| Sgt. Forrest K. Knox was born on November 29, 1917, in Monroe, Wisconsin, to Ross V. & Nina Knox. Along with his brothers, Henry and Ross, he was raised at 1408 Third Street, Janesville, and later he lived in Beloit, Wisconsin, at 2229 Riverside Drive. He owned his own contracting company and did carpentry work. |
Forrest was always fascinated with planes and had built a model of one that he wanted to fly. Since the winter weather in Janesville was not conducive to flying the plane, Forrest used the auditorium in the Janesville Armory to fly it.
One day after flying the plane, he went into the basement of the armory and saw a guardsman working on a tank. At that moment, he decided that he wanted to learn how to drive a tank. This decision would lead him to joining the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard in January 1938.
Forrest believed that the National Guard was like a social club. The members got together for dances and other social activities. If a soldier wanted a promotion, all he had to do is attend a non-commissioned officer class one evening a week. The soldier then would be promoted to corporal and possibly sergeant. In addition, the soldier would earn sixty dollars a month.
In the fall of 1940, the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal duty as A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. While at Fort Knox, the guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in newly built barracks. In Forrest's opinion, this was partially due to the fact that the soldiers of the regular army did not like the guardsmen because they drilled too hard and went on maneuvers two or three times a week. The regular army soldiers, in Forrest's opinion, viewed being in the army as a job. The one thing that Forrest believed the training at Fort Knox taught the members of the tank battalion was to never attack anti-tank guns straight ahead.
After training at Fort Knox, the 192nd was sent on maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st through 30th. From there, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where Forrest and the other members of the battalion were informed that they were being sent overseas.
The decision to send the 192nd overseas - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The move to the Philippines was suppose to be "top secret," but it was posted all over the camp in the barracks' day rooms on bulletin boards. The notices stated that the 192nd was accepting volunteers for duty in the Philippine Islands. The reason for the notices was that those members of the battalion who had been considered "too old" had been released from federal service.
It was at this time that each letter company of the 192nd received 16, M-3 Stewart tanks. The tanks were "new" to the 192nd but came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The tanks were loaded onto flat cars and the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island. There, they received their shots, from the battalion's medical detachment, and were kept in quarantine on the island. It was Forrest's opinion that this "quarantine" was done to prevent the soldiers from going AWOL. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while 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 tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd 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 the S. S. Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed; when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by 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 had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times.
Forrest and his tank crew spent over two weeks preparing their tank for use in the training that had been promised. He recalled that on the morning of the Japanese attack on Clark Field, he had cleaned ten tank cannons of cosmoline.
The morning of December 8, the pilots, flying reconnaissance out of Clark Field, told Forrest and the other tankers that the war was on. At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky. They landed at noon, to be refueled, and lined up near the mess hall while the pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes. When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese. Forrest stood on his tank and counted the planes three times to make sure he had the number correct.
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.
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. When A Company's tanks were ordered to move north to engage the Japanese, Forrest's tank ended up in irrigation ditch because his driver did not see the sharp curve in the road. It turned out his tank driver suffered from night blindness.
That night the soldiers had slept their last night in a bed. For protection, they slept under their tanks or in them.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where 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, it was sent to rejoin the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion 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 27th.
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. In January the food rations were cut in half. Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers.
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.tanks were often the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as American and Filipino units withdrew toward Bataan.
The night of January 7, 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.
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 27, 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. They also took part in the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January 23 to February 17 - to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. 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 a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
Forrest recalled that the members of the 192nd went into combat with no prior experience of firing their tanks' cannons. They also did not know how to adjust the gun sights. It was his belief that when they were issued the "new" tanks that no one expected that they would actually have to fire the guns.
Forrest took part in several engagements with the Japanese. Forrest recalled that one of the biggest problems with the tanks was the fact that they were riveted not welded. When the tanks took a hit from enemy fire, the rivets would "pop" and injure the crew. The hinges on the driver's door would also blow off and the door would end up in the driver's lap. After the Philippine and American defenders withdrew from their first line of defense, Forrest and other soldiers knew that the battle they were fighting would be lost.
During an engagement with the Japanese, Forrest witnessed how poorly the American tanks were built. A direct hit to the driver's door of a tank resulted in the door being blown off. While the crew was abandoning the tank, 1st. Lt. William Reed was killed by enemy fire.
While at a roadblock at Urdaneta, Forrest's tank crew watched as Filipino troops pulled up in buses. The officer in command was having trouble getting the men to leave he buses. A shot rang out and within moments the buses were empty.
