A Few of Our Biographies:
The World War II P.O.W. Diary
Captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in May, 1942, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Broda R. Rayborn was held as a prisoner of war for more than three years. He kept a diary during his ordeal, writing in notebooks and on paper scraps. Here is a 5,000-word excerpt from his 45,000-word journal. The material has been lightly edited for clarity.
His entries are raw, non-fancy, honest, sardonic - the voice of an ordinary combat soldier locked up against his will. The writing is also, on occasion, nasty and racist, as might be expected, perhaps, of a man held for years, half-starved, by his sworn enemy. War can brutalize good men - sometimes temporarily, as in the case of Rayborn, but often permanently.
World War II in the Pacific was a "war of hate," writes author John Gregory Dunne. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, writes historian Gordon W. Prange, Americans "reeled with a mind-staggering mixture of surprise, awe, mystification, grief, humiliation, and, above all, cataclysmic fury." The scholar Paul Fussell notes, "For most Americans, (World War II) was about revenge against the Japanese, and the reason the European part had to be finished first was so the maximum attention could be devoted to the real business, the absolute torment and destruction of the Japanese. The slogan was conspicuously 'Remember Pearl Harbor.' No one ever shouted or sang 'Remember Poland.'" The Bataan Death March of 1942 (mentioned in passing by Rayborn) contributed powerfully to the raging emotions of the day. (It was first described in the U.S. in early 1944.) This corrosive hatred almost certainly contributed to the willingness of the U.S. to use the atomic bomb on Japan.
Remarkable, really, that after 45 months of such fury, America and Japan quickly forged a peaceful co-existence. Perhaps that fact carries a hopeful note for the future of humanity, and can be regarded as a subtext to the following passages.
Rayborn (1920-80) was born in Kansas and raised in Twin Falls County, Idaho. He returned to Idaho after the war and served for two years there as a county sheriff. He was a miner by profession, and, with his wife Laurel Heckert Rayborn, owned and operated an upholstery shop in Hailey, Idaho. He and Laurel had three children - Steve, Dana, and Debra, all of whom live in Idaho. Debra brought her father's diary to HistoryAccess.com.
Rayborn was 22 when he was imprisoned. His incarceration was divided into two sections - more than two years in the Philippines and about a year in Japan. After the war he received the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal, and several other decorations. - B.F.
May 29: We have been prisoners of war for 23 days now.
June 26: We are still here. We have more rumors every day. I have been eating rice so long now that when food is mentioned you think of rice or something to go on it. You can talk about beans, spuds, meat, but you have forgotten how they taste. Another strange thing is women - you don't hear the boys talking about them anymore.
When we first came in to Camp Three the Japs shot four men for taking off. Now the rest of the boys seem to stick around. The Jap policy is "One man makes good his escape, nine men in camp get shot."
I keep wondering how everybody at home is. Too much thinking. Guess I will sleep.
November 1: The hospital at Camp One is one of the worst things I have seen. It would be better for them to shoot a man when he gets so far gone instead of leaving him to die.
November 18: Our graveyard here has 2,265 now.
November 27: Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day. Worked all day and the same chow. Rice and about three pounds of greens to make 50 gallons of soup. The officers had duck or chicken. They are the most hated bunch in the camp. They steal the chow from the enlisted men to keep their own bellies full.
I often wonder what the people in the States know about us or the war we fought.
6210 is my Nipponese name. Number 19010999 is the one the U.S. gave me.
The rumors are present at all times, everything from that the Red Cross is coming to we are traded for, FDR is dead, Germany has fallen.
December 7: Tomorrow is December 8th, one year since my company, M Company of the 31st Infantry, stood outside of their Day Room and heard over the radio that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor and a state of war existed between them and the U.S. A lusty cheer went up, they thought they were ready for anything. I wonder how many would cheered if M Co. could have seen that one year ahead, less than 30 would be alive out of 115, and those 30 would have been prisoners of war for over seven months.
December 12: A camp is a funny place, funny as death. Men starving to death on a belly full of rice.
Some men here feel we will make it out of here shortly. Some say we have two or three years here.
All talk is about chow. Cooking chow or how it looks after it is cooked, or how it tasted.
Girls are something else again. You don't very often hear them mentioned. Most everyone has the same idea: She has married some draftee; their shoes all have round heels from being pushed over backwards.
I am working on the wood detail, leave camp at eight in the morning, walk eight miles, and quit out there at 3:30 and then you walk back eight miles. Nice job, sunshine, fresh air, greens and rice. Too much sunshine and not enough rice.
Rumors are Yanks and tanks are getting closer this way.
December 25: Well, here is wishing everybody at home a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. I am in good shape. That is, for this place.
