VanDiver

 

Pvt. Cecil Raymond VAnDiver


    Cecil R. VanDiver was born on August 5, 1919, the son of Susie Cumingo-Van Diver and Cecil O. Van Diver.  He grew up in rural Mercer County, Kentucky, on Cornishville Road.  He attended Cloyd Grade School and then Cornishville High School from which he dropped out during his sophomore year.  He worked with his father on the family farm.

    In 1939, Cecil joined the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg with his best friends Bland Moore and Claude and Willard Yeast.  The friends joined to have fun, to see new things, to have adventures, but little did they know they were signing up to become part of history.

    While in the National Guard, the tank company was federalized in the fall of 1940.  The tankers rode a train to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where they joined National Guard companies from Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.  Together these tank companies formed the 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion.  Upon arriving at the base, he and the other soldiers found themselves housed in tents.  After weeks, they moved into their new barracks.

    During his time at Ft. Knox, Cecil attended cooks school.  Upon completion of the program he was assigned to Headquarters Company as a cook when the company was formed in early 1941.

    During the late summer of 1941, Cecil suffered a hernia and was hospitalized at Ft. Knox.  At this time, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  Cecil joined the maneuvers after several weeks.  He and several other members of the battalion brought with them the remaining equipment of the battalion.

    After the maneuvers, the 192nd was informed that it was being sent overseas.  Cecil returned to Harrodsburg to say his goodbyes.  He also married.

    Cecil and the other members of the 192nd were sent west by train to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  After boarding a boat, the soldiers were ferried to Angel Island.  When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, "I'd rather be here than go where you all are going."  Cecil believed he and the other men stayed on Angel Island for two days.

    On Angel Island, the soldiers were inoculated for duty overseas.  The reason given for the battalion going overseas was that they were going to take part in extended maneuvers.  The ship sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  After sailing, Cecil recalled that mail call was held as the ship they were on passed under the Golden Gate Bridge.  He his letters and made his way to the railing.  No sooner than he got to the railing that Cecil was seasick. 
   
They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. 
    When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
 

   Cecil recalled that life at the fort was easy.  There was little guard duty and everyday chores like making their beds and shining their shoes were done by a Filipino boy.  The morning of December 8, 1941, Cecil and the other cooks were straightening up their equipment.  When they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed.  Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers.  His company commander told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth.  He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  They were given guns and told to clean them.  As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers.  It was around noon that this belief was blown away.

    Cecil was working in the kitchen at that time.  He and the other cooks had just finished preparing lunch and preparing to serve it.  He recalled looking up and seeing a lot of planes approaching.  Having heard the rumor that Clark Air Field was going to be reinforced he thought nothing about the planes approaching the airfield.  He and the other men got up and began counting the planes.  

    It was at this time that bombs began falling from the planes.  Cecil like the other men dove into a ditch.  During the attack, Cecil stood up to see what was happening.  He watched the trees exploding from the Japanese bullets.  Capt. Havelock Nelson seeing Cecil standing up yelled at him to take cover.

    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the company kitchen was near the main road between the fort and airfield, Cecil watched as the dead, dying and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.  He recalled that anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, he watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.  The sight sickened him.

    That night, there was one air raid after another.  Since they did not have any foxholes, Cecil and the other men used an old latrine pit for cover.  Being that it was safer than their tents, he and the other men slept in the pit.  The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes.  The next morning the decision was made to move the company into an tree cover area.  Without knowing it, he had slept his last night on a cot or bed.  From this point on, Cecil slept in a blanket on the ground.

    For Cecil, the coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward Bataan Peninsula.  He recalled that once they were in Bataan they had water all around them on three sides and the Japanese blocking the only way out.  

    During this time, the soldiers were bombed and strafed.  The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to where Cecil's company kitchen.  That night the sky was lit by the fire burning at the ammunition dumps.

    Word reached Cecil and the other members of HQ Company that the order had been given to surrender the morning of April 9, 1942.  That morning they were suppose to join up with other troops and surrender together.  Cecil and the other men took their ammunition and weapons and put them in piles in the last tank and half-track they had.  They poured gasoline into the tank and the half track and then both were set on fire.  

    Captain Bruni took the men of HQ Company into the jungle near their camp site and fed them what would become their last supper.  It consisted of Pineapple juice and bread.  He said to them as they ate that it was now every man for himself.  

    Two days after the official surrender, a Japanese officer and soldiers entered HQ Company's bivouac.  The Americans were ordered out onto the road that ran past their encampment.  Once on the road, the Prisoners of War were ordered to kneel along the shoulders of the road.  They were told to put their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them took what they wanted from the Americans.

