Ray Thompson's Personal Story "My HELL ON EARTH"
Short Bio: written and submitted by Ray in 1992 for an article
RAY H. THOMPSON, born Nov. 13, 1916, Nevada, MO. Raised and presently resides in Prescott and Phoenix, AZ. Enlisted Dec. 23, 1935 with Quartermaster Corp. purchased a discharge Aug. 25, 1939, from 16th Coast Arty. At Honolulu, T.H. Enlisted Air Corp Nov. 1, 1940, sent to Philippines September 1941; stationed
at Clark Field, P.I., with 7th Material Sdn., 4th Airborne Gp. With 19 Bomb Gp. when we lost our remaining P40s and B-17 aircraft to Jap bombs.
We went to Bataan Dec. 23, 1941, did infantry duty on front lines until captured. Marched in Bataan Death March to Camp O’Donnell, then to Cabanatuan,
transferred to Japan July 3, 1944 on a Jap commandeered British freighter that took 52 days to reach Moji, Japan Camp No. 17. Remained in service.
Retired as master sergeant Feb. 28, 1959; took automotive course in Los Angeles on G.I. Bill. Spent 17 years as an auto tune up specialist in Phoenix, AZ
from 1960 to 1978 when I retired. Married to present wife, Nancy, past 28 years, have three grown children from previous marriage and seven grandchildren.
Bataan Air Force, I, Ray Thompson, a survivor of the Bataan death march by request from several Prodigy readers, will post as often as possible my experiences during WWII, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. A SHORT note about myself precedes all else. I was born a twin l3 Nov l6, in Nevada, MO. on a farm. Left there 1929 for AZ - back to MO. 1934 - worked on a farm 1 year. Enlisted in Army 23 Dec 35. Quartermaster Corps at Ft Leavenworth, KS. Did 3 years there, Re-upped for 3 yrs, sent to Honolulu, HI., Dec 38. Served in l6th Coast Artillery, took a purchase discharge, back to AZ., as a civilian for l4 months. Reenlisted in Air Corp 1 Nov 40, for March Field, CA. Did various duties there. This was the happiest time I experienced during my whole 22 years in the service.
Oct 1941, I was part of a Cadre sent to Angel Island, San Francisco, CA. to fill vacancies in the 7th Material Squadron, 19th Bomb Group for further assignment to the Philippine Islands. We left the US 4 Oct 41 on an old Army Troop ship called "HOLBROOK". We were escorted by a light Cruiser CHESTER, from Honolulu onward to the western Pacific under blackout conditions (means no smoking above decks after dark, throwing trash or garbage overboard was a grave sin, as any enemy could follow our trail. We did a zig zag course until we reached Manila, P.I. on 23 Oct 41.
We were unloaded in Manila in the dark, trucked at night to Clark Field, and only a hand full of men were fortunate enough to visit this beautiful city by daylight hours, as we were there only 45 days before we were greeted by the Japanese invasion.
Part of the 19th Bm Gp arrived in P.I. o/a l2 Sep 41, in fact nine (9) B-17C's made a historic flight all over water to prove that the P.I. could be supplied by air. A few weeks later twenty-six (26) more B-17's arrived to complete the 19th Bomb Gp. which included Hq&Hq Sq, the 14th; 28th; 30th; and 93rd Bomb Squadrons, plus all the other units and other squadrons required to maintain these heavy bombers. During this time a new organization was established to be called FEAF (Far Eastern Air Force), the main element of the Bomber command was led by Lt Col.Eugene L. Eubank, who celebrated his 100th Birthday on 3 Dec 1992, and is now a retired Major General.
At the outbreak of the war our Air Forces in the P.I. were in a sad state of un-readiness, as we had but 35 Modern Bombers and 107 P-40B and E Pursuit (i.e. Fighter) Acft. All the rest were near obsolete types, such as 18, B-18's, 9 A-27's; 12 B-10's; 16 P-26's; 52 P-35's; and 58 Misc. Acft. for a sum total of 277 aircraft to guard the integrity of the Islands. The Fifth Interceptor Command under the command of Colonel Harold H. George consisted initially of the 24th Pursuit Gp., with the 3d; 17th; & 20th Squadrons. In Nov 1941 the 21st & 34th Sqds. arrived in the P.I. and were attached to the Gp. pending arrival of their own organization, which never arrived. So the above equipment and personnel made up the total Air Force that was supposed to keep the P.I. safe from invasion. Total Air Corps 5,609 Personnel; 669 Officers 4,940 Enlisted; most of which were assigned to Air Fields on the main island of LUZON. The 19th Bomb Gp. including the 7th Material Squadron & it's Squadrons listed earlier totaled 1,374 Personnel, 183 Officers & 1191 Enlisted, all of which were assigned to Clark Field, except for the 14th & 93rd Bm. Sqds. with their 16 - B-17's +crews + 20 Men from the 7th MatSq who were on Mindanao Island Far south.
All enlisted men in the 19th Bm Gp lived in nippa type barracks, a row of bunks on each side of the isle, we all had mosquito nets AS MALARIA was and still is a dreaded disease in the Philippines. Our living quarters (enlisted) were quaint compared to the US permanent type that is now mostly standard at most bases; however we had Filipino boys who did all our menial tasks such as clean floors, make our beds, shine our shoes, even did our (KP) kitchen police, which from all previous statements from GI's was one of the worst duties we had to perform; all we had to worry about before the war started was to eat and go to work, and we had plenty to do, digging fox holes, gun emplacements, filling sand bags which were to be used around aircraft to protect them from shrapnel, etc, and most of this was left undone as the "O" fighters and bombers put a stop to our activities. Before all this we thought our tour in the P.I. would be easy and pleasant, NO WAY..
In a book I'm writing to pass on to my Son and two Daughters I have titled one chapter 7 Dec 41 to 21 Sep 45 my "Hell on Earth" this is what you will read in their copy.
I had just finished dinner with a good buddy of mine, a nice chap named Vernon Frey, he worked in the Hq&Hd Sq, 19th Bomb Gp, and I was attached to that group by serving with the 7th Material Sq.at Clark Field, P.I. He went to his job, I went to mine in a hangar on the flight line a short distance away. All at once I heard aircraft droning in the distance, they were very loud so I knew it must be a large group, but didn't realize it would contain so many bombers and pursuit aircraft (Enemy ones at that), it was a normal "V" format as used in bombing runs; reminded me of the ducks I used to watch while on the farm in Missouri. Two V formation of 27 twin-engined bombers, for a total of 54; I didn't know we had so many 2 engine bombers in the P.I. (and we didn't) so here they came, on and on, louder and louder, next thing I heard was a sound that was hard to describe, perhaps a combination between a siren and a fast moving race car; then I felt the concussion, explosion, and the fire and brimstone flew all around me, for at this time I found myself on my back at one end of the hangar, the bomb however big had gone off at the other end. I slowly regained my composure and ran for a fire hose which hung in the middle of the hangar, I turned on the valve, not a drop of water came out, the bomb or bombs had cut the fire line in-two. Another soldier and I grabbed water buckets, filled them where the line was cut and ran to a raging fire at the other end of the hangar, my helper beat me to the fire, he threw his pail of water on top a burning spare aircraft engine and it blew hot molten metal onto his arms and face, we didn't know that water poured on magnesium would explode and burn furiously if it was already on fire. The fellow was treated by our medic, and he continued to help fight the fire, with the help of several others, we wouldn't let them use water, we all tried with the buckets of sand but to no avail as the fire had gained to much headway so we gave up in despair as it was a losing battle, those engines melted down to globs of ingots. I might add that the Japanese bombers flew between 22,000 & 25,000 feet but our anti-aircraft exploded 2, to 4,000 feet short of their targets, so the Japanese had a turkey shoot out on this infamous day.
We gave up on the hangar fire went outside to hear more of what we thought were bombers, however they turned out to be 34 Zero fighters to deliver the final blow with their low level strafing attack on the grounded B-l7 and P-40's with fully loaded gas tanks. During this attack 3-P-40's got into the air, but 5 more were blasted by bombs as they taxied for takeoff. The three P-40's shot down 3 or 4 Japanese fighters. The Japanese fighters continued to strafe the few remaining bombers and fighters with tracer bullets which set the grounded aircraft on fire. One officer was under the wing of a B-l7 with a small hand fire extinguisher trying to put out a wing tank fire that had been started by a tracer, just at this moment the same "O" came back for another try and hit the other wing tank on the opposite side of the B-l7, by this time the Captain gave up his lost cause which was futile from the beginning.
Our Sq. had a machine gun pit very near this burning B-l7, the pit was only half dug, no one was in it so I ran to it and jumped in, mostly for protection, and after part of the fright left me I armed the gun, a Browning water cooled and tried to hit the fighter the next time he came over, in fact I kept my finger on the trigger so long I froze the gun up so bad it wouldn't fire anymore, besides a 30 caliber gun is no weapon to use against aircraft, the odds of hitting same in NIL.
I later learned that the regular gun crew that was not around this day, had failed to put water in the cooling chamber, small wonder the barrel got red hot, just before I ran out of ammunition. The bombers faded in the distance, the fighters stayed as long as they dared trying to set fire to our remaining aircraft, we had very few to begin with. HALF of our group was on Del Monte field, on the Isl. of Mindanao, P.I. approx. 600 miles south of Manila, which was a blessing, however that day we lost 12 of our B-l7 which were completely destroyed, 3 were badly damaged, and 2 were in the air and escaped the bombs. I believe four P-40s were on the flight line behind revetments. When the strafing ended, the 'O's dropped their belly tanks near our mess hall and we thought they were big bombs (had they been so I wouldn't be writing this story). Of course they did not explode, by the grace of GOD a few men were saved.
One of our gas tank trucks, near a trench that had been dug, nearly received a direct hit from a bomb and it burned one of our men to a crisp, impossible to recognize what was left to even resemble a human being. The initial bombing hit the officers mess hall, which I & others could never understand was located directly at the end of the aircraft runway; we lost our Sq. Commander Major Clarence R. Davis, and many other officers killed along with many serious injuries. Captain William A. Fairfield, very serious injury; 2d Lt. Frederic D. Stanton, shrapnel shot off part of both his buttocks, these 2 officers were shipped to the US by way of Australia, along with many other serious wounded, attended to by Army Nurses & Doctors. They went through mine fields near Corregidor, and past all Japanese patrols clear down the chain of islands without being challenged by the Japanese. They made this trip in an old ferry boat, quickly converted to a make shift RED CROSS vessel, properly painted with the correct emblem and they made it safely some 2500 miles to Sydney, Australia. Another of GOD's Miracles.
