A SURVIVOR'S MEMOIR
James H. Cowan
May 1, 1972 ------
I was a young Army Air Force soldier stationed at Clark Field in the
Philippine Islands. We had come to the Islands in September and October of
1941 as part of the 19th Bombardment Group. There were six squadrons in
the group. My squadron was Headquarters. H.Q. and was responsible for
transportation for the group and some other administrative duties.
had heard the news from Pearl Harbor but did not realize how much damage
had been done to our fleet. We had also heard the President had declared
war on Japan. It was almost eight hours after the sneak attack and we
could not understand why we had not received orders to bomb the Japanese
Island of Formosa. Our Group Commander, Colonel Eugene Eubank, was
at USAAF headquarters trying to get orders to send out an attack force.
Major David Gibbs, our Operations Officer, was in charge during the
absence of the Group Commander. At
last Colonel Eubank returned with orders to attack Formosa. The
B-17s at Clark Field were ordered to prepare for the attack. Our crews
worked feverishly to load the planes but the orders had come too late. By
this time the Japs had already taken off and were on their way to bomb us.
had been working on an engine on one of our B-17s in the morning and had
just returned from lunch. The time was about 12:35 when I returned
to work. I had barely started when I heard the sound of many
airplanes. I looked up to see a tremendous formation. They
were at high altitude in perfect formation against the blue Philippine
for a few trenches that had been dug near the hangars, there were no
shelters. There was no advance warning and the Jap formation was directly
over the field before we knew what was happening. The Jap
heavy bombers made a saturation run across the base, dropping their
strings of bombs. Many of our planes and buildings were destroyed in this
first run. Then low level dive bombers and Zero fighters came in to finish
the job strafing personnel and equipment. I
was snuggled as close to the side of the ditch as possible. The Jap
fighters were flying back and forth across the ditch strafing our
equipment. If they had come down the ditch they would have killed a lot of
us. A burst of 20 mm fire knocked dirt off the side of the ditch and
partially covered me with dirt. A row of slugs kicked up dirt about two
inches from me.
Japanese did a thorough job of destroying our base. There was little to
salvage after the attack. The sudden surprise attack had completely
terrified everyone. Three hundred military and civilian personnel were
killed or wounded by bombs and machine gun fire.
the attack our pursuit planes had been sent on patrol and had missed the
Jap planes on their way from Formosa. The attack was in progress when the
P-40s returned for fuel. Being unable to engage the enemy, they were shot
to pieces as they tried to land during the attack.
the raid, we moved out of the barracks into the jungle, for we knew the
Japanese would be back. Sure enough, there were raids every day. I don't
consider myself a brave person and the attacks scared the hell out of me.
I was having a hard time trying to keep from hiding every time I heard an
airplane engine. However, everyone was jittery. Filipino and American
troops had set up .50 caliber AA machine guns in the jungle around the
base and they were so nervous they fired at anything that happened to be
flying by, even our remaining P-40s.
was lucky that part of our B-17s were at Del Monte Field on Mindanao.
These few planes, along with four others we put back in service with our
night and day salvage work, were the only remaining air-striking force
left in the Pacific.
a large Japanese invasion convoy was seen heading for Luzon, our remaining
B-17s were ordered to attack. On December 10, five planes, led by Capt.
Cecil B. Combs, made the first air raid attack in World War II. They found
the convoy heading for the towns of Vigan and Aparri on Northern Luzon.
They made their bomb run without much opposition, surprising the enemy.
However, not much damage was done to the convoy in this raid.
Japs were not surprised again. They were well prepared for each succeeding
mission we flew that day. Our B-17s battled their way through swarms of
Zeroes to try to stop the Japanese landing forces. The courage and
devotion to duty shown by these men should have a permanent place in
of the crews flying that day was commanded by a young West Pointer named
Colin P. Kelly. He and two other pilots, Lieutenants G. R. Montgomery and
George E. Schaetzel, had managed to get their planes into the air with
only short bomb loads because the crews that had been loading their planes
at Clark had been interrupted by a red alert. Montgomery had 1 bomb and
Schaetzel carried a full load of eight. Montgomery flew north and dropped
his lone bomb on the transports and headed back to Clark for more bombs.
He took on a load of 20 100 pounders and took off to follow the others to
Kelly had also headed toward Vigan, where the crew could see the Japanese
landing troops. However, Kelly decided to fly to Aparri to search for an
aircraft carrier that had been reported. They could see six small ships
and a large one they thought was a battleship off Aparri. They did not
find the carrier so they decided to attack the big ship. Captain Kelly
turned his plane for a bomb run and turned the controls over to Sgt. Meyer
Levin, the bombardier. Three bombs were dropped; the first two missed the
ship, but the third was a direct hit on the aft turret of the huge vessel.