    The members of HQ Company made its way to Mariveles by truck.  At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded into a field.  The Japanese soldiers had the POWs lined up for an inspection.  The Japanese took the prisoners' jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.  

    As the POWs sat in the sun, they began to notice a line of Japanese soldiers was forming across from them.  The watched and realized that the Japanese were going to execute them.  At that moment a Japanese officer got out of the car and ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.  He climbed  back into the car and drove off.

    Cecil and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to sit in the sun without food or water. The Japanese let them sit there most of the day before they were told to move.   It was from Mariveles, late in the afternoon, that Cecil began what would later become known as the Bataan Death March.  With him on the march, was Bland Moore of D Company. 
    Cecil remembered that he and the other POWs were lined up and marched all night the first night.  They marched for days and were told there would be food and water at the next stop; but these were lies to keep the prisoners going.  The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machine gun nest.  Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.  During every hour, the POWs received a five minute break.  The Japanese would change guards and keep the POWs moving.  
  

    What made things worse was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water.  The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells.  It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells.  This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.  

    The lack of food and water caused physical disabilities; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open.  If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed.
    Cecil recalled, "The Filipinos would try to help us.  One woman tried to slip  us some rice wrapped in a banana leaf.  The Japs saw her and knocked her down.  She was pregnant.  They jumped up and down on top of her until she was dead."

    As the prisoners marched, the guards promised them food and water at the next stop.  Cecil went three days and nights without food or water.  In spite of the danger, Cecil ran to a well and filled his canteen halfway with water.  As he was about to put the canteen to his lips, a guard knocked him to the ground and the water spilled everywhere.  After this incident, Bland Moore and another member of D Company carried Cecil between them for two days.

    At one point during the march, the POWs were stopped.  The Japanese made the prisoners crowd together.  After this was done, the POWs were told to lay down for the night.  Since they were packed in so tightly, it was impossible for them to lay down.  The next morning when Cecil and Bland got up, they discovered that the two men next two them had died during the night.

    What little food Cecil and the other POWs got, consisted of burnt rice, tree bark and green banana shoots.  At one point Bland and Cecil got a hold of a half a canteen full of burnt rice.  Bland, another POW, and Cecil split the rice among them.   

    Cecil even saw a suicide while on the march.  A major jumped off a bridge that they were crossing.  Before he jumped, he said, "I can't take it another step!"  He leaped off the bridge and sank into the mud of the riverbed up to his shoulders.

    At one point on the march Cecil fell out under a large tree.  Cecil just felt that he could not take another step.  Bland More and another Pvt. Earl Pratt of HQ Company carried Cecil between them so that the Japanese would not kill him.  These two did this although they themselves were having a hard time walking.  That night Bland gave Cecil some water and a half of cigarette which seemed to revive him.  The next day Cecil was able to continue on the march alone.

    When the POWs stopped the Japanese would pull men from their ranks.  They were marched off and later gun fire would be heard.  The men were never seen again.  This was done repeatedly.

    As the prisoners went through the barrios, the Filipinos attempted to help the prisoners by sneaking them rice wrapped in banana leaves.  Cecil recalled that one pregnant woman was caught by the Japanese guards.  The guards knocked her to the ground and jumped on her stomach until she died.

    Other Filipinos believed that the POWs had money and attempted to sell rice to them.  One of these vendors had rice in a sock.  As Cecil passed him he grabbed the sock.  The Filipino yelled at Cecil to give him his money.  Cecil told the man that he did not have any which caused the man to pull a gun a Cecil.  Cecil was so tired that he did not care if the Filipino shot him or not.  Cecil looked at the man and told him to shoot.  

    After several days, Cecil made it to San Fernando.  Cecil was so sick at this point that he laid down.  Bland Moore came saw him and told him not to give up.  Bland picked up Cecil and told him to go.  There, the prisoners were crammed into steel boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  At Capas, the POWs disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a former Filipino army camp that was pressed into service as a prison camp.  The camp had only one water faucet for 12,000 POWs.  Cecil recalled that once in the camp men began to come down with beriberi and dysentery.  Conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as fifty men died each day.  Cecil worked the burial detail.  The bodies of the dead were placed in mass graves.  Since the water table was high, the workers used poles to hold the bodies down so they could be covered with dirt.

