to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

16d. Disease and Deprivation

Multiple medical issues compounded the horrific living conditions. Not only were the infectious diseases like malaria and dengue pervasive in many of the areas where the POWs lived and worked, but the lack of adequate food led diseases for lack of proper vitamins. Both their depleted immune systems and lack of medications led to another plaque known as Tropical Ulcer. This comes about when a multitude of bacteria and fungi invade a wound. Small cuts often evolved into large ulcers that severed tendons and exposed bones. These were mostly a problem on the POW’s legs and resulted in many amputations; many POWs did not survive that operation. The lack of adequate sanitation resulted in almost universal bouts of diarrhea and dysentery — either bacterial or amoebic. The latter was so dreaded that the IJA would screen for it prior to transferring POWs to their homeland. Of course, the most dreaded of all was CHOLERA. Some POWs were even inoculated to prevent its spread. It was thought to have been introduced by the romusha workers and surely they suffered the greatest losses from this scourge. Fortunately, the US POWs were spared and none were recorded as dying of cholera although a few were suspected of having a mild cases that they survived. It is also probable that cholera vaccination was part of the normal pre-overseas movement medical regimen of the era. Also, many of the US POWs credit their discipline in drinking only boiled water as preventing the spread of cholera in the camps where they resided.

Not for the faint of heart, below are photos documenting the POW’s medical condition at the time of liberation.

Medical issues are moderately well documented but dental issues plagued many of these men for the rest of their lives. The malnutrition, avitaminosis and ‘grit’ in the rice took a heavy toll of their teeth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.