1st Lt. Harold E. Costigan was the son of Joseph P. Costigan and Mary F.
Taylor-Costigan. He was born on July 2, 1916, in Grain Valley, Missouri, and went to the University of
Missouri where he majored in agriculture. While in college, he joined ROTC at the university. He
graduated in 1937 and became an assistant farm security office.
At some point, Harold joined the Missouri National
Guard in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and became a member 35th
Division Tank Company. The company was called to
federal service on February 10, 1941, and traveled to Fort
Lewis, Washington, arriving there sometime around February
22. There, the company was designated B Company,
194th Tank Battalion and trained at the fort until September
In the late summer of 1941, the
192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was at
that time that Bob and the other members of the battalion
were informed that they were not being released from
federal service as expected. Instead, they were told
that their time in federal service had been extended, and
that they were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana.
There, they were told that they were going overseas.
The decision for this move -
which had been made on August 15, 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
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
Companies A and C, of the
battalion, received orders for overseas duty. Harold's
Company, B, was ordered to Alaska. It was at
this time that Harold was assigned to A Company - which was in
need of officers - and put in command of a tank
platoon. Knowing he was leaving the country, Harold married
Lenora Merle Houston, his high school sweet heart, on
August 23, 1941, just ten days before the battalion went
With the remaining companies of the battalion, Harold traveled to Ft. Mason in San
Francisco, California. From there, they were ferried, on the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Co
xe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island and given physicals and inoculated. Those men with medical
conditions were replaced.
The reason the battalion was
being sent overseas was because of an event that had taken
place earlier that summer. A patrol of Army Air
Corps planes was on a routine patrol from Clark Field over
the Lingayen Gulf, southward over the South China Sea,
along the west coast of Luzon to its southern end, and
back to Clark Field.
One of the pilots, who was
flying lower than the other planes noticed something in the
water in Lingayen Gulf. He took his plane down
and saw that it was buoy with a flag on it. He noticed
another buoy about 1000 yards away and than another
one. The buoys lined up in a straight line for 30 miles
in the direction of a Japanese held island toward the
northwest that had a powerful radio transmitter.
When the patrol landed it was dusk and too late for anything to be done that
night. The next morning when a patrol was sent up, they buoys had been picked up at night and a fishing
boat was seen quickly heading to shore with its hold covered by a tarpaulin. Since there was no way to
communicate with the Navy, nothing could be done to intercept the fishing boat.
The battalion boarded a transport bound onto the
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge and sailed at
9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands on September 8.
The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13 at
Honolulu, Hawaii. The soldiers were given four hour passes
ashore. At 5:00 P.M., the ship sailed again but
headed south away from the main shipping lanes. It
was during this part of the trip that it was joined by
the heavy cruiser the
Several times during this part of the voyage, the Astoria took off in the direction of
smoke which was seen on the horizon. Each time the ship was from a friendly country. The ships
entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and the soldiers were disembarked at 3:00 P.M. They were taken by bus to
The members of the battalion
pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the
Clark Field Administration Building and Fort
Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men
were assigned to each tent. There were two
supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at
the end of the rows of tents.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against
Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all
times and received their meals from food truck
On December 8, 1941, December 7
in the United States, Harold lived through the Japanese
attack on Clark Field. The tanks of the 194th
were order to defend the northern portion of the main runway,
so they surrounded that end of the runway.
At noon, the American planes that filled the
sky landed. At 12:45, 54 planes the airfield from the
north. When bombs exploded on the runways, the
tankers knew they were Japanese. A fire broke out in the
grass that the tanks were in. Costigan's tank was
closest to the fire. His radioman gave a
play-by-play of the fire approaching his tank. The
fire went out about forty feet from his tank.
The 194th was sent to Mabalcat
December 10, and it was at this time that C Company was
sent to southern Luzon where the Japanese were
landing. On the 12th, the A and D Company, 192nd, were sent to
a new bivouac south of San Fernando and arrived at 6:00
A.M. They received Bren gun carriers on the 15th and
used them to test the ground to see if it could support
the weight of a tank.