    One day, Cecil was working the detail when he recognized the man he was burying as a friend from Harrodsburg, Edward G. Willis.  Cecil did not want his friend to be buried in a mass grave and attempted to bury him alone.  When the Japanese guard noticed what Cecil was doing, he pushed Cecil into the grave and had bodies thrown on top of him.  The Japanese began to bury Cecil in the grave.  Cecil made his way around the trench and found a spot where there was no Japanese guard.  He climbed out.  The guard told Cecil that if he ever tried this again, he would be buried alive.

     Each morning the POWs would return to the cemetery to dig graves for the men who had died during the night.  When they got there, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them.  The men would knock them down and rebury them.

    To get out of the camp, Cecil volunteered to go out on the bridge building detail.  He was held at Calumpet in a school house near the bridge the POWs were rebuilding.  Their diet consisted of fish and rice.  The POWs were sick with beriberi, malaria, and dysentery.  Those too ill to work were sent to Cabanatuan and replaced by other POWs.  During his time on the detail, seventeen POWs died.

    One of the good thing about this detail was that the Filipinos attempted the help the POWs by slipping them food.  While the POWs were building the bridge, they camped along the bank of the river.  At night, the Filipinos would cross the river in their small boats.  After the Japanese guards had passed, the Filipinos put one or two of the prisoners in the boat.  The POWs would lie down and hide in the bottoms of the boats.  The prisoners were taken across the river where the they were fed.  When they had finished, the POWs were brought back to the camp.  Cecil credited the improvement in his health to the efforts of the Filipinos.

    When the bridge was finished, Cecil and the other POWs were returned to Cabanatuan #1.  They boarded trucks and were driving back to the camp.  As they passed, a Filipino recognized them as being Americans.  He stuck up his hand and had made a V for Victory sign with his fingers.  The Japanese guards on the truck saw him do this.  They stopped the truck and chased him down.  The guards laid his hand on the road and caught off his two fingers with a bayonet.
    After arriving in at Cabanatuan, Cecil was put into the camp hospital on Thursday, July 1, 1942, suffering from dysentery.  He remained in the hospital until he was discharged on July 10th.

    Cecil remained at Cabanatuan until he was selected to be sent to Manchuria.  On October 5th, he and the other POWs were awakened and taken by train to Manila.  There, they were housed in a warehouse on Pier 7 for two days.  Cecil, with the other prisoners, was boarded onto the Tottori Maru on October 7th.  The ship was also loaded with scrap metal bound for Korea.  The ship sailed for Formosa. 

    The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck.  This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed.  Many POWs died during the trip.

    While out at sea, the Tottori Maru survived an attack by an American submarine.  Two torpedoes were headed right at the ship, but the captain maneuvered the ship so that the torpedoes passed alongside of it.  At another point, the ship barely missed a mine that had been laid by a submarine.

    The ship continued its voyage arriving at Takao, Formosa on October 12th.  On October 16th the ship sailed from Takao but returned when the Japanese thought that American submarines were in the area.  While the ship set in the harbor for about a week, Cecil lost his eyesight because of the poor diet.  Another American from Indiana had a tube of onions he had stolen from the ship's galley.  He gave some of the onions to Cecil.  Because of the vitamins in the onions, Cecil regained his sight.

    On October 18th, the ship sailed again.   When it reached the Pescadores Islands, it dropped anchor.  It remained off the islands until October 27th when it returned to Takao.  The POWs were ordered off the ship.  They were lined up and sprayed with fire hoses.  After this was done, they were put back into the holds of the ship.

    The ship finally sailed on October 30th and went to Makou, Pescadores Islands.  When they sailed again, the ship was attacked by an American submarine.  The submarine shot torpedoes at the ship, but they all missed.   During this trip, the ship was caught in a typhoon which took five days to ride out.

    After 31 days on the ship, the Totori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea on November 7th.  1300 POW's got off the ship and sent on a four day train trip north to Mukden, Manchria.  Cecil was one of the POWs unloaded from the ship.  Another group of POWs remained on board and sent to Japan.  He and the other men received new clothes.  They were then marched down the street.  The civilians in the town spit on them and hit them.  They also made fun of the POWs.  The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box which contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish.

    From there, Cecil took a three day train trip to Mukden, Manchuria.  The camp he was taken to had been a college.  The buildings had been bombed out.  The only thing left of them were the basements which the Japanese had built roofs over so that they could serve as barracks for the prisoners.

    Since the POWs had come from the Philippines, many of the men were unprepared for the weather.  Many became ill and died from exposure during the first winter.  An American who was a carpenter built boxes for the bodies, but the ground was so hard that the dead could not be buried until the spring.  To solve this problem, the bodies were stored in a large warehouse near the camp.

