|John J. Bruer|
|Cpl. John Bruer Named on List of Jap War Prisoners|
|Corporal John J. Bruer, son of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Bruer, 218
North Ninth Street, is a prisoner of war in the Philippines, according
to word his parents have just received from the Adjutant General's
Corporal Bruer, who had enlisted in the spring of 1941 and had received his training in the Chemical Division of the Army at Edgewood, Maryland and Savannah, Georgia, had landed in the Philippines in November 1941 and was in Manila when the Japanese were attacking the city. The last letter from him, received by his parents, was written in March of last year. He said that he was well and would take care of himself but probably would not receive letters after that.
In May, after the fall of Corregidor, the government listed him as missing in action. Now, according to this latest word, he is on the list of prisoners the Japanese have reported.
J. J. Bruers Get Word from Son in Jap Prison Camp
The message was a broadcast from Tokyo. It states that John is well, in good health, that he has received some mail, not to worry, "Hello" to everyone, and other personal greetings. It also stated that Ervin Kielholz is in the same camp.
Corporal Bruer left here three years ago on June 9.
|Prisoner of Japs Sends Card; Says Health Excellent|
|Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Bruer, 218 North Ninth Street,
have received a card from their son, Corporal John Bruer, who is a prisoner of
war in Japan.
Corporal Bruer was with the American forces in the Philippines at the outbreak of the war and was taken prisoner after the fall of Corregidor. The card from the Philippine Military Prison Camp No. 1 was as follows:
"Health excellent. Uninjured. See Ervin Keilholz daily. Don't worry. Best regards to everyone."
Keilholz is another Eau Claire serviceman.
Since receiving the card, Mr. and Mrs. Bruer have received word from the War Department that their son has been moved from the Philippines to Sukuoka Prison Camp on the island of Honshu, Japan.
This interview with John Bruer, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, was taken on September 6, 2005 at his home on 930 Maple Street, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Present at the interview were John Bruer, his wife Eileen, Harold “Diz” Kronenberg, and Harold's sister, Nancy Dahl (Kronenberg).
Before entering service, John attended the Eau Claire Normal School (College), where he studied all of the required subjects but placed his emphasis on math and chemistry. This helped him to obtain a job in the chemical department of the local Sterling Pulp and Paper Mill. It was toward the end of the Depression years and jobs were still scarce.
While working at the paper mill, John and a friend, Clarence Kilmer, decided to enlist in the army for one year. Conscription (the draft) had recently gone into effect, and both of their numbers were due to come up. If you enlisted, you were given a better chance to get the branch of service you wanted. Go into service for one year, get it over with, and then get on with your life.
After arriving at the enlistment office, they were confronted by a lady who had a red marker in her hand. She asked them why they were there, and they told her they wanted to enlist. She wrote “volunteer” across the enlistment papers and told them they should hear from a recruiting office in about ten days.
It was exactly ten days later that they received a notice, telling them to report to the recruiting office, which was located in the Post Office on South Barstow Street. When they arrived at the Post Office, their pictures were taken by the local newspaper with about 35 other enlistees. The pictures would be shown in the next day’s evening news. This took place in early June.
They were taken from the post office by bus to the Omaha Train Depot, where they caught the “400” train to Milwaukee. There, they were billeted in the Pfister Hotel for two days and then reported to the Milwaukee Armory. After taking a series of written tests, they were given a medical check-up and then sworn into the service.
The next day, they were sent to Camp Grant, where they were given a GI (Heinie) haircut and issued their army uniforms. Because they had enlisted, they could choose what branch of the service they preferred. Because of his experience and background in chemistry, John chose to enter the chemical warfare department of the US Army Air Force.
Private Bruer was then sent to Edgewood Arsenal in Baltimore, Maryland, where he completed his basic training, the first phase of military training. After completing his basic training, he was sent to Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, where he was processed, and then he was sent to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. He served there for about four weeks, all of the time, shuttling back and forth between MacDill and Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia. He eventually received permanent orders to join the 27th Bomb Group in Savannah. (We must remember that the Air Force was not yet a separate branch but was still a part of the army. It became a separate branch in 1947.)
John was a pretty good musician, so when he arrived in Savannah, he found out that the “brass” had recruited him for a jazz band that played in the base officers' club on Friday nights. Gene Johnson, a friend from Eau Claire, sent John his clarinet and saxophone. General Douglas MacArthur was stationed there along with MacArthur's friend, General Lewis Brereton who commanded the 27th Bomb Group. It was rumored that MacArthur was ordered to the Philippines but refused to go unless Brereton and the 27th BG could go with him.