Around December 22, his tank
platoon was ordered north, to Rosario, to slow the advancing
Japanese who had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf.
On December 25, Harold's tank platoon had taken
positions west of Carmen. When they began taking
fire from a strong Japanese force, he ordered the tanks to
open fire with their machine guns. Realizing
that they had a very good chance of being cut off, he ordered
his tanks to withdraw through Carmen the evening of
While the tanks approached the
barrio, the tanks came under heavy fire from the Japanese
who had occupied the barrio. The tanks ran into a
road block and smashed their way through it firing their
guns losing two tanks. The crews were picked up
by other tanks. The tanks then made a sharp turn and
continued their withdraw from Carmen. The
Japanese fired on them the entire time, until they got out of
range. In the dark, Costigan's platoon passed
the Provisional Tank Group's Headquarters in the dark
without knowing it.
When Harold reported to Gen. Weaver about what had happened, he was chastised by the
general. Weaver ordered him to get back into his tank and return to his previous position.
The tank battalions found themselves in the role of holding positions so new defensive
lines could be formed. Recalling engagements while performing this job against the Japanese, he said
, "We soon taught the Nips not to move in too close."
The battalions were holding
the Tarlec Line on December 28 and withdrew to form the
Bamban Line the night of the 29th/30th which they
held until they were ordered to +withdraw. On January
2nd the battalions withdrew to Layac Junction with
the 194th using highway 7. The 194th, covered by the
192nd, withdrew across the Culis Creek into
Bataan. After the 192nd crossed the bridge, it was blown
starting the Battle of Bataan.
In January 1942, the tank companies were reduced to three tanks in each platoon.
This was done so that D Company, 192nd, attached to the 194th, would have tanks. The company had
abandoned its tanks after the bridge they were scheduled to use had been destroyed by the engineers before
they had crossed.
On January 20, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry.
On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective
because of landmines that had been planted by ordnance.
The battalion held a
position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self
propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino
warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese were on
there way. When they appeared the battalion,
and self propelled mounts, opened up with everything
they had. The Japanese broke off the attack,
at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the
coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.
In March, two of the 194th
was attempting to free two tanks that were stuck in the
mud. As the tankers worked to get them out,
Japanese Regiment entered the area. Lt. Col. Miller
ordered the tanks to fire at point blank range and
ran from tank to tank directing fire. When they
stopped firing, they had wiped out the
Gen. Weaver also suggested
to Gen Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to
Corregidor. This idea was rejected by
Wainwright. It was also at this time that gasoline for most
vehicles, except tanks, was caught to 15 gallons a
The Japanese brought fresh
troops to Bataan since the Americans and Filipinos with
the help of tropical illnesses had fought the
Japanese to a standstill. On April 4, the Japanese
launched a major offensive. In an attempt to
stop them, the tanks were sent into various sectors.
It was also at this time that tanks became the
favorite targets of Japanese planes an artillery.
The tanks were fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban when General King determined
that the situation was hopeless and sent his staff officers to meet with the Japanese command.
Somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 in the morning the tankers received the order
"bash" and destroyed their tanks. The tanks were circled and an armor piercing shell was
fired into the engines of each tank. Afterwards, the gasoline cocks were opened in the crew
compartments and hand grenades were dropped into the tanks setting them on fire.
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and
ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. They quickly
stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and
sun-glasses. They were taken to a trail and found that
walking on the gravel trail was difficult. They
immediately witnessed "Japanese Discipline"
toward their own troops. The Japanese apparently
were marching for hours, and if a man fell, he was kicked
in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle
butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined
that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
The trial the POWs were on
ended when they reached the main road. The first thing
the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the
enlisted men and counted them. The Prisoners of War
were then left in the sun for the rest of the day
wondering what was going to happen. That night they were
ordered north which was difficult, on the rocky road,
in the dark since they could not see where they were
walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they
had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
The POWs made their way north
against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks
that was moving south. At times, they would slip
on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a
man killed by Japanese artillery the day before.
