2nd Lt. Matthew Sidney MacDowell
2nd Lt. Matthew S. MacDowell was born in Addison, New York, on August 22, 1912. As a child, he and his sister grew up at 612 South 21st Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. He was the son of Matthew D. MacDowell & Dorothy MacDowell and was called "Sonny" by his family. Matthew attended Proviso Township High School and was a member of the Class of 1931. After high school he worked as a receiving clerk at a company that manufactured printer rollers.
On September 23, 1935, Matthew enlisted in the Illinois National Guard as a member of the 33rd Tank Company from Maywood. When the company was "federalized" on November 25, 1940, Matthew trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where his unit became Company B of the 192nd Tank Battalion . At Fort Knox, he was "Sergeant of the Guard." It was also there that he received word that he had been commissioned as a second lieutenant on February 11, 1941.
He next took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941. Early in October, 1941, the battalion was informed that it would take part in extended maneuvers in the Philippine Islands. The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco. Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
Upon arrival at Fort Stotsenburg, Matthew was informed that he had been attached to the 194th Tank Battalion along with D Company from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Together the two battalions formed the Provisional Tank Group under the command of General J. R. Weaver.
After the Japanese invaded the Philippines, Matthew and the other members of his company fought a slowing action to disrupt the Japanese time table of conquest. On December 12, 1941, Matthew and his tanks were ordered north toward Lingayen Gulf to cover the troop withdrawal. His company would play leap frog with the Japanese until December 23rd. Near the town of Urdanta, Matthew was transferred back to Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion and rejoined his old platoon. Matthew recalled that the men of the platoon loved to play jokes, get into fights, and drink beer.
The platoon was constantly on the move which resulted in the chow truck not being able to find them at times. Despite this, the men of the platoon always seem to eat well. The one thing Matthew never did was ask where the food came from. His platoon's job at this time was to guard the beach against a possible Japanese landing. It was at this time that the platoon met up with a SPM outfit which had a good supply of canned food. Matthew and his men ate well once again.
It was during this time that Matthew and his platoon had to go through the town of Gapan. After they got through the town, they were informed it had been held by the Japanese. Matthew could never figure out how the Japanese had missed them.
On January 1, 1942, somewhere near Baliug, there was a bridge that Matthew's platoon and the platoon of Lt. Bill Gentry of Company C were ordered to hold. The two platoons saw movement on the other side of the bridge and opened fire. Later they learned that they had knocked out several Japanese tanks. Matthew's platoon was ordered to Bataan leaving Lt. Gentry's platoon holding the bridge.
On January 3, Matthew's platoon arrived in a bivouac area but had to move three days later when the Japanese got too close. His platoon was then sent to Mariveles and would not see the other tankers of the 192nd until the fall of Bataan. Matthew was told to camouflage his tanks and cover the beach and the air strip. His platoon did such a good job of hiding their tanks that when Col. Ted Wickord came looking for them, he could not find them.
Around February 5, Matthew and his men befriended two engineering officers who knew a Chief Petty Officer from the sub-tender Canopus. One night the CPO asked Matthew and his men aboard the ship for supper. Matthew recalled the meal was magnificent. The men had a complete steak dinner from food that had been meant for the submarines which were long gone.
In a letter dated February 27, 1942, Matthew encouraged his mother not to worry about him. In the letter he said.
"There isn't an awful lot that I can say because of strict censorship of mail. I don;t know when you will get this, if you get it at all, but please don't worry about me as it won't do any good. Now, if you don't hear from me, it's all right because under these conditions it is hard to get mail and of anything should happen to be you'll be notified.
"I took out some government insurance, making a total of $10,000. So I'm O. K. in that respect."
He commented on possessions he left behind at Clark Field.
" Gee, when I think of all that stuff I more than likely lost, it makes me feel pretty bad. And then when I think of having to buy it all over again I feel downright sick. It must be my Scotch blood."
He also commented on the life of a soldier on Bataan.
"This outdoor life isn't so bad, but I'm afraid it will kill my taste for picnics."
He closed the letter with these words:
"Well, I guess this is all for now, so will close. Give my regards o everyone you see and to the family I send love.
Your loving son,
In another letter dated March 13, 1942, Matthew once again attempted to assure his family not to worry. He said:
"Just a few lines to let you know I'm O. K. You aren't worrying about me?"
