Costigan_H

 

1st Lt. Harold Elvis Costigan


 

    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 22nd.  There, the company was designated B Company, 194th Tank Battalion and trained at the fort until September 1941.
    On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next morning, by the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

    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 reassigned to A Company which was in need of officers.  He was 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 overseas.

    With the remaining companies of the battalion, Harold traveled to Ft. Mason north of San Francisco, California.  From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, 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 8th.  The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th 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 U.S.S. Astoria.
    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 Ft. Stostenburg.
    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 1st, 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 7th 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 10th, 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 22nd, his tank platoon was ordered north, to Rosario, to slow the advancing Japanese who had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf.  On December 25th,  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 December 26th.

    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 28th 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 20th, 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 28th, 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 regiment. 
    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 day.
    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 4th, 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 10th, 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 11th, 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 12th 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 13th, 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 men."

     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 O'Donnell.

    Harold was held at Camp O'Donnell until the healthy POWs were transferred to Cabanatuan.  It appears that as soon as he arrived at Cabanatuan, Harold was sent to the camp hospital with malaria.  His name appears on hospital records, without any dates for admittance or release.  Of his time at Camp O'Donnel 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 construction. 

    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 severely punished.  "If you tried to escape and were caught you could expect to 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 25th.
   
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 liberation."  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 Japan.  "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 n 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 hearing. 

    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.


 

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