"In case I should die"—Claude C. Likens noted on the inside cover of his secret, prisoner-of-war journal—whoever found his words was instructed to send them back to his home in Kentucky. His frank admission of death's imminence echoes the fatalism of the Latin phrase supposedly shouted by Roman gladiators on the verge of mortal combat: Morituri te salutamus (We who are about to die salute you). Such cold courage and much more about Likens's intriguing personality shine through the edited transcript of his four-by-six-inch book-turned-journal, which constitutes this special issue of the Register.
Masterfully edited by Dr. Kelly Crager of Texas Technological University, the complex physicality of the Likens journal posed a major challenge. Some passages were written in ink over words scribed in pencil. Other sections were inverted and written from back to front. Still other parts consist of poems, transcripts of letters, vocabulary lists, ideographs, and litanies of names and addresses. Also remarkable is the journal's own journey from closely guarded secret in Yokohama 1-D prison camp to published work. Unknown to most until long after Likens's death in 1996, his words live on through the generosity of his family and the studious care of numerous museum curators and special collections archivists. At base, the journal also contains a brief narrative of Likens's own passage from a Kentucky National Guardsman in Company D, 192nd Tank Battalion, to a survivor of the epic battle of Bataan, and to a prisoner of the Japanese for the duration of the war. Through his straightforward entries and [End Page 289] compelling, artistic indirections, Likens reveals by implication yet more dimensions of his experience—the prisoners' complicated and desperate lot, and the crimes of his captors.
Likens was equally artful in dodging through the labyrinth of disease, torture, accident, injury, and death that was the prison system Japan created for its war captives. Early in the war, a series of victories over western forces, which surprised both the Japanese as well as the Allies, placed some 350,000 Allied prisoners of war in Japanese hands. After releasing most of the native soldiers of the colonial powers, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) still retained about 140,000 western prisoners in camps throughout Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. The Japanese military scrambled to deal with this enormous prisoner population, and what evolved was an often-uncoordinated and frequently cruel prison system.
In early 1942, the only Allied POWs in Japan proper were the mostly American soldiers captured on Guam and Wake Island, scenes of early land battles. But by April, severe manpower shortages in the Japanese workforce dictated the transportation of thousands of Allied POWs from the Philippines and other areas to the home islands, to supplement the overburdened Japanese economy. By the spring of 1943, the IJA had opened prison camps across Japan, each part of a group centered on a major city. Under each main "city" camp, subsidiary branch camps, dispatched camps, and detached camps were eventually opened.
In a dispatched camp—like the one in which Likens served—housing and clothing were provided by the civilian employer of the prisoner-workers. The IJA's role was to furnish the prisoners and the guards. Thus, Likens's Yokohama Dispatched Camp I-D, one of several camps in Yokohama, was established November 18, 1942, inside that port city and near shipbuilding facilities and docks on soon-to-be-infamous Tokyo Bay. There he and several of his comrades from Company D, 192nd Tank Battalion, along with several hundred other Allied prisoners, struggled to survive, despite bad food, worse medicine, work-related accidents, and the cruelty of [End Page 290] guards. Eventually on May 13, 1945, because of American air raids and in preparation for the expected Allied invasion of Japan (Tokyo had ordered that no POWs should survive), the IJA closed Likens's camp and moved all prisoners to other facilities.
By the end of the war, about 36,000 Allied POWs had been detained in Japan, scattered throughout some 130 main camps, branch camps, dispatched camps, and detached camps. In addition...