Roy Maxwell Offerle of Wichita Falls, Texas, was only sixteen when he and his older brother Oscar enlisted in the Texas National Guard to make extra money during the final years of the Great Depression. They could not have imagined then that Max, as he was called, would spend three and a half years as a Japanese prisoner of war and that Oscar would die in captivity. After their artillery unit’s mobilization in November 1940, Max and Oscar trained at Camp Bowie in Brownsville for most of the following year. Then, in November 1941, their 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery of the 36th Division sailed from San Francisco to the South Pacific aboard the gigantic transport the USS Republic.
In the months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the battalion defended the Dutch island of Java until a large Japanese force invaded the island and forced the Allied troops to surrender on March 8, 1942. The 534 captives from the 131st Field Artillery were joined by 368 survivors from the USS Houston, which the Japanese fleet had sunk. This "Lost Battalion" was imprisoned in a former Dutch installation on Java called "Bicycle Camp" before they were moved to Singapore, Burma, Thailand, or Japan. 668 of the prisoners, including Max and Oscar, worked on the Burma-Siam "Death Railway," an ordeal that claimed the lives of 163 men. Offerle was held in a succession of prison camps: Bicycle Camp, Changi Prison, 18 Kilo, 80 Kilo, 85 Kilo, 100 Kilo, 80 Kilo again, and 105 Kilo.
After the Japanese surrender and the surviving prisoners were returned to the U.S., their wives organized a "welcome home" celebration in Wichita Falls. The event inspired an annual reunion, which continues to this day even though the number of survivors has dwindled to seventeen.
After the war, Max Offerle married and lived in Decatur, where he worked as a district representative for Western Auto stores. He and his first wife had two daughters and a son. During his 1978 oral history with Ronald Marcello, Offerle indicated that his children had "coerced" him into doing the interview. After Max and his wife divorced, he married Laredo civic leader Hortense Reuthinger. He died in Laredo on August 29, 1998.
The following excerpts are from an interview with Roy Maxwell Offerle conducted by Ronald E. Marcello in Decatur, Texas, on August 14, 1978, for the University of North Texas Oral History Program.
Marcello: I think it was on February 5, 1942, that you received your first taste of war, so to speak. This is when the first Japanese air raid occurred. Describe that event.
Offerle: Well, to my understanding, the Japs had been following these bombers back that were going out on raids, and they were trying to find out where they were located. They evidently found out where we were located. The Dutch had an alarm system throughout the islands which would sound an alarm when there were planes over the island. This morning we heard this siren go off. It was an up-and-down and very loud noise. So everybody got out of the camp. We had been rehearsing and we got out of camp.
Marcello: Did you have slit trenches built or anything of that nature?
Offerle: Not except these that the Dutch had already built. They just told us to get out of camp. As I said, this air base was right . . . there was just a fence between us and this air base. So most people got out of camp. I went with a group of men to a large ditch about a block from camp, and it was about twenty feet wide and ten feet deep, and we got into that. There must have been a hundred or two hundred men in that. I stayed for a while and then went back because I thought it was a false alarm, and then these planes appeared. They came in with, I guess, around twenty or thirty bombers—Mitsubishis—and about that many Zeros—fighters—and bombed and strafed us for an hour or two. They hit some B-17s on the ground which were loaded with some bombs and machine guns. The .50 caliber ammo went off when they set it afire and bombs exploded. They were shooting . . . in fact, one place they strafed in the barracks was right above my head. We had quite a lot of excitement. There were some sailors visiting us, and I think a couple of these sailors got in the back of one of the trucks that had a .50 caliber in it, and they were shooting at these fighters. They really came down low; you could see the Japs in the fighters looking over the side. They didn't look like they were over a hundred feet above the camp.
. . .
Marcello: Was this a terrifying or frightening experience?
Offerle: Different and exciting to say the least. I guess it was about one of the most exciting things I ever went through. I guess everybody was scared. If you say you're not scared, you're crazy or don't know any better. They train you to perform under these circumstances even while you're scared. I think we got credit for a couple of planes shot down. The guns that were out had gun crews assigned to them, and they did operate. All we had to shoot at them was World War I shrapnel. Our high explosives had to hit something to explode it, and we knew we could never hit a plane there, so they shot scrap at them. They set a time fuse with a time gauge there that they could set altitude and then crank it. They actually shot down . . . the bombers came in fairly low, and we got credit for shooting down two planes.
Marcello: How many of these raids were there altogether during your stay there at Singosari?
Offerle: Oh, goodness! They started out with this one, and then they started coming about two or three times a week, and then they got up to where they were coming in two or three times a day. They just kept progressing, I think the Japanese were trying to knock out this bomber base. Our camp being right next to it, well, they shellacked us quite a bit, too.
Marcello: Do you ever get used to these air raids?
Offerle: I don't know if you ever get used to them, but you develop a pattern as what to do when they come. Right after the first one, my gun crew was assigned to one of the guns they had out there. On the second raid . . . of course, the men were supposed to go to the guns that they were assigned to if they were in the gun section. A lot of them were in town, and some were here and there; so they didn't show up right away, so I started grabbing men. Most of the men had been trained on guns. They moved them around. I remember having a cook named Ramsey that had been on a gun crew before, and he came running through the bush, and I grabbed him and said, "Ramsey, help us out." At that time, we had a slit trench dug by the gun, but it was about two feet deep and about six feet long and about three feet wide. If you tried to get twenty men in it they stuck about four feet above the ground. Really, we weren't prepared.
[Winthrop H.] "Windy" Rogers, who I believe was a major then, was on the gun next to us, and he said, "Wait until I fire before you fire!" They came in behind us, so we knew that they had to get out in front before we could get a shot at them. About the time they were behind us, they started dropping bombs. They blew up both guns on both sides of me. We had a bamboo shack behind us about fifty yards, and they blew it to pieces; they had over a hundred rounds of ammo stacked in it. The scrap from these bombs around us blew up these oil cans out in front—fifty-five-gallon drums of oil. The scrap just cleaned the trees off—the leaves. I was laying on top of the ground by the gun. Even the bolt on the gun about an inch from my nose was sheared off. But I never got a scratch. Some of our ammo was even bent to where we couldn't use it. "Windy," I guess . . . I don't know what happened, but they never fired a shot then. The sergeant on the gun to the right of me was buried alive. His corporal stayed there and dug him out, and then they were covered up with dirt again. He was hurt but not killed.
Marcello: Did these raids tear up the area pretty well in terms of knocking it out?
Offerle: They did a lot of damage. They tore up our camp. I think it was during the second raid that they blew up quite a few of the buildings. Most of the people were upset because they hit the commissary and destroyed a lot of our beer. We had a lot of Dutch beer there, and it did tear that up pretty bad. They knocked holes in our . . . they had cashew nuts there in five-gallon tins, and it punched a bunch of holes in them as well as the walls and the roof. They set a truck full of canned milk on fire, and it stunk to high heaven out in the sun for a few days. They did get a lot of the planes. Once they hit three or four that were on the ground and blew them up. But they didn't stop our raids. They slowed us down, but they really didn't put us out of commission.
Marcello: Did you continue to sleep in the barracks and so on after the air raids started, or did you move out of there?
Offerle: No, I stayed there. They never came in at night. What you would do is get in there after dark and get your sleep and
get everything squared away. The alarm system was pretty good; it worked pretty good. When you would hear the alarm system, you knew you had about thirty minutes to get out.
I'll never forget one raid. The alarm went off, and Lieutenant Boren, I believe, was in a jeep, and he said "You guys pile aboard, and we'll get out!" About the time we were getting ready to leave, old "Buttercup," who was my gunner—Albert Carpenter—came running out of the shack with a towel wrapped around him. He says, "Lieutenant, can I go with you?" Boren says, "Buttercup, we can't take you! You got to get some clothes on!" He says, "You'll have to dress!" Old "Buttercup" thought he was going to leave him, and so he said, "Oh, I'll just stay here and get killed then!" Anyway, Lieutenant Boren says, "Go in and get your clothes on; we'll wait for you." So he ran in, and he came running out with his britches in his hand (chuckle) and his shirt, and we got out of camp. In the meantime, they had moved in some ack-ack. I think it was 40 millimeter that shot five-round clips. They were English guns. They put two or three guns around camp. We had several machine gun nests. We had put up these .50 calibers around camp, because these fighters were coming down low. Actually, we had quite a bit of weapons for low-flying planes around camp.
They had some P-40's up in the hills and also, I believe, some Navy torpedo planes somewhere. But those P-40's caught some bombers one raid, and I believe they shot down two. I saw one smoking just like you'd see it in the movies, except it was real and you were there. These planes, you could hear them shooting and diving. This P-40 put one on fire, and he actually landed during the air raid and gassed up and took off again.
. . .
Marcello: At this point, are you expecting to be taken off of the island ?
Offerle: We had no idea, but right before we left there, there was talk that the fighters were leaving and the bombers were going to leave. We had heard rumors that the 19th Bomb Group . . . they had B-17's there, and they got a few B-24's, I think. Colonel Eubank was in charge and had offered to fly us out. But since we were a combat unit, and the Dutch said that they were going to fight to the last man and hold the island, the U.S. had declined this offer. They thought we should stay there and fight since we had our weapons. If we flew out, we would have to lose them. Since the Dutch were fighting there, we should stay there and fight. So this was evidently the decision. We could have gotten off.
Marcello: What effect did that decision have upon the morale of the troops, or didn't you really understand the gravity of the situation at that point?
Offerle: I don't think the average person in the unit understood the gravity. The officers probably did. We heard that the Japs had taken Sumatra, and then they landed in Bali. Then we heard that they were coming into Java. They were splitting our unit, and E Battery was going toward Surabaja, and the bulk of the unit was going up to the other end of the island to meet the Japanese there. . . . I was with the bulk of the unit that went completely to the other end of the island.
