The collection of WW II experiences related by Harold McManus is an example of the sacrifice veterans make for their country that is as stark and grim as could be related by anyone who survived to tell it.
The jovial 85-year-old retired great-grandfather from Cherokee tells of his three and a half year ordeal in a matter of fact manner that contrasts with the horror of the events he describes.
McManus lived in Cherokee since infancy. He was from a large family. He had two brothers and six sisters. He graduated from Wilson High School in 1939. In his senior year, he was the state wrestling champion in the 155 pound class. That year, Wilson High School won the state team championship with two other state champions beside McManus.
In March of 1940, McManus went into the Navy. His older brother, O.C., was already in the Navy and they both were assigned to the U.S.S. Houston, a heavy cruiser on duty in the Pacific. This was before the Navy's policy of not having brothers serve on the same ship resulting from the death of the Sullivan brothers, also from Iowa.
On Feb. 28, 1942, the U.S.S. Houston was sunk in a naval battle with the Japanese off the coast of Java, an island of the country of Indonesia in the South Pacific. Of the 1,100 sailors on board the ship, about half were never found and presumed killed by the explosion or drowning.
McManus was among those who managed to swim to shore. He and a few others managed to avoid capture for a few days, but the small group was eventually overpowered by numerous machete wielding natives, eager to earn the substantial bounty for capturing Americans.
That was the start of a 3 and a half hear ordeal of imprisonment by the Japanese. Actually the ordeal of his imprisonment by Japanese soldiers lasted three years, 7 months and 11 days, McManus stated.
The first six months were on the island of Java where his brother O.C. was also held. They were sent to Singapore where Harold and O.C. were separated. After about a month, Harold was sent to Borneo where he spent the next three years.
"They were always beating you up. They liked hitting you in the back with a rifle butt," McManus said.
He described one English soldier who was caught smoking during work detail. Two Japanese soldiers worked him over thoroughly and then he was forced to stand and stare into the tropical sun for an hour.
"He was never really right in the head after that," McManus said.
The food was mostly rice. "The first time we were given rice it was the muckiest stuff. We spit it out whenever they weren't looking. That was the last we ever spit out. We ate whatever they gave us."
McManus said that the rice contained rocks, worms and weevils. The rocks and worms were picked out but there wasn't time during their brief meal breaks to pick out the tiny weevils.
Sometimes they were given fish to cook. They had to get the maggots off before the fish was cooked.
Work details included building piers, clearing trees and other hard labor performed by the malnourished soldiers. Many of the soldiers died from a combination of malnourishment and tropical diseases.
McManus contracted malaria and jaundice.
The prisoners included a combination of English, Australians, Americans and other nationalities.
"We got along better with the Australians than the English," McManus said. He found the English to be a bit more stiff and formal. He got a rise out of the English by making disrespectful comments about their queen.
The prisoners risked execution to build a radio on which they heard about the end of the war.
McManus remained in the Navy until 1960.
He moved back to Cherokee and worked at a service station and then was a bartenders for a number of years before retiring.
He had a recurrence of malaria every two years until sometime in the 1950s, a drug finally knocked it out for good.
Over the years McManus has kept in touch with other former prisoners, sometimes going to reunions. His brother O.C. also survived and is 91 years old, living in California.
McManus has never gone back to visit the South Pacific and has never had the desire to do so.