|Pvt. Charles G. Riedmiller
Pvt. Charles Riedmiller was born on May 15, 1917, in
Columbus, Ohio, to Frederick Riedmiller &
Catherine Marie Taylor-Riedmiller. He
was known as "Chuck" to his family. With his
sister and four brothers, he grew up in Milford
Center, Ohio. He graduated from Fairbanks High
School in Milford Center.
After high school, he worked in a restaurant until he was inducted into the U.S. Army on January 30, 1941, at Fort Hayes, Ohio. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. It was at that time he was assigned to C Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. It was during this training that he qualified as a truck driver.
In late August 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th. When the arrived there, they had no idea that they had already been selected for duty overseas. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill, instead of the expected news that they had completed their military duty, and that they were being sent home. What they heard was their time in the military had been extended from three to six years, and that they were being sent overseas. Many of the men returned home, got their affairs in order, and married.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 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. The battalion was sent west by train to San Francisco. After arriving there, they were ferried to Angel Island. After receiving physicals and inoculations, the soldiers were boarded onto transports and sailed for the Philippine Islands.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam.
When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. At about four in the morning on December 8, 1941, the tankers were awakened and told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that had started just two hours earlier. Later that morning as they watched the sky, it was filled with American planes. At twelve noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. At first the men believed the planes were American. It was only after bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese. Since they had no weapons to use against planes, they watched as the bombs destroyed the Army Air Corps. After the attack, they saw the destruction done by the Japanese planes.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river. During these moves, it was Charles' job to deliver gasoline and ammunition to the tanks.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd. On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was at this time that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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."
On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. They made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
From Mariveles, the tankers made their way north to San Fernando. At one point, they had to run past Japanese artillery which was firing at Corregidor. The guns on the island, returned fire. Charles and the other POWs went days without food or water. It took Charles five days to complete the march.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed each car with 100 POWs. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. They then fell to the floor of the cars.
Charles walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell. This Filipino Army training base was pressed into service as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed 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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to 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.
Of the camp he said, "About the best way I can describe the prison camp is to compare it with a hog pen or chicken coop. There was no real sanitation system or bedding .... you found a place on the floor to sleep at night.
"We were fed twice a day with steamed rice and watery soup --- just enough to exist on. Many died from neglect --- not enough food or medical attantion. I was never afraid of being shot while I slept, but there was a constant fear of getting sick."
To get out of the camp, Charles went out on the bridge building detail under the command of Lt. Col. Theodore Wickord who had been the commanding officer of the 192nd. Charles was sent to Cabanatuan POW Camp - where most of the other POWs had been sent in June - when the detail ended.
The Japanese had opened Cabanatuan in an attempt to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell. 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. It 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.
Once 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 the camp.
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 Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was 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 "speedo." Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was "Little Speedo" who was smaller and also used "speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair 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 men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. 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.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
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.
The POWs 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. The death rate dramatically dropped when the POWs were given their first Red Cross packages. He remained in the camp until December 6, 1942. It was at that time he was sent out on a work detail to Nichols Airfield. The detail was known as the "Las Pinas Detail."
The POWs on the detail built runways with picks and shovels and literally removed a mountain to build the airfield. Carts, pushed by two POWs, were used to remove rubble from the work site. They were housed in Pasay School which was several miles from the airfield. Meals for the POWs were the leftovers from the Japanese kitchens.
"but it was always spoiled. If it hadn't been, the Japs would have eaten it themselves.
"I don't know what we would have done without the Red Cross." Their local representatives were as bad off as we were, but those packages from outside came through with shors and clothing and food. That food was the difference between living and dying for some of us.
"When a man starved long enough it doesn't take much to push him one way or the other. The shoes and the clothing were a big help. It's no fun to live like animals and half starve in the bargain. Some of the boys had no shoes and hadn't had for a long time. When the shoes arrived from the Red Cross it made a big difference. We at least felt like men again."
One day, in June 1943, while working at the airfield, Charles saw two POWs executed by the Japanese. Both men were part of his POW detachment. The two men were weak and sick and could not do much work. They decided to crawl to a tree and rest. The Japanese discovered one man leaning against the tree and killed him by order of the detail's Japanese commanding officer Captain Kazuki.
When they found the second POW, the Japanese made six POWs dig his grave and stand at attention around it. As they watched the Japanese shot the second man. His body fell into the grave and the other POWs covered it with dirt. Charles recalled that the man was a redhead.
He remembered that on the detail he saw POW attacked by guards, "One man was beaten so badly around the face you couldn't recognize him afterwards."
Charles witnessed the death of a second POW in February 1944. According to Charles, the POWs had lined up for morning assembly. One POW had lined up incorrectly causing the POWs to be late in leaving to work at the airfield. Captain Kazuki, who was known as "The Wolf" to the POWs, ord red the guards to beat the POW. They proceeded to beat the man on his head and back for twenty minutes. After they were done, the man was taken back to the compound and never seen again.
