POW Of The Japanese

Master Sergeant Ralph Pope relaxes in his hotel room.

You might think that Master Sergeant Ralph Pope of Berryville would be spending all of his waking hours eating and all his sleeping hours writhing with indigestion because his stomach was upset from hating the Japs so much.  But he doesn’t.

“I got over being hungry once and for all last September 30 at the Avenue Restaurant in Manila”, the black-haired, ruddy-faced sergeant said yesterday in his room at Hotel John Marshall.

“I still remember what I had.  It cost me 24 bucks.  I had three sirloins, three combination salads, two helpings of fried rice, four cups of coffee, and two plates of ice cream.  Naw, I don’t hate the Japs.  Everyone seems to think I ought to, but I don’t.  A banker here in the States asked me the other day if I didn’t want to just go out and shoot a lot of Japs when the war was over.  I guess I looked at him like he was crazy.  A lot of people are crazy”.

This talk, coming from a man who was captured at Corregidor and was a prisoner of the Japanese for three hungry years and four miserable months, can be startling.  The man saying it, however, was quiet and plausible and matter of fact.

Because he was a prisoner, Pope says he is spending a two weeks’ stay to the John Marshall with all expenses paid by the government.  He also has about $7,000 in his kick – accumulated pay and allotments during his prisoner years.  And with more than eight years’ Army service already to his credit, he has just enlisted for three more years after getting 194 days’ leave with pay.

Pope’s dark blue eyes flash when you suggest that his present happy circumstances and rosy future have modified what must have been a one-time hatred for the Japs.

“I’ve been awful sore at some Japs when they beat me and froze me and darned near starved me, but I never did really hate even the means ones.  And then there were a lot of them that were awfully good to us – both soldiers and civilians.  They do dizzy things and think in a funny way but they’re not bad.

“I remember when we left our camp in Northern Japan after the war was over.  The civilians – about 500 of them – came with lanterns to guide us to the train.  They brought signs saying ‘Good-bye, friends’ and ‘come back some time’.  And they gave us apples.”

Pope said that shortly before the war was over an American plane dropped food and supplies near his camp and that the Japanese brought “every bit” of it into the camp.

“The civilians also used to tell us all the news as soon as it happened”, he said.  “We knew about the atom bomb on Hiroshima twenty minutes after it fell.  They also told us President Roosevelt died right after it happened”.

Pope said that as a section leader in charge of from 50 to 60 Americans, he learned to speak Japanese and was given almost a free reign in the handling of the men.  He said that both in the Philippines and in Japan, the Japanese civilians, and many of the soldiers, slipped food to the Americans and that the Japanese officers knew it was happening.

“The black market was operating wide open around the prison camps in the Philippines”, he said, “and the Jap soldiers used to give stuff to the Americans to sell because the Nip troops didn’t know the price of anything and would take $20 for a case of paint worth $500”.

“Once the Jap MP’s caught some of their own soldiers in a black market deal, and tortured them right in front of us, trying to make them tell on the Americans who were also in on it.  But, they never did tell.

“I was on a trucking detail down at one camp in the Philippines and the Jap lieutenant in charge would hurry us to get through with our work by 10 o’clock in the morning and then would take us for miles out in the country in trucks on a sight-seeing tour.

“A lot of Japs in the Philippines used to have us American prisoners to their houses to eat along with our Jap guards.  They would try to have American meals for us with sugar and coffee and potatoes and if they couldn’t, they would apologize”.

Pope said “practically all” the Japanese civilians he knew were against the war and that many of the soldiers were.  “They nearly all hated Roosevelt and Churchill and our leaders, but they liked American soldiers.  I hate their leaders too like Tojo and Homma, but I got nothing against any Jap soldiers or civilians”.

Pope reiterated the often-made observation that the Japs could be stupid one minute and sharp as a tack the next.

“For months while loading Jap ships in the Philippines, we Americans were sabotaging and never did get caught.  We were loading gasoline and whenever we came to a barrel with the top partly unscrewed we would load it with the top down and put other barrels on top of it.  The gas would finally leak out and get down in the engine room and the ship would catch fire or blow up.  That happened a lot and they never did catch us”.

“We also used to get away with a world of stuff while loading supplies at the dock.  We used to get several old socks and fill them with sugar and strap them on our bodies under our clothes and walk off the ship with them.

“I saw a fellow go off a ship once with 75 pounds of supplies.  Besides the socks, he borrowed a pair of shoes about eight sizes too big and carried them off full of sugar and had several cans of milk stacked on his head under a tall hat.  The Jap guards didn’t even look twice at him.  The next time you would walk off a ship with two cigarettes hidden somewhere and they’d nail you”.

Pope said that the day before the war ended the Americans, as usual, got off the road when they passed Japanese on the road.  “The day after the war ended”, he said, “They got off in the ditches and let us pass”.

“We used to have to salute and bow to all Japanese military – officers and enlisted men.  When the war was over, we kept on saluting the Jap officers in our camp.  That sure baffled the Nips.  They couldn’t figure it out.  I’d hear them talking about it and it was the funniest thing I ever heard”.

Once while a prisoner, Pope won a drawing to see which American would be allowed to send a radio message to their parents.  “The Japs cut mu message down from 150 to about 20 words.  About 60 people heard it here in the States, and they all wrote my mother in Berryville.  At the end of the message, I said ‘My best to Dot’ – she was my girl.  But everybody who heard it got that part balled up.  They all thought it was something about dot-dash code”.

(This article was written by Wade Jones and published in a 1946 edition of the Winchester Evening Star.  Ralph Pope was one of four brothers from Berryville who served in the military during World War II.  He died on April 12, 1996)

This entry was posted in About Our People. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.