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Japanese troops invading the Philippines forced American withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula. In command at Bataan General Jonathan Wainwright withdrew to forts on the tip of the Peninsula at Corregidor and held out until starvation, disease, and being hopelessly outnumbered, forced his surrender on May 6, 1942. Henry Wilayto a survivor of the Bataan "death march" that followed, describes his years as a prisoner of war, and half a century later bids the generations that follow not to forget this time in history.
I had lunch today with two of my Bataan buddies and their wives. One of the women said a lady outside looked at her number plate on her car and it said EX POW 392, and the lady asked "What's POW mean?" My friend answered "Well, that's a Prisoner of War, you know people who were in the Philippines and on Bataan and made the 'death march'." She asked, "What's a 'death march'?" So I think the schools are lacking in teaching all the things that are important in history. One school does teach some of these things that I know of and that is Bedford High School. I spoke there one year and the history teacher who gave us the opportunity to speak, said that he taught about World War II and the Pacific end of it in two semesters in his high school. The students were very knowledgeable and they had
As was mentioned, I did enlist in December of 1940 and got to the Philippines. A few funny things happened along the way. They made me a sergeant before I became a private. They made me a temporary sergeant, no uniform, no stripes but I was put in charge of 17 youngsters like myself to take them from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco by train. One of them got sick on the way so when we got to, I think it was Reno, the fellows wanted to know if they could get off the train and get a drink and I said, "Sure, I'll stay here and watch this guy since I was in charge I had to take care of him." Well, they came back and nobody had a drink in their hip pocket for me.
I had eight months of a wonderful existence at Camp John Hay up in Baguio in the Philippines. We didn't have what you would call regular duty, our colonel said to us, "I don't want to be saluting you guys all day so just salute me once in the morning and that's it." We were through at 12:00 and we didn't have to salute him any more after that. I worked in a commissary as an auditor and saw all the famous people come up to Camp John Hay which was an R&R camp, a Recreation and Rest camp. That was the summer capital of the Philippines. President Quezon would come up there, General MacArthur and General Wainwright, so you saw all the biggies and after a while, you know, they were just another person.
At the end of the eight months, we heard some airplanes flying overhead, and we came out of the commissary to look. I was standing beside a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and he said, "Look at those beautiful Bl7s!" They opened their bomb bay doors and they hit us, they were Japanese planes. That's the only time they really did any damage in our camp, they killed one American who had just got there the night before to work in the Officers Club and about 7 or 8 Filipinos.
We were so green, we had no recruit training, no close order drill, no left face, right face, and they wouldn't allow us to have any guns when the war broke out. They said we would hurt ourselves. We broke into a magazine and broke into the rifle cartons, and we took out Lee Enfields from World War I. We got the cosmoline off and so we had rifles. We had a fellow who was in the Army for a long time who had come from Hawaii to do his tour of duty in the Philippines and he was in the Queen Anne's rifles. They could take a rifle and twirl it 'round their finger. While he's fooling with his, it goes off. He shot the darn thing and almost got his nose; it hit a branch that fell down and hit him in the head. "You were in the Army for five years, what are you going to show us?" Well, we were running around with machetes so we were protecting the camp. We were there up until about the 23rd of December, when all of a sudden word came that the Japanese were coming up the zigzag trail. It's about a 150-mile road and during the rainy season it gets washed out about 50 times a year on the average and nothing can go up that road. It's a true zigzag trail, so that if we put one 30-caliber machine gun at any one of those points, we could have held anybody off, because one side was a straight cliff going up, and down was a drop of about 300 to 400 feet.
So nobody elected to fight, they said "You've got to leave camp. You can't go back to the barracks and take anything that you want that's yours, just get out here and get ready to march." There were about 30 of us and they marched us out. There was a colonel and two captains, I think, and a lieutenant. We got out into the jungle and they called us together and said, "Here's 20 pesos apiece, you're on your own." What a hell kind of an army is this? What do we know about the jungle? They didn't give us any food, no medicine, no guns, no ammunition. We had a lone 30-caliber machine gun of the Filipino scouts, who were the best doggoned soldiers I ever saw anywhere I guess, but the rest of us, we didn't have any weapons. In fact, I don't think I even carried my machete with me that day. But when we stopped outside the commissary store house, the doors were wide open and I said "We don't have any food, can we go in there and get something?" A captain said, "What do you want, raw meat? That's not going to do you any good." I said, "Let's go in and look anyway." So I saw some salami hanging, there were about 50 of them, nobody wanted any, they were not salami eaters and so I grabbed one and stuck it in my bag. When people started to fall down marching from lack of water and they didn't want to go any further, I gave them a couple hunks of salami and they would be on their feet until we got to some water. The salt revived them.
