Back To Bataan – A survivor’s Story

Back to Bataan - A Survivor's Story

Written By Rick Peterson

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“Courage is a quality God has seen fit to dispense with utmost care. The men of Bataan were His chosen favorites.”

Major General Edward P. King, Jr., USA
Commanding General, Luzon Forces, 1942

This narrative is dedicated to my beloved wife Jane and to all United States of America military personnel who served in World War II on Bataan and Corregidor and endured the rigors of captivity inflicted on us by the soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army.

Alf R. Larson

Alf and Governor Pawlenty - Click here to view article.
Alf and Governor Pawlenty – Click here to view article

FOREWORD

For over 40 years, I have studied World War II and the Holocaust. One of my major goals in life was to write a story of survival from this period in history. Several years ago, I met and became acquainted with Mr. Alf Larson. Mr. Larson served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed in the pre-war Philippine Islands. After the war began, he fought the Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands both on land and in the air. He was shot down by Japanese Zero’s over Luzon. He survived, continued fighting, and endured numerous hardships, including continuous starvation. After exhausting all military options, his field commander, General Edward P. King, surrendered American and Filipino forces in Bataan on April 9, 1942. Mr. Larson was captured on Bataan shortly after the American surrender and, along with thousands of American soldiers, became a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army. He survived an infamous Bataan Death March and two disgraceful and humiliating Japanese concentration camps. As American troops landed at Leyte to reclaim the Philippine Islands, he sailed in captivity to Japan in the notorious “Hell Ships.” The remainder of the war was spent at Camp Nomachi, Japan performing forced labor until the Japanese surrender in August 1945. He left Japan in September 1945, was repatriated, and returned home to Duluth, Minnesota in November 1945.

The American surrender on Bataan and its chilling aftermath was a tragic event in America’s military history. This narrative is, I believe, one of the most horrific stories of courage and unspeakable cruelty to come out of World War II. The events documented here often defy human imagination. It is an incredible testimony of courage and sacrifice to Alf and his fellow soldiers who survived the ordeal. Furthermore, it is a memorial to those who gave their “last full measure.” Many of these “heroes” still lie in the distant jungles of Bataan.

Like so many World War II veterans, Mr. Larson rarely spoke of his experiences to anyone, including his wife and children. A few years after we met, he agreed to tell me his entire story. We initially engaged in a variety of personal and telephone conversations about World War II. In February 1999 we began a series of recorded interviews documenting his experiences. The manuscript is written in interview format. In transcription, care was taken to preserve accuracy of fact, the order in which all events occurred, and the originality Mr. Larson’s statements. For readability, all questions and comments made by me are presented in red italics. Statements made by others are acknowledged by their names in parenthesis. Certain sentences and sections are highlighted in bold type. This is to underscore significant events that occurred or highlight the extreme inhumanity of certain situations of this human experience.

I would like to acknowledge a number of individuals who assisted me in this effort. First, Alf and Jane Larson who spend hours in interview, editing, re-editing, and proofreading. Second, Claire Ross who reviewed and proofread the final drafts.

Third, my son Benjamin who listened to taped interviews, asked questions helpful in clarifying specific events, participated in several interviews, and assisted in composing the title. Fourth, my spouse Ruth, who let my household chores slide during the hundreds of hours this project required. Fifth, to my dog, Buddy, who, without complaint, let me verbally vent many frustrations to him. Very special thanks to Jake Carlson for assisting me on establishing the present web site at http://www.bataansurvivor.com. To Harriet Lonergan, Katherine Archer, Kelly Luikart, and Ivan Clements who assisted me in various ways. And, my personal thanks to anyone else that helped but is not mentioned here.

The wartime photos used in this work come from Mr. Larson’s private collection. The caricatures depicting actual events are used with permission by the artist author, Mr. Ben Steele, a Death March survivor and former prisoner of war. Some statements under the caricatures have been paraphrased from the originals. Other photos come from a variety of sources on the Internet including the Battling Bastards Of Bataan. Each is acknowledged individually. I took the present-day photos.

Finally, we come to the soldiers of Bataan and Corregidor. Future generations must remember these men and women who served so bravely. They helped rid the world of a great menace to freedom, the unbridled military forces of the Empire of Japan. Each one has earned our eternal thanks and gratitude.

Rick Peterson
Minneapolis, Minnesota
February 2000
Revised May 2000
Revised February 2001WRITER’S NOTE:
In April 2000 I went to the Philippine Islands to trace the Bataan Death March and visit Camp O’Donnell, Clark Field, old Bilibid Prison, Corregidor, the new Veterans Federation Museum, and the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. With assistance from the Philippine Department of Tourism, the trip was a complete success. Two highlights were finding and following the railroad station, old train tracks and signs from the “San Fernando Train Ride” and viewing the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” Memorial at Camp O’Donnell. This memorial was officially dedicated on April 7, 2000. Excellent opportunities to tour these unique memorials are available through The Philippine Department of Tourism at             312.782.2475       or email pdotchi@aol.comPlease direct any queries regarding this writing to the author, Rick Peterson, at lpeterson51@comcast.net. Thank you!

INTRODUCTION

Alf, when and where were you born?
I was born July 29, 1918 in Orebro, Sweden, in the province of Narke. My dad‘s cousin lived in Duluth, Minnesota. He kept writing letters to us and saying, “You’ve got come to Minnesota in the USA;” “The streets are paved with gold!” My father was a chief electrical inspector in Sweden. It was a good, white-collar job, but he and my mother decided to immigrate to the United States.

How many were in your family?
There were five of us. My mother, father, brother, sister, and I sailed over here on a ship named the Gripsholm. The accommodations were on the third level down, which is in the very bottom of the ship. The steerage section was in the forward end. We had one room with bunks for our entire family. We used a common bathroom. It was located in the hallway like in some hotels. I was the only one who wasn’t seasick. My dad would take me to the mess hall for meals. The minute he got in there rrrrrrripppp…. that smell would just make him sick! I ate and had a good time! We ran into a storm coming over so the passage was kinda rough. Some yokel left a porthole open and part of the inside deck was flooded. Everything got wet in our section but there was no damage.

How old were you when you went through Ellis Island?
I was four years old when we went through Ellis Island in September 1922.

How did you get from New York to Minneapolis?
My dad’s cousin from Duluth had sponsored us. After we were processed, we boarded a train for Duluth. We arrived there in the fall. He rented a house for us in a rough part of town. It was so cold inside. During the night the water would freeze. We moved out of there as quickly as possible. My mother didn’t like it here. She finally got acclimated, but went back and forth between the United States and Sweden twelve times, kind of like you and I would take the bus or streetcar downtown. That was her going back and forth to Sweden.

Did you ever go back to Sweden?
No. We thought about it a few years ago.What did your dad do for a living in Duluth?
Initially, the only job he could get was packing fish in Rust Parker, a company in Duluth. Eventually, he got back into his field, which was electrical engineering.How did you meet Jane who later became your wife?
The first time I remember seeing Jane was when her parents came to our home in Norton Park, Duluth. Her brother and I were good friends and about the same age. We were going sailing on a kayak a friend and I built. She wanted to come along. We didn’t want to have anything to do with that.
I wanted to go sailing with them. They didn’t want a girl following them around. (Jane)How old was Jane when you first knew her?
I was about ten years old. (Jane)How many years difference between the two of you?
Five and a half years.

Did you and Jane know each other when you were in high school?
Yes, but she was just a kid. Jane’s and my parents were best friends. They got together all the time and played cards.

How did your parents become such good friends?
They became best friends through a family marriage. Jane’s cousin Harry and my sister Anna met while attending a dance at the Swedish club in West Duluth. They ended up getting married.

When did you graduate from high school?
I graduated from high school in June 1937 and went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I worked as a still tender for about six months in same company with my brother. He was an electrical engineer. I got sicker than a dog there from working around toxic chemicals! I went back to Duluth and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and went to Brimson, Minnesota. At that time, the Army operated the “CCC”. I spent six months in it and was discharged in March l939. The lieutenant in charge said, “Why don’t you join the Army?” I couldn’t find a job so, a week later, I enlisted in the Army at Fort Snelling. I had no idea what I was getting into!

THE ROAD TO BATAAN

I spent March 1939 until September 1939 in the infantry. We went on maneuvers at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin for two weeks. We walked from Camp McCoy back to Fort Snelling! Two guys in the infantry kept bugging me saying, “You ought to go to the Philippines.” “It’s wonderful duty over there.” When we got back, I applied for and received a transfer to the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Philippines Islands. I later found out those two guys had been there, didn’t like it, and “bought out.” At that time, you could buy a discharge from the Army for $120.00. I went there on the ship USS Grant. It was a big old tanker the United States had taken from Germany after World War I. On the trip over, we had a storm. Some of the guys got sick and lost their “cookies” all over everything.

Did you get sick on the voyage?
No.
He never gets sick. (Jane)
When we got to Hawaii, we laid over for a day.

Did you go ashore in Hawaii?
Yes. Something happened over there. I don’t know if I told you or not.
No. (Jane, laughter).
They had a hula gal’s show for us, free of charge. When I got up to leave, the others had already gone. I didn’t know where the heck they went. I went through an exit and ended up in the ladies dressing room.
Oh (Jane, laughter).
I got out of there without anything happening.
I can just see him! (Jane, laughter).

Was that on Oahu?
Yes. We were in the main terminal at Honolulu. Pearl Harbor was off to the side. The next day we sailed to Guam, and stopped there for a day.

You went ashore. What was there?
There were a few natives and a small village. We had to anchor quite a ways out and were “lightered” (ferried) ashore. From Guam, we went to Manila. That first day it was so hot and humid a big typhoon came. It was a fitting welcome! I thought, “This is lower than Lower Slobovia!” “What the heck have I got into here.”

How long were you stationed in the Philippines?
I was there from 1939 until 1944. Then, from 1944 until mid-1945, I was in Japan.

You were how old when you arrived in the Philippines?
I was twenty-two and assigned duty at Nichols Field outside Manila. We worked from 8:00 am to 12:00 noon. At noon, everything was closed up and locked and I mean everything! The medics suggested we take a nap in the heat of the day. I got so dog gone lazy I didn’t want to get out of bed. I said “to heck with this!” I bought a bicycle and hit the countryside. I peddled all around southern Luzon; anyplace there was a road. One time I biked from Nichols Field to Cavite, which is about twenty-five miles from Manila. I ate with the Marines and came back the same day.

What were your duties?
I was in the 27th Material Squadron. We were in charge of supplies and aircraft. At Nichols Field, I started as an airplane mechanic and worked my way up to crew chief. Eventually, I became a flight engineer. I got my start in a ship called the A09, a Grumman Amphibian. The commandant of the base, Colonel Ryan said, “That’s my airplane!” We flew four hours a month, just enough time so he could get his flight pay. He wouldn’t let anybody else fly that thing. Probably a year or so before the war Colonel George came and looked at the aircraft. He said, “I want that plane.” He got it because he ranked Colonel Ryan. Colonel George flew the pants off us! He wanted to go to all the bases in the Philippines and check the facilities and supplies. One time he asked me, “How do you get per diem?” Per Diem was sustenance pay we received while away from Nichols Field. I said, “Well, I have to sign these chits and prove I was there.”

He said, “Okay, I’ll take care of it.” Within two days, I received orders that said my per diem pay was exactly the same as the officers. Every time we left base, I got $6.00 too. We continued to fly all over the islands. About a month before hostilities began, we flew combat missions to observe and engage enemy aircraft. Our guns were loaded but you couldn’t fire on the way out unless you saw enemy aircraft. On the way in, you could expend the ammunition. We would empty the guns by shooting a porpoise or stingray down in the water. For gunnery practice, we had aircraft that would tow targets. We would shoot at them. We got pretty good with the machine guns. When we hit the target latch, the tail would fall to the ground. The ground crew would have to go and pick up a new one. They got mad at us when we hit the targets. Man, they were mad at us!

