Johnson_V

 

Pvt. Vernon Alton Johnson


    Pvt. Vernon Alton Johnson was born on August 17, 1919, to John C. Johnson & Anna Lockert-Johnson in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.  With his four brothers and sister, he grew up in Fish Lake, Wisconsin, where he attended Fish Lake School.   

    In 1937, Vernon joined the Civilian Conservation Corps at the age of seventeen and later worked for Seagar's Refrigeration.  On April 4, 1941, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Vernon was inducted into the U. S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training.  There, he was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  This tank company was originally a Wisconsin National Guard tank company from Janesville.  The reason he was assigned to the company was that the army was attempting to fill-out the rosters of the companies of the 192nd with men from home states of each of the companies.

    After training at Ft. Knox, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30.  After the maneuvers the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and on the side of a hill, the 192nd learned that they were being sent overseas.  Most of the men received furloughs home to say their goodbyes.
    The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27.  During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness.  Once they recovered, they spent their time 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.
During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the unknown ship was from 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 Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.
  Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    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.  
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.

    On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, December 7 on the other side of the International Date Line, Vernon and the other A Company members were called together by Capt. Walter Write.  Write told the men that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor just ten hours earlier.  Being a member of a tank crew, Vernon and his crew were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.

    Around 12:25 in the afternoon, Vernon recalled seeing planes Clark Field, "They looked so beautiful flying in. We thought they were ours."  It was only when bombs began exploding that the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese.  "They caught us sleeping. We were in the dark and lost a lot of planes."
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the battalion's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.  Anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.  That night the soldiers had slept their last night in a bed.  For protection, they slept under their tanks or in them.
    Four days after the attack, on December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau to protect a highway and railroad from sabotage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, the battalion, with A Company, 194th held the position so other units could withdraw from the area.
    On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where that the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  There, the tanks, with A Company, 194th, held the position.  On December 25, the 192nd held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.

    The battalion was also involved in another engagement at Cabanatuan, where the tanks were involved in an on and off engagement that lasted three days.  During the fight, five Japanese tanks were knocked out.
    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible. 
The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.

    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  That night, on a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
   As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31 and January 1.  Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep.  It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.
    As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers.  The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks.  To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smoke screen.  Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
 
  
From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.  It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half.  It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. January that the food rations were cut in half.  Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers.
    The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan.  The night of January 7, A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed    A Company was next sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the tanks were mistaken by the Filipinos to be Japanese, and the 11th Division accurately used mortars on them.  The result was the loss of three tanks.  The company rejoined the 194th west of Guagua.    A Company was next sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the tanks were mistaken by the Filipinos to be Japanese, and the 11th Division accurately used mortars on them.  The result was the loss of three tanks.  The company rejoined the 194th west of Guagua. 
    On January 5, while attached to the 194th Tank Battalion, A Company withdrew from the line.  Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield received orders to launch a counter-attack against the Japanese on a tail picked by Provisional Tank Group command. Bloomfield, while attempting to attack, radioed the tank group that the trail did not exist.
   It was evening and the tankers believed they were in a relatively safe place near Lubao along a dried up creek bed.  Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep.  Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gun shot at about 1:50 A.M.  The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had lunched a major offensive across an open field wearing white shirts which made them easy targets.  There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 3:00 A.M., when the Japanese broke off the attack.  Within days of this action, the company returned to the command of the 192nd. 
    A Company, was sent in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  At Guagua,  A Company with the 11th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the Filipinos mistook the tanks as Japanese and accurately used mortars on them knocking out three tanks.  A Company rejoined the 194th east of Guagua.
ta    The night of January 7, A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
  The next day the tanks received maintenance.  It was the first rest that the two tank battalions had since December 24.
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. 
The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.

    On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese offensive had been stopped and two groups of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the main line of defense.  The tanks were sent in to help eliminate the pockets.  
The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until the tank, which had been relieved, had left the pocket.    
    To wipe out the Japanese two methods were employed.  The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades.  When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would usually explode.
    The second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole.  The driver gave power to the opposite track and spun the tank dragging the other track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.

