HAMILTON, Ohio — Sitting in a Dutch hospital in Java during World War II, Marvin Sizemore watched as the USS Houston sailed out of port, leaving him behind.
“They got word there was a Japanese battle fleet just outside where they were anchored, and they pulled out and I was standing there in this hospital,” Sizemore said. “They got sunk that night.”
368 of the 1,061 on board the USS Houston survived. The remaining sailors and marines, including Sizemore, were captured by the Japanese and found themselves building the Burma – Thailand railway as prisoners of war.
Sizemore was in a camp in Rangoon.
“We had Americans, Australians, and English and a few Dutch,” he said. “I got a lot of respect for those Australians — they were tough.”
He’s one of the last surviving POWs who built the railway.
Sizemore said during his captivity, the daily rations consisted primarily of rice three times a day with very little meat. And he recalls how the guards would kick the prisoners if they fell to the ground.
Aside from the physical abuse, sickness ran rampant with prisoners suffering from malaria, cholera and dysentery.
“I was a firm believer if you wanted to die you can lie down and die anytime you wanted to," Sizemore said. "Just give up, that’s it. A lot of guys did."
While he said it was survival one day at a time, those days were often made a little better thanks to a couple of guys in the group who told jokes and did things to bring a little levity to the day.
He and his fellow surviving prisoners of war were liberated in September 1945.
For some that would have been the end of their military service. However, it wasn’t the end for Sizemore who went on to serve nearly twenty years in the US Navy. He retired as a Chief Petty Officer in August 1959.
After his military service, he would serve with the Oxford Police Department, retiring in 1980.
This year, Sizemore turned 100 and passed another major milestone. He and his wife Helen celebrated 73 years of marriage.
As for navigating life, he offers up this simple advice.
“You should never take things too serious,” he said. “Life’s too short for that.”