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Local historian's book tells how man survived Japan's WWII prisoner of war camps

POSTED: May 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED /The Times

Gordon Sawyer holds a copy of his new book about the World War II experiences of Richard Kidder.

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The past will come alive again Tuesday when Gordon Sawyer presents his book, "Richard Kidder: WWII Survivor," at the Northeast Georgia History Center.

"The agreement was that I could interview him ... if I called him a survivor but never a hero. That’s where the title came from," said Sawyer, a local historian and author.

"He said the heroes were still out there," Sawyer said. Kidder was referring to the men who had died during the war.

Sawyer based the book on the personal interviews he conducted with Kidder, his neighbor and friend. Sawyer and Kidder both lived at Lanier Village Estates.

The book details Kidder’s experience in World War II as a prisoner of war in Japan for nearly 3« years.

It begins with Kidder’s childhood in McGehee, Ark., and his decision to join the Navy during the depression. Kidder’s first fleet assignment was aboard the USS Whitney.

It was only three years after peaceful times on the Whitney that he was sent into Manila Bay, where his story as a POW soon began.

After being captured by the Japanese, he was sent to Yokohama on a ship without toilets, one ball of rice a day to eat and barely a place to lay down.

Kidder then faced many years of labor in Osaka and Tsuraga as a forced laborer. Before working, he spent months on the third floor of the Umeda Bunsho warehouse suffering from body lice, malaria, starvation and dehydration, among other things.

Following his return home, he moved to San Diego and married Edith Smith. The couple had two daughters, and tragedy struck once again.

On a trip to Wyoming, the family was in a car accident. Kidder’s wife and two daughters were killed. Kidder’s courage to move and life are exemplified in the book through his actions during the war and at home.

The story was written with a focus on Kidder’s experience in the war, but Sawyer also includes information from the months of research he did on Kidder’s locations and time as a POW.

Sawyer, who also served in World War II, said it was emotional for him at times, but he enjoyed talking with Kidder on a daily basis.

Sawyer admitted the most emotional part for him was when Kidder shared his story of how he got home.

It was after the Japanese had surrendered and Americans had been sending barrels of food and medicine to the POWs. After being picked up by American work crews, Kidder received a bath and a meal and was put on a ship.

"They assigned him to a bunk and he went to sleep. At about 3 in the morning, a big sailor came down and shook him very gently and said to him, ‘You wanna go home sailor?’ That was his first realization that it was over," Sawyer said.

Sawyer and Kidder remained friends until Kidder passed away March 9 at the age of 89, before the book was published.

Sawyer will be at the Northeast Georgia History Center Tuesday from 7 to 8 p.m. to sign copies of his book.

The entry fee will be $3 for nonmembers.



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