    The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    During the Battle of the Points, on March 2 and 3, the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back toward the sea and wiped them out.
   

   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.    Vernon continued to fight the Japanese until April 9, 1942.  The tankers destroyed their tanks and made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.

    At Mariveles, Vernon and the other Prisoners of War were searched.  The Japanese took whatever they wanted from the POWs.  After being searched, Vernon started what he and other prisoners called, "The Big Walk."  

    "I don't know how far we walked. You'd get on Cloud Nine and so you wouldn't notice anything. I guess we walked about 70 miles. The heat was unbearable. We were already starving when we started out. They didn't feed us, not one bit.  They were the dirtiest rottenest people in the world."  

    Vernon recalled what happened to a friend on the march.  "I had a little buddy who tried to get water out of a puddle. The Japanese soldier stuck him in the back - bayoneted him. Then he washed the blood off in the water."

    Vernon made his way to Capas.  There, he and the other POWs were packed into small boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men.  Once 100 men were put into each car and the Japanese shut the doors.  The prisoners rode the cars to San Fernando and were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floors.  There, the living climbed out of the cars, and the bodies of the dead fell to the floors of the cars.  Vernon walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.  When he reached the camp, it had taken seven days to complete the march.
    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 prisoners of 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 2 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 use.
    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.

    Camp O'Donnell in Vernon's own words was, "The dirtiest camp in the world. I stayed there three days. It was crowded, filthy, and everybody was sick with dysentery."  To get out of the camp, Vernon went out on a work detail, but it is not known which detail he was on at this time.

    Vernon was next held as a POW at Cabanatuan after he returned from the work detail 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.       He was selected to be sent to Bilibid Prison.  He recalled.
"They packed 80 of us guys in a car.  We rode for 70 miles. Guys died left and right."  It is not known how long he remained at Bilibid, but it is known that from Bilibid Vernon was selected for a work detail at Lipa, Batangas.  

    On the detail, Vernon and the other POWs used hand tools to build runways at an airfield.  It was at this time that the Japanese imposed the "blood brother" rule.  The POWs also worked in groups pushing carts full of rocks. "For three days I worked there on my hands and knees with no food or water.  I just figured I was going to be shot. You had to be careful. We worked in ten-man squads and if one man took off, we all got shot."  Recalling the rule, Vernon said, "I saw it happen once."

    After this detail, Vernon was sent to Cabanatuan.  While in the camp, he was put to work farming for several months.  Recalling his work, "They got the good vegetablesThey threw us fish heads and rice."

    Vernon was next sent out on a work detail to Clark Field where the POWs were housed in barracks at the airfield.  Their job was to extend runways and build revetments.  Men who tried to talk to their friends were beaten.
    The Japanese guards encouraged the POWs to take their time when digging.  The guards didn't care how much dirt the POWs moved all they had to do is look busy.  The reason the guards did this was because they liked the detail and wanted to stretch it out as long as possible.  The only time the POWs were expected to work hard was when big shots came around to inspect the work.  

    On four occasions, Vernon was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison.  Medical records kept at the prison show that was hospitalized with gastritis on July 6, 1943.  No date of discharge is known, but when he was released, he was sent to Ward 1 at the prison.  He was readmitted to the hospital on October 12, for gastritis, and discharged on October 21 and sent to Cabanatuan. 
    After returning to Cabanatuan, Vernon was returned to Clark Field to work.  On June 1, 1944, Vernon was again sent to Bilibid with a contusion on his left knee.   He was treated, discharged the next day, and returned to the airfield.  Medical records show that he readmitted to the hospital on June 17, 1944, with serum sickness and discharged on June 20.
    At some point, Vernon was returned to Bilibid Prison.  This time he received a physical and selected for shipment to Japan.  He was marched to the Port Area of Manila and loaded onto the Nissyo Maru.  The POWs boarded the ship on July 17, 1944, and were not fed until 9:00 P.M.  The next morning the ship moved to a point off the breakwater and dropped anchor.  It sat there for a week until other ships from a convoy designated HI 68 arrived.  As part of a 21 ship convoy the Nissyo Maru sailed for Formosa  on July 24.