We called the officers together and said "Look, you're in charge of us, you're responsible, we're not going off on our own, we don't know where to go, we don't know this area, you should have some understanding because you've been doing duty here for some time." So they agreed and we got together and marched 80 miles through the jungle up and down mountains and got out to the main highway No 5 in a town called Aratao. There were thousands of cases of type C rations lined up all up and down the road and the American troops were gone, gone south. We found a bus and we all climbed in and put the 30-caliber on top of the bus and off we went down highway 5, singing songs and driving along and talking about home and whatnot, right through the middle of the Japanese on both sides of us, that we didn't know were there. There were 500 of them on bicycles that were following us but we didn't see them. At the end of the trip, we come to the Cabanatuan River which was in front of the town of Cabanatuan, which was a pretty large city in the Campanga Province. The bridge was down so we got out of the bus and we started to crawl on the broken parts of the bridge until we got on the other side. As we got on the other side, the colonel came up and said, "You know, I almost killed you guys. It was lucky there was a Filipino who said those are white faces in the bus, sir, don't shoot them." He had 3-inch, 75 millimeter guns on that side of the river and as we got across and left to wherever we were going to bivouac, Japanese troops came out across the river, the side we had left and unfortunately for the Japanese, they shot them all, they got them front and rear and with their bicycles they couldn't move, so they wiped them out. We didn't know anything about it until the 7:00 news that night. I'm taking a shower and I hear about all these troops that were chasing the bus down the highway.
Well, that was the kind of thing that went on, things were kind of haphazard. I was assigned to a Philippine Army motor pool to see that no one took vehicles without proper documents. They used to come up to the Filipinos who were in charge and say here's a pass, this is my requisition, I need this kind of car or that kind of car, and they would give it to them, they didn't know any better. So we had to put a stop to that according to the management, so two enlisted men, privates, were put in charge. Neither one of us had any rank. We had a great time, we were eating salmon and rice out of wash boilers, you know the old boiler wash kettles, the oval shape that your mothers probably used to put on the stove and boil clothes in it. That's how they cooked our food.
You know, you said to yourself, "There's a war on, when are we going to see some enemy." We never saw any enemy, we saw airplanes and we'd duck every time they came by. Finally, we got to Bataan and I was in General King's headquarters. We were the Quartermaster's Corp out of Camp John Hay, attached to the general's staff. Unfortunately, for our Colonel that meant that he was a stepchild and not a true member of the family. So we got all the dirty jobs, we dug the foxholes, we did anything anybody else didn't want to do, like put 50 rounds of ammunition in the back of a sedan and drive it up to the front line - 3-inch shells. They called me in one day and said, "You've been doing a pretty good job, how would you like to be 2nd lieutenant?" So I said "What am I going to have to do as a 2nd lieutenant?" They said, "Where did you have your training?" I said "What training?" They said, "You know the 18 weeks of indoctrination, boot camp." I said, "I never had any." So they said "How in the hell did you get in the Army?" Oh, I signed up and they put me on a ship and sent me over here, and the people up in Camp John Hay didn't do anything like that. So they said "You'd kill more Filipinos then Japanese so you're not going to be a 2nd lieutenant."
A few weeks later General Homma decided that he wanted to keep his rank and not get cashiered and sent home in disgrace. He brought in 250,000 troops from Singapore and from China and he overran us in about 5 days. We had 5000 Americans on the front line with 30-caliber machine guns; we didn't have anything bigger than that. The 155 big guns that we had, we lost, the Philippine artillery didn't throw the breech loaders away, so that the Japanese could use them and they were firing them back at us. We had about 18-20,000 Filipinos who started training maybe five weeks before the war broke out so they weren't trained. Every time one of them felt like he wanted to go home, they just said, "I'm tired, my feet hurt, I miss my buddy" and off they'd walk and all of a sudden there would be a hole in the line, and Japanese would come pouring through so the Filipinos were not very reliable. They were good fighters and they did what they were told, but when anything came up that they felt wasn't to their best interests, off they'd go.
The war ended on April 9th. We were blowing up all the ammunition dumps. I was assigned as, what the English used to call a batboy, an orderly to my Colonel and we put his trunks and luggage in a truck. They were in the sedan riding and another fellow and myself were in the truck. The Japanese came by because the troops were leaving the area and going in the opposite direction. We were going down toward a collection point called Mariveles, which is at the tip of the Bataan peninsula facing Corregidor. Mariveles is at the foot of the Bataan peninsula and Corregidor is five miles into Manila Bay. Corregidor had guns that couldn't reach the Japanese airplanes, so they just dumped everything from 25,000 feet on Corregidor. Corregidor was shooting at batteries across the bay. As we left Mariveles, instead of going north, the Japanese marched us in front of the line of fire so that the Americans wouldn't shoot, but they didn't know we were marching in front of the Japanese batteries. There were about 5,000 Americans in lines, four abreast, some of us got hurt, and some of us got killed.
We marched and I had no food for six days, very little water, you didn't dare drink water in an ordinary stream because there would be dead animals maybe 500 yards up the road. On the sixth day somebody gave me some iodine and said "Look, when we stop near water, dig a hole a foot away, let it fill in and fill your canteen up and put some iodine in it, stir and let it sit for a while and then drink it, and there won't be any bacteria in it." So I got a little to drink that way. Finally I passed out. They always marched you early in the morning, sat you down about 11:00 a.m. and you'd stay in the field until 4:00 in the afternoon in the hot sun, 110*-115*, while the guards were in the shade. There's one thing that I've got to say - everybody says what a terrible thing the "death march" was - I'm wondering how Americans would have handled it, if they had 15-20 guards for 5,000 prisoners marching in a column. You could be out of sight of a guard for maybe two minutes at a time, and so any time anybody fell and nobody picked them up and helped carry them, the Japanese shot them because they had no way of taking care of anybody that fell by the road. So they killed, by bayoneting and shooting about 650 Americans and I don't know how many Filipinos. It must have been in the neighborhood of 2,000 or 3,000 at least because whenever they went out of line and went off into a field, say there was sugar cane growing and they wanted to get something to eat, they'd just step up to the edge of the road and shoot them.
We made the march anywhere from 6 to 16 days. When I fell and almost passed out, a buddy of mine grabbed me and pulled me in the shade, the Japanese let us go in a river that afternoon. Why, I don't know. So we all stripped and went into the water, and you know the moisture going into your pores helped a lot and we recovered a lot, and we were finally so happy, we were jumping up and down and laughing and everything, and suddenly everybody started hollering, "Hey, hey, there are people looking." We turned around and there must have been 300 or 400 hundred Filipino families lined up under the branches where they were in the trees and shade. They were marching and trying to get back home. A lot of them had gotten out of the fighting area and they wanted to go back to their homes. I got a little to eat. A guard took me up to a house at the end of this field where we were resting to start marching again and they fed me a little bit of fish and rice soup. That got back my strength a little. Then they put me on a truck and drove about 3 or 4 miles to the next stopping point for the night. I realized then that if I stay here, and not go with my group and stay behind until the next group comes up, I'll get an extra day of rest, so I did that and my six days stretched into about 13.
One day there was a fellow who must have been epileptic and he was very, very bad, nobody could control or hold him, so a guard came up to another fellow and myself and indicated with motions, "take him, move him, carry him, whatever." I noticed an artesian well by the side of the road and said to the other guy "Let's take him over there and stick his face into that cold water because that's coming out very strong, maybe the cold water will shock him." I didn't know what else to do. So we tried it and that didn't do any good. We laid him down on the ground and I went up to the guard and I talked him into getting us a truck, by motions. (I didn't know what they understood in English.) So we got a truck. There was a two-story building on the side of the road with Japanese officers in it. They were up in the 2nd story and they saw us helping this guy into the truck. Then a carabao cart came up. (Carabao are water oxen in the Philippines.) The cart had about a dozen other men that had fallen by the road and the Japanese allowed them to be picked up and moved by this vehicle. So they put those people on the truck also. The Japanese officers above sent down a wastebasket filled with white bread that they had hollowed out the soft part to eat and were throwing the rest away. Well, they sent it down before the cart came so I started to cut a piece for my buddy and the epileptic GI, and up comes the cart. Well, I had to cut slices for them and pretty soon I'm looking at it and saying I better save a little piece for myself. That's the time I recognized and realized that if you help somebody else, somehow God will help you. And that's what I did from then on. Wherever I could I helped somebody. And in turn I survived, so you have to have faith to survive.
We got to the end of the march, it was San Fernando La Union. After a couple of days at a horrible, horrible place, feces all over the area, and you had to sleep in it, they wouldn't allow you out of this corralled area. Then they put us on cargo trains, cars that probably were like the 40 and 8 they had in the First World War in France, 40 men and 8 horses. Well, this had 100 Americans and you could only stand belly to belly and if you were standing up against the wall, 1150 heat, guys could burn, get their skin blistered. You couldn't move out of the way, men died standing up. If you had to urinate or defecate, you did it standing up. They wouldn't allow you to get off that train. We were on that train from about 8:00 in the morning until I guess about 5:00 in the afternoon. We got to the town of Capas, disembarked and had to march 12 miles, (those of us that were left) to get to Camp O'Donnell.
The next day, the commander stood up on a box, the Japanese commander, and said "You are not prisoners of war, you are captives, you surrendered, you did not fight. If you break our rules, we will kill you or we will do something worse." They did something worse. We lost 23 men every 24 hours. The noncoms didn't have to work in work details in that prison camp. Why, I don't know, I never found out why. But I got to feeling a little apprehensive that they would put you on a detail that you wouldn't want to be on, so I went up to the American captain in charge of our area and said "I'd like to volunteer to work. Where do you need me?" He said, "Oh, good, we need a guy to be in charge of the cemetery so you're in charge of graves registration." I met the captain who was really and truly in charge as graves registration officer and he told me what to do. He gave me 30 men and we went out to dig graves. Well, when you dug with your shovel, you didn't get up a shovel of dirt, you came up with a slab of clay about the size of this lectern here. So you couldn't dig a grave 3 x 6. I measured out 10 graves that would be 3 foot wide so it was 30 feet long, 6 feet deep, and 6 feet wide, and we laid them down in the bottom of the grave, they crossed their arms and sent out to get a chaplain to come and say the prayers. The chaplains came out maybe once a week. I didn' t care whether he was catholic or a rabbi or a protestant. We didn't have any other denominations so just send me somebody so that we could have a service. When they didn't come, we would pray the service ourselves.
One day we got into camp to eat supper and there was hardly anything left. There might be one-fourth of what the other people had to eat because when you're not there and there's a little left people eat more because they're hungry. We were all hungry, we all lost around 50 pounds. When we found out we were getting hardly anything to eat, 100 of us just automatically came together and we started to march down to the captain's quarters who was in charge of our area, and they were all hollering and saying we've got to get something to eat, how can we work heavy picks and shovels when we can't get enough to eat. We walked past 10 barracks and I turned around to say something and I had only 7 guys in back of me, the rest had drifted off as we got closer and closer to Japanese headquarters as well as the American captain's quarters. So I looked at them and I'm not patting myself on the back but I was scared, I know how people got beaten up so I said "Fellows, there's no reason for 7 or 8 getting beaten up, why don't you appoint me a committee of one and you guys stay out of sight and sweat and see what happens." I went to see the captain and told him that there were 100 men back there waiting to see what I'd get for an answer. I said "We don't get enough to eat, we don't get the regular rations when we don't work so we want some food or we're going to have a problem on our hands." The captain said, "You know you can't lead a riot, you'll never get to be a top sergeant like the one sitting over here." I said, "If that's an example," he never did anything for us when we asked for help, he just ignored us, "I wouldn't want to be in the Army if that's what it is to be a sergeant." So he says "I'll see what I can do for you, sergeant." We heard the dinner call and we had a 4th meal that day, pancakes made out of rice flour and syrup from cane sugar. My crowd is saying "Wow, can we do this tomorrow."
When they asked me how many men I needed, I said I needed at least 40 men. It's getting tougher to dig the graves. I built it up over time to 90 men. When I took the job over, the guys were working 50 minutes in the hot sun and getting a 10 minute break. We had a timekeeper and he called the watch. There was a guard tower about 200 yards away from us and the guard was up there looking at us all the time. So I figured out if we kept busy, he wouldn't know what the heck we were doing. So I arranged in time that they would work 10 minutes and go and rest for 50 minutes. But because of the number of trenches we were digging, I was able to keep the men moving and everybody was getting a 50-minute break. Well, this was great. Then when I would give my report as to how much food we needed, I always added about 30 men to how many I had, so we finally got enough to eat. We didn't get fat on it, but at least we felt that we could do our digging job.
One day there's a man standing in a hole leaning on his shovel. I told him "Look I fixed it so you guys only have to work 10 minutes so now quit dogging it." He said some expletives. So I asked, "What's the matter?" I finally got out of him that he couldn't shovel because he had fingers missing. So I made him the timekeeper. The next morning was Saturday. About 11:30 or so we were getting ready to quit work, we had taken care of all the bodies and in comes four men carrying a stretcher carrying a guy that looked pretty healthy with a handkerchief on his face. I thought it was a gag or something. They said he was dead. I took the handkerchief off and he was dead. He had an attack of malaria just before noontime and the doctor was going to lunch. The kid who was the corpsman and not medically trained, but took the job as corpsman, told the doctor, "This guy has malaria, I don't have any quinine just quinidine, how much do I give him?" The doctor says, "Give him whatever he needs." So the kid not knowing the difference between the two medicines gave him the amount of quinine needed and he killed him. The guy dropped dead from his heart bursting because he gave him too much quinidine. So the men carried the guy out to the cemetery and I thought it so strange that he was being buried on the same spot that he was in the day before. Those are the incongruities of any kind of existence but there it was doubly so because of what we were facing all the time.
Men were dying of malaria because there was no quinine. I brought in about 200 tablets of quinine at the end of the march and turned them over to the hospital. A buddy of mine got sick a week later and I went up to get some quinine for him as he said he wasn't getting any. They said they didn't have any. I said I turned some in. They didn't seem to know what I was talking about. My friend was a tough GI, who had been in the Army for a number of years and he's laying there saying, "Our country doesn't care for us, we're going to die, nobody's going to save us." I said, "Knock it off." We went up every day to give him his water and help him out, but he wouldn't eat his food and he let his mess kit get covered with flys and he died three days later. He just gave up the ghost. There were a lot of young kids who had cars and who had spending money who didn't work for their allowance... We had a bunch of young kids come in the last six months... 18, 19, 20 years old who were in the National Guard and were called in and had to go to the Philippines.
Those who could walk climbed on trucks and left Camp O'Donnell. We had about 180 sick persons who were left behind. Most of them had holes as big as a fist in their rear ends, because there were no beds in the hospital and orderlies threw sand on the floor when they messed themselves. So the wounds got gangrenous and they were in bad shape. That's the reason a lot of guys were being buried. Now just at the time that the ambulatory men left, hospitals from Baguio in Bataan came up with 115 truck loads of equipment and food. Colonel Duckworth, who was in charge of the hospital, had three or four Japanese soldiers in his hospital in Baguio, and one was a major. The major had lost his leg, and the colonel had to amputate it. The Japanese were coming up the road in a tank with troops behind. Colonel Duckworth didn't want soldiers to come in and find the Japanese wounded there, because he felt that the Americans would be killed. So he stepped out in the road and put his hand up in front of the tank and up comes a general out of the tank with a pistol aimed at Colonel Duckworth and he spoke English. The upshot was that the general came in because the colonel wanted to turn the Japanese soldiers over to him. As he's walking down the ward, he stops at a bed and it's his brother, and his brother says, "I've been treated better than if I was in my own home. These are good people, they take care of anyone whether they are Japanese or American." So they let him keep all his equipment, never took anything away, put guards around not to let any other Japanese come into that area and gave him a gun and some ammunition to go shoot any animals or carabao they could find in the woods. So that's how they came into Camp O'Donnell with all the trucks, filled with food and life-saving equipment. They saved about 80 men out of 180.
