Hours after attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers stormed across the Philippine city of Baguio, where seven-year-old Curt Tong, the son of American missionaries, hid with his classmates in the woods near his school. Three weeks later, Curt, his mother, and two sisters were among the nearly five hundred Americans who surrendered to the Japanese army in Baguio. Child of War is Tong’s touching story of the next three years of his childhood as he endured fear, starvation, sickness, and separation from his father while interned in three different Japanese prison camps on the island of Luzon. Written by the adult Tong looking back on his wartime ordeal, it offers a rich trove of memories about internment life and camp experiences.
Relegated first to the men’s barracks at Camp John Hay, Curt is taken under the wing of a close family friend who is also the camp’s civilian leader. From this vantage point, he is able to observe the running of the camp firsthand as the war continues and increasing numbers of Americans are imprisoned. Curt’s days are occupied with work detail, baseball, and childhood adventures. Along with his mother and sisters, he experiences daily life under a series of camp commandants, some ruling with intimidation and cruelty but one, memorably, with compassion. In the last months of the war the entire family is finally reunited, and their ordeal ends when they are liberated from Manila’s Bilibid Prison by American troops.
Child of War is an engaging and thoughtful memoir that presents an unusual view of life as a World War II internee—that of a young boy. It is a valuable addition to existing wartime autobiographies and diaries and contributes significantly to a greater understanding of the Pacific War and its impact on American civilians in Asia.