Pfc. Robert Gemmell Gill Jr.
Pfc. Robert G. Gill Jr. was the son of Olive Fishell-Gill and Robert G. Gill
Sr., and was born on July 17, 1913, in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. He and his sister grew up at
109 West Third Steet in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and he was a member of the Greensburg High School Class of 1930.
What is known that he was living at 4301 Caroline Street in Houston, Texas, and working as a car salesman, when he was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 13, 1941. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and did his basic training. When he completed his training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. There, he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion.
After maneuvers in 1941, at Camp Polk, Louisiana, the battalion was looking for replacements for men allowed to leave the battalion because it was being sent overseas. It is believed that Robert volunteered - or had his name drawn - to join the battalion. Being a medic, he was assigned to the medical attachment.
The reason for this decision was an event that took place earlier in 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, with a flag, in the water. He came upon more flagged 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 - with a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that evening. The next day, when a when planes were sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up and a fishing boat was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between the planes and Navy was poor, nothing was done to intercept the boat. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island on the U .S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals, and men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
Seventeen days after arriving in the Philippines, the Japanese attacked Clark Airfield. That morning, they had heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. About 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the Pearl Harbor attack, the tank battalion was on guard duty around the main runway. The tankers watched as planes approached from the north. Men had enough time to count 54 planes in the formation. Many believed the planes were American. It was only when they saw what was described as "raindrops" and explosions on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
For the next four months, Robert worked to meet the medical needs of the 192nd. On April 9, 1942, the medical detachment were given their order to surrender. They remained in their bivouac for two days until they received orders from the Japanese to report to Mariveles.
At Mariveles, the soldiers were searched. It was from this barrio, at the southern tip of Bataan, that Robert started what became known as the death march.
As he marched, Robert saw bodies of the dead lying along the road. It was estimated that there were ten bodies for every mile. The bodies were bloated from lying in the sun and had maggots crawling on them. Robert also witnessed three Filipinos have their heads cut off for giving rice to the Prisoners of War.
At San Fernando, Robert and the other prisoners were crammed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as , "Forty and Eights," since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 men in each car. The POWs rode in the cars until they reached Capas. There, they disembarked the cars. The dead fell to the floors of the cars as the living climbed out. The POWs walked the last 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 camp commandant told them that they were not prisoners of war but captives and would be treated as such. 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. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to 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. When he was transferred, he was assigned to Barracks 7, Group 2.
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.
At some point, Robert was selected to be transported to Japan. He was sent to Bilibid Prison. He remained there until he was selected to be sent to Japan in December 1944. 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 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, Donald and the other 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 the POWs were 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.
700 POWs including the high ranking officers were the first put into the
ship's forward hold. Being the first on meant that they would suffer many deaths. Another 100 POWs
were in the middle hold, with the remaining 800 POWs put in its aft hold. Around the perimeter of the holds
were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out.
Once on shore, the POWs were herded onto tennis courts at
the Olongapo Naval Station at Subic Bay. While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer,
Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too
badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and
loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. What was
learned is that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. They were buried at a cemetery
nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days.
During that time, they were given water but not fed.
The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days. During their time on the courts, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The evening of December 16, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English , "No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs.
On December 21, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw it as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
December 23, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25 until the 26. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle. The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they would use ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.
During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31 and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1 through the 5, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6, the POWs began to receive two meals a day. Those POWs who were on the Brazil Maru were transferred to the forward hold of the Enoura Maru.
The Enoura Maru came under attack from American planes the morning of January 9. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machineguns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship was also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb exploded outside the hull near the corner of the forward hold
blowing a hole in the side of the ship. A second bomb fell through the open hatch and exploded killing
285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. To get the
Japanese to do something, they piled the dead in a stack right under the hatch. This way the dead would be the
first thing the Japanese saw when they looked into the hold. The stench from the dead filled the
air. On January 11 a work detail was formed and barge was brought alongside the ship. The dead were
unloaded from the ship, and a POW detail of twenty men took the corpses to shore where they were buried in a mass
grave on a beach.. These men reported that 150 POWs had been cremated. Their ashes were buried in a large
urn. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold.