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Phil “Bo” Perabo, Letter Home, 1945

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


During World War II, approximately 27,000 American soldiers were held in Japanese prison camps. Despite being out of combat, hardships and life-or-death struggles would continue for these men. The Japanese violated many international laws in combat and in their treatment of captives. Allied prisoners of war were routinely executed, tortured, and forced into labor as slaves. Although only 1 percent of American prisoners died in German prison camps during World War II, approximately 40 percent perished in Japanese camps.

Phil “Bo” Perabo served in the Navy as a pilot in the Pacific during World War II. During his 52nd combat mission on May 13, 1945, Perabo was shot down over the East China Sea. Despite multiple injuries that included burns, an injured ankle, and shrapnel in his leg, the pilot swam for hours to reach land. Japanese forces immediately captured Perabo and imprisoned him at Ofuna Camp, located on the Japanese mainland, where he was held for a little over three months until freed. Within an hour of his liberation, Perabo sent the following letter home to his family.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote this document?
  2. Where was the author when he wrote this?
  3. How might the author’s circumstances affect what he said?

Vocabulary Text
ailment(n): an illness, typically a minor one

defect(n): a shortcoming, imperfection, or lack
The first of the Army arrived here . . . about an hour or so ago and have at last given us the opportunity that was never expected to get at this place, to send out our first letter. They have promised to do their best in getting this letter through which makes me feel like a new man. At present I feel like a million bucks and except for a few small ailments, as good as before the long to be remembered May 13th. To list these ailments ¾ a sprained right ankle, a few scars on my left leg from various reasons, scarred left hand from burns, slight scar on rt. hand from the same fire, and slight marks on face and neck from the same. Do not disturb or worry yourself about this for . . . nothing concerning it is a permanent defect or hinders me at present.
Puckett(n): the name of one of Perabo’s pre-war friends whom he meets at Ofuna Camp

on the sly:in a secretive fashion
I won’t go into how I met my defeat in the air or the treatment I have received from the Japs, all that can wait, but I will give you some idea, space permitting. I blame myself as is usually the case for allowing the situation to have come into existence and resulting in myself . . . being jumped by some 9 to 12 fighters. I was forced to jump and swim for some three hours to reach the beach. I reached this camp May 17 and have never been moved. Puckett was here at the time and although I never had a chance to talk with him except on the sly, I gave him some encouragement. He is in pretty good shape, nothing permanent about his defects either. I’ll mention that it certainly hasn’t been a picnic but think I have learned a lot.
I have prayed for myself and your welfare since I’ve been here and God has really taken care of me¾I hope he has treated you as well. Homecoming this time will be the biggest treat of my life and expect to leave here in four or five days. This is only a guess but think it’s pretty close.
I’ll bring this to a conclusion in thanking you for the many prayers you have offered up for me and apologizing for the additional worry I have caused you these past few weeks. I love you all very much.
It’s all part of the game. I’ve seen both sides now.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What injuries has Perabo experienced?
  2. Who does Perabo blame for his circumstances of being shot down?
  3. Despite the horrific treatment Perabo likely experienced at Ofuna Camp, he is generally very positive throughout this letter. Why do you think he does this?
  4. What do you think that Perabo means by this final line?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Could a historian use Perabo’s account to illustrate the typical experience of an Allied prisoner of war in the Pacific? Explain.
  2. In a letter to his wife in 1862, Union soldier Samuel D. Lougheed wrote the following:

    Tis hard to see the mighty prancing war horse, trampling the dying and dead beneath their merciless feet. No dear wife, near to speak a word of comfort. No living sister or Mother to administer relief in that hour the most sad in the history of humanity. O the humanity. O the horrors of war. Truly it may be considered the most cruel and awful scourge which can befall a nation. Heaven grant there may be an end soon.

    Compare Lougheed’s letter home with Perabo’s letter to his family. Consider what the letters reveal about each man as well as the context of the wars in which these men fought.

Phil “Bo” Perabo, Letter Home