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Highlights from Dec 2, 1941 (to Rosella Brewster)

Brewster WWII POW Canvas Journal 3 – Highlights from Dec 2 1941

To Rosie

Rosie, Dear, you probably didn’t get the last letters I wrote you (one from the hospital, where I went on Dec 2 & another after the war began).  Also, I didn’t get replies from either of 2 telegrams I sent you during December.

So – this is to more or less give you an idea of my activities until I get a chance to tell you personally – in case I get a chance to send this in advance.

The war broke while I was flat on my back in the Canacao hospital in Cavits.  We were evacuated to Manila the day before the bombing of Cavite.  I managed to get out of the Army hospital in Manila on Thurs Dec 11 – the day after the Cavite bombing, but it was too late to board the Holland, which left the evening before. Avery keen disappointment – but just one of those things.  I got over my operation ok.

After recuperating for a few days I was attached temporarily to the U.S.S. Canopus in Manila Harbor and then on Dec 22 was sent out to the Canacho hospital unity which was established several miles from Manila at a 7th Day Adventist school where I held a very strange Christmas service.  In fact the Christmas season was plenty strange & lonesome – without you guys.

The day after Christmas we moved back to Manila to a Catholic Girl’s school (Santa Seholtica) since Manila was being declared an open city. We were interned here on Jan 2 by the Japanese who treated us ok.

Chaplain Quinn was there, too. We had a number of patients and a large number on the staff – so I found plenty to do by way of visiting holding services, sings, games etc.  Also organized classes in English Spanish (taught some Spanish) German, Shorthand, etc  This was a nice place and we had very comfortable accommodations – and a pretty good food supply – since we had our share from raiding warehouses, during the port area bombings, which I missed, because of being sent out to the 7tgh day Adventist school.  I did have plenty of practice, though in responding to air raid alarms while attached to the canopus – and until Jan1.

I’ll have a lot to tell you about experiences at Scholastica for 4 months.  It was really too nice there, but of course there was no place else that I could go.  I was glad I could be where I could serve, so in spite of missing my ship, which was a great disappointment to me, I have not been inactive.  I got some good experience & have made some good friends there.

Early in May (after the fall of Bataan & Corregidor) we were sent to an elementary school on the outskirts of Manila, where we were given to understand that we really were prisoners, although we weren’t treated badly.  However, it was quite different from Schohastica, where we have beds, showers & American chow.  I now began to eat rice as the staff of life – and have been at it for going on 6 months – at the present writing(Oct 22) I spent my 38th birthday here and then at the last of the month (May) I was sent with a lot of other prisoners to Bilibid Prison, which is a pretty grim place – in Manila – but was only there overnight – before being loaded into little hot boxcars (80 to a car) for an 80 mile ride (plenty rugged) to the town of Cabanhtuan, where we camped overnight at one of the filthiest places I have ever seen or smelled.  The next day was May 30, is a Memorial day I shall never forget.  I was trying to carry too much stuff (hiking with everything on our backs) and had to discard some of my most valuable in order to get here myself – and guess I was lucky to get here at all – some did not. This is a big Army camp in the country  – built for the Philippine Army before the war. I pretty rugged place – especially the food, which is mostly rice 3 times a day.  We live in Nipa Barracks – built in native style – we all have all Naval and Marine officers in our barracks.  We have to lights no mattresses (or beds) the galley cooks in huge cauldrons with wood – the trees are cut out in the hills and chopped up by our men here.  Water was quite a problem for a while, but it is better now, so our baths (no showers) and washing are not too much of a problem.  “The “heads” which were “Straddle” trenches at first, are somewhat improved now.

A book “Of Rice and Men” is being written by a young author – an officer here – and of course I’ll be able to describe much better when  I see you.

I am able to circulate & visit through the Army and Marine barracks & also the hospital area, which is the grimmest place I’ve ever seen, so time has not hung so heavily on my hands.  There are only 2 other Navy Chaplains here, but a lot of Army.  We have had about 12,000 prisoners in this area – but about 10,000 now – the difference represents those who have not been able to weather the storm – largely on account of the chow.  But I have been doing comparatively well, and fully expect to make the grade and begin life again at least at 40.   I have expressed some of my thoughts in verse which I hope you won’t think too bad – but of course it really is impossible to express my thoughts in relation to guys as wonderful as you and my precious boys.  I am praying for an opportunity to put into actions some of these things.  I’ll write some more soon – hoping I’ll be able to send this to you or better still – see you – before too long.

After looking over the preceding page I realize there are plenty of things I haven’t mentioned but of course that would be the case even after being home a while.  For one thing I have never seen such a rainy season, but have not had to be out in it very much, which is fortunate – these buildings are remarkably weather- proof and the rains are quite warm as a rule. We have been very fortunate in being interned where it is not cold. We hope we will be going South – rather than North – on this account.