Another problem Forrest witnessed was that supplies were often left behind by those assigned to move them. The truck drivers often drove their trucks into Bataan empty. The tankers had enough ammunition, almost enough gas, but they did not have enough food or quinine. He believed that the Japanese could have just sat at the north end of the Bataan Peninsula and watched the Filipinos and Americans starve to death. By doing this, the Japanese would have saved themselves casualties. For the Bataan defenders, the worst thing they had to deal with was the constant harassment by the Japanese. The defenders simply could not get away from it.
To prevent the Japanese from landing troops behind American lines, A Company and the other tank companies were put on coast watching duty. At night, he would ride up and down the coastline, in Abel Ortega's half-track, looking for Japanese troops attempting to land.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
Bataan, in Forrest's opinion, was no place for people to live because of the diseases found there. American soldiers would not take the quinine they were given because it tasted bad. They ended up with malaria and died from it.
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 4, 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.
Gen. Edward King facing the reality that only about 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight and most likely would last one more day. It was at this time that he decided to send his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender since he wanted to avoid the slaughter of 6000 wounded and sick troops and 40000 civilians. At 10:30, these orders were given, "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."
When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese by sending his staff officers to meet with them that night. At 11:40, the ammunition dumps were blown up.
On April 9, 1942, Forrest became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered. At kilometer post 201, the tankers circled their tanks and shot an anti-tank round into each tank. They flooded the tanks with gas and set them on fire. After this was done they waited for orders to move.
Forrest and the other members of A Company started the death march at Miraveles. Fearing retribution because their tanks had been used to wipe out pockets of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Bataan, Forrest and the other tankers would not identify themselves as tank battalion members. On several occasions, Forrest said that he was a cook.
Forrest would always try to march near the front of the column. His reason for doing this was that as he grew weaker the longer he marched, the column would gradually start to pass him. By the time he had fallen to the end of the column, he had regained his strength and was able to continue marching. He believed that doing this saved his life on the death march.
The column that Forrest was in marched ten days before they received their first food. The rice being fed to the prisoners was being given out from a large pot as the Americans marched passed. Right before Forrest reached the pot the Japanese ran out of rice. They went to the side of the road to refill the pot, but by the time they returned to their position, Forrest was ten men beyond their position.
Forrest also believed that the Japanese intentionally caused many of the POWs to get ill from drinking water from the ditches alongside the road. The Japanese would kill anyone who attempted to get water from the artesian wells along the march. But, they never stopped or attempted to kill a prisoner who took water from a ditch.
At San Fernando, Forrest and the other POWs were crammed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as "forty or eights" because each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 men into each car and closed the doors. They were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he would continue standing even though he was dead. At Capas, the living left the boxcars and walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base which the Japanese pressed the camp 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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to 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.
During his time in the camp, it seemed that one of the guards had it out for Forrest. The guard would single him out and hit him across the knees. Why the guard did this was somewhat of a mystery to Forest until he realized that the guard could speak English. The beatings were in response to his cursing at the guard.
Forrest went out a work detail to retrieve destroyed American equipment as scrap metal. The POWs tied the vehicles together and drove them to San Fernando. From there the vehicles were shipped to Manila.
When this detail ended, Forrest was sent on a detail to Manila. On this detail, he drove a truck carrying building supplies to POWs who were rebuilding the bridges, airfields and roads. With him on the detail were Lloyd Richter, Owen Sandmire and Alva Chapman. The POWs were treated fairly well on the detail and lived in a shoe factory.
When this detail ended Forrest was sent to Cabanatuan when the detail ended sometime in 1943. The POWs were allowed to run the camp's administration. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. By the time he arrived in the camp the death rate among the POWs had dropped significantly since Red Cross packages had been given out during Christmas 1942, and the slit trenches that allowed disease to spread had been replaced with boxed latrines.
To prevent escapes, the POWs had 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.
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 barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens, but the two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant "wet rice." During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The farm detail was under a Japanese guard known as "Big Speedo" because he was taller than most of the Japanese. He knew very little English and used the word "Speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster. Overall, the POWs felt he treated them fairly and did not abuse them. There was also a smaller Japanese guard known as "Little Speedo," who was fair to the POWs. Smiley was another guard who the POWs quickly learned not to trust. He always had a smile on his face, but he was mean and beat the POWs for no apparent reason.
The POWs cleared the area and planted comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens. The Japanese used most of the food for themselves. When the POWs arrived at the farm, they would enter a shed. As they came out, it was common for them to be hit over the heads by the guards.
