Pvt. Melvin R. Madero was
born in San Antonio, Texas, on August 5, 1920, to Manuel F.
& Mary Madero. He had a sister and a
brother. A few months later his family moved to Salinas,
California. It is known what happened, but he
became the foster son of Martin & Florence
Besterio. Melvin attended local schools and was a
1939 graduate of Salinas High School. While in high
school, he worked as a doorman at the local
theater. After high school, he worked as a repairman for the
local telephone company.
Melvin enlisted in the California National Guard on October 10, 1940, and was inducted into
federal service on February 10, 1941, as a member of C Company, 194th Tank Battalion. He trained at Fort
Lewis, Washington for over six months when his battalion was selected to be sent overseas.
On August 15, 1941, from Ft.
Knox, Kentucky, the 194th received orders for duty in the
Philippine Islands 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 plane
and flew south to Mariveles and then returned 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 next day, 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
In September 1941, the 194th,
minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California,
for transport to the Philippine Islands.
Arriving, by train, at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, they were taken
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and
inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment. Those men found with medical conditions were
The tankers boarded the
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th
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 13th 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 a heavy cruiser,
and an unknown destroyer that 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 ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date
changed to Thursday, September 18. They 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.
The battalion rode buses to
Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and
Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the
barracks for them had not been completed. They were
met by General Edward P. King, commanding
officer of the fort who made sure they had what they
needed. On November 15th, they moved into their
On December 1, the 194th was
ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was
to protect the northern half of the airfield from
paratroopers. The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived
in November guarded the southern half. Two crew
men remained with the tanks at all times and received their
meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8,
1941, the battalion was brought up to full strength at the
perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese
paratroopers. Just hours early, the Japanese had bombed
Pearl Harbor. As the tankers guarded the
airfield, they watched American planes flying in every
direction. At noon the planes landed, to be
refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. It was 12:45, and
as the tankers watched, a formation of 54 planes
approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began
exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes
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.
The night of the 12/13, 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 13th.
It was at this time that C Company was ordered to support forces in southern
Luzon. The company proceeded through Manila. Since they had no air cover, most of their movements
were at night. As they moved, they noticed lights blinking or flares being shot into the air. They
arrived at the Tagaytay Ridge and spent time their attempting to catch 5th columnists.
They remained in the area until December 24, when they moved over the Taal Road to San
Tomas and bivouacked near San Paolo and assisted in operations in the Pagbilao-Lucban Area supporting the
Philippine Army. One of the most dangerous things the tanks did was cross bridges with a ten ton weight
limit. Each tank weight 14 tons, so they crossed the bridges one tank at a time. On the 30, the
company supported the withdrawal of the Philippine Army south of San Fernando on Route 3 and rejoined the
battalion on December 31.
The tanks withdrew through San Fernando at 2:00 A.M. on January 2, and fell back to the
Lyac Junction. The two tank battalions were holding a line between Culis and Hermosa. The tanks withdrew
from the line the night of the 6/7. While doing this, the maintenance section of the battalions repaired
abandoned trucks to use to haul food and the gasoline caches they found and bring it into Bataan. That
night, the 194th crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek, covered by the 192nd, and entered Bataan.
The company, with A Co., 192nd
Tank Battalion, withdrew from the Guagua-Perac Line to
Remedio where they established a new defensive line on
January 5. That afternoon, C Company, supported by
four self-propelled mounts stopped a Japanese advance
which kept the road open for withdrawing forces.
The next night, the tanks were
holding the line when the Japanese attempted to
infiltrate under a bright moon. The tanks opened
fire resulting in the Japanese losing half of their
troops. In an attempt to cover their advance,
the Japanese used smoke which blew back on them. The
battle lasted until the Japanese broke off the attack
at 3:00 in the morning. After this, there was a two
day lull in the fighting.
A Composite tank company was formed from the tank battalions and given the job of
protecting the East road north to Hermosa. This was a dangerous job since the tanks were in range of
Japanese artillery. The other tanks were ordered to a bivouac south of the Abubucay-Hacienda Line.
