Mondell White enlisted in the Army on August
13, 1940. His military education and training included Recruiting Spec, Military
Policeman, CBT Intell NCO Corps, 7A NCO Academy, and AR + CC. Mondell served
with Company K - 31st Infantry Division as a SGT 1st Class, and was on Bataan
when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. He was captured by Japanese and
survived the Bataan Death March, which began on April 9, 1942. Mondell was
held prisoner by the Japanese for 1,243 days, surviving bombings of two ships on
which he and other prisoners were held in filthy, cramped animal quarters.
He watched buddies get shot or stabbed to death and buried friends who died of starvation or disease, one of whom was his first cousin, Kenneth White who joined the army with him.
In Japan he worked in the coalmines at POW Camp Fukuoka 17. There he was only 50 miles away from Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped.
After nearly three and a half years of torture, starvation, deprivation and humiliation Mondell was returned to American hands on September 13, 1945 from Camp 17. He returned to the United States on October 8, 1945.
He was awarded the following medals- POW
Medal, Bronze Star Medal for ground combat against the enemy, Combat Infantry
Badge, ACM, NDSM, GCM 3d Award, CI B ADSM, PHIL DEF SVC Medal, GCM 4TH Award,
following is an interview with Mondell White about his experiences:
"I remember a lot about those three
years, but the one thing I remember more than all else is that we never, ever,
lost faith in our country!"
On the fateful day when the order came "stack arms!" the men had been on half rations for weeks, then on quarter rations, waiting with hope, that "tomorrow" would bring arms and food. General MacArthur had gone to Austrailia. Japanese General Homa demanded surrender. General Homa said "march!" and the soldiers did. The tropical heat was intense, sickening, and unbearable.
First imprisoned in a stockade, White and thousands of others were caught in the cross fire from batteries on Corregidor and those on Bataan. Rounds, which fell short of target killed many troops in the stockade. These were the first to die. Thousands more were to become victims of the resultant events before surrender 3 1/2 years later.
In Mondell’s group some 70 men started out on the main road route to Cabcaben. The POWs were to walk 65 miles to Camp O'Donnell in a surrender the Japanese designed to be as humiliating as possible.
“As we walked north in columns along each
side of the main road, the enemy headed the opposite direction. The Japanese
came in heavy vehicles or on foot, stabbing, shooting, and kicking the American
and Filipino prisoners. Those who fell were run over by the wheeled
vehicles, decapitated, or disemboweled. Some of the men started out with full
packs, much too heavy a load for their weakened conditions. They were the first
to drop from exhaustion. We were promised food and water, but we got
little. Sometimes the Filipino civilians watching from the side of the road
smuggled wads of rice to the men. It was horrible to eat, but it was food and we
were glad to have it."
"When night came on this weeklong trek, the marches stopped and the men were again imprisoned in enclosures. During the daytime, those who broke ranks and tried to run were shot. The Japanese took no chances on such action after dark.
In the overnight camps confusion reigned. Sometimes there were wells with putrid water, but the men were so thirsty, caution was ignored. They ran for the drink, pushing, shoving, then were driven back by the enemy's bayonets, often without even a chance to wet their parched lips."
"I thought a good many times about running from the column, I figured death was better than what I had then. But I never did. That's what I mean, when I say we never lost faith in America and the people back home. We knew they'd come, some day."
“Nighttime duty was in two details, one to boil the sticky, gummy mess of rice, the other to bury the dead. I did both. We dug trenches about three feet deep, laid six to eight bodies of our buddies there and covered them. That's all we could do."
“When we reached San Fernando, we were
crammed into boxcars like animals, so many we couldn't move, packed so tightly
the dead could not fall down. When the car doors were closed the heat was
”We were taken a short distance to Camp O'Donnell, given the "hate America" speech by the Japanese generals, and held for nearly a year. The only alternatives were to ‘volunteer’ for the enemy and work. I didn't know what would happen, but I had to do something to get out of there. Again I was shoved into a boxcar and taken to Nicholas airfield near Manila. Americans were at Leyte then. We could tell that the war was still hot because more Jap planes left than came back, and those which did return were badly damaged.”