. . .
We traveled in convoy mostly by day. We had a lot of .50 calibers with us to watch out for planes, but we weren't attacked to my recollection any time. It took us several days to get to the other end of the island. The island is about, I believe, 720 miles long and about 125 miles wide at its widest area. Some of the trucks had gone through a town called Tjilatjap, where, I believe, a lot of the civilians were being evacuated. They had either picked up materials or left materials there. We proceeded on to Bandung, I believe.
. . .
We heard when we got up to the other end that [the Japanese] had landed in three places—in the western end of the island, the central part, and somewhere near Surabaja. But we had had no man-to-man contacts with them up until this point. Incidentally, there was a lot of Australians that we ran across that had landed in Java. A lot of them had come out of Africa and had fought against Rommel. Some had fought in Greece and Crete. Some of them were very seasoned, highly trained, experienced soldiers. Some had been sent to reinforce the Philippines.
These Australians were excellent soldiers—2/2nd and 2/3rd Pioneers. I'd say the men that were with us, those that had been in the desert and in Greece and Crete, were some of the finest fighting soldiers in the world at that time. Beautiful! If I ever had to go to war again—God forbid—I'd rather be with some Australians than anybody I know in the world. Two companies of combat engineers in Java advanced on a spearhead of ten divisions. You're talking about four hundred men going up against one hundred thousand men, and they said that they were going to push the Japs back into the sea. They figured odds of ten Japs to one was about even as far as they were concerned. So they were beautiful all the way.
There were some more English there, and there were some more Americans—a headquarters unit—of which they had a full colonel in charge—Colonel [Howard] Searle, I believe. I believe it was the 61st Brigade. They had their headquarters around Bandung or Batavia—on that end of the island. We eventually ended up in Bandung, if I'm not mistaken.
Marcello: What did you do when you got to Bandung?
Offerle: They said the Japanese were coming in and that they had landed and that they were coming in from the west end, and we would make contact with them. Bandung had too many routes coming into the city—one on the left side and one on the right side. They sent one battery—I believe it was F Battery—and two guns to the west end, and third and fourth section—I was in the 3rd Section—went to the north of the town on another road with some Australians who had a half-track. They were the 2nd Pioneers. They assigned us to watch and see if the Japs came in that way. We set up a roadblock at this town north of Bandung.
Marcello: Did you have contact with the Japanese at that time?
Offerle: No, we never did. They came in on the other side, and our other two guns contacted them, and the Aussies did. I think they had a couple of units of combat engineers—they call them Pioneers—and they contacted the Japs. From what I understand, the Japs hit with a spearhead of about ten divisions into that area.
. . .
Offerle: The Dutch had lost most of their planes. We saw two or three old Brewster Buffaloes, which was the best fighter plane they had at this time, and they were shot down. The Dutch were very courageous, and they had lost a bunch of their ships in sea battles, and a lot of things up around Singapore, I understand, later. A lot of the native Dutch had gone "bush." They had put on a sarong, and the army melted away. But the Dutch as a whole were very brave. They were just outnumbered and had antiquated equipment.
Marcello: Okay, I think this brings us up to the period of surrender. What I want you to do next, Mr. Offerle, is describe that particular event.
Offerle: Well, as far as our part of the unit goes, we pulled back, and we were told we were pulling back to a small town. Later on, we found out it was called Garoet. The units pulled out of there . . . my brother had been with the other unit—he was an instrument sergeant—he told me that he shot a Jap out of the tree. They had a habit of tying themselves up in a tree. He spotted something and shot one out. He had a detail in which he went forward to a small native village that had been deserted, and they couldn't make contact with any Japs, so they decided to sleep there all night.
They just started to go to bed when an Australian truck came through, and he flagged them down and asked them where they were going. They said, "All this area is evacuated; we're one of the last trucks out. You guys better get out because the Japs are just up the road and headed this way." So they flagged a ride on an Australian truck and rode most of the night and got back to our unit early the next morning and reported in. He reported to his lieutenant, "Sir, I'm back." The lieutenant said, "I didn't know you were gone." But they got out right before the Japs came through. We pulled back to Garoet. The officers later called all the men together and said that the island had capitulated and that they had great serious doubt as to whether we could get off of the island. There had been some evacuation at Tjilatjap, but they understood that there were no more ships there. Any one individual who wanted to try to get off of the island could, but they thought it was practically impossible. The best thing that they thought to do was to wait until the Japanese came in and took over.
Marcello: This was about March 8, 1942, wasn't it?
Offerle: Basically, yes, early March. I discussed it with my brother, because I was all for trying to get off the island and go south and see what we could do. My gunnery corporal did go with another corporal. They were gone a week or two and came back, and they couldn't get a way off. But my brother said, "Well, if there were a chance of getting off, the officers should know about it." So he thought our best bet overall would be to stay with our officers, which is what we did.
Marcello: What was your reaction when you heard the island capitulated and that you would very shortly be prisoners of war?
Offerle: It's kind of a sinking feeling, like you got ten pounds of lead in your stomach. You are going to be prisoners of a foreign race that you heard didn't take prisoners in China; they killed all these Chinese. You didn't know how long you'd be prisoners. You didn't know what circumstance or what . . . It was kind of a shock to everybody. Everybody was very concerned.
Marcello: What did you talk about while you were waiting for the Japanese to come?
Offerle: What were the chances of getting away. If there was any chance of getting away—if so. If not, we wondered what kind of treatment we would get, and what was in store for us—if they would shoot some of us, etc. Or what kind of people they were, or how would they treat us. Or would they go by any rules and regulations in regards to prisoners of war. Your mind was running ninety miles per hour. It was a very serious situation, and everybody was very concerned.
Marcello: How old were you at this time?
Offerle: I was twenty when I was captured—twenty years old.
Marcello: Okay, describe your first contacts with the Japanese. Do you have any contact that shortly after hearing about the surrender?
Offerle: Not right away. Our officers, I believe, contacted them.
Meanwhile we got some of our ammunition and took it out in the country and buried it. We took some trucks and drained all of the oil and water out of them and pulled the throttles out and let the motors burn up; then we pushed them off the cliff. We took parts of our guns off to render them useless, although we were told not to do that. We destroyed them. We were trying to tear up everything that we could.
I don't recall being ever searched or anything. Our own officers told us that if we had any weapons, for us to get rid of them—any weapons, like side arms, et cetera. Even identification—I tore up all my identification, but my brother kept his, and it got home. I wish I would have kept mine, but they told us to destroy anything to do with information.
. . .
Our first contact with them was when we went into this town. They were huge Japs. I understand that they had heads as big as watermelons. They were supposed to be the emperor's elite guard. They used a division of them, I think, as a spearhead when they landed. They were supposed to be something like our Marines—very elite soldiers. Most of them were big, a lot bigger than anything I'd ever surmised or imagined as far as Japanese went.
But we were there in the tea plantation for a short while, and then we pulled into town. Then we turned over all of our equipment that we hadn't destroyed to the Japs. The Japanese commander got up and made us a speech at the train station which took us into Batavia. I guess that was the first time I'd seen a Jap or heard them speaking. He would scream and holler and yell, and then the interpreter would say, "The commander says he's very happy to see you." Then he would scream and holler like he was threatening to kill us, and then they would say, "You will soon go to a camp." We found out later that this was their way of talking; they would scream and holler all of the time (chuckle).
. . .
Marcello: You're probably dealing with front line troops at this point?
Offerle: Yes. The front line troops gave us a lot less trouble than some of the guards that we had later on in prison camp. They were the ornery ones—the mean ones. The front line troops—some of them—were curious, I guess, like we were naturally curious as to what they looked like, how they dressed, what kind of equipment they had. They were also more or less curious. They'd look at us kind of curious—what we looked like, who we were, et cetera.
. . .
Marcello: What sort of personal gear do you have at this point?
Offerle: A knapsack with shaving gear, all of your personal gear, several uniforms, a couple pairs of shoes, a mess kit, canteen, mosquito net, some odds and ends, some money—Dutch money.
. . .
Offerle: Eventually, they moved us into Bicycle Camp, and the rest of our unit came into Bicycle Camp, too. This is the first time that we ran across the Navy people off of the Houston. This is where they had put them.
Marcello: What sort of camp was it?
Offerle: It was similar to the camp we had been in in Malang. It was a Dutch camp, and I presume the reason it got the word
"Bicycle Camp" was because that was Dutch infantry that moved around on bicycles. It was a fairly nice camp. The barracks, I remember, were open at the top—there was no air conditioning or anything like that—where you could get air circulation. They were all tile floors and masonry. They were long buildings. They had, like, open areas between the buildings for parade grounds, et cetera. The Japanese had put up fences—barbed wire—et cetera, around it.
They had quite a few men in there, They had most of the survivors off of the Houston and the Perth—a light Australian cruiser which was sunk when the Houston was—plus the bulk of the 131st Field Artillery Battalion, plus a lot of Australians and some Dutch.
. . .
Marcello: What were your living quarters like here at Bicycle Camp?
Offerle: Inside of the large buildings, they had, like, little cubicles. There was no furniture whatsoever—just walls. A cubicle would be ten feet long by six feet wide, and they had a series of them down both walls. Two or three men would get in a cubicle.
At this time I met some sailors. Most of the sailors had very little to wear. They had very little of anything; they had gotten off of the ship when it was sinking, and there were a lot of them in their skivvies—drawers, shirts, et cetera.
Some of them had very little clothing, so I proceeded to outfit a couple of sailors with extra khaki pants, shirts, and shoes that I had. In turn, they helped me rig up a hammock. They were very good at utilizing what they had. We kind of got acquainted with them. I heard how the Houston sunk about a dozen times from different sailors.
