In 1944 the Army established a large medical supply depot on the island of Leyte in the Philippines to serve the entire Pacific Theatre of Operations. We had our own Japanese Prisoner of War stockade with 200-250 POW’s to serve as our labor pool. I ran the Receiving Department and each day a dozen or more POW’s were assigned to my operations. On rare occasions I was lucky enough to get one of the two POW’s who spoke English to act as an interpreter. But on most days we communicated solely through sign language. And we did so very effectively. In the process, we developed a good working relationship and achieved a good deal of mutual respect - or so I thought.
The hard working POW’s were well disciplined and cooperative. As a result we loosened up on security and the walking armed guards detail was eliminated. Instead, each department head was given a pistol and a pistol belt to wear. The hot, humid, weather subjected us to frequent fungus infections if we wore anything tight against our bodies. Accordingly, I removed my pistol belt whenever I sat down at the desk in my office which was in one corner of the receiving warehouse. However, sometimes when I went out into the warehouse itself I’d forget to buckle up.
One day I was in the far corner of the receiving warehouse when I saw a POW make a beeline for my office – 100 feet away.. He grabbed the pistol belt off my desk and headed in my direction. Like the proverbial drowning man I saw my entire life passing before me as I awaited my imminent demise.
But instead of removing the pistol from its holster, the POW ran up to me and handed me the belt.. Somehow, while in shock, I was able to buckle up. And just as I did I saw my commanding officer walk around the corner and into the warehouse.
From his vantage point, the POW had seen the officer coming and his quick action saved me from the discipline I so richly deserved.
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This depot served the entire Pacific Theatre and accordingly was large and well-stocked. For example, when the war ended in Europe we learned that we had more blood plasma in inventory than had been used in the entire European operation. Some injuries are better served with whole blood and we had several large refrigerators with large stocks of blood - with a short shelf life. I always knew when another invasion was about to take place, because the guy that managed those reftigerators slept in my tent and would be awaken in the middle of the night to open up and assist in the loading of crates of blood.