For the next few days the remaining B-17s fought against the Japanese from Del Monte Field on Mindanao Island but weren't very successful against a superior force that was swarming all over the island of LUZON, the capitol island of the Philippines. By aprx. 20 Dec 41, only l4 or 17 of our B-17s were left, however they did with other Bomb Groups, recent arrivals from the US, all of which were stationed on airfields on northern shores of Australia, continued to carry the war to Japanese targets in and around Java and the Dutch East Indies. I believe part of our group fought there until Dec 42. Of the 35 original B-17's we began with, we had only one survivor a B-17D, called "Alexander the Swoose", I believe this aircraft is being restored as a museum piece somewhere in Maryland. We had a cadre of 20 men from our 7th Material Sq. at Del Monte to service our bombers & other misc. aircraft led by Private Charles E. Montgomery, after the evacuation from Del Monte, these men joined the Infantry unit there to help defend Mindanao, and after the surrender of Corregidor 10 May 42, most of the 20 men were captured by the Japanese, except 2, one of which was KIA (killed in action) as he joined the guerilla bands that fought in the jungles, some were never captured by the Japanese. KIA - POSITIVE WAS PVT. BRUCE CHIPMAN. Montgomery came back home as a Pvt. He said even the Japanese would not promote him, ha ha..
Fort Stotsenburg which was controlled by the Philipino Scouts (brave fighters) was adjacent to Clark Field had a warning system that should have sounded an alert on this day but somehow it was never activated (until after the first bomb run) later there was a rumor that we had a spy that deactivated the siren, it was never proven, I don't think it was ever pursued.
The 200th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Battery was not even completely set up with their 20 MM Guns to protect the field and the Aircraft, and as we learned later their shells could not reach the altitude to hit the bombers. Later in the day this unit set up their guns on each side of the runway, but to my knowledge I never heard, and did not see any Aircraft that they might have downed, and I was there until 24 Dec 41, when we left Clark Field for Bataan.
The Japanese bombed us about every other day, but only on the runway to keep holes punched into it, to keep any of our planes from landing, after the bombs punched the holes, the 807th Engineers would immediately go out and fill in the craters.
Of course turmoil existed in and around this area until we evacuated to Bataan, we were posted on each side of the runway to guard against intrusion by the enemy or spies. We were armed with WWI 1903 Springfield & Enfield rifles, Browning water cooled MG's, The officers had 45 Caliber hand guns, however as it turned out we never encountered any Japanese before we left Clark Field. Our officers would not let us return to nippa huts and bunks, as they were to near the runway, they feared the Japanese would bomb at night and kill many men, we were never bombed at night, since the enemy had control of the air, they did all their missions by daylight. From this time on, you could truthfully say none of the enlisted men slept in any type of bed American until return to USA. The Officers didn't do much better.
We also had a Provincial Tank Group, 192 Tank Btn., 194th Tank Btn. 17th Ordnance Co. Hq & Hq Det., these units were active around Clark Field, but I'll tell you they were not useful against bombers & fighters, they did see service against the Japanese on front line duty (even though they did get stuck on rare occasions in muddy rice paddies).
All American forces left Clark Field on 23 Dec 41. All were transported by any vehicles available, including civilian trucks and buses. The first trip I made was in a right hand drive, I finally got used to it before we reached our destination, a staging area just short of Mariveles on the southern end of Bataan, I carried troops in my truck. The next day our new Sq. Commander, a Capt. Kelly, asked for volunteers to drive a Gas Tanker back to Clark Field to pump the gas from the wing tanks of the only disabled B-17 that had not been shelled, (it had been parked in dense woods and off the runway). None of the regular drivers wanted to return to Clark, so I volunteered as driver and 2 of my buddies agreed to go along and help. This trip was at night, during the dark of the moon, and I mean it was dark - dark in the jungles of Bataan, we were told to use black out lights (they are tiny slitted cat lens type) they didn't give as much light as an old barn lantern would. We made the trip easy, but we had to hide in the woods all day, at dusk we drove to the B-17, and with screened flashlights we read the instructions on the pumper just how to get the gas from the aircraft wing tanks into the gas tanker, however time caught up with us and we had to spend another night hidden in the woods; to drive such a target in day time on dusty roads would have created a disaster, as Japanese dive bombers patrolled the roads leading to Bataan during daylight. What a juicy target that tanker with its high test aviation fuel would have made for the enemy; the next evening at dusk we made the trip back to Bataan without trouble. The fuel was used by P-40's to Patrol & for a few times they chased the "O"s back home, I believe one or 2 or more Japanese planes were shot down by our P-40's, I was told this was true, but I did not witness it myself.
Capt. Kelly enjoyed our success so much he asked the three of us(same crew) if we would return to Clark Fld. once more to salvage any equipment left in the hangars or the Sq. Supply Room, we found one acetylene welding out fit usable in the hangar, and in the supply room, ammo for rifles and 45's, a few clothes, shovels & picks that we used to dig trenches & fox holes on the front lines. With the welder we made tripods to mount 50 caliber machine guns taken from supply or disabled B-17's. Of course at this time being Army Air Corp we had no idea that we would be on front line, INFANTRY type duties in a very short time; BOY DID WE GET SURPRISED.
Just as we left Clark with the misc. Supply Equip. I spied a motorcycle laying on its side in the weeds, I stopped surveyed the damage, if any, so I drained some gas from our truck filled the bike tank, hot wired the ignition, and it started right up. I asked my 2 helpers if either could ride a cycle, both replied, NO WAY. So I asked them to drive the truck, which they took turns doing; so again at night we headed back to Bataan.
I had to follow the truck for the bike had no blackout light. That was some trip dark and dusty all the way and following the truck with no goggles to protect my eyes. I had a terrible time trying to keep the truck in view, very near ran into it on several occasions; once I flicked on my headlight and from nowhere an M.P. (Military Police) shouted "put out that damn light". Where he came from we never knew, and didn't stop to find out. We didn't see another soldier for the remainder of our trip. The Commander was happy that I retrieved the abandoned motorcycle, (more about the cycle later). Since I had Capt. Kelly my CO in a good mood, I asked him the next day if I might ride around the staging area and look for my friend VERNON, he agreed. So I took off and after several trails and by roads I found Vernon's CO, he gave me directions, I nearly got lost in the dense rain forest, that was sure a good hideout for personnel and/or equipment. Prior to 8 Dec 1941, Vernon and I were the best of friends we played tennis, horse shoes, baseball and volleyball, went swimming in a nearby river, played pool at nearby Ft. Stotensburg (as Clark Field had no recreation facilities). Vernon had a good camera so he and I and two other G.I.'s took a stroll through a BARRIO (a very small native village), to see how the natives lived, quaint little native huts, built from bamboo, sitting on stilts, with their water buffalo, pigs and chickens under the floor, which was at least four feet above ground level. No piped water, no toilets, no electricity, no beds, no stoves, most cooked on charcoal fires outside their huts. Everyone in the family slept on bamboo split slats, also the roof either nippa or banana leaves, some used palm fronds. All these good photos were lost when the enemy stripped us of all personal belongings.
I don't remember the exact date, I think about mid January 1942, our unit was loaded into trucks (I drove the cycle) we didn't know where we were going, we had high hopes we were to board a ship and go to Australia or to a nearby island that had not been occupied by the Japanese. Instead we turned left and drove north toward Manila, which had already been declared an open city on 25 Dec 41. We went to ORION, ten miles North where a second battle front had been established, again all this movement was accomplished at night. The next day all our squadron was lined up on a front, and both to the right and left of us were other Army Air Corp units with weapons that many of the men had never fired. Some of the Regular Army men (myself included) took these men to the beach, gave them 5 rounds of ammo and had them Zero in their WWI weapons, these new recruits had received their boot camp training, using wooden guns. We tried to train the men to dismantle, clean, oil and put back together these antique weapons; most of this training was to no avail, as most of us never saw the enemy until the surrender at MARIVELES, on 9 Apr 1942.
During the second week of Jan 42, our food ration was cut to 2000 calories per day, I believe it was less than this for we were far away from our main food supply, most of which came from the rock (CORREGIDOR). From this day onward the troops started to lose faith in higher authorities; and morale started on a never ending trend. Add to this, each of us had one blanket, no shelter-half for tent or ground cover, most had 1 change of clothes, 1 pr of shoes and/or boots, mess kit, canteen, gas mask, helmet & weapon.
It's ironic that a huge trench was dug, 4 ft wide, 4 ft deep and many yards long, into this our foot lockers were placed with all the personal possessions that we could not carry with us, cameras, photo albums, civilian clothes any other items not necessary for immediate comfort, in truth we took what was on our backs and feet. This trench was filled in by the 803rd Engineers with the graders they had used to repair the runway, all this activity was in view of the native population and I'm sure the minute we departed Clark Field for the last time, the natives returned to dig up these treasures, much later (after we were captured), we all hoped that the natives were the ones to dig and keep all lockers and their contents. Most of us thought, heck we'll be back soon to dig up our lockers, NEVER HAPPENED.
So here we were the ill prepared Army Air Corps on duty as Provisional Infantry until the time of surrender. Our Sq. did 8 hours on and 8 hours off - we had a thin line, had the Japanese met us head on we could not have stopped them with our inadequate firepower.
I was never on guard duty, as the Commander, Capt. Kelly used me as his runner and mess attendant and a lookout from the crow's nest we built in the top of a large tree. Twice a day a half ton truck brought our rice; rarely any meat or vegetables, our kitchen was about 5 miles behind the lines, and I mean that was a dirty, rough trail to drive, ruts 6 or 8 inches deep with dust, its a wonder our driver MILLER R BARNES, made these many trips for over three months and didn't get hit by a dive bomber.
It was the middle of March 1942 our rations were cut to 1000 calories per day - this had a very bad morale factor on all troops; also behind the lines we had a 2 and l/2 ton truck mostly with rifles and extra ammo. aboard that received a direct hit from a dive bomber in Feb 42, it killed both our men instantly; call it fate if you wish, but these men thought they were safe being away from the front, they each had a Filipino girl friend, lucky for them, they had gone to the river to wash clothes or they would have died.
During this same month the CO. had me take a message to some Colonel (Air Corp) who wanted all our Acft. tools & our portable machine shop that we had hidden in the huge bamboo forest behind the lines. This machine shop had all the tools necessary to maintain any aircraft, even its own portable generator for power tools and lathes, me thinks it was 40 feet long. Anyway the CO (Capt. Kelly) in his return note to the Colonel said Quote "I WILL RELEASE ALL THE EQUIP. TO YOU IF YOU WILL USE ALL MY MECHANICS" a short note but to the point; however the Colonel, outranked our CO and our Squadron lost our mobile repair trailer. This equipment was to be used at Bataan Air Field; a narrow strip one mile long to be utilized by our remaining P-40's that I believe came from Nichols Field, near Manila after that city was declared open. It was declared an open city with the hopes it would not be bombed or shelled by the enemy, as it had no military value; but it did have MANY TONS of food supplies that our military did not remove to be used by our forces on Bataan and Corregidor. Anyway that Bataan runway was the only good ride I had on that Harley Cycle it was like an Autobahn compared to the dusty trails I had to ride on in the jungles & rain forests. The trails were very dusty & full of lava rocks, was rough going.
Another trip I took one of our sick to the field hospital; we had to push the 45 Cubic Inch Harley up a steep hill because of deep ruts and sand, this little bike was underpowered for one person, much less two; on this trip we passed two Philippino Scouts that had a Japanese prisoner between them this was the first Japanese we had met face to face. His hands were tied to his sides, lightly, and each scout had hold of each end of the rope to prevent his escape, they did not mistreat him in any way. We asked the scouts where they caught him, and they told us near the front lines spying on their strength and weapons. They were a long way from the compound where most Japanese prisoners (what few they had) were kept.
One week in Mar l942, 2 other fellow members an I went to a small stream in no man's land on the other side of which I don't know how far was the Japanese lines. Anyway one day the three of us ventured to this stream to bathe and wash our clothes, (against the CO's orders). We had just finished washing the grime from our clothes when all at once we hear pop; pop, and at the same time water and a small amount of mud spaches on us, we immediately realized we were being fired upon. We had stacked our weapons behind us and not one of us thought about our clothes, we did about face, grabbed our guns, ran naked as jay birds to a small shallow ravine and began looking in the trees on the other side of the creek for a sniper. One of my buddies spied the culprit and each of us aimed at the place of concealment and fired at him (one shot each) and our enemy came tumbling down. When we were sure he was alone, and we saw no more action or movements, we ran back grabbed our wet clothes and ran back to our shallow cover, dressed and made it out of no-man's land without further hesitation. WE returned to our command post and none of us and none of us told of our escapade. I've thought of this incident all these years, and I pray to GOD, that mine was not the bullet that killed. I know we were at war (not by choice), but killing any human being is repulsive to me; though I know the old adage in war time is KILL or be KILLED, it is still against my personal principals. I never ventured into no-man's land again.
During Feb. & Mar. 42, The Japanese sent over our lines a spy plane, we called him 8 o'clock CHARLIE, since he came at the same time each day; one day he was soon followed by a dive bomber; this guy meant business, I don't know what size bomb he dropped, but one landed within 50 feet of me, I was lying in a shallow dug trench, the bomb must have made a direct hit on or near a member of our unit as it cut his body in two pieces. We discovered another bomb hit a bomb shelter a few yards away which contained three more of our men; the concussion blew two of them up & out of the shelter - the other man we had to dig out of the rubble, and he was immediately administered to by our Medic (we had no Doctors on our front), but it was to late for Pvt. ROBERT H. THOMASON, 18029962, and the other chap was Pvt. KENNETH C. HILLMAN, 690738l, both of these men we wrapped in their army blankets and we buried them a few yards from the command post; I have often wondered if graves registration were ever notified of the date and place of burial. The men on the line thought it was me who got killed, a few made a joke of the incident & said so THOMPSON, got his dues.
I wasn't held in high esteem by some of the men in our squadron as I dished out the food twice a day, some of the men jumped to the conclusion that the person killed was me, since our names were almost identical. I think this resentment was based on the fact that they saw me give my cigarettes ration to a Texas friend of mine as I did not smoke, his name was GEORGE M ALEXANDER, 18029870, he died at Cabanatuan POW camp 14 Aug 42. I might explain briefly that I had many friends from the 43rd & 44th Material Squadron, at March Field, CA. we were sent as a cadre to fill vacancies in the 7th Material Sq. 19th Bm. Gp. that we met in San Francisco. I was a few years older than most of these men, most of whom were just out of High School, they kinda looked up to me as a father figure while we were at March Fld. All of us got along just great, headed for places unknown, as movement orders were sealed until we were in mid-pacific.
Though I had only been in 4 yrs previous service, I tried to pass on to them my meager knowledge of the red tape military establishment; as replacements we were looked down upon by the Officers & Enlisted Men in this new Squadron, (like a new kid going into a new school for the first time). Two friends that I palled around with at March Fld. was Earl Oatman and HENRY WINSLOW, the latter was to become my brother-in-law in 1947-however we were separated from each other, they came to P.I. on a different boat & a later date, they were both assigned to pursuit squadrons. I met both of them later at Cabanatuan, P.I. POW camp; they were captured twice, they escaped from the Bataan Death March and fled into the hills, and lived with the natives and the Guerillo's for fifteen months before they were recaptured.
A few days after the Bombs had killed our two men, we were shelled by artillery, this began to get serious as it was the first time we had such from our enemy. At the time I was in the crow's nest the CO had us install in the top of a native tree, we made it from a 55 gallon drum, we filled bags full of sand and hung them around the edge of the drum, from this position we could pursue all activity for several hundred yards across the no-man's land as to what the Japanese were up to, and to check for troop buildup or military movement; lucky for me all the shrapnel from these shells spread horizontally, or I might not be here telling this part of my story. Those shells put a few holes in our 1/2 ton truck & did slight damage to my Cycle; however both were still useable. During the last week of Mar 42, the Colonel who took our field shop away from us drove to our front with a claim to possess my Cycle; so who was I, (a PFC) to argue with a full Colonel. I asked him could he ride the Cycle, he said "No I brought a man along to ride it back to the reserve area", which was some ten miles away. Believe it or not he had traced the Cycle's registration and found it belonged to the Philippine Scouts, so away went my cycle - I had really become attached to that underpowered little Harley; little did the Col. know he would only have use of that machine for 10 days.
By this time many of our men were weak from malnutrition malaria, dysentery and a host of other diseases and vitamin deficiencies, that we and the doctors had never heard of; the morale was at a new low; all fruits, caribou (water buffalo) cashew fruit, with its outside nut which we roasted on open fire; all edibles far & wide had been gleaned & consumed by starving troops...
Our calorie intake was so low many our men had lost as much as 45 lbs. or more; none of us had the energy to do man to man combat with the enemy; it was due to these conditions on 7 April 1942, the CO directed me to load up four (4) of our sick soldiers, plus a very weak M/Sgt and start toward the southern most point on Bataan which was Mariveles, this trip was a nightmare. We started out and drove about five miles when the first dive bomber came at us, everyone bailed out of the truck, it's a good thing we did for he strafed the truck and blew out a rear tire, on checking the spare, he shot a hole in it also, so nothing to do but drive the rest of way on a flat. We had gone no more than 3 or 4 more miles when we had to leave the truck again, this time the bomber hit the truck in front of us and the one to our rear, both caught fire and burned, the drivers and all of his occupants were killed. We drove out of this gory mess, around the bomb craters and tried to maintain a good separation between us and the vehicles in front of us and behind us, but when I slowed down a driver would close up on us from the rear, we could not go fast because of the flat tire; twice more we had to leave the truck and seek shelter in the ditch; but praise GOD our luck held, the bomber did not hit our vehicle, but did hit others around us.
We stopped in a so called protected valley where the Sq. kitchen was set up, to wait out a very severe artillery barrage against a hill we had to climb; as a spotter plane above was directing fire against this hill side where many vehicles were crowded together; the situation was calamitous; when the shelling stopped all vehicles moved on, when we arrived at the top of the hill we found the reason for vehicle stoppage; a bus on top of this ridge had been hit by artillery and an American officer had been seriously wounded, he was in charge of a Philippine Scout Infantry Co., and the scouts had stopped each approaching vehicle looking for a Medic or Doctor, to treat their Commander, we never knew the outcome. Several more times we hit the ditches when the dive bombers came over, which they did at will since they had no opposition, they had complete freedom to come and go as they liked; they had a choice of targets and they killed many soldiers, both American & Philippino. When we arrived at Marvieles that was the end of the road, we felt so sorry for those military personnel, which included most of them, that had to walk this l0 or more miles in jungle terrain, hot & muggy, many suffering from malaria and other complications. The Japanese were pushing hard to end the defense that the Bataan forces had so tenaciously pursued for five (5) terrible months. All defenders were worn out, half-starved, many sick & to weak to do strenuous work or activities such as might entail hand to hand combat.
Conditions were so bad that Maj. Gen. EDWARD P. KING, tried to tell Gen. Beebe, who was Gen. WAINWRIGHT's Chief of Staff that his Bataan defenders could no longer attack the enemy he told Gen. BEEBE, Quote "The troops are so exhausted they could not move a hundred yards out of their fox holes before collapsing". This episode took place 8 April 1942, & the next day Gen. KING, made contact with the Japanese Gen. in charge of his troops on Bataan and a cease fire was announced and the surrender of Bataan was final on 9 Apr 42. This is when all hell broke loose; many of the troops did not want to give up their arms.
Several of us would not give up our rifles, until we were given a direct order, we were told to strip the bolts from our rifles and throw them as far as we could into the jungle, we were further ordered to pitch our weapons (all of them) including knives & 45 hand guns, some of the officers left their side arms on and were beaten by the enemy guards, and of course their weapons were taken from them.
Not one soldier that I knew wanted to surrender; but we never had to make that decision as GEN. KING, himself did that for us; he took full responsibility as regards the capitulation.
The night of 8 Apr 42 and the morning of the 9th, the Ordnance Companies blew up the AMMO DUMPS, that was some explosion, the ground shook, and you could hear the blast for many miles. This same night we had a mild earthquake, it rolled the earth enough that I reached out to grab a small tree for support and it seemed to glide out of my reach, (for that's what it did) I finally got hold of it and I looked up into the darn tree and there lay a 10 foot long Boa Constrictor - I don't know who was the most surprised me or the snake, we both just went our own way.
The next day, 10 Apr 42, we were told by the American officials to assemble at Mariveles where the enemy would take charge of us prisoners; I was still driving the truck with the 4 sick men inside (the M/Sgt from our unit had been evacuated to an aide station, and I never saw him again). While driving to the assembly point, a Japanese guard held out his hand to stop our truck; he drag me from the truck slapped my face, told me by sign language to unload my cargo the last man off the truck was a little slow, he was so weak he could hardly stand up, and the guard poked him in the buttocks with his bayonet, I tried to explain the situation and for this he beat me in the back with his rifle 4 or 5 times (and I've had back problems since).