The tanks formed a new bivouac
just south of the Pilar-Bagao Road and had a few days
rest. While they rested, 17th Ordnance and the
maintenance sections of the battalion did long overdue work
on the tanks. Also around this time, the tank
companies were reduced to ten tanks so that tanks could be
given to D Company, 192nd, which had lost its tanks
after a bridge had been destroyed before they had crossed it.
C Company and D Company, 192nd,
were sent to the Cadre Road on the 12 but returned on
the 13 because ordnance had planted landmines which
made reaching the road impossible. C Company was sent
to Bagac, on the 16, to reopen the West Highway Road
that had been cut by the Japanese, so troops trapped behind
the road block could escape. A platoon of tanks
at the Moron Highway and Trail 162 knocked out an anti-tank
gun, and with the help of infantry, cleared the
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen.
"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."
Both tank battalions held a line along the Balanga-Cardre Road-Banobano Road, so that
other units could withdraw which was completed by midnight. They held the line until the night of the
26th/27th when they withdrew and formed a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Road.
In a letter home he said,
"There just aren't any free passes to this show, and we reserve the right to chose our
At about 9:45 A.M., a Filipino civilian came down the road and warned the tankers that a
Japanese force was on its way. The tanks, with four SPMs opened up on the Japanese when they
appeared. The fighting lasted 45 minutes when the Japanese withdrew having suffered 50 percent
casualties. This action prevented the Japanese from overrunning the new defensive line which was still
The tank battalions were given
beach duty so that the Japanese could not land troops
behind the main line of defense. The half-tracks
of the battalions patrolled the roads. At 2:50 A.M.,
a Japanese motorized unit was head coming down the
road with its lead vehicle having dimmed headlights. The
194th had a roadblock in place with guns aimed at
various angles. When they opened up, they caused heavy
damage to the Japanese column.
It was also at this time that the tank battalions, without orders, took on the job of
protecting three airfields. The airfields had been built so a rebuilt Air Corps would have places to
land. About the same time, the fighting on Bataan came to a standstill since the Japanese troops were
exhausted and suffering from the same tropical illnesses as the defenders. To end the stalemate, the
Japanese brought in fresh troops from Singapore.
The Japanese lunched an all out offensive on April 3 breaking through the line of
defense held by II Corps. The 194th moved its companies to support the defenders along the line from the
East Coast Road and to the west. The tanks repeatedly were sent to areas where the Japanese had broken
through which was difficult to do since the roads were clogged with retreating vehicles.
It was at this time that the tank battalion commanders received this order
, "You will make plans, to be communicated to
company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy
within one hour after receipt by radio, or other
means, of the word 'CRASH,' all tanks and combat
vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios:
reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as
General Edward King announced
at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result
in the massacre of 6000 sick and wounded and 40,000
civilians. He also estimated that less than 25% of his
troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and
would hold out for one more day. He ordered his staff
officers to negotiate terms of surrender.
Between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M. on April 9, 1942, the order
was issued. The tankers destroyed their
tanks and waited for orders from the Japanese. The
members of the 194th were ordered the next day, to
move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which
was at kilometer marker 168.2.
At 7:00 P.M. on the 10, the
POWs were ordered to march. They made their way from
the former command post, and at first found the walk
difficult. When they reached the main road, walking
became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given
an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00
A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M.,
where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before
marching again at 9:00.
During this part of the march
to reach the main road out of Bataan, the POWs noted
that they were treated well by the Japanese who were
combat hardened troops. Their guards were
surprised that they had surrendered and treated them
fairly well. It was at Limay that the treatment they
received would change.
When the POWs reached Limay,
officers with ranks of major or higher, were separated
from the enlisted men and the lower ranking
officers. The higher ranking officers were put on trucks and
driven to Balanga from where they march north to
Orani. The lower ranking officers and enlisted men
reached the barrio later in the day having march
through Abucay and Samal.
At 6:30 in the evening, the
POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.
Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but
this time they were marched at a faster pace and were
given few breaks. When they did receive a
break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to
When they were north of
Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march
easier. At some point, they received an hour
break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with
a bayonet. After the break, they were marched
through Layac and Lurao. It was at this time that a
heavy shower took place and many of the men opened
their mouths in an attempt to get water.
