S/Sgt. Basil Blake Kester
Born: 16 November 1924 - Wyoming, West Virginia
Parents: Otis C. Kester & Bertha Marie Harmon-Kester
Siblings: 2 brothers, 1 sister
Home: Wyco, Wyoming County, West Virginia
Enlisted:
    - U.S. Army
        - 7 January 1941
            - 16 years old when he enlisted
Training:
    - Fort Knox, Kentucky
        - 1st Armored Division
Units:
    - 19th Ordnance Company
       - later became 17th Ordnance
Note: In the late summer of 1941, the 194th received orders for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was lower than the rest, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another one 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, hundreds of miles to the northwest, which had a large radio transmitter.
    The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, another squadron of planes were sent to the area, but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since radio communication between the Army Air Corps and Navy was poor, by the time a Navy ship was sent to the area, the fishing boat was gone.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Overseas Duty:
    - Ft. Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands
Engagements:
    - Battle of Luzon
        - 8 December 1942 - 6 January 1942
            - maintained tanks under constant fire
    - Battle of Bataan
        - 7 January 1942 - 9 April 1942
            -Of this time he recalled, "We were eating 1918 beef and shooting 1918 ammunition, anything we could get.  We were only getting one
             meal a day before we collapsed."
            - 3 April 1942
                - Japanese launched major offensive
                - tanks sent into various sectors to stop Japanese advance
            - 8 April 1942
                - Gen. Edward P. King
                    - determined only 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight
                    - troops would last one more day
                - feared that the 6,000 troops who were hospitalized and 40,000 Filipino civilians would be slaughtered
                - 10:30 P.M. - sent staff officers to meet with Japanese and negotiate surrender terms
Note:  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."
        - 11:40 P.M. - ammunition dumps blown up        -
Prisoner of War:
    - 9 April 1942
        - Death March
            - started march at Mariveles on the southern tip of Bataan
    - Bataan Airfield
        - the Japanese sat POWs down
        - Japanese artillery was firing on Corregidor
                - American Artillery returned fire
                    - knocked out three Japanese guns
    - of this he said, "Bataan field was just an emergency air field they had set up.  They (the Japanese) marched a whole bunch of us in there
      and sat us down, and they had artillery set up behind us. and they started shelling Corregidor.
          "They thought Corregidor wouldn't shell back, but Corregidor had it all bracketed in.  They started sending those 12- and 14 inch
       shells over there, and the Japanese couldn't hold us still.  We got up and went on."
    - On whether or not Americans were killed during the shelling, he said , "I imagine there would have been because they had Americans who
      dug the artillery in for them (the Japanese)."
            - San Fernando - POWs put into small wooden boxcars
                - each car could hold eight horses or forty men
                - Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar
                - POWs who died remained standing
            - Capas - POWs leave boxcars - dead fall out of cars
                - walked last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell
    - Of the march he said, "I can't remember exactly how many days it lasted.  They all run together.  It was four or five days.  The march began with 17,000 (exact number not known) Americans and I don't remember how many Filipinos were there.  Along the way, if any water was to be drunk, it would be from mud holes. He also said:  "In the Philippines there are a lot of artesian wells.  They'd march you right by one, and there'd be a guard standing there, the guard was there with a bayonet and would not hesitate to use it on you."
POW Camps:
    - Philippine Islands:
        - Camp O'Donnell
            - 1 April 1942 - unfinished Filipino training base Japanese put into use as a POW camp
                - Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs
            - POWs searched upon arrival at camp
                - those found with Japanese money were accused of looting
                - sent to guardhouse
                - over several days, gun shots heard southeast of the camp
                    - POWs who had money on them had been executed
            - Japanese took away any extra clothing from POWs as they entered the camp and refused to return it
                - since no water was available for wash clothing, the POWs threw soiled clothing away
                - clothing was taken from dead
                - few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing
            - POWs were not allowed to bathe
            - only one water spigot for entire camp
                - POWs waited 2½ hours to 8 hours to get a drink
                    - water frequently turned off by Japanese guards and next man in line waited as long as 4 hours for water to be turned on again
                    - mess kits could not be cleaned
                - POWs had to carry water 3 miles from a river to cook their meals
                - second water spigot installed a week after POWs arrived
            - slit trenches overflowed since many of the POWs had dysentery
                - flies were everywhere including in camp kitchens and food
            - camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant
            - the senior POW doctor wrote a list of medicines he wanted to treat the sick and was told by the camp commandant, Capt. Yoshio
              Tsuneyoshi, never to write another letter
                - Tsuneyoshi said that all he wanted to know about the American POWs was their names and numbers when they died
                - refused to allow a truckload of medicine sent by the Archbishop of Manila into the camp
                - 95% of the medicine sent by Philippine Red Cross was taken by the Japanese for their own use
            - POWs in camp hospital lay on floor elbow to elbow
            - operations on POWs were performed with mess kit knives
            - only one medic out of six assigned to care for 50 sick POWs, in the hospital, was well enough to work
            - as many as 50 POWs died each day
                - each morning dead were found everywhere in the camp and stacked up under the hospital
                - ground under hospital was scrapped and cover with lime to clean it
                - the dead were moved to this area and the section where they had laid was scrapped and cover with lime
                - usually not buried for two or three days
            - work details: if a POW could walk, he was sent out on a work detail
                - POWs on burial detail often had dysentery and malaria
                - Of Camp O'Donnell, he said, "Some of them survived, (the march) but they started dying off as soon as they got in the prison
                  camps because the Japanese didn't feed us and they wouldn't let us get water.  I was determined.  There were too many of my
                  buddies that gave up.  What kept me going was to get home.  I guess. You'd be surprise how strong the human body is when you're
                 determined, but how week it is when you just give up and don't think there's any hope of anything."
        - Cabanatuan
            - original name - Camp Panagaian
                - Philippine Army Base built for 91st Philippine Army Division
                    - put into use by Japanese as a POW camp
                - actually three camps
                    - Camp 1: POWs from Camp O'Donnell sent there in attempt to lower death rate
                    - Camp 2:  two miles away
                        - all POWs moved from there because of a lack of water
                        - later used for Naval POWs
                    - Camp 3: six miles from Camp 2
                        - POWs from Corregidor and from hospitals sent there
                        - camp created to keep Corregidor POWs separated from Bataan POWs
                        - Corregidor POWs were in better shape
                            - January 1943 - POWs from Camp 3 consolidated into Camp 1
        - Camp Administration:
            - the Japanese left POWs to run the camp on their own
                - Japanese entered camp when they had a reason
                - POWs patrolled fence to prevent escapes
                    - Note: men who attempted to escape were recaptured
                    - Japanese beat them for days
                    - executed them
            - Blood Brother Rule
                - POWs put into groups of ten
                    - if one escaped the others would be executed
                    - housed in same barracks
                    - worked on details together
            - Barracks:
