Sgt. Ted Cook

    Sgt. Ted Cook was born in Whitesburg, Kentucky, on August 25, 1919 to Floyd Cook & Ella Richardson-Cook.  He had five brothers and three sisters.  He attended school in Whitesburg and was a 1939 graduate of Whitesburg High School and worked on the family farm.  He was known as "Ted" to his friends.

    On June 17, 1940, Ted joined the army and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for training.  He was assigned to 19th Ordnance.  The company was renamed the 17th Ordnance Company and trained alongside of the 192nd Tank Battalion during 1941.

    In the late summer of 1941, the 17th Ordnance Company received orders that it was being sent overseas.  Form Angel Island in San Francisco, Ted and the other members of the company sailed for the Philippine Islands. 
    On Monday, September 8, 1941, the company was boarded onto the U.S.S. Calvin Coolidge and the ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. for Honolulu, Hawaii.  It arrived there on September 13th at 7:00 A.M.  The soldiers were allowed to go ashore but had to be on the ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M.  It arrived at Manila at 7:00 A.M. on September 26th and 17th Ordnance unloaded the tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion.  They also reattached the tanks' turrets which had been removed so that they would fit into the ship's holds.

    In late November 1941, the 192nd joined the 17th Ordnance and the 194th Tank Battalion in the Philippines and formed the 1st Provisional Tank Group.  After the 192nd's arrival, the tank group prepared itself for maneuvers.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, December 7th in the United States, the two tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had arrived during the night.  

    Around lunch time, Ted and the other members of the company were eating lunch when they saw planes approaching the airfield.  Being about three miles from the airfield meant that Ted and the other men watched as the Japanese bombs and strafed.

    On December 22, 1941, a platoon of B Company, 192nd Tanks engaged Japanese tanks near Lingayen Gulf.  Four tanks were lost, and the tank crew of the lead tank was captured.  One of the worst jobs Ted had to do was to remove the body of Pfc. Henry Deckert a machine gunner on the surviving tank.  During the engagement with the Japanese, a shell hit the bow gun port.  The concussion from the shell entered the tank blowing off Deckert's head.  Ted remembered that the surviving tank crew members and the floor of the tank was covered in blood.  

    As the Filipino and American forces withdrew into the Bataan peninsula, Ted recalled that he had to blow up 55 fifty gallon drums of gasoline that the tanks so desperately needed.  He did this so that the fuel would not fall into Japanese hands.  During this withdrawal, the company was bombed and strafed resulting in the deaths of two members of the company.

    Although Ted never took part in combat against the Japanese, he and the rest of 17th Ordnance had an almost impossible job of keeping the 104 tanks of the tank group operating.  At times this meant making their own replacement parts or scavenging parts from tanks which had been knocked out of action.

    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp and believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs.  When they arrived at the camp, the POWs were searched and anyone found with Japanese money were separated from the other POWs and sent to the guardhouse.  These POWs were accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers.  Over several days, gunshots were heard coming from southeast of the camp. 
The Japanese also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried with them and refused to return it.  Since there was no water to wash their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing.  Few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
    There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2 to 8 hours waiting for a drink.  The Japanese guard in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason, and the next man in line would have to wait up to four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking food had to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess kits could not be cleaned.

    Since most of the POWs had dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in flies being everywhere in the camp including the camp kitchen and in the food.  The camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant which also caused diseases to spread.  When the ranking American doctor presented a letter with the medicines and medical supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another letter.  He also said that the only thing he wanted to know about the POWs were their names and serial numbers after they died.

    The  Archbishop of Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese refused to let it into the camp.  When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a Japanese lieutenant that they could set up an 150 bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the lieutenant.  Medicines sent to the camp by the Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own use.

    The POWs called the hospital "Zero Ward" because most of the men who entered it never came out alive.  The Japanese were so afarid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire fence up around it.  The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed with knives from mess kits.  Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough to perform his duties.
    Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and placed them under the hospital building.  To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the ground,  put down lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the bodies had been.  It took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
    It was while he was in the camp that Ted came down with malaria.  According to Ted, T/Sgt. Albert Onacki saved his life by giving him money so that he could get a Filipino to buy him quinine.

    Any POW, if he could walk, went out on a work detail for the day such as the one collected wood for the POW kitchen.  Some POWs went out on work details which lasted for months to get out of the camp.  The worse detail a man could be put on was the burial detail.  On this detail, two POWs carried a dead man to the camp cemetery.  Once there, they put the body in a grave and held the body down with a pole, since the water table was high, and covered it with dirt.  The next morning, when the burials resumed, the dead were often sitting up or had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new POW camp.
    On June 1, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and were marched to 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.  This diet resulted in the POWs becoming malnourished and disease quickly spread.

