Nacogdoches woman recalls life as a teenage POW

Nacogdoches woman recalls life as a teenage POW
Liz Irvine, 91, pulls out just one of many scrapbooks filled with POW memorabilia from her childhood (Source: KTRE)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Friday is POW-MIA Day. It's a time to remember those who were taken prisoner and returned home and those who have yet to return.

Surviving a POW camp is challenging even for the strongest man, but imagine what it's like for a teenage girl.

“I haven’t looked in these scrapbooks for so long, I’ve almost forgotten what’s in them,” said Liz Irvine, a former teenage prisoner of war.

Irvine may not recall the meticulous files of wartime memorabilia, but the memories are as fresh as if it happened yesterday.

Ninety-one years ago she was born and raised in the Philippines, an only child to American school teachers serving the country’s educational needs. She had a happy childhood until age 14.

“We were bombed the same day Pearl Harbor was, just a few hours later,” Irvine said.

By January, the Japanese invaded Manila where the Irvines were living.

“These are pictures of the bombing destruction,” said Irvine, who now lives in Nacogdoches.

Four thousand residents were forced from their homes and taken to a Catholic university.

“Dumped us off in the grounds of Santo Tomas, and we were on our own,” Irvine explained.

Irvine's family was told by the Japanese they were there for their safety. Then the truth was told.

“You are prisoners of war. This is Prison Camp Number One, and you are directly under the Japanese Commission on Military Prison,” Irvine said, recalling what the Japanese told them. “We were there in the camp three years and one month.”

Unlike military POW camps, civilians were given a bit of leniency. They weren't told about the war happening in Europe, but prisoners published their own newspapers.

“You had to be very careful what you wrote in it,” Irvine said with a laugh.

Irvine’s most formative years, from age 14 to 18, were spent not knowing what the next day would bring. It was a life experience that shaped her future.

“I think it made us all very, very patriotic since it was our military who liberated us," Irvine said.

Irvine has no bitterness toward the Japanese. She thanks her grandmother, a Freedom Medal recipient for service in Japanese military POW camps in the Philippines. There she developed a rapport with a Japanese colonel. A friendship followed, and it remains strong to this day.

Mrs. Irvine has written a book, available on Amazon, titled, “Surviving the Rising Sun: My Family’s years in a Japanese POW Camp.” It’s a chronicle to help say to all POWs, “You are not forgotten.”

On Friday, a POW-MIA marker will be dedicated in Nacogdoches. Irvine will be a special guest. In addition, the Consulate General will be presenting the Ambassador for Peace Medal to two members of the Tyler chapter of Korean War Veterans of America.

The ceremony is Friday at 10 a.m. at the Nacogdoches Public Library.

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