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Hoosier Hero Richard Antrim

by Jim Adkins

(I Will Take the Rest of His Punishment)

During a daring night action on January 24, 1942, during the early days of WWll, the USS Pope and three other aging U.S. Destroyers spotted a large Japanese force at anchor in the Makassar Straight preparing to land troops on the island of Borneo. Dashing through the large enemy force, the four American warships launched torpedoes while their deck guns blazed, lighting up the night sky. Stunned, the Japanese reacted slowly and before they knew what had hit them, the U.S. force was gone. The destroyers sent five ships, four transports and a patrol vessel, to the bottom and suffered no damage to themselves in their daring raid.

The crew of the destroyer Pope knew they were living dangerously on the edge, but continued to fight like wild men. Then, on March 1, 1942, the Pope’s luck ran out. In a daylight action, Japanese dive-bombers and cruisers sank it in the final phase of the battle of the Java Sea. During that battle three American destroyers fought against a much larger Japanese force and the Pope, in a valiant furious flurry, fired hundreds of rounds of ammunition before she was hit.  One man was killed during the sinking of the destroyer and one hundred fifty-one were set adrift in the shark-infested waters.

The sailors spent excruciating days in the sea before spotting a ship on the horizon. They waited anxiously as the ship, a Japanese destroyer, neared.   Dark gun barrels were pointed at the seamen as rope ladders were lowered. An officer, in guttural Japanese, yelled something, and the men began climbing. Once aboard, their captors herded the men into the hold of the ship.  Receiving neither food nor water they huddled together in the dark, speculating about their fate. Lieutenant Richard Antrim from Peru, Indiana, the executive officer of the Pope, tried to encourage the men, reminding them that at least they weren’t going to drown.

The Americans were taken to a POW camp on the island of Celebes. The Japanese lived by a bizarre code of military conduct and believed that surrender was a disgrace and anyone who allowed himself to be taken prisoner was a coward. They tortured and killed prisoners for even a minor infraction of their rules. Some of history’s most barbaric acts took place at Japanese prison camps.

A little more than a month after his capture, Lieutenant Antrim witnessed one such bestial display. A prisoner had failed to bow low enough to satisfy one of the guards. The Japanese soldier immediately began beating the man with a swagger stick. Droplets of blood spattered from the American’s body in every direction.

Antrim stiffened at the sight as the beating continued. The American officer receiving the savage battering slumped to the ground, but the guard did not let up. Richard Antrim could take no more. He rushed forward and shouted at the guard to stop.

Shocked Japanese and Americans alike gathered around the scene while Antrim plead the case for the officer lying in the dirt. The camp commandant soon stepped forward and listened to Lieutenant Antrim, but was unmoved.

“He shall receive fifty lashes,” proclaimed the arrogant commandant.

Once more the beating began and soon the prostrate young officer’s blood poured onto the soil where he lay as other guards began kicking him. It became obvious that the man was going to die if the beating continued. Then, in an unbelievable act of courage Richard Antrim pushed forward and in a clear voice shouted, “I’ll take the rest.” The eyes of the guards opened wide in astonishment. “I’ll take the rest of this man’s beating,” Antrim said, a steely resolve in his voice. He stood like a statue, tall and strong, his hands defiantly on his hips.

The Japanese were openly shocked that Antrim would have the audacity to challenge them. Stopping the beating in mid-swing their eyes turned to the commandant standing nearby who also was taken aback by the American’s courage. Everyone was silent for all of thirty seconds as they tried to absorb what was actually happening. Then, slowly, a low roar from deep within the circle of prisoners erupted and quickly gained momentum until it became deafening as 2,700 Americans cheered Antrim’s boldness.

The Japanese were impressed as well. The guards who had been beating the officer stepped back and then quietly walked away. The captors were at a loss as to what to do. After a brief discussion the commandant indicated for the American officer who had been beaten to be taken away.

All eyes were on Lt. Antrim as the Japanese commandant strode purposefully and stopped directly in front of the brave American. Standing motionless, everyone wondered what would happen next. Flies buzzed in the tropical heat and a bead of sweat ran down Antrim’s cheek into the stubble of his beard. Many expected the Commandant to strike the American or to order that he be summarily executed. What actually happened stunned the American prisoners as well as their Japanese guards. Looking directly into Lt. Antrim’s eyes the Japanese officer bowed. It was an act that bestowed the respect that the man felt for Antrim’s bravery. Again the POWs cheered loudly. The commandant executed a perfect military about face and walked away from the stunned Antrim.

After this incident things got a little better for the prisoners at the POW camp.  The random beatings ceased and most of the Americans lived until the end of the war and were liberated in September of 1945.

After the war Antrim’s courageous act became known. The Medal of Honor was awarded to him on January 30, 1947. He remained in the Navy until he retired as a Rear Admiral in April 1954

Richard Antrim offered himself up as a ransom for another much as did Jesus Christ. Jesus stepped out of the crowd long ago and said, “I’ll take their punishment.” He died for those he loved and for those who did not know Him. He is our perfect example of love and sacrifice.

-Jim Adkins is a  member of the  Tell City (IN) Church of Christ

 




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10