What is known about Pvt. Uhlan Gillman is that he was born in October 22,
1919, in Barnabus, Logan County, West Virginia. He was the son of Comfort Gillman & Roxie Curry-Gillman
and had two sisters and two brothers.
was inducted into the army on August 2, 1940, at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, and assigned to
the 19th Ordnance Battalion at Ft. Knox. During his training at Ft. Knos, he learned to do maintenance work
on 57 different vehicles in use by the Army. In August 1941, 17th Ordnance company was created from one of
the company's of the battalion and Uhlan was assigned to the company.
On August 15, 1941, the company received orders 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, whose plane was 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, and had a large radio transmitter on it. The squadron continued its flight plan and
flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed that evening, it was
too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that 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.
The company left Ft. Knox on September 1, and rode a train which took them to Ft. Mason,
in San Francisco, California, and were ferried by the
U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. There, they received physicals and
inoculated and men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
The company spent their time on the island removing the turrets of the
tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion so they would fit in the ship's holds. They boarded the
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge and the ship sailed on Monday, September 8th, at 9:00 P.M. The ship
arrived Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M. and the men were allowed ashore but had to return to ship before it
sailed at 5:00 P.M. The ship took a southerly route and was joined by the
U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer which were its escorts.
On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon and the Astoria took off to
intercept the unknown ship. Each time the ship was from a neutral country.
The ships crossed the International Date Line on Tuesday, September 16, and suddenly, it
was Thursday, September 18. The morning of September 26 at 7:00 A.M., the ship entered Manila Bay.
The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. later that day, and 17th Ordnance, with the maintenance section of the
194th Tank Battalion, remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks of the 194th and reattach the
turrets. The men took turns sleeping on the ship that night and completed the work by 7:00 A.M. the next
For the next few months, the company members familiarized themselves with the M3 Stuart
tank and the other vehicles of the tank battalion. The 192nd Tank Battalion, which 19th Ordnance trained
with at Ft. Knox, arrived in the Philippines in November.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of the company were told of the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. The company moved to a bamboo thicket and set up their machine shop
trucks and other vehicles. Later in the day, they were ordered to return to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At 12:45, planes appeared over Clark Airfield and bombed the airfield. Japanese
Zeros followed and strafed the buildings. The company lost one half-track during the attack. When the
attack was over, there were wounded and dead everywhere.
For the next four months, the members of 17th Ordnance worked to keep the tanks of the
tank group supplied with ammunition and running. On Bataan, the company set up its operations in the
ordnance deport building which had been abandoned since it was empty.
On April 9, 1942, his company became POWs when Bataan
was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. At
Cabcaben, Uhlan and the other POWs were ordered to sit in front of Japanese artillery which was firing on
Corregidor. When shells from Corregidor began to land among the POWs, he and the other men attempted to find
cover. During the artillery exchange four of the Japanese guns were knocked out.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden
used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as "forty or eights," since each car
could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put one hundred men into each car and closed the
doors. The men who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floor. At
Capas, the living POWs climbed out of the cars while the bodies of the dead fell to the ground.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army base that the Japanese
put into use as a POW camp and believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When they arrived at
the camp, the camp commandant told the
Americans that they were not
f war but captives. The Japanese also took away any extra clothing that the POWs
carried with them and refused to return it. The POWs were searched and anyone
found with Japanese money were separated from the other POWs and sent to the guardhouse. These POWs were
accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. Over several days, gunshots were heard coming
from southeast of the camp.
There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2½ to
8 hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guard in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason,
and the next man in line would have to wait up to four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking
food had to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess kits could not be cleaned. Since there was no water
to wash their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few
of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
Since most of the POWs had dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in
flies being everywhere in the camp including the camp kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no
water, soap, or disinfectant which also caused diseases to spread. When the ranking American doctor
presented a letter with the medicines and medical supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander,
Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another letter. He also said that the only thing he
wanted to know about the POWs were their names and serial numbers after they died.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but
the Japanese refused to let it into the camp. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a
Japanese lieutenant that they could set up an 150 bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the
lieutenant. Medicines sent to the camp by the Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own
The POWs called the hospital "Zero Ward" because most of the men who entered it never
came out alive. The Japanese were so afarid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire fence
up around it. The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed with
knives from mess kits. Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough to
perform his duties.
Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and
placed them under the hospital building. To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the
ground, put down lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the
bodies had been. It took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk, went out on a work detail for the day such
as the one collected wood for the POW kitchen. Some POWs went out on work details which lasted for months
to get out of the camp. The worse detail a man could be put on was the burial detail. On this
detail, two POWs carried a dead man to the camp cemetery. Once there, they put the body in a grave and
held the body down with a pole, since the water table was high, and covered it with dirt. The next
morning, when the burials resumed, the dead were often sitting up or had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese
finally acknowledged that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new POW camp.
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 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.
On October 26, 1942, Uhlan was selected for a work detail to be sent to
Davao, Mindanao. The POWs were sent by train from Cabanatuan to Manila. They were held in Bilibid Prison for
two days before being boarded onto the
Erie Maru. The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo and Cebu,
Mindanao. Uhlan arrived on the Island of Mindanao on November 7. Uhlan was one of 650 POWs who
built an airfield at Lasang, while 100 POWs built an airfield south of Davao.
When it became apparent to the Japanese that it was just a matter of time before the Americans
would be landing in the Philippines, the Japanese ordered the
Shinyo Maru to Palau. It was given orders to pick up evacuees from Palau for transport to
On August 19, 1944, the POWs were marched, shoeless, to the Tabunco pier
with their wrists tied to each other with rope. The next day they packed into the holds of an unknown
hell ship. On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days. The conditions
in the ship's holds were terrible and the holds were hot and steamy. In addition, the longer the POWs were
in the holds the stench became worse.
On the tenth day, September 4, the POWs were transferred onto the
Shinyo Maru. The ship sailed on September 5th, at 2:00 a.m. Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers
were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship was now part of a convoy designated
as C-076. Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.
It should be noted that the U. S. had intercepted the order from Japanese
command sending the
Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. Someone misinterpreted the order as saying that "military personnel"
instead of "military prisoners" were being sent to Manila. The
U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship. This mistake would be discovered in
At 7:37 p.m. the
U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two
torpedoes at the ship. The Japanese seeing the torpedoes opened the hatches and threw hand grenades into the
holds. There was terrific explosion followed immediately by a second explosion. Many of the POWs in the
holds were bleeding and dying. To escape the holds, the POWs began climbing from the ship's holds. The
Japanese shot the prisoners as they climbed out.
A large number of the POWs were successful in escaping the holds and jumping overboard.
Sgt. Onnie Clem, U.S.M.C., recalled what it was like when the torpedoes hit.
"I was just flying, just twisting and turning....I couldn't couldn't see anything but these billowy
forms like pillows. I thought I was dead....I was underwater in the hold and these pillows were the bodies
of other guys in there, some dead, some trying to get out."
Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the
American submarine. When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them. They stopped strafing
when they realized that there were Japanese in the water too. The good thing about the depth charges was
that they kept sharks away from the POWs.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the
water. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machine guns and fired on the POWs.
Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water cruising in and
out of the debris field hunting and shooting the swimming Americans. If they found a man, they shot
him. One officer recalled seeing a young soldier struggling in the water and asked him if he could
swim. The soldier replied
, "No sir, not very well."
The officer began to say
, " Don't worry, well make it somehow,"
but before he could finish, a shot rang out the the young soldier's head fell into the water. There
was a bullet hole in the head. What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese
to see them.
Pfc. Victor L. Mapes recalled
, "The men began swimming toward shore three miles away --- like a herd of sheep. The Japs from the
other ships in the convoy were cutting them to pieces. I figured that the only way to survive was to break away
from the bunch and swim to the opposite side."
According to the POWs in the water, there was a
tremendous crushing sound. The ship seemed to bend up in the middle and then sank into the water. Of
the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 were rescued by Filipino guerillas. The former POWs were
taken to New Guinea by submarine and later returned to the United States.
It is not known if Uhlan Gillman died when the
Shinyo Maru sank or if he was shot while attempting to escape the sinking ship. What is known is
that Pvt. Uhlan Gillman died in the sinking of the
Shinyo Maru on Thursday, September 7, 1944. The war department notified his family of his death on
February 14, 1945.
Since Pvt. Uhlan Gillman was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets
of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.