The Japanese wanted an airfield for their fighters, so the POWs were given the job of constructing it. The POWs leveled the land and moved dirt. At first, they used wheelbarrows to move the soil, but when this became inefficient, mining cars and track were brought in, and the POWs loaded the cars and pushed them to where the dirt was being dumped.
The POWs also worked planting rice. While doing this, one the favorite punishments was for a guard to push a man's face into the mud. Once his head was in the mud, the guard would step on his head to drive it deeper. Other details did go out, but usually lasted a few days. Major details, of hundreds of men, left the camp and worked on projects that lasted years. When, due to illness or death, details became depleted, more POWs left the camp for details as replacements.
Deaths among the POWs had greatly been reduced when Forrest was sent to Cabanatuan. After returning to the camp, according to medical records, he was hospitalized on April 5, 1943, but no date of discharge was given. At some point, he was sent out as a replacement to Las Pinas. The detail was so brutal that the number of POWs who died while on it was extremely high.
In September 1943, Forrest was sent on a detail digging trenches and building an airfield at Nichols Field. His POW detachment brought the number of POWs on the detail up to 800 men. He recalled that men on this detail often paid other prisoners a pack of cigarettes to break their arms or to injure them in some way. In his opinion, this was the worse camp he was held in. "It was run by the same bunch who had charge of Nichols Field and Camp O'Donnell. After awhile the Japs stopped being completely unmerciful. They discovered that if you put a man in the hospital , he can't work any more."
The detail was under the control of the Japanese Navy and welfare of the POWs was of no concern to them. They only concern they had was getting the runway built. If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and select men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury. Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work.
The POWs were divided into two detachments. The first detachment drained rice paddies and laid the ground work for the runway, while the second detachment built the runway. When most of the work was done in July 1944, most of the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan. Forrest was one of 300 men that remained at the airfield.
On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were working, they saw American diver bombers. This was the first time they had seen American planes since the surrender of Bataan. Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused the POWs to cheer. The next day the detail was ended. Forrest and the other prisoners were sent to Bilibid Prison to prepare for transport to Japan. In his own words, "The Yank planes followed us all the way from the Philippines. Shortly after we left Los Banos in September 1944, the yanks moved in; we got to Formosa and the big fellows came over, and finally they were over Tokyo itself."
On October 1, 1944, Forrest was sent to the Port Area of Manila as part of Company II. The ship they were scheduled to sail on, the Arisan Maru, wasn't ready to sail. Another ship, the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail but not all the POWs scheduled to sail on it had arrived at the pier. So that the ship could sail, the Japanese flipped POW detachments. The original ship, the Arisan Maru, that Forrest was scheduled to sail on was sunk in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea on October 24, 1944. Only nine POWs on the ship, out almost 1800, survived.
After the POWs boarded, the ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater, where it remained for three days. The temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy causing the Japanese to threaten to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando, La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks but this failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk by an American submarine.
The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa so they sailed for Hong Kong. On the trip there, they received word that American planes were in the area. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th. Forrest recalled of the trip, "Of 18 transports which began the trip six got to Formosa, and we were on-board one of the lucky ones."
On November 8, the POWs were taken off the ship and sent to Toroku POW Camp on Formosa. At the camp, Forrest and the other POWs worked in rice fields. In the water, were microscopic freshwater snails. If the snails got into a man's bloodstream, they would lodge in the brain. The POWs who were infected with the snails would scream in agony. The other POWs would fight to hold them down until the man passed out. Any soldier who had these symptoms died within 24 hours.
Forrest was held on Formosa for three months. During this time, he also worked in a sugar mill and on a farm. In his opinion, this was the easiest work he did as a prisoner. He recalled that the guards on this detail were reasonable and treated the POWs decently. "I wasn't able to find out, in my nine weeks there, what they were doing with the sugar, they just kept shifting it back and forth."
On January 25, 1945, he was boarded onto the Enoshima Maru. During the trip, the POWs were in a hold with a cargo of hemp. Some of the POWs discovered that beneath the hemp were bags of sugar and cans of tomatoes. The men helped themselves to the tomatoes.
The worst part of the trip was the stench in the hold of the ship which was terrible and many prisoners died or went crazy. Those who died suffocated because they were too weak and could not stand up. Forrest believed what saved his life was that he cooled himself down by using his army hat as a fan. Over the years, he would never forget this experience; He simply learned to tolerate it.
