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Last Man Out: Surviving the Burma-Thailand Death Railway: A Memoir: Surviving the Burma-Thailand Death Railway - A Memoir [Kindle Edition]

H. Robert Charles , James D. Hornfischer

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Book Description

From June 1942 to October 1943, more than 100,000 Allied POWs who had been forced into slave labor by the Japanese died building the infamous Burma-Thailand Death Railway, an undertaking immortalized in the film "The Bridge on the River Kwai." One of the few who survived was American Marine H. Robert Charles, who describes the ordeal in vivid and harrowing detail in Last Man Out. The story mixes the unimaginable brutality of the camps with the inspiring courage of the men, including a Dutch Colonial Army doctor whose skill and knowledge of the medicinal value of wild jungle herbs saved the lives of hundreds of his fellow POWs, including the author.

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Product Description


Last Man Out", by H. Robert Charles is a non fictional story about the author being captured in a prison camp in World War II. This book is the story about Robert Charles, who was a marine machine gunner aboard the USS Houston which was sunk by the Japanese in Sundra Strait, March 1, 1942. Robert swam nine hours until he was picked up off the coast of Java by the Japanese. He was held captured for forty three months in slave labor camps in Burma, Thailand, and Saigon. The Japanese had forced the prisoners(Americans, British, and Australians) to build a 262 mile stretch of railroad, from Burma south into Thailand, through some of the worst parts of the jungles. Through all of this torture, a doctor, Dr. Henri Hekking, saved the lives of more than 250 Americans, including the author. He saved them by the knowledge of herbs that grew wild in the jungle. Then something that will help these men survive happens. This book is a remarkable story about the treatment that prisoners in slave labor camps received. It shows the dedication that these soldiers had for their countries. This book goes beyond what is taught in the classroom. This man, Robert Charles, was there, living the torture that any person could never imagine that could happen to them. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn what these brave men went through, to save our country from being attacked. They are the heroes that saved us. --America in WW II magazine


Robert Charles was a machine-gunner on the USS Houston, sank by the Japanese in Sundra Straight in 1942. After swimming for nine hours, he was picked up off the Java coast by Japanese forces, and held for forty-three months in slave-labor camps. One of the few to survive the Burma-Thailand railway, Charles brings all his skills as journalist to bear in this harrowing and vivid account which details the brutality of the camps along with the inspiring courage of men such as Henry Hekking, a Dutch Army doctor, whose knowledge of local herbs saved the lives of his fellow POW's, including the author.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1292 KB
  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Zenith Press; 1st edition (15 Nov. 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005S741XW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #348,182 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this and be enriched and humbled. 17 Dec. 2006
By Clayton L. Ramsey - Published on
I have had the pleasure of knowing the author for going on 8 years now. His memoir of his time as a prisoner of the Japanese, building the Death Railroad, the real Bridge on the River Kwai, is riveting, and sadly the suffering of POWs is little known.

In the decades since returning from the War, the author has had a distinguished career requiring excellent writing and editing skills, and this book reflects that. It's an easy read, and when you've finished it, you will most likely re-evaluate the struggles and low points of your daily routine.

Lastly, the man who is the subject of the book, Dr. Henri Hekking of the Dutch Colonial Army, will instill in you a sense of awe in the medical skills he learned from native Javanese sources, and how these skills, scorned by English and American doctors, saved *so many* of the men under his care, the author included.

This book adds greatly to, and dovetails with, Hornfisher's latest, and compliments Winslow's "Galloping Ghost...".
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding story with a special interest for me! 4 Mar. 2009
By Jeff Smith - Published on
I had the privilege of meeting the author on Feb. 28, 2009, the 67th anniversary of the Battle of Sunda Strait when the Houston was sunk. The Houston has a special interest for me because hearing its story sparked my lifelong interest in studying World War II.

