|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. There was only one water spigot for 5000 POWs. Many men died in the camp because of the conditions.
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 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.
Since a certain number of POWs had to report for work everyday, illness was not an excuse for getting out of working. The camp doctor's recommendation that POWs not work, because they were too ill, was ignored 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. The clothing and shoes sent for POW use was also appropriated by the Japanese.
On July 30th, B-29s bombed Miyazu. Since their bombing run went over the camp, two POWs were killed in the raid. Two weeks later the planes returned and bombed the town all night half way through 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.