Pfc. William Esco Biddle

    What is known about Pfc. William Biddle is that he was born on October 16, 1922, in Vincennes, Indiana.  He was the youngest of three children born to Esco W. Biddle & Pearl Walker-Biddle.  He grew up Clinton, Indiana, and had a grade school education.  He was inducted into the U. S. Army in 1941 and did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he qualified as a tank mechanic.
    On August 17, 1941, the company was formed from A Company, 19th Ordnance Battalion, and received orders for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was lower than the rest, noticed something odd in the water.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and another in the distance.  The planes 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 hundred of miles away.   The island had a large radio transmitter on it.  The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed that evening, it was too late to do anything that day.
    The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

    In the late summer of 1941, 17th Ordnance received orders that it was being sent overseas.  The company traveled west by train to San Francisco.  They were taken to Angel Island, on the ferry the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, where they were inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands.
    The company boarded the U.S.S Calvin Cooledge which sailed at 9:00 P.M., September 8.  It arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on September 13th at 7:00 A.M.  The soldiers were given passes, but they had to be back on board the ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. and took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer.  Several times during the voyage, the Astoria took off an intercepted ships when smoke was seen on the horizon.  Each time the smoke was from a friendly ship.
   The ships arrived at Manila on Friday, September 26.  Most of the soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., but the members of 17th Ordnance remained behind to unload the tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion and reattached the turrets.

When the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived at Manila, 17th Ordnance returned to the port area to unload their tanks. 
    On December 8, 1941, William lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  He spent the next four months working to supply the tanks of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions with gasoline and ammunition. 
    In March, 1942, while 17th Ordnance was with the 192nd, William, and other members of 17th Ordnance, were in the area.  The 192nd was attacking the Japanese in what was known as Hacienda Battle and dislodged them from the position.  When they moved into the position, they found a dead friend of theirs with a piece of his left thigh cut out.  His body was still warm.  A little up the road, they found the missing piece of the man's thigh, which the Japanese had tried to cook.  A piece had been chewed off.  When they returned with it to the body, it fit perfectly, accept for the chewed off piece.

    On April 9, 1942, William became a Prisoner of War.  he took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.   At one point, he recalled seeing an American who had fallen from exhaustion being buried.  As he was being buried by other POWs, he regained consciousness.  The Japanese told the POWs to hit him with the shovel and bury him.
    At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were packed into small wooden
boxcars.   The cars could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese put 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living disembarked at Capas.  He then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.  It had taken William a week to complete the march.

   Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a POW camp.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp.  As many as fifty men died each day from disease.  Conditions in the camp were so bad that the Japanese moved the healthier POWs to a new camp at Cabanatuan.
    The POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched to Capas where they boarded steel boxcars which took them to Calumpit.  At Calumpit, the train switched to another line and the POWs were taken to Cabanatuan where they disembarked and marched to the camp.
    Cabanatuan was the home base of the 91st Philippine Army Division and put into use as a POW camp.  The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.  While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to force them into the mud even deeper.  Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
    The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one.  There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on  bamboo strips.  In addition no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill. 
    If a POW was caught attempting to escape he was beaten.  Those who successfully escaped and were recaptured were beaten and later shot.  Each man had to dig his own grave.  It was at this camp the Japanese implanted the "Blood Brother" rule.  The POWs were put in groups of 10 men.  If one man escaped the other nine would be killed.  The justification was that the POWs who slept on the man's right or left would have been able to stop him.  
    The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards.  Zero ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of "Zero Ward."  The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent.  The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building.  Many of those in the ward died because their bodies could not fight the diseases they had because they were malnourished which caused their deaths.

    William and other POWs were transferred from Cabanatuan to Davao in December 1942. The POWs were boarded onto the Interisland Steamer and taken to the Island of Mindanao.  He was held at the Davao Penal Colony from December 1942 until October 26, 1943. At that time, William was part of a work detail of POWs sent to Laasang, Mindanao, to build runways at a Japanese airfield.  He remained on the detail until August 19, 1944.

    Several weeks earlier, the POWs had seen their first American plane in two and one half years.  The plane flew over the airfield they were working at and dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway.

    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 shoe-less 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 machine gun 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.  Someone misinterpreted the order 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.  

    On September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru.  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 or submarines.  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. 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, in the hold, saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water. 

    The POWs 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 machine guns 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.

    William and the other Americans in the water saw Americans, who had been picked up by the boats, have their hands tied behind their backs.  The Japanese shot each man in the back of the head and threw the bodies into the water.  He hid among the wreckage to avoid being killed.

    Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped.  William was one of these men.  After reaching shore, the POWs were rescued by Filipino Guerillas.  The Filipinos were so happy to help the Americans that word spread of their rescue.  Wherever they were taken, celebrations were held in their honor.  This caused concern among the Americans for their safety. 

    The guerillas made arrangements for the former POWs to be evacuated by American submarines.  William and the other POWs boarded the U.S.S. Narwhal on October 20, and his family was notified that he had been returned to American Military control on October 26, 1944.  From the Philippines, William was taken to Brisbane, Australia.  He was next sent to Ft. McDowell, Angel Island, California, arriving there on November 6, 1944.

    William later returned to Indiana.  He married and became the father of a son and daughter.  He remained in the military and served during the Korean War.  At some point, he divorced.  He retired from the Army after 21 years of service. 
    In 1961 William married, Johnaleen Brooks, and became a step-father.   He worked at the Naval Avionics Center in Indianapolis as a clerk.  William Biddle died on March 5, 1989, at the Indiana Veterans Home and was buried at the Indiana Soldiers Home Cemetery in West Lafayette, Indiana.





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