Pfc. William Nelson Kinler
Pfc. William N. Kinler was born on June 17, 1912, in Pine River,
Minnesota, to Robert Kinler and Jennie Mae Nelson-Kinler. With his
nine sisters and three brothers, he grew up in Pine River and attended
school there. In 1940, he was living with his sister and
brother-in-law and working on their farm in Maple Township, Cass County,
William was inducted into the U. S. Army in April 1941 and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. There, he was assigned to A Company, 194th Tank Battalion which had been a Minnesota National Guard tank company. At Fort Lewis, Bill trained as a cook.
On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, 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 noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. 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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan 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 morning, by the time another squadron was sent to the area, 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.
In September 1941, the battalion, minus B Company, traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. From there, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, they were ferried to Fort McDowell on Angel Island and given physicals and inoculated. Men who had medical conditions were held back and replaced.
The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser and an unknown destroyer, which were its escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, at 8:30, the planes of the the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed to be refueled, line up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch in the mess hall. At 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Danny lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and 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, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10. The night of the 12th/13th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13.
For the next four months, William worked to feed the tankers as they fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. It is known that he worked in the area of Carmen where A and D Companies were holding a defensive line along the Agno River.
A few days before the surrender, William was shot in his foot. At the time it did not seem to be a big deal, he soon found out that it was. On April 8, William and the other men received the word that Filipino and American forces on Bataan would surrender to the Japanese the next day. The tankers destroyed their tanks and weapons that the Japanese could use. The POWs were ordered to the bivouac of the Provisional Tank Group. It was from there that they were marched to join the main column of POWs on the march out of Bataan.
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. They quickly stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and sun-glasses. They were taken to a trail and found that walking on the gravel trail was difficult. They immediately witnessed "Japanese Discipline" toward their own troops. The Japanese apparently were marching for hours, and if a man fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
The trial the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road. The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men and counted them. The POWs were left in the sun for the rest of the day wondering what was going to happen. That night they were ordered north which was difficult, on the rocky road, in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks that was moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and they POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was then that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. They realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.
On the march, the heat was unbearable. In addition, he was attempting to walk on his wounded foot. Doing this was extremely painful and made the march even more difficult.
When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O'Donnell.
At Limay on April 11, the officers with the tank of lieutenant colonel or above, were put into a school yard. The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, the officers were put into a bull pen where they were ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, they received their first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other enlisted POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group who had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 or 7:00 that evening, they resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. The POWs made their way to just north of Hormosa. where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks. At 4:30 PM on April 13, they arrived at San Fernando. The POWs put into a pen and remained there the rest of the day.
At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights." They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors. The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died. They could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall. The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors.
The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. 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 formerly known as Camp Panagaian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed, but it later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured on Corregidor were taken to keep them separate from the Bataan POWs. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camps 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Day to day administration was handled by the POWs. The job was determining who went out on work details was done by the POWs. If the Japanese wanted more workers, they picked POWs from the sick. The POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence to prevent POWs from attempting to escape. This was done because the Japanese tortured the recaptured, in front of the other POWs, before shooting them.
In the camp the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 men, but most of the barracks held 60 to 120 men. They slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. In addition, slit trenches served as washrooms and there were no showers. These factors allowed disease to spread quickly among the POWs.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.
The two major details that went out daily were to work at the camp farm or to build an airfield. The POWs on the farm detail had to go to a hut that had tools in it. As they left the hut, the guards thought it was funny to hit the POWs over their heads. Once at work, the treatment by the guards varied.
The guard in charge of the detail was known as "Big Speedo" because he spoke limited English and use of the word "speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster. According to the POWs, he was fair in his treatment of them. "Smiley" was another guard who got his nickname because he always had a smile on his face. The POWs soon learned he could not be trusted and beat the POWs for no reason. "Little Speedo" was also fair in his treatment of the POWs, and also used "speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster.
The airfield detail was created to build a airfield for Japanese fighter planes. The POWs on the detail leveled ground with picks and shovels. To move the dirt, the POWs used wheelbarrows. When the Japanese determined this was not efficient they brought in mining cars and laid track so the POWs could push the cars to where the dirt was to be dumped.
Two of the guards on the detail were given the nicknames "Air Raid" and Donald Duck. Air Raid was in charge of the detail and was usually fair in his treatment of the POWs, but he was unpredictable and would beat the POWs. "Donald Duck" got his name because he always talking and sounded like the cartoon character. He also and made large motions with his arms. When he asked the POWs why they called him "Donald Duck," they told him that Donald Duck was a major movie star. One day he had leave in Manila and saw a Donald Duck cartoon. He was known to be unpredictable and beat POWs for the slightest reason, so the POWs avoided him.
The POWs also planted rice. One of the favorite punishments that the guards gave out was to push the POW's face into the mud and then step on the man's head to drive his face deeper into the mud. Other details left the a camp daily to collect firewood for the camp's kitchens. While on these details they 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.
It is known that William went out on the Las Pinas work detail but since several POW detachments were sent there, it is not known when he arrived. It was while he was on the detail that his family received word he was a POW on March 14, 1943. The POWs were used to construct runways at Nichols Airfield with picks and shovels. To do this, they had to remove several hills by hand. The rubble was pushed by hand to a swamp and dumped in a swamp as landfill for the runway.
On the detail, the POWs were housed at the Pasay School about a mile from the airfield. They were awoken and had to do morning exercises and have breakfast. Their meals were the leftovers from the Japanese kitchen.