A great explosion shook the ship and black smoke enveloped her. The crew
thought they could see an oil slick but the smoke made it impossible to
tell how much damage had been done.
headed his plane back, but shortly before he reached Clark Field he was
attacked by a group of Zeroes. The attack blew up the oxygen tanks and one
crewman was killed. The model B-17C did not have self-sealing tanks and
was soon on fire. Inside the smoking plane, Captain Kelly struggled to
keep it on a level course so the crew could bail out. Soon we counted six
parachutes opening under the big plane before it exploded in a ball of
fire. The captain's body was found near the wreckage, his parachute
unopened. Without regard for his own life he had held the B-17 level until
the last moment to let his crew get out safely. To the men that served
with Kelly, he will always remain a hero, not because of the strike on the
Jap ship, but because he gave his life to save his crew.
December 17th, it was decided to move the remaining B-17s to Australia out
of the range of Jap bombers so they could continue to fight. The enemy had
already discovered our secret base, and on December 19th bombed Del Monte
Field for the first time. Little damage was done because the B-17s were
well dispersed and camouflaged. This was just a prelude for the bombing
raids to come. Clark Field had already become too dangerous to operate
from because of the persistent enemy air strikes. By
Christmas 1941 all of the remaining B-17s had moved to Australia with
their crews. Left behind were at least half of the group personnel who
were unable to leave. Some of the best trained men in the USAAF were now
surplus and were used to replace casualties in the infantry, artillery,
and other outfits, where they fought bravely until the surrender.
Christmas I was ordered into an anti-aircraft artillery outfit, the 200th
Coast Artillery, a New Mexico National Guard outfit. They had come over to
the Philippines about the same time as the 19th Group and had been
assigned to protect Clark Field and other bases. The
company set up in the rice fields near the approaches to Clark. I went
into action immediately, passing shells from the bunker to the gun crew.
The AA guns were old Model 3-inch guns without modern ammunition. It
was not very effective against high flying planes, falling far short of
the target. We fired on the Japanese bombers on their daily runs. The
noise, concussion of the guns, and being able to look up and see the open
bomb bays of the Jap bombers terrified me, but at least I was fighting
night we moved to a new position. The next morning the Japs came in low. I
guess we surprised them for we put a burst right in the middle of the
formation and knocked down three. We were overjoyed to see them get some
of their own medicine.
was no doubt in my mind that Bataan was to be our last battle. With the
Japanese virtually in control of the South Pacific, I could see no way we
could receive help. The only thing we could do was to fight as long as
possible, slowing up the rampaging Japanese on their drive towards the
Dutch East Indies.
life with the anti-aircraft company became one constant whirl of action,
setting up the guns to protect bridges or other strategic points as our
troops retreated to Bataan. We seemed to move all night and fire at the
Jap planes all day. About all we could do was force them to fly higher
because of our poor ammunition.
would dig our foxholes only to have them fill halfway with water.
Most of the company got muddy and wet when we dived into them. Some
amusing things seem to happen even in war. We had one little Mexican G.I.
in the company we called Pancho. One day the Jap Zeroes strafed us. After
the raid we couldn't find Pancho. Finally we heard cries for help. When we
located them, they were coming from a Filipino water well. These wells
were usually 10 feet deep and 6 to 8 feet in diameter, with 3 to 4 feet of
water at the bottom. Our Pancho had jumped into the well and was stuck in
the mud and water at the bottom. We pulled him out and had a good laugh.
we had been on Bataan for a while I contracted a tropical rash that
covered me from head to foot. When I came down with a high fever, I was
finally sent to the field hospital for treatment where I was given some
medicine and soon recovered. I was told to go back to duty. I knew my
squadron was at a small airstrip called Cabcaben Field, and since I
realized our time was limited I wanted to be with my own group. I made my
way to where they were camped and asked the C.O. if I could rejoin the
squadron. He thought it would be okay. I learned that Smitty had gone to
Mindanao and Howard was with the infantry, but I could find no information
heavy pressures, the Philippine and American troops were holding the Orion
line and were inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking Japanese
troops. The Japanese had tried several infantry and artillery attacks but
were repulsed. The morale of our troops remained high. One of the worst
handicaps our troops had was the obsolete equipment. It was extremely old;
mostly World War I vintage. Our rifles were old model Springfields
and British Enfields. Our artillery was also obsolete.
Philippine scouts were excellent soldiers and they had 155mm guns that
they used very effectively. It is said when they were firing they would
say, "Tojo, count your men." They would fire again and say,
"Count them again."
hand grenades had a habit of not going off. When they were tossed the Japs
often threw them back. Our ordnance men were soon making their own from
bamboo, putting powder in one section and whatever could be found in the
other, and attaching a short fuse. These proved very effective when thrown
end over end and were not thrown back.
tactic used by the scouts was to dig a large spider hole just large enough
to crouch in. The Jap tanks would run over these holes and the scouts
would jump out, pour gas on the tanks, and set them afire.
rations became less and less as the weeks passed. We ate all the horses
and mules from the 26th Cavalry, even General Wainwright's champion jumper
was sacrificed. A buddy and I were assigned to outpost guard near our
camp. A Filipino civilian had set up his camp near us and each day he
would bring a can of rice mixed with meat around and we would buy some
food from him.
had a visit almost everyday from a Japanese airplane we called
"Washing Machine Charlie." This was because of the funny noise
his engine made. I guess he was some kind of recon plane. We had several
air-cooled .50 caliber machine guns set up around the air strip and when
Charlie came over he caught hell. Once in a while we would get one of the
Charlies. They scared us for a while because they would drop delayed
action firecrackers and hand grenades. Just as we figured we were safe,
his firecrackers would start going off and our duties would be disrupted
again. This was a good tactic until we got used to it.
during March or April 1942 the Japanese landed a group of Imperial Marines
on Longoskawayan Point and Quinauan near the tip of Bataan, with the idea
of establishing a beach-head so they could divide our forces by engaging
us on two fronts. They were picked men and would fight to the last man.
many troops could be spared from the front, so with the help of some
artillery from Corregidor, some Philippine scouts and navy troops were
assigned to clean out this pocket of Japs. After a lengthy battle, they
were backed up against an ocean cliff. But when our troops would call for
surrender, the Japanese would yell, "Come in and get me, you S.O.B."
Most of them were killed and the rest committed suicide, with the
exception of a few that were badly wounded. The Japanese never found out
what happened to their troops. Although they tried questioning the
P.O.W.s several times, but no one would tell them what happened.
buddy, Howard Gunn, was with the group that was fighting the Imperial
Marines. One day I slipped away to visit him and found him near his fox
hole. Not all the Japanese had been cleared out at that time. It was
great to see and talk to him; he had some wild stories to tell. I felt
sorry for him for the smell of death was there from the unburied Japanese.
The flies were terrible. But Howard always made the best of any situation.
I finally had to say goodbye, not knowing the next time I was to see him
would be under much sadder circumstances.
March 1942, about 80% of our front line troops were sick with malaria and
our food supplies and medicine were running out fast. My squadron was
issued six cans of salmon for 100 men. The ammunition was also running
low. We prayed that somehow the good old USA would send some help. We
still could not realize that our country could not help us. Each night the
sound of battle came closer and closer. We heard that General MacArthur
had been ordered to Australia and General Wainwright would take over. I
knew that something important would happen soon. About April 7, 1942, I
heard that the enemy was putting heavy pressure on the front line. I did
not know that it was their all-out drive.
April 8th, early in the evening just after dark, one of our 155mm guns
began to fire over our air strip. I could not understand what was
happening, and I was scared. One of our officers soon told us we were to
move to the small town of Mariveles on the tip of Bataan. We moved out as
fast as we could on foot. We walked all night and as we walked we knew
that something dreadful had happened. Everything in the world seemed to be
blowing up around us. A severe earthquake shook the end of Bataan that
night too. It seemed like the end of the world. A few hours later the
ground shook again, like another earthquake, but we learned later that our
commanders had been ordered to destroy all remaining ammunition and
supplies to keep them from falling into enemy hands. We walked as far as
we could go until there was nowhere else to go. This was the end.
the word was passed for us to surrender and await further orders. This was
the saddest day of my life. I cried in frustration. General Masaharu Homma
had launched an all out attack on the front line with a terrific artillery
and air attack, followed by a tank and infantry assault. The American and
Filipino troops could not hold out any longer.
first Japanese I saw came down the road in brand new Ford trucks. The Ford
Company must have had a plant in Japan before the war. They stopped to eat
and opened five gallon cans of rations with "Made in USA"
printed on the tops.
officer walked over to us and demonstrated the sharpness of his sword by
clipping off some small trees. I guess he wanted us to know they could
just as well have been our heads. He directed us to a large open field
where many men had gathered already. We had put down our weapons before
the Japs had taken us prisoner. I had taken my rifle and broken it over a
rock. I had a wrist watch, a large sheath knife, and my wallet, which I
put under a large stone. I was determined they would get nothing from me.
