My Three Years in a Quandary and How They Passed (in STIC), by Martin Meadows

My 10 Years in a Quandary, Benchley

I. INTRODUCTION.  In 1936 an instant best-selling book was published with the title My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew.  Title and book were typical of the noted humorist, author, film actor and columnist Robert Benchley (1889-1945).  As it happens, his was one of the many books I read during my three-plus years as an honored civilian guest of the Imperial Japanese Army in Manila’s Santo Tomas Internment Camp (STIC) during World War II (WWII).  But obviously I did not foresee that, some eight decades later, I would modify Benchley’s book title to use for myself.  My story herein is the first of two accounts tracing the Camp’s impact on me, first during and then after WWII.  This first recollection is intended to answer one of the typical questions asked of ex-internees about life in a Nipponese prison camp.  (Unlike Benchley, though, my primary objective is not to elicit amusement.)

[Note: Thinking back to Nipponese instructions on preparing for Manila internment, I briefly considered the title “My Three Days in a Quandary — and How They Grew”; but I assumed that some potential readers would not would not understand the reference to the instructions that said to bring with you to the Nipponese processing of enemy aliens ‘enough food and clothing for three days.’ ”.]

Thanks to record-keepers extraordinaire Cliff Mills and Maurice Francis, my written answers to several of the aforesaid typical questions — necessarily centered only on the STIC scene — have been preserved and disseminated.  They have dealt with such matters as Camp living conditions, interactions with Nipponese guards, and the paucity of personal hygiene items (e.g., toilet paper).  The question to be dealt with herein is hinted at in the above title — specifically, what did I do (in effect, what was it even possible to do) to pass time during more than three years of enforced detention?  (And I had even more leisure time than did most internees older than I was, for when first interned I was too young by one year to be assigned a job.  Even when old enough, I was on an infrequently-utilized grass-cutting detail, composed of fellow teen-age males and equipped with dull and rusty scythes).  

The broad answer to the time-passing question is simple — while of course nothing out of the ordinary could be done, nevertheless many of the usual pastimes of life in the mid-twentieth century were available to the denizens of STIC both adults and non-adults. This narrative discusses the various pastimes chiefly from the perspective of the Camp’s non-adult members; the adults can speak and of course have spoken for themselves, in innumerable forums over the past eight decades.  As for non-adults, the concern here is with STIC youths — defined here to range from about 10-15 years in age — as opposed to younger children.  By way of preview, youths had available leisure activities chiefly involving sports, non-athletic games, and reading — plus their purely personal diversions from Camp life.  And a final introductory note on numbers — the Camp’s population of around 4,000 (sometimes more, sometimes less) included about 700 persons under the age of 21, and of that number roughly half fell into each side of the divide between 12 and 13.

II. NON-LEISURE ACTIVITIES.  As notedthe concern herein is with the non-adult perspective in general and on youths in particular.  Thus the word “pastime,” which normally denotes leisure time and its enjoyment, for present purposes is used more broadly.  It encompasses two unavoidable, not necessarily enjoyable, and often time-consuming features of non-adult life — its educational and its medical/health aspects.  Those are the first two subjects to be discussed; their placement is meant to signify that they are conceptually different as well as spatially separate from what are usually regarded as leisure pastimes. 

A. EDUCATION.  Though not a leisure activity in the usual sense, education nevertheless is covered herein both for the record and for the sake of comprehensiveness.  At the outset, it should be emphasized that the STIC Education Department had an outstanding and incredibly dedicated faculty (whose members, don’t forget, were not paid for their services), as well as an efficient administrative staff.  (Special recognition must be accorded to the Camp’s sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Helen Toyne, who had taught at the American School; she died in 1944 of a normally minor infection, owing to lack of medical supplies.)  Moreover, all of the members of that department worked under conditions that were extremely difficult, as can be easily demonstrated in both quantitative and qualitative terms.   

School days at Santo TomasQuantitatively, the length of the school day was limited.  There were several reasons for this, not least of which was the endurance (and attention span) of both teachers and pupils, especially as the years passed.  Additionally, classes were terminated toward the end of 1944, as American forces neared Luzon and as malnutrition increasingly affected both instructors and students.  And all the while the educators handled a full load of students; even though schooling was optional, almost all children attended class (early on, about 300 between the ages of 6-15, and 300 between 16-20).  Some 500-700 were enrolled for credit in the College Department; and more than 1,000 internees attended Adult Education classes.  [Hartendorp, I, 34, 159]    

Qualitatively, Camp education was adversely affected by both the limited availability of supplies and textbooks, and the curtailed variety of subjects covered.  As to the latter, post-1900 history, and geography and maps were banned, art and music course-work was limited, and science course lab work was virtually impossible.  As to the former, some classes had only one, or at most two or three, textbooks for perhaps a dozen or so pupils; thus schedules for sharing the books had to be arranged among the students, and/or the books were made available for them at specified hours.  The Education Department created three of its own libraries — for Study Hall, Reference, and Children — all supervised by trained librarians.  Those libraries contained more than 2,000 volumes, including around 1,000 children’s books.  [Hartendorp, II, 422]

In general, furthermore, classroom facilities were not exactly ideal for learning.  Initially, in fact, classes (in my case, for the sixth grade) were held outdoors in the morning shade behind the Education Building (except during inclement weather, of course).  For the 1942-43 school year and later, however, conditions improved considerably; thanks to the cooperation of Santo Tomas University authorities, classes were moved to the top (fourth) floor of the Main Building, where space was occupied by two large former laboratories, which were partitioned into more than a dozen classrooms.  

Santo Tomas graduationRegardless of the adverse conditions, however, my own education proceeded on schedule, and I concluded elementary school in the Camp.  After the wartime-enforced class cancellations following the Pearl Harbor attack, I resumed and finished sixth grade in April 1942, then completed seventh grade in 1943, and eighth grade in 1944; and I was in first year high school when all STIC classes were called off on 24 December 1944.  In that connection, I often have been asked whether the nature of education in STIC adversely affected my post-STIC studies.  As I plan to explain in my next account, the short answer is — no, it did not.   And in any case, despite its many limitations the STIC educational experience provided me with my most prized possession (thanks to artist James McCall).