Incidentally, this is the same general who, later in the war, commanded the 9th Air Force in North Africa and sent 272 B-24 high-altitude, heavy bombers on a low-level mission to bomb the Ploesti, Rumania oil fields. The mission was a mistake of major proportions, a complete debacle, and is the worst raid in the history of air warfare. Harold Korger from Eau Claire flew on that raid as a bombardier on Colonel “Killer” Kane's plane. They survived—only because of Kane’s superior skills as a pilot. Kane was formerly an all-American football player at West Point. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Korger received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their part in the mission. Korger hit their designated target with his bombs, but he was one of a few who did. (Korger is an uncle to John Menard, the home supplies entrepreneur.)
MacArthur promised the enlisted men that, if they went with him to the Philippines, that they could return home when their commitment to the army was completed. Most of the men thought about that; then decided they would enjoy the trip, see the tropical islands—a new part of the world—and return home. Most of the men had never been out of their home states before entering service, so it was a new experience for them. This was shortly before December 7, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and we entered the war.
The men stayed with the 27th Bomb Group and headed west for overseas duty. They were issued heavy woolen clothing—obviously the quartermaster corps did not know much about the status of the weather in the Philippines. Later, when the men got to the West Coast, they had their woolens taken from them and were issued lighter and cooler khaki clothing.
Several trips across the country were needed to haul all of the equipment. John volunteered to guard the equipment on the trips, so he shuttled back and forth across the country several times before returning to his buddies and the 27th Bomb Group.
The group left the states from Angel Island, San Francisco Bay and headed out to sea, bound for Hawaii. After docking in Hawaii, the men were allowed to visit towns, but after a few days, they again boarded their ship, and with a military escort and in a convoy, they headed for the Philippines. They entered Manila Harbor, docked, and were ordered to go to Nichols Field.
On Saturday night, December 6, John and some buddies visited the Officer of the Day and asked for passes so they could visit the town the next day. It would be Sunday and their day off. They were greeted with the announcement that all passes had been cancelled. The officer didn’t know why they had been cancelled, but he said there were strict orders and he couldn’t do anything about it. John sensed something serious was up.
The next day, December 7, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and we were at war. John and the others realized immediately that they would be in the middle of it.
At 11 o’clock on that fateful Sunday morning, December 7, a newsboy delivered a paper to John that screamed the headlines JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR. Until then, the soldiers at Clark and Nichols Field did not know precisely what was happening. It didn’t take long for them to find out.
A few minutes after John read the paper, John saw the enemy for the first time. It would not be the last. Japanese dive bombers bombed the airfields, while fighter planes attacked and strafed targets of opportunity. The Americans were stationed in San Fernando Province and their only means of defense were the obsolete P-40 and A-28 airplanes. All available personnel were ordered to move and hide the planes as best they could among the bamboo growing there. Everyone came down with bamboo itch as a result of that. All soldiers were told to evacuate the airfields and head for town.
After arriving in town, they were ordered to head for the southern tip of Bataan, and from there, go to Marveles. The men had to cross a wooden bridge, the only route into the city. When John and his friends got to the bridge, an officer told them to guard that bridge both day and night, at all cost. The Japanese were prowling in the area, and they should be on the alert for them. The bridge was critical to the defense of the city.
While guarding the bridge, John came face-to-face with General MacArthur. The General had to cross the bridge in order to get to Corrigador where he intended to set up his headquarters. When John stopped the general, MacArthur recognized him as one of the jazz band members and struck up a conversation with him. He asked John where he was from, and when he said he was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, MacArthur asked him if he knew Glen Rork. Glen Rork was the president of the Northern States Power Company at that time. MacArthur was born in Ashland, Wisconsin and later moved to Milwaukee. Before advancing over the bridge, MacArthur told the men to be on the alert because Japanese soldiers were in the area.