In his third letter dated March 26, and written on a postcard, Matthew talked about running out of smoking materials:
" I'm out of paper and this will have to do. Not much that I can say.
" Cigarettes are hard to get, although I manage to get enough. Pipe tobacco and cigars are just impossible to get. I started out with one pipe, broke it, and got another and lost that. Finally, got one more but now I have no tobacco.
"I save my butts and smoke them. Had a box of cigars when the war stared but in the past few weeks, or rather the last two months, I have had three. Will have to start another pipe collection when I get home.
"Gee, I wish I knew how you were. I hear we have mail some place. Hope to get it soon. Also I have a package with pipe, tobacco, cigars and something to eat in it."
He also joked about the drinking:
"I haven't had a drink since he first week in January. Am I reforming! I am growing a mustache. Wonder how you will like it?
Well, this is all for now. Write soon, and if you wish, send me some of my pipes and some tobacco. Hope you are all well.
On April 8, 1942, Major Nelson, of Gen. Weaver's staff, came and told Matthew and his men that Bataan was going to be surrendered. Matthew and his men had a meeting. They destroyed their tanks, took their Tommy-guns and all the ammunition they could carry into the hills. Matthew and his men made their way to the beach and found an old tugboat. On it, they made their escape to Corregidor.
How they made it through the mine fields was something that Matthew could never explain. When they reached the dock, they were met by Col. Carlos Ramouls and were sent to a cave. The next morning Matthew was attached to the Fourth Marines and sent topside to take over a defensive position. He would remain there until May 6, 1942.
Matthew recalled that all the men on Corregidor sat and waited for the end to come. There was no place for them to go and it was just a matter of time. M/Sgt. Ralph W. Pope, from the engineers, found a seagoing tugboat which they stocked with food and fuel. The men spent their time getting it ready to leave the island. The day before the men were to leave, the Japanese bombed Corregidor and sank the tugboat. Matthew had a good cry that night.
The Japanese landed on Corregidor on May 5, 1942, the next day Matthew and the other men were informed that it was all over and that they were Prisoners of War. Matthew recalled that the men did not know what to expect from the Japanese. They were ordered to report to the Radio Tunnel. The Japanese came and ordered the Americans to bury the dead and take their dog tags.
After the surrender, Matthew and the other prisoners remained on Corregidor for two weeks. During this time, the POWs worked a detail collecting the dead. Matthew recalled that the Japanese combat soldiers were a lot more respectful to the American soldiers. He told of how he watched a Japanese soldier make a cross for the grave of a Marine, place a jug of water in it, and step back and salute. When the detail ended, Matthew and the other prisoners were placed on landing barges and made to jump off the barges near the shore off Manila.
The POWs marched to Bilibid Prison where they were able to get equipment like mess-gear, clothes and blankets. They were taken to San Fernando and stayed in an old school house for two days.
Next, the POWs were loaded into box cars and moved to Cabanatuan. 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 later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1. When this was done, Matthew met the survivors of the death march. The death march survivors told them of the brutality shown to the Filipino and American soldiers as they made their way from Bataan to Camp O'Donnell. They also learned that all full-colonels and generals had been sent to Tarlac.
As a prisoner in Cabanatuan, Matthew worked in the rice fields planting and cultivating rice plants. Since clothing was a major concern of the prisoners, when a POW died, they would strip him of his clothes and wash them in hot water. They would bury the dead prisoner naked. The POW as a person was almost forgotten by his fellow prisoners who were concerned with dividing up his belongings so that they could continue to live. Matthew wondered what the people back home would think of him and his fellow prisoners and how hard and cynical they had become as human beings.
In October 27, 1942 was taken to Manila. The next day, October 28, Matthew was sent to Davao, Mindanao, in the southern Philippines on the Erie Maru. During the voyage, the ship stopped at Hoilo and Cebu before arrived at Lasang, Mindanao. The trip was rough and the prisoners spent most of it locked in the hold of the ship. When they arrived at Lasang, the POWs had to march to Davao. The prisoners were worried after hearing the stories of the death march. As it turned out, this fear was unfounded. The worst part of this march was the fact that the POWs had to keep moving. The camp Matthew was sent to had once been a prison for political prisoners.