They must have searched us a hundred times, each Jap hoping to get a
souvenir. The only thing they did not take from us were our New
Testaments; maybe they were superstitious about touching the Holy Book.
were held in an open field for about 24 hours. Then we were ordered to
move out to the road and start walking. Most of us had not had anything to
eat or drink for at least a day and we were getting hungry and thirsty.
The Japs gave us nothing. The Battle of Bataan had cost the Japanese a
lot, slowing up their timetable of conquest and costing them thousands of
started taking revenge right away. Every time we passed a truck load of
soldiers they would bang us on the head with sticks and rifle butts. It
was lucky that most of us had our GI helmets. It was humiliating to us to
be treated like this. This was just a sample of what we were to endure
pushed us as fast as we could go, because they were preparing an assault
on Corregidor and wanted us out of the way. They set up their artillery
behind our two field hospitals, since they knew that our artillery on
Corregidor would not fire on them. As we walked by our little air strip at
Cabcaben, we saw the Japanese setting up gun batteries and firing on
Corregidor. I was delighted to see a 12 inch mortar shell make a direct
hit on one of the batteries.
marched us without rest, giving us no food or water. They changed guards
every three hours so they were always fresh. Our men, already weak from
short rations and disease, soon began to fall out of the column. The
Japanese wasted no time with stragglers; they were either shot or run
through with a bayonet. Soon the sides of the road were littered with dead
men. This had become a march of death for the men that had fought so
gallantly for America and the Philippines.
heat was terrible and men risked their lives for a sip of the vile,
scum-covered water in the ditches along beside the road. I stumbled along,
my mind blurring, not caring whether I lived or died. We passed dead
American and Filipino soldiers who had died fighting the advancing
Japanese. The Japs had not even bothered to remove them.
marched for what seemed like an eternity. Still we were not allowed to
stop for water. American and Filipino prisoners became targets for
Japanese bayonets. I was beginning to get so tired I knew I could not go
much further. There were sugar cane fields along the road and many men
were killed trying to get a stalk of the cane to chew on. I knew if I did
not get something to quench my thirst soon, I would not be able to go on.
At this point I no longer cared whether I was shot or not, so I ran into
one of the fields, expecting a bullet at any time. But a strange thing
happened. One of the Jap guards grabbed my arm and helped me catch up; I
still clutched the stalk of cane. I am sure a higher power must have been
protecting me. I chewed this stalk of cane, easing my thirst and receiving
energy to go on.
Bataan Death March had lasted six days and nights. As we came to the town
of San Fernando, 65 miles from Miraveles, the Japanese finally let us rest
and gave us a little rice and some water. Many brave men had been murdered
during those six days. As we departed for our first P.O.W. camp the next
day, little did we know this horrible nightmare was only beginning.
San Fernando we were stuffed into little box cars for the final journey to
Camp O'Donnell. I am sure if this had been a long trip more men would have
died from suffocation and heat prostration. We arrived at Camp O'Donnell 8
days after we had surrendered. At
last the Death March was over. But if we had known what lay ahead, most of
us would have preferred to have died on the march. A total of 55,000
Filipino and 8,000 American P.O.W.s entered Camp O'Donnell, after the most
barbaric, sadistic march of death in the history of modern man. Over 2,300
Americans and almost 10,000 Filipinos had been murdered on the march and
thousands of others would perish from its aftereffects.
O'Donnell, originally built to house a Philippine division of 12,000 men,
was not equipped to house over 60,000 men. The buildings were soon filled
to overflowing and many men had to crawl under the floors of the buildings
to escape the torrents of monsoon rains. Shortly after we arrived, the
Filipinos were separated from the Americans and we had no further
association with them.
Japanese interpreter called an assembly and the camp commander told us we
were guests of the Japanese Empire and must obey all orders without
question. The interpreter made a special effort to let us know he was born
and reared in California and was a graduate of U.S.C. He told us the
Japanese would take California soon and they would be the bosses. After
all that had happened I wondered if he could be right.