SIDEBAR.  The topic of “Religious Activity” (or an equivalent term) at best is only indirectly related to that of “Education” in general.  I mention it here only because pre-war I had been learning to read Hebrew, and internment put an end to that — though that did not unduly disappoint me, nor did the fact that there was no Jewish Sunday school (there were perhaps a half-dozen or so Jewish youths in STIC).  On one occasion, though (as described in an earlier article), my father and I were allowed one-day passes so I could have a bar mitzvah ceremony at the Manila synagogue.  [Meadows (a)]  Overall, clearly, religious matters occupied very little if any of my time in STIC. 

B. MEDICAL/HEALTH.  While in STIC I experienced three major, or at least non-minor, health-related episodes; two of them were relatively serious, in light of the prevailing wartime and prison camp conditions.  Considering them in chronological order, the first and the most serious of the three occurred, oddly enough, on my very first full day in the Camp.  As this matter also has been recounted before, it will be only briefly summarized here.  [Meadows (b)] 

1. DYSENTERY.  I slept fitfully my first night in the Camp, and I awoke in the morning with a high fever, a symptom of what was later diagnosed as a case of amoebic dysentery.  I was taken to what was then the Camp hospital (before the Santa Catalina dormitory was converted into the Camp hospital).  It was a small, one-story frame structure in the area behind the Main Building; it had housed the University’s mining and/or electrical engineering classes, and it later served as the Camp’s Isolation Ward.  During the three weeks I was there, two events occurred that stick in my mind.  At one point early on, I overheard a nurse who took my temperature tell another nurse that it was 106.2º F (41.2º C) — a reading I have never forgotten.  And toward the end of my stay, a nurse offered to help me get out of bed for the first time in nearly three weeks; I dismissively said I did not need help, but of course I collapsed onto the bed when I attempted to stand up. 

It was fortunate that a Camp hospital was functioning by the time I was interned.  In my previously-cited piece I did not discuss how the hospital came into existence, so a brief review of that process is warranted here.  When STIC opened, there were no medical facilities whatsoever.  According to the nurse who was in charge of organizing medical facilities, her group had to move five times before they located the building described above.  Much of the equipment for the new hospital, such as beds, was obtained from the Red Cross and donated by other sources; and it was delivered on trucks that had to return several times before being allowed into the Camp.  The early equipment included only a few bedpans, and a couple of basins for bathing some 75 patients, using only cold water until internee workers installed a boiler.  [Davis, 29]  Nonetheless, had that hospital not been in operation when I was interned, the outcome for me might have been very different.

[Note:  All nurses at that time were civilians; no captured U.S. military nurses were interned before March 1942.]

2. HONG KONG FOOT.  I cannot remember when exactly, but probably in early 1943 I decided I had to do something about a medical problem — a case of what was known in the Camp as “Hong Kong foot.”  At the time I thought that was merely amusing internee slang, but I later learned that Hong Kong foot was a colloquial term in China for athlete’s foot, because early Western missionaries found that the problem was widespread in Hong Kong.  In any case, it was difficult to avoid developing the condition in STIC, in large part due to the Camp’s modesty-shredding communal shower facilities that both males and females confronted — in addition to the country’s high levels of temperature and humidity.

I do not recall the details, but at one of the Camp’s clinics — the one in the Education Building — the treatment I received for Hong Kong foot was as follows.  First I had to soak my feet for up to a half hour in a solution of warm water and salicylic acid.  Then an ultra-violet lamp was positioned to bathe my feet for about the same length of time.  The treatments continued daily for several weeks, after which the condition had cleared up completely.  Nor do I recall that it recurred in the Camp; but had it done so, the clinic could have dealt with it only if the necessary supplies and equipment still had been available.   

SIDEBAR.  Unwilling to trust my memory as to the treatment’s details, and to forestall potential critics, I include the following description of the treatment for fungal infections.  “Foot baths became a vital ritual [in STIC] since rampant fungus infections developed almost immediately in men who walked barefoot in the warm, humid climate [and in others].  At first, the nurses treated the infection with potassium permanganate, a purple-colored antiseptic.  When those supplies became exhausted, they used boric acid soaks, a mild antiseptic solution, and finally plain warm water baths and hot sun.  If an infection became particularly painful, the nurses applied a mixture of alcohol, bichloride of mercury and salicylic acid.”  [Norman, 308]  Since I do not recall most of that, either the cited supplies had run out, or my case was not deemed serious enough for such treatment.

3. ELBOW FRACTURE.  I dealt with this subject in an earlier post [Meadows (b)], but I did not explain what caused my broken arm, as it was not relevant there.  It is relevant here because it makes clear not only how the break happened but, more importantly, why it was so serious — for that October 1943 event resulted in a complex fracture and dislocation of my left elbow.  An account of the accident will follow a brief biography of the hero of that episode — Dr. Lindsay Z. Fletcher.  He had been our family doctor pre-war, and as such had presided at my birth (I still feel his non-gentle slaps from that occasion).

Dr. Lindsay Fletcher

A photo of young Dr. Lindsay Z. Fletcher

Lindsay Fletcher was born in December 1890 in Montrose, South Dakota.  He graduated from the University of South Dakota and from the Northwestern University Medical School.  He married Mary Donahoe (1890-1977) in August 1914, and they later had three sons.  Dr. Fletcher arrived in the Philippines in 1925, as a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and as the personal physician of the Governor-General of the Philippines, Leonard Wood.  After Wood’s death in 1927, Dr. Fletcher was discharged from the Army and entered private practice in Manila (meanwhile his wife became an elementary-school teacher at the American School).  In STIC he worked tirelessly serving the internees.  Among other duties, he was the Camp’s medical director and also director of the Santa Catalina Hospital.  I am absolutely convinced — actually, I am certain — that his extensive and unceasing Camp responsibilities caused his early death in Manila (of “heart failure”) at the age of 59 in February 1950.  