    At Mukden each day, Cecil and the others prisoners marched three to work and back.  They then spent the day unloading sacks of cement and coal.  The job was tough enough, but when winter came the weather conditions made it worse.  The POWs often worked for hours in temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero.  The men often grew beards to protect their faces from the cold.

    The Japanese also attempted to get the POWs to manufacture rifle barrels.  The prisoners having no intention of helping the Japanese in their war effort sabotaged the barrels.

    Living conditions in the camp were not much better.  At night, the prisoners were issued one bucket of coal to heat a barracks of 1500 men.  Many men died from exposure.  Since the ground was too hard to dig graves, the bodies of those who died were put in wooden boxes and stored in a warehouse.  When the ground thawed, the dead were buried.

    The temperature was something that the prisoners had to deal with on a daily basis.  According to Cecil, the Japanese gave the POWs only a bucket of coal .  This bucket was suppose to heat an entire barracks and last one day and night.  The POWs were so cold that they snuck out at night to the warehouse where the dead were stored.  They would take a corpse out of one box and put it in a box with another corpse.  They would take the box and break it up so they could burn it to keep warm.  Cecil recalled that if you were the first to wake up in the morning and looked down the aisle of the barracks, every man would have his blanket pulled over his head for warmth.

    The daily meal for the POWs consisted of rice and pickled grasshoppers.  To get additional food, the prisoners stole food when the guard were not looking.  One night, Cecil could not believe his nose when he smelled onions and liver cooking.  Some POWs had found an wild onion patch and were cooking them with a dog's liver.

    The Japanese decided that the POWs would be sent out to work in a factory in Mukden.  The walk from the camp to the factory was three miles.  The POWs marched to the factory every morning and marched back to the camp every night.  While they marched, if a cat, dog or duck got caught in their ranks, one of the POWs would grab it and put it in his coat for supper.

    Those men too ill to go to work were setting traps attempting to catch sparrows, dogs, or anything else they could eat.  One day as Cecil returned to camp, he could not believe that he was smelling liver and onions cooking.  It turned out that the men in the camp had found a wild onion patch near the camp and cooked them with a dog's liver.  It was one of the best meals that Cecil had.

    One day, Cecil and Claude Yeast were at the front of the POWs as they walked to work.  Cecil looked up and saw a big yellow dog trotting through the town with a little girl in its mouth.  The poorer villagers could not afford to bury their dead, so they left them out for the animals to get.

    The Japanese used the POWs to run lathes, drill presses, and other machinery.  When the Japanese believed that the POWs were good enough, they put them to work making gun barrels.  The POWs intentionally messed up and ruined the barrels.  They also dropped sand into the oiling holes of the machines.  The Japanese responded by making them work outside stacking lumber.

    The factory they worked at had hogs that they said they were going to give to the prisoners for food once they were fat.  Claude Yeast was put in charge of the hogs.  Claude used lumber and built a little shack that looked like it was part of the hog house.  He put a wall to hide it from the Japanese.  Claude used this room to eat the feed he was suppose to feed to the hogs.  Cecil was lucky enough to have a chance to eat a meal of hot feed.

    The Japanese could not understand why the hogs were not getting fat.  When the time came to butcher them, the Japanese butchered the hugs and kept the meat for themselves.  The prisoners cared less because they got the feed in place of the hogs.

    The Japanese began splitting the POWs up into smaller groups and sent them in groups of 100 to different factories.  Some POWs worked in textile factories or in the steel mill.  Cecil ended up working in the steel mill.  Since the Japanese did not have enough masks, they made the POWs pour the molten steel without masks.  It was at this time that Cecil got tuberculosis.

    Just before the surrender, American planes bombed the main camp at Mukden.  The reason this happened was the Japanese had set up three ammunition dumps that lined up with camp.  Several Americans were killed in the raid.

    The first sign that the war was over was when Americans parachuted into the camp.  After meeting with the camp commander, the announcement was made to the POWs that the war was over.

    Finally, the terrible times came to an end when Cecil and the other prisoners were liberated.  The prisoners had heard of the surrender, but the Japanese guards attempted to act like it never happened.  One POWs slipped around the guards and climbed over the the camp wall and saw Russian tanks passing the camp.  The POW could speak some Russian and Polish and was able to communicate to the Russians that behind the wall were POWs.  The Russians turned one of the tanks and came through the camp's gate.  The tank stopped near the POWs and the crew disarmed the Japanese and gave the guns to the freed POWs.