Japs gave us half a mess kit of rice per meal. This diet was designed to
slowly starve us and remove any resistance we might have had. The water
supply in camp was short and we barely had enough drinking water to go
around. There was none for washing and laundry. Sanitary conditions
deteriorated fast and by the end of the first month dysentery had reached
epidemic proportions. Many men had contracted the disease from drinking
contaminated water from the ditches on the death march. Open latrines and
lack of sanitation made the camp a perfect breeding place for the disease.
all the diseases to plague the weakened, confined men, dysentery was
without a doubt the worst. It caused terrible pain, uncontrollable
diarrhea, and vomiting. It turned men into skin and bones almost
overnight. The disease literally ate up the intestinal tract and caused a
horrible death. The death rate rose to the point where the able-bodied men
could not bury the dead fast enough. An attempt was made to
establish a hospital, but without medical supplies and water, the hospital
became one huge mass of suffering men dying in their own bloody feces. The
smell from this place defies description.
tropical diseases soon began to appear. The terrible, malignant form of
malaria kept under control on Bataan by small prophylactic doses of
quinine began to appear. The disease affected the brain and men died
within 24 to 36 hours. Tropical ulcers appeared and once they became large
they literally could rot a man's leg off. Men weakened by dysentery and
too weak to go to the hospital would lie near the latrines. The filth and
their own excrement covered them until they died.
death rate rose to 40 or 50 per day and although we tried to bury the dead
in shallow graves outside the camp, dead bodies would often remain
unburied for days. The smell of rotting flesh, dysentery, and open
latrines was so horrible I will not attempt to describe it.
dietary deficiency diseases began to appear and added their misery to the
other diseases. Beriberi, the terrible disease of the starving, was first
to appear. I can only describe the disease as we P.O.W.s knew it - wet and
dry beriberi. The dry caused wasting of the body, unsteady walk, and loss
of memory. These poor men staggered around more dead than alive, falling
and crawling. They tried to carry on. There was no room in the hospital
already overflowing with dying men. The wet type of beriberi could turn a
seemingly normal man into a horrible, swollen, bloated man overnight. I
have seen men with this disease stand up and the water would run out of
them in a stream from any broken spot on the skin. These poor creatures
usually died from heart failure. There was little help for the sick from
friends or buddies because the struggle for survival had taken over. I am
sorry to say we became callused to the suffering of others and thought
only of our own survival.
was too weak to do much and spent most of my time lying on the ground
under the building. But I was determined to find my good friends Howard
Gunn and Tex Blair and see if they had come through the Death March. What
strength I could muster I used to look for my friends.
last I located Howard in the hospital area. He had contracted dysentery
and was very sick. I hardly recognized him he had lost so much weight. We
talked for a long time and although his spirits were good and he thought
he would get better, I left with a heavy heart because I knew that without
medical care and food my friend had little chance to live.
after my visit, my friend passed away. He was a devout Christian and I am
sure his faith was with him until the end. I could not find Tex and
assumed he had died on the Death March. I heard later that he had survived
the three years of prison camp only to lose his life on one of the Jap
Hell Ships while being relocated to Japan.
requests to the Japanese for food and medicine were refused. Indeed, it
looked as if we all would die in this wretched hell.
was weak and hungry and did not escape the diseases of my friends. Soon I
was burning with fever and shaking with chills. I had contracted malaria
and was soon out of my head. I also contracted dysentery. God only knows
why I did not die there like the others. Maybe it was a blessing that my
mind became blurred by the disease. I do not know if I could have endured
the suffering. There was a long period of time when my mind was almost a
blank. I remember nothing of what happened to me, but somehow I survived.
this time the Japanese decided to move us to another camp. Cabanatuan was
also built to house Philippine Army soldiers and was more suitable to
house the P.O.W.s and their guards. I remember riding in the back of a
truck with other P.O.W.s to the camp. I saw the trees along the road and
wanted to lie under a cool tree and die. I probably would have jumped out
if my buddies had not restrained me.
next thing I remember was lying on a dirt floor in a building with dying
men all around me, and the ever present smell of dysentery. I was sure I
must be dying and I wanted to talk to someone that would tell my folks
what had happened to me. I seem to remember talking to someone, but it
could have been my imagination. The man lying next to me was dead and a
blanket covered his body. I took the blanket and covered myself. Then my
mind was blank again.
