Robert (Bob) Ehrhart was born on June 4, 1923. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve during high school, which was mobilized in November 1940. He was sent to the Philippines in April 1941 to join the Marine Detachment at Cavite. His unit, the Third Battalion, Fourth Marines, was moved to Corregidor during December 1941. He took part in the Battle of Corregidor, fighting at Fort Hughes on Caballo Island, until the surrender on May 6, 1942.
He spent 16 months as a POW in Cabanatuan, where he was engaged in details like burial and wood cutting. In September 1943, he was sent to Japan on the hellship Taga-Maru, then on to the Osaka POW Camp #4-D Sakurajima. He was used as slave labor by Sakurajima Shipyard and Hida Shipping Company (Hitachi), where he worked as a riveter helping build Japanese military ships and tankers. After the camp was bombed in May 1945, he was moved to Osaka #6-B Akenobe, where he was forced to work for Mitsubishi Mining, working as a stope driller in the copper mine.
Bob is a uniquely considerate man, and has an enormous store of stories, cruel or funny, which he tells us with tears or chuckling, from his clear memory. The WWI Japan was a model country for her treatment of German POWs who were imprisoned in camps in Japan, for example, at Bando POW Camp. However, the fanatic nationalists, who took over the Japanese military in WWII, indoctrinated their soldiers with an article from the Field Code: “Never be captured as a POW. You should rather kill yourself avoiding the shame.” That produced a lot of Gyokusai, fighing to the last soldier, in a lot of battle fields, and atrocities against the POWs who were captured by the Japanese.
Bob told me, trying to choose his words, “A lot of crazy things happened. Horrible!” For example, he told me and Shino, a young Japanese reporter for the Manila Daily, about a Filipino girl of around twenty, who tried to give some rice on a banana leaf to the marching POWs. A Japanese soldier hit her with his rifle butt, and she just collapsed. “Awful!” He was crying. ”Sorry, but anyhow, I’ve told you this.”
I had the honor and pleasure of meeting and accompanying him in the 70th Memorial Ghost Soldier’s Valor Tour in April, 2012, to the Philippines. Then Bob graciously accepted the invitation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Third Japanese/American POW Friendship Program, and came over to Japan with his friend, Dolores Frank, from October 13 to 21.
To keep himself sane, and to lift his and his comrades’ morale, he secretly kept drawing cartoons during his captivity. He bartered anything to get a piece of paper. The Carnation Milk tin label was the biggest of his canvases. Friends offered him hints for his works. A total of 133 cartoons managed to survive.
As a special present for the site, "US-Japan Dialogue on POWs," Bob kindly selected three of his cartoons for posting. We strongly hope that all Bob's wonderful cartoons will be publicized in a book so that they will be available to the general public in a lasting form.
Let me now introduce the three cartoons, with admiration from the bottom of my heart for Bob’s courage, humor and love of other human beings, despite the shocking violence and cruelty, inflicted on POWs by the Japanese. Thank you, Bob, for creating these works despite difficulties. May your effort be further rewarded.
assisted by Terry Smyth with English usage.