Terence Sumner Kirk, a former World War II prisoner of war who built a pinhole camera from cardboard scraps and used smuggled-in photo supplies to snap photographs of fellow malnourished Marines, has died. He was 89.
Kirk died Wednesday at his home in Burleson after a heart attack.
He built the camera, although he could have been killed if Japanese soldiers found out, because he wanted to document the horrors the POWs endured during his four years in captivity.
"He placed the photographs in oilcloth and buried it in the latrine," said Roger Mansell, director of the Center for Research Allied POWs Under the Japanese in Los Altos, Calif. "He feared that if Japan would be invaded, they would kill everyone in the prison and no one would know about them. He hoped at least someone would find the photographs."
Kirk and other Marines, however, walked out of the Fukuoko No. 3 prison in Japan in 1945 after soldiers there announced that the war was over.
Stayed silent for 38 years
Kirk kept his secret for 38 years after signing a document with the War Department prohibiting prisoners held by the Japanese from telling their stories without government permission. His wife and children didn't know he had been a prisoner of war.
But in 1983, convinced that the gag order no longer applied, Kirk released his memoirs and prison photographs in his book "The Secret Camera" and lectured all over the country about the Marines in the Japanese prison camps.
"He was very open about what had happened to him in those prisons," said stepdaughter Carolyn Noonan of Bosque County. "He never once said he didn't want to talk about it because he believed people needed to know what happened."
Born in Harrisburg, Ill., Kirk was one of seven siblings raised in an Illinois orphanage. He joined the Marines in 1937 and was later sent to China and assigned to a security detail at the U.S. Embassy. He was captured on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Four years in prison camps
He spent the next four years in prison camps, used as slave labor in the steel mills and to pull carts full of dead men to Japanese crematoriums.
It was at his last prison that Kirk built the camera. A Japanese interpreter smuggled a glass plate for the camera and other photo supplies to Kirk, and Marines stood guard as he took pictures.
Kirk took eight photographs, but he managed to develop only six showing the sick and dying prisoners.
Kirk remained a Marine after the war, serving for 30 years and retiring with the rank of master gunnery sergeant. He later worked as a technical adviser for the Federal Aviation Administration and retired in 1976.
But Kirk never stopped lecturing about his experiences as a POW. He was awarded the Purple Heart in 2004 after a six-decade delay because of bureaucracy.
A memorial service for Kirk was to be held Friday in the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery in Dallas.