Japanese-American POW discovered by Japanese

 Prisoners of War captured by the Japanese endured terrible conditions and brutal treatment.

Prisoners of War captured by the Japanese endured terrible conditions and brutal treatment.

There were only two Japanese-Americans captured during the course of the Pacific war with Japan. Most Japanese-Americans served in the European theatre, where they could avoid such risks.

Sergeant Frank 'Foo' Fujita of the U.S.Army.

Sergeant Frank ‘Foo’ Fujita of the U.S.Army.

However Frank Fujita had joined the Texan National Guard in 1938 before there were any such considerations, and was captured while serving with the 36th Infantry Division. He had been shipped to Nagasaki where he and his fellow POWs were put to work in the dockyards. Until 1943 none of his captors had noticed his Japanese name:

On June 1, 1943, almost one year and three months after we were captured in Java, a Japanese guard realized that my name was Japanese, here in Nagasaki, Japan. This guard, like so many people in Japan, could read something printed in English, but they could not understand when it was read back to them.

As room chief my name was at the top of the roster and when he saw it, his eyes liked to have popped out and he pointed to my name and said: ‘Fujital Fujita Nippon no namai!’ (Fujita is a Japanese name!’) And then he asked me where Fujita was, and I told him that he had gone to the benjo [toilet]. He said that he would wait and I moved towards the back of the room with my heart in my mouth and shaking like a leaf. I was as close to being scared to death as I will ever come. The guard remained at the front of the room and asked everyone that came into the room, where Fujita was.

Almost everyone in the room was as keyed up as I was, for they had sweated my being found out, too, and now that the time had come they all stood around with bated breath to see what would happen next.

Another man came into the room and the guard asked him where Fujita was and he looked around and saw me, and before anyone could caution him, he pointed to me and said ‘There he is!’

The guard looked surprised and also a little put out with me for having told him that Fujita had gone to the benjo. Any other time I would have been beaten up on the spot, but this time he was much too excited over his discovery to think of bashing me about.

He called me back up to the front of the room and looked me up and down, sucking his teeth and muttering something incredulously about Fujita being a POW. He tried to carry on a conversation with me, about me, and finally decided that I really could not speak the language. He would feel of my skin and then put his arm next to mine and compare them, and like the guard at the wash rack, he said ‘Somma, Somma! He would turn to the other guys in the room and then point to me and then to himself and tell them that we were somma, somma.

Finally he could not stand it any longer, that he was the only Japanese to know this so he took off for the guard house.

I really became frightened then and felt very strongly that my untimely demise could be forthcoming posthaste! Even though I felt like this, I still felt hope way down deep that I would survive the war in one piece.

In a little while he brought another guard with him to look me over, only to have the lights go out, for it was bedtime and all room lights were turned out at 10:00 PM.

Well, there was no sleep for me this night and Sgts. Heleman and Lucas were trying to comfort me and convince me that maybe they would not kill me after all. I was in such mental anguish that even the bedbugs, fleas, and mosquitos were not bothering me.

During the night, each time the guard shift changed, the guards would take turns coming to my room and looking at me, even those who normally patrolled the other side of the camp

Fujita became an object of curiosity for the Japanese but he survived several interrogations by pretending to be stupid. He was given a book “Learn Japanese in 30 hours” because they were so frustrated with him – but he made little progress with it. He upset them by refusing to join the Japanese Army and in the end they let him return to the ranks of the other U.S. POWs.

See Foo, A Japanese-American Prisoner Of The Rising Sun” by Frank “Foo” Fujita, with Stanley L. Falk. Subtitled: “The Secret Prison Dairy of Frank “Foo” Fujita”. University of North Texas Press, 1993.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Foley June 1, 2018 at 7:57 pm

Fujita was a member of the “Lost Battalion”, the 2nd Battalion of the 36th ID. It was detached from the 36th ID and sent to help protect the Dutch East Indies. After capture, nothing was heard of them for over two years. Some had been sent to work on the “Death Railway” in Thailand. The remainder of the 36th ID would go on to have one of the longest, most grueling combat history of any American unit in the war, serving in both Italy and France. I think we will be reading a lot more about them later in this fantastic blog.

william November 7, 2013 at 2:44 am

What a generation of people they all were. Makes you proud to be American.

Jim Ferrell November 6, 2013 at 1:49 am

I just finished reading Frank Fujita’s book Foo. I grew up in Abilene, Texas and was a member of HQ Battery 131st. Artillery 36 Inf Division after high school. I have recently learned that Frank Fujita was the brother-in-law to my Mother’s best friend. Unfortunately I never met Sgt. Fujita. I did however retire from the VA Medical Center in Augusta, GA and had the opportunity to meet many WW II veterans, including some who were POWs in both the European and Pacific theaters. I have the utmost respect for these men who suffered so much during their internment. Most of the WW II veterans are gone and we know only of their stories left in the writings and personal accounts they left behind.

Sherrie June 1, 2013 at 7:54 pm

My father was a POW/MIA in World War 2 also. Spent 3 and a half years in solitary and was sentenced to Life in prison by the Japanese. You may have heard of him. Chase J. Nielsen who flew with Doolittle. His stories made me have a deep appreciation for everyone who has served in the Military. Your story makes me cry. God bless our country and the men and women who have served.


Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: