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MailTribune.com
  • Diary of a POW

    Grants Pass Marine included in historical keepsake from WWII
  • Like any U.S. Navy chief storekeeper worth his salt, Albert S. Johnston kept precise records, taking care to print neatly.
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  • Like any U.S. Navy chief storekeeper worth his salt, Albert S. Johnston kept precise records, taking care to print neatly.
    His data-filled diary of the Zentsuji War Prisoners Camp on Shikoku Island in Japan where he spent all but a few days during World War II reflects that close attention to detail, says Jim Klug of Ashland.
    "This is an historical treasure," said Klug, commander of the Oregon Military Order of the Purple Heart and the historian for the group nationally.
    Klug's historian status put the diary in his hands for several months when he was loaned the diary by former Marine Jack Shimizu of Guam. Shimizu acquired the diary from a grandson who is married to one of Johnston's descendents.
    Klug hopes to make copies of the diary available for public review, likely online. He returned the original to Shimizu on Monday.
    "His timeline of events with all the details is just fascinating," said Klug, an Army veteran wounded in Vietnam. "I can only imagine it didn't meet with the approval of the Japanese that he was documenting all of this."
    Johnston lists each American POW at the camp, placing them alphabetically in the state where they enlisted. Under Oregon, there are 14 POWs, including Marine Corps Private J.A. Drollette of Grants Pass.
    James A. Drolette was 81 and still living in Grants Pass when he was featured in a story in the Mail Tribune on Dec. 7, 2003. (In the diary, Johnston added one too many L's to the private's name.) Attempts to contact Drolette or his relatives for this story were unsuccessful.
    The POW camp on Shikoku Island was established in January 1942 to hold the Americans captured on Guam. More POWs were later brought to the camp, including Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch and others, building up to nearly 1,000 prisoners.
    Both Johnston and Drolette were captured Dec. 10, 1941, on the island of Agan. The POWs departed Guam on board the MS Argentina Maru on Jan. 10, 1942. They arrived at the camp of Jan. 16, and would spend the rest of the war there. The island is about 400 miles west of Tokyo.
    Johnston, born in Waco, Texas, in 1902, originally had enlisted in the Navy in 1919, making it a career. He planned to retire as soon as he got back to the states, according to his diary.
    Born in Grants Pass on July 19, 1922, where he graduated from high school in 1940, Drolette joined the Marines early in 1941. He was 19 when he was taken prisoner. He would retire from the Corps as a master sergeant after serving 28 years, including nearly four years as a POW.
    Noting he was always worried about being taken prisoner in Vietnam, Klug said it would have been worse for those serving in WWII.
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