Apr
28
2016
Born In A Prison Camp

IMG_1874The first six years of Corrie Hale’s life were spent in a Japanese prison camp. Her mother was Indonesian and her father a Dutch Army officer. Before World War II, Indonesia was Dutch occupied and when the Japanese took over the islands, the Dutch military personnel were restrained and placed in prisoner of war camps and their families were placed in Japanese prison camps.

Corrie was born in 1940 on the island of Java, on a mountain in a remote prison camp. This camp was so remote that the Americans who found it just happened upon it as they were patrolling the island after the war had ended. No one realized it was there and the Japanese commander had not been informed that the war was over, but apparently surrendered without conflict. He was, more than likely, very weary of the situation, as was everyone else.

Corrie says, “I had never seen Americans before. And I certainly had never seen red hair and freckles. But I remember the name of the American soldier that was there that day. His name was Paul Bender and he had red hair and freckles. He hugged me and kissed me, but I didn’t know what was going on. He gave me Wrigley’s chewing gum and I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to swallow it. It tasted pretty good to me!” She spent some time after the war trying to find Paul Bender, but was never able to locate him.

As a young child, Corrie witnessed things that her innocent eyes and tender emotions should never have encountered. These ruthless atrocities still affect her today. She says that after she shares her story with others she, many times, will have nightmares of the scenes from those days.

images (5)The Japanese military were cruel and even demoniacal in their treatment of people in their prison camps and prisoner of war camps. Corrie says, “Stupid people! Today I don’t go to Japanese restaurants. It turns me off. It’s wrong, I should try. But it is still hard. It was terrible…I just don’t understand how people can be like that. But we accepted it. We thought ‘This is life and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ I didn’t know there was a different life out there.”

A friend of Corrie’s mother was repeatedly raped by the Japanese. Then they cut her body in pieces and left her mutilated corpse laying on the ground. Her mom told her to stay inside and went to assist, in vain. But Corrie came behind her anyway and watched as her mother tearfully tried to cover what was left of her friend with cloths. She remembers one of the women being tortured for information by having her fingernails pulled out one by one.

images (3)The Japanese demanded total respect, and Corrie remembers her mom not bowing to a soldier one day and suffering a beating and being kicked mercilessly. She was in terrible pain and there was no medicine or doctors so her mom boiled local plant leaves to apply to her wounds. There was no bathing water for the prisoners, but they would be forced to carry buckets of water, as they crawled on their knees, to the soldiers for bathing. If they spilled any they would be beaten. Some were beaten and their arms severed and then they were taken to the ocean and thrown in.

Attempted escapees were dealt with severely. She remembers one man that was caught trying to escape. The soldiers tied his body to a rack above bamboo shoots. Bamboo grows very fast, and he was left there so the bamboo would grow up through his body. Young Corrie and her family listened to his deafening screams for days before he finally succumbed to the torture and died.

Of course the food they were issued had very little nutritional value. They were given small portions of rice each day and mom would boil local plants. This was not a diet that would keep them healthy. But Corrie’s two older brothers would provide the meat for their meals. They found a way to exit the camp at night unnoticed. Their mom was concerned each night that they would not return. But they continually risked their lives for their family and returned with the goods.

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They would go into the rice fields and find frogs and capture fruit bats from trees. They would bring them back and mom would spend all day the next day removing lice from their bodies and preparing them for consumption. Corrie said, “It was meat and it tasted good. It was delicious! Hey, when you’re starving to death, anything tastes good.”

 After the war was over and the family was released and reunited, mom prepared a scrumptious feast for them with all their favorite foods. Corrie said, “I thought it was like heaven! I had never seen so much food.” (I’m certain it did not include fruit bats!)

 Corrie’s father was in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Tjimahi. His living conditions were even more horrendous than where his family was. He resorted to eating caterpillars and as many bugs as he could find to stay alive. He contracted beriberi, which is caused by malnourishment. Corrie says, “What I think is fantastic about my father is that, because he did not have medical care, he chewed tobacco and used it with pieces of newspaper and placed it on his sores and they were healed.”

The first time Corrie saw her father was at age six when they were released. A blonde, six feet, three-inch-tall man came walking to her and tried to hug her, but she said no and hid behind her mother. Mom said, “That’s your father.” But she said no again and refused to go to him. “It took me about six months to trust him and know that he was my father.”

imagesBut her father would not be able to escape the dreadful days in the camp and became an alcoholic. It became so bad that he could not support his family and when Corrie was about ten years old her sister went to the Dutch authorities and requested that she and Corrie be placed in a children’s home. It was hard and she did not like it, but eventually she was reunited with her family and they relocated to Holland in 1957 where Corrie finished high school and graduated from college.

Holland was very overcrowded after the war because many Dutch soldiers married Indonesian women who were released from the camps and migrated there. The government encouraged young people to choose either Australia or America and relocate. Corrie chose America because she had read so many good things of how good and free America was.

CorrieUpon arrival in Santa Monica, California, Corrie was hired as a secretary. She wrote shorthand in both English and Dutch and spoke five different languages. And she was a beautiful single girl, as you see from her photo. But she had no car and realized that she needed one.

So she dropped in on the local used car lot in 1958 and told the salesman, “I am an immigrant and still have my green card and not much money. But I need a car.” He replied, “No problem. I have just what you need.” (I did say she was a young, beautiful girl, didn’t I?) Her first car was a Plymouth with push-buttons for changing gears. She paid $50 a month for it.

“I was so happy, but I didn’t know that I needed a driver’s license.” One day a policeman confronted her because she was parked in a no parking zone.

downloadWhen he asked for her driver’s license, Corrie said, “What do you mean? I don’t know what you are talking about.” He let her off the hook, but made her drive around in the parking lot to prove she could drive safely and made her promise she would go get her driver’s license, and told her where the facility was (It’s that young, beautiful girl thing again!).

Living in California was fine with Corrie. But her girlfriend, who lived in San Francisco, called and said, “Let’s move to Texas!” Corrie thought she was joking until she showed up in her Fiat and said, “Let’s go!” So, these young girls were off on their big adventure. They settled in Dallas, Texas and Corrie would be glad they did.

Corrie met her husband while working at Johansen Lighting Company in Dallas, Texas. “He was so nice. I loved him very much. He called me his Eastern Princess.” He asked her out for a drink and she agreed, thinking that meant what it did in Holland – coffee. When they arrived and ordered, Corrie couldn’t understand why he had liquor and no one there was drinking coffee. She said, “Don’t they have coffee?” He replied, “Yes, but it’s probably about seven days old.” She said, “I never let him forget that!” Ah, to be young and innocent, and single and beautiful!

Corrie is proud to tell you that when they were married she was a virgin. “My mother brought us up that way. She explained why that is important.” It seems to me that Corrie’s mother is the outstanding heroin of this story. Even in the harsh camp surroundings, she trained her two daughters and two sons in morality, striving to provide for them each day, which included depriving herself of her meager rations so they would have food. She would hide her oldest daughter in a hole in the floor when the soldiers came around. She treated her family’s injuries with boiled plants. She even was able to secure a birth certificate for Corrie. Her mother’s name was Soria and she was from a royal sultan bloodline. Corrie is very thankful that she had the wonderful mother that she did.

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Corrie retired in Dallas, Texas. She was an area manager for five different hotels, including the Wyndham, Quality Inn and Crowne Plaza. Currently she does volunteer work and enjoys helping people. She has a wonderful son, Bouke, that she is very close to and very proud of.

Thank you for sharing your exciting story, Corrie Hale. You are truly a remarkable woman! Your mother and father would be proud.