Allen Beauchamp of Timonium, Jay Rye of Orchard Beach and James Rubard of Catonsville are not about to second-guess the reasons for dropping atomic bombs on Japan.
Instead, as the world marks the 50th anniversary of the deadly attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought World War II to a sudden end, they and thousands of other former prisoners of war remember only that the bombs saved their lives.
They were among some 200,000 surviving Allied military and civilian POWs held in camps throughout Asia -- 36,000 of them Americans, many held captive since the fall of the Philippines in April 1942.
Thousands of others died or were killed by their captors.
Enduring starvation, brutality and disease, the POWs had also lived under threat of execution if Japan was invaded, and their memories still bring tears.
"A week before the end of the war, the Japanese were laughing and saying that if the Americans invaded they would behead us all," said Milton K. Young, 76, of Clinton, an Army Air Corps veteran captured in the Philippines.
"One day the guards announced there would be no work, then they just seemed to disappear," said Mr. Young, who labored until the war's end in a Japanese shipyard and a mountain copper mine. He credits the atomic bombs with saving him.
He burst into sobs as he told how the prisoners worked all night making American, Australian and British flags, which they raised the next day as they sang patriotic songs.
"I'm sorry," he said through the tears. "It brings back memories."
Mr. Young said it wasn't until much later that he learned what atomic bombs were, but at the time, "whatever they were, they saved our lives."
"Right up to the end, we were sweating it out that they were going to kill us," said retired Army Maj. James J. Rubard, 75, at his apartment in the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville.
4 "They did that in China and in the Philippines."
Fortunately, said Mr. Rubard, a longtime Severna Park resident, the guards at his camp in the Japanese port of Tsuruga followed Emperor Hirohito's broadcast orders to lay down their arms and not to kill their prisoners.
The Tsuruga prisoners, who had been used as laborers on ships, learned that the war was over "when we woke up," he said.
"The gates were open and all the guards were gone. I guess they were afraid we'd kill them," he said. "We were sort of stunned, we couldn't comprehend it."
Japanese officers came into the camp to surrender their swords, Mr. Rubard said.
According to an order found in a Taiwanese prison camp, Japanese commanders were to "annihilate" all POWs and not leave any traces.
Survivors, like those from the Maryland-Virginia chapter of American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Inc. who held a reunion recently in Elkridge, bitterly resent what they consider efforts by American press and television -- and even the Smithsonian Institution -- to portray the United States as the aggressor and claim that Japan was already defeated when the A-bombs were dropped.
"I wish they had dropped 22, not just two," growled John Cross, 73, of Covington, Va., who was captured at the surrender of Corregidor in April 1942 and spent the rest of the war as a slave laborer in a Japanese coal mine.
The Japanese may have been beaten, but they were not defeated and were preparing to resist the expected American invasion with every resource they could command, the former prisoners said.
Even after the Hiroshima bombing on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki's on Aug. 9, Japan's military leaders resisted surrender demands until Emperor Hirohito finally persuaded them to capitulate.
Captured in two wars
"The bomb saved our lives, for sure," said Jay Rye, 75, of Orchard Beach, who spent nearly seven years as a POW -- captured in the Philippines and, amazingly, again in Korea.
He endured both the Bataan Death March and later the winter Tiger Death March in Korea, ordeals in which hundreds of prisoners died or were killed.
"The Japanese didn't bluff; they told us that if there was any landing on any of the home islands, all prisoners would be executed," he said.
But the ingrained Japanese discipline emerged as soon as the emperor broadcast his message ending hostilities, Mr. Rye said. "We demanded food -- one bull a day to be slaughtered -- and rice, and we got it."
Allen V. Beauchamp, 74, of Timonium was captured in the Philippines in 1942 as a young Marine.
Near the end, he said, the meager food dwindled further as the Japanese moved supplies and military equipment into the hills.
"They started training civilians in Kobe to resist invasion, even young children, 10 or 11 years old. Children started wearing uniforms, something they never did before," Mr. Beauchamp recalled.