[Note:  In contrast, and as evidence, his U.S.-resident older sister, Alice Fletcher Irvin (1885-1975), died at the age of 90.  For a description of his unbelievably rigorous 12-15-hours daily medical/surgical routine, see Stevens, 118.]

Now to describe the aforesaid accident.  To set the scene, I was among internees who were watching a basketball game at the Camp’s outdoor earthen court.  I was standing behind a long, black, fully-occupied bench.  When several people got up and left, I cleverly decided that, instead of walking around the long bench to get to the vacated space, I would crawl through the wide opening between the bench’s back-rest and its seat.  As I was doing so, something happened (I did not see what it was) to cause those sitting down to stand up.  Thus, with suddenly not enough weight to hold down the bench as I crawled through, my own weight caused an imbalance, and the bench began to fall backward.  My next clever move was to instinctively thrust my left arm straight down, presumably thinking to break my fall.  As a result, on hitting the ground, the lower half of my arm was snapped back to form a 90-degree angle with the upper half — that is a normal angle, except that in this case it was in the opposite direction from normal.  As I laid on the ground in a daze, with the bench on top of me, somehow I managed to pull my lower arm back to its normal position.  Meanwhile people were gathering around and the sun was beating down on me.  Someone ran to Santa Catalina for help, and eventually I was carted off to the hospital in a stretcher, in shock and in great pain.

After examining my arm, Dr. Fletcher quickly gained permission to take me to an outside hospital — probably St. Luke’s, where he was authorized to make daily rounds. [Kaminsky, 163].  Fortunately such outside trips were still possible, as the Nipponese military had not yet taken control.  I had long thought (and so stated in my article cited earlier) that Dr. Fletcher wanted to set my arm under St. Luke’s fluoroscope because STIC lacked such equipment.  However, in recent years I have run across references to a Camp fluoroscope still operative as of late 1944.  [E.g., Holland, n.p.; but it was a “weak” one, according to Stevens, 123].  I have therefore concluded that Dr. Fletcher took me to St. Luke’s Hospital in order both to take advantage of their supply of plaster of Paris, which the Camp did lack, as well as to use their “non-weak” fluoroscope.  (St. Luke’s, it should be pointed out, often provided free medical treatment to internees. [Stevens, 115])

[Note:  Margo Tonkin Shiels states that, when her brother Bill broke his arm, “The camp doctor bandaged it with a bamboo split.  Plaster of Paris was not available in the camp.”  (Italics added.)  The arm healed, but it was permanently deformed; he was advised after the war not to have it reset because that would further weaken it.  (Shiels, 7)]

At St. Luke’s Dr. Fletcher had a difficult time setting my fracture.  For either the hospital lacked anesthetic due to wartime conditions, or my case was deemed not serious enough to justify squandering it on me.  As a result, my screams of pain during the procedure must have alarmed the occupants of the entire building, and perhaps even residents of the surrounding neighborhood.  Moreover, my entire arm had become very badly swollen, thus application of the plaster of Paris cast — from shoulder to wrist — was not a pain-free operation.  It was quite a relief, therefore, to return to STIC and to recuperate in bed for four days in the Camp hospital.

That was just the beginning of a lengthy process.  For several weeks — I do not recall how many — I had to await removal of the shoulder-to-wrist cast while the swelling subsided and the trauma abated.  In the meantime, the itching of my arm under the cast almost drove me crazy; I tried desperately to reach under the narrow opening along the length of the cast, but of course that was impossible.  And as for that almost interminable period of time in general, I seem to have blocked from memory the vicissitudes of having had to cope with Camp life with only one usable arm. 

[Note:  According to the headline of a fairly recent article, “Revolutionary New Arm Cast is Waterproof, Breathable, and Itch-Free.”  (Good News Network, n.p.)].

When the cast at last was removed, I almost passed out from the pleasure I experienced as my whole arm was washed and cleaned at the clinic in the Education Building.  Then began a lengthy process of almost daily visits to the clinic; there one of the military nurses put me through a rigorous routine intended to deal with my frozen arm.  It simply could not budge even a fraction of an inch from the 90-degree angle at which the cast had kept it motionless for weeks.  First the nurse had me soak my left arm in hot water for at least 15 minutes, as I recall, to loosen it up.  Then she had me lie down; got on top of my left arm; and, using both of her arms, pushed down and pulled back on my arm repeatedly with all of her strength.  At the first few sessions the arm did not budge; but then, quarter-inch by quarter-inch, it began to give in to the nurse’s grim determination.  After a month or so she had completed the job — my arm had regained its full range of motion, and there was no outward evidence that it had been broken.  

To conclude this medical episode, my left arm avoided the near-certainty of permanent deformation (as happened even in the above-mentioned case of Bill Tonkin’s “normal” break).  That result was thanks to two individuals whom I consider literally to be genuine heroes.  Had Dr. Fletcher not done such a phenomenal job under St. Luke’s fluoroscope (despite having to cope with my non-stop screaming and writhing), and had one of the military nurses (whose name regrettably I have long since forgotten) captured on Corregidor not worked on my frozen left arm almost daily for weeks, it would have been deformed.  

4. MISCELLANEOUS.  Mention of a few other trivial matters will round out this section.  I do not specifically recall having contracted dengue fever in the Camp, but that is certainly a possibility; I had come down with it several times pre-war, and anyway it was regarded as a minor affliction and a fact of life in the Philippines — thus there is no reason to remember any such occasion.  Nor do I recall having had in the Camp any childhood-related diseases such as measles or chicken pox.  I do remember that at one point it became a fad among male youths (including myself) to have their heads shaved; if I recall correctly, that fad may have started initially as a semi-playful reaction to the prevalence of lice.  Finally, at one time my pre-war eye problem bothered me — chronic conjunctivitis bilateral was its formal name — and my mother and I were allowed day-passes to visit my pre-war eye doctor, whose last name was Sevilla.  I recall no other medical issues I had while in STIC.   