. . .
It looked like they had been through a shower, and somebody stole their clothes when they came out, because most of them didn't have any clothing or anything. Most of them were in good shape physically. Of course, some of them had been wounded. I believe about between 400 and 500 out of a complement of 1,100 had gotten off of the ship and on the beach. Most of them were in pretty good shape. These were regular Navy, of course, and some of them had been in twenty or thirty years. They were combat-prepared and were good overall. They knew what their business was, but they just had the bad luck to run into 200 or 300 Jap ships.
. . .
Marcello: What did you do to occupy your time here at Bicycle Camp?
Offerle: Work details. They had us scattered all over. They had a refinery near Batavia that the Dutch had blown up, and a lot of the men went out there. They were sending men out to the port to load and unload ships, work on the docks, straightening up, cleaning up. I saw several details going to a park. I think a Jap general lived right across the street, and he wanted a polo grounds or something, so we were leveling it and this and that there. I went on details all over town. They had us running all over the place doing this and that.
. . .
This gave us a chance to get our supplemental food diet—by trading with the natives. It was a chance really to get outside and see what was going on, because it was a little boring.
Marcello: Describe what the Japanese guards were like here at Bicycle Camp.
Offerle: We were informed that we had to salute all guards at all times, because they were direct representatives of the Emperor of Japan. When they came into view—regardless how far they were—you were supposed to face them and salute. If you did not have your head covered, then you were supposed to bow from the waist down and stand at attention. If they came into the barracks, you were supposed to come to attention and salute or bow when they came near you. If you did not, then you would be punished, which they did upon occasion; they'd hit somebody.
We weren't too familiar with their rules and regulations at the time, so some of our boys got banged up a little bit. They would slap you or knock you down or hit you with a rifle butt or stand you facing some of your own men and have you slap each other. If you didn't slap each other hard enough, well, they'd slap you to speed you up a little bit. What I tried to do is just stay out of the way. If I came into contact with one, why, then I would go through the procedures.
. . .
We learned later that the Japanese are trained or disciplined by banging and bashing and hitting. It was just part of their training, so it was not abnormal for them to slap or kick or butt us.
. . .
Marcello: What were the bathing and sanitary facilities like here in Bicycle Camp?
Offerle: As I recall, not too bad. There might have been a shortage of water, but we seemed to keep clean. This is vague to me. I don't remember any details. Although I've read in several books where in areas it was difficult for bathing and drinking water, I don't recall anything . . . I remember the food wasn't too hot at first. Although we had been on an American diet—and a good diet—the food was a lot inferior to what we had been eating. I had quite a bit of money, so we were able to buy food on work details. I actually didn't eat much rice for six months or until my money ran out. I was living on bread that we could pick up and jams and different foods that we were buying outside.
Marcello: Plus, there were also company funds here, were there not, with which to buy food?
Offerle: Yes, there was several thousand dollars, I understood. Later on, I think one of the officers had a lot of money confiscated by the Japs from him. The officers had several thousand dollars. In fact, some of the boys . . . when Java fell, the Australians with a truck full of payroll money were dumping it in the river. They dumped thousands of dollars, and they were passing out Dutch guilders by the thousands to anybody who wanted it, and some of our fellows kept some of that. In fact, some Aussies buried some of it, but I don't know if they went after it or not.
Marcello: You mentioned that the food being supplied by the Japanese here was inferior to what it had been. Can you elaborate on this a little bit?
Offerle: Actually, it was very good compared to what we got later. We thought it was inferior, but it was like vegetables, rice three times a day, and a little bit of meat—maybe a water buffalo or dried fish. This food later on proved to be excellent in relation to what we were to get. We thought at the time it was inferior to what we were used to.
Marcello: Generally speaking, was everybody more or less maintaining their normal weight while you were here in Bicycle Camp?
Offerle: Basically. We hadn't had a lot of difficulty, although we had a few people who got dysentery here and a little malaria—a few diseases. We lost a few men here. I recall one fellow in my section died here of dysentery. The people that were sick got special foods and privileges and this and that as far as food and the cookhouse were concerned. We had some medication at this point. So it really wasn't that bad to my knowledge.
. . .
Marcello: What did you do for recreation here in Bicycle Camp?
Offerle: They had various forms. They had, I believe, a little volleyball, et cetera, or exercising, et cetera. We started something that they did later on up the country a little bit. People who had unusual jobs, et cetera, would hold classes or lessons or discussions on their jobs. We had an Australian that had been a big game hunter in Africa; we had with us a lawyer, and he told us a little about law procedure in the States and in Texas; we had some people that had worked in some tin mines up in Burma and Malaya. We had quite a crossroads group of people from all over the world. Some had very interesting jobs, and these people would discuss some of the things that they had been though in their experiences.
. . .
Marcello: What did you talk about when you sat around in your bull sessions?
Offerle: We talked about a little bit of everything. Of course, everybody was interested in plans and this and that. At that time, as I recall, we had old "Corndog" or "Corny," as they called him, who was our motor sergeant, and he had a radio. He had bought a wet cell, battery cell, portable radio before he came overseas, and we had some real sharp electronic people with us. I believe Stanbrough rigged it up where he could play it at night. We used to get the news. In fact, we were printing a newspaper and passing it around until the Japs got word that there was a radio in camp. Then he had to hide it. They didn't want us having any radios or any news. So then they passed information by word-of-mouth. I remember one night old "Corndog" called me down to his cubicle, and he said, "You want to hear the States?" I said, "Sure." They had Ray Eberly singing and Frank Sinatra singing from San Francisco. We were picking them up just beautiful . We had been prisoners for two or three months, and that was the last, they donated it to the American armed forces wherever they were, and that was the last time I heard anything from the States for several years. But I recall that.
Marcello: What would have been the punishment had this radio been found?
Offerle: I think they found some of them. Some men were severely beaten and worked over very intensely by the Japs. In fact, most of the radios went underground after that happened. It would have been very severe, to say the least.
Marcello: What were the topics of conversation in your bull sessions?
Offerle: Well, over a period of years—and this is a guess where it started—the men kind of buddied up in groups of two or three or four, because it seemed like you would make out better. My brother and I were together, and he was very good about anything he got because he would share it with me. He always shared everything with me, even up until the time of his death.
Marcello: Did he kind of look over you since you were his little brother?
Offerle: Yes. He was about two years older than I was. I think that when we were very young, my father had told him that he was the oldest and that it was his duty and obligation to look after me. He took it literally, so he did this up until he died. He always shared everything with me, and he always saw that I had . . . but I buddied up with a couple of sergeants. A supply sergeant called Keith F. Naylor, whose nickname was "Zeke," and a gunner sergeant called Ed Bruner from Megargel, Texas. He was an old country boy, but he's dead now. Ed, Zeke, and I kind of buddied up together and shared our stuff.
You get to know the men. From the lack of something to talk about, they talked about their homes, where they lived, what they've done. The first thing you know, you know the life story of these individuals as far back as they can remember—the girls they dated, where they went to school, what kind of grades they made, everything about them. It was as if you had grown up with them, really.
Marcello: At this state, how long do you think that you are going to be a prisoner-of-war?
Offerle: Oh, scuttlebutt used to fly very wide, high, and fancy, and every day you would hear somebody say, "The Americans are coming! We're going to get out!" "We'll be out in three months!" "We'll be out in six months!" "We'll be out in thirty days!" It got to where if you listened to it, you would go crazy. I finally adopted the attitude . . . and I didn't know it at the time, but they say this is the best way to live. The Bible tells you to live day by day. I finally got around to living day by day. I listened to all of this baloney and malarkey and scuttlebutt and then let it go in one ear and let it go out the other.
. . .
Offerle: One time at Bicycle Camp, we were told we would have to sign a statement that we would not escape. Our officers refused because they said that this was one of the first rules that we were supposed to do when we were captured, is to try to escape. We were forced . . . they ran guards in with bayonets and they ran us out and forced us to sign these. An officer said that we were coerced into doing it, so it didn't mean anything, anyway—go ahead and sign it rather than get stuck with a bayonet. If we got a chance to escape, we'd just go ahead and escape. It was just a piece of paper that didn't mean anything because we were forced to sign it.
Marcello: Did everybody sign that piece of paper?
Offerle: As far as I know, they did. The Japs got all upset because we wouldn't, so we signed it to make them happy. But as far as adhering to it, if we got a chance to escape, well, we would.
. . .
At the time that we were there, imagine an island a little over seven hundred miles long with 42 million people on it—a lot of people. But we had heard that people had escaped and had been picked up in submarines. Or they had gotten little boats and gotten to Australia. Of course, everyone would be anxious to escape, but when we signed this paper before, we were told that we would be executed or shot if we tried to escape and were caught. So we knew . . . I think that most people knew in their minds that you only got one chance, so they wanted a real good chance so that the odds would be in their favor if they tried to escape.
. . .
Offerle: There was a small Dutch car on the parade grounds. When we first got there, it was complete, and the Japanese told everybody to leave it alone. But every night parts of it would disappear. The headlights went, and then you would see a fellow with a headlight with a wooden stopper in the bottom to eat rice out of. He'd made it into a meat can. One morning I came out, and here's a skillet chiseled out of the door for some sailor. I don't know where they got a chisel and a hammer, but they cut it and crimped it and bent it up and made a skillet to cook with. Then the cushions disappeared, and you'd go over to the Navy barracks, and here's cushions that a guy had rigged up for a hammock and was sleeping on them. They eventually stripped that whole car down to just the steel frame of it and the rear end. They got every bit of it, and they utilized it. It was just fantastic what these sailors could make out of a car. I don't know how they tore it apart, but they managed to do that.
