Mercy for Japs

Published: 1991-12-01

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The following exchange of letters was published in The Best from Yank, The Army Weekly (Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1945). Yank, to quote from its editors introduction to the anthology, "was written by and for enlisted men" during the Second World War; The Best from Yank draws on material published between the summer of 1942 and the fall of 1944 in the sixteen different regional editions worldwide.

As the editors point out:

The writings, drawings, photographs and cartoons in this collection were never intended originally to please civilian tastes. They were made to order for the pages of Yank, The Army Weekly, by enlisted men on active duty in the armed forces who wanted to please other enlisted men and nobody else.

These letters would seem to indicate that the standards of American GI's on observing the laws of warfare were somewhat more flexible than those of American prosecutors at the warcrimes trials at Tokyo, Nuremberg, and elsewhere, understandable though that may be.

Dear Yank:

As God is my witness I am sorry to read of the way two American soldiers treated the enemy on Makin Island; they shot some Japanese when they might have been able to take them alive. I don't believe in killing unless it has to be done. I am a servant of God, so when I get into battle I hope by His help to take as many Japs alive as I can. If I am compelled to destroy lives in battle I shall do so, but when U.S. troops throw grenades into an enemy position and Japs run out unarmed we should make an effort to take them alive. I know that if I were in a dugout and forced to run out I would want mercy.

Camp Davis, N.C. —Pvt. Ralph H. Luckey

Dear Yank:

We just read the letter written by that servant of God, Pvt. Luckey, and wish to state that he has the wrong slant ... After being in combat and seeing medics being killed trying to help our wounded makes you want to kill the bastards... Fair play is fine among Hawaii sportsmen but we are fighting back stabbers!

Hawaii —Jap Killers*

* Signed by Pvt. P. Stupar

Dear Yank:

... No mercy for murderers!

On Maneuvers —Pvt. Sam Bonanno

Dear Yank:

Brother, Pvt. Luckey better live up to his last name if [he] goes into combat with the idea of taking Jap prisoners alive!

Port of Embarkation —Sgt. Carl Bethea*

*Also signed by 13 others.

Dear Yank:

We are all Navy men who are suffering from combat fatigue. Many of us have been strafed by Jap Zeros while floating helplessly in the sea and have seen what the soldiers and marines have gone through in this fight. If Pvt. Luckey heeds his own call for mercy for Japs, his soul will belong to God but his body will belong to the Japs...

Norfolk Naval Hosp., Portsmouth, VA —Vets of World War II

Dear Yank:

... If I had another chance I certainly would do the same thing those Yanks on Makin did. Shoot 'em and shoot 'em dead. I know what I'm talking about. I have been there.

Camp Blanding, Fla. —T/Sgt. J.N. Olsen

Dear Yank:

... Please notify the FBI, G-2, anything – but have that guy locked up!

Fort Custer, Mich. —Cpl. S. Schwartz

Dear Yank:

Has Pvt. Luckey ever seen his friends and buddies shot down by the Japs? Has he ever carried our dead out of the jungle for burial? I have – and more, during the eight months I spent on Guadalcanal. Pvt. Luckey will have no dead Japs on his conscience when they kill him.

Harmon Gen. Hasp., Longview, Tex. —Pvt. C.E. Carter

Dear Yank:

... Luckey is out of this world and should be confined in a small room heavily padded on four sides.

Bermuda —S/Sgt. Arthur J. Kaplan

Dear Yank:

Me and my buddies sure were mad as hell when we read Pvt. Ralph Luckey's letter. He sure shot off his mouth about our treatment of the Japs. The trouble is that he has had it nice and soft so far ...

Trinidad —Pfc. Edward Staffin

Dear Yank:

... We don't know whether to feel sorry for this guy or just laugh the thing off ...

NC Hasp., Mitchel Field, N. Y. (South Pacific) —M/Sgt. W.F. Hardgrove*

*Signed also by M/Sgt. R.M. Stephens (SWP); T/Sgts. L.C. Sheehan (Britain) and N. Sedorick (Britian); S/Sgts. P.F. Teraberry (Italy, Africa), R.I. Vogel (Italy, Africa), L.V. Behout (CBI), J.M. Haresign (Italy) and H.R. Garrison (New Guinea); Sgts. W.J. Polera, P. Nadzak (CBI) and J. Seginah (Britain), and Cpl. M.J. Bursie (New Guinea).

Dear Yank:

... Wake up, Luckey. The Jap doesn't care if God is his witness or not.

Worthington Gen. Hasp., Tuscaloosa, Ala. —PFG. C.J. Nichols

Dear Yank:

It's evening. We're sitting about two feet from our foxhole thinking about a letter written by Pvt. Ralph H. Luckey from Camp Davis, N.C. in a recent issue of Yank. Do you mind if we ask him a question? Pvt. Luckey, you're now living in an Army camp, just as we did. Making friends, just as we did. Friends who, in time, will be much closer, dearer, to you than you would believe possible.

We bunked together, ate together, laughed and played together, worked and dated together. Recently we fought together. During the battle, Blackie was wounded and taken prisoner. When we advanced several hours later, we found Blackie. His cheeks were punctured by sharp sticks – pulled tight by a wire tourniquet, the sticks acting as a bit does for a horse's mouth. There were slits made by a knife along the center of his legs and on his side – just as if an artist had taken pride in an act of torture well done.

We continued to move on. Do you think that we also continued to remember the niceties of civilized warfare?

Central Pacific —S/Sgt. B.W. Milewski

This is the last of a series of GI comments in reply to Pvt. Luckey's letter. Yank has received a great number of letters on the subject, but only two readers supported the point of view advocated by Pvt. Luckey.

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Institute For Historical Review
Title: Mercy for Japs, Document
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 11, no. 4 (winter 1991), pp. 491-494; taken from The Best from Yank, The Army Weekly, The World Publishing Co., Cleveland 1945.
Published: 1991-12-01
First posted on CODOH: Nov. 16, 2012, 6 p.m.
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