Bataan Project

Pfc. Edward Clemente DeGottardi

    Pfc. Edeard C. DeGottardi was born on August 14, 1909, in Santa Monica, Cailfornia, to Patrick and Adelina DeGottardi.  When he was four, his family moved to Salinas, California, where he grew up with his sister and brother.
    In December 1940, Ed enlisted in the California National Guard at Salinas.  A little over a month later he was inducted into federal service on February 10, 1941, at Salinas Army Air Base.  With his company, now designated C Company, 194th Tank Battalion he traveled to Fort Lewis in Washington state.  Three months later, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky to attend radio school and qualified as a radio operator.

    In the late summer of 1941, the 194th received orders for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American planes was flying over Lingayen Gulf 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, hundred of miles away, that had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. 
    The next day another squadron was sent to the area, but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way to shore.  Since radio communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor the fishing boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    In September 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  The tankers were taken by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, and ferried on the U.S.A.T. Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell, on Angel Island, where they received physicals and inoculations by the battalion's medical detachment. 
    The soldiers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands.  To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship 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 and an unknown destroyer which were its escorts.  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.
    The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed.  They were met by  Colonel Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed.  On November 15th, they moved into their barracks.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At 12:30 the planes landed and their pilots went to lunch. 

    Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runway did the tankers know the planes were Japanese.

    It was on December 12th that C Company was ordered to support forces in southern Luzon.  The company proceeded through Manila.  Since they had no air cover, most of their movements were at night.  As they moved, they noticed lights blinking or flares being shot into the air.  They arrived at the Tagaytay Ridge and spent time their attempting to catch 5th columnists.
    They remained in the area until December 24th, when they moved over the Taal Road to San Tomas and bivouacked near San Paolo and assisted in operations in the Pagbilao-Lucban Area supporting the Philippine Army.  One of the most dangerous things the tanks did was cross bridges with a ten ton weight limit.  Each tank weight 14 tons, so they crossed the bridges one tank at a time.

    On December 26th, the five tanks of Ed's platoon were sent to an area on the east coast of Luzon near Lucban. The Japanese had landed troops in the area.  The American Command wanted to see what the strength of the enemy was in the area.  

    The tanks of Ed's platoon were ordered by a major to proceed,  without reconnaissance, down a narrow trail.  Since the area was mountainous, the tanks had a hard time maneuvering on the trail.  As they went down the trail, the tanks attempted to keep their spacing so that the driver of each tank could each see the tank in front of him.  At one  point, the trail made a sharp turn.  Ed's tank made the turn. After making the turn, the tank's driver realized that he could not see the lead tank.  In an attempt to find the lead tank, the driver sped his tank up. 

    As it turned out, this maneuver saved the lives of the tankers. Just behind them a shell exploded.  The shell had been fired by a Japanese anti-tank gun.  Ed's tank driver drove faster to prevent the gun from getting off another shot.  At the same time he zigzagged the tank.  Ed's tank crashed into the log barricade that the Japanese had built across the road and took out the gun.

    The tank continued forward until they reached a opening at a rice paddy where the tank could be turned around.  Ed's tank commander realized that the only way out of the situation was the same way the tank had come in, so he sent his tank back the way it had just come.

    As the tank approached the destroyed barricade, the tank crew members saw the lead tank off to the side of the road.  It had taken a direct hit from the gun his tank had knocked out.  The fire from the gun had knocked the hatch coverings off the front of the tank.  From what the tankers could see, the Japanese had machine-gunned the crew while they were still in the tank.

    Believing they were safe, the members of Ed's crew began celebrating their good luck.  Suddenly, they took a direct hit from another Japanese anti-tank gun.  The shell knocked off one of the tank's tracks causing to veer off the road and go over an earthen embankment.  The tank came to a stop in a rice paddy.  The crew members had no idea that their little reconnaissance patrol had taken them straight into the main Japanese staging area.

    As Ed and the other men in the tank played dead, the Japanese tried to open up the tank hatch.  When a new group of Japanese arrived later in the day, they to tried to get into the tank.  The tankers sat quietly in the tank, without food or water, until seven the next morning.  At that time, they tank crew determined that the Japanese had left the area, so they left their tank and attempted to make their way to the American lines.