. . .
We were forever stealing. I became a professional thief. We stole everything that we could from them over a period of time. . . .
If you got caught, the circumstances were very dire; they would beat you and stand you at attention and this or that. I was very fortunate there. Considering the things I did, I was very fortunate that l never got caught. Some other men got caught, and their punishment was very severe.
. . .
Offerle: The Navy was very good at this. I guess—I don't know why—being regular Navy and being on the beach without anything, they had to scrounge to make out. Actually, I was young and kind of dumb. Although I had some money and my brother looked after me, I really didn't get into this until later on during the war. I came out a professional thief and an excellent scrounger—as good as anybody. It took me a year or two to get into this, where everybody else . . . like the sailors that had nothing, they were making candy out of eggplants and selling it. They would go around peddling this, and the first thing you knew is that they had a lot of money, and they were living well and eating good, I was just sitting back spending my money; I wasn't making any. So it took me a while to learn this. I did eventually and made out quite well. At this time, I didn't. But a lot of the men were doing this. It was kind of an awakening. Well, here's the situation and it was the survival of the fittest, and you do have to do things that you possibly never thought of or did before to make out, so to speak. A lot of the men did this.
. . .
The sailors were very good with their hands—some of them. They had built a lot of things out of absolutely nothing. They put on a little show. The Japanese were amazed when they saw this stuff. Some of them had built scale models of the USS Houston and certain ships. They had built all kinds of eating gear; they had made lamps; they had made this and that. It was just tremendously unique for a bunch of men who hit the beach with nothing. They had a show, and the Japanese went to it, and they were very awed. They had woven and crocheted and knitted all kinds of things. They had hand-carved out of wood all kinds of things. We had a couple of McManus boys, and I think they were related to the one that did Maggie and Jiggs in the newspaper—sailors. One had a natural art of painting, and did Petty pictures. We got some old Esquires…I don't know whether you remember the drawings—this was when I was a youth, young—of beautiful girls with luscious figures. He had taken some clay and charcoal and just what he had his hands on. He had Petty pictures all over the barracks walls.
Marcello: You call these "Petty pictures?"
Offerle: That was the name of the artist that drew these luscious girls. If you could get an Esquire from back in the 1940s, they're full of them. He had Walt Disney characters. . . . He had Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck all over the place. Tremendous pictures! Some life-size. He did this with clay—orange clay, red clay—charcoal, and blue, yellow . . . when he got a little tumeric or curry powder. He had them life-size. Beautiful pictures! He had them all over the place, which was nice.
They did let us get together once in a while. We had a fellow with us that could play a piano—old "Friday" Armistead—and they got an old beat-up piano somewhere, and we had one or two shows while we were there. "Friday" could play anything on a piano that you could hum or whistle. He knew a thousand songs. He could make a piano talk.
We had a lieutenant, I remember, from New Zealand that put on this Mauri war dance one night, and all of these fellows were dressed up, and it was a beautiful presentation. So we had a little bit of entertainment that they put up with at this time.
. . .
Offerle: Changi is at the edge of the town of Singapore. It was a huge English barracks with many, many buildings—three-story buildings made out of masonry concrete. There were twenty, thirty, forty, fifty buildings at the edge of town.
We went out there, and the English were in charge. The English, as dumb as they are or as smart as they are, had talked the Japanese into letting them run this camp. All the Japs did is to come in and count the men once a day or something. The English officers were in complete charge. They had a nice situation even though the food wasn't that good, et cetera.
Marcello: What were your barracks like—your personal barracks and quarters like—here at Changi?
Offerle: They put us in one of these huge barracks in Changi, which were three stories tall. Again, you had your tile floors—masonry—a big veranda with looped-type windows . . . no glass or anything. You could walk out . . . no furniture whatsoever. You just made your bed on the floor or wherever. There were concrete stairs going up to the third floor on both ends. But they were huge—big enough to hold a couple of hundred men on all three floors.
. . .
Marcello: Now, you didn't remain there at Changi too long, did you?
Offerle: We were there about three months, as I recall. Then we went up country.
. . .
Offerle: I would like to mention here my gunnery corporal who was "Buttercup" Carpenter—I mentioned him before—who at that time had appendicitis, and the English operated on him. He was still sick when we left, and he stayed behind, and he was in Singapore all during the war. I wouldn't swear to it, but if you saw the movie or read the book King Rat . . . if you haven't, get it. I think "Buttercup" was "King Rat." Because before we left . . . our commanding officer was Captain Cates, and "Buttercup" went to him, and he was a gunnery corporal. He said, "Captain, can I put on sergeant's stripes, because we'll be here with the English, basically." The English sergeants had a separate mess, and they ate better—you know, your sequence of command. He went and put on stripes so that he could eat with the English sergeants. He said, "Yes, you can put on sergeant's stripes. Now, you're not a sergeant; you'll have to pull them off at the end of the war. But you can wear them for now if it will help you live better."
"Buttercup" got to trading with the natives. When I met him after the war, he had several hundred pounds and several more owed to him. He had an English boy collecting money for him. He had lived like a king, even though he had gotten beat up and this and that. He made a lot of money in prison camp. I would almost swear that he was the American sergeant that they were talking about in the book and in the movie. I talked to him about that, but he didn't elaborate too much.
. . .
Offerle: Two or three things happened on this [transport ship to Burma] that stand out in my mind: One, my brother met a little Korean guard on this ship, named Kanamura, and he said that his Korean name was "Mr. Kemp." He was quite a scholar, very well-read. Since my brother was the same, they got to know each other and had several long conversations together. Actually, they built sort of a friendship. My brother got all of the brains in my family. He was very well-read. He made the highest IQ in the whole brigade. He made the second highest IQ at Midwestern University when he went in there. He knew a little bit about everything. I used to use him for a dictionary, really. This Kanamura was interested in poetry and Shakespeare, and my brother could talk intelligently with him along these lines, so they became kind of friends here. Later on, I was to meet him up in the jungle on the railroad.
. . .
[Thanbyuzayat] is where I ran across Kanamura—this little Korean guard—again. He found out that I was sick there, and he brought me a small can of mandarin oranges. Canned goods then cost a dollar or two dollars, so it was very expensive for a little private. He also gave me some cigarettes. He came in and told me that he was very sorry that I was sick and asked about my brother and hoped that I would get well again. I started getting better there. The first thing you know, I was well enough to be transferred out to 18 Kilo.
Marcello: Was it kind of disconcerting to be separated from your brother?
Offerle: No, when you're sick, you don't worry (chuckle). I didn't worry too much about it at the time. Of course, I didn't know what the future held. But I figured that if I was sick, I had better go over there and get the best treatment, et cetera.
We did have some scares in Thanbyuzayat; they bombed an area away from the camp. They bombed the camp later, but I had already gone up to 18 Kilo when they bombed the camp itself. But American planes were coming in. I think they had a railhead or something there that the American planes were coming after.
Marcello: By the time you get to 18 Kilo Camp then, your dysentery has improved quite a bit.
Offerle: Yes, for all practical purposes, I was over it. I had . . . I think there are two basic types of dysentery—amoebic and bacillary—and I had bacillary dysentery, which would kill you faster. It's very severe, and if you can live over a couple of weeks, well, then you can generally recover. Amoebic is the one that you never get rid of, unless they've got medication now. They used to treat it with amatol, but you had it the rest of your life. But it wasn't so severe that it would kill you.
But this other would kill you very rapidly—almost like cholera. But I was over it, and I was picking up weight; and when I got to 18 Kilo, I was in fairly good shape. It wasn't but a few days, and I was well enough to go to work there.
. . .
Marcello: Describe what the 18 Kilo Camp looked like from a physical standpoint. I assume that when you describe 18 Kilo Camp, we could be talking about any of them along this railway.
Offerle: Yes. Basically, it was like one of the many camps we were to be in the future. Long bamboo huts made out of bamboo frames tied together with atap, which is leaves wrapped over thin pieces of bamboo about three feet long. They used to leave the walls open. They had atap roofs that were overhanging. Actually, they are very good in the rainy season. When you get up in Burma, you get a lot of rain. They kept the rain out very well. They were—just guessing—about fifty yards long. They were very long, and they housed several hundred men. They had split bamboo on each side—which they tied down—about seven feet long, and they would give you about two feet to three feet for each man. You just would sleep next to each other in a long row on both sides of the hut.
My brother was working in the cookhouse then on the wood detail; that's cutting wood, et cetera, for the kitchen. Anybody related to the kitchen got a little better food. When I got there, he started bringing me some extra food. I got extra food, and it helped me get well fast.
. . .
Offerle: The first job we had . . . building this railroad all the way through, we were on a detail that if you had a hill, you dug a hole through it, which was called a cut; if you had a valley, you leveled it off or brought dirt into one area to build it up, which was called a fill. The first job we had was a fill about three blocks long. It was four meters across the top. It was a natural slope of the dirt, and the highest place was about twenty feet. Now, if you stretched that out over a long, narrow slope and figure the amount of dirt there, I guess you would have several thousand pounds or bushels or loads of dirt. It took four or five thousand men working a month or two to build this fill.
Marcello: Okay, let's talk about the typical work day here at 18 Kilo Camp. When would it begin?
Offerle: It began around daylight. At this time, they weren't pushing us too hard. They got rougher later on. Around daylight, you'd get up and eat your rice and soup or whatever you had and get ready to go to work. I wasn't in excellent physical shape when I first went out, because I had been sick. I was still weak and still underweight.
