Still, Edwards said, his postwar work with other ex-POWs convinced him Mukden was the best of a horrifying lot. "We had a decent place to work. It was clean, well-ventilated. We were not underground in a dirty wet coal mine or copper mine. We had soybeans to eat" — protein, not starchy rice.
The Mukden POWs got about half the 4,000 calories a day the U.S. Army considered the minimum but more than other POWs, said Gregory J.W. Urwin, a Temple University history professor and author of a book about the men captured on Wake Island early in the war.
"The Japanese didn't keep you healthy for fun," he said. At Mukden, they wanted work — and to look good for the Red Cross, which occasionally visited.
Only three men escaped before the Japanese surrendered in 1945, and they were quickly caught. "We were 800 miles from the Siberian border. They were three white men among umpty-thousand Chinese," Edwards said.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atom-bombed on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, and Japan agreed to surrender on Aug. 14. The Japanese military had orders to execute POWs if Japan was invaded, so an Office of Strategic Services — predecessor of the CIA — team parachuted into the camp Aug. 16 to tell them the war was over.
Russian troops liberated the camp on Aug. 20, 1945.
Chinese local and national governments have turned the site into a museum dedicated to the POWs who died there.
Although POW camps were supposed to be clearly marked and away from cities, Mukden was unmarked and near several targets including an airport and an ammunition depot. When American B-29s bombed the area in December 1944, two bombs hit the prison camp, killing 19 and wounding 30, Urwin said.
Edwards said he helped carry a man who lost an arm and part of his skull into the hospital. The Japanese tried to use him for a propaganda interview and the man agreed to talk, he said. Lights and cameras were set up.
"He said, 'Send 'em again. They're beautiful.'"
Holmes' book: http://www.usni.org/store/books/history/guests-emperor
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