The truck drivers who were going out on details during all this time from May until October, were buying a shopping bag full of groceries for about $5 or $10 from the Filipinos and coming in selling corned beef and pineapple for $50 a can to the Americans. They were profiteers. When Colonel Duckworth and his hospital came in, he set up a first aid tent out on the edge of Capas because the Japanese were letting the Filipinos out of the prison camp. When they would come in town from the 12 mile hike with very little food, they would take care of them medically and with whatever else they needed. So Colonel Duckworth said "You can buy food and bring it in but you can only charge 10% more than what you paid for it." The profiteers went out of business. They had to come to the chow line and eat the same food we were eating because they ran out of theirs.
We closed Camp O'Donnell in October, 1942. I was sent to Bilibid Prison Hospital for a medical. I was okay so they put me out to work in an airfield to rebuild Nielson Field. I hurt my leg after I was there a while. It started to ulcerate and the American doctor one day took forceps and started to yank on what he thought was proud flesh..., he was yanking on my muscle. Just then the Japanese doctor in charge of the area, of all the camps, came up and saw my leg and said "Why isn't this man in hospital?" I don't know what transpired but that afternoon I was on a truck and into Bilibid Hospital that had all the medical equipment that they needed to take care of anybody under normal and abnormal conditions. They saved my leg. So when I got well, I knew I had to go back to work.
A friend of mine said "Hank, did you do any play acting or anything like that at home?" I said, "Well, I did a little bit for local community groups." He said, "Well, if you can do something that can keep you here, you won't have to go back to work." So I started to write one-horse operas, like the poor girl whom the hero was going to marry but they didn't have any money and the mortgage was due. Instead of the guy being the hero and going out to work, I transposed the characters, the girl went out to work, but the girl was the guy and the guy got pregnant. So it was as much of a farce as you could possibly build it into. The first play that we did, I got the first two acts done and the first line of the third act on each part, I didn't have enough time to do any more, so I told the actors to wing it. Well, that was the biggest and best laugh show they had in that place. Whatever we did, we included a blackout. You did a punch line and then you hit the curtain and that was the end of the show. We did things that the Japanese enjoyed just as much as the Americans. The last show I did was Hamlet and Juliet and I had nine Hamlets. Juliet would have the scene with a Hamlet on stage and then he would go off to war. Then another Hamlet would come and then he would go off stage, and so on. So when the nine Hamlets were behind the curtain, the first one comes back in and says "What's this I hear about you fooling around while I'm gone." She says "Oh, I'm not doing anything." He says, "If I ever hear of you doing it, I'll cut you in half and throw the best part of you to the dogs." Out come the other eight on all fours, barking like dogs. Eventually, the Navy captain comes up to me and says "Hank, I think you've had it." Well, we had a lot of fun while it lasted. In every camp where we had any talent at all we would try to put on shows and invite the Japanese to come and see them.
There were a lot of bad things too. There were ten man squads and if one of you escaped, the other nine would be killed. There were two or three of those situations that happened and nine got their heads chopped off. There was the time when we were working on a farm, when I went up to Camp Cabanatuan on one of my tours of duty. The guys were in a field in a "v"1 formation, like the flying Canadian geese, and we were supposed to be in a straight line. So the guard came up and felt that the guy in front was doing something wrong, so he stood him up and took a bamboo slat and beat his face until it became as big as a pumpkin. The guy was out of commission for about 3 or 4 months.
I don't think the Japanese were mean because we think people are mean when they do something mean. I think that it was their feeling they were doing whatever they were doing for the good of the Emperor. There were many cases in history in Japan where one party was against someone else and they would go and kill the leader of the opposition party. He might be an admiral or a high ranking official in the government, it didn't matter. When the trial came up they would say I was doing it for the Emperor because I didn't think the opposition leader was conducting business in the right way for the Emperor, and they would get off. So there was this attitude there... unleached brutality was permissible, if it was in the name of the Emperor. It should have been better controlled by the Emperor.