When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun
rose it became hotter and they POWs began to feel the
effects of thirst. It was then that the POWs
saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the
Japanese. They realized that they had been hungry, but the
Filipinos had been starving.
When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The
Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the
river. The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from
dysentery at Camp O'Donnell.
At Limay on April 11, the officers with the tank of lieutenant colonel or above, were
put into a school yard. The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They
were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection.
During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment the POWs
were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun
being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, the officers were put
into a bull pen where they were ordered to lay
down. In the morning, the POWs realized that
they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already
used the bullpen. At noon, they received their
first food. It was a meal of rice and salt.
Later in the day, other enlisted POWs arrived in
Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank
group who had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 or 7:00 that evening,
they resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace,
and the guards also seemed to be nervous about
something. They made their way to north of Hormosa,
where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the
change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs
were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay
down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which
felt great and many men attempted to get drinks. At 4:30 PM on April 13, they arrived at San
Fernando. The POWs put into a pen and remained there the rest of the day.
At 4:00 in the morning, the
Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train
station. They were packed into small wooden
boxcars known as "forty or eights." They were
called this since each car could hold forty men or
eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car
and shut the doors. The heat in the cars was
unbearable and many POWs died. They could not fall to
the floors since there was no room for them to
fall. The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at
9:00 AM. There, the living disembarked from the
cars and the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked
the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell.
Of the surrender he said
, "We were surrendered by General King on April 9, 1942. Approximately 8000 Americans were
surrendered that day. That was Bataan. Never doubt what General King did saved the lives of us
The members of the 194th, and some units of the 192nd were ordered to the
Headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group. He said of the march
,"We were blindfolded and tied to the man next to us as we marched. Of course once in awhile we
could look over the blinds and see the mountains over to the side."
In addition he stated
, "The first ten days we marched the road to the first prison camp. Many men died along the
way. That was the death march. It was 60 miles."
He and the other POWs were packed into small boxcars so tightly that the dead remained
standing. At Capas, the POWs climbed out of the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp
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.
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
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
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.
He said of this, "In the camps, men were crowded in like cattle. There was no sanitation, little water, and
practically nothing to eat."
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, which had been known as
Camp Panagaian, and had been the home of the 91st Philippine
Army Division's home. The transfer of all healthy
POWs to the camp was completed on June 4.
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. Many of the POWs became malnourished which
made fighting illnesses hard on their bodies.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most housed 60 to 120 men.
The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses. covers, or mosquito netting. Disease spread quickly
because of this.
It appears that as soon as he arrived
at Cabanatuan, Harold was sent to the camp hospital with
malaria. The hospital consisted of 30 wards which
could each hold 45 men. The reality was that as many
as 100 men were in each one. There were two tiers
of bunks in each building, and the sickest POWs lay on the
lower tier which had cutouts so that the POW could
relieve themselves without having to climb out of the
tier. "Zero Ward" got its name because it had been
missed when the wards were counted. The
name soon meant the ward those who were expected to die
were sent. His name appears on hospital records,
without any dates for admittance or release. Of
his time at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanataun he stated, "We were always in our own group; we were in our own area, had our own administration, our own doctors,
our own cooks. The Japanese had guards just posted around us."
He remained in the camp until he was sent out on a work detail to Davao, Mindano.
In October, Harold and 200 other POWs were boarded onto the Interisland Steamer for Davao. The trip ended
when the ship arrived at Davao. At Davao, the POWs worked on a farm growing rice or at runway
In his opinion, the treatment the
POWs received from the Japanese reflected the code they
lived by. The Japanese made it clear to the
Americans that escapes would be severely dealt with. Harold
stated that is a POW escaped and recaptured, the man
"If you tried to escape and were caught
you could expect t
o be hung by your thumbs. I never heard of anyone who tried to escape and was caught who lived."