                - each barracks held 50 men
                    - often held between 60 and 120 men
                    - slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, and mosquito netting
                        - diseases spread easily
                    - no showers
            - Morning Roll Call:
                - stood at attention
                    - frequently beaten over their heads for no reason
                - when POWs lined up for roll call, it was a common practice for Japanese guards, after the POWs lined up, to kick the POWs in
                  their shins with their hobnailed boots because they didn't like the way the POWs looked
            - Work Details:
                - Two main details
                    - the farm and airfield
                        - farm detail
                            - POWs cleared land and grew comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens
                            - Japanese took what was grown
                    - Guards:
                        - Big Speedo - spoke little English
                            - in charge of detail
                            - fair in treatment of POWs
                            - spoke little English
                                - to get POWs to work faster said, "speedo"
                        - Little Speedo
                            - fair in treatment of POWs
                            - also used the word when he wanted the POWs to work faster
                        - Smiley
                            - always smiling
                            - could not be trusted
                            - meanest of guards
            - Airfield Detail:
                - Japanese built an airfield for fighters
                    - POWs cut grass, removed dirt, and leveled ground
                        - at first moved dirt in wheel barrows
                        - later pushed mining cars
                    - Guards:
                        - Air Raid
                            - in charge
                            - usually fair but unpredictable
                                - had to watch him
                        - Donald Duck
                            - always talking
                            - sounded like the cartoon character
                            - unpredictable - beat POWs
                            - POWs told him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star
                                - at some point, he saw a Donald Duck cartoon
                                - POWs stayed away from him when he came back to camp
                - Work Day: 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
                    - worked 6 days a week
                        - had Sunday off
            - Other Details:
                - work details sent out to cut wood for POW kitchens and plant rice
                    - they also were frequently hit with a pick handle, for no reason, as they counted off
                - POWs on the rice planting detail were punished by having their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on
                - the POWs had to go into a shed to get the tools, as they came out, they were hit on their heads
                - if the guards on the detail decided the POW wasn't doing what he should be doing, he was beaten
                - many POWs on details were able to smuggle in medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp
            - Burial Detail
                - POWs worked in teams of four
                    - carried 4 to 6 dead to cemetery at a time in liter
                    - a grave contained from 15 to 20 bodies
            - daily POW meal
                - 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, sweet potato or corn
                 - rice was main staple, few vegetables or fruits
        - Camp Hospital:
            - 30 Wards
                - each ward could hold 40 men
                    - frequently had 100 men in each
               - two tiers of bunks
                   - sickest POWs on bottom tier
               - each POW had a 2 foot by 6 foot area to lie in
            - Zero Ward
              - given name because it had been missed when counting wards
              - became ward where those who were going to die were sent
              - fenced off from other wards
                  - Japanese guards would not go near it
                  - POWs sent there had little to no chance of surviving
                  - medical staff had little to no medicine to treat sick
                  - many deaths from disease caused by malnutrition
            - hospitalized - Saturday - 27 June 1942 - malaria & avitaminosis
            - credited a doctor with saving his life by smuggling sugar and a little quinine to him
                - discharged - Wednesday - 16 December 1942
                - as for his time in the hospital, he said, "It made me more determined, and I never, never, never, never despaired.  Those are the ones
                  who died."
Hell Ship:
    - Hokusen Maru
        - Boarded: 21 September 1944
            - moved to buoy and dropped anchor
                - POWs start  going insane from heat in holds
               - Japanese threaten to shoot POWs unless they are silenced
               -POWs kill insane
        - Sailed: Manila - 4 October 1944
            - stopped at Cabcaban, Philippine Islands
            - stopped 5 October 1944 - San Fernando, La Union, Philippine Islands
                - joined convoy
            - 6 October 1944 - convoy attacked by submarines
                - two ships sunk
            - 9 October 1944 - airplane scare - convoy broke up
                - sailed for Hong Kong
                - ran into wolf pack - ship sunk
        - Arrived: Hong Kong - 11 October 1944
            - attacked by American planes while in port
        - Sailed: 21 October 1944
        - Arrived: Takao, Formosa - 24 October 1944
        - Disembark: 8 November 1944
            - POWs in such bad shape that Japanese decided to leave them on Formosa
        - of this time in the camps, he said, "Out of my outfit, there were 150 men and 32 of us got back (in reality 81 men survived). A lot of
          them were killed on these death ships.  They'd put you on there and they wouldn't mark them that they were prisoners of war or
          anything on them, and American submarines were sinking them left and right.  The convoy I was in started off with eight ships and
          ended up with three...This was September 1944.  When (the Americans) started bombing the Philippines, the Japanese started moving
          American prisoners out to Japan for labor."
POW Camp:
    - Formosa:
      - Toroku Camp
          - Work: sugar cane cutting and processing
Hell Ship:
    - Melbourne Maru
        - Sailed: Takao, Formosa - 14 January 1945
        - Arrived: Moji. Japan - 23 January 1945
POW Camp:
    - Japan
        - Sendai #8-B
            - 29 January 1945 - POWs arrived
            - Work:
                - POWs worked at Fujita-gumi Construction Company
                    - work: mining and smelting of copper
                    - civilian employees allowed to beat POWs for not working hard enough
            - Medical Treatment:
                - Red Cross Boxes withheld from POWs
                    - denied medicine, medical supplies, and medical instruments
                    - proper medical treatment denied POWs
                    - POWs who reported for sick call beaten
                        - sick POWs forced to work
            - Barracks
                - wooden barracks
                    - infested with lice, bedbugs, rats
                    - insufficiently heated
                        - POWs caught smuggling coal into camp beaten
            - About the camp, he said, "We were wearing Japanese summer uniforms and tennis shoes.  Our barracks was about 40 feet long and 20 feet wide,
              and they had a stove in there that was maybe 3 feet long and 18 inches wide and they gave us three pieces of wood a day to heat the dag gone thing."
            - Punishment:
                - collective punishment common
                    - when one POW stole a blanket in March 1945, all the POWs stood at attention until the man confessed
                        - other POWs had to walk past him and slap him in the face which took 10 minutes
                        - spent two days in guardhouse
                    - POWs beaten, slapped, hit with iron pipes, and sheaths of swords
                    - often made to stand in cold for hours
                    - on one occasion 5 POWs being punished stood in cold while nude 1½ hours
                    - POWs were made to crawl or take painful positions for long periods of time
            - Meals
                - POWs underfed and smuggled food into camp
                    - when caught they were beaten
            - Red Cross Packages
                - Japanese misappropriated food, clothing, shoes, medicines, medical supplies, and medical equipment meant for POW s
Liberated:
    - 11 September 1945
        - weighed 95 pounds
        - taken to Okinawa
        - while waiting to fly to the Philippines, he wrote this letter:

