Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Genevieve Fraser: World War II saga "In the Claw of the Tiger" depicts Bataan Death March and POW Camps in Philippines and Japan

The World War II saga, In the Claw of the Tiger, is a creative-nonfiction novel written by G. Thomson Fraser, which is based on the true story of Massachusetts resident, Franklin "Porky" LaCoste, a survivor of the Bataan Death March and POW camps in the Philippines and Japan.

Porky joined the Army Air Corps in October 1940 with six high school buddies out for a good time, adventure, and an escape from their Depression-era hometowns. Determined to go to Hawaii and the Philippines, they live a life straight out of their fantasies - until December 7, 1941 changed their lives forever when Japan attacked Hawaii and soon afterwards U.S. outposts in the Philippines.

Like a grown-up Tom Sawyer thrust into the brutal machinations of a world at war, Porky survives adventure after adventure often with a trusted companion by his side. Porky perseveres through the Battle of Bataan and the Death March - where thousands die - as well as in the malaria and dysentery infested POW Camps O'Donnell and Cabanatuan.

Porky (standing left) and his home-town friends.
Philip "Pinky" Dower (left front)
Porky is pitched into a Hell Ship bound for Japan and lives the danger plagued existence of a miner living in rat infested, near starvation conditions. His spunk and determination often land him in trouble. (At one point he is court-martialed at Imperial Army Headquarters in Tokyo.) He survives through native optimism, gut instinct, an ability to accept life as he finds it, but most of all, because of an unquenchable desire to help those around him.

Along with suffering at the hands of enemy forces, to his surprise Porky is helped on occasion by an unlikely source - the enemy. Later, in a dramatic twist of fate, while working at the copper mines in Ashio, Japan, Porky saves the life of the 4-year old son and only child of one of the village guards which earns him the respect of friend and foe alike.

Porky (left) and friends during a stop off in Hawaii (pre-war)
In the Claw of the Tiger contains 150 photos, many of which had been stored away for six decades. The three part narrative reads like a novel and feels like a docudrama, complete with historical references and candid shots of the friends together, National Archive, Department of Defense, Library of Congress and other photos and illustrations. Remarkably, out of the seven friends who joined the service and planned to stick together, five survived the ordeal.

G. Thomson Fraser holds degrees in theater/playwriting and communications. She is a former editor of a weekly news magazine, an investigative journalist, exhibits developer, environmental writer and former aide to a state senator. She has served both as college staff and faculty.

Philip "Pinky" Dower and Franklin "Porky" LaCoste
at a Drama Circle reading of "In the Claw of the Tiger" in 1999.
During the five years Fraser spent interviewing Franklin "Porky" LaCoste, parts of the narrative were developed through improvisational theater techniques designed to evoke intimate details as well as the dramatic elements of the story. Many more years were spent in extensive research of historical events and details of time and place. The end result is an intimate portrayal of coming-of-age in the midst of the Pacific Theater, during one of the greatest struggles of the 20th century. Trapped in a war for which he and the country were ill-prepared, In the Claw of the Tiger is a remarkable tale of courage, hope, and reconciliation in the midst of horror.