Food became scarce, so a few men were told to raid a Marine base nearby and scrounge up any food they could get. While at the Marine base, flares were shooting skyward constantly throughout the night because the Japanese were desperately attempting to bring troops ashore. They were obsessed with the idea of invading the peninsula. Somehow, John and a friend obtained two Japanese flame throwers that were much more efficient than ours. They wanted to examine them and find out how they functioned. The Japanese flame throwers were capable of throwing flames three times as far as our own. The Americans were determined to find out why. The commanding officer told them to take the flame throwers to Major Hamilton, the officer in charge of the chemical warfare department on Corrigador. Hamilton told them to put on a demonstration for him and the other officers located there. This was difficult because the directions were written in Japanese. After tinkering with the flame throwers and using trial and error, the men were able to make them function and found out the reason for their increased efficiency. MacArthur arrived to observe the demonstration. Again, he remembered John and struck up a conversation with him. They exchanged a few pleasantries, and the General departed, wishing the men Godspeed. He said he hoped to one day see them under more pleasant circumstances. (From everything I have ever read about General MacArthur, I had the impression that it would be rare for him to even talk to an enlisted man.)
Things deteriorated on Bataan and Corrigador. There was very little food and no meat. The problem was solved temporarily by killing the horses and mules. At least that meat was palatable. It wasn’t long before Bataan fell to the enemy, and soon after, Manila capitulated.
It was after Manila fell to the enemy that the infamous DEATH MARCH began. So many atrocities were committed by the enemy that even the most hardened individual would have difficulty comprehending them. Tropical diseases, starvation, and lack of water took their toll. The men who were able to walk were required to bury dead friends. The Japanese killed any soldiers who tried to assist comrades who were having difficulty keeping up. Some men were killed for no reason at all. Lack of water was the most difficult thing to bear. Water was not available to them, and the guards seemed to delight in seeing the men suffer from thirst. Some men went berserk and left the struggling ranks to dive into carabao-filled water holes to relieve their craving for water. The Japanese wasted no time and no ammunition—they simply stepped on the soldiers' heads until they either drowned or were suffocated. This was just the beginning.
A Filipino civilian handed a canteen of water to an American soldier. He was clubbed by a Japanese guard, who grabbed the canteen and gave the water to a horse; then laughed.. Every so often, but only at night, the ragged, struggling ranks were allowed to stop and sleep for an hour or two . After the brief rest, they were ordered to march again—always with the command to "SPEEDO! SPEEDO!." It was not a march in the traditional sense, but rather men simply struggling and staggering along as best they could. All along the march, the Japanese continued to kill any soldier who attempted to help a friend. Many soldiers dropped along the way, because they simply could not keep up. If they fell in the road, they were run over, along with the dead, by the military trucks that were constantly hauling Japanese soldiers to a distant base or battlefield.
A young soldier walking behind John—just a kid—said he couldn’t take it anymore. He and John conspired to make an attempt to escape. They waited until darkness set in, and when they felt safe from detection, they made a desperate dash for some rice paddies and headed for the coast, which John knew was not very far away. He had been on patrol in this area earlier and was somewhat familiar with it. He did not know the kid’s full name, but his friends called him Darby, and John remembered he was from Louisiana.
Together they made their way through the rice paddies, reached the jungle, and after a few days, reached the seacoast. When they reached the far end of the jungle, there were some wild chickens running around. After some difficulty, they managed to catch a few; then gathered some roots that John had seen the natives eat, and they had a feast. The roots tasted a lot like our yams. They also found some wild berries and ate those for dessert. Hunger was no longer a problem, but thirst was. They had collected moisture from the vines and roots along the way, and they continued to do that. At least it was enough to get by for the time being.
The nights were always dark with no moon, so they hunkered down and slept despite the abundance of mosquitoes and other jungle insects. During much of the day, they hid in the jungle under the canopy of the trees to avoid detection. Whenever they felt safe from being spotted, they searched for an abandoned “bunka” (John’s word), but found none. These were canoe-like boats, carved and hollowed-out logs with outriggers on each side for balance. Eventually, they found a partially hollowed-out log, lashed another log to it, and floated and paddled toward Corrigador, which John knew was to their left. They were greatly concerned about the danger of the shark-infested waters.
They paddled for three days and three nights before they spotted the searchlights of Corrigador in the distance. They headed for the lights and were soon picked up by the searchlights that continued to shine on them until a patrol boat came to check them out. As the boat approached, they could see it was an American PT boat with the flag flying and with barrels of explosives lashed to its sides. The boat circled several times, probably checking them out, determined that they were Americans; then rescued them and took them back to Corrigador.
The two men were sent to Malinda and stayed in a hospital for about two weeks. At that point, John and Darby were separated, and John never saw him again. While in the hospital, they saw MacArthur—with his wife and son—board a submarine and supposedly head back to Australia. When MacArthur left, General Wainwright took command of the troops. Before MacArthur left, he uttered those famous (some would say infamous) words: “ I shall return."