The extra connection is that I had a distant cousin, Floyd Wesley Barron, who was in the Marine detachment with the author. After doing a lot of research, I contacted the author after finding out he only lived four hours from me. He actually remembered my cousin, who did not survive the battle. Hearing his account of the battle, plus reading his book about his experiences as a POW and praising the efforts of Dr. Hekking, has been an absolute thrill for me! I never would have dreamed that I would have hit pay dirt when I began this project, which came on the heels of working on a family history book with my uncle.

During our four-hour visit, the author was energized when talking about his adventure, and the copy of his book which he signed for me, is now my most treasured WWII book in my 300-book collection.

I find it truly amazing that Bob Charles has lived nearly 90 years, considering the brutal torture and starvation he endured for 43 months. He is truly one tough ole Marine, and I salute him for telling the story of the Houston survivors in a way that can only be told by someone who was there. Well done, my new found friend!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars comments as a reader 29 April 2008
By a reader - Published on
This was a very uplifting writing about surviving the deplorable and dire circumstances during WWII in a Japanese prison camp. Dr Hekking was a very remarkable man practicing medicine under such conditions. After reading this book...I have a deeper respect for veterans and survivors.
In ending, the doctor and the Americans seemed to help each other psychologically to survive....
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating! 8 Aug. 2010
By Fierce & Fond Reader - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Bridge on the River Kwai (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) was the last movie my Dad ever saw when it premiered in London. He insisted on getting out of his sick bed & that we all attend with him. I watch the movie every now & again, just to remember him & the walking stick he had that had been made by one of his friends who'd been there.

LAST MAN OUT is H. Robert Charles' memories as a young naval gunner whose ship, the USS HOUSTON, was sunk in the Sunda Strait off Java in one of the earliest PTO battles in March '42. He was hauled out of the sea by an enemy who abhorred surrender. They shipped him & other survivors off to a life of building a railway under starvation conditions with jungle illnesses from Burma to Thailand upon which the Japanese intended to ship men & materiel in its quest to conquer all of Asia.

It's 1978 & Robert Charles is the epitome of the successful American business & family man... except he's falling apart: the same nightmare robs him of sleep, he's drinking like a fish & has so many terrors he's at the end of his rope... & as before, to combat all this he's just sold one company & taken on a whole new one, working in conditions & a location that, for some reason, give him the sweats.

During a rare phone call with one of his wartime buddies he's told that the VA, since the Vietnam War, is open to all sorts of new doctoring & he really ought to get himself to a therapist. There his memories start surfacing, & in doing so relieve him enough to begin unraveling the story of the one person every POW he's kept in touch with says helped keep 'em alive: a Dutchman familiar with the plants of the Burmese jungle, called Dr. Hekking.

Of course, there are never enough B&W photos or maps as I study the young lads who stepped into that storm. Never having been in combat cuz I'm the "wrong" gender, I've been gathering women's memoirs of their POW & camp years. This, written by a man, focuses on what matters to men: what they remember & how, what they opined & why.

One of the best memoirs about someone other than the writer!

An afterthought: Recently major news stations showed a few seconds of a ceremony of remembrance for the dropping of the bombs on Japan where some 100+ thousand civilians were incinerated & even more terribly wounded. The news anchors stressed how remarkable this year was cuz it's the first time American & European representatives have attended... no mention of the 100+ thousands of Allied POWs: killed & alive. It wasn't until 1995 that a memorial in Huston was created for the lads who perished all those decades ago.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The power of the Human Mind 2 Aug. 2009
By R. H. Pratt - Published on
I am a practicing Clinical Psychologist. I happen to have the honor of being the friend of the Authors son, and I can tell you that this brave mans story and his sons rememberance of his father, has had a profound affect on me personaly. This book is spellbinding, and it gives us all a place to pause and reflect on what life is really all about. To put your own life into perspective as well as understand the fine men who went through this horror, I highly reccomend this book. Richard H. Pratt,Ph.D. Ltd.
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