This is when I got with old Ed Bruner and "Zeke" (Keith Naylor). Ed and I worked the first few days together. Ed was in good shape; he'd been working, and he liked to killed me. We had bamboo posts about six feet long and about two inches diameter, and they would string them with wire and put a burlap sack between it. We would go down, and one party of the group, after you would get out there—I'd say about a mile from camp or a couple of kilos—they'd fill this burlap sack full of dirt—maybe fifteen or twenty shovels full—and then the two men would put the pole on their shoulders and carry this sack full of dirt to where the fill was and dump it. As it grew higher, you'd go up the side of it and dump it and keep dumping dirt back and forth all day long. You'd get what they called a yasumi, which is a rest period—one in the morning, a short period. Then you would have a food . . . we'd knock off for lunchtime. They would bring food out from the camp—carry it out. Then you'd have a small yasumi in the afternoon. When you finished your work, then you get to go in. You'd stop at a creek on the way in, wash your clothes, and take a bath. Then you would get in, oh, a little before dark. We were moving about a meter of dirt per man per day, which was fairly easy because we were in excellent shape.
Marcello: Now, is it not true that at that time you were finishing up pretty quickly, because you fulfilled your quota as soon as possible?
Offerle: Yes, the men worked hard because they knew they were off as soon as they moved a meter of dirt. After we got accustomed to pick-and-shovel work and carrying dirt, we would finish at three or four o'clock in the afternoon.
Marcello: So what did the Japanese then do?
Offerle: Well, they just gave us a larger quota. We went to a meter-and-a-tenth, a meter-and-a-quarter, a meter-and-a-half of dirt per man. Around one-and-one-half meters of dirt per man per day would get you in about dark. Later on up country, they went to two meters of dirt. When they went to one-and-a-half meters of dirt, you'd get in about dark. Two meters of dirt would get you in about ten or eleven o'clock at night. They eventually went to this, and by then, too, we got food that didn't have all of your vitamins. You wasn't keeping your strength up. The men's physical strength gradually went down, and our quotas gradually went up, which set us up for disease and sickness and a lot of the things that were to follow.
. . .
Offerle: Out of fifty men, twenty were working with pick-and-shovel, and thirty were carrying dirt with their poles. They would divide them out and set it up where we could get it done the fastest way possible. But the guards, they didn't bother us too much.
. . .
We did a lousy job on the railroad. Really, I would hate to ride over the thing today if it was still going, because we did lousy work. Every chance we got, we just . . . we would mess up. Once we were working on a bridge, and they had a real tall bamboo scaffold. What you would do is get about a hundred men on this long rope, and they would get this scaffold over these pilings. They were driving pilings in for the base of this bridge, and they would count, and they would all pull up this big, heavy weight with this rope. Then they would drop it, and it would hit on top of this piling. They would keep doing that. They had a man up on top with a pulley, so they let him come down, and they were going to move this piling. As soon as we got our man off of the top, they started moving it, and everybody got kind of weak or something, because the big tower, which is three or four stories tall, started weaving. The Japs started screaming and hollering and telling us to do everything. Well, what we did, we dropped it, to make a long story short, and broke it into a million pieces. Of course, they had to build another one, and that delayed work for about two or three days or a week. The Japanese were screaming and hollering, and we just sat around and laughed, because it was the funniest thing that we had ever seen. But every chance we got, which wasn't a lot . . . but working on the railroad, we did a lousy job.
But once going up country, one of the boys . . . they had a train, and we passed another train, and they stopped and they let us get off for relief. We unhitched the train, and then we got back up there and sat and watched to see what was going to happen. When that train pulled out going the other way, instead of twenty cars, it had about three cars. All of the Japs were running up and down screaming and hollering and wondering what was going on. They came back and they saw that it was unhitched, and they looked at us and gave us dirty looks and cussed us. We acted like we didn't know what went on. So they finally backed it up and hooked on.
. . .
Marcello: This is where things start to get a little rough, is that correct?
Offerle: Yes, we had larger quotas to meet. We were up in the jungle at this time—a lot more jungle . . . smaller camp. Conditions were not too good. We were farther away, so supplies were harder to get up there, et cetera. When you get larger quotas, it took longer to finish, and the Japanese were more prone to want to finish them up faster. We got away from canteens and extra food that you could buy. Of course, up in Burma we could get tobacco fairly well. A kilo of tobacco would be . . . I don't know. It varied in price. There was sugar . . . brown sugar . . . native sugar which we could buy. But up country you couldn't buy as much. Even salt . . . we would run out of salt in some areas.
. . .
Offerle: 100 Kilo Camp was a larger camp than 80 Kilo. Incidentally, we were at 85 for a short while—80, 85, and then 100. But 100 Kilo Camp seemed to be a larger camp. But I believe it was in 100 Kilo Camp where we . . . at 80, or 85 we started hitting the rainy season. In 100 Kilo Camp we were there and got the full brunt of it. When you talk about rainy season in Burma, you're talking about three or four months where it comes out like you're pouring it out of a bucket—day in and day out. It's like possibly three or four hundred inches in a season, and this is over a period of three or four months. Actually, creeks and rivers formed. Vegetation, you can almost watch it grow. This is the truth, if you can watch a bamboo shoot close enough, you can see it move. It will actually grow, under ideal conditions, about an inch in a twenty-four hour period; so you can watch it grow. The jungle becomes a big jungle. All the dirt and loose ground becomes a sea of mud, and the conditions are very adverse in relation to working because we worked out in this mess.
. . .
Marcello: What effect does this have upon the prisoners, that is, a combination of the monsoons and the "Speedo Campaign" hitting at the same time?
Offerle: Well, first, the rainy season or monsoon season cuts down on supplies, because everything turns to soup and mud, and they can't get supplies up there as easy. They even had men carrying rice on their backs from one camp to another, because the train didn't get up there to that area. Then the speed-up on the work went from, say, one meter to a meter-and-a-half of dirt to two meters of dirt per day just . . . the men's health broke down. We started getting lots of malaria up in there; we started getting—because of vitamin deficiency—beriberi, which is a disease from vitamin deficiency; we started getting a lot of dysentery; we started getting tropical ulcers, because it seems like the germ that causes this was, in rainy season, more prevalent. We started getting a multitude of diseases.
Men were breaking down; their health was breaking down. The more people that got sick, the less the Japanese had for working parties, so more sick people had to work. Here's what they did: they'd set a quota every day of men that had to go out. They would stay there until they filled it, and they filled it in a hurry. These kumis that had originally started out at fifty . . . I had been working all this time; I hadn't been sick, although my health . . . I was more slender and lost weight. But I hadn't had malaria; I hadn't had beriberi or any diseases. So I worked right straight through on the railroad up into 100 Kilo.
This kumi of fifty that I was in was originally sergeants mostly from the different units, and it was down now after the rainy season started and after people started getting sick. We got down to thirteen or fourteen men. That didn't mean they were all dead, but some of them were dead and most of them were sick. Some of them were sick enough that, if they had been in the States, they'd have been in an isolated ward with probably a nurse twenty-four hours a day. Yet here they are, in a bamboo hut in the rainy season eating a little rice and watery stew; no medication and no one to take care of them, except our own medics and a doctor who had no medicine.
This developed into a situation where we started losing men fast. The Japanese would force the sick out. Now, if they wanted a kumi of twenty-five to go out and they had fourteen there, that meant eleven sick had to go out. So they would come down through the sick barracks.
The first time I had ever stayed in, I had malaria, and I was sick as a dog. I was shaking and felt terrible and had a high fever and the chills. I asked the doctor if I could stay in, and he said, "Yes, you haven't been in, so stay in." So here come the Japs down for extra men to go to work. Well, I got off the heavy duty job, but they said they had to send some out on light duty. So the doctor asked me, he said, "Offerle, will you go out?" I said, "well, I haven't stayed in in six months. I haven't had a day off, and I got fever and chills." He said, "Yes, but there are some men sicker than you. Can you go out on light duty?" I said, "Well, if I have to, I will." He said, "Yes, you had better go out." These Japs raised Cain, and they started beating on everybody and giving the doctors and medics a hard time. They just stayed there until they got so many men. So light duty was busting rocks with a sledge hammer—putting rocks on the road—because they were just seas of mud, and they were trying to fix the roads well enough to get trucks up with supplies.
This is where I got my tropical ulcer. I hit a rock, and a chip of the rock cut me below the knee, and that night it started getting bad. In a few days, I had a nice, big tropical ulcer.
. . .
Offerle: The men got to where they didn't want to go to the hospital hut, because most of the men that went over there died. In other words, they put the real, real heavy sick over there. They tried everything in the world to save them. Even some would quit eating and just give up. They would box them and slap their ears, cuss them, threaten them—everything to try to get them to eat or to make them mad or to give them an incentive to live. But some never gave up, and some would just give up. It was pitiful, but they would do it because we'd been prisoners for so long and the weather was so bad and the conditions were so terrible that some of them just didn't have any will or reason to live. So they just actually gave up.
Marcello: How could you tell when a man had actually given up?
Offerle: Oh, he quit eating. He would quit eating and just lay there. You could talk to him and say, "Well, you're going to die if you don't eat." He'd say, "I don't care! Let me alone! I don't want my food!" They'd give away their food, or they would cover up with their blanket and just wouldn't move—day or night. They wouldn't do anything. They'd just lay there, and in a few days they would be dead. They were run down and weak, anyway. Their condition was such that they didn't have that much reserve or extra strength. So really, it was easy to die under these conditions. To a lot of the men, I'm sure it looked like the easy way out. To live meant that when you got well you had to go back out on the railroad and work fifteen hours a day in the mud and eat lousy food and get knocked around and beat up and pushed and yelled at by the Japs. Some took what they thought was the easiest of the two routes.
. . .
