Sgt. Richard L. Errington was born on July 23, 1920, to John Errington & Jenny Alice Thomas-Errington in Compton, California. He was the fifth child of the couple’s seven children. As a child, he grew up in San Antonio, California, and at 213 Maple Street in Salinas. He was known as “Rick” to his family and friends and was a cattle buyer for his family’s meatpacking company.
Rick joined the California National Guard, in Salinas, with his brother, Joe, which meant that he did not register for the draft on October 16, 1940. He was inducted into the U. S. Army on February 10, 1941, when the company was called to federal service. With his tank company, he trained at Fort Lewis, Washington. In September 1941, Rick’s tank battalion was ordered to San Francisco. After being inoculated, the battalion sailed for the Philippine Islands. Arriving in the Philippines, the tankers spent their time preparing their equipment for maneuvers.
On December 8, 1941, Rick, and the rest of his company heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. The tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning the soldiers watched as American planes filled the sky. At 12:30 in the afternoon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, Japanese planes appeared over the airfield and destroyed the Army Air Corps.
Rick, with his battalion, was sent south of Manila. After the Japanese landed troops at Lucban, the tanks withdrew slowly toward the Bataan Peninsula. Richard and with his company continued to fight on Bataan with little food, little medicine, and only the hope of help coming from the United States.
It was at this time that the 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.”
General Edward King announced at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6,000 sick and wounded and 40,000 civilians. He also estimated that less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and would hold out for one more day. He ordered his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender.
On April 9, 1942, Rick became a Prisoner of War. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. During the march, he and the other POWs received little food and almost no water. At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode to Capas. There, the living climbed out of the cars while the bodies of the dead fell to the ground. The POWs then walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese 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.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies 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, so many POWs volunteered to go out on work details away from the camp. In Rick’s case, he went out on a bridge-building detail.
The detail composed of 250 POWs, mostly from the two tank battalions. Rick remained at Calauan with his brother. The POWs there built a wooden bridge, about a mile from the barrio, to replace the one destroyed during the Battle of Bataan. The Japanese engineers treated the Americans fairly well and gave them more freedom.
On July 1, 1942, the POWs were taken by truck to Batangas to build a bridge there. Again they replaced the bridge with a wooden one. The Filipinos in the town once again showed extreme kindness to the POWs and the Japanese engineers simply acted as if they did not see it.
While on this detail Bernard Fitzpatrick credits Rick with saving his life. Fitzpatrick had come down with dysentery and could not eat. Rick fed him a broth until he was able to eat rice again.
When the bridge at Batangas was finished, the POWs were taken to Candelaria. This time they were worked to repair a concrete bridge which had been damaged during the fighting. To repair the bridge the POWs had to mix cement to make the repairs.
When the detail ended, Rick was sent to the new POW camp, Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
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. The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. 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.
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. 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.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die.
Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
Medical records from the camp show that Richard was admitted to the camp hospital on April 7, 1943. Why he was hospitalized and when he was discharged were not recorded.
Rick was again selected to go out on a work detail. This time he was sent to Las Pinas to build runways at an airfield. On September 21, 1944, the POWs watched as planes approached the airfield. They cheered when the planes began to bomb and strafe the airfield. These were the first American planes that they had seen in two years. On September 22, the detail was ended and Rick was transferred to Bilibid Prison. In early December 1944, the Japanese ordered the medics at Bilibid Prison to compile a list of POWs who were healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
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 4:30 A.M. on December 13th, the POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and 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 streetcars 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 an 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 Richard was 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.
700 POWs including the high ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s forward hold. Being the first one meant that they would suffer many deaths. Another 100 POWs were in the middle hold, with the remaining 800 POWs put in its aft hold. Around the perimeter of the holds were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out.
Richard was put into the ship’s forward hold with 700 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.
One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.” The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
After the POWs were on board, the ship moved and dropped anchor in the bay. It remained there for two days while other ships were loaded. It next moved to off Corregidor, where the ships dropped anchor and waited for more loading to be completed.
The ship left Manila on December 14, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without lights in an attempt to avoid submarines. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow.’ All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”
The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
The POWs received their first meal at about at dawn. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water. Three-fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs. It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of anti-aircraft 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 sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy.
At first, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us.”
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties.
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan.
The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
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 prevent most from penetrating the hull. Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours. The attack ended when dusk came.
During the attack Chaplain William Cummings, a Catholic priest, led the POWs in the Our Father. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and later it turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship’s had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
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.
The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped. At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was now December 15. The POWs sat in the hold hours after daybreak when the sound of planes was heard. They would live through three more attacks. When the U.S. Navy planes resumed their attack, the attacks came in waves. Each wave consisted of 30 to 50 planes and lasted from twenty minutes to a half-hour. After an attack, there was usually a twenty to thirty minute lull before the next wave of planes attacked. The other POWs noted that attack was heavier than the day before.
At 8:00 AM, a Japanese guard yelled to the POWs, “All go home; Speedo!” He also shouted that the wounded would be the first evacuated. Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, “Planes, many planes!” As the POWs were abandoning ship, the planes returned. The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fell, hit near the stern hatch, and debris goes flying up in the air.”
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. Chaplain. Major John Duffy, began praying, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions. 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.
The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
After the POWs had abandoned ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk by American planes. One POW stated there were men, who had been wounded, still alive in its holds. The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court. When the roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack. Ralph was one of these POWs.
It is not known if Sgt. Richard L. Errington died on board the Oryoku Maru or while attempting to swim to shore during the attack on December 15. What is known is that Sgt. Richard Errington was reported as dying in the sinking of the Oryoku Maru on Friday, December 15, 1944.
Since his final resting place is unknown, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.