Pfc. Martin L. Wasserman
Pfc. Martin Wasserman was born on June 15, 1918, to Lewis Wasserman & Fanny Litton-Wasserman.
With his brother and sister, he grew up at 734 North Hamilton Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. He attended
college for three years and worked as a janitor for the Chicago Public Schools.
In April 1941, Martin was drafted into the U. S. Army and joined the 192nd Tank Battalion as a replacement after Headquarters Company was created in January 1941. Being from Illinois, he was originally assigned to B Company, but according to members of B Company, Martin was selected by Lt. Donald Hanes for training as a medic. It seems that Hanes noticed that Martin had a gift for giving medical aid.
Martin was reassigned to the medical detachment of the 192nd and received training as a medic. Although he was reassigned to the medical detachment, Martin, Charles Jensen, and Curtis Massey were assigned to live in the B Company barracks.
Like the other members of the battalion, Martin took part in the Louisiana
maneuvers from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana, he learned the battalion
was being sent overseas.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Martin and the other medics heard the news about Pearl
Harbor. As they worked, American planes flew overhead. Around 11:30 in the morning, the planes landed
and the pilots went to lunch. At 11:45 A. M., more planes appeared over Clark Field. Only when bombs
began exploding did Martin and the other medics know that the planes were Japanese. Being that the medical
detachment was in the battalion's bivouac, the soldiers took cover. After the attack, Martin and the other
medics watched as anything that could carry the wounded was in use. Most of those wounded were missing arms
and legs. When the hospital filled, teh wounded were put on the ground around the building.
During the Battle of Bataan, Martin did his best to give first aid to the wounded members of the various companies of the battalion. The medical detachment bivouacked in an area next to HQ Company, 192nd, on the west side of the Bataan Peninsula. Around 3:00 A. M. in the morning on April 9, 1942, Martin with the rest of the medical detachment were informed of the surrender. He and the other members of the detachment stayed in their bivouac area until 5:00 P. M., then they were ordered to Mariveles.
The members of the medical detachment boarded their trucks and began to drive to Mariveles. With Martin were medics Ardell Schei and Paul Moser, Moser was the driver of the truck. The three men rode in the last truck of the convoy. On their way to Mariveles, the trucks were stopped by Japanese soldiers who took their watches.
The men continued on and ran into two Japanese soldiers who did not know what to do with them, so one went to get their commanding officer. While they waited, the remaining Japanese soldier began bragging to them how Japan had conquered the Philippines and would conquer Australia and the west coast of the United States.
When the Japanese commanding officer arrived, he had the Americans disembark from the trucks and go into a open field. They were now officially Prisoners of War. Martin and the other men remained in the field the remainder of the day and all of the next day. Sometime during the day, they received rice.
After dark, Martin and the other POWs were ordered to move. They were marched to Mariveles were they joined other American POWs. It was from Mariveles that Martin started what became known as the Bataan Death March. With him on the march was Ardell Schei.
Martin and the other medics remained together on the march. As they walked, they passed the bodies of Japanese soldiers who still had not been buried. At one point, their group was stopped and a Japanese soldier began going through their wallets. When he got to Martin, the soldier looked at the photo of Martin's girlfriend and said to him, in perfect English, that she was "Hot-stuff". The Japanese soldier told Martin and Ardell that he had gone to school at the University of Santa Clara in California. He had returned to Japan and was drafted into the army.
At San Fernando, Martin and the other members of the medical detachment were housed in a
cockfight stadium. The next day, he boarded a boxcar. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those
who died remained standing. At Capas, Martin disembarked the boxcar and walked the last few miles to Camp
O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1,
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.
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.
In early 1944, the Japanese decided that they needed to transfer doctors and medics to Japan
to treat the sick POWs in Japan. Martin was sent to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. It
was at this time that he was reunited with Donald Norris of the medical detachment. The two men were boarded
Kenwa Maru on March 6, 1944. The ship sailed the same day and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on March
13. It sailed again on March 15 and arrived at Moji, Japan, on March 22.
Upon arrival in the cam, each POW received five blankets which were never cleaned again.
The POWs also lived in barracks - which had four stoves - but that were poorly heated because there wasn't enough
fuel to keep the barracks properly heated during the winter. One bucket of coal was issued for every two
stoves. The huts were always overcrowded and housed 150 POWs each. The barracks were divided into 12
foot by 9 foot rooms and six POWs lived in each room. The POWs slept on straw mats, on the floors, with
each man having having a 3 foot wide area to sleep in which spread colds and influenza. When it rained -
which happened frequently in the winter - the rain poured through the roofs which meant the men were always
wet. The barracks were also infested with lice.
There were no proper sanitation facilities which caused the spread of disease with most of
the POWs suffering from scabies, dysentery, and diarrhea. No real treatment for these illnesses was ever
provided by the Japanese which resulted in many of the deaths in the camp.
Food in the camp was poor and consisted of rice, which had grit in it, three times a
day. As the war went on, the daily ration dropped from 400 grams a day to 200 grams. The POWs at
times also got a few rotten potatoes, a little cabbage, some fish, and a small amount of salt the last two years
of the war. Those POWs who somehow managed to get extra food were beaten. The POWs often went through
the Japanese garbage for fish heads that they roasted and ate. Those POWs who were desperate attempted to
trade clothing for food. The Japanese camp doctor withheld the food until it spoiled before issuing it to
the POWs. If a stray dog or cat was caught, it was slaughtered and given to the POWs as food.
Martin remained at Bibai Machi until he was liberated by American troops in September, 1945, and returned to the Philippines. On the U.S.S. Marine Shark, Marin returned to the United States, at Seattle, Washington, arriving there on November 1, 1945. Martin returned home to Chicago and married Shirley Bergman on May 3, 1948.
In July 1947, Martin and his brother opened a dry cleaning business at 226 West 47th Street in Chicago. It was one of thirteen cleaners that they owned. One day, Marie Washington, a woman who worked for the brothers at the store, told Martin that the man she was living with, Eddie Washington, had beaten her. While she was working, Eddie Washington entered the store and began slapping her. In an attempt to stop the abuse, Martin stepped between the man and woman. The two men got into a fight. Washington became so enraged he shot Martin with the gun he was carrying.
Martin L. Wasserman was shot in the heart and died, at the age of 30, on July 17, 1948. Eddie Washington was found guilty of his murder.