    Ted was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 2.  Each barracks was designed to house 50 men, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one.  There were no showers for the POWs to use, and the men slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting.
    Medical records kept by the camp's medical staff show that Ted was admitted to the hospital on March 23, 1943.  Records indicated he had cysts which were a result of his having had malaria.  When he was discharged is not known since no date was recorded.  He remained in the camp until went out on a work detail to Clark Field to build runways.

    In the summer of 1944, Ted and the other Americans knew that U. S. troops were getting nearer to the Philippines.  American planes began to appear in the sky.  Knowing that it was just a better of time before the Americans would invade the Philippines, the Japanese began to ship large numbers of of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries.

    In August 1944, Ted was sent to Bilibid Prison.  He was held there until he was selected to be sent to the docks for transport.  The POWs were boarded onto the ship on August 25th, and put in one hold.  They remained in the hold until the Noto Maru sailed for Formosa on August 27th.  The ship sailed but spent the night in Subic Bay.  It sailed again the next day and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30th, and sailed on the same day for Keelung, Formosa.  After being joined by other ships, the ship sailed for Japan on August 31st.  During this part of the trip, the convoy was attacked by American submarines.  At night, the POWs could see the glow from the flames of the ships hit by torpedoes.  The ship docked at Moji, on September 4th, where the POWs were split up and sent to several camps by train.  In Ted's case he was sent to Nagoya #6B.