This year we are getting British Red Cross packages. As yet I don't know what they consist of. Also the Philippine Red Cross is giving us something. And some private packages. Almost like there was a Santa Claus.
All boxes contain chow, but that is what we would like the most anyway.
Nobody says anything about home but you can tell that is what they are thinking about.
December 28: That lovely little hike the boys made from Bataan to San Fernando is known in the States. I wonder how much or how many details they know. That is one hike that will always be remembered.
Now after getting all that good chow over Christmas it's beginning to make me think of girls. Eileen, Roma, Helen. The truth is I hope they are getting a bang out of life. I know I am going to if I ever get a chance.
December 31: The last day of a bad year. In the States 1942 is probably the best year ever, more money, drinks, and everything going at a high rate of speed. People seeing troops board ships for a war overseas. Heroes in the making.
January 1: Before we fell at Corregidor it was thought and often heard, "This is about as bad as anything can be or get." We found out different.
This year has started out all right. More chow, and a pack of butts, and a rumor that more are to come. You know if I keep getting this good chow and dreaming about girls I am going to owe all my back pay when I get out of here.
January 11: We filled out a Red Cross card yesterday. They are to be sent home. You couldn't say anything besides you was as near OK as could be expected.
January 14: As rumor goes there is supposed to be a MacArthur Day in the States. Here we think of him quite often. Also we use his name often: "Pull a MacArthur" means to take a powder or to take off.
A guy showed me a picture of a good-looking girl last night. For some reason it made me feel like hell. Started me thinking about the past I guess.
January 20: Germany has fallen. We have troops on some of the Southern Islands. Seem to be the best of the rumors.
January 21: Sometimes when I dream at night I can see some of the guys that got killed. Once I was going to shake hands with them.
All it would take is a couple of weeks of good chow and a look or two at the bottom of a whiskey glass and a babe or a skirt of some kind and I would be ready or more than ready to take another crack at our little slant-eyed bastards, or the Germans. Wine, women and chow and I will take a crack at them all.
February 3: Yesterday as we walked by, a Filipino stuck up two fingers for V for Victory. A Jap saw him. Three Japs lined up and took turns knocking hell out of him.
February 21: Fifteen months of war, no women, no drinks, damned little chow. Hell, I must be a virgin by now.
March 12: Rumor. Wrong-way MacArthur has decided he is going to have to fight instead of run.
March 23: Yesterday one of our nice little Japs showed me what a hobnailed boot feels like when they hit you in the face. They leave a nice little mark.
March 27: It is so hot now that it doesn't seem possible to live, much less work, but we do.
April 12: Guerrillas are active as hell all over this island.
April 14: Another man tried to go over the hill last night. He was shot this morning.
May 24: A Jap killed himself last night. Some of the boys saw it. Sloppy job, used an ax.
June 5: Rainy season is here.
June 9: Been raining for a week.
June 25: Every once in a while the Japs come through looking for diaries and books like this. Wonder what would happen if they would find this one.
July 13: Another man tried to go over the hump yesterday. The Japs caught him. I wish some big shots in the States could have seen what his body looked like when they brought him in. The Japs had worked him over before they killed him. Both legs and jaw were broken and bones sticking through the skin. One eye out. Bayonet wounds in the belly. He must have been deep in hell before they killed him.
August 3: Rumor - we all get a new Ford when we get back, and a lot of other stuff. I had some gin the other day. God, that was good.
August 12: I now weigh 201 lbs., most I ever weighed yet. I had a nice dream about Roma and Betty last night. Made me madder than hell when I woke up this morning.
September 3: I am now at Nielson Field, outside Manila about three miles, working on an airport building and a runway with a pick and shovel. My head is shaved. We stand all formations to the Jap lingo.
September 10: Rumors are 1,500 men went to Japan from Camp One. I am still in good shape from pick and shovel and carrying cement.
October 8: I am going to devote the rest of my life to women and drinks, it's according to how I feel which comes first.
October 29: Some of the men are talking about pulling a MacArthur. They seem to think the Japs have forgot about the policy, "One man go, ten men no go no place no more."
November 29: American Red Cross boxes came in today. Each man got 47 lbs. of chow. More canned chow than we have seen in two years. People in the States can't realize what this means to men like us. It means life itself.
December 2: Chow - chow - eat chow, dream of girls. Cans of food you have been dreaming of for two years.
December 3: Rumors are all good, or maybe they sound better to me when my belly is full of good chow.
December 17: I'm sad and lonely and that is no B.S. It gives you a funny feeling when you start thinking of what it would be like to be home for Christmas and then try to figure the odds against you ever seeing another Christmas at home.