Cpl. Kenneth C. Squire was born in Columbus, Ohio, on March 10, 1922, and was the son of John
F. & Lillian M. Thomson-Squire. In 1929, his parents moved, with their six sons and two daughters, to
Janesville, Wisconsin, where he attended Janesville schools and was a 1940 graduate of Janesville High
School. He worked at the high school after graduating.
Ken joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company which
was headquartered in Janesville. His reason for doing this was that a draft act had just been passed, and
he knew that it was just a matter of time before he was drafted into the regular army. Since the tank
company was suppose to serve for one year and then be released from federal duty, this seemed like a good way to
get his military obligation over.
On November 28, 1940, the tank company traveled by train to Fort Knox,
Kentucky. There, they were designated
A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. A typical day for the soldiers started
in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress.
Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30. Afterwards, the tankers went
to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map
reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from
noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January
13, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to
their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After
dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps
was played. On January 13, the members of the battalion were assigned to the various schools. In
Ken's case, he was assigned to radio operator's school. It was during this training that Ken
qualified as a radio man and assigned to a tank.
After nearly ten months of training, the 192nd Tank Battalion took part in
maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. It was at the end of the maneuvers the battalion was
ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill, the men learned
they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, most had figured out that PLUM meant
"Manila, Luzon, Philippines." Many men received furloughs home to say their goodbyes.
The company traveled west by train to San Francisco, California and was ferried, on the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received inoculations and
physicals from the battalion's medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to
have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a
later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many
tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine
guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a
two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from
the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the
U.S.S. Louisville and the
S. S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they
awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had
crossed the International Dateline. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the
horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the
direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas,
coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island
at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent
into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at
Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to
unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had
to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they
needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was
the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark
Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were
assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the
end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their
weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded
ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark
Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two crew members remained with each tank at all times and
received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor
had been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks
were put on alert and brought up to full strength around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M., American planes
took off to intercept any Japanese planes.
Sometime before noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up in front of the
pilots' mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were also eating lunch when planes were seen approaching the
airfield from the north at about 12:45. Many of the tankers had enough time to count 54 planes. The
planes approached the airfield and the tankers watched what was described as "raindrops" falling from
the planes. When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were
During the attack, they could do little since their guns were not made to use against
Ken's tank crew,
Ed DeGroot and
Bob Boehm shot at the fighters as they flew over. The reality was that their was
little that they could do against planes. For some reason, not known to the tankers, most of the Japanese
planes did not attack the tanks. Those that did, dropped their bombs between the tanks.
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.
After the attack, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, so it would
be close to a highway and railroad and guard them against sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join
the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the
company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno
River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in
the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, 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 where
asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to a line from on the night of
December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were suppose
to hold for as long as possible.
A Company was next sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It
was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read when his tank was knocked out. On a road
east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The
sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks'
machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last
bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped
out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At the Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1st, the tank
companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position
at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy
casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the
Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to
make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be
Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern
Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese
force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur's chief of staff
gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen.
Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the
bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery,
and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd
held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in
January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria,
dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. The company returned to the command of the 192nd
on January 8, 1942.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The
192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast. The Japanese later
admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January 23 to February 17 - to
wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was
stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to
replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three
Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos
dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the
foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way
down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline,
against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back
of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to
a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because
of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the
men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would
receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a
time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the
pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug "spider holes" among the
roots the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But before
this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat
there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew
was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned
upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use.
At the same time, the tanks were also used to clear out the Japanese in what was called
"The Battle of the Points." The Japanese had attempted to land troops behind the main defensive
line and ended up with troops trapped on two different points on the peninsula.
The Japanese Marines were driven to the cliffs and hid in the caves below the cliff
lines. They used the caves for protection and would climb down the cliffs to enter them or leave them.
The tankers fired into the caves repeatedly until the Japanese were dead or came out of the caves.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to
eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to
eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut
in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on
them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had
been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking
out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had
listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said
, "There are times when men must die."
The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and
aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the
volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to
It was the evening of April 8 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 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 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
On April 9, 1942, Ken became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on
Bataan were surrendered.
He started the march at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan and made their way to San Fernando. There,
the brothers were held in a bullpen and slept in the human waste of other POWs who had been held in the bullpen
The next morning, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched to the train
station. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used for hauling sugarcane. The cars
were known as
"forty or eights,"
which meant they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed
the doors. During the trip, those men who died remained standing since they could not fall to the floors of the
cars. When the train arrived at Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floor of each
car. The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell
, which 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 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
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 and was known as Camp Panagaian. The transfer of POWs was
completed on June 4.
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
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
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 consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common
for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The
sickest POWs were put in "Zero Ward," which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they
counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into
the area. 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.
On October 26, 1942, Ken and about 1000 other POWs were marched eight miles to the town of
Cabanatuan. At the town's railroad stationed they were loaded into boxcars, and the townspeople came out
to watch the POWs as they boarded the trains. From their faces, Ken could see that they had a great deal of
sympathy for the Americans.
Unlike the trip to Camp O'Donnell, the doors of the boxcars were left open. This
made the trip a great deal easier on the POWs. For whatever reason, the train stopped in several
towns. When it arrived in a town, the Filipino people would come out. Many brought rice balls, fried
chicken, bananas and anything else they had with them. Because they were not allowed to approach the train,
the Filipinos would throw the food to the prisoners.
When the train pulled into one town, the people gathered at the station. While the
train set in the station, the Filipinos began to hum the song
, "God Bless America."
They also called out to the POWs
, "Mabuhay Joe,"
which in English meant
, "Long life Joe."
The POWs were unloaded from the train in the outskirts of Manila and marched two miles to
Bilibid Prison. Bilibid had been built by the Spanish and had been a civilian prisoner before the war but
the Japanese put it into use as a POW camp. The prison was a two story mortar and brick building, that went
out like spokes. surrounded by a high brick wall. At the entrance were two heavy iron
Upon arrival at the prison, Ken and the other POWs discovered that there were no beds in
the prison. At night ever prisoner slept on the concrete floor. The food was also of poor quality,
but the one good thing about Bilibid was that the prisoners had more than enough water for drinking and
Two days after arriving at Bilibid, Ken and other prisoners were marched through the
streets of Manila to the port area. Dewey Boulevard which had been the most modern street of the city was
now lined with burnt out empty buildings. Ashes were all that was left of the huts that had lined other
streets in Manila.
At Pier 7, the POWs were boarded onto the freighter the
Erie Maru, each man had enough room to lay down without being crowded. The hatches to the ships
holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila
Food for the prisoners was generous and well prepared, with each POW receiving a full mess
kit of rice and a canteen cup filled with a thick cabbage soup containing pork. They even were given corn
beef and cabbage one night.
The trip on the freighter lasted thirteen days. The reason was the ship made frequent
stops in ports along the coast of Luzon. It is known that the ship also stopped at Iloilo and Cebu,
Mindanao. Ken and the POWs disembarked the ship at Davao on November 7th. There, they joined another
group of 1000 prisoners. The one thing that the new POWs to the camp noticed was that the other prisoners
appeared to be well fed when compared to themselves. Upon arrival of Ken's group, the rations for these
men were cut in half which caused friction between the two groups. Ken remained at
Davao for the next
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and
about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were
eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay, which meant that 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages
were later put in a bay and each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor, and the American commanding officer changed frequently.
The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they
wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of POWs realized that discipline was
needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and
harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions
varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting
quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards were the result of having a translator who could not be
trusted to tell the truth.
One night, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. From the sound of the engine, they
knew it was American. It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years. As the plane
dove on the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated
silently. On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the
men stayed on the island until August 19, 1944.
Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese posted
guards with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily. The Japanese
camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments. The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had
landed at Palau.
During this time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup of rice a day. The POWs
were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables. Many ate the
weeds that grew inside the camp until it was bare.
Air raids soon were nightly events. Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were
loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks. Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped.
On that day, the POWs were lined up by fours. The outside men had
rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape. They were marched shoe-less to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at
noon. They were packed into the two holds of the
Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second
hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that
evening, the ship sailed.
As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves, and many of the prisoners became
seasick. They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs.
