This Rear Admiral's Bravery in a POW Camp Earned Him the Medal of Honor

Commander Richard N. Antrim. (U.S. Naval Historical Center photo)
Commander Richard N. Antrim. (U.S. Naval Historical Center photo)

One day in April 1942, a naval officer imprisoned in the Japanese camp at Makassar in the Dutch East Indies failed to bow properly to a guard. Frenzied at this insult, the guard began savagely beating the prisoner with his swagger stick.

Another prisoner looked on in anger. Richard Nott Antrim was executive officer of the destroyer Pope, sunk several weeks earlier during the Battle of the Java Sea. The ranking surviving officer, Antrim carefully divided rations and kept nearly 150 shipmates alive nearly a week at sea. A Japanese destroyer picked them up and brought them to the island of Celebes and the Makassar camp.

Prisoners of war were considered subhuman by a Japanese military culture that considered surrender debased. As the guard clubbed the prisoner into semi-consciousness, Antrim stepped forward and commanded, "Stop!" His outburst astonished the other prisoners and guards.

Using pidgin and sign language, Antrim tried to convince the guards to discuss the "case" against the officer. Unmoved by the pleas, the camp commandant ordered 50 lashes administered to the unfortunate officer. When the battered man fell unconscious to the ground, several guards began to kick him.

Antrim stepped forward once more, unable to contain his fury and disgust at the cruelty. "I'll take the rest," he said calmly. Antrim's fellow POWs roared their approval of his bravery. The Japanese were stunned into silence. Bowing slightly to Antrim, the commandant signaled that the unconscious officer should be carried to the dispensary.

Antrim's willingness to sacrifice himself for another reflected the ancient Japanese code of "bushido," or warrior loyalty. His actions won respect for the Americans in the camp. As their spokesman, Antrim improved conditions for all the Allied POWs interned at Makassar until August 1945. Already a recipient of the Navy Cross for heroism, he was presented with the Medal of Honor in 1947.

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