III. LEISURE ACTIVITIES.  For the most part, children and youths interned in STIC continued to engage in the same kinds of pastimes that they had enjoyed pre-war.  Most of their games and activities took place outdoors whenever possible, where they could be free of possible supervision, as opposed to being cooped up indoors, where adults would be strung out along the hallways, playing card games, mahjong, chess, checkers, and board games; reading; knitting; etc.  

A. INDIVIDUAL.  We turn now to the specific activities that attracted my interest and helped me deal with my quandary, starting with those that I pursued on my own (individual pastimes) and those I enjoyed along with others, whether as participant or as spectator (group pastimes).  Actually I started out in the Camp mainly as a loner; for example, when former scoutmaster B.G. Leake once invited me to join his popular boys’ club, located in the Education Building, I did not accept.  

1. “WILDLIFE.”  Among my early personal Camp pastimes were reading, my preferred activity, and three that involved Camp “wildlife” (loosely defined).  Among the latter was my most idiosyncratic activity (some may call it “idiotsyncratic”) — the one that explains why I was known to my STIC peers as “the ant man.”  I had always been interested in observing small critters of all kinds; for instance, I well recall the time I observed, inside our garage, a large spider grappling with a huge cockroach, then victoriously carting it off to enjoy its next meal.  

    (a) In STIC I found that ants could provide much to interest me.  In particular, on my exploratory walks around the Camp (another pastime), I had discovered my favorite spot for ant-watching.  It was a tree, about halfway between the Main Building and the front gate, in a relatively secluded spot surrounded by other trees and bushes.  The tree harbored a colony of ants — its trunk was literally covered with large, painful-biting red ants, scurrying between the ground and their leaf-based nests high in the tree’s branches.  Being a (typical?) sadistic youth, I would occasionally hijack a large black ant (of the painful-stinging variety, from a nearby nest in the ground), toss it onto the tree, and watch as red ants instantaneously seized each leg and antenna and hauled it up to a nest.  Even more interesting was my discovery that, if I picked off a red ant and tossed it back onto the tree, the same thing would happen to it — the scent from my fingers caused it to be falsely perceived as an enemy intruder, and it too would be hauled away to its doom.  (I could not have achieved similar results by tossing a red ant onto the black ants’ ground nest, because there were never more than a few scattered black ants wandering aimlessly around their nest’s opening.)  

    [Note:  One ex-internee claimed that boiling red ants in a certain way produced a kind of tangy sauce that could be added to spice up whatever food was available.  (Terry, 106)]

    Bedbugs(b) Another and much less enjoyable pastime was that of coping with bedbugs.  Normally this was merely a fact of life in the Camp and certainly nothing out of the ordinary, pastime or otherwise.  However, during much of my time in room 43, on the third floor of the Main Building, I had an obnoxious neighbor.  The cot next to mine (on my left side when lying supine) was occupied by a red-bearded former Merchant Mariner who was known as Skipper Wilson.  As far as I could tell, Wilson hardly ever showered or even washed.  His bedding was crawling with bedbugs, as were his mosquito net and towel (which was draped over the long rope that suspended his, mine, and others’ nettings).  So it became one of my unpleasant but necessary “pastimes” to pick off bedbugs heading my way, via the aforesaid line and otherwise.  (Our room monitor, Henry Pile — also a former seafarer, as I recall — told me he could not satisfy my request to move Wilson out; but eventually he did move out, to my immense relief.)

    [Note:  As an example of the pervasiveness of bedbugs in STIC, when I started getting mysterious bites on my stomach, I discovered that the bloodthirsty bugs were ensconced in the spaces of my belt buckle!]  

    (c) A third “wildlife”-related activity was possible only during the first year or so of the Camp’s existence, after which time the fauna in question disappeared.  It had to do with the flock of pigeons that no doubt had nested undisturbed for a long time — well before STIC — in the upper reaches of the Main Building.  During the early months of internment, bread was available to internees, who often did not need to consume all of it to assuage hunger.  Thus I was delighted to learn that, if I stood in front of the Main Building and spread pieces of bread on my outstretched hands and arms, flocks of pigeons would perch on them to partake of the feast.  But my willingness to dispense bread came to an end at about the same time the unfortunate pigeons vanished from the scene at the hands of increasingly hungry internees. 

(2) READING.  This was the personal pastime that consumed most of my leisure time, throughout internment.  Before the war I had enjoyed reading, and had acquired modest collections of reading matter for youths, such as Big Little books and comic books — collections that would be worth huge fortunes today.  Below are examples that I owned of each kind.     

Buck Rogers book Superman comic book

After I was released from the Camp hospital following my bout of dysentery, one of the first things I did was to check on libraries.  To my delight, a library — the main Camp library, aka the free library — had been set up in the lobby of the Main Building.  To the left as you entered the front door and in the corner, there was a wooden counter, curved at one end; librarian(s) behind the counter passed out books, as they were turned in, to the internees lined up in front of the counter (and often also along the lobby wall, waiting to work their way up to the counter).  Often, 250 books or more were issued in one day.  The closer you were to the head of the line, the better was your chance to snag a good book before somebody else did so.   

As for the quantity and quality of the main library’s holdings, those eventually totaled about 3,600 volumes; most of it came from the Manila YMCA and from donations by internees.  As time passed, however, more than 500 books became “completely worn out despite constant patching and rebinding”; some of the more popular volumes were rebound four or five times.  Later 600 books were sent to the Los Baños camp and 50 to the Baguio camp.  Thus in time there were only about 2,500 books in circulation at the main library, to serve around 4,000 internees.  [Hartendorp, II, 422; Holter (a), 6; and (b), 4] 

SIDEBAR.  The following reflects the interesting perspective of a woman who helped repair books.

” . . . I was in charge of the high school and college reference library. We had about 500 books in circulation. There were so many qualified college teachers that a course in first year college was offered, primarily to keep high school graduates from losing so much time. Several schools were allowed to bring in their libraries from the city, and, of course, they were censored. Some maps were removed from the encyclopedias; in fact, one volume of the Britannica they [the Nipponese] kept — the “C” one, which we supposed had too much about China. Several valuable private libraries were brought in to us because they would be looted outside. We had a well-organized book binding group; and besides our own, we mended all the grade school books. There was plenty of work, but also plenty of good help. The school people were most appreciative and glad to work with us. There were about 700 school children through high school.”  [Tuschka, n.p.]

