U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation Collection: Vernon G. LaHeist Papers

Manuscript Collection #677-026
LaHeist, Vernon G.
Physical description
0.155 Cubic Feet, 1 item , consisting of a bound memoir.
Preferred Citation
U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation Collection: Vernon G. LaHeist Papers (#677-026), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

A typescript of "Three years, three months and nine days", a memoir of a U.S. Navy enlisted man as a Japanese POW. (undated)

Biographical/historical information

Vernon G. LaHeist (October 16, 1915 - April 27, 2009) enlisted in the Navy (1933) and served aboard the heavy cruiser USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA-35). He was married in June, 1937, and was discharged in December. For the next eighteen months LaHeist worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), re-enlisted in the Navy (1939), and was assigned to the mine sweeper USS FINCH (AM-9) for duty in the Philippines during World War II. LaHeist participated in the defense and fall of Corregidor to the Japanese where he was taken prisoner. LaHeist survived one internment camp in the Philippines and two in Manchuria. After the war, LaHeist was promoted to ensign and then to lieutenant (jg), and served as an engineering officer aboard the escort ship USS GEORGE (DE-697) and the dock landing ship USS FORT MARION (LSD-22). After three years of service as assistant to the Inspector of Naval Material in Syracuse, NY, he was promoted to lieutenant commander (1956). He served aboard the heavy cruisers USS TOLEDO (CA-133, 1960) and USS HELENA (CA-78, 1961), and as maintenance officer of the Amphibious Force, Pacific Fleet (1961-66). LaHeist retired but later accepted a Navy civilian job as a supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair for the next twelve years, finally retiring in 1979.

Scope and arrangement

The memoir, recorded by LaHeist's niece, begins with a biography of LaHeist, followed by details of an encounter by the USS FINCH and the submarine salvage ship USS PIGEON (ASR-6) with a large Japanese convoy in the Formosa Straits four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor (pp. 2-3). Described next are the Japanese attacks on Bataan and Corregidor and the sinking of the FINCH in shallow water (pp. 3-4); the useof tunnels by the Navy (p. 7); the scuttling of the mine sweeper USS QUAIL (AM-18) and the escape of part of the crew from the Philippines (pp. 7-8); the surrender of Corregidor (May 6, 1942, p. 9); and the transport of POWs to Manila by landing boat (p. 9).

Further details include the crowding of POWs into boxcars for transport from Belabor to Cabanatuan, north of Manila, and a detailed description of the POW camp where LaHeist spent five months. Discussed are the lack of nutritional food; cooking facilities; sanitary conditions; condensed milk and sour meat from a nearby Brahma bull ranch; working parties; the use of yeast and sourdough to catch flies and help prevent the spread of disease; death rates as high as eighteen soldiers a day from malnutrition, dysentery, pneumonia, pellagra, beriberi and scurvy; Japanese censorship of mail; and the consequences of an attempted escape (pp. 9-13).

Recounted next is the transfer of POWs to Manchuria, including rations and toilet facilities aboard a transport ship (pp. 15-16); details of the Old Hoten Camp in Mukden, Manchuria, that include living conditions, food, and the effects of a bland diet; the attrition rate of POWs; and cultural differences (pp. 18-20). Also described are the machine tool factory in which the prisoners labored, probable medical experiments, and the continued effects of various diseases (pp. 19-21). LaHeist also discusses efforts to maintain spirits through religion, the creation of musical instruments, gambling, other covert recreations, and the use of rumors (pp. 21-22, 26, 31, 39-40).

LaHeist was moved to a camp called New Hoten, and the layout is fully described (pp. 24-25). Also detailed were acts of sabotage in the factory by POWs (pp. 28-30); smuggling needed items from the factory to the camp and methods to avoid detection (pp. 27, 41-42, 47); and the use of strip searches to deter smuggling (p. 41). Also mentioned are numerous air raids by Allied forces and Japanese attempts to use these raids as propaganda and their positive effects on POWs (pp. 51-52); communication techniques for contacting downed bomber pilots in nearby camps (p. 55); a fire caused by decayed wiring for a heater that destroyed the factory (p. 56); the end of the war and the arrival of American soldiers; and the Russian takeover and closing of the camp (pp. 57-58).

Finally, LaHeist describes being sprayed for body lice in Dairen, Manchuria (p. 59); the explosion of a floating mine near Okinawa (p. 60); his transfer back to the United States; and his search for his wife. The memoir also includes a chronology of important World War II dates (p. 53), a map of every major engagement in the Pacific Theater (p. 54), and clippings from an English translation of a Japanese newspaper (pp. 43-46).

Administrative information
Custodial History

October 2, 1995, 1 volume; A typescript of "Three Years, Three Months, and Nine Days," a memoir of a U.S. Navy enlisted man as a Japanese POW. Gift of Mr. Vernon G. LaHeist, Bixby, OK.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Mr. Vernon G. LaHeist

Processing information

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Personal Names
LaHeist, Vernon G., 1915-2009
Prisoners of war--Health and hygiene
Prisoners of war--Japan
Prisoners of war--United States
World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American