The first sign that the American forces were returning to the Philippines was a dogfight between American and Japanese planes. As the POWs watched, a Japanese plane was shot down crashing near the camp. The Americans cheered as the plane hit the ground. Within days, the POWs heard the sounds of guns as the American invasion began. It was at this time that the Japanese began transferring large numbers of POWs to Japan or other parts of their empire.
William's name appeared on a list of POWs leaving Las Pinas and taken to Bilibid Prison. On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detachment 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. 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 13, Harry and the other POWs were awakened.
The Japanese took until 9:00 to finish roll call. By 7:00, the POWs were lined up, roll call was started, and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. It 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.
The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship's aft hold. Being the first on meant that they would suffer many deaths. Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, "The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air." The POWs who were closer to the hold's hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, "Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, 'Have some of this chow? It's good.' I smelled of it, it was not chow. 'All right' he said, 'If you don't want it. I'm going to eat it.' And a little later I heard him eating it , right beside me."
At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for awhile. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As light began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold, put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrap it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
The POWs received their first meal at dawn. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three fourths of a cup of water was shared by 20 POWs. It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
At first it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit, had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, "I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us."
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes' engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties. .
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, "There's a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there." Barr would never reach Japan. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes were ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterwards, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only .30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs. During the attack Chaplain Cummings, a Catholic priest, led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship's had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped. At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15 and the POWs sat in the ship's holds for hours after dawn. The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water. At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, "All go home; speedo!" He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, "Planes, many planes!" As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, "I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air."
In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold a Catholic priest, Father Duffy, began to pray, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship's captain remained on board. He told the POWs - with his limited English - that they needed to get off the ship to safety. The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened up on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water, but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court and roll call was taken. It was discovered 329 of the 1,619 POWs who had boarded the ship had died. The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end. They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man.
While the POWs were at Olongapo Naval Station, 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. 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.
Trucks appeared at the tennis court, on December 20, and the POWs climbed into them. They arrived at San Fernando, Pampanga, the next day between four or five in the evening. There, the POWs were housed in a movie theater until December 23rd, when they were marched to the train station.
From December 24 to the 27, the POWs were held in a school house and later on a beach at San Fernando, La Union. During this time they 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 these men died.
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.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was a military headquarters for the area and most of the civilians had been moved out of it. 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 9:00 P.M., 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 guard who told the 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. 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 the "Hell Ships" the Enoura Maru or the Brazil 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 POWs from the Brazil Maru were transferred to the forward hold of the Enoura Maru. The ship came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9, 1945. While the POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, they heard the sound of ship's anti aircraft guns. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb exploded outside the forward hold, while a second bomb came through the open hatch and exploded. Together the bombs killed a total of 285 POWs. William recalled , "The American planes dropped four bombs. Three of them went into our hold. One hit the deck. You could see them coming. You just had to wait to see where they hit." William dove into the water and was later fished out by the Japanese.
The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. When the Japanese did nothing to remove the dead, the POWs stacked the bodies under the hatch so that they 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 about half the dead were removed from the hold and put on a barge. The bodies were taken to shore where the POWs tied ropes to the legs of the dead and dragged the bodies ashore. Once on shore, the bodies were buried in a mass grave on a beach.
On January 13, the surviving POWs were boarded onto a third "Hell Ship" the Brazil Maru. On the ship, the POWs found they had more room and were actually issued life jackets. The ship sailed for Japan on January 14 as part of a convoy.
The ship sailed on January 14, 1945, and arrived in Moji, Japan, on January 29, 1945. During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day. The ship also towed one or two other ships which had been damaged. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan.
As a POW in Japan, William was held at Fukuoka #4, where the POWs were housed in a former YMCA building in the North-eastern section of the city of Moji, Kyushu, Japan. There were British, Dutch, and American POWs in the camp, with the Americans being the largest group. In August 1944, another building began being used as a mess hall and officers quarters. A third building became the camp hospital. The POWs in the camp worked as stevedores on the docks of Moji, loading and unloading ships. The company that used the POWs as stevedores, on the docks, was the Kanmon Stevedoring Company. In addition, the POWs worked in the warehouse district around the Sothohama Railway Station in Moji.
The Japanese corporal in charge of clothing, Nagakura Seiso, refused to issue new clothing or repair the POWs' old clothing. The POWs worked barefooted in the cold weather resulting in many developing coughs, lung conditions, and pneumonia. The Japanese guards were seen wearing Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs.
William was picked by Gerald Foley, of the 194th, to go on a work detail. Foley was allowed to select his own workers. He picked William because he was ill. The POWs were fed better and received medicine and medical care. William believed that Foley saved his life.
When William returned to Fukuoka #4, he and the other POWs were used as stevedores on the Nagasaki docks. William recalled that one day, his group of POWs had just finished their shift and were being marched back to their camp. About six miles outside of Nagasaki, they saw a bright flash and felt a huge explosion. They had no idea that they had just survived and witnessed the atomic bomb that had bee dropped on Nagasaki. Afterwards, the guards took them back into the city where they were made to look for survivors.
William was liberated in September 1945. He was promoted to corporal and returned to the Philippine Islands for medical treatment. Boarding the U.S.S. Marine Shark, he sailed for the United States arriving at Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945. From there, he was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis.
He returned to Minnesota and was discharged on May 12, 1946. William married Bernice Bogart and was the father of two daughters and a son. He worked as a member of a road crew and for fifteen years as a heavy equipment operator at a mine.
William N. Kinler passed away on May 9, 1995, in Mount Vernon, Washington, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.