Cpl. Kenneth Cecil Squire
Cpl. Kenneth C. Squire was born in Columbus, Ohio, on March 10, 1922. He was the son of John F. & Lillian M. Squire. In 1929, his parents moved, with their six sons and two daughters, to Janesville, Wisconsin. He attended Janesville schools and was a 1940 graduate of Janesville High School. He worked at the high school after graduating.
Ken joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company which was headquartered in Janesville. His reason for doing this was that a draft act had just been passed, and he knew that it was just a matter of time before he was drafted into the regular army. Since the tank company was suppose to serve for one year and then be released from federal duty, this seemed like a good way to get his military obligation over.
In November, 1940, the tank company traveled by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. There, they were designated A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. It was during this training that Ken trained as a radio man.
After nearly ten months of training, the 192nd Tank Battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was at the end of the maneuvers that they learned that their time in the regular army.
The battalion traveled west to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. There Ken and the other members of the battalion were examined and it was determined that Ken was fit for overseas duty.
Ken sailed by ship to Hawaii and the Philippine Islands. Arriving at Manila, Ken and the other men were rushed to Fort Stotsenburg. There they were assigned to tents along the main rode from the fort to Clark Field.
About ten days later after arriving in the Philippines, Ken and the other tankers heard the news about Pearl Harbor from Capt. Walter Write. They returned to the perimeter of the airfield where they ate an early lunch.
Around noon, Ken and the other soldiers watched as planes approached the airfield. When bombs began exploding, he and the other tankers knew that they were Japanese. Ken and the other members of his tank crew, Herb Durner, Ed DeGroot and Bob Boehm shot at the fighters as they flew over. The reality was that their was little that they could do against planes.
For four months, Ken and the other members of his tank crew fought to slow the conquest of the Philippines. Frequently, they found themselves in the role of covering the retreating Filipino and American troops as they withdrew from an engagement. During engagements, Ken's job was to load the machine guns in the tank.
Ken's tank crew also took part in the Battle of the Pockets. The tanks drove over the foxholes of the Japanese allowing the ground troops to kill the Japanese soldiers in the holes.
On April 9, 1942, Ken became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered. Ken took part in the death march and was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell. He was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan.
On October 26, 1942, Ken and about 1000 other POWs were marched eight miles to the town of Cabanatuan. At the town's railroad stationed they were loaded into steel box cars. The townspeople came out to watch the POWs as they boarded the trains. From their faces, Ken could see that they had a great deal of sympathy for the Americans.
Unlike the trip to Camp O'Donnell, the doors of the box cars were left open. This made the trip a great deal easier on the POWs. For whatever reason, the train stopped in several towns. When it arrived in a town, the Filipino people would come out. Many brought rice balls, fried chicken, bananas and anything else they had with them. Because they were not allowed to approach the train, the Filipinos would throw the food to the prisoners.
When the train pulled into one town, the people gathered at the station. While the train set in the station, the Filipinos began to hum the song, "God Bless America". They also called out to the POWs, "Mabuhay Joe," which in English meant, "Long life Joe."
The POWs were unloaded from the trains in the outskirts of Manila. They then marched two miles to Bilibid Prison. Bilibid had been built by the Spanish and had been a civilian prisoner before the war. The prisoner was a two story mortar and brick building surrounded by a high brick wall. At the entrance were two heavy iron gates.
Upon arrival at the prison, Ken and the other POWs discovered that there were no beds in the prison. At night ever prisoner slept on the concrete floor. The food was also of poor quality. Probably the one good thing about Bilibid was that the prisoners had more than enough water for drinking and washing.
Two days after arriving at Bilibid, Ken and other prisoners were marched through the streets of Manila to the port area. Dewey Boulevard which had been the most modern street of the city was now lined with burnt out empty buildings. Ashes were all that was left of the huts that had lined other streets in Manila.
At Pier 7, the POWs were boarded onto the freighter the Erie Maru, each man had enough room to lay down without being crowded. The hatches to the ships holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila Harbor.
Food for the prisoners was generous. The food was well prepared and each POW received a full mess kit of rice and a canteen cup filled with a thick cabbage soup containing pork. They even were given corn beef and cabbage one night.
The trip on the freighter lasted thirteen days. The reason was the ship made frequent stops in ports along the coast of Luzon. It is known that the ship stopped at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao. Ken and the POWs disembarked the ship at Davao on November 7th. There, they joined another group of 1000 prisoners. The one thing that the new POWs to the camp noticed was that the other prisoners appeared to be well fed when compared to themselves. Upon arrival of Ken's group, the rations for these men were cut in half. This caused friction between the two groups. Ken remained at Davao for the next two years.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
One night the POWs heard the sound of a plane. From the sound of the engine, they knew it was American. It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years. As the plane dove on the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated silently. On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men stayed on the island until August 19, 1944.
Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese posted guards with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily. The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments. The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.
During this time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup of rice a day. The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables. Many ate the weeds that grew inside the camp until it was bare.
Air raids soon were nightly events. Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks. Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped.
On that day, the POWs were lined up by fours. The outside men had rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape. They were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon. They were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that evening, the ship sailed.
As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves. Many of the prisoners became seasick. They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs. The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. An American plane flew over the ship. Moments later bombs exploded near the ship. The sound of machinegun fire was heard by the POWs. The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air. Over the next three days, there were several more alerts. Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.
On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived. The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship's holds were terrible. The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with salt water.
It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. The order was misinterpreted as saying the ship would be transporting "750 military personnel" instead of "750 military prisoners" to Manila. The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship. The U.S. would acknowledge this mistake in December 1944.
The POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru on September 4th. 250 POWs were put iu the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were its larger hold. That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking an shaking it. The POWs prayed for the ship would be hit.
The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 a.m. Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines. The POWs were no longer allowed on deck. Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship. For the next two days the ship made good time. It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes. The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076. Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.
At 7:37 p.m. on Thursday, September 7, 1944, the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two torpedoes at the ship. The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold. Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship. There was a gapping hole in the ship's side. Those POWs still alive saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water.
Those POWs who were still alive found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion. As the water level rose, they were able to climb out. Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles. As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off. The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water.
The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits. But, the hold remained dry. Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore. As they swam, they were fired upon by the same seven Japanese officers.
According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle. It split in two and sunk into the water.
Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine. The good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs. When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them. They stopped when they realized that there were Japanese in the water too.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machineguns and fired on the POWs. Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water. If they found a man, they shot him. What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them.
The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion. About 30 men gave up after hearing this. According to one man who escaped after surrendering, the POWs had their hands tied to the ship's rail, and the Japanese shot each POW in the back of the head. They then pushed the bodies overboard.
Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944. Cpl Kenneth C. Squire was not one of these men.
Cpl. Kenneth C. Squire died in the sinking of the Shinyo Maru. He was 22 years old. Since he died at sea, his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.