Brothers Born of Adversity: How the Bonds of Friendship Helped Two Men Survive the Horrors of Japanese Prison Camps and the Infamous Hell Ships During WWII

Brothers Born of Adversity

This historical narrative weaves the true story of how two navy corpsmen’s bond of friendship helped them survive being prisoners of the Japanese Empire during WWII. In addition to being imprisoned in the Philippines and Japan, they lived through unimaginable horror on the infamous “hell ships,” of which only one of six men survived to see the war’s end.

Two army nurses, who were sisters of one of these men, would volunteer for duty in the Pacific Theater in hopes of finding their brother, even though it put them in harm’s way during the battle of Okinawa.

This book also explores how the men’s experiences growing up helped prepare them for the suffering they would endure, the impact on other family members back home, and how the years of torture and deprivation as POWs would affect their lives after the war.

The Author: Larry Dean Reese is a retired university financial administrator who served in various leadership roles at Florida State University. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida and was a licensed certified public accountant. He has been active in several Christian service activities. Larry has three grown children and seven grandchildren. He loves visiting his grandchildren, travel, studying history, genealogy, and writing.

My Thoughts: This is a gruesome episode from World War II that must not be forgotten. The author has masterfully woven the ordeal of the POWs of the Japanese with stories two men told their families about those terrible years. Since both men had already died, Larry Reese relied on several other sources to corroborate the memories told by their children. George Crowell and Frank “Max” Maxwell were Navy Corpsmen before the war, caught in the Philippines early in the war. They met as POWs at Bilibid prison, where they were held for more than two years. 

Conditions worsened dramatically after the Allied invasion of the Philippines in late 1944, when the POWs were loaded onto three overcrowded ships with no ventilation and little food or water. Using the buddy system, George and Max survived filthy conditions, an attack on their ship when one was wounded, caring for sick and disabled men, madness among some, cruelty by guards, dead POWs tossed overboard every 2-3 days. The miserable trip is presented day by day, giving the reader a sense of how hopeless it seemed to the prisoners. Even after arriving in Japan, they faced hellish abuses by brutish guards. 

Because the malnourished men were held at a camp 40 miles from Nagasaki, they probably witnessed the atomic bomb cloud on August 9, 1945. Meanwhile, two of George’s sisters had become Army nurses. When the war ended and George and Max were finally freed, the sisters met them at a transient camp. 

It’s a miracle that these two men survived the worst cruelties an enemy inflicted on them. They had encouraged one another, forming a critical bond connecting them for decades, even with their extended families. 

The book ends with details from the War Crimes Trials, for those who committed atrocities against the prisoners, lingering effects on men held as POWs, an extensive bibliography, and an index.

I’m an endorser of this significant book.

Please check out Larry Reese’s Amazon Author Page.


  1. It is miraculous that these two men survived. It is such a good thing that their story is told. With the help of God and faith in one another, these two men survived. Thank you for reviewing and endorsing this book!

  2. We must learn from history and I thank Reese for taking on such a daunting task. And thank you, Joy, for sharing the information about Brothers Born of Adversity.

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