As for quality, it was not outstanding, but it was the best that could be hoped for under the circumstances.  One defense of the main library was that it contained “some excellent biographies, historical and general fiction and a set of Harvard Classics,” which isn’t saying much.  [Holter (a), 2]  Nevertheless, the main library absolutely provided me with more than enough reading to satisfy me; certainly it never occurred to me to look for more at any of the private rental libraries.  In that regard, it is worth noting that one of the private libraries contained 700 volumes, another had about 1,500, and a third held 1,000.  Thus their combined total of some 3,200 books, added to the main library’s eventual total of 2,500, means that the total of all books in circulation was well under 6,000.  [Hartendorp, II, 422]

STIC libraryNow to recount my own reading history.  Lacking a list of books I read in the Camp, and rather than try to list at random whatever titles that happen to occur to me, the best way to proceed is to select categories of subject matter, and then to list the authors within each category whose books I recall having read — and if possible something about their content.

(a) Humor.  I cannot recall anything about the nature of my pre-war sense of humor, or whether I even had one.  But I definitely had one after the war, and its eclectic nature since then has been determined in large part by my Camp readings.  In addition to the aforesaid Robert Benchley, I devoured whatever books were available by such humorists as (in no particular order) S. J. Perelman (who had worked with the Marx Brothers); Leo Rosten, aka Leonard Ross (known for his Hyman Kaplan works); Thorne Smith (Topper, etc.); P. G. Wodehouse (Jeeves, etc.); H. L. Mencken (acerbic critic); Stephen Leacock (Canadian point of view); Will Cuppy (hard to beat his book title, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody); Ambrose Bierce (The Devil’s Dictionary); and the usual standbys such as Mark Twain and James Thurber.  Any others are beyond recall.

(b) Mystery/detective/crime fiction.  These first two categories provided my favorite reading matter, perhaps in part because both were so well-represented in the Camp’s main library.  The best-known authors in this group included Erle Stanley Gardner (legal gumshoe Perry Mason); S. S. Van Dyne (the foppish Philo Vance); Dannay and Lee (who were actually Nathan and Lepofsky) used the pseudonym Ellery Queen (also the name of their famous fictional flatfoot); Earl Derr Biggers (Honolulu sleuth Charlie Chan); Rex Stout (portly orchid-lover Nero Wolfe); Leslie Charteris (Simon Templar, aka the Saint); and of course such standbys as Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), Christie, Hammett, and Chandler.  For some reason a book by Frank Gruber comes to mind, titled The Glass Key, but I recall nothing else about it. 

(c) Adventure.  By far my favorites were the novels by F. Van Wyck Mason, set in many exotic sites (about the oft-promoted U.S. Army intelligence agent Captain/Major/Colonel Hugh North); Kenneth Robeson (Doc Savage — “The Man of Bronze”); Sapper/H.C. McNeile (Bulldog Drummond); Sax Rohmer (master criminal Fu Manchu); and of course Edgar Rice Burroughs (whose name is synonymous with that of Tarzan of the Apes); plus various non-Tarzan novels by Burroughs.  

[Note:  My room 43 roommate, Eric Sollee (more on him later), often recommended Jeffery Farnol, author of numerous adventure books, but I do not recall ever seeing any at the main library.]

(d) Science fiction.  The main library had too few books of this genre available, but they included the Jules Verne classics. Most of the rest were by none other than the prolific Edgar Rice Burroughs.  One of his series of books was set on Mars (which he called Barsoom), and chronicled the adventures of John Carter.  Another series centered on Carson of Venus, as one title put it.  And a third series was set at the center of the earth, which he called Pellucidar.  Burroughs also wrote several books set on the earth’s moon.  One non-Burroughs book in particular made quite an impression on me, not because of the story itself but because of its impressive (to me) vocabulary — Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men.  

(e) Westerns.  The only names I can recall in this category are those of Zane Grey (especially Riders of the Purple Sage); Max Brand (who, interestingly, was also creator of the “Dr. Kildare” character); Owen Wister (whose The Virginian dates to 1902); again the incredibly prolific Edgar Rice Burroughs; Clarence Mulford (Hopalong Cassidy); and Johnston McCulley (the Zorro novels).  

(f) Series for and about youngsters.  I read quite a few of these, whatever was available.  I can’t remember the authors’ names, but I do remember that the various series were mostly about brash and daring youngsters, including Nancy Drew, Tom Swift (no relation to Taylor Swift), the Hardy Boys, Bomba the Jungle Boy, and Poppy Ott — oh yes, and the famed novelist Booth Tarkington produced a short series about a lad named Penrod. 

(g) Non-fiction.  Though I did read some non-fiction works, the only ones I can think of offhand were by Frank Buck (of “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” fame), and by two well-known naturalists/explorers/photographers/authors named Osa and Martin Johnson; and I also recall reading Osa Johnson’s I Married Adventure.  Occasionally, if nothing I wanted to read came through the line of internees waiting at the library counter, I would borrow an encyclopedia or a dictionary to peruse (oddly, they were not in demand); elsewhere I have mentioned how this came in handy during one of the quiz shows I was on, as staged for the Camp by STIC entertainment head Dave Harvey.  [Meadows (c)]     

(h) Miscellaneous.  This catch-all category is for American authors I haven’t troubled to categorize, including many from the nineteenth century:  Cooper, Poe, Irving, Twain again, Alcott, Melville, Sinclair, Dreiser, Stowe,  Hawthorne, S. Lewis, H. James, Thoreau, Whitman, H. Adams, Emerson, London, etc.  

To conclude this section at last, I will summarize as follows:  Overall, during approximately 1,100 days in the Camp, I would estimate that I read a minimum of 500-600 books.  At times I easily read a book a day, especially those from section (f) above.  As noted earlier, reading was the primary consumer of my leisure time.