The men were marched until
they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were
herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and
put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group
went to the cooking area which was next to the
latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among
the men. Water was given out in a
similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water
The Japanese organized the POWs into detachments of 100 men. From the compound,
they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as
"forty or eights."
Each boxcar could hold forty men or
eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car
and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in
so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor.
At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who
had died - during the trip - fell to the floors of the
cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino
civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
The POWs marched eight
kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished
Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put into use as
a POW camp on April 1, 1942. They believed the camp
could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When the
POWs arrived at the camp, they were searched and anyone found
with Japanese money were separated from the other
POWs and sent to the guardhouse. These POWs were
accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese
soldiers. Over several days, gunshots were heard coming
from southeast of the camp as they were executed.
The Japanese also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried with them and
refused to return it. Since there was no water to wash their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled
clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
There was only one water
faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2½ to 8
hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guard
in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason,
and the next man in line would have to wait up to
four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking
food had to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess
kits could not be cleaned.
Since most of the POWs had
dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in
flies being everywhere in the camp including the
camp kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no
water, soap, or disinfectant which also caused
diseases to spread. When the ranking American doctor
presented a letter with the medicines and medical
supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander,
Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write
another letter. He also said that the only thing he
wanted to know about the POWs were their names and
serial numbers after they died.
The Archbishop of
Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but
the Japanese refused to let it into the camp.
When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a
Japanese lieutenant that they could set up an 150
bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the
lieutenant. Medicines sent to the camp by the
Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own
The POWs called the hospital "Zero Ward" because most of the men who entered
it never came out alive. The Japanese were so afarid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed
wire fence up around it. The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were
performed with knives from mess kits. Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was
healthy enough to perform his duties.
Each morning, the POWs walked
around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and
placed them under the hospital building. To
clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the
ground, put down lime to sterilize the ground,
moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the
bodies had been. It took two to three days to
bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk,
went out on a work detail for the day such as the one
collected wood for the POW kitchen. Some POWs
went out on work details which lasted for months to get out
of the camp. The worse detail a man could be
put on was the burial detail. On this detail, two POWs
carried a dead man to the camp cemetery. Once
there, they put the body in a grave and held the body down
with a pole, since the water table was high, and
covered it with dirt. The next morning, when the burials
resumed, the dead were often sitting up or had been
dug up by wild dogs.
To get out of the camp, Melvin volunteered to go out on the bridge building detail which was
under the command of Col. Ted Wickord, who had been the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank
Battalion. The detail's job was to rebuild the bridges that the retreating Filipino and
American forces had destroyed as they fell back into Bataan.
The POWs first worked at Calaun, where they were amazed by the concern shown for them by
the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them
medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
It appears Melvin became ill
while out on the detail and was sent to Cabanatuan.
In the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the
camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they
wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the
POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the
camp. The reason this was done was that those
who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being
executed, while the other POWs were made to
watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from
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
The POWs were sent out on
work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two
major details were the farm detail and the airfield
detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any
detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M.
The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each
morning to get tools. As they left the shed,
the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them
over their heads.
The detail was under the command of "Big Speedo" who spoke very little
English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs
Although he was known to
have a temper, the POWs thought he was
Another guard was "Little Speedo" who was
maller and a
he wanted the POWs to work faster. The
POWs also felt he was
in his treatment of them.
"Smiley" was another guard who always had a
smile on his face
but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat
for no reason.
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 camp hospital was known
as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the
Japanese when they counted barracks. The
sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a
fence up around the building to protect themselves,
and they would not go into the building. There were
two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter
of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the
lower platform which had holes cut into it so the
they could relieve themselves. Most of those who
entered the ward died. According to medical
records kept at the camp, Melvin was in the camp hospital on
June 8, 1942. No date was listed for his being
The POWs also had the job of
burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams
of four men. Each team carried a litter of
four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in
graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
On June 23, 1943, his parents officially received notification that he was a POW at
Cabanatuan. This was the first news they had heard about him in over a year. On August 22, 1943,
his family received a POW postcard from him. In it he said
please give my regards to the family and my best regards to Peggy Johnson."