    The tank crew, with the help of Filipino guides, walked for the next six days attempting to reach their lines.  At Nagcarlan, a Catholic priest gave them food and warned them that the Japanese were approaching the barrio.  He also told them which trail to take to reach the coast.

    The tankers made their way to the coast where they were able to get a boat to take them to Manila.  There, Ed was operated on for his wound.  The tank crew caught the last boat leaving Manila for Corregidor.  From Corregidor, the tankers were taken by boat to Mariveles and rejoined their tank battalion.
    It was at this time that the tank battalion commanders received this order , "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."

    General Edward King announced at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6000 sick and wounded and 40,000 civilians.  He also estimated that less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and would hold out for one more day.  He ordered his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender.
    Between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M. on April 9, 1942, the order "CRASH" was issued.  The tankers destroyed their tanks and waited for orders from the Japanese.  The members of the 194th were ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2.
    At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march.  They made their way from the former command post, and at first found the walk difficult.  When they reached the main road, walking became easier.  At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M.  The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
    During this part of the march to reach the main road out of Bataan, the POWs noted that they were treated well by the Japanese who were combat hardened troops.   Their guards were surprised that they had surrendered and treated them fairly well.  It was at Limay that the treatment they received would change.
    When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher, were separated from the enlisted men and the lower ranking officers.  The higher ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani.  The lower ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having march through Abucay and Samal.
    At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.  Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given few breaks.  When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
    When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier.  At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet.  After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lurao.  It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
    The men were marched until 4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando.  Once there, they were herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men.  One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among the  men.  Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
    At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men.  From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor.  At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died - during the trip - fell to the floors of the cars.  As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
    The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.  The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp.  
For 12,000 POWs in the camp, there was only one water spigot.  Men literally died for a drink of water.  Conditions in the camp were so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.   

    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. 
   The camp was actually three camps.  Camp One was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held.  Camp Two did not have an adequate water supply and was closed.  It later reopened and housed Naval POWs.  Camp Three was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken.  In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp.  Camps One and Three were later consolidated into one camp.
    To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp.  The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch.  It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening.  Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them.  Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  What details Joe took part in from the camp is not known. 
    The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men.  The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting.  In addition, the lack of proper bathrooms contributed to many became ill.
    Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call.  While they stood at attention, it wasn't uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads.  In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.  While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard.  Returning from a detail the POWs 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.
    The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards.  The ward for the sickest POWs was known as "Zero Ward," which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted.  The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die.  Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each.  Each man had a two foot wide by six foot long area to lie in.  The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.  
    While a POW at Cabanatuan, Ed was admitted to the camp hospital.  According to the camp medical records, he was in the camp hospital on September 3, 1942.  The records do not indicate what his illness was or when he was discharged.  On February 4, 1943, his family received word that he was officially a Japanese POW.  He remained at Cabanatuan until he was selected to be sent to Japan. 

    As American forces began to retake captured territory from the Japanese, the Japanese began to evacuate the POWs from the Philippines.  At Bilibid, the POWs would receive a physical and it was determined if they were healthy enough to be sent to Japan or another occupied country.

    On March 23, 1944, Ed, with 307 other POWs, was boarded onto the Taikoku Maru.  The ship sailed the same day for Takao, Formosa.  How long the ship remained at Takao is not know.  The ship sailed for Moji and then Osaka, Japan. It arrived at Osaka on April 10, 1944.  From Osaka, Ed and the other POWs were taken to Hitachi POW Camp about nine kilometers from the town of Hitachi.

    Ed and the other POWs were used as slave labor in the Hitachi copper mines.  He remained in the camp until August 14, 1944, when 230 POWs were sent to Ashio #8-D.  In this new camp, Ed once again found himself working in a copper mine.

    Ed remained at Ashio until he was liberated by American forces.  He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.  Boarding the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze, he sailed for the United States on September 26, 1945, and arrived at San Francisco on October 16, 1945.  He was sent to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment. 
    On June 15, 1946, he married.  Ed remained in the army and retired on June 28, 1966.  After his military career, he worked as an assistant vice-president at the Bank of America until he retired on September 30, 1972.

    The photo at the bottom of this page was taken by the Japanese while Ed was a POW in Japan.  Ed DeGottardi passed away on January 20, 1995, in Salinas, California.


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