The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane, and an American plane flew over the ship. Moments later
bombs exploded near the ship. The sound of machine gun fire was heard by the POWs. The Japanese once
again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air. Over the next three days, there were several more
alerts. Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.
On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days until the
arrived. The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship's holds were
terrible. The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the
longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck
and sprayed with salt water.
It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from
Japanese command sending the
Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. The order was misinterpreted as saying the ship would be transporting
"750 military personnel" instead of "750 military prisoners" to Manila. The
U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship. The U.S. would acknowledge this
mistake in December 1944.
The POWs were transferred onto the
Shinyo Maru on September 4th. 250 POWs were put iu the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs
were its larger hold. That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking an
shaking it. The POWs prayed for the ship would be hit.
The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 a.m. Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers
were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an
attempt to avoid submarines, and the POWs were no longer allowed on deck. Their lips and throats were covered
with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship.
For the next two days the ship made good time. It was at this time that the Japanese
guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes or submarines. 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. Pfc. Victor Mapes talked about being in the ship's hold
, "I was down in the hold with 750 other Americans. They had us stripped down to G-strings.
We'd left 22 days before from the southern Philippines -- Davao."
At 4:37 P.M., on September 7, 1944, 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 torpedo hit the ship in its main hold killing many POWs. Moments
later, a second torpedo hit the ship. There was a gaping hole in the ship's side. Those POWs still
alive saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water. Some POWs were blown
out of the hold through the hole during the explosion.
Sgt. Onnie Clem, U.S.M.C., recalled what it was like when the torpedoes hit.
"I was just flying, just twisting and turning....I couldn't couldn't see anything but these billowy
forms like pillows. I thought I was dead....I was underwater in the hold and these pillows were the bodies of
other guys in there, some dead, some trying to get out."
Pfc. Mapes recalled the event
, "The Jap freighter Number 83 -- was ripped apart by the Sub's torpedo."
The surviving POWs found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the
explosion. As the water level rose, they were able to climb out. Seven Japanese officers were on the
bridge with rifles. As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off. The lucky POWs made it
through their fire and dove into the water.
The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits. But, the
hold remained dry. Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to
shore. As they swam, they were fired upon by the same seven Japanese officers.
According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. There was a
tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle. The ship split in two and sunk
into the sea.
Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American
submarine. When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them. They stopped strafing when they
realized that there were Japanese in the water too. The good thing about the depth charges was that they kept
sharks away from the POWs.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the
water. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machine guns and fired on the POWs.
Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water cruising in and out
of the debris field hunting and shooting the swimming Americans. If they found a man, they shot him.
One officer recalled seeing a young soldier struggling in the water and asked him if he could swim. The
, "No sir, not very well."
The officer began to say
, " Don't worry, well make it somehow,"
but before he could finish, a shot rang out the young soldier's head fell into the water. There
was a bullet hole in his head. What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to
Pfc. Mapes recalled
, "The men began swimming toward shore three miles away --- like a herd of sheep. The Japs from the
other ships in the convoy were cutting them to pieces. I figured that the only way to survive was to break away
from the bunch and swim to the opposite side."
The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be
treated with compassion, and about 30 men gave up after hearing this. Sgt. Denver R. Rose was one of the 30
men. He recalled
, "They tied our hands behind us and took us to another prison ship. They roped us together and stood
us in a line along the rail. They then started shooting us one at a time.
"Using his sword a Jap cut the rope to lose the first man in line. He was taken to
the stern of the boat and shot in the back. He fell into the water.
"Meanwhile, I found the frayed end of a steel cable by feeling with the fingers behind
my back and rubbed the ropes across the sharp edges until I got free. I decided I just as soon be shot trying
to get away as the other way, so I made a break for it. I ran to the front of the ship and slipped down
into the anchor hole After awhile, I heard shooting again, so I let myself down into the
water." Rose was the only man, of the 30 POWs, not to be executed.
Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs survived its sinking and
escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S.
Forces in October 1944. Cpl Kenneth C. Squire was not one of these men.
Cpl. Kenneth C. Squire died in the sinking of the
Shinyo Maru. He was 22 years old. Since he died at sea, his name appears on The Tablets of the
Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.