How did the Filipinos treat Americans?
They were extremely friendly. Especially outside of Manila, they would bend over backwards to please you.

Could they speak English?
Sure because the Philippines had been a possession of America for years. We went to one island, Mindora, which is south of Luzon. We landed and a delegation from town came and met us. They said, “We are having a wedding.” “Come on, join us.” We didn’t know anybody but they treated us like kings! We stayed overnight in tents. A twelve-foot python came crawling through the campsite. We tried to tell this knucklehead to leave it alone but he went and shot him with a 30-caliber rifle! That snake thrashed around and tore our tent and stuff to pieces. He caused a heck of a lot of damage before he died.

When did the war start in the Philippines?
The war started December 7, 1941, which was December 8, 1941 at our end of the world. When we got the word, we didn’t believe it. We found out in a hurry that it was true! On December 8, 1941, we were ordered to fly photographic equipment from Nichols Field up to the bombers at Clark Field. They wanted to take off and photograph strategic positions on Formosa. We got on board the A09 Amphibian. For armament I had a 45 caliber sub-machine gun and the other crewmember had a 45-caliber pistol. That was all our armament! We took the doors off so we could see outside. Luckily, we didn’t see any Japanese aircraft on that flight. When we landed at Clark Field, the officers left to deliver the photo material. I was sitting by the plane.

Somebody said, “Gee, look at how the navy is flying up there.” “Look at that formation.” I took one look and shouted, “It’s Japs!”Colonel Maitland, the commandant of Clark Field, had made his troops dig slit trenches. I dove into one and, shortly after that, the bombs came whistling down like you wouldn’t believe. They plastered us for about one-half an hour. Then their fighters came and strafed. I was shooting at them with my 45-caliber submachine gun. I don’t know if I hit anything, but it sure made me feel good to shoot! After the fighters left, this one guy fell into the trench. He said, “Help me!” I said, “Sure, what’s wrong?” He held his leg up in the air. He had no knee left. It was all shot up. I had my bandage kit with me. I poured sulfa powder in the wound and bandaged him up. I left and got a medical corpsman to take care of him. I don’t know what happened to him.
Did the Japanese get the AO9 Amphibian?
Yes. They also destroyed almost all the B-17s. A couple of our P-40s got airborne, but they couldn’t do any good. Captain Wray, who flew us up there, commandeered a car about two o’clock in the afternoon to get us back to Nichols Field.

How far away were you from Nichols Field?
It was about sixty to eighty miles between the two places. Boy, I was shook up when we got back. Sergeant Suttle, a friend of mine, saw I was upset so he handed me a bottle of liquor. I didn’t drink, but took a couple of good swigs. It didn’t even phase me.
Under normal conditions, I would have been flat on my back! Then the 1st Sergeant said, “You have had enough for today.” “Go down by the hangar, lie down, and relax.” “Nothing is going to happen tonight.” “Ya!” About midnight that same night, the Japanese bombers came and clobbered Nichols Field.

Were you sleeping when the raid occurred at Nichols Field?
I was sleeping in the hanger when the first bombs came down. But it didn’t take me long to get out of there, I’ll tell you!
Did they ring the siren? (Jane)
No.

Did they have a siren?
They had a siren but we were caught with our drawers down. That’s all there is to it! It shouldn’t have happened because we had all the indications that war was coming.

The Japanese had landed north of us at Lingayen. They bombed Aparri, a town near Lingayen. They blasted and obliterated the pursuit base at Iba, about 60 miles west of Clark Field. The bomber commander, Major Gen. Brereton, had gone to MacArthur’s headquarters. He tried to get permission to take off and bomb their launching base at Formosa. The answer he got from MacArthur was, “We are not at war.” “We are in the state of war.” General MacArthur was in charge. The bombers stayed on the ground. Personally, I don’t think a bombing mission to Formosa would have succeeded anyway because we weren’t really prepared and so many things could have gone wrong. But by now, the Japanese had wrecked everything. The next day, after the midnight bombing raid on Nichols Field on December 9, 1941, they really plastered us. They came about noon on December 10, 1941, and just leveled Nichols Field. And I mean leveled it! The bombers were up about 20,000 but the fighters were right down on the deck.

What were the functions of Nichols Field and Clark Field?
Nichols Field was a pursuit and observation base while Clark Field was a bomber base.

There were no defenses for the United States?
No. Armament consisted of Old World War I Lewis aircraft guns, the ones with the drum on top of them. They would jam up! Everything we had over there was World War I stuff. We were outdated! The Japanese zeros could fly circles around everything we had over there at that time. The first airplane ride I took over there was in a ZB3 where the pilot sat in front, the gunner sat in back and everything was open.

America was not expecting war?
America knew war was coming but we weren’t ready. For example, some of the P-40s fighters we had didn’t have any cooling fluid. It hadn’t been shipped with the dang things! So, there they sat! A lot of them were destroyed on the ground.After the raids, a ship came in with the stuff that should have been there in the first place. They patched up some of them so they would fly.

Where did you hide to get away from the bombing?
We didn’t stay in the barracks. We were bivouacked away from the base about one-half mile in “the boonies.” Our field kitchen was there too.

Were there human casualties from the bombing and strafing?
Clark Field had the most injuries and people killed because the Japanese caught them at lunchtime with their pants down.Just how many, I don’t know, but it was quite a few. At Nichols, we had more time to disperse. The Japanese wanted to hit the bases and knock out aircraft. I flew one bombing mission.

The 27th Bombardment Squadron (L) from the United States had come over without airplanes. They came to Nichols Field and borrowed three of our old obsolete B-18′s to bomb Lingayen. They didn’t have enough qualified crewmembers and asked me to fly with them. Our commander said to me, “You go with them.”

What was the date of this bombing mission?
It was December 21, 1941.

Where is Lingayen?
Lingayen is north and west of Manila. The Japanese had invaded the Philippines up there with virtually no opposition. Their transports were still anchored in the harbor.

We wanted to try and sink some of them. It was tough because we didn’t have a bombsight in the plane. But, we dropped the bombs at about 18,000 feet anyway. I don’t know if we hit anything, but I saw water splashing.

On the way home, instead of going straight back to Nichols Field, we made a big circle. We weren’t far from Lingayen and north of Baguio. At dusk, Zeros jumped us! They hit the plane and set an engine on fire. We had to bail out!

You were a long ways from Nichols Field. Were you scared when you had to bail out?
Yes because I had never jumped before! It was dark and I lit in a tree. I stayed there since I couldn’t see anything. I wasn’t about to jump down. Who knows what was below me or how far away the ground was? In peacetime we had lost a couple of aircraft that had gone down through the jungle canopy. The canopy could be a hundred feet from the ground.

What did you think about all night?
Well, just how fortunate I was to find a crotch in the tree so I could be comfortable.

When daylight came, how far up in the tree were you?
I was about fifty feet up in the tree. I was lucky because the chute had caught in the tree. The constabulary, or Philippine troops, found me the next morning. The rest of the crew was scattered close to Baguio. The Filipino scouts found everybody. Later that day, we all got together. The scouts found a car and sent us back to Manila.

How many crewmembers were in the plane?
There were six of us.

Were you ever together again?
No.

Jane, did you know he was shot down and spent the night in a tree?
Half of this I don’t know. (Jane)
We stayed at Nichols Field until it was time to leave. We evacuated Manila on December 24, 1941 and boarded some inter-island steamers. They carried us from Manila to Bataan.

Corregidor gun.jpg

Victorious Japanese troops atop Hearn Battery, 6 May 1942.

You got back to Nichols Field on December 23, 1941 and Manila was evacuated on December 24, 1941. You were still at Nichols Field when the evacuation of Manila began?
Yes. First of all, there was no “front line” like we had in World War I. Bataan was divided up into sectors. In a short period of time, since the Japanese invaded, three different lines of defense for Bataan were organized. The Air Corps, including our outfit, became infantry. There was no need for airmen. The Army Air Corps had the East Side of the line, which had the least amount of fighting. My outfit was stationed as reserves in and around Pilar. The Japanese kept pushing the 31st INF, the 45th INF, and the Filipino soldiers back. Our location soon became the “front line” or the third and final line of defense. When we got to Bataan, there were seven airplanes left in the whole island of Luzon! We went on patrols to gather information and locate Japanese units in the area. Sometimes, we would be out three or four days before we had gathered enough worthwhile information. The town of Pilar had an abandoned sugar refinery. We had an informal arrangement with the Japs. When we passed through on patrol, we would stop and fill our canteens with molasses. When the Japanese passed through on their patrols, they would stop and get their molasses. This continued until one time our molasses tasted like sulfur. We thought the Japanese had put something in the molasses. We spotted their positions and shelled the heck out of them with our artillery! Eventually we found out it was the darn sugar dregs in the bottom of the vats that were responsible for the sulfur taste. It wasn’t the Japanese’s fault at all.About a month later, I was visiting a friend of mine who had dengue fever, which is similar to malaria. He was in Hospital Number 2 at Cabcaben, which was about thirty miles south of Pilar in southern Bataan. Colonel George was there visiting an injured airman. We talked and he asked, “Where are you stationed?” I told him “at the front lines” on Bataan. He didn’t say anything else to me. About two days later, the first sergeant came by and said, ” Pack your bags!” “You are going back to Bataan Air Base.”How far was that from where you were?
It was about thirty miles away. I stayed there until the surrender. A Japanese observation flight would come over every morning. We called him “Washing Machine Charlie.” Later, after he had flown over, the bombers and strafers would come. We got bombed and strafed every single day!How did shooting these weapons and the bombing affect your hearing? (Ben Peterson)
I don’t recall the shooting bothering my ears. I guess I didn’t pay any attention to it. The bombing was another story. If it were close, your eardrums would burst. During heavy bombing and shelling I would keep my mouth open. This would equalize the pressure in both sides of the ears.Does the ground shake when bombs hit?
If bombs fall in the distance, you can feel a tremor. If it is close, you will “bounce.” In other words, the tremors would lift you up off the ground and drop you again.
You’re kidding? (Jane)

You arrived at Bataan Air base towards the end of January 1942. The bombing and strafing was continuous. Did you stay there until General King surrendered on April 9, 1942?


Yes.

The Filipino Army General MacArthur developed was supposed to neutralize the Japanese invasion. Was it an effective fighting force?
General MacArthur had an impressive army of two hundred thousand Filipinos. He had a lot of bodies on paper! But there was no unity among the troops. For instance, there were nine or ten different dialects in the various Philippine regions. Soldiers were organized with no consideration as to who came from where. They couldn’t even converse! It would be like taking a Chinese soldier and putting him in with an American and neither could speak each other’s language. Before the war started, General MacArthur said, “My Philippine army can hold the Japanese at the beaches.”But when the Japanese landed at Lingayen, the Filipino army couldn’t hold their positions. They broke through the Filipino lines right after the invasion
File:Corregidor mortar.jpg
Mortars at Corregidor’s Battery Waycould be rotated to fire in any direction.

What was War Plan Orange?
War Plan Orange was a plan to stock Bataan with about six month’s supply of food, ammunition, medicine, and supplies. It was never implemented because MacArthur was not in favor of defensive maneuvers. He ordered the supplies placed on front line positions around Luzon. The plan was to supply the Filipino troops while they were fighting Japanese. But the Japs went through the Filipino lines like you know what through a tin horn and got the food and supplies! As a result, the Filipino Army was starving. Therefore, we had a ration shortage that wouldn’t quit.


By now, all American troops were located on the Bataan Peninsula except those on Corregidor?
Right. General Wainwright was originally the US commander in charge of the West Side defense of Bataan and General King had the East Side defense of Bataan. They both reported to General MacArthur. The East Side was mainly service troops, like the air corps. Like I said, I was at Bataan Airfield on the East Side. This base was about five miles from the front lines where the Japanese broke through. The East Side was had more fighting because of the open areas and sugar cane fields. The West Side had less combat because of the heavy jungle. The Filipinos were in the center of the line on the Bataan Peninsula and, therefore, got the brunt of the whole mess. The Japanese found holes in the third line of defense and kept pushing everyone back further and further. The Filipino regiment in the middle of our defensive area just walked back away from the Japanese. They quit because they were starving to death and large stores of food had been abandoned to the enemy! We were starving to death too and the Filipinos were getting less than we were. General MacArthur’s inept planning wasted all the food. We received half rations on Bataan from day one because there was nothing to eat!

