Originally Published: September 13, 2016 4:01 a.m.
It was almost three-quarters of a century ago when Ronny Herman de Jong’s dream in Java – an island in the Dutch East Indies known as “one of the beautiful gems in the Emerald Girdle” – turned abruptly into a nightmare. She was barely 3 years old at the time when the Japanese conquered the island in March 1942, converting the idyllic paradise into a cauldron of despair.
Ronny, a Prescott resident for the past 14 years, has written two books detailing the atrocities suffered by the Javanese populace during the occupation by the invaders leading up to the war’s end in 1945. The first is titled “Rising from the Shadow of the Sun” and includes the brutal conditions that the captives lived under, while the second, a copy of which I obtained from her, and have read, focuses on “Survivors of WWII in the Pacific.”
I won’t go into any specifics regarding the atrocities of the concentration camp experience, but instead prefer to focus on Ronny herself and the joy that she exudes. Following her graduation from high school she went on to earn a degree in English from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and she put her newfound knowledge to good use by translating from Dutch the journal that her mother had written describing the deplorable life that her mom, along with Ronny and Ronny’s younger sister, experienced while in captivity. (Ronny subsequently had the English version of the journal published in Canada.) Incidentally, Ronny is tri-lingual, as she is fluent in Indonesian coupled with her Dutch and English.
Ronny and her husband, Mike, were married in 1961 and have two daughters and a son. And we can credit Hawaiian volcanoes with eventually bringing them to Prescott. You see, the steady steam of volcanic gases – which over time they feared could lead to asthmatic complications – prompted their relocation to Southern California initially before moving on to Prescott in November 2001.
Now, speaking further of Ronny, I’d like to point out something that’s hard to believe about her, which is her age. After all, she was born in Java on Dec. 26, 1938, which makes that fresh-faced lady 77 years old! Actually, her looks and demeanor, coupled with her outgoingness, remind me a lot of Carol Burnett back in Carol’s prime.
Her “Survivors of WWII in the Pacific” book includes riveting accounts written by four Prescott military veterans whom she has met during her residency here – Edward Sowman, Jack C. Harper, Benjamin Candelaria and Guy Willis. And then there was that “very special friend,” Hannie Blaauw, whom she met “about 10 years ago when I moved to Arizona. Born and raised on Java, he is 11 years older than I,” she wrote, “so he was a teenager during the years of Japanese oppression. He survived the camps and vividly remembers the cruelties he witnessed. He was always hungry. He had camp sores and tropical diseases like all of us, but he survived thanks to his sense of humor and his guardian angel who protected him many times in harrowing situations.”
Fortunately, though, happier times evolved for Hannie in later years, as Ronny wrote that he “went to the Netherlands by way of Singapore” and “several years later, he found his sweetheart, Nellie; they got married in 1958 and emigrated to the United States of America in 1961. They were blessed with a son and two daughters and made a good life for themselves in California, after the initial difficult years as penniless immigrants.
“In 1997 they moved to Prescott. Hannie competed in the Prescott Senior Olympics every year, winning gold and silver” and “for many years he volunteered at Meals on Wheels together with Nellie. When Nellie passed away, Hannie, supported by his many friends, carried on, cooking his own meals, volunteering, playing tennis, and taking care of his little pup Scotty, his new companion.”
When Hannie was 86, Ronny continued, “his daughter decided he lived too far from her,” and in June 2013 he “moved with Scotty to a town in the California desert. After a week he called enthusiastically: ‘Ronny! There are eight tennis courts close by, and two swimming pools!’ Two weeks later: ‘Ronny, I have nobody to play with. I guess I have to wait for the snowbirds.’”
Speaking of her outgoing nature, Ronny enjoys telling of her life story to civic groups. For information in that regard, visit her at www.ronnyhermandejong.com.
Contact the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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