Forrest arrived in Japan at the City of Moji on January 30 and the POWs were taken to a schoolhouse. Outside the school, the POWs stripped off their clothes because they were infested with lice. The Japanese deloused them.
The POWs later were taken to the train station where they rode a train to various camps along the line. In Forrest's case, he was held in a held at Osaka #8, which was opened on February 2, 1945, for the POWs. The POWs worked at the Showa Dekyo Company where they made electric carbon rods which was extremely dirty. On May 29, 1945, the area surrounding the camp was bombed by American planes. Due to the amount of damage, the POWs were moved to Tokaing on the west coast of Japan, where he worked on the docks in a new camp which was named Nagoya #9. The camp opened on May 29, 1945, and the POWs arrived the same day. They lived in two barracks which had dirt floors. The barracks had 100 feet long and 24 feet wide, with two tiers of platforms around the perimeter of each building. The POWs were given straw mats to sleep on, on the platforms. A 8 foot wide aisle ran down the center of the barracks. A ten foot high fence encircled the camp.
There was no real hospital building and one end of the barracks were used for this purpose. There was room for 20 POWs, but everyday, there were as many as 100 sick POWs. The hospital was manned by an American doctor, who was a dentist, four American medics, and one Japanese medic.
Men would wear out from being overworked and underfed. Then pneumonia took over and the men died in a couple of days. Their bodies would be put in a four by four by two foot box. It had handles that allowed it to be carried. A Buddhist priest from the village walked ahead of the procession in his white and gold robes. When the remains were returned to the camp, they were in a four by four by twelve inch box. The man's name and serial number were on the box. The box was kept by the camp commandant in his office.
Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick. The sick were beaten with shovels to get them to do work that they were too sick to do. They also had their meal rations reduced.
The meals of the POWs were primarily wheat, rice, and soybeans with some vegetables like onions and daikon a Japanese beet. They had fish, either fried or in a soup, every ten days. Their food was performed by six POWs who also prepared the POWs lunches that they took with them to work.
Most of the POWs walked three quarters of a mile and worked on the docks loading and unloading coal, rice, and beans. While working they received a hour lunch and two half hour rest periods. A work day started about 7:30 A.M. and ended at 4:30 P.M. When there was a lot of work, POWs returned to the docks and worked from 7:00 P.M. until midnight. 100 POWs worked in the camp garden.
Collective punishment was a common occurrence in the camp and involved stealing rice or beans. When one POW broke a camp rule, all the POWs were punished. On one occasion, for 7 days, the POWs were denied coal, in the middle of winter, because someone had broken a rule. 15 POWs were accused of stealing rice from sacks that they were unloading from a ship. Once they returned to the camp, they were forced to kneel for from an 1½ to 5 hours to get them to confess. Six of the fifteen men confessed and the others were fed and sent to their barracks.
When the camp commandant left the camp at 8:30 that evening, all the POWs were called from the barracks by the second in command and ordered to stand at attention. They were then beaten with pick axe handles, rope, that was about 3 inches thick and five feet long, clubs, and farrison belts across the buttocks, face, and legs. Kicking was also a frequent method of punishment.
When the POWs passed out, they were either thrown into a large tub of water, with their hands and feet bound, or they had water poured on them until they revived. They once again had to stand at attention as the beating continued for a total of 3 hours. One POW counted that he received 150 blows to his face and 20 on his buttocks.
The Japanese denied the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and other items sent to the camp by the Red Cross. Instead of giving these things to the POWs, the Japanese pilfered the items for their own use. The guards were seen wearing shoes sent by the Red Cross for the POWs.
Forrest remained a prisoner in Japan until he was liberated by American troops occupying Japan at the end of the war. According to Forrest, "We were working when the big news came. You could see by the looks on the Japs' faces that it was true and that they were glad enough to quit." He was sent back to the Philippines were he was reunited with his brother, Henry. This was the first time the two brothers had seen each other in three and one half years.
Forrest returned to the United States, on the Simon Bolivar, arriving on October 21, 1945, at San Francisco. He was sent to Letterman General Hospital, in San Francisco, for further treatment.
Forrest spent much of 1946 at Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, because the army had a difficult time of curing him of his hookworm. He was discharged from the army on November 11, 1946. For the rest of his life, he carried anger toward the military for what he saw as betrayal which led him to be a POW.
Forrest returned to Wisconsin and married and worked as a mechanic to support his family of six children. The "ghosts" from his POWs days remained with him his entire life. He divorced, remarried, and lived in Janesville the rest of his life. He passed away on September 5, 1985, in the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville.