The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family's Quest to Bring Him Home, by Sally Mott Freeman
This is an amazing story about the search for Barton Cross, who was lost during World War II, somewhere in the Philippines. It will take the reader on a journey into the midst of the horror and brutality that the prisoners of war were subjected to by their Japanese captors, captors who did not abide by the Geneva Conventions, or any conventions, for that matter, that could be described even resembling human decency. From all the evidence, it shows that they mistreated the prisoners in the most despicable ways. Story after story emerges about the savagery and viciousness of the Japanese government and their commanding officers and soldiers. Some readers who might have doubted the judgment of President Truman when he agreed to drop atomic bombs on Japan, may soon have a change of heart. I know that I did after learning about atrocity following atrocity that was committed by the Japanese against the captured POW’s.
I have read so much about the Holocaust, that I thought I could not be surprised again by man’s inhumanity to man, but this very detailed, and well researched presentation of information on the Pacific Theater of World War II, separate and apart from German barbarism, has enlightened me further. There seems to be no end to the capability of man to be inhuman to man. I came away from this book feeling that an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor began our war with Japan, and it was fitting that our retaliatory attacks against Nagasaki and Hiroshima ended it. The book will also help the reader to understand why the Japanese internment camps were set up, and why they might have been very necessary. Dual allegiance was very real.
The author is the daughter of Bill Mott and the granddaughter of the parents of Barton Cross. She has done one masterful job of research. She has painted the most lucid picture of battle after battle, of disputes within the ranks, of missed opportunities to rescue captives, and of the politics that governed the conduct of many moments in the war, influencing decisions that often led to the unnecessary death of thousands American soldiers in order to preserve the arrogance of one man, presumed to be very powerful and influential, Douglas MacArthur. He and his minions were responsible for the deaths of many POW’s at the hands of the Japanese when they actively inhibited the attempts to rescue them.
Reading this is not easy, but it is necessary. I was on the battlefield, in the conference room, in the POW camps, experiencing the bestial conditions that the men were made to endure. It is a horrific tale, made more so by the fact that it is true. Detail after detail exposes the deplorable behavior of the Japanese. They had neither respect for the lives of the enemy soldiers, or for the lives of their own soldiers. To lose was too shameful, so every effort to maintain their pride was expended. Surrender was unacceptable and fighting continued longer than necessary. The infighting that existed between the branches of the armed services caused unnecessary loss of life and, in hindsight, Douglas MacArthur and his enormous ego, coupled with the hero worship of his ardent followers, in addition to a President weakened by war and illness, were responsible for the loss of many more of the lives of our heroic soldiers than necessary.
Barton Cross was the youngest son of his mother. Her two other sons, from a previous marriage, were largely neglected by her, but they never resented their half brother for her greater show of affection; they adored him. One of the half brothers, Bill Mott, worked in the White House; the other, Benson Mott, was on the Navy ship Enterprise, and their half sister, Rosemary Cross, was a Wave. When Barton enlisted, Bill used his influence to station Barton in what he hoped would be a safe place, especially to please his mother who favored Barton. Barton, however, wound up in the Philippines. When the Japanese successfully invaded the Philippines, Barton became a prisoner of war. This is Barton’s story, and what a story it is! It follows the unending search for a brother and son that was very well loved and very much missed.
The book is so exhaustively researched and finely detailed that facts, hitherto unknown by me, and I am sure many others, were revealed. The most eye-opening information concerned the details of the brutality that the POW’s under Japanese control faced and dealt with. The story is based on the facts gleaned from eye witnesses, records, letters and other forms of correspondence giving a bird’s eye view of the carnage and destruction wrought by the Japanese. The POW’s were starved, beaten and tortured. Their illnesses and wounds went untreated. The living conditions they were subjected to were subhuman. Many were outright murdered by Japanese soldiers whose orders and behavior were barbaric.
The author expressed herself so capably that the reader was placed on the battlefield, on the Naval vessels under attack, and even on the improperly marked Japanese vessels that were carrying the POW’s from prison camp to prison camp in the foulest of conditions. Because the Japanese deliberately did not indicate that they were carrying POW’s, the American soldiers, unknowingly, condemned their fellow Americans to death when they dropped their payloads on Japanese ships. Friendly fire casualties mounted and numbered in the thousands. POW’s were hidden and crammed into the holds of ships for lengthy periods of time, with little or no clothing, shoes, food, water or air, in terribly unsanitary, germ ridden conditions, and they had absolutely no way to protect themselves from danger or to warn the incoming planes that they were there.
From all accounts told, even though Barton was subjected to horrific conditions, he was always an inspiration to the fellow prisoners. He never lost faith and encouraged others to keep up their spirits. He believed they would be rescued and sent home when the war ended. The worst part, however, about Barton’s plight, for me, was the fact that MacArthur only evacuated Army personnel from the hospital in which Barton was being treated, early in the war. That decision effectively condemned all of the injured naval personnel. They were deliberately left behind, to be captured. Finding Barton’s whereabouts was then made more difficult by Barton’s own behavior. Rather than worry his mother, who tended to extremes, he did not tell her of his injury. He told her he was well and expected to be home for Christmas.
I learned so much about the history of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, of the Philippines occupation by Japan, and about the general conduct of the war. I recommend this book to all. The author has the gift for language, and it is very well written as well as being a very interesting read.However, be warned, it will not endear you to the Japanese people, and it may make you wonder why Americans, for years, avoided German cars, but never seemed to react that way toward Japanese car makers. The Japanese were responsible for the unnecessary loss of America’s human treasure.