"Dear Dad, Mom and Sis,
    Well I am at an airfield waiting to fly to the Philippine Islands.  I am O.K. and think I will be home soon.  My health is pretty good, all I need is rest and good food.  I can't write, spell, or do anything now.  I saw my first Yank troops on the 15th of this month and they sure looked good.  I would write more but I am so excited I can't think straight.  Tell everyone hello and I will be seeing them soon."

        -  Note: this was the first letter his parents received from him since the start war

        - flown to the Philippine Islands
            - of his recovery, he said, "Three months after I got out, I weighed 169 pounds. We'd go out eating and drinking all night.  I'd have a spaghetti dinner
              and a
chicken dinner, and a quart of rum and a case of beer a night."
Promoted: Staff Sergeant
Transport:
    - U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes
        - Sailed: Manila - not known
        - Arrived: Seattle, Washington - 9 October 1945
            - taken to Madigan General Hospital - Ft. Lewis, Washington
Discharged: 4 April 1946
Reenlisted: 6 February 1947
Discharged: 31 January 1950
Married:
     - Ernestine Jett - 22 April 1947
        - her family lived across the road from his family
        - passed away in January 1988
     - Louise Rufus
        - married: December 1999
        - he had dated her before he enlisted in the Army
Occupation:
    - worked in coal mines when he first got home
    - electrician - New Process Gear - Syracuse, New York
        - worked for company for 30 years
        - retired in 1987
Children:
    - 1 son, 2 step-sons, 2 step-daughters
Residence:
    - Syracuse, New York
    - Auburn, New York
Died
    - 26 May 2001 - Auburn, New York
        - lung cancer
Buried: St. Joseph's Cemetery - Auburn, New York


 

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