop. It was later that they learned of the magnitude and devastation—and controversy—caused by the dropping of the world’s newest instrument of mass destruction. A few days later, the prisoners were called out for a speech from the Japanese commandant who announced that the Emperor had graciously consented to end the hostilities. He instructed the men to conduct themselves honorably as free men and “share their Red Cross packages with the poor people of Japan.” What insanity! It took a wild stretch of the imagination to think that the prisoners would generously divvy up any forthcoming Red Cross parcels with captors who had beaten them almost to death, had kept them teetering on the brink of starvation, and had withheld the distribution of Red Cross packages and eaten the content themselves.
Frank survived, living a long life after the war, passing away on the 9th of September, 2003.
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