After he arrived at Davao, Matthew entering a barracks and recalled falling asleep fully clothed. It was there that the prisoners were told that if one man escaped, ten POWs would be killed because the man escaped. This was the beginning of the "Blood Brother" rule.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
By now, Matthew had lost about forty pounds due to the lack of food, not having proper medication, beriberi, yellow jaundice and several attacks of malaria. About this time the POWs began to receive better treatment. The food also improved and they did receive some medicines.
The prisoners were also informed that they would be paid if they worked. The pay was ten pesos or five American dollars a month. The Japanese did open a commissary were the prisoners could buy things. Matthew would buy tobacco by the handful and was taught by a Filipino how to roll cigars. He became pretty good at rolling them.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25.
During the trip, the POWs spent the entire time in the hold of the ships. Some of the men died days before their fellow prisoners knew that they were dead. The prisoners arrived in Manila on June 17th and were returned to Cabanatuan where they found that there was no food or medical supplies.
In September 1944, Matthew was sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila. He recalled the entire trip was by truck and that he stood the entire way. By the time he arrived at Bilibid, his legs were swollen because he was suffering from wet beriberi. At the same time, he began running a fever due to another attack of malaria. Matthew was very sick and now weighed only 102 pounds and had a total of fifteen malaria attacks during his time in captivity.
At Bilibid, Matthew was assigned to a work detail at a warehouse. He was smoking a cigarette when a Japanese guard ordered him to carry a bucket of water across the warehouse. The POWs were not allowed to smoke in the warehouse, so Matthew put out the cigarette but kept it since cigarettes were hard to get. An enraged guard pulled the butt from his hand and stuffed it, ashes still hot, in his ear. "My first reaction was to throw the water at him. It's lucky I didn't. I would have been shot on the spot."
One of the most difficult things for Matthew was the soldiers who went blind because of the lack of vitamins. The American doctors had no idea if they would regain their vision when their diets improved. He recalled that on Navy chaplain spent his days reading to these POWs. Matthew held this chaplain with high regard.
When the Japanese got ready to ship the prisoners to Japan, a Japanese doctor determined that Matthew was too ill to be sent to Japan and that he would not last much longer. He was admitted to the hospital ward with dengue fever and was not discharged until November 11, 1944. As it turned out, this medical decision would save Matthew's life. The ship that Matthew would have been on was the Arisan Maru. On October 24, the ship was torpedoed by an American submarine resulting in the deaths of 1803 POWs.
Matthew would remain in Bilibid until he was liberated by American troops in February 1945. Before the Japanese abandoned the prison, the commanding officer warned the POWs not to leave the prison. Early in the morning, the wood that was covering one of the windows was smashed in. The the prisoners saw men in strange uniforms. They thought these soldiers were Germans. It was only when they spoke that the men realized that these were American soldiers.
Matthew was one the first members of Company B to be freed from a Japanese POW camp. When he was liberated, he was carried from the prison on a stretcher. During his time as a POW he had beriberi and malaria. He recalled that after American troops had entered the prison, "There wasn't a dry eye in the house."
After liberation, Matthew was sent to Australia to recuperate. During his stay, on May 22, 1945, that he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He was next sent to a Veterans' Hospital in California where he had the chance to call home. He kept asking his mother to speak to his dad. His mother, not wanting tell him that his dad had died from a heart attack on April 6, 1942, kept changing the subject. She finally told him his dad was dead. To her surprise, Matt told her that he has had men die in his arms and at his feet, and he was now able to take almost anything.
After returning to the U.S., Matthew asked to be sent back to the Philippines to fight the Japanese. He said, "We did a lot of catching. Now, I want to do some throwing." When the announcement of the Japanese surrender was made on August 15, 1945, he said, "I'm awfully glad it's over, but for many it will be filled with heartbreaks. Many folks have been living in hopes that their 'missing son' will turn up alive. Now they may find that he has died."
Matthew remained in the army and rose in rank to Captain. He served in the Korean War and retired from the military in 1960. Matthew married, raised a family, and spent the rest of his life in Hillside, Illinois.
Matthew S. MacDowell passed away on December 31, 1985, in Hillside, Illinois. He was buried at Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois.