TITLE: Don Jose, An American Soldier’s Courage and Faith in Japanese Captivity
AUTHOR: Ezequiel L. Ortiz, James A. McClure
PUBLISHER: Sunstone Press (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 176 pages
REVIEW PUBLISHED IN MILITARY WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, www.mswadispatches.com By Barbara Peacock (2012)
In 1941 the Japanese invaded the Philippines with overwhelming force and forced the surrender of American troops at Bataan and Corregidor. Prisoners of war were subjected to brutal captivity and thousands did not survive. This is the story of an American soldier who survived and became a hero. When American troops liberated the Niigata POW camp after the Japanese surrender, Corporal Joseph O. Quintero greeted them with a homemade American flag that had been sewn together in secrecy. The son of Mexican immigrants, Joseph Quintero grew up in a converted railroad caboose in Fort Worth, Texas, and joined the Army to get $21 a month and three meals a day. He manned a machine gun in the defense of Corregidor before his unit was captured by the Japanese. When prisoners of war were transported to Japan, Joseph survived a razor-blade appendectomy on the ”hell ship” voyage. In the prison camp he cared for his fellow prisoners as a medic and came to be known as Don Jose. Joseph’s narrative is an enlisted man’s view of the war with first-hand descriptions of conditions in the POW camps and personal glimpses of what he and his buddies did, endured and talked about. The authors have drawn on other histories and official documents to put his story into perspective and focus on a little-known chapter of World War II.
Ortiz and McClure honor an old friend’s wish to be remembered in this stirring biography of Joseph Quintero, US Army private and Japanese POW. They mix a standard biographical narrative with Joseph’s own accounts of his experiences. The result is a highly readable story of a soldier’s struggles to survive under the most horrendous of conditions, with bravery, honor, and compassion.
Joseph Quintero possessed the ability to love and serve others, traits handed down to him by his deeply religious and affectionate mother, Lorenza. A first generation American born to Mexican immigrants in Texas, young Joseph helped his father support his family of nine children by going to work at age thirteen. As these were the depression years, his variety of jobs at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Fort Worth, including ambulance assistant, paid little. Joseph therefore decided to enlist in the Army along with some friends. Because he was undersize, the recruiters rejected him. Joseph’s friends told them either he went or they’d walk out. Joseph was allowed to enlist.
Throughout Joseph’s wartime experiences, his attention to his fellow soldiers’ needs and sufferings led them to warmly reciprocate. He utilized the basic medic skills he’d learned in Fort Worth during the Japanese siege of Corregidor. Afterwards, from prison camp to prison camp: Bilibid and Cabanatuan in the Philippines, then at the infamous Niigata Labor Camp in Japan, where he remained until the end of the war.
Along the way, Joseph underwent an appendectomy in the cramped hold of the POW transport, Taga Maru, in semi-darkness with Major Keggie operating with a razor. The surgeon attempted the impossible because of his high regard for Joseph. Perhaps the Almighty, hearing Joseph’s repeated prayer, “I believe in God. I believe I will live,” and knowing his passion for helping other, assisted.
The Taga Maru passage showcases Ortiz and McClure’s talent for using Joseph’s words together with excerpts from other published accounts of the affair, both at the time and later. The authors repeatedly corroborate their story with such inclusions. Indeed, three of their four appendices provide meticulous details of the 60th Coast Artillery, Joseph’s unit, at Corregidor. Such touches help further round out his story.
Joseph’s story is recommended reading for anyone who wishes to pay honor, like the authors, to a vanishing generation of soldiers.