Dear Readers: I know, I have not been posting blogs for several weeks, partly because I had the Upper Respiratory Thingie From Hell for almost two months. And also because I didn’t want to give the whole book away! I have been writing in earnest now that I am feeling like myself again. And when I wrote this chapter, I just had to share it with you!
Everywhere they went, the nurses always considered themselves to be on duty—either formally or informally—anytime they were awake, and even if they themselves were not feeling well. Their consideration for others, Americans and Filipinos and their Japanese captors worked both ways as Sally was about to find out.
A big ship arrived in Davao on the group’s fourth day there. The ship was to take them to Manila. The twenty-nurse group was assigned to D Deck, but the ship wasn’t full, so their cabins were very high out of the water. Sally and many others were sick with malaria, dengue fever, and other gastrointestinal upsets, which were spread by the mosquitos in the Bataan Jungle. The ill nurses were concerned that the high deck would be swaying in open water, causing them to feel like vomiting. For reasons that were not clear, the nurses’ cabins could only be reached from the dock at Davao by climbing a rope ladder. Sally started up that ladder, with a temperature of 103, knowing if she looked down or up, she would get dizzy and throw up, or worse, fall off the ladder. They had to climb while holding a blanket that they had been given to carry what few possessions they still had. The blankets were tied shut, and by this point the nurses were lucky to have soap, a washcloth, and maybe a change of clothes rolled up in that blanket. Sally carried that blanket in front of her as she climbed, and she was careful to keep her gaze looking straight ahead towards the ship so she would not lose the contents of her stomach.
Each of the nurses made it up the ladder and into their assigned cabins. Meals were served in a dining area cordoned off for the prisoners. Fortunately, there were interior stairs—not rope ladders—to reach the dining room. The first day on the water, Sally was lying in a deck chair with a high fever. Another nurse, Evelyn, took it upon herself to care for Sally, bringing her water so she could stay hydrated. Sally wasn’t interested in food at this point, but Evelyn brought her small plates and encouraged her to eat to keep her strength up. The care Evelyn provided Sally was greatly appreciated, but the unspoken part of this arrangement was: what was awaiting these young women when they arrived at the prisoner of war camp?
One day, Sally and Evelyn were sitting out on the deck, and a Japanese medic stopped to talk to them. This was highly unusual, because the Japanese soldiers just didn’t interact with the prisoners, and the two women were a little bit afraid of the medic. He took one look at Sally, and said, “Oh! You very sick!” He spoke with a heavy accent, but he knew English. He had a thermometer and took Sally’s temperature. He showed it to Sally, and it was still about 104 degrees. The medic gently touched Sally’s forehead and quickly drew back his hand.
“Oh! You HOT!”
Then he looked at Evelyn and said, “I got ice. You got ice cap?”
Evelyn did have an ice cap, which she showed him. The medic led the way, and they disappeared from view. He took her to the ship’s kitchen and spoke to the head cook in Japanese. Then he switched to English so Evelyn would understand what was being said.
“I tell him,” said the medic, “give her all the ice she needs for her sick friend and any others who have fever.”
Evelyn was given ice to put on Sally’s forehead, which helped keep her fever down. The medic appeared again a short time later and gave Sally two little black pills and a glass of water. Then he tenderly lifted Sally’s head off the deck chair pillow so she could swallow the tiny pills. Sally didn’t know what he was giving her, but she took them anyway. She thought about how humane this Japanese man, their captor, was to her and she believed she could trust him.
There was an American woman on the ship who had lived in the Philippines all her life. She had a baby girl about six months old who couldn’t crawl yet. The woman asked Sally if she could leave the baby on a blanket by Sally while the mother went to get her meals. Sally said that would be alright, although she doubted she could even sit up if the baby needed attention.
The first day, the little girl began to cry a few minutes after the mother left. Sally was helpless to quiet the child, but after a few minutes, the medic appeared. He bent over and patted the baby’s back until she stopped crying. The medic backed away and watched the baby with tenderness in his eyes. When the baby began to cry again, the medic patted her back until she stopped. He tried this method several times, but each time, the little girl didn’t stay quiet long. The medic finally picked the child up and cradled her in his arms. He held her head in his left hand and supported her gently with his right hand. As he walked back and forth holding this complete stranger’s baby, he began kissing her on her forehead. He walked and kissed her—so many times, Sally lost count—and finally the child fell into a deep, much needed sleep. The medic put her back on the blanket, folding it around the baby. When he was sure she was sound asleep, the medic reached in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened it and pulled out a small photograph of a baby.
“This my baby,” he said. He pointed at the little girl asleep on the blanket. “My baby boy!” he said beaming. “This his picture eight years ago. I have not seen my baby since he that size.”
Sally saw such tenderness in this man’s eyes, she almost cried.
These were some of many humane acts that the nurses would see from the Japanese during their captivity. Kindnesses were rare, and life in the prisoner of war camp would prove to be very difficult. But light shone in the darkness when individuals—Japanese, American, Filipino—showed compassion for each other when the opportunity arose.