A collection of newpaper columns, stories and other debris from the slightly warped mind of award-winning journalist Gary Greenberg.
Story by Gary Greenberg
Photo by Mike Price
Lou Goldbrum: Jap POW
Lou Goldbrum was an Army Signal Corps photographer in the Phillippines
when war was declared on December 7, 1941. Within weeks, the Brooklyn native
was reassigned and suddenly found himself the leader of a guerilla troop.
“We ambushed Japanese columns trying to get to the interior of the island,
blew up bridges and sabotaged what we could,” he says. “In thirteen months, we
only lost one man and had one injury. That was me. I was shot in the left knee and
hit with shrapnel in the right arm.”
Despite his wounds, Goldbrum led nearly two hundred Filipinos on a series
of successful missions on the island of Luzon. But his luck ran out after they killed
a Japanese colonel who happened to be a member of the royal family.
“The Japanese sent hundreds of troops to find us,” Goldbrum says. “So at
that point I disbanded the unit and sent them home.”
He hooked up with a couple other displaced soldiers and set off to join the
American forces on the other side of the island.
“On the third morning, I was awakened by a bayonet poking me,” he
recalls. “We said our prayers because it was well known that the Japanese always
killed guerillas on the spot. But their commander was American-born and ordered
his men to treat us honorably.”
What followed was hardly honorable. On July 24, 1943, four days after his
twenty-second birthday, Goldbrum was put on a ship with five hundred other
American prisoners and sent to Omuta, a brutally dehumanizing slave labor camp
on the Japanese island of Kyusha.
“One moment you’re a free human being, the next you’re being told what
to do and your very existence depends on an enemy who doesn’t care if you live or
die,” Goldbrum says. “POWs fight in two wars: one with guns and weapons and
the other against starvation, cold and brutality.”
He worked fourteen hours a day in a coal mine, even after his left hand was
crushed in a cave-in. At times, it was too much to bear.
“When I heard planes overhead, I used to pray they’d drop a bomb on us
just to end our misery,” he says. “Hunger was one of the worst things. You never
saw anything alive at the camp. If it moved, we ate it.”
Goldbrum endured for nearly two and a half years, until August 1945 when
the A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, which lay just across a bay.
“We didn’t see it because we were underground,” he says of the historic
blast. “But the Japanese all left. We broke into a warehouse and found it stacked
floor-to-ceiling with Red Cross packages. They didn’t give it to us because they
didn’t want us eating better than their own troops.”
Goldbrum was soon shipped home and spent eighteen months in hospitals
recuperating from the physical and psychological abuse. But even fifty-six years
later, the wounds remain.
“I still have nightmares,” he says. “And I’ll carry these thoughts to my
Although the scars of war would never fully heal, Goldbrum managed to
marry, raise and support a family and retire in paradisaical South Florida. When he
discovered that today’s youth knew little about the World War II, he founded the
Former American Prisoners of War Speakers Bureau, a program in which ex-
POWs talk to kids at schools, clubs and other organizations.
Despite his ordeals, Goldbrum, 81, still manages to see a silver lining in his
“My experience hardened me for adversity, made me religious and humble,
and gave me a love of life,” he says. “Also, I’m very complacent now. Nothing
bothers me. It comes from the Japanese prison guards goading you into taking a
swing at them so they’d have a good excuse to beat you. I learned to just grit my
teeth and take whatever punishment they dished out.
“But I’m lucky. I’m here, and a lot of my buddies aren’t.”
Next: Stanley Wilner
Menu du Jour