Following World War II, Richard Antrim of the U.S. Navy received the Medal of Honor for the selflessness and bravery he showed while being held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese. Antrim, a 35-year-old career naval officer, had been serving as the executive officer on the USS Pope when it was sunk by the Japanese in February 1942 following the Battle of the Java Sea. As the ship was sinking, Antrim levelheadedly directed the evacuation of 150 men, including the wounded, onto life rafts and a small boat, an action for which he later received the Navy Cross. After drifting at sea for three days, the crew of the Pope was found by a Japanese ship and sent to a POW camp in Indonesia.
Two months into his imprisonment, in April, Antrim saw a Japanese guard ruthlessly beating a fellow prisoner. Although he was risking his own life, Antrim intervened, trying to convince the guard to discuss the man’s infractions. Surrounded by the other guards and 2,700 POWs, the guard continued the brutal punishment—and three other guards kicked the man—until it seemed they would kill him. But Antrim stepped forward again, this time indicating that he would take the rest of the other POW’s beating. The Japanese were taken aback by Antrim’s selflessness, resulting in a little more respect for the American prisoners and slightly better conditions in the camp. It was for this action that Antrim was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
But Antrim’s work in the POW camp didn’t stop there. While in charge of a group forced to dig bomb-protection trenches, Antrim suggested some modifications to the positioning of the trenches, which changes were approved by the Japanese. The Japanese didn’t realize that the rearranged trenches now spelled out “U.S.” when seen from the sky, alerting Allied planes that there were Americans there and thus saving their lives. For this, Antrim was later given the Bronze Star.
Antrim remained in the POW camp for three years, until the war ended in 1945. After liberation, he continued to serve in various leadership positions in the Navy until 1954, when he retired due to health issues. In 1979, 10 years after Antrim’s death, a Navy frigate was named in his honor.