Three siblings from the Philippines wrote down what they remembered about being imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II.
Pamela J. Brink, Robert A. Brink, and John W. Brink all survived the ordeal, but only one of them, Pamela, is still alive today. She shares their experiences in this memoir that recounts the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of children.
At age thirteen, John W. was the oldest when they were captured, and his account is likely the most accurate of all three.
Robert and Pamelas versions are different as they saw everything through younger, more fearful eyes. All three, however, remember being overjoyed when they were rescued from the Los Baos prison camp.
When they were freed, everyone wanted to hear about atrocities, but their slow starvation could not compete with the horrors that Jews suffered in Nazi Germany. Most ignored their tales, and over time, they stopped telling them.Three adults look back at their childhood experiences as prisoners of war, how they survived, and how they continued on in Only by the Grace of God.
You can also buy the book in the following link: https://www.archwaypublishing.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/748188-Only-by-the-Grace-of-God
Only by the Grace of God,” is a dramatic and engaging story told by three siblings who were prisoners of war in the Philippines as children. The structure gives the book a layer many don’t have, and while some would be concerned three points of view might be redundant, the different styles and perceptions actually make the three views more interesting than one view would be. The “lead author,” Pamela, does a good job of also mixing in research and detail where needed, since the other authors, particularly Bill, weren’t aware that a book was in the future. The back matter – including Claire Wislizenus’s account – enhances the story further. Readers will also appreciate the fact the book doesn’t end when the family leaves the Philippines, but follows them to their adult lives. Poignant moments in the book aren’t only the big ones involving human death and war, but the small ones. What is it about a dog’s death that’s so heartbreaking? The account of Jerry dying of a broken heart, as Bob put it, and of sitting by the gate waiting for the family to return in Pam’s account, is one of the book’s more poignant moments. Perhaps because it’s an example of how love and loyalty are so tested by war and how it twists normal life. Bob’s description of how it feels to be truly starving, on page 94, should be a wakeup call for readers who use the term so lightly, and the fact the lack of food had such extreme effect on the family in later years is telling. The footnotes and backup material give the book credibility, and while not necessary, are a huge help for readers who want to know more about this overlooked piece of history. The book is cleanly edited, but another go-through would help catch some issues of misspelling (examples include Santa Clause on page 20, a reference to Pat Held as Pat Hell on page 95, and the word “litany” where it’s likely “liturgy” was wanted on page 68). Claire’s addition would also benefit from a close edit for punctuation issues, like placement of commas and period inside of quotation marks. There are some minor formatting issues, for instance, there’s a reference to a photo on page 121 as being on the same page and it appears on page 122, and some of the back matter photos of letters could be a little lighter, making them easier to read. The cover is well-done, and the photo of the three siblings will draw readers in. The subtitle works well and is a smart addition.
Mary Ruth Hassett, PhD, MN, RN
The subtitle for “Only by the Grace of God” provides a brief synopsis of the entire book: “One Family’s Story of Survival during World War II as Prisoners of War in the Philippines”. The American family consisted of a Dad and a Mom who were living on the Philippine island of Cebu with their three young children: Bill, Bob and Pam. The book provides a rare glimpse of what civilian internees experienced under the Imperial Japanese Army. I was drawn to this story because of its distinctive style. Dr. Pam Brink, the youngest of the children, had privately written a Philippine memoir. Many years later, Pam found that both brothers had also written Philippine memoirs. There was no “cross-contamination” in that none of the siblings had seen the others’ writings. The three memoirs were merged into this book, with each kept separate as events unfolded. As one would expect, they described some events differently. However, there is harmony among the three writers that gives the reader a clear picture about their life-changing and heartrending experiences. Pam has woven together the accounts of the three siblings. Such triangulation validates historical events by cross verifying the same information. This strengthens the accounts because the others’ memoirs increase the credibility and validity of the experiences. (A famous example of triangulation is found in the Holy Bible’s synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.) Pre-WWII, Philippine life for the Brink family was good. Small details of everyday living for Pam and her brothers are included, such as: fishing at the beach with bamboo poles; Pam’s reluctant piano lessons from the local nuns; and playing with their beloved German Shepherd dogs. After the family was imprisoned by the Japanese, things drastically changed. They were moved to various internment camps over a period of three years. Their Dad eventually contracted beriberi. Their Mom had a painful mastectomy. Bill came down with a serious tropical fever. By January of 1945, conditions had become