This enemy soldier had walked all over Bataan and I suppose he might have been a bit jealous of riding prisoners no matter how sick or weak they might be. So from here on it was the infamous "BATAAN DEATH MARCH", most people say was a trip of 90 to 120 miles, without food or water, except or one meal of rice and a cup of water, 650 American soldiers died for lack of minimum water & food; many men were prompted to rash acts to obtain a small amount of water, some would run off the road to drink from a mud puddle; this act would most surely meet with his demise, by sword or bullet, as the Japanese were very brutal in regards to the treatment of their prisoners, they did not conform to the Geneva Convention, EVER. As I recall I palled up with a man from my unit and we took turns sleeping, while the other of us would support the one asleep; reminded me of the dance marathons I had watched in the states on Movie News Reels, I believe many men survived this trip by using this procedure to help each other.
I shall always believe that some sugar I was able to pack in my musette bag (a small canvas bag; WWI type; issued to all soldiers to hold toilet articles, etc) may have contributed to my survival and to that of my buddy because of the moisture and energy it gave us during this horrid march. A Philippino gave me this sugar as we walked along the road by night; it was native brown sugar cakes (the natives grew and made their own sugar from cane) and it amounted to about ten pounds. I didn't know this fellow from ADAM, but that's the way of the Philippinos, they were always reaching out trying to help the American POW's anyway possible. Had they been caught rendering help, it could have been very dangerous for them, as some were executed for such kind endeavors.
So on we trudged by day & night, mostly oblivious to our surroundings just one foot in front of the other hoping our tutor would stay on the road and not wander into dangerous territory; for if you wandered off the road, both would be in grave danger; even subject to death at the hands of some irate Japanese guard, they did love of dish out punishment deserved or not.
Only one night during the seven days we marched did we get to lie on the ground, in barbed wire enclosure and sleep, the ground didn't bother us, we had slept this way on the front lines all the time, we were all used to hard times long before our capture, it had been our life style since 7 Dec 41. In fact it was pleasant when we traveled by night, as the days were terrible, with dust, thirst and hunger our second enemy, many men died from lack of water, food was not our primary concern, as all know you may survive many days with no food, but water , NO WAY. The Japanese did not consider that they were responsible for feeding the POW's, they made no attempt to do so during this forced march; in fact 23,317 Americans of all services in the Philippines, about 1,000 KIA's (killed in action), 400 mainly men of the 19th Bomb Gp escaped to Australia, (they lived to fight the enemy again), leaving 21,917 as Japanese POW's. At least 12,195 of the POW's died from all causes, and 9,732 managed to be repatriated.
During the years from Aug 1945 to Aug 1979 more than 4,500 of these defenders of Bataan & Corregidor have died. and the LAST COUNT AS OF SEP 1989 only 1,200 survivors are still alive.
On 16 Apr l942 our POW group arrived at San Fernando rail station where we were loaded on old time railroad boxcars (about 100 persons per car), we had standing room only and a bucket to use for body wastes; it was dreadfully hot, no ventilation at all, and the men already under terrible stress from the march, fatigue, hunger and most of all thirst, died while on this short train ride. We arrived at a small town named CAPAS, where we debarked; crowded into an enclosed fenced barrier where we spent the night; next day 17 Apr 42, we traveled the remaining seven miles to Camp O'Donnell, dead tired, hungry & thirsty, we received a cup of rice and a cup of camote soup (camote is equivalent to our sweet potato). We were assigned to old Scout bamboo two deck high barracks, split bamboo slats for beds and thatch roofs to ward off rains that were soon to come.
This was the type of shelter all POW's would have during their stay at this camp & at Cabanatuan later on, until most were sent out of the Philippines to other areas occupied by the Japanese or to Japan proper itself. It was in this camp O'Donnell I looked up my friend VERNON FREY, when I found him I stayed in his barracks, the Japanese had not established any type roll call at this time so many of the POW's found old buddies and they bunked together, VERNON and I stayed together about two months; he and I saw how bad the situation was in this camp, with POW's dying at the rate of 70 per day or more on some days; we immediately volunteered for a bridge building detail; whether it was a wise choice we will never know; but it was a relief to leave that stink hole, I don't know where we went on the bridge detail as they drove us in enclosed trucks; however it didn't matter, I think there were l00 men on this work detail, we were quartered in a school house, the Japanese had taken over from the Filipino Govt. Here we were fed 3 meals per day, but worked mighty hard from sunup to sundown building a wooden bridge.
The permanent steel bridges over the rivers leading to Bataan were blown up by the 803d Eng. Bn. to retard the advance of the enemy into our territory, I suppose the Japanese, using logic thought that the Americans blew the bridges up, let them rebuild same, which we were forced to do. The only memorial vision I have retained on this detail was a most spectacular moon rainbow I ever witnessed, it was a full moon this night, had just finished pouring down rain, and in the west was a huge thundercloud perhaps 65,000 feet tall, which was still shedding rain, and the rainbow on both ends was shining into blue sky at the clouds bottom, I have never since witnessed such a gorgeous sight & never expect to again.
We had been on the bridge detail 2 months when my buddy VERNON, became very sick from jaundice, he was shipped to
POW camp # 1 - at Cabanatuan, where the rest of us went one month later when we finished the bridge.
When I arrived at Cabanatuan the first thing I did was to try to look up VERNON, this was the latter part of Jul 42, I found he had been assigned to the Hospital (if it could be called that) a pig sty would have been more appropriate) I went to see him the next day, he was so swelled up with wet Beri-Beri (a vitamin deficiency disease, which almost all Japanese POW's are still suffering from), I could hardly recognize him, but was happy to find him still alive. The Hospital area was west of the Japanese command center, and on the east side were rows of bamboo sheds where the healthier farm workers, woodcutters, and other laborers. In other words the Japanese lived between us, and the whole compound was barb-wired with guard towers on each corner, and I think one tower in between.
Before I arrived in this camp, 3 Officers had escaped from camp, they were found and brought back, punished in front of all the other POW's. I later learned that the Lt. Col. Involved was beheaded, and the 2 Lieutenants were shot, it was said it was very gruesome, the Japanese were sure this would discourage any more escape attempts, there was no place to go even if you got out of camp a sympathizer would probably turn you in.
I was working on the farm detail for the months of Aug. Sep. and 1st week of Oct 42 - I got dry beriberi very bad and had to go on quarters (means no work details), but not put in Hosp. Below is quote from Surgeon General, Dept. of Army, Wash. DC 1968; Quote "The clinical symptoms of the dry beriberi was striking. Burning, hypertension, were exceedingly severe, and in some camps hundreds of men would walk the floor during the night because of severe pain. Feet were often soaked in ice water, cooled in the snow, or exposed during the nights in attempts to alleviate the pain. The feet were so tender that even the slightest touch provoked severe pain. In one case, a handkerchief was accidentally dropped on the foot of a sleeping soldier. He immediately awoke crying out in agony. Often just the vibration caused by some one passing within several feet of a soldier with dry beriberi was sufficient to aggravate the pain."
I can attest to this above statement (except for the ice or snow the tropics don't have) because to this writing Jan. 1992, I still suffer from painful feet and ankles; I cannot walk on a pebble beach nor go barefoot where there is the smallest gravel present. So I along with the hundreds of other POW's suffered the pangs of dry beriberi and we got worse as time passed. Toward the middle of Nov. 1942, I asked a friend, (fellow named EDGAR ALLEN POE and this is no joke he & I enlisted on the same day, 23 DEC. 1935 - His army serial number was 6858400 and mine was 6858401 -) to please check on my Buddy VERNON FREY, in the hospital area, as he was going there to look up a friend of his; he returned to tell me that VERNON had died 16 Nov. 1942, from wet beriberi, he was buried in a wet rice paddy along with hundred of other POW's who died there during the next two and one half years. VERNON and I made a pact with each other if either of us made it back to US, the survivor would visit the mother and give some details of the death, burial & camp conditions, during my WWII years I have never had a harder job in my life, for I visited MARY SHAW IN GOLD HILL, OR. on 23 Dec. 1946.
My friend Edgar POE, received a terrible wound through his right forearm & the bullet passed through his upper arm near his shoulder, when he returned to US, Doctors at General Hospitals did amazing surgery on him, and repaired his arm enough to be retained on active duty until he retired; but the oddity of life is rare, as I never expected to see him again, until he showed up in my unit at March Fld. CA. Feb. 46, ODD; HUH; Perhaps.; another oddity; CLARENCE HATZER, a fellow who was on a bridge building detail with me in the P.I.- I also met in the same unit at March Fld. The three of us from the 361st Air Service Gp. joined a POW Club, called "Orphans of the Pacific" we had regular monthly meetings until many members were transferred to other stations around the states or Europe, as we were not allowed to be shipped to Asia area unless we volunteered. I recently received information from M/Sgt Hatzer (Jan. 92) that the bridge we built was over the Pampanga River and of the 100 men on the detail, 16 (all American soldiers) died from starvation, malnutrition, overwork, and more violent forms of physical abuse. Sgt. Hatzer was shipped to Japan & I did not see him again until 1946.
Our daily diet was boiled rice (LUGAO, in the Philipino TAGALOG language it means boiled rice) usually a diluted soup from camote greens - once in a blue moon small particles of caribou meat; like blood, entrails & internal organs The Japanese got all the good meat, prisoners got scraps, I myself took fish skins they had thrown away and roasted them on an open fire, they were quite good, anything to appease hunger, we ate. The Japanese got all the Camotes (same as our sweet potatoes) if any food was left over the Japanese would trade with the Filipinos for other items, such as cigarettes, and ***, or other commodities that was only available on the Philippine market, as the enemy made the civilian population support them; perhaps we were lucky enough to get rice and bitter green vines to make soup from.
My beriberi feet were still bad through 1942, however just before Christmas, the Japanese gave out some RED CROSS parcels that they had been hoarding; the enlisted men had one parcel to divide between 4 men.
The small amount of food in the parcels helped us to gain back a little weight and our beriberi did not hurt so bad for the next few months; in fact I went back to the farm Feb. 43, but it was very hard to walk with tender feet as we had to farm barefoot, we carried water to plants in 5 gal. tin cans, this was necessary during the summer time or the plants would have dried up for lack of moisture.
During all these months we did not have any news from America, and most of us never heard from loved ones all the time we were in POW camps, that also applied to the camps most were assigned to when transferred out of the Philippines to other Japanese held territories, there were many POW camps in Asia.
So months passed working on the farm, the wood cutters had a better life for they worked under better guards and away from the main camp, they even ate better, some of them caught monkeys, snakes & other reptiles and brought them to camp and quanned them up (the word quan is derived from a Tagalog word KUWAN) simply means cooking a meal; one American Officer in camp raided another officer's garden and dug up all the worms he could find, he squeezed out the mud, fried the squiggleys the next day, and I heard later he became very sick from the ordeal, was said he nearly died. I don't think any living creature ever passed through our camp alive.
During the months of summer I did pretty well, except physically I got weaker and thinner as time passed, as did all of us; then I developed dysentery, both amebic and bacillary, I was immediately placed on quarters, and the next day I was put into the camp Hosp. I was placed in the "O" ward, the ward where most members never expected to exit from except on a burial stretcher; But GOD's plan for was different; a Dr. 1st Lt. SCHULTZ, MC. who doctored me and all his sick patients with little or NO medicines, he gave me some kind of drug, was as big as 45 Caliber shells, but it did miracles for me, as 3 months later I was back on the farm working, what hurt me worse, was the time as it is now Jan. 1944 and still no word from home.
I wanted to add a note to my Hosp. experience, all men in this Ward were considered terminal, a patient next to me was bloated up like a balloon with wet beriberi, he was suffering terribly, he could not stand up, did not want to eat, but in all his misery he dubbed our Ward "Saint Peter's Ward", and he jokingly told me that's where he was headed, the next morning he was dead.
Happily for me, I received a small parcel from my mother during Feb. 44, from the small amount of food she sent me, I gained a little weight, it raised my spirits to a height you could never explain; I shared my good fortune with a couple of my buddies EARL OATMAN & HENRY WINSLOW.
Earl & I worked together on an airport runway job, May & June 1944, it was about 5 miles from camp, and we walked this each day, of course under Japanese guards at all times we had to crush rocks with hand hammers to small pebbles other men carried these crushed rocks in straw bags and spread them on the runway surface, other men tamped the rocks down into the ground to make a good foundation which had to be very deep because of the soft soil in that area, as it was once a rice paddy, in fact I don't think it was complete enough to land an aircraft on, not even a small one. This was hard back breaking work, and the only way to get along with the guards was to keep the mouth shut, the head down, and the butt pointed toward the sky.
On rare occasions we would have a Japanese guard that was friendly and could speak English., One such man was on this detail, he was educated in a Calif. College, took pilot training in the US and later was an airline pilot for the Japanese airlines. We asked him why he was not assigned to Japanese Air Corp, he told us the Japanese authorities thought he would be sympathetic to the Americans and would refuse to shoot them down (and that is the way he said he felt). He was in the Infantry as a PRIVATE, and had been for 4 years. You might say we had one Japanese that was on our side - he really was good fellow, treated us OK DOKEY.
The food shortage for American POW's became serious May, 1944, I think the Japanese had trouble with Filipino merchants who provided much of the food that was brought into our camp. Besides, though we didn't know it, the war was going badly for the Japanese as the Americans were approaching from the south, causing much concern for the Japanese and their war efforts. They were in a pinch and at last the YANKS were doing the pinching; Good show JOE, as the Filipino would say.
On 28 June 1944, I was to see Cabanatuan, Camp #l, about 50 miles North of Manila for the last time.
I was not unhappy to leave this stink hole, not knowing that a worse fate lay ahead. This camp represented nothing to me except a place of death & misery, where so many of my friends died from starvation, diseases of all kinds, abuse and death dealing atrocious acts imposed by the Imperial Japanese army. So I was detailed to Japan with 499 other POW's for more forced labor to help the Japanese fight the US Military. We arrived at BILIBID prison Hosp. late in the afternoon 28 Jun l944 for further processing for shipment to Japan.
Want to give credit to the "ANGELS OF BATAAN", they were the nurses, don't think they received much recognition for their part in the Philippines, I met one of them 21 Feb. 93, had lunch with her & she gave me this data on her nursing companions; 'Quote "There were 89 Army nurses of the US Medical Dept. on 7 Dec 41. Before the fall of Corregidor 22 nurses escaped by PBY Navy acft (a flying boat), thence by submarine, and one left on Hospital ship MACTAN, which was an old ferry boat they converted to carry badly injured personnel through many of the islands, and by a miracle they reached Australia. The remaining 67 nurses were POW's interned at SANTO TOMAS prison, they all survived and were liberated 3 Feb 45, by some Tank Battalion. Since 1945, seven of the nurses who escaped before the surrender have died. Sixteen (16) of the 67 POW nurses died. Their deaths have been from many causes. The health of many of those still living is just fair. My hat is off to those ladies, they had it rough, but they, like many of us are survivors.
We picked up many more men at Bilibid prison, to make up a total of 1,024 men on an old Canadian freighter that
We took our "pleasure cruise" on to Japan (yep 62 days later we arrived at Moji, Japan, a normal 5-day trip at most).
So we had 500 men in the fore and aft holds of the ship, was so crowded you had to take turns sleeping, or stand up to do so, sleep on the boards below deck the whole trip, hot & muggy, bed bugs so thick, if you woke up and wiped your arm, you would come up with your own blood thick and gooey, those things must breed like rabbits, I never had so many bites on my body before or since. This was mild compared to the dysentery we all had, with just 2, 5 gal. cans on the floor for body wastes, when full a guard would let you topside to empty it overboard, at times the wind would blow it back into your face. I'm telling all, we did not have a sanitary condition on this tub. WE had a time getting out of Manila harbor as American Subs & our own dive-bombers were returning offensive strikes against any ship that moved from Manila harbor.
We left Manila harbor 2 Jul 1944, we didn't get past Corregidor because of a submarine scare, and the ship came backed and docked until 16 Jul 44. We left Manila for good on this date, the GI's dubbed our cruiser the "Mati- Mati Maru (means slow, slow ship). When we were on the high seas, we were finally fed a cup of rice just twice a day during the entire trip, and never enough water to quench our thirst; it was like the death march over again, as water was the most precious item during our whole prison captivity. Each man was allocated a canteen cup of water per day, after 62 days aboard this tub, we were all dried up, I would venture to guess that most men lost from 10 to 30 pounds, some even more.
Our ship broke down many times from boiler tube problems, was a rusty hulk, amazing it made it to Japan. The crew would anchor in any port available at night, at the many small islands on the way to Japan, as the Japanese were afraid of the American subs and dive bombers that were very active during the day.
Many other ships carrying POW's, all unmarked, were sunk by our own forces between Aug. 1944 and the end of the war.
Several hundred men, most of them Army and Navy officers, and a few Marines lost their lives during the last few months of the war, as the Japanese were anxious to keep as many Americans captive as possible to barter with; they waited too long to transport them to Japan or Manchuria, and a few to China where most of the Officers were eventually sent. These ships were dubbed "Hell Ships". I suppose an appropriate name - ironic that they were sunk by our own weapons, was easy to figure out, as no signs on any of the ships could identify they carried Americans POW's.
Thank God our ship was never attacked, a few days later we limped into FORMOSA, (now known as TAIWAN) we tied up to a pier, alongside a Japanese transport that was loaded with Military Acft, which we supposed was destined for war in the South Pacific; here we were allowed on deck, a small number of men at a time where the Japanese turned fire hoses on us & that was a blessing, as it was the only bath we had in 62 days....
We stayed in Formosa docks fourteen days, the only time we were off the ship was the hose down we received from the fire hose to wipe off the gunk that had collected on our bodies, and the flimsy clothes we had on, most of us had only cut off trousers, with many patches on them, we still wore the same clothes we were captured in, as the enemy never issued one single garment during the 3 years we were in the Philippines, some of us were barefoot, I remember making wooden clod hoppers for myself & others when I was to sick to work on outside details away from camp.
While we were in port in Formosa, the holds of our ship was loaded full of native salt, bound for Japan, we learned that Japan did not have a salt supply in their country.
After 14 days we were on our way again, when in small ports at night the hatch covers did not permit us to see where we were, and had we known, it would not have done us an good, for we had no means of escape, though land was very close, within swimming distance, even for sick men, but to escape the ship, we would still be in Japanese held territory and such escape would only multiple your problem. When the hatches were covered the atmosphere was hardly bearable, for all the air circulation was cut off, it was especially oppressive when the ship was not in motion.
When at sea the Japanese hung wooden troughs on the sides of the ship (to act for toilets much like a straddle trench on land) these were roped to the sides with strong ropes, with a cable above your head to hang onto when you were using this so called toilet, and once again when you used same you could expect some filth back onto your body when the wind was blowing just right, after these many years, in the nineties, I often feel amazed at some of the crude living conditions the Japanese people had to endure to order to support such a far flung war effort.
While we were at Formosa, during the salt loading, the Japanese had a doctor come on board, and along with the two American doctor POW's on board they took stool samples from each POW, which were later tested for some type dysentery that had killed some 40,000 Japanese in times past. A few of our POW's were found with this bug, and were offloaded immediately, they were left in Formosa, and we never heard what happened to them.
My buddy, Earl Oatman, was on the pleasure cruise with me, I said to him, "are you following me" it was several days out of Manila before I knew he & I would share this first class cruise. Anyway he has since vowed that I gave him some vitamin "C" pills that I had traded for while at Cabanatuan POW camp. He took l pill per day to cure scurvy of the scrotum, and believe me that is very painful, more so because of its location, I suffered the same while in the Philippines, it only takes a few of these pills to cure this ailment. Many or should I say all men in the P.I. camps had this ailment from lack of proper diet; it might not have affected some of the field grade officers, as they were always in camp, they were not required to work, and they had early access to the camp commissary where they bought fruits loaded with Vitamin "C". When the work details got to camp at dark each day, all the goodies at the store had been purchased by those in camp who were not required to work. Company grade officers worked on details until latter part of 1944.
We traveled from Formosa to Okinawa, where my buddy, Earl says we loaded the salt. I cannot disagree with him for to be truthful I cannot be certain of the place, since there was no sign, such as this is HOLLYWOOD, to tell us where we were, it didn't really matter, we knew we had a long way to go on this rusty tub.
It was at one of these stops where Earl & I compared the Japanese equipment with our own. Even our WW I equipment was superior to theirs; i.e. their acft Zero fighters looked cheap, material & money wise they were, compared to our P-40's and P-38's, we were yet to see our B-29's.
The Japanese uniforms were sad affairs to behold, perhaps they used most of their money for ammo & military hardware, acft. & carriers, etc; they certainly did not spend much on their soldiers uniforms. They wore funny pantaloons with leg wrappings, similar to the ones I wore in the Quartermaster Corp in 1935 - these were WW I type wool leggings, it took a good bit of training to learn how to wrap these from ankle to just below the knee, so they wouldn't unwrap when you walked, the US did away with this garb in l939; goody.
