|Pvt. Ralph Hampton Buchanan
Pvt. Ralph H. Buchanan was born on May 8, 1914, in
Kimballton, Virginia, to John T. Buchanan and Lula C.
Long-Buchanan. With his brother and parents, he
moved to Geraldine, Montana, and worked as a ranch
foreman. On March 28, 1941, he was inducted into
the U.S. Army at Missoula, Montana, and sent to Fort
Lewis, Washington, for basic training. It is not
known if he was assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion
after he was inducted, or if he joined the battalion was
On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, to go overseas. Earlier in 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 in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy and saw another one 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 returned to its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron of planes was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In August 1941, the tank battalion received orders to report to San Francisco for deployment overseas. Arriving by train, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion's medical detachment. Any man with a medical condition was replaced.
The battalion boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge at 3:00 P.M. on September 8, 1941. The ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. the same day. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M.. The soldiers were allowed to go ashore for the day, but had to report back to the ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. the same day.
The ship took a southern route away from the normal shipping lanes and was escorted by the cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer. Several times smoke was seen on the horizon, and the cruiser took off in its direction. Each time it turned out the ship was friendly. On Tuesday, September 16, the ships crossed the International Dateline, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18. The ships arrived in Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. on September 26. The soldiers disembarked the ship at 3:00 P.M. and most rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg. Some remained behind to unload the tanks with the help of 17th Ordnance.
The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. where they lived in tents, along the main road between the Clark Field and the fort, until their barracks were completed on November 15, 1941.
The first week of December 1941, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers. Two tank crew members remained with the tank at all times. The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers heard the news of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. As they sat their tanks, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were having lunch, which meant a tank crew member went to the food truck and got food for the other members of the crew. As they sat in their tanks, they watched two formations, of 27 planes each, approaching the airfield from the north. At first they believed the planes were American, it was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Jaoaquin on the Malolus Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12. It would receive 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank. The battalion moved again to west and north of Rosario and was operating in north of the Agno River the night of December 22/23.
The tank battalions formed the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas defensive line the night of December 26/27. They were holding a new line at the Bamban River the night of December 29/30 and were at the Calumpit Bridge the next night. On January 5, they were at Lyac Junction and dropped back to Remedios were a new defensive line was formed. The night of January 6/7, the 194th withdrew over a bridge on the Culis Creek covered by the 192nd Tank Battalion, and entered Bataan. The 192nd crossed the bridge before it was destroyed and entered Bataan.
The tank battalions were covering the East Coast Road on January 8. It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each and HQ Company with the 17th Ordnance Company were able to do long overdue maintenance on the tanks.
The tanks continued to cover withdraws for the rest of January and February. In March, HQ Company was recovering two tanks that had been bogged down in the mud when the Japanese entered the area. Lt. Col. Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point blank range and ran from tank to tank directing the fire.
On April 3, the Japanese lunched an all out offensive at 3:00 P.M., and the tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. When it became apparent to Gen. Edward King that the situation was hopeless, he sent staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan on April 8th.
The morning of April 9, 1942, the order "crash" was heard over the radio. This meant they were destroy anything that could be used by the Japanese. The members of the 194th made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It was from there that Ralph started what was simply called "the march."
The POWs made their way north to San Fernando, they given little food or water. Those men who fell were often bayoneted or shot. When they reached San Fernando, they were herded into a bullpen. The floor was covered in human waste from the POWs who had been held in the bullpen before them. They were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station.
At the train station the POWs were packed into small wooden railroad boxcars known as "forty and eights," because the cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The men who died remained standing since there was no place to fall. When the living left the cars at Capas, the dead fell to the floor, while the living walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Upon arriving at Camp O'Donnell, the POWs were told by the camp commandant that they were not prisoners of war but captives and would be treated as captives.
Camp O'Donnell 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.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, the POWs formed 100 men detachments and marched out the gate toward Capas, where they were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division's home.
In the camp the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.
It was only after the POWs received their first Red Cross packages that the death rate dropped. It is not known if Ralph remained in the camp the entire time he was a POW or if he went out on work details.
Ralph and other POWs were taken by truck to Bilibid Prison outside Manila. There, they were given physicals on December 12 to determine who was healthy enough to be sent to Japan. The POWs were told that they would be issued cigarettes, soap, and salt, and that they would be issued to meals. The second to take with them. The lights in the prisoner were left on since the detachment was scheduled to leave early.
At 7:00 A.M. the POWs formed ranks for foll call which took until 9:00 A.M. When they were finished the POWs were allowed to roam the compound. At 11:00 A.M., they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Afterwards, the detachments were marched down Luzon Boulevard the two miles to Pier 7 at the Port Area of Manila.
During the march, they saw that Manila was in disarray and the street cars were not running. When they reached the port area, it was evident that American planes were doing a job on the transports by the number sitting in the bat as sunken hulks.