I was in a long building. Bamboo bays had been built up from the floor for
people to sleep on. There were the ever present dying men, most of them
with little or no clothing; living skeletons with dysentery eating their
guts out, maggots working in their rectums. The American medics did what
they could for them but sometimes cried in frustration because they had
nothing to work with. I do not know why I remained alive after all this
a Chinese man from Manila persuaded or bribed the Japs to let some
condensed milk come into the camp. It was decided that the very sick
should have it. I began to receive a small portion of milk each day along
with the meager rice ration. This must have saved my life, for I came out
of my stupor and began to see my surroundings. I gained strength slowly
and came to see what a terrible state I was in. My coveralls had not been
removed since Bataan. All my body eliminations had gone into them. My
beard and hair were down to my shoulders and were matted and full of lice.
able-bodied men had gotten the camp water system working, and thank God we
had more water. I gradually got myself cleaned up the best I could but I
was still very weak. I remember borrowing a pair of scissors and a friend
helped me cut my hair and beard as close as possible. Someone brought me a
pan of water and as I washed my head I left a layer of squirming lice on
condition of the men remained very bad since we received little food or
medicine. The death rate was still 35 to 50 per day. The burying detail
that left each day with naked, emaciated bodies was something I can never
forget. Death was always present. The only thing that kept a man alive was
a strong will to live. I have seen men in apparently better shape than I
give up and be dead the next day.
hospital had about six buildings. Two of them sat a little outside from
the others. I was in one of these buildings. I found out later that they
were called Zero Ward and St. Peter's Ward, both of which had been set
aside for the extremely sick and dying men. Indeed, Zero Ward was more
like a morgue than a place for the living, and St. Peter's Ward, where I
was, was very little better. Every morning the dead were gathered up and
taken to a shallow mass grave. By the next day the torrents of monsoon
rain would have washed away the soil revealing parts of the dead men.
Men crazed with pain would crawl out of the building and die on the ground
outside in the rain. At one time, diphtheria raged through the camp. The
Japanese simply had the victims dragged outside to die in the rain.
am glad the mind can blot out some things, but there is one incident that
will always haunt me. One of the men weakened by dysentery made it to the
open latrine, but being weakened by the disease fell into the horrible
mess; he crawled out completely covered by slimy feces and maggots. To
this day I get sick when this comes to mind.
this time the Japanese had given some control of the camp to our American
officers. The officers didn't always use this power for the good of all.
They immediately set up their own separate quarters and I was told they
took the pick of the rations. I never knew if this was true.
many men died the first year that the Japanese increased our diet and gave
us some more rice and some water buffalo meat and seaweed soup. This
slowed the death rate but a lot of men were just too far gone for it to do
any good. I eventually became well enough to be transferred to the
worker's compound and I went to work in the vegetable fields. What a
relief it was to get away from the sick and dying and be able to do
something. We got the water system in the camp working and even rigged up
a shower, which was a blessing for us all.
order to live, I decided I must eat as much as I could and figure out any
way I could to get food. I acquired a large pair of trousers, much too big
for me, and a sombrero with a high crown. When I went to work, I
tied the legs around my ankles and let the legs bag down. I had holes in
the pockets and I would put small vegetables in them and they would fall
down the legs to the tie around my ankles. I also put vegetables in the
crown of my hat. At the end of the day we were searched when we re-entered
the camp. If I had been caught it would have meant a terrible beating, or
even a broken arm.
Japanese took most of the produce from the fields for themselves and we
got what little was left - sweet potato vines and a weed called pig weed.
Rice remained the principal diet and the prisoners were always hungry for
protein, even if we got a good portion of rice.
that could flavor the rice was a treat. A detail sent out to gather
firewood would bring in wild peppers which were put with water to flavor
the rice. The peppers were as hot as hell and very few were needed for
flavor. One of our Mexican P.O.W.s decided he could eat one of these
little green devils. He bit into it and immediately headed for water. He
took a lot of ribbing after that.
everyone worked in the fields and we had the guards all named. This was
partly for amusement and it also served a purpose. There was Big and
Little Speedo, so named because all the English they knew was
"Speedo" which they yelled all day. Each one had a large stick,
which they took every opportunity to use on someone's back. We named one
guard Air Raid so when we would see him approaching someone would yell Air
Raid and everyone would get busy. He was too dumb to catch on.
Japanese that guarded us were not front line troops, but an old home guard
type with some Korean and Formosan converts. Most of the guards knew very
little about auto mechanics or even how to drive a motor vehicle. Soon
P.O.W.s were assigned to help drive and maintain the vehicles. In fact,
our P.O.W.s maintained just about all their equipment. It was rumored that
a radio had been built from stolen parts that would pick up newscasts from
San Francisco. But if so, I never saw it. However, some of the rumors that
filtered down to us proved to be true. We also got the Japanese propaganda
sheet which made claims so fantastic that they made us laugh. One such
sheet said Jap warships had steamed up the Mississippi River and shelled
in 1943, the Red Cross managed to get a few medical supplies into the
camp. Among these drugs were a few sulfa pills. The Jap guards found out
about the pills and seemed to be willing to do almost anything to get some
of them. Maybe they all had VD. Anyway, someone got the idea to make a
mold to make exact copies of the pills to trade to the Jap guards. A
perfect mold was made and a lot of plaster of paris pills were turned out.