We were told to “watch the monkeys.” “What they eat, you can eat.” If we saw a monkey, that’s what we ate! We ate the jungle, i.e. anything that moved, crawled, or grew!

We ate snake, lizard, pony, mule, iguana, rats, monkeys, you name it, and we tried it! We tried EVERYTHING! We spent more time looking for food than fighting the Japanese!

Could you find any vegetables?
We found wild bananas. They tasted good but have very little meat and a lot of seeds. You could just chew a bit around the edges and that was it.

Did you have water to drink?
There weren’t any wells so we drank water from streams. I don’t know why we didn’t get sick.

Major General Edward P. King -- Photo Courtesy of the Battling Bastards of BataanEveryone had to forage for food and fight at the same time?
Yes. General King tried to establish a line of resistance but failed. If we would have had food and equipment, we probably could have counter-attacked. We might have been able to push them off Bataan. They were just about as bad off as we were, in fact, maybe a little worse. Some of their units hadn’t been re-supplied since they invaded. But they were finally re-supplied and broke through the defenses.
The bulk of MacArthur’s defense was the Philippine army.
That’s right. I can’t fault them because they had it worse then we did and we had it bad.
But General King couldn’t see any reason to continue. When the Filipinos couldn’t form another defensive line, that was it. We had no defense! The Japanese were coming! Believe me, they would have slaughtered us! He would rather surrender than see his men slaughtered. He didn’t have authority from Wainwright, his commanding officer on Corregidor, to surrender. I wasn’t there but my friend Tony Urban was. General King told them, “Men, I know you feel bad, but you didn’t surrender, I surrendered you.” “Don’t feel bad for yourself.” He went on his own to the Japanese and surrendered on April 9, 1942.

How did you personally feel about the surrender?
The night of the surrender, I couldn’t figure out why we had to stop fighting. I was scared and I was mad. It was traumatic to know we were through. There were a lot of people who would like to have kept on. But it was no use. We had no defense.

American War correspondent Frank Hewlett penned a poem that went through our units like wildfire:

The Battling Bastards of Bataan
We are the Battling Bastards of Bataan,
No Mama, no Papa, no Uncle Sam!
No Aunts, no Uncles, no Cousins, no Nieces,
No Planes, no Pills, no Artillery Pieces!
And nobody gives a Damn!
The troops identified with this poem?
Yes. It was a true assessment of our present situation!
File:Surrender on Bataan.jpg
U.S. and Filipino forces surrender to the Japanese Army at Bataan
Did you fight it out with the Japanese until General King surrendered?
No. There was still sporadic fighting going on when King met with the Japanese. He issued an order for his troops to quit and they did. After the surrender, everything was chaos, I’ll tell you! We burned as much as we could, i.e. equipment, materials, our personal gear, or anything the Japanese could use. What didn’t burn was thrown into the ocean or wherever we could get rid of it. I had a watch and a class ring. My folks had given me the watch for graduation from high school. My ring was my high school graduation class ring. The night of the surrender, I threw both of them in a creek so nobody could find the damned things. They would have taken them off of me anyway. In fact, later on during the march, I saw Japanese soldiers who had three or four wristwatches on their forearms. I knew darned well where they came from! If anyone had any Japanese stuff, they had to get rid of it, i.e. Japanese swords, money, yen, or anything scrounged from dead Japanese. You didn’t dare have any of that on you. If the Japanese found it, you were finished!Did you just stay put and wait for the Japanese?
No. We started walking toward Mariveles. After a while we stopped to rest because we were exhausted. All of a sudden the whole earth started quivering under us. It was a damned earthquake and were we shocked!You were walking back toward Mariveles, away from the Japanese.
Yes. About two miles from Mariveles we stopped at a supply camp, which had an ammunition dump. American troops had recently been there. To our surprise, the kitchen still had food in it.

What kind of food did you have to eat in this camp?
We had C-rations, which were items packaged in cans. C-rations you could cook. D-rations were absolutely dry foods. They usually consisted of a chocolate bar with oatmeal and other nutrients. At this point, we had very little of anything! And, even after we had surrendered, this knucklehead lieutenant wanted to ration the food! We found a bunch of World War I hand gernades. We told the lieutenant these had to be destroyed so the Japanese wouldn’t get them. He tried to stop us but we wouldn’t listen to him. We found a slit trench, pulled the pins, and threw them in. Half of them wouldn’t even go off! The stuff we had! We were fighting World War II with World War I equipment and I mean that literally!

That must have been depressing. How many soldiers were in your group?
There was about fifty of us from various outfits, including some stragglers we picked up along the road. But, during this time, I almost made a big mistake.What was that?
I knew a planter down on the island of Mindora, which is quite a ways south of Manila. We had visited him many times and stayed at his ranch. We found out he had a guerrilla operation going on. Two of us wanted to get a dugout and go. Our chicken-shit lieutenant said, “Absolutely not.” “The Japanese know how many dugouts and men we have.” He said we had to stay put because the Japanese controlled and patrolled everything all the way down. There was no way in heck we could have made it. I probably would have been killed. His decision saved my life.
How long were you on Bataan and how many Americans were there?
I was there from December 24, 1941, to April 9, 1942, and there were about 12,000 American soldiers there with me.That’s a lot of people to supply!
There were about 62,000 Filipinos troops as well.How many miles long is that area?
Bataan is about 80 miles long and probably 25-30 miles wide.
File:Correg-japanese-landing.jpg
Japanese troops landing on Corregidor

What was happening on Corregidor?
When General King surrendered Bataan, the troops on Corregidor were still fighting.

Who was out there?
General Wainright, his entourage, about 5,000 American troops, and the Filipino government.

Japanese soldiers take down the American Flag at the Old Spanish Flagpole in Corregidor Island.

Did American soldiers go out there with him?
No. All American soldiers went to Bataan except the 4th Marines. They had been evacuated from China to Manila shortly before the war. There were thousands of soldiers on Corregidor. Some were Filipinos, but most were Americans. The problem with the Corregidor defenses was all their coastal artillery guns, except the mortars, were trained seaward. They couldn’t swivel them around and fire inland. All they could use to hit the Japanese on Bataan were big 12 to 24-inch mortars.

File:Malinta surrender.jpg

American and Filipino prisoners of war outside Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor May 6, 1942

How far was Corregidor from Bataan?
Probably three miles across the strait.

There were about one hundred thousand troops including Americans and the Filipinos on the Bataan Peninsula?
That’s right.

General Jonathan Wainwright -- U.S. Archive PhotoWho was in charge?
General MacArthur was at first. When he left Corregidor on a PT boat under orders from President Roosevelt, General Jonathan Wainwright took over his job. He was in command of all our forces in the Philippines. General Edward King was in charge of the Northern Luzon Force and surrendered the soldiers there. He became a prisoner of war with the rest of us. I don’t know what happened to him. General Wainwright surrendered in May 1942. I don’t remember the exact date because, by that time, we were in captivity. When he surrendered, he surrendered everything. Originally, Wainwright tried to say he didn’t have control over our troops on Mindanao, but the Japanese had obtained copies of the orders MacArthur issued putting Wainwright in charge of all US forces in the Philippines.

(WRITER’S NOTE: After World War II, General Jonathan Wainwright was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman)

How did the Japanese finally capture you and your group?
We stayed at our camp near Mariveles. I took my 45-caliber revolver, wrapped it in rags, put in a can, and dumped a bunch of oil on them to protect it. I put in the hollow of a tree. I’ll bet it’s still there. Anyway, about three days later, a Japanese combat patrol just walked in.What were you doing?
We were just sitting and waiting. We knew it was inevitable and only a matter of time.Capture! -- Drawing Courtesy of Ben SteeleDo you recall what you felt?
Just Ahhhh. Just like, it’s all over.After the surrender and during the subsequent march, did you pray to God and try spiritually to cope with this situation?
Absolutely.You didn’t blame God or feel, “Why did he allow this?”
No. I didn’t say, “If you get me out of this, I’ll go to church every Sunday.” There were people that did. Some hadn’t seen the inside of a church since heaven knows when. Before the war I heard people say, “I don’t believe in religion.” “I don’t believe in God.” After the war started, I never met an atheist. When the bombs started falling and shells started whistling, it was a different story. They got religion in a hurry.

The old saying from World War I, “There are no atheists in the foxhole” is a good, honest statement and pretty darn true. I carried a little pocket testament with me the whole time and read it regularly. That’s one thing the Japanese didn’t take away from me!

How did you carry it on the march?

I carried it between my legs in my shorts.
Do you still have it?
Oh yes.What did the Japanese do after they entered your camp?
They had an interpreter who could speak danged good English. He told us that the next morning we would be heading towards our place of captivity. He didn’t say where. He said we would be fed. Before we left a Japanese private got hold of a 45-caliber pistol. I don’t know where he found it. Apparently he hadn’t seen one before. He sure didn’t know how to handle the danged thing because he shot himself. They hauled him off and chattered like a bunch of monkeys. For a while we thought they would reprimand us but nothing happened. We got ready to move out.The Bataan Death March was about to begin?
Ya!

THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH

You and your group began the march on April 12, 1942?

Yes. We began walking the next morning. It was about eighty miles from where we started to where we ended up. It doesn’t seem very far, but we were in such awful condition that eighty miles was a heck of a long way to walk. It took six days to get to San Fernando. There, the march ended and we got on board a train. But in that six days, a lot happened.

On the first day, I saw two things I will never forget. A Filipino man had been beheaded. His body lay on the ground with blood everywhere. His head was a short distance away. Also, there was a dead Filipino woman with her legs spread apart and her dress pulled up over her. She obviously had been raped and there was a bamboo stake in her private area. These are instances I would like to forget.

I’m sure. How awful! So, you started marching at Mariveles and walked eighty miles to San Fernando, a railroad terminal. Did everyone take that road?
No, but most prisoners did. The captured soldiers on the West Side walked partially up the West Side, came across the peninsula, and went up the East Coast like we did.

What was the typical day like on the march?
We walked all day. At night, the Japanese took us to a field to sleep. You would lie down and pass out right there.

You started at sunup and walked all day until night. Did you stop along the way?
You just kept walking.

What would you do if you had to go to the bathroom?
If anyone had to, they went right in their drawers as they walked. If you stopped or got off to the side, you would have been bayoneted or shot. I didn’t go to the bathroom because I had nothing to pass. Body fluid came out in sweat. I don’t recall going to the bathroom until we got up to Camp O’Donnell. The first time I urinated, I thought I was going to die. It burned like sin.

You just kept walking. There was no food or water during the day. At the end of the day you were escorted to a field, or wherever they wanted you to sleep. The next morning it would start all over again?
Yes. In the morning, we would get up and start walking. That went on for six days.
Oriental Sun Treatment -- Photo Courtesy of the Battling Bastards of BataanWhat was the Oriental Sun Treatment?
During the day, at some point, the Japanese would call a halt. We would go to an open field and sit down. We just sat there, the hot sun beating down on us like mad.

After an hour or so, they would get us up and we would start walking again.

Was there any shade?
If there was any shade, the Japanese found it. Guards still walked around where we were. You could have slipped away any time, but where would you have gone?

Weary American Soldiers Rest in Utter Fear and Disbelief. -- U.S. Archive PhotoThe Japanese probably wanted to rest. Did you have anything to keep the sun off you?
We had no shade whatsoever! I was fortunate because I had my helmet on.

They let you wear it?
Yes. Some other soldiers had helmets but many others were bareheaded.