I did witness one dog fight over Bataan, between a P-40 and a "O" pursuit, it was no contest by any means, all the P-40 had to do, if he had enough altitude, was open his throttle wide open and he was long gone from his enemy, truth is, we had but 2 or 3 P-40 on Bataan Field, after the bombings of Nichols, and Clark Fields, they were only used for Recon and spy flights.
After leaving Okinawa we zigged & zagged around the little islands on our way to Japan trying to elude the subs & the dive bombers of the American forces, which we did and after those hideous 62 days we docked at MOJI, Japan on 2 Sep 44. We lost only one man (that's a believe-it-or-not) during the whole voyage. He was buried at sea, wrapped in canvas, tied with rope, slid overboard, an Officer (American) said a short prayer over him, it was a sad day for all of us, would have been much worse for his buddy, IF HE HAD ONE.
Here my buddy EARL and I had to part, he went to FUNATSU Prison Camp, and I went to Camp 17 at Omuta, Japan. I'm not to clear about this but I think we walked from the dock to our POW camp, I do remember it was cold & cloudy and muddy for it had recently rained, and we had nothing on but those patch upon patch rags we were wearing when we left the Philippines. Earl & I would not meet again until DEC. 1946, when I was on my way to visit VERNON FREY's mother in Gold Hill Oregon. I also visited my oldest sister who lived at LaGrande, Oregon whom I had not seen since 1938 when she lived in KC, Missouri, she & her husband worked in an acft factory in one of the K.C. Cities. On this same trip I also visited JACQUELYN HORSLEY, to whom I was engaged at the time, she lived in Napa, CA; where our Sq. flight surgeon now lives, his name is ROY W. DAY SR. now retired, I believe he retired as a Lt. Col. He gave me a letter 2 years ago to spell out my POW medical problems, which after much documentation and physical exams. I finally received 60 % disability (I must send him a thank you note).
Now for a description of the Fukuoka Camp No. 17 on the southernmost island of Japan where I would spend my year in captivity. Located at Omuta, on a bay, 17 miles NW of Kumamoto and 40 miles south of the city of Fukuoka. This camp opened 7 Aug 43. Terrain level, well drained, and filled in with slag from a coal mine at Omuta. Dimensions of the original campsite was 200 yards square which by Apr 45, had been enlarged to 200 yds. wide by 1000 yds. long. The site is a reclaimed grove and the buildings thereon were formerly laborers quarters constructed by the Mitsui Coal Mining Co., and operated by Japanese officials and their army. A wood fence 12 feet high with 3 heavy gauge wires, 1st wire aprx. 6 ft. off ground enclosed the compound. Some fir trees adorned the compound, and Japanese officials were stationed in this enclosure.
Camp first occupied 10 Aug 43, by 10 officers, 133 NCO"s and 358 privates, a total of 501, All Americans from the Philippines. The group I was with arrived 3 Sep 44 with 200 men - this made a total of 701 Americans. It was later to increase by 120 more Americans from another camp, which gave us a total of 821 Americans. And prior to the arrival of my group there were 562 Australians, 218 British, and 258 Dutch (both black & white) (the blacks from Dutch East Indies, and the whites from Netherlands), made a total of camp population 1859 POW's, a DUKES mixture. And all the POW's got along just wonderfully, except for the British - they couldn't get along with each other. Their relationship with their comrades, nor with any other POW's, their behavior was so bad, that the Japanese had to put them in separate barracks, separate work details, separate everything as pertained to all activities.
On 3 Sep 44, the day our group arrived at this camp, we were kept separate from all the other prisoners - told to strip naked, The Japanese piled all our clothes in a huge pile and burned them, to get rid of the bed bugs, lice, and any other vermin we might have carried into camp in our rags it was a blessing to get rid of our skimpy clothes. We were dusted with powder to kill nits, camp barbers shaved our heads & beards. We were all issued new clothes, some made of cotton and some of paper, they were furnished by the coal company, and this was the very first clothing issue we had during our captivity, they also issued tennis type shoes with a separate space for the big toe. We received 3 heavy blankets and a comforter made of tissue paper, scrap rags and scrap cotton, we needed the blankets as there was no heat in our barracks, and the weather was quite cold in the winter months.
For housing we had 33 one-story buildings 16 ft X 120 ft with ten rooms to a barracks, wood construction with tarpaper roofs, and windows with panes. Three to four Officers were billeted in one room 9 X 12 ft and 4 to 6 enlisted men in room of same size. No heating facilities, the climate was mild, but it must be remembered that the men were sensitive to temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and because of their weakened condition due to malnutrition the dampness and cold was very penetrating. The barracks were light enough during the day, at night each room had a 15 watt light bulb. Air raid shelters were dug into the earth about 6ft deep & 8ft wide, 120 ft long, timbered in the same manner as coal mines, covered with 3ft of slag and an adequate splinter proof roof.
Our beds consisted of tissue paper and cotton batting covered with a cotton pad 5 ft 8 in long and 2 and a half ft wide; this was what most Japanese in their own homes to sleep on.
For latrines, in each of the 33 bldgs, and at the end thereof, were three stools raised from the floor about 1 & 1/2 ft on a hollow brick pedestal, each being covered with a detachable wood seat, and one urinal. A concrete tank was underneath each stool, we prisoners made wood covers for each of the stools to reduce the fly menace. Twice a week, camp workers (POW's), called "the honey bucket brigade would carry the offal in the tanks out to a Japanese vegetable farm, just outside the main gate, and women working in the fields, would spread this crap on their plots of vegetables (this is the first time I ever saw a Japanese woman, until I was liberated on 10 Sep 45, and I had one give me a shave & haircut, she did very good too.
For bathing, we had, in a separate building close to the mess hall, 2 huge tanks, made of concrete about 30 ft X 10 ft and 3 to 4 ft deep, with very hot steam heated water, we never swam in this pool, but you could have, most of us had to take preliminary baths before we entered the pool for we all looked like Negroes after exiting the coal mines; and I will tell you, this water as hot as it was, was a Godsend after we had walked from the mine one mile each way every day in near freezing weather; it took me weeks after liberation to get all the coal dust out of my pores and my skinny wrinkled skin (in fact I looked like a mummy just skin over bones).
Our mess hall, there was one unit mess, with 11 Cauldrons and two electric cooking ovens for baking bread, 2 kitchen ranges, 4 store rooms and one ice box. Cooking was done by 15 prisoners of whom 7 were professional cooks, all worked under the supervision of a Japanese mess Sgt. & a Navy Commander (American) that no one liked; in fact most POW's hated the man's guts, for he showed partiality to the Navy men that happened to be the so called professional cooks; in fact there was a general court martial in 1946, pertaining to this officer and 2 of his cooks; but all were found not guilty. I know of this personally for I was on this court. It had been reported that American POW's working in the mines were given 3 buns every 2nd day to take with them for their lunch as we never returned to camp for lunch; but this was not the case for all the months I worked at the mine I never had one single bun for lunch, or any other time such was politics in POW camps.
For lunch in the mines we had only a binto box, (that's Japanese equivalent to our mess kit) only it's about half as big as our mess kit, it was just a small square box made of wood, with a lid, filled with rice, and at times with a slice of radish or other times a small piece of fish, this was not enough food to fuel a human body doing the hard manual labor required in the mines. When we returned to camp each night, it was always after dark, we had our usual bowl of rice, and a thin vegetable soup, hardly ever any protein. Upon occasion of a visit to this camp by a representative of the Red Cross in April 1944 a splendid variety of fats, cereals fish and vegetables were served, naturally to impress the Red Cross person when he made his report to higher Headquarters. The Japanese did the same thing when the Red Cross visited our camp at Cabanatuan in the Philippines, after they left we were back on rice & soup; the above mentioned meal was the only decent meal fed by the Japanese in two years, as rice & soup was the staple diet through out our captivity.
We men working in the mines were given 700 grams of rice per day , camp workers 450 and officers 300 (the low ration to officers was because they were not required to do manual labor). Our American camp doctors stated that such scant ration was insufficient to support life in a bed patient, SO HOW DID WE SURVIVE; I don't know for I was in the Hospital with lobar-pneumonia for 30 days in 1945; guess I had an Angel on my shoulder who told my Doctor LT. GERIT BRAS, Royal Dutch Army, what to treat me with, for I survived, or is this a ghost writing this document....All the POW's were skeletons by this time having lost an average of 60 pounds each, except for the men working in the mess hall, they were fat as butterball Turkeys; such was the cause of the court - martial I previously mentioned.
While I'm on the food subject, I will add that on the second day our group was in camp, they fed us separately from the other prisoners ( we were also housed separately), the food they gave us the second day made many of us sick, I could not eat for 2 days thereafter; the Doctor said I had acute COLITIS. Another time we were fed whale blubber with just small pieces of red meat showing in the stew, this time the whole camp was sick, the American Doctors determined that it was food poison, thereafter we never had anymore whale; however several times while I worked in the mine, I would become sick with some type of INTESTINAL DISORDER, and the Japanese guards would let me lie down for the rest of my shift, they were kind enough to do this for me as the pain was so severe that I laid on the cold & wet mine floor in a fetal position and could not stand up straight to walk back to camp; some of my team mates helped me back to camp. A few times I was placed on quarters for a short period until my gut settled down and I was able to go back to work; this gut problem has followed me to this day, as I get older, the problem is more frequent. During the years of the 70's and mid 80's I have had 5 major operations, by several surgeons, and to this day they do not know what my problems are or how to correct same. All this gut problem went on while I was working full time, I suppose I'll go to my grave with a gut ache, I hope not.
Our medical facilities were adequate considering we were in Japanese custody. However I think through the humaneness of Baron Mitsui, the mine owner (who was by the way a 1919 Dartmouth graduate) that we had bed space for the sick and wounded, he was also responsible for our clothing and our bedding, NOT PREVIOUSLY FURNISHED BY THE JAPANESE.
We had a large clinic building, 6 ward buildings; one isolation ward of 9 beds, 3 medical wards of 30 beds each, 2 surgical wards, l of 30 beds, one of 58 beds, a total of 187 beds or mats, this was a fair clinic for less than 2,000 POW's (gotta give the mine owner credit, whether or not he was Japanese or American, he did provide, I think to the best of his ability).
A few of the men who remained at Camp 17, after the surrender 14 Aug l945, set out to scavenge the city of Omuta early in their exploration they found several warehouses packed full of RED CROSS food and MEDICAL supplies. The dates of receipt and storage indicated that these items had reached Japan prior to Aug. 1943, when this camp was first opened. Thus while we suffered from lack of food, essential medicine, surgical supplies, and x-ray equip, these items, gifts from the American people, were hoarded in warehouses during our two years (my one yr.), in Japan.