Anyone going on a small detail would have a supply of pills to trade for
tobacco or anything else we could get from the guards. Long after the real
pills were exhausted, the supply of plaster ones continued. Why they never
wised up I'll never know, but I guess some of them must have wondered why
the American wonder drug would not work on his ailment.
in a while a funny thing would happen to our captors. One day the Japs
loaded up a two wheel Filipino buffalo cart with sweet potatoes. They had
piled the potatoes as high as they could reach. Apparently they were going
to trade or sell them to the Filipinos. The cart was so full I wondered if
the buffalo could move it. However, the water buffalo is a very powerful
animal. The water buffalo has no pores in his skin and must have water
poured over him periodically to cool him off, otherwise the animal gets
too hot and goes crazy. I guess this one had been neglected and got too
hot. All of a sudden he took off at full speed, scattering sweet potatoes
all over the road. The last time we saw the cart and buffalo he was still
going with a half a dozen guards in pursuit. We had a welcome laugh.
we first came to Cabanatuan the lice were very bad. Then someone brought
in bed bugs, and they must have killed or run the lice off because they
disappeared. The bed bugs were worse, however; they tried to get what
little blood we had left. There was just no way to get rid of them.
were very few escape tries for the Japs made it almost impossible to
escape. They had us in ten men squads and if one man escaped they shot all
the rest. There was some guerrilla activity and the Japs built two fences
around the camp - one to keep us in and the other to keep the guerrillas
became so common most of us just took them as a matter of course. I guess
the worst beating I had was for eating a sweet potato in the field. The
guard hit me in the hip with the butt of his rifle. I got an egg sized
knot from that one that hurt for months and even bothers me today. It was
a wonder I was not shot, because I got mad and called the guard a lousy
in the latter part of 1942 or 1943, the Japs took a lot of men to Japan
and Korea. Some of these men were there until the end of the war. The only
contact we had with the outside was from an occasional work detail
returning to camp. We found out that Bilibid Prison in Manila, a former
Philippine prison, was used as a stopping place for details to and from
work details and a place to wait when being shipped to Japan.
had not yet seen my good friend Little Tex but I heard he was alive and
somewhere on a work detail. In Cabanatuan I did not make many friends. I
was too busy trying to stay alive. Indeed, everyone was occupied with this
a prison camp you live from day to day, endure the ridicule and beatings,
and have faith that the next day will bring something better or decide to
give up and die. As time goes by, you pray and hope. Sometime in early
1944 a group of men was picked to leave Cabanatuan on a work detail,
destination unknown. I was one of the unfortunate men chosen for this
trip. But at the time we thought anything might be better than where we
were. Little did we know what we would have to endure for the next few
months. We were taken to Manila by truck and turned over to guards from
the Japanese Navy. We knew then we were going to the Nichols Field detail.
The work on the former American Air Base in Manila had been going on since
our surrender. The Japanese, using P.O.W.s and slave labor, intended to
make it the longest air strip in the Pacific. First they had used P.O.W.s
captured in and around Manila and then, as their ranks were thinned by
disease and death, they got replacements from the Bataan survivors.
detail was run by one of the most brutal and sadistic bunch of Japs in
their whole armed services. It has always been a mystery to me how a
civilization so old could produce anything like these beasts. Our buddies
before us had already named the guards. The White Angel was a navy
lieutenant who always had spotless white uniforms. This beast had murdered
at least two men in cold blood, shooting one man and hacking the other to
death with his sword. He also caused the death of many others indirectly.
I am glad he had been transferred when our detail arrived. The Wolf,
Cherry Blossom, Pistol Pete, Saki Sam and The Fox were the others. These
made up the leadership of the Jap guards when we arrived.
we arrived at the camp we were given a blanket and a place on the bare
floor to sleep. Then we were assembled in the courtyard for briefings by
the camp interpreter. He told us there would be absolutely no question of
not obeying their rules and to emphasize this they grabbed a poor man from
our group, threw him to the ground, stuck a water hose in his mouth,
pumped him full of water, and jumped on his stomach. When an American
doctor tried to interfere he was beaten unmercifully.
day started the next morning at 6:00 a.m. with a shout from the Jap
guards. We were forced to do exercises for 15 minutes; even the sick were
not exempt. We also had to count off in Japanese, which most of us did not
know. Each time we missed a number we received a rain of blows. How we
learned our numbers so fast I will never know, but I never will forget how
to say 836 in Japanese. (see the book for pronunciation of the word
that Hank remembered to the day he died).
