The interview for this week’s Veterans Spotlight feature took place back in February. It was so special that I wanted to save it for a commemorative holiday weekend.
It’s difficult to imagine what Hank Tocca’s mind and body went through. Corporal Hank Tocca served his country in the US Marine Corps from 1943 to 1945. Now 97, he is stocky and still possesses one heck of a handshake.
Corporal Tocca endured unimaginable pain and torture in a Japanese prison camp for a year and a half. “The Japs captured us in the Philippines…our captain could have fought but we would have lost a hell of a lot of men…he surrendered not knowing the hell we would go through…I don’t talk about this but you caught me on a good day,” he said.
He and about 500 other American soldiers were sent to a Japanese internment camp in the jungles of Taiwan, which Corporal Tocca remembered as “a camp of hell.” In these camps malaria and dysentery were rampant, as were leg ulcers caused by infection. The gross malnutrition led to a loss of vision and excruciating nerve pain.
“The Japs gave us only a half a cup of dirty rice…some guards used to urinate in it before they gave it to us…they worked us like animals…14 hours a day…SOBs,” he remembered.
I asked Corporal Tocca if he felt comfortable talking about the way prisoners were treated. He spat out an unprintable word and said, “Those SOBs were vicious…cruel, mean and vicious…tortured us, beat us to unconsciousness and starved us…some of us to death.” He talked about the camp commandant, who he said would punch you in the face and shoot you in the thigh, then laugh. “The one thing you could never do was to show those SOBs you were in pain or cry out…you got it worse if you did,” he recalled.
Corporal Tocca talked about the means of torture in the camp: “They would tie you over a bed of sharpened bamboo shoots…they would grow one to two inches per day…still can hear guys screaming in agony.”
He continued, “My poor wife felt the brunt of it for the 68 years we were married…I’d wake up in cold sweats…bed soaked. We were all close…if a guy was sick you gave him water…did their washing…some guys were so weak they laid in their own excrement…couldn’t have survived without being close.”
“When I got out…never said anything to anybody, he said, his chest heaving with heavy sobs. “Only thing that saved me…literally saved me, was the reunions…getting back there with the guys that lived it every day with you…talking about what we went through….saved me.”
Corporal Tocca lives in Mashpee and is doted on by his three children and grandchildren. He turns 98 next month.
Corporal Hank Tocca, thank you for your service to our great country.
Contact Wayne Soares at firstname.lastname@example.org