    Cecil stayed in their camp for three days and then made their way back to he main camp.  In the main camp they were reunited with friends that they had not seen for sometime.   At the camp, the POWs were dropped food by American planes.  The first American food to be eaten by the men in over three years was canned peaches.  They washed the peaches down with coffee.

    Being ill, it was determined that Cecil be flown from Mukden to Kungming, China and then to the Philippine Islands.  In the Philippines Cecil was put into a rest camp.  The Americans attempted to give him and the other men anything that they had not had in three years.

     From the Philippines Cecil returned to the United States by boat.  He was taken to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco.  It was there that it was discovered that he had T. B.  Because of this condition, he was not discharged until July 18, 1946. 

     Cecil returned home to Kentucky and married Ruby Hawkins.  The couple had two sons and a daughter.  He spent the rest of his life in Harrodsburg.  Cecil Van Diver died on October 27, 1999, from leukemia.  Cecil Van Diver was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.   Cecil recalled that life at the fort was easy.  There was little guard duty and everyday chores like making their beds and shining their shoes were done by a Filipino boy.  The morning of December 8, 1941, Cecil and the other cooks were straightening up their equipment.  When they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed.  Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers.  His company commander told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth.  He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.  They were given guns and told to clean them.  As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers.  It was around noon that this belief was blown away.

    Cecil was working in the kitchen at that time.  He and the other cooks had just finished preparing lunch and preparing to serve it.  He recalled looking up and seeing a lot of planes approaching.  Having heard the rumor that Clark Air Field was going to be reinforced he thought nothing about the planes approaching the airfield.  He and the other men got up and began counting the planes.  

    It was at this time that bombs began falling from the planes.  Cecil like the other men dove into a ditch.  During the attack, Cecil stood up to see what was happening.  He watched the trees exploding from the Japanese bullets.  Capt. Havelock Nelson seeing Cecil standing up yelled at him to take cover.

    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the company kitchen was near the main road between the fort and airfield, Cecil watched as the dead, dying and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.  He recalled that anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, he watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.  The sight sickened him.

    That night, there was one air raid after another.  Since they did not have any foxholes, Cecil and the other men used an old latrine pit for cover.  Being that it was safer than their tents, he and the other men slept in the pit.  The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes.  The next morning the decision was made to move the company into an tree cover area.  Without knowing it, he had slept his last night on a cot or bed.  From this point on, Cecil slept in a blanket on the ground.

    For Cecil, the coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward Bataan Peninsula.  He recalled that once they were in Bataan they had water all around them on three sides and the Japanese blocking the only way out.  

    During this time, the soldiers were bombed and strafed.  The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to where Cecil's company kitchen.  That night the sky was lit by the fire burning at the ammunition dumps.

    Word reached Cecil and the other members of HQ Company that the order had been given to surrender the morning of April 9, 1942.  That morning they were suppose to join up with other troops and surrender together.  Cecil and the other men took their ammunition and weapons and put them in piles in the last tank and half-track they had.  They poured gasoline into the tank and the half track and then both were set on fire.  

    Captain Bruni took the men of HQ Company into the jungle near their camp site and fed them what would become their last supper.  It consisted of Pineapple juice and bread.  He said to them as they ate that it was now every man for himself.  

    Two days after the official surrender, a Japanese officer and soldiers entered HQ Company's bivouac.  The Americans were ordered out onto the road that ran past their encampment.  Once on the road, the Prisoners of War were ordered to kneel along the shoulders of the road.  They were told to put their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them took what they wanted from the Americans.

    The members of HQ Company made its way to Mariveles by truck.  At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded into a field.  The Japanese soldiers had the POWs lined up for an inspection.  The Japanese took the prisoners' jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.  

    As the POWs sat in the sun, they began to notice a line of Japanese soldiers was forming across from them.  The watched and realized that the Japanese were going to execute them.  At that moment a Japanese officer got out of the car and ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.  He climbed  back into the car and drove off.

    Cecil and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to sit in the sun without food or water. The Japanese let them sit there most of the day before they were told to move.   It was from Mariveles, late in the afternoon, that Cecil began what would later become known as the Bataan Death March.  With him on the march, was Bland Moore of D Company. 
    Cecil remembered that he and the other POWs were lined up and marched all night the first night.  They marched for days and were told there would be food and water at the next stop; but these were lies to keep the prisoners going.  The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machine gun nest.  Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.  During every hour, the POWs received a five minute break.  The Japanese would change guards and keep the POWs moving.  
  