Offerle: A piece of rock cut me below my left knee, and that night it was kind of infected. I washed it out and put a rag around it. The next day I went out, and I came in and it was about as big as a silver dollar—kind of a grey, rotten flesh. It kept getting larger. I guess over a period of the next few weeks, it got as big as . . . oh, about three inches in diameter. It was all covered with rotten flesh with kind of a seepage coming out of it.
. . .
The Japs started selling a little bit of drugs there. They got some American Red cross medicine, and they were selling it to us. If you had a gold watch or ring, you could buy a little iodoform or sulfa drugs. But I had already sold my watch that I had and I didn't have a ring, so I didn't have any drugs. All I had was hot water.
. . .
I would keep flushing out this poison and flushing out this rotten flesh. Oh! I stood in the river—there was a little stream there—and minnows will eat rotten flesh, but they won't eat good flesh. So I used to go down to the river and stand, and it doesn't hurt. You'd just feel them nibbling at the place. I would stand in water to just over this sore, and they would clean it out real good. The main thing was to get them clean and keep them clean. Then little points of "proud" flesh would come up through the sore. But it was deep. I guess at one time the lips of this sore were swollen up, but it was about a half-inch deep—huge. I was scared it would get in my knee and ruin my whole leg, but it never did.
. . .
My brother got an ulcer about this time. He had a very small one. It didn't go deep like mine did, but it went around his leg. It got larger and larger until it was almost from his ankle to under his knee. It lacked about a half of an inch from joining at the back of his leg. So we were both with ulcers at the same time.
. . .
Offerle: We were in 100 Kilo for a while, and then the Japs decided to send all of the heavy sick back to 80 Kilo. I've heard it described since then as the "Death Camp." But they sent anybody that couldn't walk back there.
It was a camp full of heavy sick on their death beds. They were all old huts. There were about two or three hundred men down there. There were about six men that could walk and a few men in the kitchen. These six men had to feed all these sick men—carry their food to them and everything—and take care of them. They only had two little Korean guards there. One of them was Kanamura. Ed had been sick, and "Zeke" had been sick . . . and we had a little money saved. They paid us non-coms fifteen cents a day; ten cents a day to privates and corporals. You could buy a little, but very little. Food had gotten very expensive. Ed came to me and said, "They're sending all the heavy sick back to 80 Kilo, and Oscar will have to go, because he can't walk." I could hobble on crutches then; I was getting a little better. He said, "You'd better go with him because blood is thicker than water, and he's your brother." So I said, "Okay." He said, "I want to give you the money we got, because you'll need it worse than we will." I said, "No, I'm not going to take it, because you guys are sick, too." He had about a dollar-and-a-half. He said, "Let me help you pack." By then, I had picked up the nickname "Little" Offerle, because I had an older brother they called "Big" Offerle. Ed called me "Little 'Un'" or "Junior" or "Little" Offerle—one of the different names. He said, "Little 'Un," you had better go with Oscar." I said, "Okay." I saw him put this money in my bag, so I didn't say anything. I took it and it came in handy later on. But that was all the money that they had to their names. I've never forgotten it.
. . .
Offerle: Well, I was getting better. I was more or less looking after my brother. Where they put me, an Australian right next to me died within two days. An Australian right behind me died within two or three days. They moved all the heavy, heavy sick in one hut, which my brother went to.
Then I started baking cakes. I got acquainted with the Dutch there. The Black Dutch—they're part Dutch; they're a mixture; they had one-fourth or one-eighth Dutch in them—were going out in the jungles and getting all kinds of weeds and stuff for eating. I thought, "Well, we need vitamins, and these guys know all about that." So I made friends with one, and within a week or two, why, I found out about twenty different items that you could eat out in the jungle—things I never dreamed of. I found one little old bush . . . this Dutchman would show me—this native Dutchman. 0f course, they grew up in the Indies, and they knew all this stuff. He'd show me a little weed, and he would wash it and boil it in water, and it tastes like spinach—real good.
We were getting the vitamins we needed to fight beriberi. Incidentally, I got beriberi, too. Your chest swells up, and you swell up all over. Your testicles swell as big as grape-fruits; your legs swell; your face sticks out. It's just horrible-looking. But I had it in my chest. My chest would swell up, and I would lay down at night short of breath. It never got real, real bad, but I had it, I know.
I could hobble around, and I started making cakes with lemon grass. We'd boil it, and it would give you the flavor of lemon. I got some sugar from natives, which was very expensive. But you boiled it, and when it would cool off again, it would turn to kind of like an icing. The way we made these cakes . . . I learned it from other guys. There was a big old stump there that had been hollowed out for a big kind of club. You take this rice and soak it in water, and then you pound it with this club in there, and it makes a coarse-like consistency of cornmeal. Then you would take that with a bottle. Some of the boys had bottles, and they would use them for water bottles. They carried water in them. You rolled it on a board and made flour out of it. You could break it down to where it was a finer mixture. Then you take some more of this sugar and mix it with cooked rice—real thin—to make what they called "pap." They used to feed it to us when we were sick. Then you would put it out in the sun or near a fire, and it would ferment and make kind of a yeast. You make this yeast up over a day or two and then mix it with some of this rice with flour. Then you would take banana leaves . . . banana leaves, you can use them for everything. You can use them for raincoats. You can use them for grease; you take young, tender banana leaves and line your meat can with banana leaves and make your batter and put a little lemon grass water in with your cake and in your icing. Then put it with about half-full of this rice batter with water and this yeast that you had made. Put the lid on and then bury it in coals, and it puffs up and makes a beautiful cake. You had to learn how to time it; it took about twenty minutes. Then you take it out and pull these banana leaves off of it—they strip off of it. Then you take this icing and put it on in a liquid, and then you would have a beautiful cake. It cost me about a dollar to make them, and I would sell them for three dollars, and I would sell all I could make.
So this is the first time I learned to kind of look after myself and got into the enterprises of making money. I'd make five or six cakes a day, every two or three days. The first thing you know, I ended up with twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty bucks which would be like $50,000. . . .
A small detail came down to this camp from 100 Kilo to see how many had died and what. We had some Americans with them, and so . . . my two buddies, old "Zeke" and Ed, I sent them each five dollars back and a cake to pay them back for the money they had given me when I went down there.
. . .
Offerle: My brother died out in 80 Kilo. He was put in this other camp. By then this ulcer had spread all up and down his leg, between his knee and ankle, and had gone around to within a half-inch of closing on the other side. It started to get deep holes within the ulcer. In fact, it started eating around the bone of his leg—the main bone. Right before he died, there was about two inches of bone showing. The ulcer had eaten around behind it. This waste or material that came out of the ulcer—this blood, pus, mucus, or whatever it was—had dripped down on his ankle on the top of his foot, and another large ulcer was there. He had an old beat-up blanket that he had put underneath his leg to catch all this dripping, and it was saturated. I would take it down to the river and wash it out every day, and it would just be saturated with this stuff. It would take maybe five, ten, fifteen minutes to wash it out. There would be so much of it in it that you had to scrub it and wash it and scrub it and wash it and then take it back and put it underneath. Actually, outside of hot water, they didn't have anything.
. . .
I didn't realize, even though as sick as he was . . . with something like this, I guess your mind won't accept that he might die. Charley Pryor, this Marine that was one of the well ones there, came to me and he said, "Little 'Un," I want to talk to you about your brother." I said, "Okay, what about him?" He said, "I want to tell you. I don't think you realize it, but I don't think he's going to make it. He's pretty sick, and I've seen men not as sick as he was that have died." He says, "I just want to let you know, because you've got to kind of adjust to it. I don't think you realize that." I said, "No, Charley, maybe we can get out! Maybe we can save him! Maybe we can do this! Maybe he'll get better!" He said, "Well, from the way it looks now, I don't think we can get out of here in time to save him."
I was going over to see him every day and help feed him and give him medication and this and that. He told me, he says, "I'm getting blackouts. When I sit up, I get black spots before my eyes. I don't know whether I'm going to make it." I said, "Well, hang on. I hear they have been moving some out to another camp that's got doctors and medicine and everything. Just try to hang on and see what you can do."
. . .
So I went to Kanamura, who was this little Korean in camp, and told him that my brother was very sick. He said that he would go see him. The next day he came to me and said he talked to him and said, "Your brother is very sick." I said, "Can you help him or get medicine?" He says, "I don't know, but I'll try." That night he went to different camps up and down the railroad within a four or five kilometer area and tried to get some sulfa drugs or medicine or anything he could. He said he was just a little private, so what could he do. He said, "I couldn't find any." But I thought it was nice that he tried. But we could get no medication at all—nothing.
I went over there a day or two later, late in the afternoon. Oscar was semi-conscious, and he was hot. I put his head in my lap, and he died.
Marcello: I assume that you buried him right there at 80 Kilo?
Marcello: Were very accurate records kept of the cemeteries or burial places and so on?
Offerle: Yes. I think the officers had maps of all the cemetery locations and who was buried there. Actually, in 80 and 100 Kilo, they got hold of a bunch of teakwood, and they made crosses out of teak. Where the boys had dogtags—which Oscar had—they buried one with the body. They wrapped him up . . . he was buried in a . . . they had these mats—woven mats, straw mats—and they wrapped him in that and tied it, buried a dogtag with him, and then they tied one to the cross or nailed one to the cross. I think they were able to identify them fairly easy.
Marcello: At this particular stage, I would assume that making those burial markers and so on was a full-time job, considering how many were dying?
. . .
Offerle: Yes. The Japs put out an order that tickled me in one place—I think it was 100 Kilo—that nobody could die in the mornings because it was inconvenient or something. Of course the people that died ignored that; they died when they got ready. It was very weird because they always played taps when an American died. You heard it all the time in 100 Kilo; it just played all the time. We had so many dying . . . I think we lost more Americans in that camp—80 and 100 Kilo—than any other place up and down the river. Of course, the Australians were losing a lot. They would play their taps, too. They had the bugle going all of the time. Somebody was dying all the time—all the time.
Marcello: How shortly after your brother's death did you leave 80 Kilo?
Offerle: He died on November 18, 1943, and we had Christmas at 105 Kilo. So some time between November 18th and Christmas, they finally pulled out the ones that hadn't died there and moved us to 105 Kilo, which was an old, established camp that had been there a long time. But this was the first time that we got there.
. . .
Marcello: Are you able to send any postcards or anything of that nature while you're in the jungle?
Offerle: I believe at 100 Kilo and at 43 Kilo, maybe, that they gave us postcards. They brought in some fruits and cigarettes—like, you got one piece of fruit for ten men and one cigarette per man and something. They gave a pre-printed postcard that said, "I'm well. I'm working for pay. I just received fresh fruits and vegetables and cigarettes," which we did. They gave us the cigarettes. I think most of the men had the attitude, "well, if I'm sick or dying, I don't want to write home and tell them about it. It would just worry then some more." Most of them said, "I'm well. I'm happy. I'm getting along alright. Don't worry about me." That's what I did. I wrote, "I'm well. I've just received all this junk, and don't worry about me."
Marcello: Were you receiving any news from the outside world as to how the war was going?
Offerle: Yes. They still have a few hidden radios in the big camps. We heard major news—when they landed in Africa, when they landed in Italy, the islands they were fighting on in the Pacific. We knew generally that the war was going slowly, but that we were winning. We didn't know the small details about it, though.
. . .
Marcello: Did you ever run across any snakes or other wild critters?
Offerle: Well, in 100 Kilo they killed a fifteen-foot king cobra up in the hospital hut. He got up in the rafters to get out of the rainy season. A Jap killed about a twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three-foot python in the jungle, and he brought it in and they ate him. The Japs ate snakes. There's what they call a bamboo snake in these clumps of bamboo. It's light green and they get in the leaves, and you can barely see it. It's deadly poisonous. At 80 Kilo, the first time we got there, they found two little . . . I guess they were jaguar cubs or some kind of cats. They were little cubs in a clump, and they brought them into camp. The Japs took them away from them. Tigers . . . at this little camp, there was huge deer over there, and they barked like a dog almost. We heard one barking, and some of the fellows ran ahead to try to spot it—this deer in the jungle—and a darn tiger was stalking this deer, and he jumped across the path in front of them about twenty feet ahead. They didn't have any guns or anything, so they came back for the Jap guards. One tiger in one camp treed a guy for a while. So there were wild animals. We worked with elephants. It was like a zoo without the cages. You run across a little bit of everything.
. . .
Marcello: Talk a little bit about the Korean guards.
Offerle: We had some mean ones and had some good ones, mostly mean. We'd nickname them all. We had "Dillinger"; we had "Mickey Mouse"; we had (chuckle) "Liver Lips." Oh, he was a mean one—great, big, ugly, wore glasses, little eyes, had big lips, and mean as hell. He bashed everybody he got around. All he knew is bang, bang, bash, bash—very mean. Some of them, you just stayed away from. If you couldn't avoid them, you got beat up.
There were a few people that got shot. They had one Jap officer that would stay drunk all the time, and I think he killed a man with his sword and maybe shot one or two. There were a lot of beatings. They had more atrocities going on.
Up in the 100 Kilo once, we were building a bridge. There's a lot of bridges on that railroad besides the one over the River Kwai. There was a lot of small ones, and they were built with teak. The natives would make these big teak logs about twelve or fifteen inches square and fifteen or twenty feet long. Teak is hard, and it doesn't rot, and it's as heavy as iron. We had a fifteen-man detail—five to ride the truck, ten to go in the jungle and pull these logs out, and fifteen to load it on the truck and take it down to where the bridge was and dump it. We got hold of one that we couldn't pick up, and this grey-eyed Jap—the only one that I had ever seen in my life—got a bamboo pole about six foot, and he beat us and he beat us, and we never picked it up—it was too heavy. We finally ended up dragging it out of the jungle. We couldn't pick it up—it was too heavy—even with a beating.
. . .
Marcello: Were you specifically subjected to any beatings as such?
Offerle: I guess the only real hard beating that I got . . . I was knocked around and slapped around a few times. When we were pulling this log, he worked us over, and I was so mad I would have given all of my back pay to get hold of the guy with my bare hands. I wouldn't want to shoot him; I wanted to strangle him to death with bare hands and make it last so he could suffer. But I thought, "If I kill him, they'll kill me." I thought my life was worth more than his, so I didn't do it.
Marcello: Are you keeping score, so to speak? In other words, are you going to try to settle some scores after the war with some of these guards?
Offerle: I might have at the time, but after I got home, I bore no animosity whatsoever. I guess over a period of years I adjusted my mind to it, but I don't have any animosity. A lot of the men still do. They hate Japs, and they don't want anything that's made in Japan. Some of them don't even like rice. I'm a gourmet cook. I cook all kinds of Oriental foods. But I have no animosity.
At the time, I probably did. I would have liked to pay back some scores for things. I guess my biggest regret, really, looking over all things, is that I lost my brother over there. But outside of the rest, well, I have no animosity. I just figure that when you harbor something like that over a period of years, it hurts you as much or more than the people you have these feelings against. There's no use in it. Really, there was a war. They did things wrong; maybe other people had done things wrong. But I have no animosity, really.
. . .
Offerle: I think a lot of the people got religious, possibly more so when you're under direct fire—bombing or strafings or actual combat conditions. Really, in these situations the only place that you could turn to was your religion. If you didn't have any, I think you were in sad shape. People that were religious or that had known some religion before they got into this situation became, I think, stronger religious persons, and I've heard it said that the people that survived were the ones that had strong religious convictions. I know they say there's many a prayer said in a foxhole; there was in our situation, I'm sure. We had men that had done everything in the world and who had become very religious, and they even started preaching while we were prisoners. For the most part, I think the men were closer probably to their maker in this situation than any time before in their lives. They became conscious that there was a superior being. This was the only person that they could go to in this situation.
Marcello: What did you think about more than anything else under those circumstances?
Offerle: Food! I think without exception. . . . It's surprising that with all these young, healthy bucks over there, you'd think they would think about women. But when you have malnutrition and are run-down, you don't think about women—you think about food. We'd plan these elaborate meals we were going to eat. Incidentally, I've eaten a lot of them since I've been home. Beautiful foods! We were going to order this ten-dollar steak, which would be a hundred-dollar steak today, you know, and all of these fabulous foods. We would go into detail with every little dish we would have—strawberry shortcake with whipped cream and this and that. . . . Walnuts and almonds and a baked potato with sour cream. Oh, we would spend hours figuring out these meals mentally, and we would even discuss all the things that we were going to do.
A sailor . . . the poor guy had beriberi, and he was very sick. They forced him out in 100 Kilo—I'll think of his name in a minute—and he got out on a work detail, and a Dutchman passed out because he was sick. The Jap told him that if he would carry this Dutchman into camp, he could have the rest of the day off. This happened in the middle of the day. He carried him in, and the strain was too much for him, and he died within a couple of hours—he died. He used to sit around—he was from New Orleans, and he was off the Houston, a sailor—and he'd tell us all these things he was going to do, and he would go into elaborate detail, and then he died.
Marcello: When did you finally get out of the jungle?
Offerle: At 105 Kilo they took us . . . we were there not too long, I'd say a month or two. We went out of the jungle into Thailand to Tamarkan. This is the big camp by the so-called famous Bridge on the River Kwai; it was right next to it. It was a huge camp—Australians, Dutch, and a few American. You have to remember the Americans were in the minority of all the prisoners there all during the war. I guess that up in the jungle there were maybe not over five hundred or six hundred of us.
. . .
In our way of thinking, it was a nice camp because the food was good. They had Australian doctors there. They had a better hospital setup. They were well-organized, and it was a huge camp. Everything seemed to be better. Thailand had so much more to offer than Burma. They were more or less self-sufficient; they grew rice, and they had vegetables, and they had fruits and things.
. . .
Marcello: Describe what this so-called Bridge on the River Kwai looked like from a physical standpoint. It, of course, had no resemblance at all to the movie.
Offerle: To the movie, no. The movie bridge was wood. This had huge concrete emplacements. It was a large river, especially during rainy season; it would get very deep and very swift. I'd say the river—counting the beds—is close to a hundred yards wide.
Marcello: It's a steel bridge, is it not?
Offerle: Yes. "Pinkie" King, one of the Marines—we went back last fall over there—said that the Japs had brought these steel parts from Java, from a bridge over there. From the pictures that I've seen of the English building it, they built the concrete emplacements. Originally, they had a wooden bridge there, and they built this concrete base and then put the steel bridge up.
Marcello: That was a special target for the American or Allied bombers?
Offerle: We came out of the jungle in the latter part of 1943 or early 1944. In 1944 the Allies decided, I guess, to shoot up the railroad and start bombing the bridges, just tearing up the place. This is what they did, and although our camp was huge—I'd say it covered four, five, six city blocks and had several thousand men—the corner nearest the bridge was a stone's throw. You could take a rock and almost hit the bridge from the corner, so we were very close to it. In addition, the Japs, right across the railroad track, put up four ack-ack guns there, which the shrapnel fell in our camp when we were bombed.
They had a raid the week before we got there, and the planes had bombed the bridge and got a lot of shrapnel and everything in Tamarkan. Evidently, one string or part of a string of bombs had fallen in camp and blew up one or two huts and killed and wounded a lot of people. So everybody there was on edge when they got there.
We weren't there a week when we had another big raid, so we started getting shellacked from our own people.
