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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / May 31, 2001

Page 6 of 7

Continued from page 5

Most wanted to look after their businesses or were confident that the Japanese would eventually send them home. Many were afraid of the Communists in the countryside. ''Subject said the Americans were most unrealistic in their expectations of life in Japanese prison camps,'' the report said.

The American also met a young Zhou Enlai, the eventual Chinese premier whose 1972 meeting with President Richard Nixon would lead to US recognition of the country. He said Zhou assured him that his forces would aid any Americans who escaped Japanese custody.

For some, escape wasn't an option and survival hardly a certainty. Terence Kirk was a US Marine corporal on guard at an American consulate in North China when the Japanese invaded. He spent 1,355 days in three prison camps, the last slaving away in a steel mill in the Japanese city of Kokura. ''We used to line up for work in the morning and they had the dead wagon,'' Kirk, now 86, recalled in an interview. ''These kids were dying two and three and four a day. I'd see these kids going off to the crematorium every morning, in a two-wheeled cart.''

He said his key to survival was to just work, cutting scrap for the foundry, keeping his mind elsewhere. But sometime in 1945, Kirk felt compelled to record what he was living because he feared nobody would ever know. He built a pinhole camera out of two cardboard boxes and convinced a Japanese interpreter, who had grown up in the United States, to smuggle him some photographic plates. He got men built like bags of bones with the distended bellies born of protein, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies to quickly line up in front of buildings at the camp.

The shutter was a piece of tape over the pinhole. ''I had them stand there, pulled the tape off, waited 10 seconds, then put the tape back on,'' Kirk said.

Kokura was supposed to follow Hiroshima as the second target for the Americans' new atom bomb, but bad weather diverted the drop to Nagasaki, about 50 miles away. When Kirk and company were liberated, he handed American officers his crude photos of dying GIs, images akin to those of Holocaust victims.

Every officer he encountered ordered him never to reveal the horrors he'd seen. Kirk waited until he got his Marine pension before publishing a little book called ''The Secret Camera'' in 1982.

Today, Kirk tends a small apple orchard in Redwood Valley, Calif., obsesses over his past imprisonment, and hungers for one thing: back pay from Nippon Steel.

Harry Truman's treaty with Japan, signed when the new nuclear superpowers were fighting their first proxy war for global supremacy in the Asian heartland of Korea, should not impede such a simple goal, Kirk believes.

''The 1951 peace treaty was illegal,'' he said. ''They took the civil rights away from all the POWs.''

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