The Japanese punished any inflection severely. He recalled,
"I saw them take away water from 2000 hens, because they wanted to punish
them for not laying enough eggs."
In Harold's opinion, the Japanese left the POWs to take care of themselves. The
POWs had their own doctors, own cooks, and camp administration. The Japanese simply posted guards at the
camp. For the POWs, the real punishment was dealing with the psychological impact of not being free.
Remembering his time at Davao, Harold said, "When we were moved to Davao on Mindanao the prisoners worked on farms for food. We received
only two Red Cross packages at Davao on Christmas of 1941 and 1943. The food drugs and clothing were
saviors. Our own doctors took care of us as best they could, and the Red Cross materials were a great
help. There was no medicine other than that furnished by the Red Cross.
Harold was physically effected by his time as a POW. He suffered blindness because
of the poor diet. He also had scars from lacerations on his spine, lost of hearing, and was affected by
poly-neuritis, a painful nerve inflammation of his hands and legs.
Recalling his time
in the camps, "In the camps men were crowded in like cattle. There was no sanitation,
little water and practically nothing to eat."
As the American forces got
closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send
as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries
as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the
POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck. Once
there, the POWs were boarded onto the
Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds
for six days before it sailed
. The ship sailed on the 12th and
dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano, for two days before
sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th.
The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a
warehouse. The POWs were returned to the
dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June
Once at Manila, Harold with the other prisoners were taken to Bilibid Prison.
When Harold arrived at Bilibid, he was admitted into the hospital ward on June 26th. Medical records
indicate he was suffering from optical neuritis brought on by beriberi. No date of discharge is given.
Recalling his time at Bilibid, he said,
"From May, 1944, until February 4, 1945, I was at old Bilibid Prison in
Manila, when we were liberated
by the 37th Division. Starvation was the
outstanding feature of Bilibid. Of course the suspense was
high. The American blockade was on, the air
attacks started September 21, and carried all through until
It needs to be mentioned that records from Bilibid show the Costigan arrived, at the
prison, in June 1944. He also said of his time there, "Food. Our lives revolved around food. Meals twice a day. We got
a cup of rice and a serving of King Kong; that's a weed that grows wild in the slums of Manila. We
never tired of rice."
As the American forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer large
numbers of POWs to safer parts of the Japanese Empire. Harold was considered to ill to be sent to
"The Japs stayed with us till the day before the troops came. We were scared then because we
thought they might kill half of us, but they didn't take it out on us."
On February 4, 1945, Harold was liberated by American forces. He weighed 100 pounds.
While a POW, he wrote a poem about those who fought on Bataan:
"Were those our comrades whose bleached bones now lay
Shining forever on the road by the bay?
Shining a beacon so all who might see
Would know now the price of liberty."
Harold returned to the United
States and was promoted to captain. He spent over a
year in VA Hospitals and was discharged, from the
army, on February 18, 1947. The physical effects of being
a POW remained with him the rest of his life. He
was declared legally blind and never regained all of his
About his homecoming he said
, "I came home during the war. People didn't have time to stop and throw hats into the
air. But all the people knew where we were and what we went through and were kind to us."
Harold refused to allow his disabilities to keep him from achieving his goals. He
returned to school and earned a masters degree. With Merle, the couple bought a farm, and he took a job
with the Missouri Bureau of the Blind and taught farm skills to visually impaired students. He and Merle
also became the parents of two daughters.
In later interviews about his time as a POW, he said
, "I think often of my commanding officer , Colonel Miller, and the men who were with me. "
He also said of his memories of being a POW
, "I live with a little of it each day but not too much of it each day, I hope."
Harold Costigan passed away on December 25, 2004, in Blue Springs, Missouri. He was
buried at Blue Springs Cemetery.