The reasons we were denied these essentials remains a top secret of the Japanese Imperial Army, I suppose to this day, no doubt they used these supplies for themselves. However regardless of the above paragraph, we had better medical at this camp, than any other I was in, in most part due to the medical officers assigned to this camp, especially a Doctor THOMAS H. HEWLETT, MD. and LT. BRAS, of the Royal Dutch Army, there was also a Dutch Med Corp Person, I don't remember his name, but he was good in physical therapy, he gave me treatments for a month, for DROP FOOT that I came down with shortly after my 30 days in the Hosp. after my treatment for pneumonia, the Dr. attributed this to a poor diet, beriberi and hard work in wet mine where the temperatures ranged from 32 to 105 degrees, and at times salt water would drip on us from the ceilings, as the slope mine extended down and under the bay of the East China Sea; these changes of temp. and the wet conditions on top of this no heat in the barracks resulted in the death of 48 POW's from pneumonia alone 35 died from deficiency diseases, 14 from colitis, 8 to injuries, 5 to executions, one man beheaded, the others from atrocious acts, 6 died from tuberculosis, and 10 to miscellaneous causes, all of this in a short period of just 2 yrs, and we keep up with our UNEQUAL TRADE WITH A NATION THAT TREATS ANY HUMANS IN SUCH MANNER, Japan owes much to Asians, Australians, Canadians, Koreans, English, Filipino, and all the INDONESIANS, not to mention all the many Islands in the Pacific and China proper. I'll tell you I shed tears when I think of all the innocent women and children (and men) including all the Asiatics, yes and including the Japanese themselves, that were terminated by war lords such as TOJO and HITLER.
What happened to that war that was supposed to end all wars??? We get involved in small wars that should bring peace and tranquility to other warring nations, only to end up being worse off for such actions; i.e. KOREA, still a divided nation 40 yrs later, thousands of our young men dead; VIETNAM, more 1000's of G.I.'s terminated, WHAT FOR, I've never heard a logical ANSWER. See you later, Ray.
Then GRENADA, then PANAMA, and don't leave out the PERSIAN GULF, which I call unfinished business, yes only a small number of international forces died, BUT one death was one TOO MANY, our President said it was to protect our JOBS, not OIL, the cause of that small war is still in power wonder how come?, that is the question the American people should still be asking; sorry I got off the theme...
Let's see where did I leave off, oh yeah! Coal mine country in Japan. One other officer in this camp was Maj. JOHN P. MAMEROW, US Air Corp, he was one of the first POW's to arrive 10 Aug 43, he was shipped out to Manchuria during the last yr. of the war, anyway he became base Adjutant at March AF Base, CA. He was the President of the "Orphans of the Pacific" Nov 1946, that we formed for any PACIFIC POW - he was responsible for my promotion to T/Sgt. l Mar 47, I mention this officer because he always stood up for his men both in prison camp and during peace time garrison duty. He was severely beaten by the Japanese at Cabanatuan, PI. he could hardly walk for a month because he objected to the treatment received by the prisoners at the hands of the Japanese guards. For this he was one of the first Officers shipped out of the P.I. He retired after 30 yrs. service and died at Boise, Idaho on 29 Sep l989, at the age of 86.
Most people I met in POW camp had the attitude "Me first and the HE>> with You" or a Dog eat Dog attitude, if you did not have a true buddy you became a loner in these camps and it was not always by choice. I hate to tell this but it's the truth, one of our Medical Officers on the death march, the second day to be exact, a wounded Philipino soldier had an open sore full of maggots, he was being helped along by a buddy, I was walking alongside the Med. Off. at the time and he still had his Med. Bag with medicines intact, I asked him would he treat this poor fellow, his reply, "Why should I, he's not one of ours", hence "Man's inhumanity to man", this attitude was most common when it came to sharing food or medicine and/or drinking water, that item was more precious than gold during the death march, also when enclosed in box cars, and during the march from CAPAS, to camp O'Donnell, these were the worst times I had in camps, except for the 'ZERO' ward at Cabanatuan and the Pneumonia, and not to forget the severe back beating I received at Camp 17 at Omuta, Japan, which was administrated by a sadist guard, simply because they loved to commit atrocities of many descriptions upon all prisoners, especially American.
So time marches on, doing the same stoop labor days on days of the same routine manual labor, usually bent over, as the Japanese were so much shorter than most of their POWs, the ceilings in the mines were very low; this situation was very hard on tall fellows, and was hard on most of us.. The extreme heat and/or cold was very bad, especially for the Dutch, for most of them had never been exposed to extreme changes in temperatures - many of them died from pneumonia. On rest day (once ever ten days) we were required to strip to our waist, go out in all types of weather and perform exercises; as if we didn't get enough walking to work & back each day; those Japanese had a poor sense of humor; their humor soon turned into fear when we were buzzed by 2 P-38's, must have been around 1st of August 45. The Guards pointed their rifles and fired but those 2 boom fighters were long gone. HA!! See you Ch 23 Ray.
Last month I recalled a condition in Camp 17 in Japan, I'd like to relate. We had work details of about 50 men on a particular shift they slept together, ate together, took their baths together, marched to & from work together, did their required exercises at the same time, no other troops were involved in any of our duties - on return to camp from the mine, after the bath & chow, you would hit the sack and more or less die until work call the next morning. You did not have time for social calls, etc. I learned in l989, from Col. MAMEROW'S roster that seven men from my own unit was in this same camp with me for the year I was there and I never knew it, that is how tight control the Japanese had on the outside work crews; in camp no visiting, not even to the barracks next to your own - sorta like an isolation chamber, but it was shared with 50 other men. You could have had a brother in this camp and never know it.
We had a mild, easy going fellow by the name of Johnson, he worked in the mine with us, and he became friends with a Korean POW who worked on Johnson's crew, he was teaching Johnson to speak Japanese. The Japanese guard caught both of them talking in the mine with a language dictionary, turned Johnson in to the Camp Commander, they made him kneel in front of the guard shack at the entrance and exit to the camp (both were the same) there were no other gates. It was cold in March and they took his shirt off, poured cold water on him several times a day, about the third day they put a stick behind his knees and his body weight would cut off his circulation, (try this just for a few minutes sometime, you'll then know how this man suffered for 7 days). We had no choice but to pass him on our way to work & when we returned to camp. He was never fed, the only drink he had was the water he might have gulped when they drenched him. Did he survive? Not hardly, amazing he lasted ten days. We never knew what happened to the Korean - they were housed in another camp.
Late in the war, we knew the end, and maybe our end was near for we had American bombers and P-38 Fighters coming over at regular intervals; one such formation of B-24's came over one day and it was our rest day; and the guards tried to get us into the bomb shelters and some of us refused to go (a good place to be buried alive), we stood outside and waved the fly boys on; it made us sick when we saw one of the B-24s go down in flames, we saw 4 parachutes open and men gliding down to earth; we later heard the Japanese used bayonets on the ones who landed. Their bomb run did severe damage to the top side of the mine and the conveyor system (a huge endless "V" belt) that brings coal up from the deep long incline where the coal in mined. A few days after this attack, the Japanese soldiers that guarded us were full of chatter and we finally realized they were talking about the B-29's and the extreme damage they were doing to the installations, factories, individual homes and the death and injury to men, women and children, the latter always suffers the most and are the innocent victims. Perhaps at this point the Japanese must have thought the US had at last released all the lions in the world, for the US bombers were eating up Japanese territory at a fast pace. We never told them we had the same feelings when they bombed us out at Clark Field and had a hay day on Bataan for months, when they had Air Superiority and we had nothing to counteract their aggression. See u later for Ch 24 Ray>
Another time we were bombed at night and all the men were in the bomb shelters, the American bombers dropped fire bombs on our barracks and burned four of them to the ground. Therefore we had to share our quarters with the men who had lost their blankets, it was a relief that it was early Aug 45, and not in the dead of winter, so it was no problem to share with one blanket for our less fortunate POW; there was no problem about clothing or other items, as we had to sleep in all our clothes at all times to keep warm enough.
The next day after the attack two of us POW's were laughing about the raid and chiding the guards, for you see they were very scared, as they lived near us in their own little huts, (also without heat) we didn't know one of the guards understood English, so he had us march to the camp commander, and the little Napoleon (the Officer's nick name), had the two of us sent to the guard shack, where two guards had us bend over at the waist, placed our heads against a wall and began to beat us in the buttocks with a heavy pole, time & time again until both of us passed out. We didn't know it until later but they had beat us on our backs and behind our necks; the blue bruises that came up the next day confirmed same.
My back and neck has bothered me to this day, but try to tell this type injury to the Veterans Administration, no way do they believe it could have a permanent effect on a person.
I was working top side at the mine, charging batteries for our mine lights (they were wet cell, 6 volt), on 9 Aug 1945, when the "A" bomb hit Nagasaki, 30 miles across the bay from our camp WOW WHAT A SIGHT, I had no idea at the time what caused the mushroom type cloud that rose so high in the heavens, brilliant, greenish color, those above ground even felt the concussion, was also a pink cloud after the green one that kept tumbling upward. I wondered at the time how many innocent persons would be killed with this bombing, we had no way knowing how destructive it was until the next day one of the guards said many people die, and they said "itchi bon neju que" in Japanese this means "One B-29", of course we Americans thought, how silly one B-29 surely could not kill so many people as the guards had proclaimed; we were to learn later that their estimate of a few thousand was way to low. It is too bad the Japanese did not surrender before this holocaust happened.
Six days later, on 15 Aug 45, the coal mine owner declared all work to stop; he had all prisoners returned to our camp where the camp commander told us the war was over - just like that. There was no outcry from the prisoners, we were just to stunned, hardly believing that at last we were TGIF (thank GOD I'm free). The next morning there was not a single Japanese in camp, we POW's had the whole place to ourselves. It was rumored that three POW's from our camp followed Little Napoleon (the camp commander) to his home, he lived nearby and they hung him in his abode. This is the Officer that decapitated one of our POW's in 1943, the year before I was sent there, thank God I did not have to witness such a tragedy.
At last all we POW's had a few days to rest our weary bones, literally many of us weren't much more than bones, how glorious to spend a few days in the sun, as most Americans had spent most of 2 yrs. in a dark mine.
Two days later B-29's came over and dropped food and medicine into our camp. A few boxes landed outside the compound, for it was a small area, but we had as open gate now, so out we went to retrieve all items of MANNA from the sky; truly a God send. One unfortunate fellow had a huge crate of fruit cocktail land on his heel, just as a fellow next to him said "RUN", but the warning was a second to late, the box severed his whole foot, only a small flab of skin was holding his foot onto his body. I was very near him, another POW and I half carried him to the camp Hospital, where he died the next day. The Doctor who attended him said he died from trauma and fright, IRONIC YES!!