B. GROUP.  As an only child, perhaps I was inclined to be an introvert from the start, but that did not prevent me from engaging in several of the standard kinds of group pastimes.  In the Camp as elsewhere, those included a number of typical kinds of diversions, of which four in particular appealed to me — namely, mass entertainment (in the form of movies and stage shows); cards; games; and sports. For the non-adults, one feature is worth mention — the playground equipment, such as slides and swings, placed in front of the Annex, which housed only mothers and children.

(1) First movie in STICMOVIES/STAGE SHOWS.  Undoubtedly my favorite group pastime in STIC — as it probably was for most if not all internees — was watching the occasional movies, and the nearly weekly shows (vaudeville-type and others) that were staged by the Camp’s head of entertainment, a professional performer known as Dave Harvey (full name David Harvey MacTurk).  I was tempted to furnish an account of this particular group pastime, presented as it was in “The Little Theater Under the Stars”; but I decided to resist temptation for the simple reason that I have already provided such an account. [Meadows (c)]  Instead of a rehash, therefore, we proceed to the next pastime.

SIDEBAR.  One thing I have never done before is to present a list of all the films that were shown in STIC.  Below is that list, exactly as I penciled in the titles as soon as possible after each movie.  The left-hand column lists those movies that were shown before liberation; the other column lists movies that were shown between liberation and the time my family left STIC on 27 March 1945 to board the John Lykes troop transport docked at Pier 7.

(2) CARD GAMES.  For all internees, I would guess that the most common group pastime involved multi-person card games.  Internees played many different kinds of such games, but probably the most common kinds were poker (especially among the men) and bridge.  In fact, so many bridge games were played in the Camp that the law of averages must have applied, because one bridge player was dealt a perfect hand — all his cards were of the same suit.  (His name was Dave Levy, and he was about 20 years old.  I chatted with him at the San Diego reunion [1999?], by which time he had changed his last name.)

[Note:  It may be that solitaire card games were even more prevalent than group card games; obviously, however, solitaire is not a group pastime.) 

A pair of playing cards on a table Description automatically generatedI have never been a fan of card games, but I did play three kinds of card games in STIC.  One was Bezique, which my parents learned to play to help pass the time; and they then managed to talk me into also learning the game, so I could occasionally play it with them.  And they did the same thing with the game of Pinochle.  Either they enjoyed the games so much, and/or they wanted to see more of me, as I was rarely around except at mealtimes.  Bezique is known as a game for two players only, but it seems to me that the three of us played it together.  I must admit, however, that I do not remember one single thing about the game, other than its name.  (As Bezique is not widely known, here is a link to its Wikipedia article:    

The third card game that I learned to play in STIC, also from my parents, was Casino.  Sometime in 1943, as I recall, I began to play the game with my room 43 roommate, Eric Sollee, who was a really great guy.  (He later became an All-American fencer at Harvard, and then a hugely successful fencing coach at several universities.  I also got together with him at the San Diego reunion.) Though he was four years older than I was, he treated me as an equal, a most unusual thing among teenagers in STIC.  We usually played at his end of the room, because his cot was next to one of the room’s windows (overlooking the front plaza), where it was brighter, roomier and a bit cooler than elsewhere in the room.  We often played several times a week, and the noteworthy aspect of our game is that we kept track of our points on a cumulative basis, instead of starting from scratch each time we played.  As a result, by Liberation Day we had played so many times that we each had accumulated totals of somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 points (I do not remember the exact totals).

(3) GAMES.  Before WWII I had enjoyed collecting marbles, attracted by their beautiful designs and colors.  Thus I took with me into the Camp a small sackful of the prettiest ones.  Unsurprisingly, therefore, of the several kinds of games being played, I soon became interested in the marble games that youths of my age were playing; they did so in various locations on the Camp grounds, often in an area behind the Main Building, near the Annex.  It did not take long for my observation of the games to change to participation, and I soon became as skilled as any of the other players.  (I cannot recollect their names for certain, but it seems to me that they included Dave Schafer, Jack Manion, Joe Browne, Kenny Lane, Orion Von Stetten, Arthur Fisher, and Henry Sbitski, among many others.)

Boys playing marblesThere were two main kinds of marble games that I played.  In one kind, we would dig perhaps a half-dozen holes in the ground in a straight line, about 3-4 feet apart; the winner was the first player to sink his marble in all the holes in order, moving up to the last one and back down to the first one (as in golf).  In the other marble game, we would draw a large circle in the dirt, perhaps 2-3 feet in diameter, and each player would contribute a set number of marbles to place within the circle.  Then we would take turns using our “shooters” from outside of the circle, trying to knock out of the circle any marble that was within it; and if you did so, it was yours to keep.  I played marble games fairly regularly for several months until I turned my attention to sports in general and basketball in particular.  (But not before I had learned how to make a mean paper airplane — of course, that was long before paper became such a scarce item.)

(4) SPORTS.  Before the war I was not interested in sports, either generally or in a particular sport.  My sports participation was limited to playing soccer/football during recess at the American School.  But with not that much else to do in STIC, I usually tagged along with friends who were going to watch a game of some kind.  I too then became an interested spectator of the various games being played in the Camp (by those who presumably also had nothing better to do).  Among Camp sports activities, which were organized soon after STIC opened, were the usual suspects — softball, soccer/football, boxing, and basketball, and even American football (e.g., the 1943 Thanksgiving Day East vs. West game.)   Each sport had men’s and boys’ divisions; too, teams in each sport were divided into leagues, except for the individual sports of boxing, golf, hockey, and croquet.  Hartendorp claims that females “rather slowly” got interested in sports, but it was not long before they had their own basketball leagues; in addition, girls had dance and other classes early on.  [Hartendorp, I, 38]    

Along with the usually large internee audiences, I watched teams perform in the various leagues, which is what initially hooked me on sports.  Soon my interest centered on the game of basketball, which I especially enjoyed watching.  As a result, when it was announced early in 1943 that a boys’ league was to be organized, I applied for selection to one of the teams.  To accommodate the number of applicants, a league of four teams was formed; and each team was named after one of the four older teenagers who had volunteered to serve as coaches.  Thus the teams were named the Farnes (for Wally Farnes), the Smakmans (for Deema Smakman), the Rileys (for Herb Riley), and the Schoendubes (I think for Charlie, not his brother Bob — but I do know that they pronounced their name as Shón-doo-bee.  By the way, at the San Diego reunion I also spoke with both Herb Riley and Charlie Schoendube, as well as with Dave Levy of the perfect bridge hand.)  