The Sunrises and Sunsets are magnificent – I doubt if they can be duplicated anywhere. And the moon – well I expect to take you to Honolulu yet!

And I must tell you about my Sunday services, which I have been holding for the Navy and Marines.  One of the other Navy Chaplains is Catholic  &the other works with the Army – so since I was here first I am continuing to hold 2 services – one for enlisted men & the other for officers – in respective barracks – the latter in my own barracks – which puts me on the spot – but is a very unique privilege – my only tool is my New Testament.

Nov. 16 Penal Colony – Near Bayan, Mindanao, P.I.

Well, Honey, we headed South on Oct. 26 & I have been here over a week and it has been a plenty rough period.  First we hiked (without heavy gear) to the railroad – where we boarded our little hot box cars for a 7 or 8 hr. rugged ride to Manila, where we landed about 10pm – at Bilibid Prison, where we stayed overnight, leaving early next A.M. for the harbor, where we boarded at tramp steamer, which didn’t leave till the next day.

I doubt if you can imagine 1000 officers & men crowded down in this 2 after holds of this ship, which reminded me of the old slave ships.  It was really plenty rugged – terribly hot & close & indescribably dirty.  No place to relax & not enough room for ½ of us to sleep at once at night. The ship was blacked out each night – so it was horribly dark.

We stopped at 2 or 3 ports on the way to unload cargo, which more than doubled the period of the trip – we were on board that Hell-Hole 13 days and I think I lost at least 13 pounds. It was really an experience to remember. In fact one that one could never forget.  It could have been such a pleasant voyage, too – under different circumstances – so many tropical isles near at hand & the water was just like a lake – so this is one time I didn’t get sick – although I did catch a heavy cold, which didn’t help my Beri Beri any:  in fact, my feet have bothered me a lot, which has cramped my style – although I was able somehow to make the hike here (about 30 kilometers) but I don’t know whether  I’ll ever be the same again – at least it is taking me a long time to snap out of it, but I have lots of company – and I musn’t complain too much.  Of course such a trip took a lot out of all of us.  Just to indicate the crowded conditions – there were 6 “heads” and 2 urinals for the 1000 of us.  Water was scarce & of course we got terribly dirty.  So we were glad to get any place where we could stretch out & get some water and hope for better food – to help clear up some of our diet deficiencies.  The better food hasn’t materialized yet, but we have hopes for we are in the midst of a tropical region where lots of ok stuff grows wild & considerable cultivation is carried on right here on the colony, which is a huge place. In fact they seem to want us down here to work the place – since they are using everybody with any work left in them.  By virtue of my age (36-40 are considered light duty) I am getting a job in the library, which ought to suit me ok.

It is hotter here in the daytime than where we were, but it cools off nicely at night.

I will be taking my turn preaching here I guess since we are not separate from the Army and there is only one available place.

We don’t like it here yet any better than the place left but it may prove to be better in the long run – especially if it should mean an earlier liberation.

June 26, 1943

Well, honey, it has been about 6 months since I last wrote – have written sooner, but I was in the hospital for 4 months with Beri Beri , which almost got the best of me, but I have been gradually gaining since coming back to the main compound.  The hospital experience was really a nightmare – I would have suffered like that for nobody but you – & without you I’m sure I could not ghave made it.  But you guys are worth any & every effort that I could possibly make. Some of my friends figured I wouldn’t make it, but I fooled them – through faith in God & you.  I got down to 125 & am up to 140 now.  The suffering was intense & had to be given considerable morphine, but I’m glad to say I was able to discontinue it without any particular trouble.

While in the hospital (in Jan) we got Red Cross packages containing various food items which helped our meager diet a lot – for a while.  This has been one highlight of our stay here, which is getting pretty monotonous – to say the least.

While still in the hospital & unable to stand & preach I held informal services (sitting down)  for several weeks.  The beri beri  (due to lack of [vitamin] B1, etc) was so hard on the feet that I practically had to learn to walk again. I can hardly imagine anything more painful. But the Red Cross food (supplementing rice & greens) & injections of B1 gradually eliminated the worst pain so that my feet haven’t kept me awake since leaving the hospital. I appreciated what care I got at the hospital, but was glad to get out – since it could have been & would have been a depressing experience had it not been for my faith in God &  you.   I also had some friends whom I will never forget. I want you to meet some of these, whom we must visit in our journeys about the country.  I hope you’ll like my idea of a while summer’s trip  – you & the boys.  I’ve been thinking a lot about a 10,000 to 15,000 mile trip around the states.

Also I hope you’ll like my idea of a Cape-Cod house to be built somewhere in So. Cal. I’ve decided that we must have a home of our own, and I can hardly wait until we have the chance to get at it.

