It seems fitting that I started reading Terry Wadsworth Warne’s autobiography Terry, the inspiring story of a little girl’s survival as a POW during WWII, on Memorial Day. As soon as I started reading, I was so absorbed by the story and the heroisms contained within its pages that I could not put it down. What I started in the morning, I finished by afternoon. I read it cover to cover.
Regarding my rating of four out of five let me explain: I wrangled with that a bit, and hesitated because I truly wanted to assign it a five. But in doing so, I would be giving that rating purely on my emotions on this day, our nation’s Memorial Day, in memory of those who fought bravely and gave their very last breath, furthering freedom and victory on foreign shores. From a heart rating, I give it a ten. From a reviewer’s rating, I give it a four plus, solely on the basis of the erratic placement of facts at the beginning of the book—the author starts off with a thorough chapter on the Pearl Harbor attack that is out of chronological place with the rest of her story. It feels like it was added in, and would have been better suited in alignment with the rest of her meticulously accurate tale of the war. I hope the author forgives me, but it stands out as odd. That is my only complaint.
To the story, then.
Warne writes comfortably and purely about her happy family life in the Philippines, from their beginning in 1932 as pineapple growers through their liberation from Japanese prisoner camps in Manila in 1945, where Terry was from nine to eleven years old. The story begins as her father, Norris Wadsworth, accepts a California Packing Company position at a newly-created plantation and cannery called Del Monte. Yes, the very same company that produces the sweet fruit and pineapple juice that have become household staples in America. I found this part of the story fascinating, an unexpected history lesson into the early days of the fruit company.
As the story gently moves the reader from a their oasis days filled with tropical delights (pet monkeys and pool parties and golf outings) to life within several Japanese internment camps, Warne carefully delivers a memoir filled with beauty and kindnesses in the midst of war. Without sensationalism or unnecessary gore—which she did encounter, but does not amplify—she instead dots the story with the resilience, faith and bravery she saw both at the hands of fellow prisoners and the native Filipinos whose land was so viciously ravaged by the war.
Much attention is given to how Warne, her family, their friends and their captors, lived. She describes building their living quarters, what and how they ate, slept and kept each other busy and alive during those harsh years at the mercy of an irrational enemy. She relays small and large events with color and detail, like celebrating Christmases behind enemy walls, or the complex camp government and administrative systems her father helped manage for the inmates numbering in the thousands. Her storytelling is so mesmerizing that I often felt her words roll off easily, like a woman telling stories over a kitchen table on a cool evening, steaming cup of tea in hand.
Equally important and fascinating were the many encounters she and her family had during the war: General MacArthur and his family lived in the Warne house at one point, and her father writes that he was likely the only American civilian prisoner in the Philippines to have been assigned to General Kuroda, the highest Commanding General of the Japanese Army in the country (a man later executed after being accused of causing the death of 2,800 people). A brief encounter is shared as Danny Kaye buys her first ice cream sundae once back on American soil. A serendipitous encounter with a childhood plantation friend, Tommy Warne, would lead to him becoming her husband, and years later accompanying her back to their birthplace at Del Monte, this time as missionaries, where they would see landmarks of wartime struggles and surviving POW friends.
Not to be overlooked are the many dedications to hundreds of prisoners of war who did not make it home, to thousands of soldiers who shed their last blood on Manila soil, and to hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who bravely fought but were massacred while helping prisoners and attempting to take their country back. In spite of disease, starvation and death’s beckoning, little Terry and her family held onto their faith in God, an unconquerable , bright spirit and a patriotism that made me cry several times during this read. How grateful I am to Mrs. Warne for her indomitable spirit, her willingness to share this tale, and her gentle final reminder, in remembering the heroics of the human spirit engaged to do good in the face of evil: “My parents were tools in the Lord’s hands for good, and during that brief moment of history, Norris and Violet Wadsworth truly followed the admonition of William Shakespeare, “what-e’re thou art, act well thy part.”
I am changing my rating to a five. Thank you, soldiers. Thank you, brave captives, those dead and those surviving, who remind us that freedom is never free. How fitting to memorialize you, as I close this cover on Memorial Day 2013.
Alicia C. Accardi
Closed the Cover