    In recalling his time on the hell ship, Vernon said, "There were 500 of us in the hold.  You couldn't move for 28 days. And you didn't sleep. Some of our guys were thirsty.  They were delirious from hunger and thirst.  They'd cut your throat and drink your blood."

    In the South China Sea the ship encountered bad weather.  "It was terribly rough.  We had typhoons."  Since the Japanese refused to mark the ships with "red crosses" which indicated that the ships were carrying POWs, the POWs also had to worry about being attacked by American submarines.  "They, the Americans, did not know we were down there.  During the trip though, we were praying to get hit." 
    The morning of July 25, the ships were attacked by three American submarines.  The first attack on the ship failed and the ships escaped.  One of the subs, the U.S.S. Flasher, made contact with the ships again and radioed the other two subs. The Flasher attacked hitting two ships with torpedoes.  Another ship, the Otoriyama Maru, which was a tanker, went up in flames sending the flames over the open hatch on the Nissyo Maru.
    The POWs panicked and attempted to climb out of the holds.  The Japanese guards aimed their machine guns into the holds.  Father Cummings, a Catholic priest, led the POWs in prayer to calm them down.  The subs broke off the attack after nearly 30 hours having sunk three ships and damaging another.  The ships made it to Takao, Formosa, on July 27, docking at 1:00 P.M.  The ships sailed the next day and arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 3.

    Vernon was held at Nagoya #2-B which was built on the side of a hill with local lumber with a 8 foot fence around it.  The building - which was 40 feet long and 25 feet wide - was poorly built.  During the winter the building was cold since it was not insulated.  There were three charcoal pits in the building and two stoves in it, but the stoves were in poor condition and could not be used.  The POWs slept on straw mats which were 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, and their pillows were canvas stuffed with rice husks.
    At first, the POWs meals seemed to be adequate, but this changed the nearer the end of the war got.  This resulted in the POWs, in the little free time that the POWs to sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home.  He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
    The POWs were used to manufacture wheels for railroad cars at the Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company which was also known as the Daido Electric Steel Company.  One of the things Alva found amazing was that both the Japanese guards and officers found the Americans interesting.  The officers, in particular, were extremely interested in the United States.  Since the Japanese feared punishment, they would seldom show their interest publicly.  If they did show it, they would only do so when there were no other Japanese around the POWs.
    To get to and return from the mill, the POWs rode an electric train - with Japanese civilians - which took a half hour to and from the mill.  The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars.  The Americans who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts.  At the mill, most of the POWs did common labor, but those who had machinist skills were put to work at finishing the wheels. The POWs worked from 6 to 8 hours a day.  In the little free time that the POWs had, they would sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home.  He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
   Each night, he and the other POWs were required to dig. 
"Two hours a night we carry sand out of a hole we were digging into a hill.  It was about fourteen feet high by fourteen feet wide and went pretty far back.  We found out later it was going to be our grave in case the Americans attacked.  They were going to put us in there and cover us up."  At the time, he and the other POWs had no idea that they were digging a mass grave that would be used by them if American forces landed in Japan.

    Vernon's time in this camp was better than it had been at other camps because he had a skill that the Japanese commander admired.  "I use to play the fiddle for him.  He didn't know music for crap, but I'd get four or five cigarettes doing it, and I traded those for rice."  The regular diet for the POWs was rice and fish.
    In December 1944, the area was bombed by B-29s with one bomb hitting the camp and killing a guard.  The roof of the barracks was damaged and the Japanese never repaired it.  Overnight, the treatment of the POWs changed.  The Japanese became extremely brutal with the POWs, especially those caught stealing food.  The common punishment given to the POWs was to be beaten, kicked, hit with sticks, clubs, and rifle butts, while standing at attention outside the guardhouse without food or water from hours to days.  POWs also would be tied with rope, in a crouching position, and left in it for as long as 24 hours.  During the winter, they also had their clothing stripped from them and made to stand at attention for long periods of time in the cold and were denied food and water.
    The clothing the POWs wore was the clothing they were given when they arrived at the camp which was a Japanese uniform, raincoat, and canvas shoes.  Red Cross clothing sent to the camp was misappropriated by the Japanese who were seen wearing it.  This also was true for Red Cross medical supplies.  The camp doctor, who was a POW, worked with a Japanese enlisted man.  The Japanese soldier had control of all medicines and overruled the doctor on which POWs were too sick to work.  Sick POWs were sent to work since they were needed at the mill.
    As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp.  The POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from air raids to knock out the train station.  As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters.  One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in.  No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night.  After the attacks, all work was stopped.  Most of the POWs were put to work cleaning debris up at the mill.

