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THE PACIFIC WAR THROUGH THE EYES OF FOUR PHYSICIAN PRISONERS OF WAR
CONDUCT UNDER FIRE
FOUR AMERICAN DOCTORS AND THEIR FIGHT FOR LIFE AS PRISONERS OF THE JAPANESE. By John A. Glusman. 588 Pages. Viking 2006

John Glusman, the author of Conduct Under Fire: Four American Doctors and their Fight for Life as Prisoners of the Japanese, traveled with his 86-year-old father, Murray Glusman, to the Philippines and Japan in 2001. The goal was to retrieve the memories of his father's experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II.

During the trip, Murray spoke more freely about himself than he had at any other time in his life. The author also had contacts with Naval, Army, and Marine Corps historians and interviews with key descendants of the Japanese men who were in charge of the prison camps. They all helped to reconstruct his father's wartime experience and that of his three friends – Navy doctors who were in or near Manila at the beginning of the war in the Pacific in December 1941.

THE FOUR PHYSICIANS

Murray Glusman had been chief resident in neurology at Welfare Hospital on Welfare Island in the East River. He was in the Naval Reserves; in anticipation of war in the Pacific, he was called to active duty and sailed for Manila, Philippine Islands, on August 8, 1941.

George Ferguson was at a United States Marine Station in Shanghai when he was transferred to Manila at the time of the Japanese invasion of China. The other two Navy doctors, John Bookman and Fred Berley, also in the reserves, were called to active duty and were stationed near Manila.

Military action was anticipated and the United States had a B-17 bomber ready to go to bomb Formosa, occupied since 1904 by Japan. Before the B-17 could take off, it was decimated by Japanese bombers and Zero fighters attacking the US military installations in and around Manila, including those on the Bataan Pennisula and Corregidor Island in Manila Bay. This attack began two days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The Japanese viewed Americans as overly self indulgent and believed that their own “genetically pure” race was destined to rule all of the Asian countries so that a new world order could be established to replace what they called Anglo-American imperialism.

American military men were also instilled with hatred for the Japanese and were taught that they were treacherous and were savages. Against this background of racial stereotypes, the battles of the Pacific war were fought.

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“After the capture of the American troops, the four Navy doctors were among medical personnel responsible for the medical and surgical care of all of the prisoners of war. They had minimal equipment and few medications. Their Japanese commanders provided little available supplies to the Americans. Their biggest enemy was Falciparum malaria.”

AIR RAIDS TAKE THEIR TOLL

The attacks on Manila, Bataan Pennisula, and Corregidor Island (“the rock”) were a long series of 300 or more air raids from December 8, 1941 until the surrender of Corregidor by General Jonathan Wainwright on May 6, 1942. About 12,000 Americans were captured on Corregidor. They were among over 25,000 US Army and Air Force personnel captured in the Philippines. Forty-two percent of them died in captivity.

After the capture of the American troops, the four Navy doctors were among medical personnel responsible for the medical and surgical care of all of the prisoners of war. They had minimal equipment and few medications. Their Japanese commanders provided little available supplies to the Americans. Their biggest enemy was Falciparum malaria. The medical teams lacked food for their patients and clean water, and they had no quinine to combat malaria.

The fall of the Bataan Pennisula preceded the fall of Corregidor, and those captured on Bataan were subjected to the infamous “death march” from Mariveles to San Fernando on the west coast of Luzon. More deaths occurred on that death march than occurred in the fall of Bataan.

POOR CONDITIONS FOR PRISONERS OF WAR

After the fall of Corregidor when the four Navy doctors were taken as prisoners, they had inadequate means to care for the other prisoners in their charge. The prisons in Manila were old and conditions were bad. Their captors considered the Geneva conventions irrelevant. With inadequate nutrition, pellagra and beri beri occurred frequently. Red Cross packages sometimes reached the prisons, but some or all of the contents were often taken by the guards.

The four Navy doctors were transferred to another prison known as Cabanatuan, eight hours north of Manila by narrow gauge railroad. Conditions at Cabanatuan were no better. When they were moved again to Osaka, Japan, George Ferguson was left behind because he had amoebic dysentery. He was later transferred on an unmarked prison ship that was sunk by an American torpedo; he died along with 1,791 other American prisoners. Ninety-three percent of the allied prisoner of war deaths at sea in the Pacific were the direct result of allied bullets, bombs, or torpedoes.

When the remaining three Navy doctors in Japan were finally moved to a hospital in Kobe, they were trying to provide care for fellow prisoners while being threatened by American bombers who by then were closing in on Japan. The firebombing of Osaka devastated a large part of the city and threatened those prisoners of war in the hospital at Kobe. The Japanese doctor in command in Kobe tried to provide better facilities for the prisoners. He was interviewed by the author and his father in gathering information for this book.

THE GREATEST NAVAL BATTLE OF WW II

In October 1944, the battle of Leyte Gulf heralded the re-invasion of the Philippines by American troops. Some have called this the greatest naval battle of World War II. Japan lost four carriers, three battleships, 10 cruisers, and 11 destroyers – losses that decimated the Japanese navy. During September and October 1944, Japan suffered the peak of their losses of merchant ships. This proved deadly for American prisoners of war because, during this brief period, 10,716 prisoners died as a result of actions by US submarines.

After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war effectively ended. Of the 277 Naval Medical Department men on duty in China and the Philippines when the war began, 154 died, only seven of them in combat.

After the war there was no public discourse in Japan about its role in the Pacific war and little recognition of the plight of the prisoners of war. Murray Glusman could never forgive Japan for the way prisoners of war were treated, but he was also angry at the US government for failing to compensate prisoners for pay and for reparations.

I graduated from high school in Little Rock, AR, in January 1942 – the same month that Japanese troops invaded the island of Luzon, P.I. at Lingayen Gulf. Three years later, I was flying an A-20 Havoc in the 417th Bomb Group in the US Army Air Force on multiple low-level missions over that same Lingayen Gulf, bombing and strafing to soften up a landing area so that American soldiers and marines could land and in due course recapture Manila and the island of Luzon.

Reviewing this book about the Pacific war prompted buried memories for me of the recapture of the Philippines, reminding me how lucky I was to return safely and have a long career in academic neurology. Three of the four Navy doctors also returned safely and had long careers in medicine, but for at least one, Murray Glusman, bitter memories also survived.