Woodbury County

Pfc. Robert J. Sewell

Jap Prisoner Over Three Years
Liberated Yank Tells of Good Treatment by the Army

“The Japs deprived us of everything – even our thoughts weren’t our own. All we ever thought about was food, and how much we hated the Japs.”

So wrote Pfc. Robert J. Sewell to his mother, Mrs. Neva G. Nickerson, 1201 Court Street, soon after his release from Jap prison camps where he has been held since the fall of Corregidor early in 1942.

Pvt. Sewell’s letter continues, somewhat incredulously: “This seems just like the story of Cinderella, except that it is happening to me. It’s a “rags to riches” story, with people trying to make us comfortable, instead of miserable. I could go on for days talking about what a great change it is to be out of Japan.

Praise for Red Cross

“The Red Cross is doing a wonderful job of making us comfortable and supplying some of the things we’ve missed, and the army is sparing no effort to give us the best of care.”

Pvt. Sewell was born in Michigan, but spent most of his life in Sioux City and South Sioux City, Nebraska. He was graduated from Central High School in June 1940, and joined the army in September of that year. He had been in the Philippines more than a year with an infantry group when the war began.

His mother was notified May 22, 1942, that he was missing in action. Another report which was received January 30, 1943, stated that he was a prisoner of war in Japan. The following July she received a postcard through the Red Cross stating the Robert was well and a prisoner.

First Direct Word

Her first direct message from him since that time was written September 11, the day he joined a recovered personnel group in Yokohama. The letter reads in part:

“You can’t imagine how it makes me feel to be free again. I’m so excited I can hardly write. I had my first “state side” breakfast this morning consisting of hot cakes, butter, jam, bacon, and coffee. To top it off, three lovely army nurses called me over to eat with them. “I’m so darned happy that I have to stop writing, but the thing that has been upper most in my mind for the last three and a half years is the homecoming I hope to have soon.”

The second letter, written a week later, came from the Philippines. Pvt. Sewell wrote:

“They’re treating us swell. On the ship coming over they wouldn’t let us do a thing but eat and sleep. It’s the same way here. It’s good to have real food after three and a half years on a rice diet. The Red Cross has a post exchange where we can get free beer, coke, cigarets, cigars and fruit juices. In another swell building we can get hot coffee, cookies and doughnuts all day and until 9 o’clock in the evening.”

“The Red Cross women are wonderful. They handle our mail and keep us supplied with toilet articles. I’m in pretty fair shape, except my teeth. August 1, I weighed 132 pounds. Yesterday I weighed 170- not bad for a month.

“Right now they’re straightening out our records and giving us physical examinations. We all get $150 in cash and some of the medals we have coming; also a raise in rank, which will make me a corporal. Then all we have to do is wait for time to sail, which I hope will be soon.”

Pvt. Sewell has two brothers in service. Maj. Donald Sewell served with the infantry in Africa, India and China, and now is in terminal leave in Des Moines. M. Sgt. Paul Sewell is with the infantry in the Philippines. There is a possibility that the two brothers may get together before Robert is sent home.

Reported missing in action following the fall of Corregidor, Pfc. Robert J. Sewell, son of Mrs. Neva G. Nickerson, 1201 Court Street, later was located by the Red Cross in a Japanese prison camp and recently was released by American forces. He now is in the Philippines, and letters written to his mother since his release indicate that he expects to be home soon.

Source:  The Sioux City Journal, October 7, 1945 (photo included)