more desperate. There was little food and the Japanese deliberately cut their salt rations. Internees began to die of intentional starvation, although plenty of food was available outside of the compound. The February 23, 1945 rescue by the U.S. 11th Airborne (the Angels) made me want to stand up and cheer! Last year, I read “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the true story of Louis Zamperini (U.S. Army Airforces). He suffered greatly as a Japanese prisoner of war but survived because of his faith in God. Although difficult to read about such cruelty and torture, I learned about the Japanese military’s treatment of U.S. military prisoners: brutal and often sadistic. But I had assumed that civilians, including clergy, women and children, would have been treated humanely. Reading about the Brink family and their fellow internees showed me otherwise. My father was a U.S. Army officer who served in a WWII tank battalion in Europe. Later, in the mid-1950s, my three young siblings and I spent two years as military dependents when Dad was posted to Camp Haugen, Japan (Northern Honshu). The local Japanese we met were gentle and kind to us. . . Reading “Unbroken” shattered my view of the Japanese military. . . But Zamperini survived and lived to have a long life. Reading “Only by the Grace of God” was painful because of the cruel treatment of civilians. But it was also uplifting to see how a faith-based family adapted to tragedies. The good news is all five members of the Brink family were rescued on the very morning they were to be executed. I believe that was a miracle, by the grace of God. Note: Dr. Pam Brink, the first author, was my master’s degree thesis committee chair at the UCLA School of Nursing in the early 1970s. Pam helped immeasurably when she returned my thesis draft. She smiled and said: “Rewrite so it reads like a human being.” I did. . . Neither I nor my fellow graduate students knew of Pam’s incredible WWII history. I have only seen her once since then, in 2002, when she was keynote speaker for a nursing research conference in Kansas.
An excellent book that takes one back to the times in Pre-WWII Philippines, and it is about a family that endured the War while suffering the maltreatment, lack of food, and psychological treatment as well as the degradation of living under the rule of Japanese Soldiers. The incredible and fortuitous US Intelligence interception regarding the Japanese Camp Commandant’s plan to kill all of the prisoners, and on the very morning that the US and Filipino Guerrilla bands coordinated earlier to make an airborne drop, coupled with a Amphibian Tractor Assault, as well as a Filipino Guerrilla band attack on the POW Camp. It ended up as one of the best planned aerial and ground assaults ever conducted on a defended position in WWI, and one of the least costly (one American killed-250 Japanese soldiers killed), and meanwhile all of the prisoners were recovered and returned to safety. Maj. F.C. Stolz, USMC Ret.
“Only by the Grace of God” is a fascinating look at the lives of 3 young American siblings living in the lap of luxury in the Philippines in the early 1940s during World War II. Their idyllic lives came to an abrupt end in April, 1942, when they and their parents were suddenly whisked away to a Japanese Prison Camp in the Philippines. The family moved several times to different camps, each one worse than the other. They were often deprived of food, clothing, and even water for showering. They all luckily survived, but in various states of health, and were finally rescued in Feb. 1945. This touching memoir was written by all 3 siblings, Pamela, Robert, and John Brink, each providing a different perspective on their childhood experiences, both good and bad. I highly recommend this book as a look into the lives of innocent American children living in the Philippines, and caught up in a war, imprisoned, and mistreated in a way that permanently affected their lives. It’s a little-known story that needs to be heard.
Growing up in post World War II and enjoying the freedoms and opportunities of this beautiful country, I was unaware of the sacrifices that some American families had to endure during that time. We all know about the battles and hardships our soldiers had, but this book, written by Pam and her brothers, tells of their life before, during and after being captured by the Japanese while in the Philippines. I found it well written and in a style that gives the reader so much information without getting bogged down. Each of them have their own memories and tell them in a way that makes you want to keep reading. From the ideal, comfortable life before being captured, the terrible indignities and struggles during their captivity to the harrowing rescue by American troops, each has a story to tell. They also recount their life after the rescue which is a testimony to the love and support of family. It’s amazing seeing the situation through their “children’s eyes”.
On one level, we know that families have the same experiences, but on another level these experiences are perceived as vastly different. In this book, three siblings report about living through the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, and their experiences in a prisoner of war camp. Their astonishing experiences are both readable and memorable: an obedient Alsatian dog who remained silent on command and under a table, while their house was being ransacked; the organization of the camps and how friends watched over one another—and even kept in contact years later; the shortages of food, sanitation and clothing—and too many near misses, too close for comfort. A good read, and an important, well documented historical record.