by Al R. Young
May I express appreciation for the opportunity of saying a few words about the drawing that represents the theme of this year's forum: Making the World Safe for Children.Eight years later, the story summarized here was published by Al Young Studios in the book entitled My Father's Captivity.
The little boy in the drawing is a real boy. As the artist, I have taken very little liberty in presenting this scene exactly as it appeared in a house not very far from here. The chair on which the little boy is sitting, the book he reads, the clock and the sideboard with its dishes are all equally real.
As we look at the drawing, we sense that there is safety in the home in which he dwells. We can almost hear the ticking of the clock in the stillness of surroundings in which there is neither fear nor want. We are warmed by the cleanliness and comfort of the very clothes he wears. We are wont to sigh in the serenity of the cleanliness and order that surrounds him.
When I was asked to comment on this drawing, and its relationship to the theme of the conference, I thought about this particular little boy. I thought about the world in which he lives, and wondered what it is about that world that fosters safety. Because I am acquainted with this little fellow—acquainted with his home and family, and the peculiar story that lies just beyond the edges of the drawing—I thought you might like to step inside the drawing and look beyond its borders.
To step with me across the threshold of this image, let me take you back to the warm sunshine and bright shadows on the platform of a train station in Oklahoma City in the Spring of 1939, when this little boy's grandfather was 19 years old and said goodbye to his parents. He had enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps and was bound for the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The terms of his enlistment were such that in the summer of 1941 he would have returned home to complete his tour of duty, but by 1941 America was preparing for war.
He remained in the Philippines. And so it was that on December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, our little boy's grandfather endured the deafening destruction that swept over Clark Field and did to America's air power in the Pacific what had been done to its navy. Before the war was yet two days old, the young man was the sole survivor of his crew.
He remained with American forces at Clark Field until the ground assault forced its evacuation. He spent Christmas 1941 in a hastily dug foxhole on an island named Bataan. His outfit split up, and he was part of a group evacuated from Bataan aboard an inner island cruiser. They made their way southward, survived an aerial attack, and disembarked on the island of Mindanao where he was assigned to a lonely machine gun post deep in an inland jungle.
As planeload after planeload of American officers and men were evacuated to Australia, this little boy's grandfather was left behind. He survived on worm-infested rice and lived off the land in a gathering silence of isolation.
When his command surrendered in May of 1942, he walked through the gate of a prison camp at Malabalay. From there he was shipped to Manila's infamous Bilibid Prison. From Bilibid, he and thousands of prisoners were loaded into the holds of freighters bound for Japan.
Climbing down the metal ladders into the holds of those ships, prisoners were forced at rifle butt onto cargo shelves where they crawled in darkness toward the bulkhead. He leaned against the ragged steel of the ship's hull as shelves around him filled with the shadows of men. The hatch closed. Darkness swallowed his soul.
Cradled in cold steel and stifling stench, groaning men with dysentery lived and died around him in their own excrement. The freighters were unmarked, and so came under allied submarine attack. He escaped by only a few yards the white tufted torpedo trails that presaged the kind of death that claimed more than 3,000 prisoners during those voyages. Not until they offloaded prisoners in Busan were all the dead discovered in the holds.
From Busan they sailed for Moji, disembarked, and he went to a labor camp in Yokohama's waterfront industrial area. There he endured steel gray days of disease, deprivation, starvation, forced labor, humiliation, and uncertainty for 39 months.
From October 1944 through July 1945, as Allied air raids intensified over Tokyo and Yokohama, he lived in the cross hairs of bombsights that widened their circle of fire and death night upon night. In raid after raid he lost his friends, burned their bodies, and lived with terror.
On August 29, 1945, he was liberated and came home to a country and to a family—changed by war and ignorant of how to help him. In all the years that followed he has lived in inner isolation, fighting a war within himself just in order to live and work and have a family.
He married a hometown girl. Their first child died an hour after birth. Four years later, when they again found themselves expecting a child, they so despaired of its survival that they made no real preparations to bring the baby home. But the little tyke lived, and grew up as the only child of a father he hardly knew.
It took all the power of mind and soul for both of his parents to shield the boy from wave upon wave of memory and the unrelenting terror that assailed his father in all the after years. The boy knew only a little bit of his father's story, hardly guessing the twisting power and pervasive peril of his father's inner world. And so the boy grew up in happiness and peace with shadows only at the fringes of his peace.
What his parents endured is a story only Heaven can tell, and yet I have come to know a little bit about the ocean of peril surrounding the island of my father's life. I can speak with some verity about it, for I'm the little tyke they brought home from the hospital. I grew up in the security of Dad's hand, under the fixed gaze of steel with which he met the demons haunting all the pathways of his life. I played and went to school, laughed and slept and lived in peace and safety while he woke and wept and fought.
In all the years of my childhood and youth, in all the hours of interviews in which we have since talked as men (interviews in which he has tried to unfolded as best he could some recounting of the horrors through which he passed), and, finally, in the white silver years of age and growing infirmity when the spirit of a man is revealed for what it is if only because the clay around it dries up and falls away, I can say with certainty that not once in either word or look or gesture has this man ever taught his son or grandchildren to hate.
As an explanation for the safety of the little boy in the drawing before you, I commend to you the example of his grandfather. If ever a man had cause to hate, cause to teach his children to hate in order to perpetuate and multiply vengeance upon his enemies, and so consume the souls of his sons and daughters by sweeping away their peace with the desolating besom of retribution, this grandfather has had cause enough.
Instead, he has found the strength to forgive flowing to him as though meted out sufficient to the evil of each day. This drawing is witness to the truth that whatever we shall have of safety for children in this weary world, we shall have it only as such fathers forgive, turn their swords to plowshares, their spears to pruning hooks, and teach their children not to hate.
Tags: My Father’s Captivity, Haven, 2001