Didn’t everybody get terribly sunburned?
We were used to it. If you didn’t have a hat on, though, it was tough.

Did the Japanese issue different clothing?
We wore the same clothes we had on when we were captured.

As you walked, were the Japanese constantly yelling and pushing or did they just walk along with everyone else?
It depended on us. If we got below a certain walking speed, they would start hollering. As long as you kept a fairly decent pace, they didn’t say or do anything. It wasn’t a fast pace, just kind of shuffling along. The last two days we walked in close formation.

The Japanese weren’t too keen on a forced march?
No. They had to walk along with us.

Did you walk on the blacktop highway?
Yes. We had been starved for such a long time we were really run down. We looked like a bunch of stragglers. We didn’t get anything to eat for four days.

Along the way, Filipinos would try to give us food. The Japanese shot some of them.

Finally, the last two days, everyone got one rice ball each day to eat.

How large were the rice balls?
They were about the size of the amount of rice you could get in a coffee cup.

You didn’t eat a thing for four days and you were already starved when you were captured.
That’s right. We weren’t given any water either. There was good water all around us. Artesian wells flowing everywhere! They would not let us go and get it. Men went stark raving mad! Soldiers broke ranks and ran towards the water.

They went completely insane because they had to get it. They never got it! Of course, you know what happened to them.

Our soldiers were shot before they reached water?
That’s right.

Did you ever drink stagnant water?
If you were lucky, that’s just what you got. We drank foul smelling and stagnant water from the ditches. Some guys got terrible diarrhea. Fortunately, I didn’t get any ill effects from drinking it.

There were clean artesian wells nearby but you had to drink stagnant water?
Yes. You scooped it up as you walked. We were not allowed to go to the artesian wells, which were about half a block from the road. We were able to get water at night by collecting canteens. You didn’t dare get too many or they would rattle. We would handle them very carefully and quietly sneak off to an artesian well. You held a canteen under water and filled two or three of them. Then we came back and passed them around. If the Japanese had caught us, that would have been it! We would have been shot. Fortunately, I was never caught.

Did they ever cook food in front of you but not serve it?
During the day, the Japs would tell us we would get rice balls when we got to our nighttime destination. When we got to the field where we were going to spend the night, you could see and smell food cooking across the road.

They would give some excuse why we couldn’t have any. I don’t remember exactly what the excuses were. They usually had to do with some phony rule infraction on our part. Anyway, they would eat the food in front of us but we wouldn’t get any. I remember this happened two nights out of five on the march.

Were you injured in any way on the march?
I don’t remember what day it was because things were kind of hazy on the trip. On the march out of Bataan, a Japanese cavalryman was standing in the middle of the road swinging a baseball bat. He didn’t care who he hit. He just kept swinging that bat! When I walked by, that bat caught me across my upper left leg. Boy, did it hurt! I kept going because I didn’t let that son-of-a-gun – I could use stronger language – know he had hurt me. That was the only bad thing that happened to me personally on the march.

The Japanese showed no mercy to anyone did they?


No. If people would fall down and couldn’t go any further, the Japanese would either bayonet or shoot them. They also would bayonet prisoners who couldn’t keep up.

Those who stepped out of line or had fallen out of ranks were beaten with clubs and/or rifle butts. Some American prisoners who couldn’t keep up were run over by Japanese vehicles. I saw the remains of an American soldier who had been run over by a tank. I didn’t see the actual event but the Japanese just left his remains in the middle of the road. We could see them as we walked by.

Once you were put in a field for the night, did you ever have to get up and march again?
Yes. They would make us march anytime! For example, we were put in the field at the end of the day.

Just after we got comfortable and settled down, they would come and tell us to get up. We would start out marching again. If they got us up in the middle of the night, we would march the rest of the night and all the next day until night. Then, we were put in a field again.

What about wounded American soldiers?
They were expected to keep up like everyone else, regardless of their condition. But, some wounded prisoners just couldn’t go on. They were either bayoneted, beat with clubs, rifle butts, or shot. Some soldiers had diarrhea so bad that they couldn’t keep up and the Japanese shot them.

Did you ever see the “Buzzard Squads?”
No, I didn’t see them because they were behind us. We heard them, though. It was their job to “take care of” or “finish off” any stragglers or those who fell out and couldn’t continue. Each separate group on the march had their own so-called “Buzzard Squad.”
One of the most horrifying aspects of this march was that some of our American soldiers were even buried alive?
Yes. They were buried alive in slit trenches, which we used for bathroom facilities.

When the trenches were almost full, the Japanese would take a detail of prisoners to fill them up with dirt. On one occasion I saw a soldier who had diarrhea really bad and went to the bathroom. After he finished, he could barely get up. He slipped and fell backwards into the trench. The Japanese ordered the prisoner detail to cover him up right there, which they did. They had no choice!

The Japanese were brutal and cruel to American soldiers?
I’ll tell you, everything you have read or heard about those little yellow slant-eyes happened on the march! After the march was over, I didn’t see any men buried alive.

What did the Japanese do with the bodies of soldiers who died or were killed along the way or in the concentration camps?
On the march, they took their dog tags off and left them along the roadside. I didn’t actually see this, but found out about it later. It was probably the only humanitarian thing they did. As we walked along, we could see the bodies of decomposing American soldiers and Filipino women who had been mutilated and obviously raped. I’m sure the dogs in the area got fat! In the prison camps the bodies were cremated.

They could have taken the dog tags off for insensitive reasons. If the bodies were ever found, they couldn’t be identified. Or, they could have kept them for identification purposes. Did you see the Japanese driving American-made vehicles, Fords, Chevrolets, and GMC’s?
Yes. They would drive along the road in captured American equipment, hauling troops, etc. The trucks had our big star on them with US Army and USA insignias. They also had some captured P-40s. Later, when we got to Clark Field, some “quislings” or “turncoat” American soldiers from our camp helped the Japanese fix them up.

What were you feeling and thinking about as you were walking along?
Once the march started, everything just sort of froze in my mind. I was pretty numb the whole time. I didn’t think and I didn’t feel. I was like a robot and just kept moving. Other than daylight or dark, I lost all track of time. I had to blank everything out and focus straight ahead. I lived from day to day, in fact, hour by hour. The only thing I thought about was the moment and, “The good Lord willing, I’ll get through the day.

Were there any women on the march? (Jane)
No. There were quite a few of nurses working at field hospitals in the Philippines. They were imprisoned, but I don’t know the circumstances. They might have been trucked or taken by ferry to Bilibid Prison or Santo Tomas University. There weren’t any women marching in our group.

There were a number of marches. It wasn’t just one long continuous march, right?
Yes. We weren’t one close-knit group by any means. When the Japanese got a bunch together, say one hundred or so, that group would start walking. You might get the impression it was one long line, but it wasn’t. One group would start and then a couple of days later, another one came along. When we got to our destination, Camp O’Donnell, soldiers kept coming in. For how long or how many had passed before and after us, I don’t know. On the sixth day, we got to Balanga and were fed a second rice ball. From Balanga, we walked to San Fernando.


We arrived in San Fernando, got on a train, and headed for Camp O’Donnell.

The train consisted of six or seven World War I era boxcars, ‘forty- by-eight’s, I guess they called them.They packed us in the cars like sardines, so tight you couldn’t sit down. Then they shut the door. If you passed out, you couldn’t fall down. If someone had to go to the toilet, you went right there where you were. It was close to summer and the weather was hot and humid, hotter than Billy blazes! We were on the train from early morning until late afternoon without getting out. People died in the railroad cars. I don’t know why, but the train stopped at a little town outside Clark Field. They opened the boxcar doors and the Filipinos tried to feed us. The Japanese beat them off with clubs and shut the boxcar doors. The Filipinos tried to throw the food since they couldn’t get close to the train. We never got the food. After about an hour, the train started up. Later on, we arrived at the small town of Capas.

The Hell Ships

Back to Bataan - A Survivor's Story

http://www.bataansurvivor.com/
We boarded the Noto Maru in Manila harbor. All Japanese ship names ended with the word “maru.” I don’t know why.Written by Rick Peterson

WRITER’S NOTE: Research showed that the word “maru” was the equivalent to the SS prefix of American ships and the word “fortress.”

What kind of ship was the Noto Maru?
She had been an inter-island freighter before the war. The ship would sail from Japan to the Philippines, pick up sugar, and return to Japan.

The Noto Maru was one of the “hell ships?”
Yes.

When you boarded, how many ships were in the harbor picking up prisoners?
They took us by ferries to the middle of the harbor. The Noto Maru was the only one loading American prisoners. The harbor was quite congested with ships. I don’t know the reason they were there. We boarded the Noto Maru by walking up a big old gangplank. Then the Japanese ran us down into the ship’s hot hold. It was in the middle of the day. It was hotter than Billy Blazes!

How big was the hold?
It was about 1,000 square feet and rectangular in shape. It sure wasn’t much for five companies totaling 1,162 men. Each company had an officer in charge. Some companies were more than 200 men, some were less. We boarded the ship in companies and stayed in these companies throughout our captivity. Company One was the first to board way back in the hold.

Company Two boarded and got a little bit closer to the opening, Company Three got closer yet, Company Four closer yet, and Company Five was right in front. I was in Company Four, which was relatively close to the hatch. We went through boarding and disembarking three times before we finally sailed. We would go there, get on the ship, get in the hold, and the next day they would take us all off. I don’t know why. There probably was submarines around or some reason not to sail. We finally boarded on August 13, two days before we sailed and left Manila Harbor on August 15, 1944.

During those two days you were confined to that hot hold?
Yes.

Were there other holds in the ship besides the one you were in?
I’m sure there were others but we stayed in the same one for the entire voyage.

Did the Japanese give you water?
They sent it down once a day in a big old bucket. If you were lucky, you got some. If not, too bad. Maybe a friend would give you some. He would if he got some.

How much water did you get? (Jane)
I got a cup every once in a while.

A cupful a day? (Jane)
Yes.

Did you get food?
They sent down a big bucket of food once a day. They designated some Americans to dole it out to us.

You were fortunate to get a cup of water and Lugao, that soupy rice, once a day?
Yes.

It must have been something, crammed in there in the heat with all those people.
It was hell!

What are the seasons like in the Philippines?
Their seasons are reversed from ours. It is spring there in August and the beginning of the dry season. The fields get big cracks, six feet deep just from the dryness. It is hot there all the time, spring, winter, summer, and fall.

The rainy season would follow?
Yes. There were two rainy seasons and two dry seasons.

You were in the harbor in the hold on that ship for two days. Did you have any idea what was going on? Were you able to communicate with the Japanese?
We had no idea what was going on. When we were loaded in the hold, they hauled up the ladder. There was no way to get out of that place or communicate with anyone.

They just left you down there in that stifling hold?
Yes.

What were you wearing at the time?
We wore whatever we had on when we were captured! I had a pair of khaki pants, a khaki shirt, and underwear, which I kept the whole damned time.

This was over a year and one half since capture! They didn’t give you guys anything else to wear?
No, we didn’t get anything else.

What would happen if you got a rash from being hot and sweaty in dirty clothes for such as long time? Did you get sick or have any medical problems during the voyage?
I didn’t have any medical problems during the voyage.

What happened if, for instance you got something in your eye? What would you do if you had injured yourself in some way?
Tough! We had nothing to treat anything with. We had no medication whatsoever on the voyage or in the prison camps, for that matter. Fortunately, I had my illnesses prior to being in captivity except for malaria.

You didn’t have any medication in the camps either?
No.

How did you sleep?
There wasn’t enough room for anyone to stretch out. There wasn’t any room to sit. You either stood or squatted.

You were really packed in there.
We were packed in there like sardines.

Was there fighting because of the close quarters?
Surprisingly, after we got settled in, there was very little. Tempers would flare once in a while, but that was short lived. Everybody was in the absolute same boat as everyone else.

How did you go to the bathroom?
Ha! The latrine was a big tub about six feet across and about three feet deep. It was located directly below the opening above on deck. To get there you had to crawl over everyone. When you did, you lost your place. If you were lucky you could get it back. I was in Company Four, which was next to the last to get down into the hold. It wasn’t so bad for me because I was close to the middle of the hold. The hatch was open but didn’t provide much ventilation. The Japanese were not too careful when they raised the tub and some of the contents would spill down on some of the prisoners.

It must have just smelled terrible especially with the latrine right there!
It reeked and it was hot! There was very little ventilation.

Was there any electric light in the hold?
No way! There wasn’t any light at all. During the day, the hatch was open. But it was dark most of the time. It was open at night but that didn’t change anything. In the tropics, nighttime is like pulling a shade over everything. There is nothing blacker than a tropical sky at night! We sailed in the China Sea to Takao, a port at Formosa. I don’t know how many days it took because I lost track of time. We knew there were more ships in the convoy, but had no idea how many. Some soldiers were able to get up on deck by faking sickness and could see other ships. We zigzagged back and forth to avoid submarines.

When you arrived, did you realize you were in Formosa?
No. After the war, I found out we had been in Takao, Formosa. I also discovered there were several tankers and ships in our sailing group for a total of ten to fifteen ships. The first day we were there, the Japanese ran us up on deck in small groups.

How did you get up on deck?
We climbed up a wooden ladder. When we got on deck, they sprayed us down with ice-cold salt water from pressure hoses. After about ten minutes, they ran us down into the hold. We never left that hole again until we reached Japan.

You didn’t get some fresh air and have time to look around a bit?
No. You ran up, they put the hose on you, and back down you went!

Was it far from the deck into the hold?
I would say about fifteen feet. You couldn’t begin to reach up and touch the deck from the floor of the hold. The B-17s came on the second day. We couldn’t hear them coming and didn’t know they were there until bombs started falling.

They probably were doing high-altitude bombing. How long did the bombing raid last?
I guess about forty-five minutes. The bombers didn’t hit anything in the harbor. Their aiming was atrocious, thank goodness!

They had no idea American prisoners of war were in that ship?
None at all! The Japanese didn’t mark their ships with Red Crosses or any markings whatsoever! Besides prisoners, our ship carried Japanese troops, civilians, and who knows what else. We stayed in Takao harbor for two days. We set sail the day after the bombing.

What did you do in that hold during the voyage?
We just sat there in that in that dark, smelly, hot hold.

Would you take turns and try to lie down?
Nobody could lie down. There were some people that were sick. They stayed in the very front of the hold where the “Benjo Bucket” was. We called the latrine the “Benjo Bucket.” They could lie down there. The rest of us either stood or squatted and tried to be comfortable.

Couldn’t you sit instead of squat? (Jane).
There were eleven hundred and some people in that small hold. There was no room! You would sit there with your knees up to your chin. You were leaning on the other guy’s legs behind you.

That had to be very uncomfortable. You couldn’t lay or sit down for all that time! You had to squat?
That’s right.

Good Lord! (Jane)

Did anyone go insane while you were in there?
No one went insane on our ship. But, there was no perception of time.

Were there any sea battles?
Not when we sailed from the Philippines to Formosa. After we left Formosa, submarines attacked the convoy.

What happened when the attack began?
The Japanese had a machine gun on deck they brandished at us. It was like they were saying, “You better not try and come up!”

Did the attack happen during the day or at night?
The hatch on our hold was open and it was dark. We knew for sure that something was happening. The Japanese were running around up on deck and were very excited. We started to hear and feel a lot of “thuds.” We later learned these “thuds” were exploding depth charges.

What was the mood of the prisoners?
We were getting desperate. Many people were saying, “Hit us!” “Hit us!”

Do you recall what you were thinking during this attack?
I was thinking, “Hit us.”

You felt that way too? Were you afraid?
Surprisingly, no. I would say 99% of us were calm during the attack.

There wasn’t a mass panic of trying to climb out?
No. I don’t know what would have happened had we been hit. But, there was no panic.

Where was the rope ladder?
They had pulled it up out of the hold.

We heard and felt one tremendous explosion and saw a big glare in the sky. This had to have happened when a Japanese tanker was hit. Since we were in the hold, we couldn’t see any actual fire.

Did everyone get excited?
Yes! When we saw the glare, everybody hollered, “Yeah!”Right after that, the Japanese closed the hatch so we couldn’t see anything.

How long did that attack last?
I would guess it lasted several hours. We continued to zigzag. The submarines chased us for quite a while. I don’t know if any other ships were hit. After the attack was over, they peeled off the hatch. Shortly after that, it was daylight. They figured we might try to riot or cause trouble, which we didn’t. The crew stayed up there anyway with the machine gun just in case. Nothing else happened on the voyage except the awful time we spent in that hot, stinking hold. We headed for Japan!

Except the unspeakable conditions in the hold, the major incidents of the hell ship’s voyage to Japan was the bombing in Formosa by US B-17s and the submarine attack?
Yes. We left the Philippines on August 15, 1944, and arrived in Japan on September 6, 1944. We spent a total of twenty-three sailing days in that awful hot and stinking hold! As we approached Moji, Japan, I was assigned to a detail. I don’t remember what it was, but they put the ladder down and I went up on deck. I was in the first small group to climb out of that hold. When I got on deck, I knew my name, rank, and serial number. That was all! If I would have been in that hold much longer, I probably would have gone insane. I never had to go back in that awful hold again.

WRITER’S NOTE: Out of the approximately eleven “Hell Ships” which left the Philippines, only five or six safely reached Japan. The others succumbed to attacks, resulting in the loss of thousands of American lives.

JAPAN

You were still in Company Number Four when you arrived in Japan?
Right. Let me show you something. In this book, you can see my name along with the names of the people who went with me to the prison camp in Japan. After arriving at Moji, we disembarked from the ship and formed into our same companies on the dock.

The Japanese marched us to a ferry and we sailed across the bay to Shimonoseki. At Shimonoseki, we were herded into a big warehouse. The guards stripped us down, took away our old clothes, and gave us Japanese military uniforms. We got clean clothes but didn’t get to wash and clean up. We didn’t get anything to eat until we got to the warehouse at Shimonoseki. The Japanese gave us a big rice ball, a slice of apple, a piece of fish, and water to drink. It was the best food we had in years!

You didn’t get to bathe and had to put on Japanese military uniforms. I’ll bet it was nice to get clean clothes though, considering you had been wearing the same ones you had on prior to the surrender! This all happened on September 6, 1944?
Yes. We stayed overnight in the warehouse.

THE NOMACHI EXPRESS

The next morning, September 7, 1944, while it was still dark, we boarded day coaches on a passenger train. The Japanese made us pull the window shades clear down. They didn’t want civilians to see us. They said the civilians would riot and cause us harm if they saw us. I find this doubtful now. The civilians we knew in Japan weren’t that way.

It wasn’t anything like the train rides from San Fernando to Camp O’Donnell?
No!

What did you do on the train?
We just sat.

Did you get food and water during the trip?
Yes. When we boarded the train, we were given a box lunch. It contained a big rice ball, a cucumber, and an apple.

How long was the train ride?
It lasted several days because we weren’t traveling very fast. The Japanese had decided in advance where each company of prisoners would go. The train stopped several places and different groups of people got off. We were in Company Four, the next to the last group to disembark. At Tokyo, we switched trains. The train we had been on went on to a coal mining town located in northern Japan at Hanawa. Our train went almost due west of Tokyo. We passed through the town of Takaoka, which had a big steel mill. The town was about fifteen or twenty miles southwest of our future camp. In the final days of the war, American B-29s firebombed this steel mill. We know because we went through there after the war. Anyway, it took about a half a day to get to our destination. The name of our new camp was Camp Nomachi.

CAMP NOMACHI

You went to Camp Nomachi by train?
Yes. I arrived in September 1944 and stayed there until the end of the war. The camp had been prepared for us. It was all set up and waiting. I think the Japanese had previously used it for their troops. There were two large barracks with toilet facilities, running water, and a mess hall. The barracks offered us two tiers of bunks with tatamis, big straw mattresses that were harder than a brick! Each prisoner was issued two blankets and a “neck-breaking,” hard pillow.

Did it have a fence around it and look like a prison camp?
There were several strands of barbed wire fence about ten feet high.

Did you have time to get acclimated to your new surroundings?
Everyone went to work the next day. You acclimated to the camp as you went along.

Was the compound lit up at night?
The perimeter had lights. There weren’t any searchlights scouring the camp.

How did the Japanese transmit orders?
They had an interpreter. The officer in charge of the camp would tell the interpreter what he wanted. The interpreter, in turn, would tell our officers. The officers would disperse us accordingly. Japanese military and civilian guards were there all the time. They came, did their shifts, and left.

Do you want to see a picture of the Nomachi POW camp?

Yes.
The Japanese commander in the photo with our American camp commander, Lieutenant Sense is “The One-Armed Bandit.” He arranged for this picture after the Japanese surrender and sent the negative to Lieutenant Sense. The Japanese camp commander is in the second row and Lieutenant Sense is here. I weighed less than 100 pounds in this picture, as did everyone else!

What happened to that Japanese camp commander after the war?
Nothing. He wasn’t a bad guy. He had lost an arm fighting in China, which is why we called him “The One-Arm Bandit.” As long as you did your work, he left you alone. Each week, in the wintertime, we were issued a couple pieces of wood for heat.

We had one pot-bellied stove right in the middle of the barracks, which was supposed to heat the whole place. It never did. When he got drunk, he would come in our barracks and tell us to “fire the stove up, get it hot!” “I’ll get you more wood tomorrow,” he would say. We fired it up but never got any additional wood. He promised, but I don’t think he had the wood to give us.

Why would he come in there?
I had no idea why he came in! He had Saki in his head and would come in “roaring drunk.” He didn’t beat anybody. He never beat or physically abused anybody that I saw.

What type of work did you do?
My work was different than the rest of the prisoners. The Japanese came through and asked our commander if anyone could run a lathe. There were two of us who knew how to operate one. They took us to a machine shop and we worked on the lathes. That’s where I worked the whole time during my captivity in Japan. I was more fortunate than most of the people in camp.

Again, Alf, God was still watching out for you and blessing you even in captivity! Was the machine shop located by the manganese smelting operation?
No. The machine shop was located about one-half mile from the camp. The smelting plant was across the bay and accessible by boat.

What was a typical day like?
We always got up early! I don’t know what time we did get up, but our alarm clocks were the military guards. They would come in the barracks early every morning, holler, and stomp their feet. That woke everybody up! We got up and got dressed. Then we would have lugao, that soupy rice. Each morning, after we had eaten breakfast, a civilian guard would escort the two of us to the machine shop. We generally worked ten to twelve hours a day.

You would go out the gate with the guard and walk to the machine shop.
Yes. We would work there until noon. The civilian guard would escort us back to camp for lunch.

What did you have for lunch?
We had a cooked rice ball for lunch. Then we would go back to work. At quitting time, the civilian guard would escort us back to camp. We would eat soupy rice for supper. I would get about a canteen cup of that “goulash.”

Was lugao thin like oatmeal or cream of wheat?
It was thinner!

Were all meals consumed in the barracks?
Yes. The food was cooked in the mess hall and we ate in the barracks.

What would you do after supper?
After supper we went to bed.

That was it?
That was it.

Was it quiet in the barracks?
Yes. You could hear a mouse walk in there. Nothing was going on and the bombing hadn’t started yet.

This went on seven days a week, week after week, month after month?
Yes.

Prisoners didn’t sit around in the evening talking, reading, playing games or cards, or smoking cigarettes?
After supper no one felt like doing anything. We didn’t have anything to talk about or anything to read. We never had any cards to play or any cigarettes to smoke. There were absolutely no facilities there for us, or anything to do!

In the evening, did you stay inside the barracks or could you walk around outside?
After work, we went inside the barracks and ate. After that it was curfew and we couldn’t go outside. We did have a problem when we went to bed regardless of what time it was. There were bed lice in the straw mattresses and blankets. You would wake up every morning with bites all over your body.

Couldn’t you do anything about them?
No! We had no medication whatsoever! You just got used to it. People find it hard to believe, but you got used to it.

The only infestation was the bed lice?
Yes. I don’t recall any mosquitoes or any other kind of bug in Japan. If someone were bad off medically, the medical officer would send him to the Japanese hospital. In the Philippines, one soldier with a bad case of appendicitis was sent to their hospital. Our doctor couldn’t go with him. He came back to us in worse shape than when he left. They cut him up so badly that he was physically ruined for the rest of his life. The Japanese didn’t use anesthetic when they operated on prisoners. If we had a tooth problem, the medical officer would pull them with a pair of pliers. We didn’t have any anesthetic or medical supplies for anything! One P.O.W, not in our camp, had been captured on Wake Island. There, his own corpsman operated on him for appendicitis. For anesthetic, seven marines held him down.

Did the Japanese perform medical experiments on any prisoners at Camp Nomachi?
They didn’t do medical experiments on any person from our group. They may have done them on others. They did do medical experiments on captured Chinese soldiers in China.
Our most serious medical problem was malnutrition! We were all suffering from it. In the Philippines, when we went out on details, we could pick up weeds and stuff to eat. We would bring whatever we found back to camp and cook it. We ate everything that moved, grew, swam, whatever. We tried everything; I mean everything! We didn’t have the opportunity to do that in Japan.

The hunger pangs or feelings never left for those years?
That’s right. I was always hungry. Always! I was hungry before the American surrender on Bataan, and from the days of the Bataan Death March until we were liberated.
Why didn’t your stomach shrink up? You wouldn’t be that hungry.
It might have shrunk up, I’ll tell you, but it was still there! We were hungry all the time. Without any food, the hunger pangs would have gone away. The Japanese gave us just enough food to keep hunger pangs alive so we would suffer!

What did you guys do spiritually? Did you discuss religion or pray?
I’ll speak for myself. I had my little Bible. I read it every day and prayed by myself.

They didn’t take your Bible away?
No. They would have in the Philippines if they had found it. They didn’t bother in Japan. In fact, we never had any shakedowns in Japan. We didn’t have any church services. We had to work seven days a week and never got a day off!

By the time we finished work, even though it wasn’t that demanding, we were strapped. Surviving on starvation rations resulted in a very low strength and tolerance level. The Japanese didn’t have time off either. They worked right along side us, seven days a week.

Did you sleep well?
Most of the time, yes. I just “zonked out.” In the wintertime, I ate supper out of my mess kit on my bed. Then I crawled right in. It was cold!

What was winter like?
It was very cold and snowed like you wouldn’t believe. We didn’t get raging snowstorms but the snowfall was heavy.

Did anyone shovel the snow?
The civilians would shovel the path to the machine shop and the dock. I don’t know how, but it was always open after a snowfall. There was nothing to shovel the camp compound with. We just packed the snow down when we walked on it.

Was the barracks heated?
Yes. But, the small stove would never get the barracks very warm. There wasn’t much wood to burn either.

Was your workplace, the machine shop, heated?
Yes. It was warmer than the barracks.

What did you wear for winter clothing?
For winter, we were issued a jacket. Other than that, we wore Japanese military uniforms with baggy pants. We were issued regular hobnailed shoes.

How far away from camp was the machine shop?
It was about half a mile from the camp’s main gate.
Was it difficult to maintain personal hygiene?
It wasn’t in the Philippines because we had cold running water and could wash any time.

In Japan, we bathed once a week. The only thing we could look forward to was taking a warm bath on Friday night. The Japanese had a large wooden hot tub that fifteen to thirty people could use at one time. It was in a separate room and the Japanese used it every day. We could use it once a week, on Fridays, after they finished their daily bath. Did you have to use their water? (Jane) Absolutely. They bathed first. We could go in there after they were finished and soak for a certain period of time. The water was still warm.

What did you use to shave?
If you were lucky, you had a razor with one blade. I think I had two blades the whole time I was a POW. Of course, I didn’t have much to shave, I’ll tell you. I never did have a heavy beard, thank goodness!

I’ll bet some of them didn’t bother shaving at all.
A lot of men didn’t shave.

How did you cut your hair?
We didn’t cut our hair. We just let it grow because there wasn’t a barber in camp.

Were you able to brush your teeth?
No. We didn’t have a toothbrush or any toothpaste.

You didn’t brush your teeth the entire time you were in captivity? Your mouth must have felt awful not to say anything for your breath!
You didn’t mind it because everybody was in the same boat. We had bad breath you could cut with a knife. One time in the Philippines, someone ate garlic. Everyone had to eat some garlic to so they could stand the smell!

You couldn’t wash in the morning after you got up?
No. You could go to the bathroom. The bathroom was a big long tank with a hole in it. The Japanese would collect our excrement and sell it to the civilians. They would use it to fertilize their fields. There was a funny side to this. Somebody sold the civilians on the idea that officers’ excrement was worth more than anyone else’s. The civilians paid more for excrement from the officers’ toilet than excrement from our toilet!


Did the officers live separately?
No. Two officers and a medical officer lived with us in the barracks. They didn’t get any special privileges but they did have their own toilet and didn’t have to work.

Did you personally have any medical problems?
I did get an ear infection. The doctor said that all he could prescribe was hot packs. He told me he could arrange to get hot water from the mess hall. I put the hot water in a canteen and held it on my ear. It was so hot that my ear burned and blistered.

The heat finally burst the eardrum. Boy, did that feel good when it happened. I didn’t have to work while I had the ear infection. That was the only time I had a couple of days off during my captivity in Japan!

It must have been frustrating for the medical officer not to have any medical supplies.
It was. The medical staff was prisoners like the rest of us. They were so frustrated because all they had to treat us with was charcoal. That was a stopgap method but it helped most of the time.

Didn’t the Japanese have any medical supplies to give or were they just being mean?
I don’t know. I think they didn’t want us to have them. At Clark Field, some captured American medical supplies were available. At first they allowed us to take some but that soon stopped. We did get some quinine but it didn’t last very long.

They were American supplies?
Yes. I think Japanese used them for themselves.

In Japan, you had no medical supplies?
We got nothing. Absolutely nothing!

Was it that way for the duration?
We never had any medical supplies.

Never?
No. Fortunately, we had very little major illness among us. In fact, I can’t recall anything major, like appendicitis, happening in Japan. A prisoner did get a toothache. The medical officer pulled the tooth with pliers without using any anesthetic!

I’ll bet that hurt!
He didn’t care because the tooth hurt him so badly. You took care of minor ailments on your own the best you could.

You didn’t have any real difficulties yourself in Japan other than the ear infection.
No.

In Japan, you ate three times a day? You had soupy rice, lugao, for breakfast and supper, and a ball of rice for lunch.
Yes. We ate better in Japan than anywhere else. Occasionally we would get soybeans and some fish.

How were the soybeans cooked?
We boiled them. You can boil them for three weeks and they are just as hard as rocks. But, they are very nutritious.

How would you eat them?
They were hard, but you could chew and swallow them.

What did you get to drink?
All we had to drink was water. Six months before the end of the war, we got a Red Cross package. There was soluble coffee in it. Everybody knew I was a great coffee drinker but didn’t smoke cigarettes. A lot of my friends who didn’t drink coffee would trade their coffee for my cigarettes. It worked out because I didn’t smoke.

In Japan, all you had to eat was rice, occasionally soybeans, greens, fish, and some fruit. All you ever had to drink was water except the one time when the Red Cross packages came. The cooks had to run the mess with whatever the Japanese gave you?
Yes.

Did anyone ever complain to the cooks about always having to eat rice?
No one complained to our mess cooks. The Japanese issued certain food to the cooks and that was it! We knew they couldn’t get anything else. There was no way to get anything different. It was helpful to have our own mess. When you cook rice, other than that lugao, a crust of burnt rice forms on the bottom of the huge cooking cauldrons. After the cooks were finished, they would clean out the cauldrons and save the burnt rice. The camp doctor told our cooks to save this burnt rice. When prisoners got diarrhea, they were issued some burned rice to eat. It was basically charcoal and would help the condition. We virtually had no medical supplies throughout my entire time in captivity!

You drank water and ate polished rice and, occasionally, got some soybeans, greens, and a little fish.

Yes

You worked all day at a metalworking lathe. What did you make?
I made trundle wheels out of cast drums for the trolleys used in the smelting plant. The drums were in a rough shape. It was my job to set up the lathe to bring it down to the tolerance. Then I would bore a hole for the axle to a tolerance. The parts were all the same size.

That had to be monotonous work.
It was, but definitely better than quarrying rock! Working in the machine shop was definitely more stimulating. I was able to think and use my mind. They gave us castings of wheels. We would make the wheels for these trolleys.

Did you know how to do this work or did you just fake it?
No. I knew how to set up and operate a metalworking lathe.

What kind of work environment existed in the machine shop?
It was loosely run as long the military guards weren’t around, which wasn’t that often. We had civilian guards most of the time on the machine shop detail.

You had both civilians and military guards there.
They didn’t have enough military personnel available to guard us. All Japanese able to serve were in the military. The military guards we had were mostly armed Koreans.

Were they soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army?
No. The Japanese didn’t trust the Koreans to fight. Our civilian guard was the ugliest guy you ever saw. His buckteeth were something else!

He could have eaten corn off the cob twenty feet away. But he was the most good-hearted man I knew! After the surrender, he invited the two of us for dinner at his house.

That was really something for him to do, wasn’t it?
Yes! Japanese civilians didn’t have very much. I’ll tell you, they were about just as bad off as we were. The big difference is they weren’t confined.

Did any prisoner ever say, “The heck with this! I’m not going to work!”
Yes. Everyone worked in the Philippines; at least they did at Clark Field. In Japan we had about five people who said they weren’t going to work another day for the Japanese. When the Japanese found out, they put them in a special hut outside our barracks. Their regular food rations were cut in half. There was no way they could make it. They didn’t work and they didn’t survive. They were starved to death!

Did they know the Japanese were going to slowly starve them to death?
I don’t think they did.

Couldn’t they change their minds?
A few did but by the time they did it was too late! They were too far-gone. Everyone left that hut in a box! The Japanese cremated them. All prisoners who died in camps in the Philippines and in Japan were cremated.

The Japanese made an example of them like they did bayoneting the thieving Filipinos. Did anyone else try this?
No. We continued our work and life was pretty routine.

There were a couple of other incidents that happened in Japan that broke the monotony. One time, at work, we had a violent earthquake. We knew what it was because we had experienced one in the Philippines. This one was worse and scarier! We didn’t know what was going to happen. The Japanese were just as afraid as we were. Everyone cleared out and scattered as soon as the tremors started. There were big concrete buckets outside of the shop, which contained water to fight fires with if needed. They were much larger than a regular washtub. During the earthquake, the water in them sloshed over the tops and telephone poles were swaying back and forth! The other fellow and I stayed together. The tremors lasted about five minutes. When they quit, everyone came back to the machine shop. We could have easily escaped but where would we go?

Were you afraid of aftershocks?
Yes. I was apprehensive anyway because Japan has a lot of earthquakes. Some of them caused big cracks in the earth to open and close.

Were there others working in the machine shop besides you two?
We were the only ones running the lathes. About a dozen Japanese civilians worked there doing various tasks.

Were they friendly towards you?
They were very civil unless the military guards were around. When they came, the civilians would clam up and ignore us.

Did you have any interaction with them?
Yes. They didn’t understand English so we communicated in sign language. There was one incident in the machine shop I will never forget. They gave me a “gopher,” a young Japanese boy who brought material and helped me. He couldn’t understand English and I couldn’t understand Japanese. We communicated in sign language. I would show him what I wanted and he would get it.

One time my lathe was running. To operate properly with the big castings we used big extended arms to hold them in place. Our Japanese helper was there and he pointed to the lathe. I said, “Oh, look out!” because he put his arm where he shouldn’t have. His arm was broken so the bone was sticking out. He was in horrible pain. The other Japanese pointed and roared with laughter as if it was the funniest thing they’d seen! They didn’t do a thing to help him. The other prisoner and I picked him up and carried him to the dispensary.

What ever happened to the boy?
He never came back while I was there so I don’t know.

Did all prisoners mind their “P’s and Q’s?”
Everybody did. There was no interaction between the Americans and Japanese. In Nomachi there was no brutality and no one tried to escape. It was a life of monotony. As before, I lived from day to day and didn’t worry about the past or tomorrow.

In September 1944, you arrived at Camp Nomachi in Japan. You had no sources of information about the “outside world.” Until the end of 1944 when high level bombing started, other than the earthquake, the lifestyle, and several incidents, life was relatively uneventful and pretty routine.
Right. You can use the word monotonous. 1944 was a “dead year.”We had no outside contacts. There was virtually nothing coming in and nothing going out.

SURRENDER, LIBERATION, AND REPATRIATION

When did the bombing campaign begin against Japan?
The actual bombing started at the end of 1944. It really intensified in 1945! The Americans had started bombing close by our camp. We could hear the bombs! We couldn’t see the planes because bombing usually occurred at night and at a very high level.

B-29 Bombers Drop Their Payloads -- Photo: Courtesy of the 500th Bomb GroupThe B-29s bombers mined an entire inlet close to our camp with magnetic mines. The Japanese had a large steel manufacturing plant there. Every once in a while, we would hear a “boom” when a mine detonated. We didn’t know whether a ship detonated one or it just detonated itself.

Did the Americans bomb close to you?
One night, the steel plant in the town of Takaoka was firebombed. It was about fifteen miles from the POW camp. We knew bombing was happening because we knew what bombing was! Everyone left the barracks. The Japanese guards tried to run us back in but they couldn’t. Then they left us alone. We even climbed on top of the roof. We could see the flames in the distance and hear the reverberations. We cheered. It was a real high point for us!

When did you start thinking your captivity may be coming to an end?
I’m not sure when I actually did. But, it was much different in Japan than in the Philippines. In Japan, I think everybody felt deep down we were eventually going to get out of there.

Why was that?
We had lived this long and we had indications things were getting better. A batch of British prisoners arrived from Singapore in early 1945. I don’t know what their job assignments were. They didn’t work with us. They didn’t have much to do with us either. They did run a tight ship; I’ll say that for them.

In fact, their officers tried to make us salute but we told them to “shove it.” We didn’t even salute our own officers and they didn’t expect it. On their work details, the British prisoners would come back with smuggled newspapers. Some of their guys could read and speak Japanese. They would share some of the anecdotes with us, like, for instance, the Japanese never retreated. They advanced to the rear to prepare positions. From this information, we could figure out the Americans were on the way! The newspapers discussed a certain island, and then the next time it would be about this island, and then this island, etc. We knew step-by-step the Americans were getting closer and closer.

Prior to those British POWs, you really didn’t have any idea of what was going on outside the camp?
That’s right.

The massive air bombardment continued on Japan?
Yes. When low-level bombing began at about 5,000 feet, we knew the end was pretty dog gone close. When the first bombing started, we saw Japanese fighters taking off to intercept the American bombers. We never saw any Japanese fighters in the air after the beginning of 1945. We knew the end was coming because the Americans were flying with virtually no air opposition.

Why did bombing occur at night instead of during the day?
With nighttime bombing, opposition from the enemy wasn’t there. At night, the antiaircraft was totally dependent on radar and theirs wasn’t that accurate. It was very difficult, at that time, for fighters to be effective during night bombing, especially since they didn’t have very many left.

After the bombing started, were you or fellow prisoners feeling scared and anxious?
We weren’t really scared or anxious. In fact, we would look forward to the bombing. When it started, everybody’s spirits rose.

We knew the end was coming otherwise the Americans wouldn’t be able to bomb with such intensity. Towards the end of the war, bombng was around the clock.

The B-29 Bomber -- Photo Courtesy of C. HolvenstotWhen did the firebombing of Japan start?
The firebombing started about three months before the surrender. By that time, we knew darned well the end of the war was getting close!

Did you work at the machine shop during the bombing?
Yes. The bombing didn’t change camp routine at all. The machine shop and manganese smelting plant in our area were drops in the bucket compared to other targets. The Americans weren’t interested and didn’t bother bombing them.

Did you see changes in the civilians and guards over the ninth-month bombing campaign?
Yes. The civilians became friendlier. The military guards didn’t change.

What about the Red Cross? (Jane)
They never came to visit the camp. We each got one Red Cross package in Japan. The Japanese, not the Red Cross, delivered them. We got cigarettes towards the end of the war in Red Cross packages.

I didn’t smoke so I traded my cigarettes for coffee. I finally got my coffee! The first Red Cross people I saw were in the Philippines after we were repatriated.

You liked your coffee! You didn’t have any before this?
No, not in Japan. I had coffee in my Red Cross package at Clark Field in the Philippines.

This was the only time you got a Red Cross package in Japan?
Yes.

You received two Red Cross packages your entire time in captivity?
Yes.
Did you think the Japanese guards might execute all prisoners when the war was lost?
We didn’t know what was going to happen. We thought it might be a possibility but never spent time discussing it. One time we heard that if America invaded, the Japanese were going to kill all prisoners. The Truman library in Independence, MO, has the original Japanese order stating they would execute all prisoners of war if America invaded. Of course, we didn’t know about that order while in captivity.

Did the Japanese make threatening gestures with their rifles?
They did at times. Other than that, we weren’t really treated too badly, nothing like in the Philippines. But, in the beginning of August 1945 we knew something was up. We hadn’t worked for a couple of days. Every morning, as part of our routine, we left the barracks and stood roll call while the Japanese made sure everyone was there. This time, after they called roll, we were dismissed. The guards stacked their rifles and took off.

The only Japanese in camp after they left was the “One Armed Bandit” and the first sergeant. We figured the war had to be over. In fact, the surrender had taken place but we didn’t know it. The actual surrender of the Japanese was on August 9, 1945. Planes began to fly over and dropped notes telling us to stay put. They wanted us to identify the camp with a big “POW” on top of the compound so we would be rescued.

They didn’t know where your camp was located?
No. The Japanese had given a general idea where each camp was located. We found some paint and a few ladders. We climbed up and painted big “POWs” on the building roofs. Once our location was identified, Air Force planes flew over every other day and dropped food and “goodies” to us.

What type of food did they drop?
Most items were dropped with parachutes. At first, they dropped K-Rations and C-Rations. They also dropped a big 55-gallon drum of soup. It had a parachute so it didn’t burst when it hit the ground. One time the parachute on a 55-gallon drum didn’t open. The drum went through the roof of a school by our camp. It killed a Japanese student. Their houses were practically built of paper! A few days after the guards left, we got a real surprise! The Swedish Consulate from Tokyo drove up. The American camp commander, Lieutenant Sense, called everyone together on the parade ground. The Swedish Consulate told us the war was over and we were now living in an atomic age. We had no idea what the heck he was talking about. He stayed around for a while and talked to our officers. After that, he left and we never saw him again.

Did everyone start cheering when they realized the war was over?
Surprisingly, everyone was quiet and very subdued.

When did you personally come to the realization it was over?
I knew it was over when the Japanese guards stacked their rifles and left the camp.

When you went to bed that night did you feel good and at peace?
Yes. I knew I had made it! Fortunately, I was in fairly good physical shape compared to others in the camp. Shortly after the Swedish Consulate’s visit, a small allied observation plane landed on the road by our camp. A sergeant got out and talked to us. He told everyone to stay put, that a team would rescue us very soon. After giving us that message, he flew away. Nobody ever came.
What did you do while waiting to be rescued?
We didn’t do anything! There was no place to go. We just sat around the camp, talked about old times and, mostly, what we were going to eat when we got out. You would be surprised with the concoctions we cooked up! Our food supplies from the Japanese increased. We received more rice, fish and soybeans from Japanese civilians who delivered our food daily by truck. American cooks prepared all the food we ate. One day a guard who had been in charge of us at the machine shop came and invited the two of us from the shop to dinner at his house. Other than that, I never left camp.

Weren’t you getting frustrated and anxious to get out of there?
Yes. We wondered when the team was coming. That sergeant landed in the later part of August 1945. We never saw another American until we left on our own and got on board the hospital ship. As long as we were in camp, food and essential items kept coming by airdrop. The planes would drop notes giving us a variety of information about what was going on. They even told us about the WACs and the WAVES. We had no idea there were women in the service! They also told us about a point system and how you earned points. A soldier needed so many points to be discharged. Well, everyone that was a POW had more points than they knew what to do with. (Laughter) When we started totaling points, we thought we could sell some of our points to someone else. We stayed in camp until September 15, 1945. Finally the camp commander, Lieutenant Sense, went to the Japanese camp commandant, “The One-Armed Bandit” and made it very clear he expected a train at the siding the next morning. That day, September 14, 1945, everyone was issued new Japanese military uniforms.

How did you feel about putting those on?
We didn’t mind because our clothing was pretty dingy. Surprisingly enough, everybody got a pretty good fit although the pants were baggy. The next day, on September 15, 1945, the train was there. We got on board and took off!

What kind of train was it?
It was a passenger train with good accommodations. The cars were day coaches, but we didn’t care. We had food! Periodically the train would stop and pick up box lunches, rice balls, apples, fruits, vegetables, and other items.

How did you know where to go?
We had no idea where we were going but the Japanese did. “The One-Armed Bandit” came along and told the train master where to go. He knew there was a hospital ship in the harbor. In fact, there were several U.S. hospital ships and other types of ships in the various bays or ports in the area.

How long did it take the train to get to the hospital ship? (Jane)
It took about a day and one half to get there. We had the right of way completely through! We went through Tokyo, (it was all burned out) and down to a bay where the hospital ship “Mercy” was waiting for us. Ferries took us out to the ship.

When we boarded, everyone threw their Japanese clothes into the bay! That bay was loaded with Japanese military uniforms!

Was the ship’s crew surprised to see you?
No. They were expecting us. I suspect the Japanese told them. “The One-Armed Bandit” helped us get to the hospital ship. He had caused a lot of misery, but compared with other Japanese, he wasn’t a bad guy.

Was he tried as a war criminal after the war?
Yes. Lieutenant Sense went back to Japan for his trial and testified in his behalf. As a result, he was exonerated and freed.

What happened when you got on board?
They gave us a physical and put us to bed. We stayed in the bay for about a day and one half.

I’ll bet it was nice to stay in bed and take it easy.
It was. We stayed in bed and rested for about a day. After that, we could get up and walk around. We were getting three meals a day. We were headed for a rest and recuperation camp outside Manila. The ship had to slow down and wait because they weren’t ready to receive us in Manila.

How long did it take the ship to get there?
It took about four days.

How did you feel when you arrived at Manila Bay? What did everything look like?
There were still sunken ships in the harbor. I was surprised because we hadn’t seen much of Manila the last time. The Japanese had transported us in trucks from Clark Field to Manila and then directly to Bilibid prison. This time we were transported in open trucks and we could see everything was devastated from bombing and shelling!

How did you feel coming back to a place where you had been a prisoner of the Japanese?
It brought back some very unpleasant memories as well as some pleasant memories. However, everybody was euphoric when we sailed in. The Army had built this camp especially for military personnel’s rest and recuperation and we were anxious to get there. It was located about twenty miles south of Manila. After we arrived, the officer in charge said we couldn’t leave, but, if we were hungry, we could to go any kitchen at any time and request whatever we wanted. If the cooks had it, they would fix it for us! They did, day or night!

Did some of the guys get sick because of the short rations and restricted diets you had been on for so long?
No one got sick that I know of. I sure ate a lot of eggs and Spam and drank lots of milk!

How long were you there?
We were there about two weeks.

He was there long enough to put weight on. When he came home, I thought at first he would be skin and bones. But he looked great! (Jane).

Did you receive additional medical attention?
Some soldiers were hospitalized in Manila. We were emaciated, but not sick and went directly to the rest and recuperation camp.

At Camp Nomachi in Japan everyone survived except those who said they wouldn’t work another day for the Japanese?
That’s right. Other than what happened to those guys, no executions or injuries occurred during our captivity in Japan.

You got on that train from your camp on September 15, 1945, and went to the hospital ship. Then you went to Manila to the rest and recuperation camp. By the time you left the rest and recuperation camp, how much time had passed?
Almost a month has passed since we had gotten on the train. Interestingly, the Air Force recruiters wanted me to re-enlist. They really pestered me! I could have chosen where I wanted to be stationed. I would have been upgraded in rank and gone to school at government expense. If I re-enlisted, the Air Force would fly me home right now!

I almost did re-enlist! Anyway, we left the rest and recuperation camp and boarded a liberty ship in Manila harbor. We sailed and stopped in Honolulu. We didn’t go ashore because it was just an overnight stop. We sailed directly to San Francisco and were immediately hospitalized at Letterman General Hospital.
What did you do there?
We didn’t have to do anything. We just stayed there for about one week. Hospital staff gave us a lot of physical tests. The spare time we had was our own. Those of us who were all right or in reasonably good shape could head for town in the evenings. One time a friend and I went to a restaurant. We got there about 7:00 PM, and closed it down at 1:00 am. We just kept eating the whole time!

What did you feel walking around San Francisco?


I was very glad to be there! Of course, we were always looking for something to eat. Food was always the prime topic! You would be surprised at the food concoctions prisoners had dreamed they would eat when they got home.

Do you remember some of them?
Chocolate pie was one of the most popular ones. In the Philippines, there was a weed, which we called pigweed. I don’t know what its real name was. It was good when you cooked it. It was kind of oily so it went well with rice. Everybody said that when they got home, they were going to find some pigweed, cook it up, and eat it! People would plan out for a month what they were going to eat!

After you were finished at the hospital in San Francisco, what happened?
We were put on board a hospital train bound for Clinton, Iowa. We stayed at Shick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa for three weeks.

What happened at this hospital?
I was medically checked out. A special detail of military police came and escorted us to the Paymaster to receive our back pay in cash. Mine was over six thousand dollars. The IRS wanted me to pay back taxes on it! They finally did work it out so no prisoners of war had to pay any back taxes!

Oh, for goodness sakes! (Jane)

We used it to buy a house in Louisiana. I deposited my back pay at the hospital. Before I was discharged from that medical facility, I was able to go home to Duluth on three different weekends.

THE HOMECOMING

How did you get to Duluth?
A soldier named Bob Boyer and I knew a fellow at the hospital who had bought a car.

We all lived in Duluth so the three of us pitched in, bought gasoline, tires, and whatever the car needed. Towards the middle of October 1945, we drove to Duluth for our first weekend furlough.

You drove to Duluth for your first furlough to see your folks. Did you go right to their house?
I was dropped off in downtown Duluth, hopped on a streetcar and went straight home.

Did they both know you were coming? (Jane)
No.

Can you imagine what they thought! (Jane).

You didn’t call them and tell them?
They didn’t have a telephone at home.

You just “showed up?”
Yes. I got home and tried to open the screen door. It was locked so I knocked and waited. My mom came to the door. She looked at me and said “Ohooooooooooo!” I said, “Here I am, mom!”

It’s funny she didn’t faint. (Jane).

When she saw me, my mother tossed up her arms and said, “You’re home!” She came to me and we hugged.

When you first saw your mom, how did you feel?
Great! I started to cry.

You started to cry? You never cried for me! (Jane).

Your mother always believed you would come home, didn’t she?
Yes. My mother had seen a newsreel. She swore up and down that she saw me walking on the march.

Where did your mother see these newsreels?
Newsreels would be shown at the theater prior to a movie. She went to a movie one time and saw a newsreel of the Bataan Death March. She swore Alf was in it. In fact, she went back several more time to make sure it was he in the newsreel. I don’t know if Alf was on it or not, but she believed it was and it kept her hopes up. I went to the movies quite often and they would always show newsreels before the movie. I saw prisoners of war on some of them. I didn’t see Alf. I probably wouldn’t have recognized him anyway. (Jane)

The United States government didn’t contact your mother?
No. The only thing she received was a message from the War Department. It said; “He is missing in action.” “Please claim the insurance policy that your son has.” The government wanted her to take my $10,000.00 life insurance. She refused because accepting the insurance money would force her to admit that I was dead, and she couldn’t accept that fact.

Jane, how did Alf’s mother take this whole thing?
Well, she was very determined he was alive. She was a very strong woman. (Jane)

His mother said, “He’s alive and he is going to come back someday.” (Jane)

She lived to see you come back.
Yes, and she lived many years after I came home. She lived to be 91 years old.

Where was your dad?
He was working. When he came home, the same thing happened. It was a joyous reunion!

You all had not seen each other in a very long time. That must have been difficult, especially under the circumstances.
Yes it was. I left in 1939 and didn’t come back until late 1945.

You wrote to your parents when you got back to America, didn’t you?
Yes. I had written letters to my mother from Clinton, Iowa. The first time I left on a weekend pass, the staff said they had something we would need. They gave us some ration coupons for coffee, sugar, etc. I took these coupons and gave them to my mother. She was really glad to get them because rationing was still going on.

Did you sleep at home in your own room that first night home?
Yes. My room was up in the attic.

That must have been quite an experience. All you had been through and now you’re home, visiting your parents. Then, you go up to your own room in the attic all by yourself and got into your own bed. A lot must have gone through your mind that night.
Yes. A lot of memories went through my mind.

How long did you stay in Duluth on the first visit?
I stayed the weekend. The second and third time we went home the staff issued longer passes.

Did you do much when you were home?
When I was home on furlough, I just wanted to be with my family. I didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody else.

Why was that?
I just didn’t! I needed to get readjusted to life after captivity and wanted to be left alone.

Jane, you didn’t see Alf the first time he came home?
I didn’t even know he had been home the first time. (Jane)

When did you get the second pass?
I think I got the second one the first part of November 1945.

Did you see Jane on your second furlough?
No.

What did you do?
We lived adjacent to the woods in Duluth on the west end of Duluth in Norton Park. I spent lots of time in the woods before enlisting and during my first two furloughs home. At first, when I got home, I didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody or date anyone! I just wanted to be left alone. I spent most of my time with the family or back in the woods wandering around my old haunts. I was home three times before I was discharged from the hospital in Iowa. I met Jane at her home in the middle of November 1945, during my third and final furlough from Shick General Hospital. Her parents had invited us over for supper. I tried every way in the world to get out of going. Jane’s parents wanted me to come. Finally, my folks insisted I had to go. They said, “You gotta go!” I said, “Well, OK.” When we got there, we walked in the door. The first thing I saw was Jane stirring gravy. (Laughter) Here I was starved to death and food was always on my mind. I thought “Boy, that’s for me!” (Laughter) Come to find out, her mother had made the gravy and Jane was just stirring it! (Laughter)

I couldn’t cook! I was stirring gravy for the first time. (Jane) (Laughter)

You went back to Shick General Hospital after the third furlough home?
Yes. When I got back, I purchased a watch for Jane and sent it to her. I wanted to get discharged from the hospital because there was no reason for me to stay there any longer.

I felt fine and wanted to go home! A young lady clerk was responsible for approving hospital discharges. I happened to hear her talking to another clerk about a certain type of perfume she really liked. It was for sale at the PX so I went and bought a bottle. Then, I attempted to bribe her so I could get on the discharge list. I went up to her and said I had something for her. If she would put me on the first shipping list out, she could have it. She asked “what” and I showed her the perfume. She said “okay.” I was discharged shortly after that.

I didn’t know that (Jane).

You were discharged from Shick General Hospital in early November 1945. When you came home for Thanksgiving, you and Jane started dating in earnest?
Yes.

Did you propose right after that? (Ben Peterson)
I proposed to Jane a month after the night we went to her parent’s house for dinner. (Laughter). I did have a physical problem when I got home. I couldn’t run because of the knee injuries from the rocks I received at Clark Field. If I walked too fast, I fell right down.

That’s how I caught him! (Jane) (Laughter)

Jane, were you born and raised in Duluth?
Yes (Jane).

After you and Alf met and started dating, did you discuss his wartime experiences?
No. When we met, I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t seen him for a long time. He didn’t want to talk about any of it. I didn’t ask. I guess I figured if he didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to listen. Other than bits here and there, he didn’t talk about any of these experiences for years. I am hearing a lot now for the first time. (Jane)

When did you decide to get officially engaged?
A friend of mine was going to get a ring on Christmas. I thought that was terrible. I didn’t want to get a ring on that day. You need a special day! I got the engagement ring right before Christmas. Alf gave me a set of luggage for Christmas. (Jane)

1945 was quite a year! You were a prisoner of war. From January 1st you experienced the bombing, being a prisoner of war, the war ending, being repatriated, coming home, medical testing and re-entry into society after almost five years in captivity, discharged from hospitals, and engaged by Christmas! I’ll bet in July 1945 you never figured the year was going to end like that!
No, I sure didn’t!

When were you discharged from the Army the first time?
I was discharged from the Army Air Force the first time in March 1946 at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.

Alf, how long were you in military service?
Fifteen years total with twelve years of active duty and three years in the Army Reserve.

WRITER’S NOTE: Alf Larson’s World War II service in the Philippines and subsequent 41 month’s in captivity as a prisoner of war is truly unique. It is a story so powerful and horrific that he pushed it aside in his brain for 55 years. Now, at age 81, he has shared it to all who are interested. It wasn’t an easy task. I can only begin to imagine the difficulty of reliving this all over again. And, interestingly, Alf does not feel animosity or bitterness towards his former captors. He recognizes that the Japanese military was abusive within their own ranks, based on their own codes. This “code” filtered down to the American and Filipino prisoners. They were viewed by their captors with utter contempt, not only for being the “enemy,” but also for surrendering rather than fight to the death. The result was complete inhumanity by one group of people to another. In spite of it all, Alf was determined to survive by maintaining a strong faith in God, living day-by-day, and never surrendering his mind or spirit. He once said, “This experience taught me one thing about people” “In times of extreme adversity, most people are very caring and willing to help others in any way they are able.” The determination of the human spirit prevailed, resulting in sacrifice, heroism and bravery. Alf Larson and his comrades are truly charter members of “The Greatest Generation.”

EPILOGUE

Alf Larson is a self-made individual who became successful by pursuing the American dream. He achieved it through determination and hard work. Alf and Jane Larson married on February 8, 1946, and moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in March of the same year. He worked for the Dupont Corporation in Baton Rouge and began studying at Louisiana State University. In 1948, he re-enlisted in the Air Corps, was sent to Tucson, Arizona and enrolled as a part-time student at the University of Arizona. Alf was discharged from military service, for the second time, in 1954 and moved back to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was employed at Ethyl Corporation and continued studying at the University of Louisiana. He and his family left and came to Minnesota. He was employed by Honeywell Corporation and continued his schooling at the University of Minnesota. Family finances forced him to leave school. However he continued studying Electrical Engineering. He applied for, took and passed examinations by the Board of Registration, and was licensed as an Electrical Consulting Engineer through the State Registration Board of Electrical Engineering. He started his own business designing electrical specifications for commercial buildings.

Upon retirement, Alf spent time volunteering for the Minnesota Zoo, donating over 7,000 hours at that facility! He is currently a long-time volunteer at the Veterans Administration and an active participant in a Prisoner Of War group. Alf and Jane Larson have three children and five grandchildren. They reside in Crystal, Minnesota.

Alf Larson and Rick Peterson -- Photo Courtesy of the Star Tribune

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