”We stayed there until October, 1944, eighteen months from the time I was first captured. Then with some 1,600 other Americans we were ordered aboard a transport ship in the Manila harbor. The ship, one previously used to carry horses and cattle, still had the animal filth in the holes where the men were sent below. ‘Housed’ in stalls, we were so crowded that it was possible only to sit, back to back, for days and weeks. The men were sick, dying, hungry and afraid. On the top decks were women and children, refugees being taken to Japan".
“There were American air raids every day.
In mid-December American bombs hit the ship. ‘Hell broke loose’. The
refugees were taken off and taken to a nearby island. We broke through
guards and climbed to the top deck, threw off all our clothing and jumped 40
feet in to the water for the long swim to shore."
This was perhaps the most narrowing experience of the 40 month ordeal.
"The American planes had circled the area and were heading back toward the ship for a second strike. The well-armed Japanese were waiting onshore, the ship was left behind and the others had been hit. Overhead were the planes coming in again for a kill. ‘God was with us’. Those Americans saw us floundering in the water and knew we were prisoners. They tipped their plane wings to us and went on, not dropping a single bomb. No one else can ever understand how we felt.”
”Held in stockades, which were island tennis courts, the men again cooked the sickening rice and buried their own dead. It sounds heartless, but we had to take the clothing from our own dead and wear it. We were naked.”
We went back to San Fernando, this time by truck and were put in another foul boxcar and sent to Lingayen Gulf in northern Luzon, where we spent the unhappiest Christmas I'll ever know, it was1944.”
"We boarded another transport ship,
this one as filthy as the first and as crowded. I was in the second hold when
American B-29s and Jap depth charges both hit the ship. We didn't sink, but I'll
never understand why. Every prisoner in the forward hold
was killed, slaughtered or injured. We called the experience 'from the death march on Bataan to the death ships to Japan’.”
“This ship limped into the Formosan port
and the POWs were put on a third vessel, headed for Japan. Men died day after
day, hour after hour. We were allowed to bury our head at sea. They let us
take them topside and drop them into the sea. We
wrapped them in whatever we could find, had a brief service and left them there. When we finally reached Japan there were only 300 of the original 1,600 with whom I had started out with, still living. The others had become victims of the inhuman slaughter over the months.”
”The remaining 300 were sent to Camp 17, a coal mining area. They quarantined us for 30 days, all of us in one jam-packed billet. We looked so terrible that even the Japanese were afraid of us.”
”There I worked in the coal mine, the same kind of job I had done as a teenager back in West Virginia.”
“With a wry smile I always had the idea
that on liberation day I would be marching down some Tokyo street behind the
American flag. Yet the day the armistice was signed, I was down in a coal
mine. With the others, I worked the mines by night, then hidden in them by
day, protected from the B-29s flying overhead. Joint teams of American
military services came to the Omuta coal mine to supervise the joyous liberation
proceeding. I was there when an atomic bomb was dropped on
Nagasaki, only 50 miles away. The Jap guard tried to tell us what had happened, but we couldn't understand his language and he couldn't speak English. But, we got the idea.”
”Following the liberation, I walked 50
miles to Nagasaki. It was off limits and a horrible sight to see. Soon
after, I boarded an American destroyer, wearing the first clean clothes I'd had
for those 1,243 days; eating the first decent food I had in that length of
time, and finally safe among my own people.”
Mondell White had survived nearly 3 1/2
years of torture, starvation, deprivation and humiliation, to say nothing of the
brutality he had witnessed and the fear he had known.
"No man ever made a greater sacrifice for his country than those men we left behind over there. I was only 21 years old. I'd lost weight, seen things I can't even talk about. There were times when I felt death was far better than living. But it was the faith that America was fighting for us and with us, that kept me going. Those we left behind were killed, one way or another. No one died because he lost faith in his country.
I don't think of Bataan and those years too much now, and I don't let myself think about it when I'm awake, and I dream less about it now than I used to. It's funny, but I remember the men who died better than those who came back with me."
never gave up hope. God was merciful to me during that time. Those men
who are still out there are the spirit of an America which will never die."
Upon returning to the states, Mondell White was sent to recuperate at White Sulpher Springs Hospital were he would reunite with his brother Rishel White who had been taken prisoner by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. Rishel had spent the rest of the war in Stalag IV B prison camp in Germany. This was the first time the two brothers had seen one another since the war began.
"Although Mondell has passed on, his memory will never fade...
Thank you Mondell for your sacrifice, it will never be forgotten........."
- your family....
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