Bataan Project

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. 

    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.
     When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron 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.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced.

    On Monday, September 8, 1941, the company was boarded onto the U.S.S. President 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. 
    After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, that was its escort.  During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke.  Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
    The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26th, and reached Manila several hours later.  The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field.  The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.

    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 2½ 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 as a replacement worker.
    The POWs on the detail built revetments and a runway.  Since no rock was available from a gravel pit, the POWs dug the rock out of the ground, with picks and shovels, and screened it.  The one thing that was not allowed was the POWs could not talk to each other.  The POWs worked long hours starting at 6:00 A.M. working long hours even during the typhoon season.  They were fed twice a day but the amount of food was inadequate.  The Japanese did not give the POWs any medical supplies, and if they had them it was because the POWs had scrounged them.  They were housed in the same barracks, with bunks and mattresses, that many of them had lived in before the war.  If a POW escaped, the POWs remaining POWs were forced to stand at attention, in formation, for hours. On one occasion, they stood at attention until 4:00 A.M.  Afterwards, they went to work.
    The Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule since several POWs escaped from the detail.  If one man escaped, the other nine men in the group would be executed.  Men were often thrown into the metal shack that served as a cell block that had no windows and had only enough room for the man to squat.  They also witnessed the execution of Filipinos who had been caught stealing sheet metal.  They were tied to poles and used for bayonet practice.
    As they neared the completion of the runway, the rock the POWs used, for the base of the runway, ran out.  The Japanese engineers decided that sand would be used for the base on the last part of the runway.  After the runway was finished, the first Japanese bomber that landed on it had its landing gear sink into the runway, where the sand had been used, and the plane flipped over on its back.  The POWs wanted to cheer but couldn't.

    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 25, 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 30, and sailed on the same day for Keelung, Formosa.  After being joined by other ships, the ship sailed for Japan on August 31.  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 4, where the POWs were split up and sent to several camps by train.  In Ted's case he was sent to Nagoya #6-B which was also known as Nomachi.

    The camp was built for 300 POWs and located near the Nomachi Smelting Plant which violated the Geneva Convention since it was in a war materials manufacturing area.  When the Americans got to the camp, it appeared that the barracks had been built in a hurry.  The one barracks building in the camp was divided between American and British POWs.  This was done to keep order and to prevent problems with camp records.  In the barracks were two tiers of platforms. The POWs climbed ladders to reach the upper tier.  Six POWs slept on a platform which were 7 foot long by 18 feet wide with each prisoner had a sleeping area of three feet and a straw mattress for each POW to sleep on.  Each man received four to six blankets and four coal burning stoves, two in each half of the barracks, provided what little heat they had.  There were 24 toilet spaces, cold water showers, and a large bathing tub filled with heated water.   Clothing for the POWs consisted of what they already had when they arrived at the camp, Japanese army uniforms, and some clothing from the Red Cross.

    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.  The entire compound was surrounded by an eight foot wooden fence.
    When the Americans arrived, 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 150 British prisoners who joined the Americans in the camp in early 1945 had been captured at Hong Kong.  The biggest problem the two groups of prisoners had with each other was language.  As for behavior and discipline, the British were no better or worse than the Americans.
    The POWs worked 12 hours work days with most of the POWs working during the day shift and a small detachment working at night.  Those working at the Nomachi Smelting Company walked about 400 yards to the camp, while those working at Hokkai Dneka Smelter marched for five minutes before boarding a boat for a five minute ride.  The POWs, in most cases, were used as laborers at the smelters and mixed iron, coke, and lime before throwing it into a furnace.  Others load the mixture into carts and pushed it to furnaces before throwing it into the furnaces.  No protective clothing was provided to the POWs so blisters and burns were common.  One of the hardest things the POWs had to deal with was going from 185 degree temperature of the mill to the cold barracks.

    In addition, the POWs stirred the mixture so that it would melt faster and puddle it when it was ready.  Other POWs worked in the machine shop and operated cranes. 
    The attitude of the Japanese civilians at the plants 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.  Those who abused the POWs often had the men stand in front of the blast furnace, at attention, which resulted in the men developing blisters.  As they stood at attention, they were hit in their heads
.  They were frequently slapped, punched and hit with 2 foot long by 2 inch wide sticks the civilian guards carried.  Air raid shelters were provided, but it appeared they were not large enough to hold all the POWs.  A third detail of POWs worked at a quarry where 20% of the POWs assigned to the job died due to accidents.  Officers were not required to work.
    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.    
    Food at the camp was prepared by prisoners and the 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.  Most of the vegetables they ate were from a garden they tended.  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 Japanese used collective punishment when they believed a POW had violated a rule.  The food rations of the POWs were cut in half or they did not receive fuel for the stoves in the barracks.  On one occasion, the Japanese denied the fuel to the POWs for seven days.
    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 camp had a small wooden building with six beds that served as a hospital and no more than six POWs were allowed to be sick at a time.  The camp doctor, Capt. Max Bernstein, who had been a member of 17th Ordnance of the Provisional Tank Group, was the camp doctor.  He was assisted by three medics, and once a week, a Japanese doctor came to the camp to provide assistance.  The Japanese Army provided no medical supplies for the POWs, but the two companies did, and additional medical supplies were received from the Red Cross.  Most of the POWs who died in the camp died from pneumonia.
    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.  At one point most of the POWs had diarrhea and still had to work.  Those who were too sick to work were beaten with shovels, sticks, rocks, and anything else that was nearby, to get them to do work that they were too sick to do.  They also had their meal rations reduced.  The camp doctor, Capt. Max Bernstein, of 17th Ordnance, treated the sick with very few medical supplies.
    On two occasions, Ted was weak from the lack of food and was beaten by two guards who were known by the names the Ape and the Dwarf.  The first time he was beaten was on September 8, 1944, and the second beating took place on September 1, 1945.

    Collective punishment was also practiced in the camp.  On one occasion, a POW violated a camp rule during the winter.  The result was that the POWs went 7 days without fuel for their barracks stoves.
    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, so many of the POWs worked in the snow without shoes.
    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 brought newspapers to the mill that the POWs brought into camp and figure out what was happening.
    When Christmas 1944, approached, the 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.  It should be noted that most Red Cross parcels were given to the POWs after the cigarettes and canned food was removed.
    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.
     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.
    The first time the POWs saw American planes pass over the camp, the POWs cheered in spite of the Japanese trying to silence them by hitting them with their sabers.  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 August 15, the POWs knew something was going on when the Japanese held a meeting.  The Japanese men were sad and the Japanese women cried.  They also seemed not to care if the POWs did any work, so the POWs took it easy.  On August 17 and 18, the POWs were told they did not have to work. Finally, the guards came to the barracks and told the POWs that the war was over.  Then the guards vanished from the camp.  The Japanese civilians began bringing food to them.

    The Swiss Red Cross arrived at the camp on September 5, and began to make the arrangements for the POWs to leave the camp.  Later in the day, the POWs were taken to the train station and put on trains.  Once on the train, they were given three days of k-rations for the trip. The POWs ate the rations the first night on the train.  When they got to Tokyo, most of the POWs were sick from overeating.
    They were taken to a bay 200 miles south of Tokyo and boarded the U.S.S. Rescue.  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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