Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Bamboo Camp #10

According to his obituary in The Washington Post, author Franklin M. Davis Jr. (1918-1981) served with U.S. armored forces in Europe during WWII. He earned a Bronze Star as an operations officer in the armored regiment and later commanded a tank-infantry force. In 1967, Davis joined the 199th Light Infantry Brigade for combat in the Vietnam War. He was wounded in action and won a Purple Heart and four decorations from the Republic of Vietnam. He retired as an Army Major General. 

What better author than Davis to write harrowing adventure paperbacks like Spearhead (1957), A Medal for Frankie (1959) and Kiss the Tiger (1961). As a longtime combat specialist, Davis used his experience to write over 10 paperbacks in the 1950s and 1960s. My first experience with the author is his 1962 Monarch (#236) WWII novel Bamboo Camp #10. Knowing nothing about the author, I admit I purchased the book due to artist Bob Stanley's captivating cover art. 

This relatively short paperback (143 pages) features protagonist Harley Frazier, a U.S. Army Lieutenant, who is mired in the war-torn jungles of the Burmese Campaign during WWII. As the novel begins, Frazier and his men are attempting recon in the dense swamps and fields. They find one of their men brutally tortured, murdered, and hung like a scarecrow as a warning to any foes of the Japanese. After some back and forth action, Frazier's forces are cut to pieces in a grueling firefight. With no way to repel the hordes of Japanese soldiers, Frazier and the few remaining men are forced to surrender.

The rest of the book is reminiscent of any good prison-break story. Frazier and the men are transported long distances and arrive at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, just like the title suggests. Frazier learns there are 300 prisoners broken up into groups of 20-30 men in various camps. Thankfully, Frazier befriends the Australian forces and quickly learns the ropes to survive in the brutality of captivity. As time goes on, and his health continues to decline, Frazier and the Australians hatch a plan to escape.

I love the author's descriptive storytelling and the quick pace of the action. However, one of the real highlights to his story is the relationship between Frazier and his superior, Lieutenant Captain Macey. In a 15 page side-story in the middle of the book, Davis tells readers about Frazier and Macey growing up in the same city and attending school together. Later, when both join the military, they end up on the same base. Frazier meets a beautiful woman named Zona and the two strike up a friendship. Frazier learns that Zona is actually married to Macey. The two learn that Macey is having numerous affairs with various women in town, so Frazier and Zona engage in a heated secret romance of their own. 

The element that Davis uses for the book's narrative, and the inspiration for Frazier to live, is the fact that he feels he must protect Macey. He feels that his romance with Zona means that he owes Macey his life. Additionally, as Frazier weakens and borders on bad health and near-death, his memories of Zona eases the burden and forces him to fight the good fight to escape his torturous conditions.

I absolutely loved this book, although it doesn't really cover any new ground in terms of the traditional prison-break story. There are a few torture scenes, but nothing too graphic. Davis creates two prison leaders that are evil and fully committed to debauchery. They make perfect enemies for Frazier and the heroes. In some ways, with the jungle atmosphere, the book is similar to the dozens and dozens of Vietnam War POW/MIA novels. In other ways, it seems like a longer tale that would fit snugly in the pages of a Men's Action-Adventure Magazine (MAMs). Again, that Bob Stanley cover art is just so awesome. Bamboo Camp #10 is recommended for readers and collectors.

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