Fortunately for me, I ended up on the Rileys team, because its captain, Gordon Stagner, was easily the league’s best player.  The league’s schedule was divided into four rounds of round-robin play; the Farnes won the first and fourth rounds, the Rileys won the second and third rounds, thus the Farnes and Rileys met in a best-of-three playoff for the championship, which the Rileys won in two games.  And now, unveiled for the first time anywhere, are both sides of my STIC-created penciled record, showing the results of all games on one side of the worn and weathered page, and on its reverse side a list of the members of each team (though I used initials rather than first names).  It will be quickly noted that the games were not particularly high-scoring affairs (click to enlarge).

Boys baseball championship Boys baseball championship page 2

The victory of “my” team, the Rileys, in effect marked the end of my participation in sports, and also even in most other group pastimes; that is because not long thereafter I broke my arm.  Similarly, during that same time period STIC sports in general were approaching the close of their “golden age” of competition.  For when the Nipponese military took control of the Camp in January 1944, they started to impose a starvation-type diet that eventually forced internees to severely curtail physical activity.  As for me, these developments left no alternative but to concentrate on my favorite pastime of reading, which I continued to do until the Camp’s liberation.      

IV. CONCLUSION.  This terminates an account of the ways in which I attempted to cope with the quandary of how to pass three years of potential leisure time, courtesy of the benevolent Nipponese Empire and its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.  Whether I coped successfully is a matter of opinion rather than of fact.  In any case, what remains to be done is the customary task of determining whether any meaningful and broadly applicable lesson(s)/moral(s) can be derived from the experiences of one individual.  

In order to do so, the obvious approach is to ascertain whether I used my prison-camp time (or at least some of it) in a constructive manner — one that would benefit not only myself but ideally others as well (such as, for example, future young internees faced with a similar quandary).  Sadly, the objective (and thus unsurprising) answer is that I did not do so — I failed to act more sensibly than I should have, throughout all three years of internment, as this record probably has revealed.  Had I been a more mature youth — and I realize “mature youth” is an oxymoron (or even an oxyidiot) — presumably I would have acted more thoughtfully than I did.  

The above statements raise two obvious questions: (a) why does being a voracious reader not qualify as being at least personally beneficial? and (b) what is it, exactly, that I could have done to avoid this particular criticism, given my wartime prison-camp situation?  These will be answered in turn.  On (a), clearly most of my STIC reading matter consisted of purely escapist fiction, or even what some would call trash.  Needless to say, I would strongly disagree; however, that leads directly to (b) — what could I have done to satisfy critics on this score?  Interestingly, the brief diary of Albert Holland, one of the Camp’s leaders, supplies an answer.  Not only did he meticulously keep track of what he was reading (and make critical comments about it), the main point is that he also read only non-fiction and classic fiction — as I should have done, at least to the satisfaction of potential critics.  

SIDEBAR.  To honor Holland as well as to further discredit my own reading, here is a list of some of his reading matter: biographies of Pasteur, Mme. Curie, Allenby, and Caesar; works by Thomas Mann, Harold Nicholson (his trilogy on diplomacy), Charles Beard, Jacques Maritain, and Willa Cather; poetry; and classic fiction by Conrad, Huxley, Marquand, and even Budd Shulberg (whose book What Makes Sammy Run elicited surprisingly lengthy philosophical comments from Holland).  On the other hand, it could be argued that it is unrealistic, if not downright oxymoronic, to expect a teenager to think and to act so maturely, especially in a prison-camp situation.  

Moving from the speculative to the flippantly factual, one minor potential result of this chronicle is that it could help provide a bit of balance to the history of internment camps.  According to Australian historian Christina Twomey, most internment-experience historians have been women, who moreover were concerned primarily with the female perspective; as a result, civilian (but not military) men’s prison-camp experiences have received less coverage than those of women.  [E.g., see Twomey.]  If that is indeed the case (I have not bothered to check), therefore, since I am not a woman (at least, not the last time I checked), I can claim — as both a male and a former civilian captive — that this personal story may help provide some historical balance.

Much more seriously, there is a broadly meaningful lesson to be drawn from my solution to the time-passing quandary.  And that solution is to recognize that I — and likely many other Camp youths — in actuality did not confront a genuine quandary to begin with!  To help explain this apparent contradiction — quandary vs. no quandary — the first step is to keep in mind the distinction between the abstract notion of a quandary and its concrete manifestations.  In the abstract, no doubt at first internees might have believed they had a time-passing quandary, and especially so upon realizing they were imprisoned indefinitely.  In practice, however, they mostly had little difficulty in passing time in a multitude of ways.  

The crucial next step is to take into account a view that might be surprising, perverse, and counter-intuitive to those not familiar with Camp life.  It is expressed in the assertion that, for many if not most STIC youths (including myself), internment created an apparent paradox: a newfound freedom within prison walls.  Of former internee youths who have commented on this phenomenon, Karen Kerns Lewis has described it most clearly in the following passage.

    “Camp life was hard on the adults, but it seemed almost normal for us kids. The interned teachers set up a school for us, kindergarten through 12th grade. As an only child, before the war I had been relatively isolated from other kids, but being in Santo Tomas changed all that. It was kids’ time all day long, from morning roll call to evening curfew to bedtime roll call. It was like being in a sleepaway summer camp, but having Mom there to tuck you in at night. It was fun! Loss of dignity, hope, spirit and health were things for grownups to worry about. For the first time in my life, I was choosing my own friends, making my own plans, even arranging my own play dates. I was in prison, but I was truly free.”   [Lewis, 84 ff.]

