Madero_M

 

Pvt. Melvin Rojas Madero


    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.  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 Philippines.
    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 by the 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 replaced.
    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,
the U.S.S. Astoria, 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 barracks.
    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 were Japanese.
    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 roadblock.
    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."
    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 customers."   
    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 being formed.
    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 accomplished."
    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 "CRASH" 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 move.
    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 to share.
    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 2 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 use.
    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.  According to medical records kept at the camp, he was in the camp hospital on June 8, 1942.  No date was listed for his being discharged.
    In July 1944, Melvin's name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Japan.  On July 15th, 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 28th 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 August 3rd. 
    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 5th.

    At Fukuoka #23, the POWs worked in a coal mine in two shifts.  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 civilians crying. 

    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 24th, 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 28th, 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 bomb.
    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.

    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.  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.
 


 

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