by Chaplain Earl Brewster USN (Ret.)
Sketches by Rosella M. Brewster
There I was — stranded on that waterfront — looking out across the bay, which had become a graveyard for ships and men. My own ship had fled the bombings, barely getting away alive and unhurt. So I had no “home”, no friends, nowhere to go. I was an orphan in a strange land, and felt something like a lost soul must feel on judgment day. It was almost a feeling of nakedness …in a frightened city … beginning to be ravaged by the hell of war. I was really “up the creek”, with no visible means of propulsion.
Never had I experienced such a feeling of futility and frustration. How had I gotten here? What was I doing here? And what was going to happen to me now? In order to offer answers to these questions, and many others, the following true story has been written.
After the final surrender of the Philippines, I was interned at the prison camp number 1 at Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, P. I. I met Chaplain Brewster for the first time in this camp and was immediately struck by his splendid example of courage and fortitude under the stress of the terrible circumstances in which we found ourselves. In this camp all Naval and Marine Corps personnel, seeking to keep together as much as possible, had managed to be quartered in the same portion of the camp. It was difficult to maintain faith and hope in these horrible circumstances, but it was made easier for all of us by the moral and spiritual leadership of Chaplain Brewster. He was our friend and counselor and a constant source of good cheer and hope. He ministered to the sick, organized a daily Bible class for us which benefited all of us greatly, and every Sunday he delivered a sermon to us which was absolutely inspiring. His efforts were endless even though his physical strength ebbed constantly as a result of the starvation we were enduring.
Finally, a group of prisoners numbering 1,000 were sent to camp number 2 at the former Davao Penal Colony in Mindanao. Chaplain Brewster and I were in this group. We all suffered terribly from exposure and the unbelievably crowded and filthy conditions on the Japanese ship during the 11-day trip to Davao. Upon our arrival there, we were forced to march about 20 miles, which, in our weakened condition, was almost beyond the limits of our endurance. It was not long after our arrival in this new camp that Chaplain Brewster developed beri-beri, the disease which caused untold suffering among the prisoners. The chaplains condition was very serious. He suffered endless, stabbing pain in his feet and legs and he was not able to get up from his bed in our crude hospital. He was very thin. Sleep for him was almost impossible since there were no sedatives and the pain never stopped, not even for a minute. He once told me, “Jack, I never knew such suffering was possible on this earth. But I will never give up.”
Col. Jack Hawkins USMC, (Ret.)