Pvt. Robert Hazel Moss


   What is known about Pvt. Robert H. Moss is that he was born to Thomas C. Moss & Emma T. Skaggs-Moss on August 1, 1922, in Oak Hill, Taylor County, Kentucky.  He was the second of the couple's three sons.  He was inducted into the army on August 5, 1940, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion.  A Company of the battalion was later reorganized as the 17th Ordnance Company.

    In September 1941, 17th Ordnance was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the Provisional Tank Group.  On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Robert lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  He spent the next four months servicing the tanks of the the tank group.

    On April 9, 1942, Robert became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.  There, the POWs were boarded onto small wooden boxcars that could hold forty men.  One hundred men were packed into each car.  The dead remained standing until the living left the cars.  He then walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    The decision for this move - which had been made on August 15, 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.
    On September 1, 1941, the company rode a train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, on September 5, and were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  It was there the soldiers received physicals and inoculations and those men found with medical conditions were replaced.
    The soldiers spent three days preparing their equipment and the equipment of the 194th Tank Battalion for shipment to the Philippine Islands.  The turrets of the tanks were removed and the tank's serial number was sprayed on each one so that it could be reattached to the right tank.
    The men boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands.  To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
    After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer, 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 Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, 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 which wasn't finished until the next morning.
    The soldiers 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.  The first night in the tents it rained and their tents flooded.  On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
    On December 8, 1941, Gerald lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield just ten hours after Pearl Harbor.   From this day until January 6, 1942, he took part in the Battle of Luzon.  He then took place in the Battle of Bataan from January 7 to April 9.  During that time, 17th Ordnance worked to service the tanks of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions running.  To do this, they worked out of an abandoned ordnance depot building.  They also worked to supply the tanks with ammunition and gasoline.
    On April 9, 1942, Gerald became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  17th Ordnance made their way south to Mariveles.  From there, they started what became known as the death march.  Fanson and the other Prisoners of War made their way to San Fernando.  Once there, they were boarded into wooden boxcars.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, the Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  At Capas, the dead fell out of the cars when the disembarked.
    The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell.  The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.  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.
    The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp.  When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
    The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them.  When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
    Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it.  The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria.  To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it.  The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
    Work details were sent out on a daily basis.  Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work.  If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work.  The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.  The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
    On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas.  There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards.  At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan.  The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup.  From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division.
    To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence.  The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, as the other POWs were made to watch.  It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.

    Each morning, roll call was taken.  As the POWs stood in line various forms of punishment, for no apparent reason, were administered.  Some POWs were kicked in the shins by guards who wore hobnailed boots.  Others were hit across their heads with a pick handle.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.  While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard.  While on these details they frequently beaten for no apparent reason.  Somehow, the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. 

    On October 26, 1942, Robert was selected for a work detail to be sent to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs were sent by train from Cabanatuan to Manila.  They were held in Bilibid Prison for two days before being boarded onto the Erie Maru.  The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao.  Robert arrived on the Island of Mindanao  on November 7th.  Robert was one of 650 POWs who built an airfield at Lasang, while 100 POWs built an airfield south of Davao.  
    In early September an American bomber came over the airfield and dropped four bombs at the far end of the airfield making holes in the runway.  It was the first American plane the POWs had seen in two and one half years.
    The climate in the camp became even more tense.  Japanese planes took off with extra fuel tanks and bombs under their wings.  The Japanese also began camouflaging the planes and putting the planes in the revetments.  At night, air raid alerts became a frequent event. 
    Work on the airfield came to a stop and the Japanese kept the POWs in their compound and cut the food rations of the POWs to a cupful of rice and a boiled camote peeling once every 24 hours.  The POWs began going through the Japanese garbage dump looking for food or eating grass.

     After about two weeks, the Japanese told the POWs that they were going to be moved from Lasang.  When it became apparent that it was just a matter of time before the Americans would be landing in the Philippines, the Japanese ordered the Shinyo Maru to Palau.  It was given orders to pick up evacuees from Palau for transport to Manila.

    On August 19, 1944, the POWs were organized into detachment with rows of four men.  The men on the each side of the column had their hands tied by rope to the man in front and back of him.  The POWs were marched, shoe-less, to the Tabunco pier.   The next day they packed into the holds of an unknown hell ship.  Four hundred men were put in one hold and 350 in the other hold.  The ship sailed at 6:00 P.M. and for the next three days there were several alerts.  Each time the hatch covers were put on the POWs found themselves in complete darkness.  On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days.  The conditions in the ship's holds were terrible and the holds were hot and steamy.  In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench from the sweat and human waste became worse.  Twice during this time the POWs were allowed on deck and washed down with salt water.  Afterwards, they were returned to the holds.   

    On the tenth day, September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru with 250 POWs put in the smaller hold and the rest in the larger hold.  That night they heard the sound of planes and machine-gun fire.  The ship rocked from explosions of bombs hitting the harbor installations.  Some of the POWs began to scream as others attempted to calm them down while praying for a direct hit. 
    The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 A.M. and followed a zigzag pattern.  Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below.  The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076.  Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.
    The POWs were no longer allowed on deck to empty the latrine buckets.  When an alert took place, the hatch covers were locked down and tarpaulins were placed over the hatched cutting off the air completely.

    It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga.  Someone misinterpreted the order as saying that "750 troops" instead of "750 prisoners" were being sent to Manila.  The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.  This mistake would be acknowledged on December 31, 1944.

    At 7:37 p.m. the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point.  It fired two torpedoes at the ship.  The first sign for the POWs that something was happening was when they heard the sound of Japanese machine-guns firing at something in the water.  There was terrific explosion followed immediately by a second explosion.  The hatch covers were blown off the holds during the explosions.
    Many of the POWs in the holds were bleeding and dying.  Water began rushing into the hold from the hole in the ship's side.  To escape the holds, the POWs began climbing from the ship's holds.  Others went into the water through the hole in the side of the ship.  The Japanese, who were standing on the bridge with rifles, shot the prisoners as they climbed out.

     The POWs who made it into the water were hunted down by the Japanese in lifeboats.  Japanese seaplanes flew above the POWs and dropped depth charges attempting to sink the American submarine.  The one result of this was that there were no sharks in the water.
    One group of POWs, who were promised safety if they surrendered, had their hands tied to a ship's rail.  As they stood tied to the rail, a Japanese officer walked behind each man a shot him in the head.  One POW in this group managed to get his hands free and escaped into the water.  Eighty-two of the POWs were successful in escaping and made it to shore.  What saved their lives was it was evening and the Japanese could not see them clearly in the dark.  As they swam to shore the Japanese fired at them.

    According to the surviving POWs in the water, there was a tremendous crushing sound.  The ship seemed to bend up in the middle and then sank into the water.  Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 were rescued by Filipino guerillas.  They would later be taken by submarine to New Guinea and returned to United States.

    It is not known if Robert died when the Shinyo Maru sank or if he was shot while attempting to escape the ship.  What is known is that Pvt. Robert H. Moss died in the sinking of the Shinyo Maru on Thursday, September 7, 1944.

    Since Pvt. Robert H. Moss was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.


Bataan Project



Bataan Project

Return to 17th Ordnance