Dedication, I was told, is to give thanks to people who have supported one's attempt to write a book.
My first wife, Loekie Smit, who died on Christmas 1999, always encouraged me during our last years of marriage to get my story off the ground. She herself grew up in Medan, Sumatra, only to be moved during the war to Camp Tjideng in Batavia, Java. Loekie never wanted to talk about her experiences during the Japanese occupation; when I quizzed her, she usually would burst into tears and revealed nothing. By sheer coincidence did I obtain shreds of stories, one where she at the age of eleven was beaten mercilessly by a Japanese soldier whose request in Japanese for an eggbeater she had not understood. Nevertheless, she pushed me to write down my nightmares, even if it was at two in the morning, just to get it off my chest. She stood by me to make drawings and maps and to improve the manuscript. She exemplified the spirit of many in the camps who were determined to rise above their horrific experiences and continue their lives with dignity and grace.
Our five children and my brother's children in Holland have known little about their parents’ experiences, and our grandchildren even less. Several episodes came unexpectedly to light with which they were confronted. Our children and grandchildren find it hard to deal with this story, for it comes too close to home, as they put it.
This book will let them see into the depths of their grandparents, and I hope it will give them a sense of the strength and determination we all need to live a meaningful life.
Second, my sincere thanks to a retired teacher, Mrs. Gretchen Russell, living in Gig Harbor, Washington, who spent a great deal of time improving my American English. I benefited so much from her down-to-earth, stern corrections and teachings. How grateful I am for her help when I needed it the most.
(p.xx) Third, this book is dedicated to the boys in Camp Bangkong who did not survive and shared our harsh and difficult experiences. Some of them I had to prepare for burial, a gruesome experience that taught me how difficult it was to stay alive under the circumstances. There is a statue of a small boy with a hoe and ax, dressed in a loincloth, to be found in Bronbeek, Arnhem, in the Netherlands, honoring boys like them.
Fourth, my gratitude to Fordham University Press, which I approached after reading a book it had published about an American soldier in Tunisia, who was taken prisoner by the Germans and brought to a Stalag. He used a hidden camera and took pictures, bribing guards to get film. I was so impressed by Fordham's willingness to publish these pictures that I approached it in the hope that it would publish my memoir, along with my drawings and maps.
Fifth, my current wife, even though she has a difficult time hearing the stories, helped me with my writing and total ignorance about computers, which turned out to be extremely helpful.
My son wrote the following poem:
- The Hand I Would Be
- I've always known of a stirring pain
- In the resilient souls from which I came
- I've seen eyes with dust from a hurtful past
- Hide ghosts of tears too defiant not to last
- I've had hatred towards fairness for not being there
- In stories where even my God didn't care
- I've only regretted that I could not be
- A hand back through time,
- To change it, you see?
In 1993, I became convinced that I had to write my autobiography. Many people who had listened to my stories over the years encouraged me to do so. This was invaluably reassuring, and it was stimulating to go ahead with research and a daunting struggle to master written English, my third language.
My dear deceased friend John Buffalo and I were like brothers. John read my first draft, written in poor English, and encouraged me not to give (p.xxi) up and to write down all my memories. Since John had been in the thick of this war, he had a better understanding for what happened to us boys. He himself served during World War II aboard a tin can, a destroyer. He enlisted in December 1941 and was sent straight to the Solomon Islands. Later he served under Bull Halsey throughout the Pacific Theater. His boatswain, who disliked John, sent him ashore on Tulagi in 1942. In a sloop with other sailors, John landed on the beach to explore the island, a Japanese floatplane base south of Florida Island and opposite of Guadalcanal, while heavy fighting was still going on for this base. He and his sloop mates were horrified to see their destroyer suddenly steam away! They were abandoned.
The Japanese navy came down “the slot” to do battle, and John's ship was sunk. A few days later, another destroyer retrieved their stranded group. He remained aboard this ship for the rest of the war and was discharged from the navy in Bremerton, Washington, in 1945. John studied to be a teacher and ended his career as the principal of Stadium High School in Tacoma.
In 1993, my wife and I went to Indonesia to revisit the old places. Evangelist Bob Brodland and his kind wife helped us during our stay in Djakarta. They outlined our trip over the island of Java. In many places, notified in advance by the Brodlands, ministers welcomed us. Among them were the Awondatu family, who lived in Cianjur, close to Bandung, who were so kind as to invite us into their home, while in Magalang we received the help of the Malino family. Victor Malino, a very kind and understanding person, accompanied me on the emotional trip to Camp Bangkong in Semarang, where I took pictures and relived vivid memories of the boys’ camp. The people working at the school named Bangkong did not know that their building ever had been a concentration camp. It was a shock to them.
Thanks to all of you, my experiences came together as a book. I hope that students in history will read this story, for few Americans know about the teenaged labor camps created by the Japanese. (p.xxii)