I feel very definitely that life will really begin for us at 40.

Things are pretty rugged here, Rosie, but I think we can see daylight, and I’m sure that I have been spared to do what should be our most important work. Needless to say how I miss you guys & how anxious I am to see you again – & to stay with you.  Plenty of details later.

July 2 1943

In looking over what I wrote the other day I realize I neglected to include a number of things. For instance  – how I missed you all last Christmas – the second that I have been away – I still have hopes of it’s not being 3 in a row. It just doesn’t seem natural that I should be away from you guys at all – much less at Christmas time.

I was feeling better at the time of your birthday – but not feeling better about being away from you.  I would never get used to that.  So I am not figuring on staying in the service – even if I should have the chance.  What I want to to do is to get a place in So. Cal. Where we can settle down. For the rest of our active ministry, acquire a home (I have rough plans included herein) educate our boys, and have a place to retire.

I did not forget our mother’s birthdays last month  – & hope they are both well I wil be surprised to find my mother alive, but of course I have hopes.

I wonder what kind of a year the boys had in school – & whether Leland is going to Scout Camp – or whether he might be working.  I can hardly realize that he is as old as I was when I was doing a man’s work. I think about him so much.  No doubt I need him as badly as he needs me.  I trust that I shall get back before he grows too far away from me.  There is so much I would like to talk with him about. I think I will be better fitted because of some of the experiences through which I have been going.

I still have your pictures before me – and they are a constant inspiration.  Of course I didn’t get the one you sent for Christmas ‘4f1 – but I’m glad that you got mine sent from Honalulu.  I’ll write more as time goes on & paper permits.

Aug 22, 1943 (our 17th Wedding Anniversary)

Well, sweetheart, it has been some weeks since I wrote, and I couldn’t let another anniversary pass without telling you how much I am thinking of you these days – and especially today.  How I remember that day 17 years ago – and so many wonderful days during the 15 years we have been together you will no doubt be surprised at some of the details I have remembered during these 2 years.  I imagine I will be a somewhat more considerate husband when I am privileged to be with you again.  If I am not – I ought to be.  These last 2 years have been a nightmare – in that they have been so unreal – & a hell on Earth – in that I have been forced to be away from that which I love better than life itself. Some day I hope to be able to let you know something of how I have missed you guys. I hope & have faith to believe that in the long run we will be able to see that this better experience has produced some benefits.  I am sure that needed to learn some of the lessons that I trust I am learning. I am definitely hoping that life can really begin at 40.  We have very little to go on of course and have been repeatedly disappointed.   But I am glad today that I am still the eternal optimist in spite of a very meager diet (primarily rice). I am continuing to gain – I weigh 15 now as against 125 in January.  My feet are still pretty sensitive as a result of beri beri – but I do not expect them to come back completely until I have been on an adequate diet for a while.  I hope to be able to take a year off in one way or another before getting back into the harness.  Hope we can take our trip through the states next summer and celebrate our next anniversary in Yellowstone Park.  You see – I have it all figured out – all I need to do is get out of here and get home.  This is a very monotonous existence – nothing very new happens from one day to the next – but I have made some very good friends – and I have you – which makes all the difference in the world.  They are still allowing me to carry on somewhat as a Chaplain – it has been quite an experience – just preaching out of a New Testament – and it no doubt has been good for me.

A few letters have been allowed to come through – I would give plenty to get one – but I know  it is not because of any neglect on your part.  I get so homesick & lonesome at times that I can taste it.  We certainly will not take things for granted after this.

I hope you have received at least one of our communications by now.  As rugged as it might be here for me the suspense for you is probably even greater.  I pray constantly that it may not be too great a strain on you sweetheart.  And I trust that I shall not have contributed to mother’s worries too much.

I suppose there are many details from here that you will be interested in – and you will be the only one ever to hear some of them as far as I’m concerned – although I am planning a lecture (maybe a pamphlet) especially for my Preacher Brethren and other pacifists – on “Roundtrip to Hell”.

I have many other things in mind honey, which I want to talk over with you. I miss our talk so much – I do talk to you though, and often ask “Rosie, what would you do – under certain circumstances.  And my fine boys are a constant inspiration to me. I hope they won’t grow away from their dad. I really want to be a good father – & want chance to show it.

I have plans for us & am getting mighty anxious to talk things over with you. I somehow feel that we can make up for lost time, darling, and be the better for it in the long run.


Well dear, it will be soon chow time – and I understand we have a little meat in the soup for a change – so that is something.  I hope your anniversary is as good as could be expected under the circumstances, and that next year we can be with each other – where we belong.  More later – Love- Earl 

(ed. Note: the next two pages -91 and 92- are torn out / missing)