    Donald Dang illustration

Skeptics might wonder whether presumably objective and impartial non-internee observers would agree with that assessment.  One “neutral” observer, the late noted POW researcher Roger Mansell, asserted the following as early as 1943: “In general the really old people have found it most difficult of all . . . to make adjustments to [STIC] internment conditions, both physical and mental; and children have come off best.  Compression of their world meant little to them, for it was small to begin with.”  [Mansell, 7; italics added]   A recent study states that, “at least initially, many children experienced a degree of freedom within captivity that they had not known prior to war.”  Children and youths “were actors in their own right” rather than “passive objects of adult interventions . . . .”  [Terry, 87 et passim]  Moreover, that sentiment among youths occurred not only in STIC but in other Nipponese camps as well, such as the Stanley camp in Hong Kong.  [Archer, 175 et passim] 

Of course, even accepting the validity of the “no quandary” position, that does not mean that it applied universally.  For one thing, what may have been true for some Camp youths was not necessarily true for all.  Too, what was true for youths at one time was not necessarily true at all times.  Additionally (and certainly in my case), awareness of Camp “freedom” did not preclude awareness that it existed only within the strict limits imposed by the Nipponese; in other words, freedom from this particular quandary did not mean freedom from other and more serious issues, for youths and adults alike.  

Aside from the quandary matter, two other issues should be noted. One is that many adults believed that “chaos reigned” as a result of the fact that, in exercising their newfound freedom, the Camp’s youngsters — mainly the children, not the youths — were running wild and causing a serious problem. [Terry, 95] And finally, at the most general level of analysis, this chronicle does not deal with the contentious issue of the reliability and validity of memory — particularly the memories of youthful internees.  On that point, I will say only that I have presented my memories on the subject at hand, and as far as I am concerned they are simple, straightforward, and uncontroversial — so much so that the memory issue is not relevant here.

Regardless of such qualifications and cautions, they do not undermine my basic contention: whatever other issues youths and all other internees faced, their problems did not necessarily include a (concrete) time-passing quandary.  And that claim, assuming its validity, leads to the final question to be considered here: can any broadly meaningful lesson(s) be derived from this narrative — in other words, what, if anything, is “the moral of this story”?  

To generalize from personal experience, one major lesson emerges from this account.  It can best be explained within the context of the following concise summary of the above: STIC youths were entirely able to function (i.e., keep occupied) on their own initiatives; and, as a result, for the most part they did not necessarily suffer from a (concrete) time-passing quandary.  With that in mind, we now consider the key that enables recognition of the moral of the story. 

That key centers on the innumerable reports that have appeared in all kinds of media, including technical journals.  They maintain that contemporary American youths are afflicted by a “mental health crisis” — one that is largely attributable to social media.  That crisis presumably originated in the wider society, as exemplified by adults who were “Bowling Alone.”  [See Putnam]  Soon the societal crisis had engulfed the youth sector, whose plight is typified by youths who are “On the Phone, Alone.”  [See Leonhardt]  That brings us at last to “the moral of this story” — namely, whatever else they may have suffered, STIC youths did not suffer from a generalized “mental health crisis.”  For they were neither alone nor captives of technology, having lived long before such conditions developed.  

That judgment is not only unsensational, perhaps even unsatisfactory to some; it is also negative, in the sense that it does not explain why something happened; rather, it explains why it did not happen.  Nonetheless, regardless of its nature, it concludes this first of two personal recollections — on my reactions to, and the lasting impact of, Santo Tomas Internment Camp.  

  • Archer, Bernice, The Internment of Western Civilians Under the Japanese 1941-1945 (2004)
  • Benchley, Robert C., My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew (1936)
  • Davis, Dorothy, “I Nursed at Santo Tomas, Manila”, The American Journal of Nursing (January 1944), 29-30
  • Good News Network, “Revolutionary New Arm Cast Is Waterproof, Breathable, and Itch-Free” (29 November 2019), n.p.
  • Hartendorp, A.V.H., The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, vols. I and II (1967)
  • Holland, Albert E., The Santo Tomas Internment Camp Diary of Albert E. Holland, 1944-1945 (1945)
  • Holter, Don W. (a), Unpublished three-page letter addressed “To Any Education Official Concerned” (17 January 1945)
  • ———————  (b), Unpublished nine-page manuscript titled “Wings” (n.d.)
  • Kaminski, Theresa, Prisoners in Paradise: American Women in the Wartime South Pacific (2000)
  • Leonhardt, David, “On the Phone, Alone”, New York Times (10 may 2022), n.p.
  • Lewis, Karen Kernsin Nova and Lourie (eds.), Interrupted Lives: Four Women’s Stories of Internment During World War II in the Philippines (1995)
  • Mansell, Roger, quoted in Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Philippine Archives Collection, POWS/Civilian Internees. . . (15 November 1943)
  • McCall, James, Santo Tomas Internment Camp: STIC in Verse and Reverse (1945)
  • Meadows, M. (a), “The Bar Mitzvah of a WWII Axis Internee”, Philippine Internment (2023)
  • ——————  (b),  “Impressions of an Itinerant Internee: My Varied Lodgings in STIC”, Philippine Internment (2020)
  • ——————  (c),  “A WWII Manila Prison Camp’s Maestro of Mirth: The Dave Harvey Story”, Philippine Internment (2023)
  • Norman, Elizabeth M., We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese (1999)
  • Putnam, Robert D., Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001)
  • Shiels, Margo Tomkin, Bends in the Road (1999)
  • Stevens, Frederic H., Santo Tomas Internment Camp, 1942-1945 (1946)
  • Terry, Jennifer R., “. . . Children’s and Youth’s Activities in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp, 1942-1945”, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (Winter 2012), 87-117
  • Twomey, Christina, “Captive Women and Audiences: Internment in the Asia-Pacific in World War II,” Meanjin (1999), 45-57
  • Tuschka, Yetta J., Unpublished manuscript titled “Life in Santa (sic) Tomas 1941-1944 (sic) (n.d.)
  • Wikipedia, “Bezique” 

Other articles by Prof. Meadows: