|Pfc. Robert Gemmell
Pfc. Robert G. Gill Jr. was the son of Olive and
Robert G. Gill Sr. He was born on July 17,
1913, in Westmoreland County,
Pennsylvania. He and his sister grew up at 109
West Third Steet in Greensburg,
Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Greensburg High School Class of 1930.
What is known that he was living at 4301 Caroline Street in Houston, Texas, and working as a car salesman, when he was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 13, 1941. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and did his basic training. When he completed his training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. There, he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion.
After maneuvers in 1941, at Camp Polk, Louisiana, the battalion was looking for replacements for men allowed to leave the battalion because it was being sent overseas. It is believed that Robert volunteered to join the battalion. Being a medic, he was assigned to the medical attachment.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam.
When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila, while the maintenance section remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
Seventeen days after arriving in the Philippines, the Japanese attacked Clark Airfield. That morning, they had heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. About 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, the tank battalion was on guard duty around the main runway. The tankers watched as planes approached from the north. Men had enough time to count 54 planes in the formation. Many believed the planes were American. It was only when they saw what was described as "raindrops" and explosions on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
For the next four months, Robert worked to meet the medical needs of the 192nd. On April 9, 1942, the medical detachment were given their order to surrender. They remained in their bivouac for two days until they received orders from the Japanese to report to Mariveles.
At Mariveles, the soldiers were searched. It was from this barrio, at the southern tip of Bataan, that Robert started what became known as the death march.
As he marched, Robert saw bodies of the dead lying along the road. It was estimated that there were ten bodies for every mile. The bodies were bloated from lying in the sun and had maggots crawling on them. Robert also witnessed three Filipinos have their heads cut off for giving rice to the Prisoners of War.
At San Fernando, Robert and the other prisoners were crammed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as "Forty and Eights" since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 men in each car. The POWs rode in the cars until they reached Capas. There, they disembarked the cars. The dead fell to the floors of the cars as the living climbed out. The POWs walked the last six miles to Camp O'Donnell.
In Camp O'Donnell, the medics and the doctors attempted to provide medical services to the sick and dying. This was nearly impossible to do since they had no medical supplies. The situation was so bad that the as many as 50 POWs died each day. The work detail to bury the dead worked endlessly.
On June 5, 1942, the Japanese opened Cabanatuan to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell. The healthier prisoners were sent to this new camp. Those too ill to move or too close to death remained behind at Cabanatuan. It is not known if Robert was sent to the new camp or remained at Camp O'Donnell until the camp hospital was closed in January 1943. When he was transferred, he was assigned to Barracks 7, Group 2 at Cabanatuan.
At some point, Robert was selected to be transported to Japan. He was sent to Bilibid Prison. He remained there until he was selected to be sent to Japan in December 1944.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, Donald and the other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
Robert was put into the ship's rear hold. 800 POWs were put in the hold. They were then fed fish and barley. The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it.
The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 that afternoon. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water. Three fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs.
The prisoners had just eaten when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill. The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs. Bullets from the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties. In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five air raids. The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship
experienced its worse attack. It was
hit at least three times, by bombs, on its
bridge and stern. Most of the POWs
were wounded by ricocheting bullets or
shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that
exploded near the ship sent turrets of water
over it. Bullets from the fighters hit
the metal hull plates at an angle that
prevent most from penetrating the
hull. Somewhere on the ship a fire had
started but was put out after several
hours. The POWs lived through
seventeen attacks by sunset.
After the first raid, the ship was left
alone by "playing possum" in the
water. The fighters went after the
other ships in the convoy. The moaning
and muttering of men who were losing their
minds kept the POWs up all night. That
night 25 POWs died in the hold.
POWs were reported as drinking urine and
howling. The ship reached Subic Bay at
2:30 in the morning, because it was a
suitable landing place.
Sometime after midnight, the medics in
the ship's holds ordered out by the
Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese
wounded. One of the medics
recalled that the dead, dying, and
wounded were everywhere.
the hold the POWs crowded
together. Chips of rust fell on
them from the ceiling. After the
raid, they took care of the wounded
before the next attack started.
A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began
forgive them. They know not
what they do."
At 8:00 A.M., a Japanese guard
yelled to the POWs, "All go home;
Speedo!" He shouted
that the wounded would be the
first to be evacuated.
As the POWs were abandoning
ship, the planes
returned. The pilots of
the planes had no idea that
the ship was carrying
POWs. It wasn't until
planes flew low over the men
in the water, and the POWs
waved to them that the pilots
realized it was a prison ship
and called off the attack.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. What was learned is that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. They were buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed.
The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days. During their time on the courts, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The evening of December 16th, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English,"No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs.
December 21st, the POWs were taken by
truck to San Fernando, Pampanga,
arriving there about four or five in
the afternoon. Once there, they
were put in a movie theater.
Since it was dark, the POWs saw it as
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25th until the 26th. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle. The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they would use ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.
During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9th. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machineguns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship was also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb that hit the ship
exploded in the corner of the
forward hold killing 285
prisoners. The surviving POWs
remained in in the hold for three
days with the dead. The stench
from the dead filled the
air. On January 11th a
work detail was formed and about
half the dead were removed from the
hold. The dead were unloaded
from the ship, and a POW detail of
twenty men took the corpses to a
large furnace where they were
cremated. These men reported
that 150 POWs had been
cremated. Their ashes were
buried in a large urn. Later
in the day, the survivors of the
forward hold were moved into another