In a previous post I wrote about Otis Cary (AC 1943), “Amherst’s Man in Japan,” who worked with Japanese POWs after World War II and went on to represent Amherst College at its sister institution, Doshisha University, for several decades. I’ve recently had an opportunity to revisit the incredibly rich and vast unprocessed collection of Cary Family Papers to discovered another story from the war, this time featuring Cary’s father, Frank Cary (AC 1911).Like his father before him, Frank Cary was an ordained Congregational minister (Oberlin, 1916) who served as a missionary in Japan. From 1916 until 1941, he was involved in school and church work in Japan until the threat of war made it necessary for Americans to leave the country. Cary went to Davao, in the Philippines. When the Pacific war broke out in December 1941, the Japanese took control of the Philippines. Cary became a prisoner, interned first at Davao; then in December 1943 he was moved to the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila. (This was on the campus of the present-day University of Santo Tomas.)
The Cary Family Papers include dozens of Frank Cary’s handwritten and typewritten copies of letters to family back home in the U.S. — some of which may never have been delivered during wartime. Many of these letters were posthumously published by the Cary family in 1993 as Letters from Internment Camp, Davao and Manila, 1942-1945. Although Cary writes with an awareness of the Japanese censors, his letters provide a wealth of detail about life in the camp and his fellow internees. Several hundred prisoners occupied one-and-a-half floors of a large administration building on the campus, under careful but for the most part humane supervision of the Japanese. Crowded conditions prevailed, and makeshift shanties were erected in the building’s courtyard to relieve the problem. One of the most critical problems, especially toward the end of the war, was a lack of nutritious food. Cary describes several stays in the camp hospital. Like many internees, he suffered skin ulcers on his legs and symptoms similar to those of beriberi, caused by a lack of vitamin B1 in the diet.
Since he spoke fluent Japanese, Frank Cary was among the small handful of internees who could communicate with the camp Commandant and his military staff. When the day came (February 3, 1945) when American troops arrived at the camp gate to demand surrender, Cary served as an interpreter and presented the terms of surrender to the Japanese officers of the camp. Since the Japanese are culturally resistant to the humiliation of surrender, the Commandant stated that he would open the camp only on the condition that he and his men be allowed safe conduct off the campus. It was a tense hostage situation, but the Americans allowed it. (However, Cary mentions in his letter below that they later heard a rumor that the Japanese who were led out of the camp this way were later “wiped out to the last man.”)
At the end of the long ordeal in Santo Tomas Internment Camp, many prisoners had died of starvation or disease. On the day of liberation, Frank Cary’s weight was just 135 pounds — this for a large-framed man who had played football, baseball and track at Amherst and whose college classmates had dubbed him “Jumbo.” By May 1945, he returned home to his mother in Bradford, Mass. Eventually, however, he returned to Japan to continue his missionary work, which he did until 1960, then completing his career serving as a pastor at Plainfield (Mass.) Congregational Church.