When John got his strength back, his superiors returned him to Corrigador, where he saw Japanese barges blown up and sunk one after another in their desperate attempt to take Corrigador. The Japanese greatly outnumbered the defenders and had the necessary supplies to reach the top of Malinda Hill. When that happened, it was useless to keep fighting. There was nothing to do but surrender. The soldiers and civilians, who were in the tunnels used for protection, came out, surrendered, and were herded onto a concrete slab about the size of two football fields. This area was used as the prison camp for ten days, after which they were loaded aboard a ship and sent to an old fort in Manila.
Upon reaching Manila Harbor, the men climbed down rope ladders that were attached to the side of the ship to the ocean floor, went ashore, and were marched down Dewey Boulevard in Manila. This was done to show the Filipinos their superiority and to humiliate the Americans. They ended up in Vbilbain prison, and from there, were sent to Cabanna, Taiwan via box cars.
There were 3,500 prisoners of war in the Cabanna, Taiwan prison when John arrived, and many of them died each day. The men who had more strength were required to bury the dead—many were friends—every day. Some of the prisoners were killed outright, for no reason at all, while others died from the many tropical diseases and others simply starved to death. The camp was spread out over a large area, and when the Japanese tried to consolidate the prisoners into one camp, there were only about 500 of them still alive. The men slept on the floor and slept whenever they could to conserve energy, but were frequently required to engage in work details. While they were forced to work, the guards constantly yelled, "SPEEDO! SPEEDO!" To further conserve energy, the men did as little as possible—whatever they could get away with, without being beaten. They tried always to stay some distance away from the more vicious guards.
One morning, John was awakened by someone yanking on his foot. He was surprised when he looked up and saw a man with a piece of cardboard over his face with two small slits with which to see. John told the guy to “Get that damn cardboard off your face so I can see who you are!” It turned out to be Erv Keilholz from Eau Claire.
John asked him, “How the hell did you find me?”
Erv said that he had been told by others that there was a soldier from Wisconsin in camp, and he had been trying for several days to find him. Little did he know that it would be an old friend from his home town. John and Erv stayed together from that time on. Someone once said that misery loves company. That was certainly true with John and Erv. Having Erv with him gave John a tremendous boost in morale. In spite of the difficult times, Erv never lost his sense of humor.
The Japanese called for a 500-man detail to be sent to Japan to work in the coal mines. John and Erv were assigned to the detail and were placed on a train headed for the seaport. There, they were placed aboard a ship that had a cover over the hold and they headed out to sea. They stopped in Thailand for supplies, but the men were not allowed to get out of the hold of the ship. It was stifling hot down in the hold and the stench was terrible. Men were sleeping in their own excrement, and it was crowded and difficult to find a place to lay down. Once a day, the Japanese would lower a bucket (called a honey bucket) and haul out the excrement.
After reaching Japan, they marched for three days before arriving at their final prison camp. Along the way, they stopped and rested for two or three hours in a warehouse—never for very long—then would be ordered to march again.
The camp was on the edge of Osaki Bay and fourteen miles across the bay was the city of Nagasaki. They usually worked 14-16 hours each day, seven days a week. They worked in the Mitsubishi coal mines carved out under the sea. It was hard and dangerous work. Radios were non-existent and no newspapers were available to the prisoners, so they knew nothing of what was happening in the outside world. When they finished work each day, they were still required to clean up the camp before they were allowed to go to bed.
After many months—it seemed like an eternity—John woke up one morning and looked out in the direction of Nagasaki. There, he saw a mushroom cloud and then the ground began shaking. The prisoners thought that perhaps a chemical plant had been bombed. The guards started running around and seemed terribly confused. A few guards acted bizarre and clubbed anyone who came near them. The prisoners soon realized something important was happening, especially when they were not required to work that day.
Things finally settled down and the prisoners went to bed. When they woke up the next morning, there was a sign in the courtyard that said "NO WORK TODAY," and the guards had vanished. The internees were left to fend for themselves. The men had experienced the dropping of the atomic bomb but didn’t realize it until later. For them and everyone else, it was the fateful day that all but ended the war.
Two days later, at dawn, a heavy B-17 bomber flew over the camp and dropped prisoner-of-war food and supplies, along with tool bits, to the starving men. Later, the men received clothing and bundles of shoes that were wired together. A variety of other supplies were also parachuted in. Cigarettes, cigars, and ties to go with the clothing were dropped . John thought they wanted the men to be more presentable to the generals; thus, the ties.
Generally, the Japanese civilians had been pretty good, but the military Japanese were vicious and the guards were particularly brutal. One old Japanese civilian seemed relieved when he said to them, “You wait now; then you go home.”
The men had no place to go, so they simply waited around camp and waited for something to happen. A big Canadian friend, named Ward Redshaw, told John and Erv there was an airfield nearby that was now occupied by the Americans, and he intended to go there. He left camp and headed for the airfield.
Four days later, an airplane flew low over the camp and dropped a package that contained a note from Redshaw. It read, “Flyboys are flying me out, suggest you join me.”
Erv and John, along with five others, left immediately and headed for the airfield. With an abundance of supplies in tow, they hopped a train that was headed in that direction. They felt a little uncomfortable since no one was armed, and they didn’t know whether the Japanese would be hostile or not. They rode the train as far south as it went before it turned back. The men continued south on foot, passed through a small village without incident, and after two days, found some shelter where they took refuge.
They became alarmed when three Japanese soldiers, all armed and riding bicycles, headed toward them. The soldiers stopped to talk with the Americans but the language barrier prevented them from communicating. They finally made out that the soldiers were telling them where the American soldiers were located. The American prisoners were still weak and afraid that it might be a trap. The Japanese suddenly turned their bicycles around and offered them to the Americans. They were on their way, and they took turns riding the bikes while heading for a building off in the distance. The building turned out to be a former schoolhouse that now housed several families.
Other civilians arrived, and someone showed up with a wooden pail of hot tea. John said it was pure ecstasy, but he was always afraid that someone would show up with a bayonet or some other weapon. They still didn’t completely trust them.
The cigarettes and chocolate that the Americans had was shared with their former enemies.
There was a commotion outside, and a lot of racket, as two American GIs busted through the door. The Japanese had contacted them and told them to come and get the former prisoners. The American GIs had their weapons drawn as the Japanese were simultaneously bowing and shaking their hands. The GIs were making sure it wasn’t a trap.
The former prisoners were taken to the airbase and arrived at 7:00 pm. They were told to report to the commanding officer who was located in a tent nearby. The seven men were welcomed and treated to a dinner that consisted of roast beef and turkey and gravy with all the trimmings—something they hadn’t tasted in years. They even got dessert. That was something they hadn’t tasted in four years.
In the morning, the men were given a hearty breakfast; then placed aboard a stripped-down B-17 that flew them to a hospital in Manila. The hospital was located near where they had been captured four years earlier.
Sometime later, they were scheduled to take a B-17 flight to Hawaii, so they could be flown home, but they were delayed because some electronic equipment had malfunctioned and had to be replaced.
While they waited for the new equipment to be installed, they sat under the wings of the airplane and ate ice cream—lots of it—and donuts and drank coffee. Interrogation officers cornered them at their next destination and began questioning them intensively, especially about what had happened around Nagasaki and about the behavior of the Japanese during the last few weeks. "Did you see the atomic bomb blast? What did it sound like? Did you see the damage it caused? Do you have any maps of the area that you were in?" It sounded like they were concerned about what might still happen. The men gave them what little information they could and then proceeded on their way.
The men were lice-infested while in the prison camps, but they were free of "the little bitches" by this time. The bed bugs had been worse, because they attacked the men at night when they were trying to sleep, plus there was always the danger of getting infection. The officers took them to a room where they were required to take off all of their clothes, even their dog tags—if they still had them—and they were sprayed again.
John could not remember when he had lost his dog tags, but it was sometime before he was captured for the second time.
They went into another room, where there were men dressed in white uniforms who wore masks. The soldiers were being checked for radiation contamination because of their proximity to the nuclear blast at Nagasaki. The suited GIs washed them down with "some kind of juice” and then hosed them down with water. This procedure was repeated several times. They were afraid of contamination, so everything was taken from the soldiers. John, however, had hidden his canteen outside the door, and he retrieved it when he went out. He still has, and treasures, it. It had been with him for four years and he was determined to keep it. It has dates and places scratched on its sides. These etchings, of course, mean nothing to me but are still quite meaningful to John.
After the cleansing, John and Erv were hospitalized once again and placed in a sick bay. Doctors and nurses monitored them night and day, trying to restore their health. They were given just about anything they asked for and were encouraged to drink whiskey and beer. John’s normal weight had been about 190 pounds but he had shrunken to 112 pounds. He thought they were trying to fatten him up.
Erv thought it was kind of funny that they were not embarrassed when the nurses examined them—but after all, they were so dark and skinny, the nurses couldn’t see anything anyway. The examinations took place twice a day and were repeated for several weeks. The nurses always gave them beer, usually two six packs a day. Those were "the doctors' orders," they were told. No one objected, but in their weakened condition, it didn’t take long before they were drunk. They were told that the beer would increase their appetite and then they would gain weight.
They were given good food, and particularly enjoyed the luxury of taking nice warm showers. They were frequently entertained by the USO troops and many celebrities. They were visited by the Andrew sisters, the Mills brothers, Joe E. Brown and others.
tells what happened next—in more pleasant
The downtown part of Manila was like downtown Chicago—big department stores, nice buildings, and such. I felt I knew the town quite well, so we headed for Pier 5, the hot spot, located near the docks. The service clubs were all in that area with lots of servicemen hanging around. The sailors especially made their presence known. It had been a very popular place, as I remembered it, but it was no longer there. It was hard to convince Erv that I had previously been there. So much for a good time in Manila.
Our day wasn’t completely wasted because we found out that an Admiral Hughs was in the area and was the Captain of a ship that was anchored in the harbor. We were told that the ship was on its maiden voyage, was scheduled to be de-commissioned as a warship, and would be returning to the States as a passenger ship. After all, the war was over.
We were scheduled to fly back to the States in about two weeks but were given the option of taking Admiral Hughs' ship back right away. This was only on the condition that the transportation officer would grant us permission to do so. We immediately took the bus back to camp, contacted the transportation officer, and asked for permission to leave early. At first, the officer was reluctant, but he relented, giving in to our pleading and begging.
We went back to town, boarded the ship, and left at high noon. After the gang planks were drawn up, little tugboats guided and pulled us out of the harbor. We were finally headed for home.
Suddenly, however, we stopped, turned around, and headed back into the harbor. The gang planks were lowered—we thought we were going to be taken off the ship and sent back to camp. What a sinking feeling that was!
We waited, not so patiently, while 200 British soldiers and sailors came aboard. Once again, we headed out to sea.
All of the way back to the States, the new commander of the ship, Captain Ford, used the intercom twice a day and told us what was happening. We appreciated that. We crossed the Pacific without seeing land—no islands—not even another ship, until we reached the western coast of the good ol' USA. After a four-year absence, we were all eager to get home and see our loved ones.
After the two weeks that it took us to cross the Pacific Ocean, we were scheduled to dock in San Francisco Bay. My parents had come to San Francisco to see me and were staying at a friend's house, waiting for our arrival and ready to take me home. That was not meant to be.
We found out that we would not be allowed to dock in San Francisco because of the Englishmen aboard. We were re-routed and sailed to Vancouver, British Columbia where the Englishmen de-barked.
We proceeded on to Yakima, Washington where we were welcomed home by a band stationed on a barge out in the bay. From there, we took a train to St. Louis where we were hospitalized once again. We were told they wanted us in the best of health when we went home. It was terribly frustrating to us, but orders were orders, and by this time, we were used to disappointments.
After several days, we were finally allowed to go home. For the first time since we were in prison camp, Erv and I were separated. He left for home a few days ahead of me, but he was there to meet me when I got off the train. I’m not sure of the specific date, but it was in early October of 1945. I do remember that it was before Armistice Day. What a wonderful and exciting day that was!
Over the years, I have thought often about our survival while so many others with us had perished. The good Lord must have been looking over us because we never experienced the extremely cold weather that men in other camps had. The fact that Erv and I were together and helped each other along the way also contributed to our survival. His positive attitude and sense of humor certainly helped my morale and eased my suffering. I guess I was just lucky.
Closing moments of my interview with John Bruer
I then asked him what were the toughest experiences he had during the whole ordeal. He felt that thirst and being in the hold of the hospital ships while traveling to Japan were the most terrible to bear. In the holds of the hospital ship, the temperature was extremely hot, there was very little air, the stench was unbearable, and friends died all around him. Very little water was given to them, so they were always thirsty. Also, there was always the danger of our own planes bombing the ship because there was no Red Cross marking on the transport ship.