Voices: Lt. Henry G. Lee

First Lieutenant Henry Lee has been dubbed the “Cabanatuan Poet,” referring to his internment at the prison camp by the same name. Lee survived the Battle of Bataan and the Death March. However, just a few months before the camp was liberated, he was sent along with 1,600 other prisoners to work as a slave laborer to the Japanese. After spending several months in the Bilibid Prison in Manila, the prisoners were put in the hold of a Japanese ship which was bombed by American fliers who were unaware of the prisoners-of-war on board. Survivors of the attack were transferred into another ship, the Enoura Maru, which too was bombed. Lee died in this second attack. Lee’s writings were found at Cabanatuan where he had buried them beneath a hut. They were contained in a Filipino school copy book and written in pencil. Below are three of Lee’s poem’s and a letter that he wrote from the battlefield to his parents. Lee’s book contained a preface which reads:

The balance of these verses were hastily written in Japanese Military Prison Camp No.1, Cabanatuan, P.I., between October ’42 and June ’44. For such a collection, I feel that no apology is necessary. I make no pretense to being anything other than a layman, who, during an intense mental and physical experience, found verse the most effective means of recording his reactions—and incidentally, of ridding himself of some otherwise almost unbearable emotions. The best I can say of the majority of these poems is that they are as true as I could make them; the worst, that they are not written by a talented nor experienced poet.

Death March

So you are dead. The easy words contain
No sense of loss, no sorrow, no despair.
Thus hunger, thirst, fatigue, combine to drain
All feeling from our hearts. The endless glare,
The brutal heat, anesthetize the mind.
I can not mourn you now. I lift my load,
The suffering column moves. I leave behind
Only another corpse, beside the road.

Lethal Epidemic

I could not know the meaning nor the way,
I was not one with all that time must end,
Until one hopeless, joyless, bitter day
I looked at unmasked death and saw a friend.

Anniversary of Parting

Somewhere there lives a woman I suppose
Who once was you. All night I fought my brain,
All night with burning eyes that ached to close
I probed the whirling darkness while the rain
Played on the nipa with a rhythmic stamp,
And as forgotten memories seared my heart
The restless mutter of the prison camp
Mocked at the empty years we’ve been apart.
But now the hills that race the tropic dawn
Across a sky ablaze with pagan joy
Have touched me with their strength. Though you are gone
I guard one treasure nothing can destroy—
Across a spring green, a sunlit campus lawn
A golden girl laughs with her dark-haired boy.

Letter Home, Written from the Battlefield at Bataan, 1942

I have seen some horrible things happen, and have had my share of narrow escapes, but I have also seen some very wonderful acts of courage, self-sacrifice, and loyalty. And I have found what I have searched for all my life—a cause and a job in which I can lose myself completely and to which I can give every ounce of my strength and my mind. And I have mentally and spiritually conquered my fear of death.

My prayer each night is that God will send you, who are suffering so much more than I am, His strength and peace. During the first few days of war I also prayed for personal protection from physical harm, but now I see that is something for which I have no right to ask, and I pray now that I may be given strength to bear whatever I must bear, and do whatever I must do so that those men under me will have every reasonable chance.

Life and my family have been very good to me—and have given me everything I have ever really wanted, and should anything happen to me here it will not be like closing a book in the middle as it would have been had I been killed in the first days of the war. For in the last two months I have done a lifetime of living, and have been a part of one of the most unselfish cooperative efforts that has ever been made by any group of individuals. ... If the same selfless spirit were devoted to world betterment in time of peace, what a good world we would have.