Major Robert Charles Pettit Jr.
Major Robert C. Pettit Jr. was born in 1912 in Queens, New York, to Robert C. Pettit Sr. & Elizabeth Pettit. With his brother, he grew up at 41 Birch Street in Lynbrook, New York. In 1930, he was working as a bank clerk and, at some point, took a job with Fire Department of New York as a firefighter with Engine 303 at 104-112 Princeton Street, Jamaica, Queens, New York.
Pettit also enlisted in the New York National Guard on July 2, 1932, and was a member of the Howitzer Company, 107th Infantry Battalion. It is not known, but at some point in entered the regular Army and attended Officer Candidates School. During the 1930s, Robert married Kathrine Kibler and became the father of twin sons. He held the rank of captain when he went to the Philippine Islands.
In the Philippines, he served as Gen. James Weaver's S-1 or adjutant to the general. It is known that he was promoted to the rank of major on December 22, 1941. Being assigned to the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters, he was often out with the tank companies.
The night of April 8, 1942, Robert heard from Gen. Weaver that Bataan was to be surrendered. He and the other officers went to sleep that night knowing that the next day they would be Prisoners of War.
The next day was uneventful and the soldiers remained in their bivouac. On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. In a letter home, John told of how walking on the gravel trail was difficult. Robert witnessed "Japanese Discipline." If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted.
When the trail the POWs were on reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separated the officers from the enlisted men. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
Robert and the other POWs passed Filipinos who were even thinner than they were. They made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a school yard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset. They were made to march as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12th at three in the morning.
The POWs were put in a pin and ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they were lying in human waste. At noon, they received their first food which was a meal of rice and salt. Later that day, other POWs arrived. This included one group made up of men from the Provisional Tank Group which had walked the entire distance.
At 6:30 in the morning the POWs continued the march. The POWs noticed that they were bring marched at a faster pace. The guards appeared to the POWs to be nervous. The guards also appeared to be nervous about the pace. The POWs made their way Hormosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete which seemed to make the march easier on the POWs. When the POWs were allowed to sit down on a break, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march. For the first time in months, it began to rain. To the POWs the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13th, Robert arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a pin. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, they disembarked from the cars. Those who had died fell to the floor as the living left the cars. The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training
was one water spigot for the entire camp. Men
literally died for a drink. The
death rate among the POWs rose to 50 men a day. The
burial detail worked day and night to bury the
in the camp, Robert was sent out on a work
detail. It is not known what work the detail
performed and when it ended.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 A.M. the morning of December 13th, the POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken. The names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. Robert was put into the ship's rear hold with 800 other POWs. The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it. The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 that afternoon of fish and barley. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water. Three fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs.
The prisoners had just eaten when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill. The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs. Bullets from the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties. In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five air raids. The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack. It was hit at least three times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it. Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevented most from penetrating the hull.
The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many. About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn. Somewhere on the ship, a fire had started but was put out after several hours.
After the first raid, the ship was left alone by "playing possum" in the water. The fighters went after the other ships in the convoy. The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold. POWs were reported as drinking urine and howling. The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning. The ship steamed in closer to the beach and its anchor was dropped. The POWs were told, at 4:00 in the morning, that they would be disembarked after daybreak. It was a suitable landing place.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard noise on deck as women and children were unloaded. During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded. One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.
It was December 15th. The POWs sat in the hold for hours after daybreak when the sound of planes was heard. When the U.S. Navy planes resumed their attack, the attacks came in waves. The POWs would live through three more attacks. During one attack, a bomb came through the side of the ship blowing a large hole in the aft hold and resulting in the deaths of many POWs. The POWs noted that attack was heavier than the day before.
At 8:00 AM, a Japanese guard yelled to the POWs, "All go; Speedo!" He also shouted that the wounded would be the first to evaculated. As the POWs were abandoning ship, the planes returned.
In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
The POWs made their way onto the deck and went into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them with machine guns. They did this to prevent the POWs from escaping. Planes from the U.S.S. Hornet flew low over the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes to prevent them from strafing them. The pilots of the planes banked their planes and returned. This time they were lower in the sky. The pilots dipped their wings to show the POWs they knew the men in the water were Americans.
Once on shore, the POWs were herded onto tennis courts at the Olongapo Naval Station at Subic Bay. It was noted by the POWs when they reached shore that much of the ship's stern was blown away.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. What was learned is that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. They were buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During the time, they were given water but not fed.
The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days. While the sat on the court, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing their bombs as they pulled out of their dives. On several occasions, the planes dove at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted away from the POWs and landed away from them and exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew that the pilots knew that the men on the tennis courts were Americans, but the POWs had no way to prove it. But, what they did know is that not one bomb exploded on the tennis courts.
The evening of December 16th, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half the rice had fallen out of the bags since the bags had holes in them. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice and a quarter spoon of salt.
Near 8:00 A.M. on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going. At about 4:00 P.M., a Formosan guard told the POWs in broken English, "No go to Cabanatuan. Go to Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs.
The POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark. The POWs looked at it as a dungeon. During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along the two guards. The guards told the POWs it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25th until the 26th. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle. The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they would use ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.
During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9th. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machineguns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship was also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb that hit the ship exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. The remains of of 150 POWs were taken ashore and cremated. The ashes were put into a large urn. A few days later, the remaining bodies were taken ashore and buried in a common grave on Formosa.
Major Robert C. Pettit died on January 9, 1945, at Takao, Formosa, during the attack on the ship by American planes. It is not known if he was cremated or buried in the mass grave. After the war, his name was placed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila. It should be noted that Major Robert Pettit was awarded the Purple Heart and nominated for the Silver Star.
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