I left Cabanatuan on my birthday, January 4, 1944, to go on a 27 man detail. I asked my friends to go with me and they said "Oh, no, almost everybody that comes out of here goes to Nichols Field and you're dead in about 4 months." They were doing these things like, "maybe we kill you or maybe we do something worse, like tie you to a tree and beat you to death in four or five days." They never let them die at Nichols Field, they would bring them back to Bilibid Hospital so that the deaths were attributed to Bilibid. I said I didn't think so because they needed about 150 to replace the injured, so we're not going to Nichols Field.
It turned out to be true, we became stevedores in the Port Area POW camp in Manila Harbor. I gained back my 50 pounds, I now weighed about 185, I could pick up 100 kilos of rice and stack it up 10 stacks high. We had a softball field and a boxing ring. We had taken the alleys out of a bowling alley and made dining room tables out of them. We had the privilege to use barbecue fires. They allowed us to spend 3 to 20 pesos in their Japanese commissary. They wanted to know where we were getting all the money we spent. We said we were rich Americans. They said, "Good, turn all your money in and we will give you 20 pesos a month to spend. You can't spend any more than that, there isn't enough food to buy." So we turned in some 20,000 pesos but we kept most of it. We earned our money by trading what we confiscated from the cargo ships with the Filipinos we came in contact with on the pier. If we worked one day we would get the next day off. If you worked an hour, you would get the second hour off, so you were only working a half of a day. You could steal from the ships because they weren't military ships. They were cargo ships with goods coming down to the southern waters. They would bring good cargo ships into Manila, unload them and put the cargo on rusty types and send them down south, because the American submarines were doing such a good job of knocking off the Japanese ships.
We had a good life there but we were working all the time and trying to destroy whatever we could. I was involved in two things. One, we were loading rice on a ship that was going to China. We kept calling for water and we were ripping the bottom sacks and pouring water all over the rice so it would swell. When the ship would get to Singapore, the rice would be rotten. Another time we unloaded alcohol drums, 55-gallon drums, and we unscrewed the caps and put them upside down so the fluid came out and when it went out in the harbor, sparks, bang, and the ship blew up. We saw the wounded, the merchant marines getting their talk about doing it for the Emperor.
Our two officers were two Navy men and they were working with the Spanish underground. Between them, they were able to have somebody put dynamite or some explosive under the ship and they blew it up. I saw it go up myself, right up in the air. We were on board a cargo vessel going to Japan in about 10 days, they didn't want us hanging around anymore. The reason why we were treated so well in that one camp and one camp only was because it was the camp that they had the Swiss Red Cross see how well they were treating prisoners, so we were a show camp.
I lost about 30 pounds in 18 days going to Japan. We were down in the hold, there were 600 in one hold, and 900 in the one I was in. You couldn't get out. I think they let us out twice and washed us down with hoses because we smelled so bad. But they would send the rice down the ladder and they would send the feces buckets down the ladder. The guys didn't care, our own guys. They would be moving buckets and one bucket of feces might be put on top of a bucket of rice or vice versa. I didn't eat for 18 days, I just drank water and traded my rice for water so that I could get as much water as I could. We got into Mojie on the island of Honshu and got on the train and ended up in a town called Oeyama which was on the west side of Honshu opposite the city of Osaka. We were in the Osaka POW group.
We worked in a nickel ore mine. The nickel ore was for rifle barrels on the large guns, so we were helping the war effort for the Japanese which was against all international regulations. We worked 13 months, I couldn't have lasted another year. My toes were weeping, they weren't bleeding or anything, but they were rotting away because we wore size 14 rubber hip boots and we were working with hot ore and there was no ventilation. I guess our bodies just decided to fall apart. I was down to 135 pounds. We had to be weighed every month. I was carrying men to the scale who couldn't walk and then we would see little 12-inch boxes and we knew they had died and were cremated.
We had one Japanese civilian working with us. He was in charge of us working inside the factory where we were shoveling this nickel ore into containers or wherever they wanted it. When no other Japanese were around, he let us sit down and take a break and gave us a cigarette. He got caught and they put him to work as a laborer.