    What made things worse was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water.  The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells.  It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells.  This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.  

    The lack of food and water caused physical disabilities; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open.  If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed.
    Cecil recalled, "The Filipinos would try to help us.  One woman tried to slip  us some rice wrapped in a banana leaf.  The Japs saw her and knocked her down.  She was pregnant.  They jumped up and down on top of her until she was dead."

    As the prisoners marched, the guards promised them food and water at the next stop.  Cecil went three days and nights without food or water.  In spite of the danger, Cecil ran to a well and filled his canteen halfway with water.  As he was about to put the canteen to his lips, a guard knocked him to the ground and the water spilled everywhere.  After this incident, Bland Moore and another member of D Company carried Cecil between them for two days.

    At one point during the march, the POWs were stopped.  The Japanese made the prisoners crowd together.  After this was done, the POWs were told to lay down for the night.  Since they were packed in so tightly, it was impossible for them to lay down.  The next morning when Cecil and Bland got up, they discovered that the two men next two them had died during the night.

    What little food Cecil and the other POWs got, consisted of burnt rice, tree bark and green banana shoots.  At one point Bland and Cecil got a hold of a half a canteen full of burnt rice.  Bland, another POW, and Cecil split the rice among them.   

    Cecil even saw a suicide while on the march.  A major jumped off a bridge that they were crossing.  Before he jumped, he said, "I can't take it another step!"  He leaped off the bridge and sank into the mud of the riverbed up to his shoulders.

    At one point on the march Cecil fell out under a large tree.  Cecil just felt that he could not take another step.  Bland More and another Pvt. Earl Pratt of HQ Company carried Cecil between them so that the Japanese would not kill him.  These two did this although they themselves were having a hard time walking.  That night Bland gave Cecil some water and a half of cigarette which seemed to revive him.  The next day Cecil was able to continue on the march alone.

    When the POWs stopped the Japanese would pull men from their ranks.  They were marched off and later gun fire would be heard.  The men were never seen again.  This was done repeatedly.

    As the prisoners went through the barrios, the Filipinos attempted to help the prisoners by sneaking them rice wrapped in banana leaves.  Cecil recalled that one pregnant woman was caught by the Japanese guards.  The guards knocked her to the ground and jumped on her stomach until she died.

    Other Filipinos believed that the POWs had money and attempted to sell rice to them.  One of these vendors had rice in a sock.  As Cecil passed him he grabbed the sock.  The Filipino yelled at Cecil to give him his money.  Cecil told the man that he did not have any which caused the man to pull a gun a Cecil.  Cecil was so tired that he did not care if the Filipino shot him or not.  Cecil looked at the man and told him to shoot.  

    After several days, Cecil made it to San Fernando.  Cecil was so sick at this point that he laid down.  Bland Moore came saw him and told him not to give up.  Bland picked up Cecil and told him to go.  There, the prisoners were crammed into steel boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  At Capas, the POWs disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a former Filipino army camp that was pressed into service as a prison camp.  The camp had only one water faucet for 12,000 POWs.  Cecil recalled that once in the camp men began to come down with beriberi and dysentery.  Conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as fifty men died each day.  Cecil worked the burial detail.  The bodies of the dead were placed in mass graves.  Since the water table was high, the workers used poles to hold the bodies down so they could be covered with dirt.

    One day, Cecil was working the detail when he recognized the man he was burying as a friend from Harrodsburg, Edward G. Willis.  Cecil did not want his friend to be buried in a mass grave and attempted to bury him alone.  When the Japanese guard noticed what Cecil was doing, he pushed Cecil into the grave and had bodies thrown on top of him.  The Japanese began to bury Cecil in the grave.  Cecil made his way around the trench and found a spot where there was no Japanese guard.  He climbed out.  The guard told Cecil that if he ever tried this again, he would be buried alive.

     Each morning the POWs would return to the cemetery to dig graves for the men who had died during the night.  When they got there, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them.  The men would knock them down and rebury them.

    To get out of the camp, Cecil volunteered to go out on the bridge building detail.  He was held at Calumpet in a school house near the bridge the POWs were rebuilding.  Their diet consisted of fish and rice.  The POWs were sick with beriberi, malaria, and dysentery.  Those too ill to work were sent to Cabanatuan and replaced by other POWs.  During his time on the detail, seventeen POWs died.

    One of the good thing about this detail was that the Filipinos attempted the help the POWs by slipping them food.  While the POWs were building the bridge, they camped along the bank of the river.  At night, the Filipinos would cross the river in their small boats.  After the Japanese guards had passed, the Filipinos put one or two of the prisoners in the boat.  The POWs would lie down and hide in the bottoms of the boats.  The prisoners were taken across the river where the they were fed.  When they had finished, the POWs were brought back to the camp.  Cecil credited the improvement in his health to the efforts of the Filipinos.

    When the bridge was finished, Cecil and the other POWs were returned to Cabanatuan #1.  They boarded trucks and were driving back to the camp.  As they passed, a Filipino recognized them as being Americans.  He stuck up his hand and had made a V for Victory sign with his fingers.  The Japanese guards on the truck saw him do this.  They stopped the truck and chased him down.  The guards laid his hand on the road and caught off his two fingers with a bayonet.
    After arriving in at Cabanatuan, Cecil was put into the camp hospital on Thursday, July 1, 1942, suffering from dysentery.  He remained in the hospital until he was discharged on July 10th.

    Cecil remained at Cabanatuan until he was selected to be sent to Manchuria.  On October 5th, he and the other POWs were awakened and taken by train to Manila.  There, they were housed in a warehouse on Pier 7 for two days.  Cecil, with the other prisoners, was boarded onto the Tottori Maru on October 7th.  The ship was also loaded with scrap metal bound for Korea.  The ship sailed for Formosa. 

    The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck.  This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed.  Many POWs died during the trip.

    While out at sea, the Tottori Maru survived an attack by an American submarine.  Two torpedoes were headed right at the ship, but the captain maneuvered the ship so that the torpedoes passed alongside of it.  At another point, the ship barely missed a mine that had been laid by a submarine.

    The ship continued its voyage arriving at Takao, Formosa on October 12th.  On October 16th the ship sailed from Takao but returned when the Japanese thought that American submarines were in the area.  While the ship set in the harbor for about a week, Cecil lost his eyesight because of the poor diet.  Another American from Indiana had a tube of onions he had stolen from the ship's galley.  He gave some of the onions to Cecil.  Because of the vitamins in the onions, Cecil regained his sight.

    On October 18th, the ship sailed again.   When it reached the Pescadores Islands, it dropped anchor.  It remained off the islands until October 27th when it returned to Takao.  The POWs were ordered off the ship.  They were lined up and sprayed with fire hoses.  After this was done, they were put back into the holds of the ship.

    The ship finally sailed on October 30th and went to Makou, Pescadores Islands.  When they sailed again, the ship was attacked by an American submarine.  The submarine shot torpedoes at the ship, but they all missed.   During this trip, the ship was caught in a typhoon which took five days to ride out.

    After 31 days on the ship, the Tottori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea on November 7th.  1300 POW's got off the ship and sent on a four day train trip north to Mukden, Manchria.  Cecil was one of the POWs unloaded from the ship.  Another group of POWs remained on board and sent to Japan.  He and the other men received new clothes.  They were then marched down the street.  The civilians in the town spit on them and hit them.  They also made fun of the POWs.  The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box which contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish.

    From there, Cecil took a three day train trip to Mukden, Manchuria.  The camp he was taken to had been a college.  The buildings had been bombed out.  The only thing left of them were the basements which the Japanese had built roofs over so that they could serve as barracks for the prisoners.

    Since the POWs had come from the Philippines, many of the men were unprepared for the weather.  Many became ill and died from exposure during the first winter.  An American who was a carpenter built boxes for the bodies, but the ground was so hard that the dead could not be buried until the spring.  To solve this problem, the bodies were stored in a large warehouse near the camp.

    At Mukden each day, Cecil and the others prisoners marched three to work and back.  They then spent the day unloading sacks of cement and coal.  The job was tough enough, but when winter came the weather conditions made it worse.  The POWs often worked for hours in temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero.  The men often grew beards to protect their faces from the cold.

    The Japanese also attempted to get the POWs to manufacture rifle barrels.  The prisoners having no intention of helping the Japanese in their war effort sabotaged the barrels.

    Living conditions in the camp were not much better.  At night, the prisoners were issued one bucket of coal to heat a barracks of 1500 men.  Many men died from exposure.  Since the ground was too hard to dig graves, the bodies of those who died were put in wooden boxes and stored in a warehouse.  When the ground thawed, the dead were buried.

    The temperature was something that the prisoners had to deal with on a daily basis.  According to Cecil, the Japanese gave the POWs only a bucket of coal .  This bucket was suppose to heat an entire barracks and last one day and night.  The POWs were so cold that they snuck out at night to the warehouse where the dead were stored.  They would take a corpse out of one box and put it in a box with another corpse.  They would take the box and break it up so they could burn it to keep warm.  Cecil recalled that if you were the first to wake up in the morning and looked down the aisle of the barracks, every man would have his blanket pulled over his head for warmth.

    The daily meal for the POWs consisted of rice and pickled grasshoppers.  To get additional food, the prisoners stole food when the guard were not looking.  One night, Cecil could not believe his nose when he smelled onions and liver cooking.  Some POWs had found an wild onion patch and were cooking them with a dog's liver.

    The Japanese decided that the POWs would be sent out to work in a factory in Mukden.  The walk from the camp to the factory was three miles.  The POWs marched to the factory every morning and marched back to the camp every night.  While they marched, if a cat, dog or duck got caught in their ranks, one of the POWs would grab it and put it in his coat for supper.

    Those men too ill to go to work were setting traps attempting to catch sparrows, dogs, or anything else they could eat.  One day as Cecil returned to camp, he could not believe that he was smelling liver and onions cooking.  It turned out that the men in the camp had found a wild onion patch near the camp and cooked them with a dog's liver.  It was one of the best meals that Cecil had.

    One day, Cecil and Claude Yeast were at the front of the POWs as they walked to work.  Cecil looked up and saw a big yellow dog trotting through the town with a little girl in its mouth.  The poorer villagers could not afford to bury their dead, so they left them out for the animals to get.

    The Japanese used the POWs to run lathes, drill presses, and other machinery.  When the Japanese believed that the POWs were good enough, they put them to work making gun barrels.  The POWs intentionally messed up and ruined the barrels.  They also dropped sand into the oiling holes of the machines.  The Japanese responded by making them work outside stacking lumber.

    The factory they worked at had hogs that they said they were going to give to the prisoners for food once they were fat.  Claude Yeast was put in charge of the hogs.  Claude used lumber and built a little shack that looked like it was part of the hog house.  He put a wall to hide it from the Japanese.  Claude used this room to eat the feed he was suppose to feed to the hogs.  Cecil was lucky enough to have a chance to eat a meal of hot feed.

    The Japanese could not understand why the hogs were not getting fat.  When the time came to butcher them, the Japanese butchered the hugs and kept the meat for themselves.  The prisoners cared less because they got the feed in place of the hogs.

    The Japanese began splitting the POWs up into smaller groups and sent them in groups of 100 to different factories.  Some POWs worked in textile factories or in the steel mill.  Cecil ended up working in the steel mill.  Since the Japanese did not have enough masks, they made the POWs pour the molten steel without masks.  It was at this time that Cecil got tuberculosis.

    Just before the surrender, American planes bombed the main camp at Mukden.  The reason this happened was the Japanese had set up three ammunition dumps that lined up with camp.  Several Americans were killed in the raid.

    The first sign that the war was over was when Americans parachuted into the camp.  After meeting with the camp commander, the announcement was made to the POWs that the war was over.

    Finally, the terrible times came to an end when Cecil and the other prisoners were liberated.  The prisoners had heard of the surrender, but the Japanese guards attempted to act like it never happened.  One POWs slipped around the guards and climbed over the the camp wall and saw Russian tanks passing the camp.  The POW could speak some Russian and Polish and was able to communicate to the Russians that behind the wall were POWs.  The Russians turned one of the tanks and came through the camp's gate.  The tank stopped near the POWs and the crew disarmed the Japanese and gave the guns to the freed POWs.

    Cecil stayed in their camp for three days and then made their way back to he main camp.  In the main camp they were reunited with friends that they had not seen for sometime.   At the camp, the POWs were dropped food by American planes.  The first American food to be eaten by the men in over three years was canned peaches.  They washed the peaches down with coffee.

    Being ill, it was determined that Cecil be flown from Mukden to Kungming, China and then to the Philippine Islands.  In the Philippines Cecil was put into a rest camp.  The Americans attempted to give him and the other men anything that they had not had in three years.

     From the Philippines, Cecil returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dychman, at San Francisco, on October 16, 1945.  He was taken to Letterman General Hospital, where that it was discovered that he had tuberculosis.  Because of this condition, he was not discharged from the Army until July 18, 1946. 

     Cecil returned home to Kentucky and married Ruby Hawkins.  The couple had two sons and a daughter.  He spent the rest of his life in Harrodsburg.  Cecil Van Diver died on October 27, 1999, from leukemia.  Cecil Van Diver was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.


 

Return to Company D

Interview

Next