Marcello: How do these raids affect you psychologically?
Offerle: Well, you want to cheer them for tearing up the bridge, and you want to cuss them for trying to kill you. You've got a "pro-con" situation there. It was fun to watch them. We was so happy to see evidence of the Allies then because we'd been in the jungle so long—it seemed like years—and we hadn't seen any activity, and we were tickled to death to see that they were still around and doing something.
. . .
Marcello: What are the attitudes of the Japanese guards following one of these raids?
Offerle: Well, they would get all upset, naturally. (Chuckle) They used to scream and holler and carry on with anything that went wrong. This, they'd do. Sometimes they would beat on the prisoners and cuss at them and holler at them. They seemed to be upset because these planes were blowing up everything. Maybe some of them were like us—they hadn't been in active combat for a while, and they didn't like it. So they were kind of always on edge.
Marcello: Do you think the Japanese are going to kill you if they lose the war?
Offerle: I hadn't given it much thought, but closer toward the end of the war we heard a lot of rumors about it. I think it was actually planned. They had so many atrocities that we heard that they actually planned to kill prisoners of war to try to wipe out some of these atrocities to keep the word from getting out to the world, so to speak. We heard these rumors about that.
. . .
Phet Buri was where I found out . . . there was a little guard that I recognized one night, and he recognized me. He was a friend of Kanamura's that came by. He shook hands with me, and I said, "Where's Kanamura?" He said, "He's dead." I said, "What happened?" He explained in broken English that Kanamura had tried to escape with half a dozen Australians. They stole a truck and headed for southern China—about six hundred miles. The Kempei Tai had caught them up country a hundred or two hundred miles, and they had a gun battle, and they had shot them and killed them. He had been killed trying to escape. So that was the end of the one person that was halfway civilized or decent that I ever knew.
. . .
Offerle: From Phet Buri, I went back to Bangkok, and we went up north—traveled all day and night. We were on the docks for a while, and then we went up country. We got off the train at midnight and walked until about noon the next day to a camp called Nakom Nayok; it was about ninety kilometers north of Bangkok. It was a big camp built on kind of a rice paddy. In fact, there was water about a foot deep. Our job there was to dig three hundred holes—we were in some foothills—to dig three hundred holes in these hills about ten feet in diameter and about fifty feet deep.
. . .
They had a lot of Japanese troops there that had come out of China—several thousand. I think there were rumors going around even back in Phet Buri that OSS and American troops were going to help start a revolution, a big uprising in Thailand. I think they were building them to hold out like in the islands later after the war . . . like in some of the Pacific islands where they dug caves and holes in the mountains to fight there and make a stand, so to speak.
. . .
Offerle: We had started fifty holes—digging these holes—and were working there when we got word that the war was over.
. . .
Marcello: Okay, so talk about the events leading up to the liberation.
Offerle: Well, one day [the guards] called us together, and there was a lot of rumors flying. Of course, I didn't pay any attention to them, but a lot of people were excited about the rumors that the war was over, the war was going to end. One of those guards told us that Roosevelt was dead and told us that somebody else was president. He said something like Truman, but we had never heard of Truman, so we couldn't make it out, so we didn't know who was President of the United States.
They said we would not go to work that day. Well, all day long rumors buzzed, buzzed, buzzed, buzzed. Back in Phet Buri, two sailors had escaped on a work detail and disappeared; they never found them. Later, we found out that they met up with the OSS, and they were up in the hills. Later, we found out that the Japs were going to kill us and all of this because of the atrocities. But the next day, the Japs came into the camp and said the war was over. "You stay here for a while, and then you will go home."
Marcello: They just said the war was over. They hadn't said who had won or lost?
Offerle: Well, we figured that we had won (chuckle). At least there was no doubt in our minds. But we had heard about major engagements of what was going on. We knew we were beating them. We knew we were going to win, but we just didn't know how long it was going to take. Basically, everybody knew that. The officers came down from the other camp. Some went into Bangkok and made arrangements to get us out, et cetera. We were there maybe four or five days before we left.
Marcello: What was your reaction when you heard that the war was over?
Offerle: Fantastic! Everybody went "ape!" There's no news in the world that anybody could get that could cheer you up more. The day we didn't work, old Rex [Usher] and two or three guys . . . he says, "we're going out and try to steal" . . . (Chuckle) They were always stealing something. He said, "Do you want to go?" I said, "No, I'm fine." So he and a sailor and two or three other guys, they sneaked out through the fence. . . . Now, we're in a paddy field, and it's mud and water out there. They crawled on their bellies all night and came back in through the fence right in front of the Jap guardhouse. It was near a Japanese holiday, so they had these big crocks of sake setting out there in front. They were guarding them, but, of course, they were asleep during the night, and the crocks were setting up there. They got one over on its side—it's round, so it would roll—and rolled it back out through this hole all the way around. Now, it was two or three city blocks, really, through the mud, and they got in about an hour before dawn with a crock full of sake. It must have been ten gallons or twenty gallons. He woke me up, and I said, "You've got to get rid of this thing!"
So we started waking guys up and getting canteen cups—about anything we could pour it in—and, of course, we started drinking it. We would sell it, and we made another hundred or two hundred dollars selling sake. We emptied it all over camp into canteen cups, bottles, jars, meat cans, anything. We dropped the big jug—we had to hide it—down the well. We filled it full of water, and it sunk in the well. So we disposed of anything that they could catch us with. When the sun came up, we had the whole camp drunk. We were drunk from this sake—just screaming and hollering and yelling.
When we got official word that the war was over, we went over . . . I wish I could remember his name—a sailor. He was on his death bed; he was very sick. He wouldn't have lived maybe a week or two—very sick. So somebody thought of him, and about six of us said, "Let's go tell this guy the war is over." So we went over there, and he was in a semi-daze. We said, "The war is over! The war is over! We're going home! It's all over! No more sweat! No more nothing! It's beautiful from now on!" It took him a while to realize this, but once he did, you could see him getting well. He just came up out of that bed, and was 100 percent better right then. Consequently, he got well and he lived. He couldn't have gotten a shot of penicillin or anything that could pick him up faster.
Marcello: Now, at this stage, the Japanese still had the guns yet.
Offerle: They had the guns; they were in charge of the camp. They did bring in a bunch of khaki uniforms.
. . .
Marcello: In the meantime, you never had any desires to take out any reprisals on any of these Japanese or Koreans?
Offerle: Some of the people did, but I really didn't. Actually, with the situation that we were in, there were several thousand Japanese troops in this area that had come out of China. They were combat troops; they had arms. Any uprising that we could have started there could have been easily put out by them. They could have killed all of us. We heard rumors later they were going to eliminate all prisoners because too many had died from atrocities—beatings, torture—and they didn't want it to get out to the world. Maybe we were fortunate that we weren't killed.
We went to Bangkok and were in this big warehouse for two or three days. They came in with planes and flew us out.
. . .
We flew to Rangoon, gassed up and had a sandwich, flew to Calcutta. They burnt all of our clothes and gave us a big meal and medication for those that needed it. Everyone was interviewed by the OSS to find out about atrocities. Everyone was interviewed by psychiatrists and psychologists to see if we were nuts or what and given a very thorough physical examination to see what was wrong. I had about six teeth pulled then. I talked to them, and I guess some of the guys needed to be penned up. We brought some people out that were mixed up mentally. Most people emotionally were pretty . . . some of them were unstable, and they took a while to adjust. There was a lot that they needed to do—all our people—to adjust back to civilian life.
Marcello: What was the hardest adjustment that you had to make?
Offerle: Well, just adjusting to civilian life. They flew us home as fast as we were physically able. We were hospitalized in New York. We took a train to the state where we lived, which mine was Texas. I was in McKinney for a while. They gave me a ninety-day leave, and I got sick on leave and ended up in San Antonio, where they put all the POWs. I had some bugs in my intestines that I had picked up from going barefooted. I had a lot of teeth that I had to get fixed; I got sinus trouble before I got out. A lot of the men were sick and had a lot of things that needed to be done. But after I got my discharge, I was extremely nervous. I hadn't noticed it, because of all of the excitement, until we got home. The people were very good to us all the way—every way. They got Americans out and home in a hurry and this and that; where a lot of Australian and Dutch I wrote to and talked to took months to get home—six to nine months. We got home in a hurry. I think a lot of our people were very nervous, and it took a while to adjust.
Marcello: I understand a lot of the former prisoners had trouble staying in one place for any length of time.
Offerle: Yes, we were like a cat on a hot tin roof; you couldn't keep your feet down very long. I couldn't sit through a movie. I would go into a room with people, and we would get to talking, and I would have to get up and leave. No reason—you just felt the urge. I had a lot of this for a long time. I was extremely nervous and upset for no reason at all. I still have a phobia . . . shouting sets me on edge now. Those Japs shouted at everything. I guess when they make love they shout at each other (chuckle)—I don't know—because they shout all the time. To this day, people shouting at me—a lot of noises—puts me on edge. I just don't like it.
Marcello: As you look back upon your experiences as a prisoner-of-war, what do you see as perhaps being the key to your survival?
Offerle: Well, what religious background I had, I'm sure, did a lot for me. Really, you get into so many situations. . . . And I was in dozens of situations—like on that ship when we were bombed; when we were bombed in Singosari; when we were sick; when we were in the different air raids. Time after time after time, we would say, "This is it!" I don't know why this gets in your mind, but when you think you're going to get killed, you say, "This is it." It's a funny phrase. I saw time after time where I thought I'd never see the sun rise. "I'm dead! This is it! I'm going to get killed!" You do it so often that you kind of get close to death. The only person under a circumstance like that that you can turn to is your Maker. So I think you get a deeper religious conviction after something like that—you have to. It's the only place that you can turn to.