    The camp was built for 300 POWs and located near a manganese plant.  The barracks in the camp were divided between American and British POWs.  This was done to keep order and to prevent problems with camp records.
    The 150 British prisoners in the camp had been captured at Hong Kong joined the Americans in early 1945.  The biggest problem the two groups of prisoners had with each other was language.  The British were no better or worse than the Americans.
    When the Americans got to the camp, it appeared that the barracks had been built in a hurry.  There was a small building in the camp for the prisoners who were really disabled and another building, near the main gate, for the guards.  In front of the prisoners' barracks, there was an area for calisthenics.  There was also a zigzag trench that was supposedly an air raid shelter.  Within the barracks, each prisoner had a sleeping area of four feet covered with a firm matting material.  The entire compound was surrounded by an eight foot wooden fence.
    The Japanese commanding officer addressed the prisoners.  He had only one arm having lost one fighting the Chinese.  He spoke decent English and informed them that the harder they worked, the better they would get along.  He also informed them that those who could not work would receive reduced rations.
    The camp was located on the property of Nomachi Smelting Company.  About half the POWs worked at Hokkai Denka, Fushiki on three different details.  Most of the Americans worked at a smelter owned by the Hokkai Denka Company, others worked at a second magnesium smelter owned by a different company, while still others worked in a quarry on the third detail.
    The POWs worked two twelve hour shifts.  One was a day shift and the other a night shift.  Every two weeks the prisoners would change shifts.  When this happened there was a eighteen hour long swing shift.  Since the ore was heavy and the heat tremendous, the POWs worked thirty minutes on and thirty minutes off.  From September 8, 1944 until September 1, 1945, the POWs were forced to work without a day off.
    The prisoner rations were better at this camp than at the other camps.  Although it was mostly rice, there was also barley and soybean when it was in season.  They also received dycons which was an overgrown white reddish.  The prisons sliced it and boiled it into a thin soup.  The only meat they received was from three or four cobras that they had discovered inside a giant anthill.  Once they even had real Irish potatoes.
    The prisoners knew that the war was not going well for Japan.  When they were working in the plant, they watched how tightly the food was rationed to the civilians.  The foreman gave each worker the same amount of rice.  The workers made sure that the kernels that fell on the floor were picked up and put in their baskets.  The rats and mice also felt the food shortage.  The rats had started to kill the mice for food.
    One of the benefits of working in the plant was that there was always enough hot and cold water.  The hot water was the result of the furnaces.  The prisoners at the plant introduced the Japanese to taking showers.  A couple POWs who worked in the machine shop got permission to make a shower head.  The Japanese liked it so much that they had one made.
    While working in the plant, the Americans and British were not allowed to be mixed in the work details.  They worked in the same areas but never together.
    The attitude of the Japanese civilians at the plant varied.  Some of the civilians were very friendly while others were hostile.  The son of the owner of the manganese works liked associating with the POWs because he could speak English.  On another occasion, Phil was chewed out by a Japanese girl because he had asked for nails to fix his shoes.  Still, another Japanese girl saw that Phil's gloves were worn through and gave him hers.  She told him she could always get another pair.
    Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick.  The sick were beaten with shovels to get them to do work that they were too sick to do.  They also had their meal rations reduced.
    The British did not tolerate stealing within their ranks.  If a British soldier was caught stealing, the punishment was harsh.  Those who were victimized formed a ring around the thief.  They were allowed to hit the man until he could not stand or his face was a bloody mess.  The thief was then carried on a stretcher to the camp hospital.
    When an American was caught stealing from another POW, the ranking American officer, 1st. Lt. George Sense, knocked him down on his rear.  Many of the POWs believed that this was the right thing to do because it sent the right message.  The only stealing that was tolerated was stealing from the Japanese.
    By November, 1944, snow was everywhere, and the Japanese put markers about five feet tall on the buildings and on posts along the roads.  One morning, the POWs went to work in a foot of snow.  It snowed every few days until there was about four feet of snow on the ground.  They had no boots and their shoes were three years old.
    The Japanese denied the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and other items sent to the camp by the Red Cross.  Instead of giving these things to the POWs, the Japanese pilfered the items for their own use. The guards were seen wearing shoes sent by the Red Cross for the POWs.   The POWs knew of the air raids, because the Japanese workers would bring newspapers to the mill.  The POWs would sneak the papers into camp and figure out what was happening.
    When Christmas, 1944, approached, Phil and the other POWs hoped that they would have the day off.  They hoped that the Japanese would also allow them to have decorations inside their barracks.  There also was a rumor that they would receive Red Cross parcels for Christmas.  As it turned out, parcels were delivered and each was shared by two men.
    A few days before Christmas, the Japanese brought ornaments into every barracks.  The ornaments looked just like the ones back home.  As it turned out they were the same.  These ornaments were suppose to have been shipped to the United States when the war started.
    On Christmas, both the Americans and British POWs sang carols together.  They also learned that the Japanese had received the Red Cross parcels months earlier, but had held them back to have something to give the prisoners on Christmas.  The prisoners needed the food inside the parcels, but what they needed even more was what the packages represented.  To them, the parcels meant that they had not been forgotten back home.
Men would wear out from being overworked and underfed.  Then pneumonia took over and the men died in a couple of days.  Their bodies would be put in a four by four by two foot box.  It had handles that allowed it to me carried.  A Buddhist priest from the village walked ahead of the procession in his white and gold robes.  When the remains were returned to the camp, they were in a four by four by twelve inch box.  The man's name and serial number were on the box.  The box was kept by the camp commandant in his office.
     Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick.  The sick were beaten with shovels to get them to do work that they were too sick to do.  They also had their meal rations reduced.
     Collective punishment was a common occurrence in the camp.  When one POW broke a camp rule, all the POWs were punished.  On one occasion, for 7 days, the POWs were denied coal, in the middle of winter, because someone had broken a rule
    By June, 1945, the air raids were getting closer.  Sometimes at night, the plant would be blacked out and the POWs  were returned to their barracks.  Occasionally, they had a air raid drill were the POWs went into the zigzag trench.  As the war went on, as the prisoners marched to the mill, they saw teenage boys being trained by army officers.  They knew that it was for the expected invasion of Japan.  The boys also used sticks for rifle practice.
    On September 14, 1945, the prisoners heard the news that the war had ended.  The POWs left the camp and took over a train and forced the engineer to take them to Tokyo where they contacted American troops.  Ted was returned to the Philippine Islands for medical treatment and returned home on the S.S. Simon Bolivar, arriving at San Francisco, on October 21, 1945.

    After the war, he returned to Whitesburg and married Lettie Craft and became the father of two daughters and a son.  He attended Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College in Richmond, Kentucky,  and was a teacher and a football coach at Lebanon High School.  Ted was later hired as supervisor of instruction for the Letcher County Schools in Kentucky.  Later, he was the Director of Adult Education for the State of Kentucky.  In September 1960, Lettie passed away.  Ted married Patsy Back in 1961. 

    Ted did not talk about his POW experiences until he and Patsy visited the Philippines.  Because of his faith in God, he forgave those who did him harm while he was a POW. 

    Ted loved to play golf and cheer for the University of Kentucky.  He resided in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife.  He passed away on March 28, 2013, in Lexington, Kentucky.  He was buried at Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky.


Ted Cook Interview


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