Prisoner of the Samurai

Surviving the Sinking of the USS Houston and the Death Railway

James Gee, Rosalie H. Smith

Moving account of the experiences of James Gee, USMC, a survivor of the USS Houston, who was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese for three and a half years.
Date Published :
March 2018
Publisher :
Editor :
Allyson Smith
Illustration :
16 pages of b/w photos
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612005973
Pages : 224
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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James Gee was fresh out of college at the University of Texas and making plans for his future when World War II interrupted these happy pursuits. He and his friends joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1940 and after training he was posted to the U.S.S. Houston.

At first, assignments in Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines—whilst instructing him in the rough and tumble of crew life—were free of encounters with the enemy. But then in 1942 the Houston was first attacked during the battle of the Flores Sea and subsequently sunk by the Japanese fleet during the battle of the Java Sea. Witnessing the last moments of the great ship, Gee survived a prolonged period in the sea clinging to a makeshift raft, before being picked up by a Japanese ship. But this was just the beginning of his ordeal.

Initially held prisoner in Java and forced to load and unload enemy ships, he was then transferred to Burma where he worked on the notorious “death railway,” living on the banks of the River Kwai. Those who survived the hard labor and harsh conditions there would be sent on to Thailand, then Singapore before arriving in Japan in 1945. There, they spent the last few months of the war working in coal mines just 40 miles outside Nagasaki. The dire circumstances of Gee’s incarceration were only overcome through the compassion and companionship of fellow detainees and his determination to endure.

After his liberation, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay Naval Hospital, Cuba. There, he encountered Rosalie Hamric Smith R.N., who was serving as Charge Nurse in the Psychiatric Ward, and who helped him to record his experiences as part of his treatment. Rosalie worked his accounts into a manuscript which, following her sudden death, languished in an attic for over thirty years. Now rediscovered, James Gee’s incredible story can be told to a new generation.

About The Author

A Marine on board the USS Houston when it sank in 1942, James Gee survived hard labor in Japanese POW camps for the rest of World War II, then returned to the USA where following treatment, he lived a full life in Dallas, Texas.

As a nurse working with liberated prisoners of war at the end of World War II, Rosalie Smith helped them record their experiences as part of their treatment. She then wove together James Gee's detailed accounts to tell his entire story.

Allyson rediscovered her mother's account of James Gee's experiences in World War II after her death. She subsequently researched and edited the manuscript, to bring it to a wider audience.


Editor’s Note

1. The Honor
2. “My Mama Nice Virgin”
3. Battle of the Flores Sea
4. Battle of the Java Sea
5. “No Enemy Ships in the Straits”
6. Samurai Hospitality
7. Serang, Java: Not Even a Chancre Mechanic
8. Batavia, Java: You Can Take the Man Out of Texas
9. Fourth of July, 1942
10. To the Land of Milk and Honey
11. Moulmein Jail
12. Workin’ on the Railroad
13. 30 Kilo Camp: Creative Writing, Japanese-style
14. 64 Kilo Camp: Jesus Wept
15. Kyushu Coal-mining
16. “You Must Learn to Run!”
17. Home



“…a harrowing look inside the POW camps in the South Pacific, told by a young, impressionable soldier who survived them…. It’s an eye-opening read, to be sure, one that brings the worst of war and the best of humanity to light all at once.”

- Manhattan Book Review

“Prisoner of the Samurai is a riveting and invaluable addition to military biography and world history collections, and highly recommended for both public and college libraries.”

- Midwest Book Review

“It is right that the modern generation should have this harrowing reminder of the loathsome, cowardly, barbarous, sadistic behaviour of the Japanese towards their weak, sick, starving, defenceless prisoners, for which there has been no acknowledgement, let alone atonement. Thousands died, entirely avoidably. James Gee survived to tell his tale. It is our 21st century duty to read it.”

- Army Rumour Service

“The book is striking for its portrayal of the extremes of mankind, from the supreme self-sacrifice of some prisoners to the supreme self-interest of others…an absorbing tribute to the human spirit.”

- Miniature Wargames

“What is unique, perhaps, is the fact that this extraordinary book was enticed out of Gee's mouth and formed into a remarkably frank and open ccount of his experiences by a nurse at Guantanamo Bay after his release. Harrowing and inspiring at the same time.”

- Books Monthly

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