The POWs were allowed to sit, and many of them fell asleep. At 5:00 in the afternoon, the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru and put in one of the ship's holds. The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship's afthold. Being the first on meant that they would suffer many deaths.
Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, "The fist fights began when men to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air." The POWs who were closer to the hold's hatch, used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
The ship sailed and became a part of a convoy which moved without lights. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, "Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, 'Have some of this chow? It's good.' I smelled of it, it was not chow. 'All right' he said, 'If you don't want it. I'm going to eat it.' And a little later I heard him eating it , right beside me."
The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for awhile. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As light began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold, put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrap it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
The POWs received their first meal at dawn. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three fourths of a cup of water was shared by 20 POWs. It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
At first it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit, had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, "I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us."
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes' engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties. .
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, "There's a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there." Barr would never reach Japan. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes were ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterwards, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only .30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs. During the attack Chaplain Cummings, a Catholic priest, led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship's had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped. At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15 and the POWs sat in the ship's holds for hours after dawn. The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water. At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, "All go home; speedo!" He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, "Planes, many planes!"
As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, "I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air."
In 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. In the hold a Catholic priest, Father Duffy, began to pray, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship's captain remained on board. He told the POWs - with his limited English - that they needed to get off the ship to safety. The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water. There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened up on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water, but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court. The evening of December 16, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half the rice in bags had fallen out because of holes in the bags. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice to eat and a spoon of salt.
At 8:00 A.M. on December 20, twenty trucks arrived to take the POWs to San Fernando, Pampanga. They arrived there at 4:00 P.M. or 5:00 P.M. the next day. Once there, they were put into a movie theater which was completely dark. The POWs lived through several air raids while there since the barrio was a regional military for the Japanese. Many of the POWs believed that they had been brought there so they could be killed by their own countrymen.
The Japanese interpreter came to talk to the ranking American officer, on December 23, 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 A.M. on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit during bombings and the cars waiting for them had bullet holes in them from being strafed. 180 to 200 POWs were packed into the steel boxcars with four guards. After they were boarded, the doors were shut and the heat became terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told the POWs that if American planes appeared it was okay for them to wave to the pilots.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25 until the 26. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26, 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 was for six men to leave the hold to empty the pull up the bodies of the dead with ropes and empty the buckets that served as toilets. After this was done, the men would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and soap.
During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31 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 1 through the 5, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of the ship's machine guns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship was also heard. The waves they created rocked the ship.
One bomb exploded outside the hull of the forward hold blowing a hole in the side of the ship. A second bomb fell through the open hatch and exploded. The result was that 285 prisoners were killed. The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead. When the Japanese did not do anything, the POWs piledthe corpses under the hatch so that they would be the first thing the Japanese saw when they looked into the hold. The finally brought a barge alongside the ship and the dead were loaded onto it. The barge moved off shore where the POWs assigned to the burial detail tied ropes to the legs of the dead and dragged them to shore. The POWs were too weak to carry them ashore. The bodies were placed in a mass grave and buried. Later that day, survivors from the forward hold were moved to another hold.
On January 13, about 1000 POWs were transferred to the Brazil Maru which sailed the next day at dawn. Sometime after noon, the POWs each received a quarter cup of red rice. During this part of the journey saw the largest number of deaths among the POWs with as many as 30 POWs dying a night. Since by this time, most of them had dysentery. At some point, the ship is believed to have towed one or two other ships that had engine problems. During this part of the trip each man received two meals a day of a third of a cup of rice and eight teaspoons of tea.
When the ship arrived at Moji, Japan, only 459 of the original 1619 POWs who had boarded the Oryoko Maru disembarked the ship and were put in a dark movie theater. From the theater, the POWs were marched to the train station and sent to various POW camps in Japan. In Ralph's case, he was sent to Fukuoka #17, where the POWs worked in a condemned coal mine. The camp was located in the primary target for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki because of poor visibility.
Ralph was liberated in September 1945, and returned to the Philippines. Ralph returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Marine Shark which sailed in October and arrived at Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945. From there, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington, for additional medical treatment.
On February 2, 1947, Ralph married Eleanor (James) Houtz, who was widowed, in Fort Benton, Montana, and became the step-father to her son. They made their home near Geraldine, Montana, where Ralph was a wheat farmer. In 1950, the couple moved to Philipsburg. They also became the parents of two daughters. Eleanor was killed in a car crash on April 7, 1967.
Ralph married Gloria (Bauer) Grenz, on May 31, 1969, and lived the rest of his life on his cattle ranch near Philipsburg. Ralph H. Buchanan passed away on March 29, 2004, in Philipsburg, Montana. After a service at the Philipsburg Community Church, he was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Anaconda, Montana.
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