    The Japanese became extremely brutal with the POWs, especially those caught stealing food.  The common punishment given to the POWs was to be beaten, kicked, hit with sticks, clubs, and rifle butts, while standing at attention outside the guardhouse without food or water from hours to days.  POWs also would be tied with rope, in a crouching position, and left in it for as long as 24 hours.  During the winter, they also had their clothing stripped from them and made to stand at attention for long periods of time in the cold and were denied food and water.
   This also was true for Red Cross medical supplies also.  The camp doctor, who was a POW, worked with a Japanese enlisted man.  The Japanese soldier had control of all medicines and overruled the doctor on which POWs were too sick to work.  Sick POWs were sent to work since they were needed at the mill.
    As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp.  The POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from air raids to knock out the train station.  As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters.
    One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in.  No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night.  After the attacks, all work was stopped.  Most of the POWs were put to work cleaning debris up at the mill.
    It was also at this camp that Vernon witnessed a prisoner put to death for stealing.  One night, the man crawled into the camp kitchen to steal food.  For whatever reason, the man did not get out.  Realizing he would be caught, he attempted to kill himself.  The Japanese allowed the man to heal and then made him stand naked in front of the other POWs.  The Japanese then proceeded to starve the man to death.
    On August 6, 1945, Vernon recalled a hazy stillness settled over the camp.  This was the day that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki.  The POWs knew something was up and were finally told that the war was over.  One morning the camp's interpreter told the prisoners, "Between your country and mine we are now friends."  The camp was turned over to the POWs and the guards vanished.  He recalled that a few days later, "The Japanese cleared out of there in a hurry."  The guards left behind their weapons so the POWs posted guards to protect themselves against any possible attack.  The POWs also marked the camp so that it could be spotted by American planes.  The B-29s began dropping fifty gallon barrels of supplies to the former prisoners.   On September 2, 1945, American planes appeared and dropped food and clothing to the former POWs.  These missions continued until the POWs were officially liberated.

    When the POWs learned that the war was over, they wanted to go home.  "We just wanted to get the hell out of there, but we couldn't because of MacArthur.  If you did, he said you would be court marshaled.  When the going got tough, he left.  He was such a phoney."  When the POWs were evacuated, they were sent to Guam for ten days before being sent to the Philippines.

    Vernon returned to the Philippines before returning to the United States on the U.S.S. Yarmouth, at San Francisco, on October 8, 1945.  In the U. S., he was hospitalized at Hines Hospital which was located next to Maywood, Illinois, the hometown of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  Of his time at Hines, he recalled, "Our diet included steak anytime, three cans of beer, and a lot of vitamins.  It didn't take long to put on weight."  While at the hospital, his right ring finger was removed three fourths of the way down.  As a POW he had injured it on a trunk while working and it had hung on his hand for three years.  He was discharged on June 28, 1946, with the rank of Staff Sergeant.

    Amazingly when Vernon returned home, he found that no one believed what he had experienced as a POW.  His own brothers said that he had been on a picnic.  This resulted in his refusing to talk about his experiences as a POW for forty years.

    Vernon married Helen Grace Wicklund on February 2, 1949.  The couple became the parents of three children.  Vernon started his own welding and marine company in the Duluth, Minnesota, and the Superior, Wisconsin, area.  He retired from the company in 1978, and after his retirement, he and Helen returned to Grantsburg.  

    Vernon A. Johnson passed away on September 29, 1999, in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.  He was buried at Ansgarius Cemetery in Alpha, Burnett County, Wisconsin.


 

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