On December 10, they received another postcard from him.
In July 1944, Melvin's name
appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Japan. On
July 15, the POWs were boarded on trucks for an
eight hour ride to Manila. They arrived at Bilibid Prison
at 2:00 A.M. They remained at the prison for a
day. During their time there, the only thing they
were fed was rotten sweet potatoes.
At 7:00 A.M., the POWs were marched from the prison to the Port Area of Manila. Arriving at
pier one, they were boarded onto the
Nissyo Maru. At first, the Japanese attempted to put all the POWs into the rear hold. When
they realized this would not work, they put 900 men in the forward hold. 600 remained in the rear
hold. The ship sailed but upon reaching the harbor's breakwater, it dropped anchor. The ship
remained anchored at the breakwater. For the first 30 hours in the holds, the POWs were not fed.
From this time on, the POWs were fed rice and vegetables twice a day and received two canteen cups of water.
On the 23, the ship weighed anchor and sailed to a point off Corregidor. Once again
it dropped anchor. It remained off the island for the night. The next day it sailed as part of a
convoy for Formosa.
During this part of the trip,
at night, some POWs cut the throats of other men and
drank their blood. One night, the convoy was
attacked by a Wolf Pack of American submarines. Since
the hatch covers were not on, according to the POWs,
one ship's explosion lit up the night sky. Some
POWs reported they heard a bang against the haul of
the ship. A torpedo had hit the ship but had failed
to explode. Four of the thirteen ships in the
convoy were sunk.
The remaining ships arrived
at Takao, Formosa, on Friday, July 28 at 9:00 A.M.
The POWs remained in the holds all day. The
ships sailed that evening for Japan. During this part
of the trip, the POWs sailed through a storm.
They arrived at Moji, Japan around midnight the night of
The next morning, the POWs disembarked at 8:00 A.M. and taken to a movie theater and
held in darkness. Later that day, the POWs were broken into detachments of 200 men and marched to the
train station. They boarded trains and taken to camps along the train lines. Melvin's POW
detachment arrived at Fukuoka #23 on Saturday, August 5.
#23, the POWs worked in a coal mine in two shifts. On May 28, 1945, his parents received a POW
postcard from him. In it, he said
, "My health is fine. I hope this finds you and the family the same. Give regards to Mrs.
Errington and friends. In your next letter enclose photos of the family. Love to all."
On August 15, 1945, when the
POWs in group A, which worked during the day, returned to
the camp, they were told by the POWs in Group B, who
worked at night, that the war was over. They did not
believe them even though they had seen Japanese
The next day, when the bell that told the POWs it was time to form ranks to go to the mine,
did not ring the POWs believed that the war may be over. At 10:00 that morning, the camp commandant told
the POWs they did not have to work, but that they also could not leave the camp.
On August 24, the Japanese gave the POWs paint and canvas. They told the
Americans to paint POW on the roof of the barracks.
Four days later, on August 28, the American B-29s appeared over the camp. Two of the planes circled
the camp and then dropped 55 gallon drums to the POWs. In the drums was food, medical supplies, and
clothing. The planes would return almost on a daily basis and continue to drop supplies to the men.
American soldiers entered the
camp on September 15, 1945. The liberated POWs were
processed and boarded on trucks supplied by the
Japanese. They were taken to the train station and
rode a train to Nagasaki. In Nagasaki,
they were taken to the port area. As they rode through
the city, they saw the damage done by the atomic
The POWs were deloused and given new clothing. They were boarded onto the
U.S.S. Marathon and taken to
Okinawa. From Okinawa, the men were flown to Manila for further
medical treatment. They were finally
returned to the United States in October 1945 and was sent
to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis.
On November 1, he returned home to Salinas.
Melvin returned home and was discharged, from the army, on May 25, 1946.
He returned to Salinas and married Gloria C.
Romero. He was the father of a son. At one point,
he moved to Denver, Colorado. In 1976, he
became the President of the American Ex-Prisoners of War.
Melvin R. Madero passed away on May 12, 1992, in San Diego, California. He was
buried in Section I, Site C-554d, at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.