S/Sgt. Richard C. Armato
S/Sgt. Richard C. Armato was son of Italian immigrants and was born on January 15, 1912, to Antonia Gigante-Armato and Dominick Armato. He grew up in Melrose Park, Illinois, and with friends joined the Illinois National Guard as a member of the 33rd Division's Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois. Before he was inducted into the army in 1940, Richard worked, as a bank clerk, at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago and lived at 741 North Waller Avenue in Chicago. When his tank company was called to federal service on November 25, 1940, Richard was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training.
At Fort Knox, Richard learned to operate all the equipment that was used
by the company. What his specific training and duties were is not known, but in January 1941, he was
transferred to Headquarters Company after it was formed.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 -
was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying
over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed
something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the
distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the
direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio
transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
As a member of HQ Company, Richard remained in the
battalion's bivouac. He and the other men took cover to protect themselves from the bombs and
bullets. After the attack he saw the damage done to the airfield.
The evening of April 8,
Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer,
gave his men the news of the surrender.
While informing the members of the company of the
surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the
men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke,
his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a
moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next
told the sergeants what they should do to disable the
tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that
they all were to surrender together. He told the
soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that
could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they
were told not to destroy were the company's
trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered
to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and
pineapple juice for what he called,
"Their last supper."
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp
O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on
April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and
refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them,
they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the
camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the
POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O'Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was
closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was
eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs fro Corregidor and those men who had been
hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. The camp was later closed and the POWs were sent to Camp 1.
Medical records from the camp show that Richard was
hospitalized on April 13, 1943. The records do not show why he was hospitalized or when he was discharged.
During this time, Richard was selected to be sent to Japan.
On July 15, 1944, he was one of the POWs who boarded between 25 to 30 trucks for Bilibid
Prison. The POWs left the camp at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid at 2:00 in the morning. The morning
of July 17th, the POWs at 7:00 A.M. the POWs were marched to the port area. When they arrived, the Japanese
attempted to put 1600 POWs in the rear hold of the
Nissyo Maru, until they realized this could not be done, they than moved 600 POWs to the forward hold.
The POWs were put in the holds back to back so tightly that they could not move.
The next morning the POWs disembarked the ship and marched to a
theater. They remained in the dark theater for hours. The Japanese ordered the POWs to form
detachments of 200 men. The detachments were marched to the train station and boarded trains to the camps
they were assigned. From Moji, Richard was sent to Fukuoka #3, where the POWs provided slave labor for the
Yawata Steel Mills. Their
work was to shovel iron ore and rebuild the ovens. The POWs were sent into the hot ovens to clean out
the debris. Since the Japanese would not let them cool off, the POWs worked faster on this detail.
Two products from the mill, hand grenades and shell casings, helped the Japanese war effort. If an air raid
took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a
tunnel. They worked from 8:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M., and received a half hour lunch.
The barracks that the POWs lived in were always cold since the Japanese heated them on a
minimal basis and were infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. Only the sick rooms had heat. All POWs
who died were reported to have died in the camp hospital. Food for the POWs consisted of a main dish of
rice, wheat, wheat flour, corn, and, Kaoliang, a millet. To supplement their diets, the POWs in the camp
would hunt rats at night for meat. On two occasions the POWs received meat. In both cases, the meat
was rotten but the POWs ate it anyway.
The POWs worked at the Yawata Steel Mills doing manual labor. The work was to shovel iron
ore and rebuild the ovens. The POWs were sent into the ovens to clean out the debris. Since the ovens
were hot, because the Japanese would not let them cool off, the POWs worked faster on this detail. Many of
the products from the mill helped the Japanese war effort. If an air raid took place while the POWs were at
the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel.
After three and a half years as a POW, he was liberated when the Japanese surrendered in 1945. He returned to the United States on the U .S.S. Joseph T. Dychman arriving on October 16, 1945, and was discharged, from the army, on June 20, 1946. He returned home to Melrose Park.
Richard later joined a monastery in Wisconsin where he studied to become a Catholic priest. After leaving the monastery, he moved to San Diego, California, where his sister and brother-in-law had moved. He worked as a title searcher for American Title & Insurance.
Richard Armato passed away on August 3, 1985, and was buried at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego next to his brother-in-law. He was 73 years old.