Errington_R


 


Sgt. Richard L. Errington

    Sgt. Richard L. Errington was born in July 23, 1920, to John Errington & Jenny Alice Thomas-Errington in Compton, California.  He was the fifth child of the couple's seven children.  As a child he grew up in San Antonio, California, and at 213 Maple Street in Salinas.  He was known as "Rick" to his family and friends and was a cattle buyer for his family's meat packing company. 

    Rick joined the California National Guard, in Salinas, with his brother, Joe.  He was inducted into the U. S. Army on February 10, 1941.  With his tank company he trained at Fort Lewis, Washington.  In September 1941, Rick's tank battalion was ordered to San Francisco.  After being inoculated, the battalion sailed for the Philippine Islands. Arriving in the Philippines, the tankers spent their time preparing their equipment for maneuvers.

    On December 8, 1941, Rick, and the rest of his company, heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.  The tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  All morning the soldiers watched as American planes filled the sky.  At 12:30 in the afternoon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, Japanese planes appeared over the airfield and destroyed the Army Air Corps.

    Rick, with his battalion, was sent south of Manila.  After the Japanese landed troops at Lucban, the tanks withdrew slowly toward the Bataan Peninsula.  Richard and with his company continued to fight on Bataan with little food, little medicine, and only the hope of help coming from the United States.
    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.

    On April 9, 1942, Rick became a Prisoner of War.  He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.  During the march, he and the other POWs received little food and almost no water.  At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode to Capas.  There, the living climbed out of the cars while the bodies of the dead fell to the ground. The POWs then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell 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 own use.
    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 Japanese lieutenant.
    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.
    Work details were sent out on a daily basis.  Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work.  If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work.  The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day, so many POWs volunteered to go out on work details away from the camp.  In Rick's case he went out on a bridge building detail.
    The detail composed of 250 POWs, mostly from the two tank battalions.  Rick remain at Calauan with his brother.  The POWs there built a wooden bridge, about a mile from the barrio, to replace the one destroyed during the Battle of Bataan.  The Japanese engineers treated the Americans fairly well and gave them more freedom.
    On July 1, 1942, the POWs were taken by truck to Batangas to build a bridge there.  Again they replaced the bridge with a wooden one.  The Filipinos in the town once again showed extreme kindness to the POWs and the Japanese engineers simply acted as if they did not see it.

    While on this detail Bernard Fitzpatrick credits Rick with saving his life.  Fitzpatrick had come down with dysentery and could not eat.  Rick fed him a broth until he was able to eat rice again. 

    When the bridge at Batangas was finished, the POWs were taken to Candelaria.  This time they were worked to repair a concrete bridge which had been damaged during the fighting.  To repair the bridge the POWs had to mix cement to make the repairs. 
   
When the detail ended, Rick was sent to the new POW camp, Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
    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.
    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.  The result was 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.

   Medical records from the camp show that Richard was admitted to the camp hospital on April 7, 1943.  Why he was hospitalized and when he was discharged were not recorded.
   
Rick was again selected to go out on a work detail.  This time he was sent to Las Pinas to build runways at an airfield.  On September 21, 1944, the POWs watched as planes approached the airfield.  They cheered when the planes began to bomb and strafe the airfield.  These were the first American planes that they had seen in two years.    On September 22nd, the detail was ended and Rick was transferred to Bilibid Prison. In early December 1944, the Japanese ordered the medics at Bilibid Prison to compile a list of POWs who were healthy enough to be sent to Japan. 

   On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out.  The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection.  They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued.  The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them.  The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night.  At 4:30 A.M. on December 13th, the POWs were awakened.

    By 8:00, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called.  The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in."  The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila.  During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.

    The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports.  There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay.  When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked.  One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape.  They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship. 

     It was at this time that Richard was allowed to sit down.  Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon.  They were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. 

    Rick was one of 800 POWs put into the ship's rear hold.  The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter.  The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it.   

    The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa.  By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water.  The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 that afternoon offish and barley.  Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water.  Three fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs. 
   
The prisoners had just eaten when they heard the sound of guns.  At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes.  It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill.  The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy.  Explosions were taking place all around the POWs.  Bullets from the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties.  In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five air raids.  The one result of the raid was no evening meal.

    At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack.  It was hit at least thee times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern.  Most of the POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions.  Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it.  Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevent most from penetrating the hull.  Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours.

    The ship steamed in closer to the beach and its anchor was dropped.  The ship was left alone by "playing possum" in the water.  The fighters went after the other ships in the convoy.  The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night.  That night 25 POWs died in the hold.   POWs were reported as drinking urine and howling.  The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning.  It was a suitable landing place.

    Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard noise on deck as women and children were unloaded.  During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded.  One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.

    The POWs were told, at 4:00 in the morning, that they would be disembarked after daybreak.  It was December 15th.  They sat in the hold for hours after daybreak when the sound of planes was heard.  When the U.S. Navy planes resumed their attack, the attacks came in waves.  The POWs would live through three more attacks.  During one attack, a bomb came through the side of the ship blowing a large hole in the aft hold and resulting in the deaths of many POWs.  The POWs noted that attack was heavier than the day before. 

   At 8:00 AM, a Japanese guard yelled to the POWs, "All go home; Speedo!"   He also shouted that the wounded would be the first evacuated.  As the POWs were abandoning ship, the planes returned.  The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners.  It was not until the pilots saw the POWs climbing out of the ship's holds that they realized it was a prison ship and stopped the attack. 

    In the hold the POWs crowded together.  Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling.  After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started.  A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them.  They know not what they do."  

    When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions.  The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset.  Overall, six bombs hit the ship.  One hit the stern of the ship killing many.

    About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn.  Many of the POWs made their way on deck and went over the side.  The POWs swam to shore near Olongapo, Subic Bay, Luzon.  As they swam toward shore, which was about 300 to 400 yards away.  Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs to keep them in the water so they would not escape.  At the same time, four American planes flew over them at a low altitude.  The POWs frantically waved to them hoping to prevent them from strafing.  The planes veered off and returned flying lower over the POWs.  This time, they dipped their wings to acknowledge they knew themen in the water were Americans.  Once on shore, the POWs were herded onto tennis courts at the Olongapo Naval Station at Subic Bay.  It was noted by the POWs when they reached shore that much of the ship's stern was blown away.

    It is not known if Sgt. Richard L. Errington died on board the Oryoku Maru or while attempting to swim to shore during the attack on December 15th.  What is known is that Sgt. Richard Errington was reported as dying in the sinking of the Oryoku Maru on Friday, December 15, 1944. 

   Since his final resting place is unknown, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.





 

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