I learned when I got back to US, the B-29 that dropped the A-bomb on Nagasaki Aug. 45, was named the ENOLA GAY (after the pilot's mother); the pilot was Col. TIBBETTS.
The military provost section of the Army toured all the POW camps after the prisoners were liberated and this is a quote of their findings, "This was the largest POW camp in Japan with the POW's numbering over 1,700. Coal mining was the primary work at this camp. But some POW's worked at a nearby zinc smelter. Working conditions in the mines were brutal and dangerous. The Japanese guards were especially mean and harsh in their treatment of the POW's. Beatings and starvation and non-existent medical treatment were the way of life in the camp. Fukuoka Camp No. 17 was considered to be the most miserable camp in Japan. The last group of POW's to arrive at this camp were 95 survivors of the ill-fated ORYOKU MARU, KENOURA MARU, and BRAZIL MARU disaster. They arrived in early February 1945".
I stayed at Camp 17, Omuta, Japan to help eat the food delivered by the bombers, all the food was collected and put in the camp mess hall where all POW's would get the benefit from same, it was rationed equally to each man.
A war correspondent arrived at our camp 10 Sep. 45 and told the ones who cared to try where we could meet up with US Forces. The next day a small group of us took a train (a Japanese Lt. who spoke better English than most of us, made Japanese people give up their seats to us, he told us that the train conductor knew where to off load us, unknown to us the Lt. had phoned ahead to the small American garrison to have suitable transportation to carry us from the train station to the US Camp), heading south to a coastal town by the name of KANOYA - there we were met by the US Army. They fed us and gave us a bunk (what a pleasure that bunk was), but I got mighty sick from that rich food, (I had been sick from intestinal disorders since I arrived in Japan a year earlier (still have this gut problem), a Medic gave me medication and asked me if I felt like flying out the next morning, I said to him,"If I can even crawl you try and stop me from boarding that C-47", and the next morning they flew us out to Okinawa. It was here I was issued the first pair of shoes since April l943 when my old ones were no longer usable, they also gave us a shirt & pants and one change of underwear, l pr. of socks, as this Island was not a warehouse, some men were still wearing their wooden clod hoppers when they arrived in Manila.
On 16 Sep 45 we flew to Manila on a B-24, in the bomb bay and boy was it cold as an ice box; I thought the darn wings were going to flap off this bird, the Pilot asked if we'd like to circle over Manila to see the damage, we did and it looked terribly like a war zone.
I stayed at the 17th Replacement Depot, just outside Manila for 7 days, they fed us like pigs (I mean we ate like pigs), food was good & plentiful, well prepared and the cook told us to eat any time we wanted to. Funny thing that struck me was the Japanese prisoners that were doing KP duty in the mess hall, with no guards around, we asked the cook about this, and he said no sweat they wouldn't try to escape, they had it to good where they were. The cook said most of them didn't even want to go home, to Japan that is.
Sent my twin brother Roy a telegram, he received it the same day 21 Sep 45, that he received his discharge from the Navy, he was also in the Pacific during WWII, he was on a repair ship as he was a Machinist Mate; oddity here, he joined the Navy the same day I was captured 8 Apr 42. I asked him to notify Mother & our Sisters, about my release which he did for the Military did not notify any of my family that I was on the way home. During my whole 42 months as POW, I received one letter from a Sister, a package from my mother, and a letter from my friend Jackie, but it was so censored that none of it made sense. Several months after I got home I received one of those POW War PostCards that bro. Roy had sent to Japan quote "Dearest Brother; Jackie has the chicken pox. Mother has gone to stay with Mabel. Everyone is well and we all send our love and wishes", big letter, huh? Would have done me good had I received it while a POW, all of us POW's except for food, desired to hear from home as second choice, I think I speak for all.
We left Manila 24 Sep 45, arrived Victoria, Canada on 9 Oct 45. I was in sick bay all the way across the Pacific had bloating, weakness in legs - Doc put me on strict diet, told the corpsman not to let me drink, just enough water to wash down the small meals they served; well I slipped around that, I took a shower each day and I want everyone to know I drank my fill from the shower, I had been denied water long enough - so I drank - turns out I had a little kidney trouble and my body was not getting rid of fluid in the appropriate manner, was about one year later that my kidneys finally did their job. When I got home one month I think I weighed 175 pounds, everyone thought my brother had been the POW, for he was our normal weight 152, 2 yrs. later I was back to 150.
When we arrived at Victoria, early afternoon 9 Oct, the Canadians had a huge welcome for their troops, bands, the high officials, boy & girl scouts, I mean the works, was a very nice welcoming crowd. When we pulled out of the dock for our trip to Seattle, all POW's went back to our bunks below decks, and we found that we'd been hijacked, all of our personal belongings, blankets, bed sheets, toilet articles, cigarettes, etc. were all gone. We later talked about this, and wondered how come these POW's had such big bundles, some men had reported the looting to the ship Captain, but he did nothing about it, as the ship was already on its way. We arrived Seattle at midnight, no one met us, no welcome committee - but what the heck - was so good to be in US of A, we didn't care. My Air Corp unit had assigned 336 Men - 234 are known dead; 44 unaccounted for; 58 still alive; most of these men died on Death march, the POW Camps and on the Hell Ships enroute to Japan to work as slave labor, without the necessary food to sustain life even if you did nothing. Don't miss the end. Ray>
Letters to Senators (All 99 of them)
On 7 March l989, I wrote to all Senators, except QUAYLE, AND to 22 of the US Leading Newspapers:
Quote: "Subject: Aide to Project "J" (POW's of Japanese and Civilians--Period 8 December 1941 to September 1945)
It is my request to have submitted to Congress by one or more Senators a bill that would establish the following benefits to each remaining P.O.W. of the Imperial Japanese Government.
A. One hundred percent (100%) disability for each living P.O.W. and civilian who was working for the military in the area.
B. For those P.O.W.'s who are retired military personnel the cost would be minor, i.e. my own example--M/Sgt. Retired, exempt my Federal Income Tax for 1989 and future years ($1,155.36 paid in 1988), awarding me 100% disability, no other act would be required for all retired military persons who are not already receiving 100% disability.
C. For other P.O.W.'s who are presently on any percentage of disability, increase their disability to 100% according to current PL.95-588, or other Public Law as administered by the Veterans Administration.
I propose that NO TAX liability be imposed upon American citizens to pay for the above proposals.
I suggest that our Government impose an import tax upon the Japanese products that are imported to our shores to pay the awards indicated in C above, I would hope this would also encourage Americans to buy American products and get our industries back in action and put our people back to work. It seems if a small nation like Australia and our near neighbor Canada granted all surviving P.O.W.'s a minimum pension of 50%, why should a big, noble nation like the U.S.A. not care for the Project "J" personnel and let the Japanese government PAY the bill.
As a single small voice crying in the wilderness of despair for his fellow P.O.W.'s, please gentlemen, help us while there is yet time. Most of us are near or over seventy years of age and our mortality rate far exceeds the normal, in ten (10) years our dependents only will be in need of help.
Finally, if my proposal should become law it would greatly reduce the stress currently placed on the Veterans Administration as they have their hands tied, also their PROTOCOL EXAMINATION and subsequent claims submitted by P.O.W.'s are poorly administrated by unqualified personnel to properly access the multiple disabilities possessed by most P.O.W.'s unless all claims were substantiated by a medical doctor(s) and/or nurses (ANGELS) who suffered under similar conditions.
During February 1989, I heard on television that the Japanese have 100 million dollars to buy up American property---
SUE THEM for the P.O.W.'s.
s&t/ Ray H Thompson,(M/Sgt. Retired), 2933 West Heatherbrae Drive, Phoenix AZ 85017 (602) 249-2544 or 778-7077
P.S. Next chapter I will give you a few comments by the Senators, and one single newspaper, and that will end this story, but I have another. Ray.
Reply to Senators
If I were to reply to the senators, refer to Item A of chapter 27, I would inform them that I meant only those POW's and civilians who were interned at Santo Tomas in P.I. I DID NOT MEAN the 23,000 or more POW's nationwide. Had they read my subject line it is clear it covered only 8 Dec. 1941 (7 Dec in US time zone) to Sept. 1945.
It is now estimated that less than 1200 POW's who were referred to as Project "J" personnel are still alive and that estimate was made 2 years ago. It is to these veterans I was referring when I wrote the senators. It also includes these few individuals that I referred to in item
"B" and "C" in chapter 27.
I received 11 replies from the 99 senators I sent my letter to and one negative reply from the 22 letters sent to newspapers. Senators Bradley of New Jersey and Robb of Virginia, in their reply, thought I was referring to the Japanese Americans receiving reparations for WWII internment for which Congress awarded $20,000 to spouses and/ or parents of these individuals. There were approximately 80,000 of them with an approximate total payout of $1.5 billion. I feel this was a mistake and after all these years the government thinks so too. They were, after all, Americans, most of them anyway, so it's plain to see our government makes mistakes but they usually pay through the nose in the end.
The most positive reply was from Senator Bentsen of Texas. Most of the senators or their secretaries who answered the letter I sent use a routine comment to ugly letters like mine, using the following type reply I received from Senator hatch of Utah, Quote "Thank you for your recent letter. I appreciate having the benefit of your views. I share your concerns and will certainly take your thoughts into careful consideration" Unquote. And even my own Senator McCain implied that to put a tariff on the Japanese products will make items higher for U.S. citizens to purchase. With the imbalance of trade with Japan who cares, they don't buy our products anyway and we've been protecting them too long. Senator Simpson of Wyoming missed my point altogether, he thought I implied to give 100% disability to ALL POW's. He is another that did not read the heading of my letter to the senators.
I just hope when the senators' terms expire and they want your vote they will consider who put them in office and pays their salaries, their perks and their retirements. YEAH, I plan to vote for PEROT again if Clinton doesn't get on the ball and put AMERICA FIRST and stop depleting our treasury with outlandish grants and loans to foreign powers.
There is a big group of WWII veterans from Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and United Nations, and we hope backed up by our own government, to submit a compensation claim against the Japanese government for $20,000 to be paid to each veteran and/or his spouse, if the veterans is dead. The claim would include 200,000 POW's for a total of approximately $4 billion U.S. dollars.
I wish all to know I harbor no hate toward the Japanese for the misery they caused me, only GOD can forgive them but I will never forget their inhumanity towards all the Asian people and the Allies who were forced to repel their aggression. I rest my case and hereby end my story. --- RAY
Biographies Page Main Page