Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam

Roger Mansell
Edited by Linda Goetz Holmes

Only two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the island of Guam was invaded by the Japanese forces and almost 800 people, including 414 American military men and women, were captured.

All the American POWs of Guam were transported to Japan and many were then sent to work for Japanese industries. They endured three and a half years of brutal slave labor, constant beatings, starvation, and diseases.

Roger Mansell, a longtime POW history researcher, spent ten years to write about the experience of the Americans who were captured on Guam. He decided to write about these POWs because he realized that theirs was one of the least known episodes of the Pacific War.

Roger follows these POWs to where they were sent- POW camps in Japan, Zentsuji, Hirohata, Tanagawa, Osaka, and Rokuroshi.  Drawing on diaries, interviews with survivors and archival records, he vividly tells their day-to-day struggle as POWs of the Japanese.

There are many descriptions of cruel treatments these POWs were subjected to.

“At Tanagawa, there was nothing," said six-foot-tall Pfc. Herb Humphrey of the Insular Patrol on Guam.  “This was the worst time of my POW existence. We were using picks and shovels to tear down a mountain for a Jap submarine base. We would load small ore cars with rock and dirt, push the cars out over the water, and dump them. Rain, snow, it didn’t matter—it was back and forth, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and with damn little to eat.  Within the first few days, we were all sick with dysentery, but that never stopped the Japs from forcing us to work. Constant and savage beatings were normal, everyday happenings.”
    (Chapter 17: Tanagawa)

But Roger also mentions some POWs' remarkable human capacity to have compassion for Japanese civilians who they knew were also suffering. He wrote beautifully about one episode that took place right after the end of the war.  

The Japanese rightly assumed that the mistreated prisoners would seek revenge against their captors. Any large-scale revenge killings became impossible, however, as the culpable staff and guards had fled from every camp within two days of the surrender.

But a unique phenomenon occurred in almost every camp. A universal feeling prevailed-- not forgiveness, but a sense of sorrow for the average Japanese. As one POW remarked, “We all felt a bit of sorrow for the average schmuck. They’d been led to believe all this nonsense about Japanese superiority and that we were nothing more than animals. It was pitiful to see them now.  Exhausted, powerless, hungry, and absolutely terrified of the future.

In Zentsuji during the war, when the POWs were transported in open stake-body trucks to work sites near the Sakaide train yards, they passed beneath an overpass. For the last year of the war, a Japanese woman was frequently seen rushing from her home to the overpass in order to rain dirt and small rocks down upon the defenseless men. “Probably a Jap mother who lost her son,” remarked one of the POWs. With equanimity the men simply accepted the woman’s hostile action and merely ducked whenever she appeared.

After Japan had surrendered but before the men left the prison camp, two prisoners, fluent in Japanese, paid a visit to the home of the infamous woman. Opening the door, she bowed deeply, expecting a severe retribution for her actions. Telling her to stand erect, they presented a large box of food and clothing. "We were not your enemy," they told her.  Japan had been physically devastated, its people on the verge of starvation, and there was fear in the hearts of every native.  Acts like this gave the prisoners a release from the hatred they felt in their bones– a hatred that had kept them alive since capture. In every camp the guards, civilian honchos, and local laborers who had aided the prisoners were sought out for a measure of reward.                                      (Chapter 25:Operation RAMP)

Roger did not live to see his book published. He passed away on October 25, 2010.

His friend and noted historian on Allied POW experience in the Pacific, Linda Goetz Holmes, edited his manuscript and had it recently published from Naval Institute Press.

Three prominent people praise the book on the back cover:

"In the days of shock and horror that followed Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, another monumental event, occurring almost simultaneously, was largely overlooked: Japan's bloody seizure of the strategically critical island of Guam. For the American troops, civilians and native people captured in the invasion, so began an epic ordeal. The Americans were shipped off to be slaves for the Japanese, while the natives remained behind to endure four years of brutalities under their captors. Roger Mansell, the pre-eminent historian of Pacific POWs, devoted the last years of his life to unearthing and telling this forgotten story, and after his death, the work was completed by his colleague, the esteemed POW author Linda Goetz Holmes. Chronicling a lost chapter of World War II, Captured promises to be an authoritative, fastidiously researched and compelling read."  

--Laura Hillenbrand, author of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption and Seabiscuit: An American Legend

"Roger Mansell worked tirelessly to research and document the stories of American POWs in the Pacific during World War II. His efforts give us a better understanding of the great service and sacrifice of these heroes. The stories he tells are a tribute to the warriors who defend us."    

 --Oliver North

"Roger Mansell's Captured is a beautifully written, richly researched account of the fall of Guam and a searing reminder of the horrific ordeal suffered by American prisoners of war at the hands of the Japanese."   

--John A. Glusman, author of Conduct Under Fire: Four American Doctors and their Fight for Life as Prisoners of the Japanese, 1941-1945

By the time of his death, Roger had complied a vast database of information on Allied POWs of the Japanese and made it available on his website,
Center for Research: Allied POWS Under the Japanese. The site is now maintained by his friend and fellow POW history researcher, Wes Injerd.

I first met Roger in 2001 and we soon became friends. He was often the first person to share his thoughts with me whenever I updated my website, US-Japan Dialogue on POWs.  He always encouraged me, writing, “Keep up the good work!” 

Neither of us had any personal connection to the POW history, yet we both knew how working on this topic was enriching our lives. We often talked about it.  During his final months of battle with cancer, he wrote to me, “Very few will ever understand why people like us spend the time and effort... but we know and that is all that matters.”

Roger wrote the following in his acknowledgement in this book:

I have had a charmed life. Never had to carry a gun in anger. Never had my own home or family attacked in a war.  I hope through my work to have repaid a small part of the debt I owe to all who paid the price for my freedom, and to have honored them by doing my best to disseminate some of their stories.

He passed away one month later.

Roger was a tough act to follow when it comes to the scope of his research. But we can all be inspired by his dedication to remembering and disseminating the stories of POWs of the Japanese and try our best to carry on his mission.
           (Kinue Tokudome)

Visiting the late Congressman Tom Lantos and Mrs. Lantos together (2005)

*  More information on Captured and its author Roger Mansell can be found  here.  Try to watch his video message on the importance of sharing research.