meals consisted of fish eyes, guts, and sometimes whole fish and a little
rice. After breakfast, sick call was conducted. Only 50 men a day were
allowed off and many had to be carried or dragged to work.
were marched through the streets to work and often the Japs would beat us
for no reason other than to humble us before the Philippine people. They
used clubs, iron bars, and rifle butts. The Jap sentries broke so many
arms and put so many men out of commission that the superior officers had
to relieve some of them for fear of impairing the airstrip operation.
work we were forced to push small mining cars to and from a cut through a
hill where the Japs were extending the runway. We worked two men to a car,
pushing it to and from the cut. A leveling crew worked at one end and a
loading and digging crew worked at the other end. We became robots
plodding along in the hot sun with bleeding feet and Japs yelling and
beating us all the way. Many men went insane. Some committed suicide and
many injured themselves just to be sent to Bilibid Prison Hospital. At
Bilibid the medical treatment was fairly good but the food was bad. There
are a lot of good American boys buried under the dirt at Nichols Field.
Wolf also murdered men in cold blood right before our eyes. One day a man
was discovered missing. We were brought off the job and assembled while
the guards looked for him. He was found passed out because he was too weak
to go on. He was dragged before the group, beaten and kicked, and led away
time, a boy passed out from malaria. That evening The Wolf saw the man was
still unconscious. He banged his head on the concrete floor and had him
carried to the shower. There he held the boy's head under water until he
drowned. Some of the other tortures included hanging by the thumbs, or
being tied to a post in the hot sun with no water.
also had "rotten apples" in our own ranks. A few bullies took
what they could from the weak and helpless. One of these accused me of
stealing from him and was going to give me a beating. I had concealed a
pair of broken scissors. When he backed me up against the wall I was
prepared to defend myself as best I could. But when this guy saw I had a
weapon he backed off like the coward he was. This continued until one day
one of these bastards hit a poor weak man and killed him. This was murder.
The rest of us turned on him and would have killed him if the Japs had not
taken him away. We never knew what they did with him. The days dragged on
and most of us cared little whether we lived or died. The beatings and
torture became so routine we just endured it and hoped and prayed for
tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible and look busy. But each
morning in line The Fox seemed to pick me to slap around. I endured his
beatings, trying to maintain as much dignity as possible. Maybe he could
see the hatred in my eyes, for although I am not a violent man, I would
have gladly cut his heart out.
last there came a time when I could not go on anymore. My malaria had
returned and I was too weak to work. It was my good fortune to be sent to
Bilibid Prison. My first look at the old prison, originally built by the
Spanish with thick stone walls 20 feet high, was one of foreboding. The
ancient walls were covered with a fungus growth and the smell of death
that was present in all Jap P.O.W. camps permeated the air here also.
entering I received the ever present kicks and abuse from the guards and a
search for God only knows what. But inside the place was heaven compared
to Nichols Field. I was given some medicine by the American doctors and
had a chance to rest. Soon I was recovering as much as I could on the
starvation diet. I was lucky enough to get a job helping in the kitchen
where I received a little more food. This helped me regain my strength.
a group was sent back to Cabanatuan and I was with it. If I had gone back
to Nichols Field I probably would have died. By this time Cabanatuan had
dwindled from thousands of men to a few hundred, and most of them were
very sick. The Japs had been transporting men to Japan for several months
until just this handful was left. We learned later that most of the men
moved out of the camp were put on unmarked ships bound for Japan. Most of
these ships were sunk by our own submarines. What a terrible thing to
happen after surviving so long in this hell. I can't understand why our
intelligence did not know about these ships.
in 1944 there were a lot of rumors that American forces were near. But
there was no concrete evidence. Our enemy still acted the same as always
and their propaganda paper always claimed they were winning. After so long
a time even their propaganda was almost believable. Our hopes were at a
DID HANK MANAGE TO GET RESCUED? HOW WAS HE RESCUED? BY WHOM?
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names of Bataan and Corregidor have almost disappeared from the minds of
the American people and our youth probably would not recognize them at
all. Out of approximately 22,000 men captured by the Japanese, less than
3,000 are alive today. The picture of my wasted, tortured friends will
always remain in my mind. I don't know why the Lord chose me to live.
there are also brave American men imprisoned by a foreign power. They
languish in the disease ridden, rat infested torture chambers of Hanoi.
The United States seems helpless to do anything about it. Perhaps these
men have given themselves a name, as did the men of Bataan.
We called ourselves the
Bastards of Bataan”;
mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam;
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces;
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces;
...and nobody gives a damn."