When the war ended we marched out of our camp and went into town to get onto two trains to go to Yokohama to rejoin the Americans. The Americans said there is no reason to send troops out there and waste all that money, you guys can get a train and come in by yourselves. They had dumped so much food in 55-gallon drums from airplanes that we had plenty to eat. In fact, human nature being what it is, you would be in the latrine eating and eliminating at the same time and then you would go back and get some more to eat. It is laughable now, but then you couldn't say to a guy, "Knock it off, you're going to get sick."
We got to Yokohama and we saw white females. We hadn't see one in 3 1/2 years, beautifully coiffured, great military dress. While waiting to board a ship, a beautiful blond major from Iowa came towards us. She stands in front of us and asks if anybody was from Iowa. Most of us were from New England and we said no. She said she was sorry she didn't greet us at the train, that was the job with her nurses and they should have been there but they were delayed somewhere else. She walked away.
We were put on board a ship and given nice, clean Navy bunks. I mean bunks, not canvas cots. Then the word comes over the PA system, "There are not enough beds for you noncoms. Down in the hold, 5 high up against the side." Well, we slept on deck, we never slept downstairs. So we got to Manila. It took us about a week where it normally should have been 18 hours. But the American submarines were out there and we didn't want to get hit. We got to Manila and they sent us to a replacement depot about 35 miles south or west of Manila and they couldn't find me. I was missing. It took 18 days in Washington to discover that I was a member of the United States Army. All the friends I had went home, I'm all by myself. So finally I got on a ship and arrived near Pearl Harbor. We got into Honolulu outside of the Aloha tower and they wouldn't let us off. We were quarantined. But they let a man come on with half pints of ice cream, cases of it. I ate 15 half pints of ice cream. I couldn't do that now. We stayed there for a short time and the ship took off again and we got into San Francisco, Letterman General Hospital, practically 2 weeks there and then they let me go home. They sent us as bed patients on the train. We had officers and nurses waiting on us hand and foot. They wouldn't allow enlisted men in to take care of us because we were Prisoners of War from the Philippines and Japan.
I got home about the 4th of November into Fort Devens. On the 8th of November I proposed to my wife, and she said yes. We had known each other before I left. That's where we founded our national organization. We started having meetings and we decided to form a club where we could put in 10# a month and have a beer bust at somebody's house. Well, it turned out to be a national organization, the "American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor." We got a charter in Massachusetts and we had our first convention in Boston on April 9, 1946, and had 250,000 people watch us march. We had 43 states represented. Governor Maurice Tobin opened up our meeting. Now the governor won't go near our organization because he doesn't know what a J-POW is. I got married on June 17, 1946, and we had 3 girls and 2 boys, and 8 grandchildren, we're happy. But unfortunately, I think I'm almost back in a Japanese prison camp, I'm a volunteer and they never let you go.
We didn't surrender, we were defenders. General King surrendered us and General Wainwright did it for Corregidor, both for the same reasons, they ran out of ammunition and we didn't have any food. We were down to about 800 calories a day on rations, mostly rice.
I never killed a Japanese face to face the whole time I was on Bataan. I shot at them from a distance, but I was shooting at guys that were up in the trees. They tied themselves up in the tree and when they were shot, they would be checked out to see if they were dead and they would find rusty cans of food, they were up there so long. They did their work the way they were trained to do. They were so amazed that guys as big as us surrendered; they were so little. It was a delight for them to reach up and slap someone tall. I had to work with Japanese when I was working for Honeywell, and I couldn't find any reason for not getting along. No Japanese personally ever did anything to me in this country, so why should I feel anything negative? You know we've got to live and let live.
We did the best we could. We tried to be soldiers the whole time we were prisoners and we tried to work against the enemy and do everything we could for our country. One day we had a load of rocks on the rail car and it was about a yard wide but fairly long. So we looked at each other and we said "Think we ought to take time off today?" "Okay." But we reminded each other that if they got mad, they would beat the four of us, but we decided to take a chance. So we ran the car as fast as we could until we got to the end and there was a bumper there, so we went over the bumper and down over the hill, the cart with the rocks went down about 40-50 feet. The Japanese were so mad. They were saying all kinds of Japanese words. They said, "For punishment, go down and bring it back up." No more work on that line for the day. We took our time and brought it up, and it was time to quit by the time we got it to the top. We tried to do some fun things. But it wasn't funny, I don't think I would have survived one more winter in Japan.