The rumor spread in the camp that the man had died from a broken back. The Japanese ordered the American doctor to list the cause of death for the man as malaria. Having little choice, he did so.
Chuck, at some point, was on a detail and the guard believed they were not working hard enough, so he hit Chuck in his back with his rifle butt. "That happened when the guards thought a group of prisoners was too slow in getting chores done We weren't able-bodied enough to do them any faster." He was bothered by the injury hie entire life.
On July 6, 1944, the detail ended and Charles was sent to Bilibid Prison. He was held there for ten days. On July 16th, he and other POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila. They were boarded onto Nissyo Maru which sailed on July 17th. It arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27th. It took the ship this long to reach Formosa because it was avoiding American submarines. The ship sailed from Takao on July 28th for Moji, Japan. It arrived at Moji on August 3rd.
In February 1945, Charles was already a POW in Japan when his mother received a POW postcard stating he was in good health and a POW at Cabanatuan.
In Japan, Charles was sent to Osaka #3-B or Oeyama POW Camp. The POWs worked at the Hachidate Branch Nickel Refinery which manufactured corrugated metal. With a pick and shovel, he and the other POW's had to extract ore from the mine. When they loaded a car, they next had to push it to the railroad track that ran past the mine. The prisoners had to work in all types of weather and in snow as deep as six feet. Other POWs were required to walk nearly six miles to another nickel mine.
Other POWs were also assigned to do stevedore work at Miyazu Harbor and on a detail referred to as the carpentry detail. The prisoners unloaded food, coal, and coke from ships for a nickel refinery at the Miyazu docks. The food they unloaded was bound for the Japanese army, so the POWs would steal a couple of pocketful of beans everyday.
The Japanese enforced collective discipline in the camp. Sometimes work groups would be punished, other times larger groups of POWs were punished, and there were times all the POWs were punished. On one occasion a work group of twelve POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours before they were forced to swallow rope which caused them to throw up. This was done because the Japanese believed they had stolen rice. When none was found, the Japanese fed the POWs rice and sent them to their barracks.
On December 6, 1944, the entire camp was placed on half rations because one POW had violated a rule. The entire camp again was put on half rations on January 7. At various times a portion of the POWs were put on half rations. 80 to 90 POWs were put on half rations on March 7, 1944, while 60 POWs were put on half rations on April 7 and made to stand at attention in a heavy rain.
Beatings were a common event and the POWs were beaten, punched, slapped, hit with sticks, and kicked. During the winter, they were made to stand at attention in sleet and snow for long periods of time. The POWs were also forced to run as far as two and one half miles. When one or a few POWs were being punished it was not uncommon for the other POWs to have to hit the POWs. They also were forced to kneel and hold a heavy object, like a log, over their heads. One POW, who took the blame for breaking into a warehouse was forced to squat with a pole behind his knees and hold a log over his head until he passed out.
Since a certain number of POWs had to report for work everyday, illness was not an excuse for getting out of working. The camp POW doctor's recommendation that POWs not work, because they were too ill, was overruled by a Japanese medical corpsman, and men suffering from dysentery or beriberi were sent to work.
Red Cross packages were withheld from the POWs and the Japanese raided them for canned meats, canned milk, cigarettes, and chocolate. These items were seen by the POWs in the camp offices. The clothing and shoes sent for POW use was also appropriated by the Japanese.
The attacks by American B-29s became more frequent in 1945. On July 30th, B-29s bombed Miyazu doing heavy damage. Two weeks later the bombers returned bombing all night ending about noon the next day. A short time later, many of the POWs witnessed the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Chuck said that he and other POWs had no idea how the war was going. "The only thing we heard were rumors by the Japanese that the end was near. The POWs believed the Japanese were talking about a Japanese victory.
Charles remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 9, 1945. When he was freed, he weighed 93 pounds. About the day, he said, "We raised the American flag and the National Anthem was played. That was a pretty emotional day."
Charles was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment. Charles was flown to Hawaii by the Air Transport Command to Hawaii. On September 20th, he landed at Hamilton Airfield north of San Francisco and was sent to Letterman General Hospital. He was also promoted to the rank of sergeant. He was then sent to Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.
On September 24, he gave testimony in an affidavit against Capt. Kazuki. Charles returned home to Ohio and visited his family in October 1945. He recalled, "When I came back, people asked where I was when the atomic bomb fell. I didn't even know what an atomic bomb was." He was discharged from the army on May 13, 1946, and married Mildred Fladt on February 14, 1947.
The couple resided in Marysville, Ohio, where Charles worked as an electrician owning his own contracting business from which he retired in 1970. They remained married until Mildred's death on May 18, 2000. A little over a year later on May 2, 2001, he married Brenda Stanforth.
Looking back on his time as a POW he said, "I was in pretty good physical condition before I became a prisoner, and I didn't associate with the enemy following my capture and didn't antagonize them either. The ones who antagonized the enemy were often abused and many later died."
Charles Riedmiller died on April 3, 2005. He was buried at Saint John Lutheran Church Cemetery in Marysville, Ohio.