In May of 1942, the Island of Corregidor fell to Japanese forces.   It was at that time that Ritzville native, Rudy Thaut, was taken prisoner. Rudy spent time in three prison camps near Manila, in the Philippines, including the infamous Cabanatuan prison camp. In November of 1942, Rudy was put aboard a filthy Japanese transport ship and taken to mainland Japan, where he would spend time in three additional camps. Statistics  show that four out of every six U. S. pris- oners in Japanese prison camps during WW II did not survive to the end of the war. Many of those who did survive died within a few years after returning home. Rudy not only survived the camps but he celebrated his 97th birthday in 2015. This is not only a story of remarkable courage in the face of unspeakable treatment but a story of forgiveness. Not only has Rudy lived a productive life but is one of the nicest people you will ever meet.

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This is the story of Rudy Thaut, a young man who wanted to serve his country and who found himself on the island of Corregidor in the Philippines when the United States declared war on Japan in December of 1941.  After fighting overwhelming odds, American and Filipino forces were forced to surrender and became prisoners of war to Japanese forces in the spring of 1942.

Initially, the American prisoners were housed at several prison camps on Luzon in the Philippines.  Prison camps such as Bilibid, O’Donnell, and Cabanatuan were noted for their excessive death rate, filthy living conditions, and prisoners suffering abuse.  Often there were not enough able-bodied men to bury the dead.  Death rates at O’Donnell averaged about 50 American deaths per day and Filipino losses at 500.

Starting in the fall of 1942, American prisoners were transferred from Filipino prisons to mainland Japan aboard a converted cattle ship  These ships were often referred to as “Hell Ships”, because of their deplorable condition.  Many men died during the voyage.  Some died of starvation and dysentery, but others perrished when the unmarked Japanese transport ships were bombed or torpedoed by U.S.  aircraft and submarines.

Once in Japan, the prisoners were forced to live in unimaginable conditions while they performed slave labor for large Japanese that were contributing to the Japanese war effort.  Disease ran rampant through most of the camps, and the men were subjected to severe physical punishment while receiving only 1000 calories per day.

While working on this project, the author faced the challenge of trying to describe to the reader what kind of odds these prisoners overcame in surviving three and half years as a POW.  After much consideration, a plan was adopted.

To the author, surviving the camps seemed similar to playing Russian Roulette.  Each time the cylinder was spun and the trigger pulled, the player faces instant death.  If the hammer falls on a blank chamber, all you hear is a “click.”  While you might be able to beat the odds a time or two, eventually you run out of blank chambers.

The prisoners who lived to see freedom in August of 1945, most certainly beat the odds.  In fact, it is extremely hard to believe that any POW could survive when you consider the many hazards that the prisoners faced each day.  As you read this story, listen for the “click”.  Keep track of the number of times that our subject, Rudy Thaut, would have waited tensely for the click after the trigger was pulled.

Looking back at these events is certainly not the same as living them at the time.  Now we know what the outcome was and that it was good for those who survived, but you never knew if the exploding round would deliver its death-dealing blow, or you would survive to face another spin of the cylinder.  Imagine the daily terror and uncertainty you had to endure, not knowing what the outcome would be the next time.  This is the story of the overwhelming odds that Rudy faced each day.

This volume contains historic information about:

  • Rudy Thaut
  • Walt Koch
  • Robert Kent
  • Herb Kent
  • Jasper Holliday
  • Walter Giese
  • Camp Omi
  • Camp Tangawa
  • Camp Umeda
  • Corregidor Island
  • Camp O’Donnell
  • Camp Cabanatuan
  • Philippine Island
  • Bilibid Prison
  • Hell Ships
  • Nagato Maru
  • McDowell, California
  • Ritzville, Washington history

Additional information


Hardcover, Softcover