Unbroken: The Women's Story
I am traveling this week, so I've invited Author Kathryn Atwood to tell you about her book Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater.
She shares the heartbreaking story of three women who, like Louis Zamperini, whose story is told in Unbroken, endured through hardship and torture to survive WWII. Thank you, Kathryn.
My personal images and interest in WWII—as well as a previous book I'd written--all focused on the European conflict. My Army Air Corps dad and his three brothers had all flown in the European Theater and while I was in high school The Hiding Place [the story of Corrie ten Boom] had come to theaters.
So the two basic images implanted in my mind regarding WWII—tall, dashing, Dutch-American flyboys and a middle-aged Dutch woman who defied the Nazis by hiding Jews—had, apart from Pearl Harbor, made me consider WWII as a primarily European conflict and had compartmentalized the war in my brain under the category of courage, not necessarily endurance.
Reading the memoirs and biographies of the women featured in what would become Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, I came to understand that endurance was precisely what the Pacific War had been for millions of people; not only for American troops fighting an enemy who refused to surrender, but for the civilians unfortunate enough to find themselves in Japanese-controlled territory.
Three women featured in my book perhaps fit more precisely into the Unbroken category because they, like Louis Zamperini, endured intentional physical torture.
Elizabeth Choy, Sybil Kathigasu, and Claire Phillips all suffered at the hands of the Kempetai, the Japanese military police, who, like the German Gestapo, were tasked with weeding out resistance activities.
Elizabeth Choy found herself in their hands inadvertently after she had unknowingly passed radio parts to Allied prisoners in Singapore.
The Japanese were convinced she was part of a larger plot so to obtain the desired confession, they tortured her nearly to death. Deeply religious, she refused to lie, even to save her life.
Sybil Kathigasu, on the other hand, was an active member of the Malayan resistance: she provided medical care to local guerilla fighters.
She was caught and taken into Kempeitai custody where one officer named Eko Yoshimura took a special interest in breaking her. He nearly destroyed Kathigasu's body but her will remained intact and she never divulged the information Yoshimura sought.
Claire Phillips, an American member of the Manila resistance, charmed and chatted up Japanese officers in her nightclub, gleaning precious tidbits of intel, then used her earnings to sneak food to starving American POWs.
Claire was caught, interrogated, tortured, and starved by the Kempeitai for nearly nine months without betraying anyone.
Conversion to Christianity saved Zamperini from his dark, downward spiral but not all American Pacific War POWs fared as well: they suffered far more PTS, alcoholism, premature death, suicide, and divorce in comparison with their counterparts released from German POW camps.
I found a similar trend among the women whose stories I encountered while writing my book. Sybil Kathigasu died three years after the war from complications arising from her beatings. Claire Phillips died in 1960 from alcoholism-related meningitis.
All war creates suffering in the moment and in the aftermath. The Pacific War seemed to be a conflict in which this was intensely true for reasons I’m still sorting out. But whatever the reason, the people who stood up to Japanese fascism deserve respect and remembrance just as much as those who defied the Nazis.
Louie Zamperini once dismissed his war hero status, claiming that mere survival does not make one a hero. Millions of his fans--myself included--profoundly disagree. Surviving the Pacific War was more than enough to earn the designation.
Thanks you, Kathryn.
Learn more about Author Kathryn Atwood and her books here...
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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