Profiles in Survival: James Duckworth by John Shivley – selection #46 in Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠9♠  Nine of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Spades is my suit for short, Indiana-related non fiction works

The Selection: “Profiles in Survival (James Duckworth)” a collection of true stories of Indiana POWs who served in the Philippines in World War II.

The Author: John Shivley is a practicing physician who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is also the author of The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima.

What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad img_5408you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

legacy project seal of approval 2

Profiles in Survival – James Duckworth

“We must impress the Japs that we are a well disciplined, smart-looking, smoothly functioning outfit. Their god is discipline. They begrudgingly admire it as much in others as they do in themselves. You must maintain your own self-respect. You must shave every day, keep your clothes washed and pressed, and your shoes shined. We’ve got plenty of soap and water. Use it. Salute your arms off, smart and snappy, especially when Nip inspection parties come through.”

The above was what the commander of the Twelfth Medical Regiment, James Duckworth, told those under his command once his post had been surrendered to the Japanese. When I read nonfiction stories like this I always start wondering how I would cope in such a situation, or indeed if I even would be able to cope at all. There seems to be little doubt that strong leadership of the POWs, such as that which James Duckworth clearly provided, greatly increased their chance for survival. Also, the treatment and care of wounded Japanese soldiers, in addition to Americans and Philipinos, under the command of Duckworth also helped mitigate the hostility of their capturing Japanese commanders. I wondered while reading how many people lived through their ordeal that wouldn’t have if someone of Duckworth’s mettle had not been in command.

For my part, I was spellbound by Duckworth’s story, which honestly was difficult to read at times, hearing of all the death and suffering that marked those times. I learned a lot as well, and some of what I learned I almost wish I could unlearn.  Like the Japanese-instituted concept of “shooting squads” in which all prisoners were put into groups of ten. If any of the group escaped, the other nine would be executed. Nice deterrent, huh?  I also read about the infamous “August 1 Kill-All Order” which addressed the “final disposition” of prisoners should POW camps be about to fall into American hands and be liberated.  Seems the Japanese were concerned that postwar testimony by the POWs, if left alive, might be damning in any war-crimes trials. Just such an order was carried out in what has become known as the Palawan Massacre, where nearly 150 American prisoners were burned to death. It was the knowledge of this massacre and the Kill-All order that eventually led to the daring raid that freed the prison camp that housed Duckworth at the end of his captivity.

I mentioned in my other Deal Me “IN” post from this book that I know I will read the rest of the stories in this volume, and I recommend the book to others as well.  One of the back cover “praises” for the book reads: “Profiles in Survival is a book that will break your heart. The Americans taken prisoner after the battle for the Philippines endured the nearly unendruable. But endure they did. Though many died in captivity, others survived with an uncommon dignity. They knew the cruelty of a war without mercy. John Shively is in our debt for giving us their tales.” (Randy Roberts, Purdue University Distinguished professor of history)

Personal Notes ♫  Reading this book has also made me want to watch the epic 1957 movie, Bridge on the River Kwai again (even though it was set in Burma) since it features American prisoners under Japanese command. I still vividly remember my Dad whistling the theme from this movie during countless hikes we went on out west during summer camping trips – another reason to watch the film again.

(Below: three of the Ranger company that freed the prisoners of the prison camp at Cabanatuan in what is referred to as “The Great Raid.” Heroes. Picture from

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