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‘Adapt or Die’

By Staff | Nov 10, 2010

JD Merritt was a prisoner of war for 3 1/2 years, held captive by the Japanese after the Battle of Bataan.
He endured any number of atrocities, some too horrific to speak about, others as fresh and crisp in his mind as if they happened only days ago.
Merritt, 91, spent decades waiting to write about that experience, finally channeling the story into his self-published “Adapt or Die,” which details his struggle to survive World War II.
Describing the internment as “debilitating, both mentally and physically,” Merritt said he never fell prey to the madness that took many of his fellow countrymen in arms.
Yet, he said he’s still visited by a singular vision in his dreams: the site, and sound, of his right foot squishing in the blood that was collecting in his boot after being stabbed three times by a Japanese bayonet.
“I still have dreams,” he said Wednesday from his Southwest Cape home. “My right shoe is filled with blood and squishing out of my boot with every step I take.”
The injuries Merritt sustained in the Battle of Bataan actually saved his life, he said.
He fell into a coma in a field hospital in the Phillipine jungle, and when he woke up he was prisoner of the Empire of Japan.
Being in a coma, Merritt was spared the Bataan Death March, during which thousands of U.S. and Phillipino troops fell victim to physical torture and murder at the hands of the Japanese.
As a prisoner of war, though, Merritt found a way to not only survive, but prosper, in a way.
“Most of the people being killed by the Japanese (in the camps) couldn’t understand the commands they were being given. It was pure gibberish,” Merritt said. “But I learned to speak Japanese. Eventually I was fluent, but at first I learned just enough to get by.”
He worked as a stevedore in Manila Bay as a Japanese POW, loading and unloading ships with Japanese cargo.
He got by, he said, by making money, stealing food and convincing the Japanese troops that he was a wizard or magician, a “tejina-shii” in Japanese.
Still, as he struggled to survive, and do the best he could, he couldn’t ignore the treatment of prisoners by his captors.
“It was a continuing series of atrocities by mad men,” he said.
Born in Michigan in 1919, Merritt lived through the Great Depression, but said he was never affected by it because he never lagged for work.
He enlisted after Hitler invaded Poland, and he realized war was imminent.
He said the choice to enlist, really wasn’t a choice.
“Where else would the free world turn to for support? The same place they always have, the true bastion of freedom: America,” Merritt said.
He was forbidden to write about his experiences, he said, by an early incarnation of the CIA for 50 years.
He finally began writing in 1995, and spent three or four years searching for the right publishing house.
Merritt said he’s gotten a good response from the book so far. He’s even gotten orders from Japan, he said, where people are trying to educate others about what “really happened” in World War II.
The message of the book, he said, is all about opportunity; recognizing it when it presents itself and taking advantage of those opportunities whenever possible.
“You don’t know what real toughness is until you lived it,” he said.
For more information, and to learn more about “Adapt or Die,” visit Merritt’s website at jdmerritt462.com