Sgt. Albert Leroy Allen Jr. was born on February 26, 1920, in Mansfield, Ohio, and was the son of Albert L, Sr. and Beulah Allen and lived at 21 Linden Road in Mansfield. He was a 1938 graduate of Mansfield High School.
Albert was attending Wooster College in Wooster, Ohio, and transferred to Ohio State University in Columbus. His father was on the draft board for Mansfield and told Albert that he thought it would be a good idea for him to enlist and to get into artillery. On January 9, 1941, Alber enlisted at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio. On January 21, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Hayes. He was asked by a sergeant if he was a mechanic or had ever worked with heavy construction equipment. He answered “No.” He added that the only time that he had seen it was when he was working on roads for the county one summer. The sergeant said to him, “That’s good enough,” and Albert found himself assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion.
Three days later he had been sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to C Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The reason this was the army was attempting to fill vacancies in each of the battalion’s companies with men from the home states of the company. C Company was the smallest, in number, of National Guardsmen, and had to be brought up to full strength. It was during this time that he became good friends with Vincent R. Brown.
He recalled that basic training was rushed and finished in seven weeks. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.
In late March 1941, the 192nd was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 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 from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, 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. Afterward, 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.
During his training at Ft. Knox, Allen was assigned to reconnaissance as the reconnaissance sergeant. He had five other men in his unit. He was assigned a peep (later known as a jeep) to drive.
On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
From September 1 through 30, Albert took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
Of the maneuvers, Albert said the mosquitos, water moccasins, swamps, and ticks were worse in Louisiana than they ever were on Luzon. He also recalled that while on reconnaissance, soldiers from the other army willingly surrendered to him. The reason was that they wanted to take a ride in his peep. He also stated that he drove an officer to a meeting and was surprised to see Colonel Dwight Eisenhower and General George Patton there.
After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, without having any idea why. On the side of a hill, the battalion members learned they were being sent overseas. Those men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were given a chance to be released from federal service. Many of the men received furloughs home to say their goodbyes to families and friends.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The next day – when another squadron of planes was sent to the area – the buoys had been picked up – and a fishing boat was seen making its way toward shore carrying the buoys under a tarp. Since communication between the Navy and Air Corps was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. Allen described the ship as being from WWI. 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 2 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 transport, 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. Allen stated that the Louisville intercepted two Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal.
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. He recalled a Marine was checking off their names as they left the ship. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” 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, the tankers were met by Gen. 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 live in WWI tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – leftover beans from the 194th Tank Battalion – before he left to have his own dinner. If they had been a bit slower getting off the ship, they would have had a turkey dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They 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. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat. Not long after arriving in the Philippines he lost his jeep because they were highly sought after by other units. He found himself riding a motorcycle.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting while at sea. 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 worse part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. He believed they were Japanese.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
He recalled that on the morning of December 8, the reconnaissance units of the tank battalions were scheduled to go out and reconnoiter the bridges, roads, and terrain for the tanks within 100 miles of the airfield. It was about 6:45 and he was taking a shower when he heard the news about Pearl Harbor on an officer’s radio in the officers’ barracks. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.
Of this news, he said, “We had been alerted because had definitely spotted Jap air activity near the island for some time, but when we heard about Pearl Harbor we were just as shocked as people back home.”
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north and the tankers counted 54 planes. He was on his motorcycle near Col. James Weaver and watched him film the planes approaching the airfield. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.
Of this, he said, “The air corps ordered all planes into the air to avoid heavy ground loss. Then just before noon, someone ordered all the planes down again and we were told there would be no attack. The next thing we knew, 54 Jap bombers with fighter escort were over the field. Most of the crews were killed in the planes before they got off the ground and most of the planes were ruined.”
It was then that both he and Weaver took cover. He remembered that some of the bombs hit barracks. Zeros followed and strafed the airfield and Ft. Stotsenburg. They put the dead on bomb carts and took them to the morgue. Arms and legs were hanging out and the road was covered in blood.
During the attack, the white uniforms for the battalion’s officers were being delivered. The driver dumped the uniforms on the ground and left them there. They remained on the ground throughout the attack.
Allen recalled that Weaver was near him and told him he was out of uniform. Allen was scared to death and thought Weaver was nuts. He realized that Weaver was trying to calm him down.
Albert sought cover in a tank. Somehow he and nine other men managed to fit inside the crew compartment. He thought that an accomplishment since the compartment was pretty much full with a four men crew. A lot of remarks were made and a lot of praying took place inside the tank.
He left the tank and got on his motorcycle and a Zero was strafing him. The bullets were getting closer. He was on a dirt runway and did a “power turn” by putting his foot down. He had never done one. He took off in another direction and the Zero went the other way. He believed it was at that moment he had learned to ride a motorcycle.
After the attack, he saw men bleeding which was a shock to him. One of the dead was a colonel. It made him realize they were in this together and rank did not protect anyone from dying.
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.
That night the tankers slept with their tanks or half-tracks. Those not in a tank or half-track crew slept outside away from their tents.
Of that night, he said, “That was a pretty gloomy night after the attack. The airmen who survived took to the hills. Their planes were gone and most of their ammunition. We had no casualties in our outfit (there was one casualty) although we were all ready for a parachute attack. But the 194th tankers took a heavy blow. They were ordered to surround the field when the attack came and the bombs caught them.”
B and C Companies of the battalion remained at the airfield, while A Company was sent to the barrio of Dau. On the 10th and 13th, the tankers lived through two more attacks on the field. They finally received orders on December 15 and moved ten miles north of the airfield. On December 21 the two companies were ordered to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops.
On December 27, 1941, Albert was dispatched from a forward command post with a message for the commanding officer of C Company. While attempting to deliver the message, he was spotted by a Japanese plane. The pilot strafed him in an attempt to kill him. Both tires of his motorcycle were shot out and his oil tank was hit. Making his way on foot, Albert was next ambushed by the Japanese and wounded. In spite of his wounds, he continued his fight and was successful in delivering the message.
He said, “It was a pretty feeble fight. The Japs did the attacking. We didn’t have much left to fight with.”
During the Battle for the Philippines, Albert was a witness to one of the first tank battles of the war. C Company tanks were given the job to keep a road open in the Bulacan Province. While doing this job, the tanks defeated Japanese tanks which allowed American supply trucks to bring needed supplies into Bataan.
After the Japanese landed troops on Luzon, Albert went on several reconnaissance missions with General Jonathan Wainwright. During these missions, Albert drove the general’s staff car to the front lines. Albert recalled often sharing soggy biscuits for lunch with Wainwright.
During the Battle of Bataan, Albert directed reconnaissance missions against the Japanese. His recon crews job was to supply information to Headquarters on terrain and routes that the Japanese were using.
One of the memories of fighting the Japanese which stayed with Albert his entire life was the courage of the 26th U.S. Calvary of Filipino Scouts. Albert recalled that these soldiers went into combat against Japanese tanks knowing that in all likelihood they would die. On several occasions, he watched the Filipino Scouts withdrawing from a battle with both men and horses shot up by Japanese tanks.
In his opinion, the biggest problem they had at first was coordinating the infantry and the tanks. He did state that as they fought on, they became very good at working together. Another problem was that rumors sent him and other scouts on many a goose chase. He recalled one rumor that American troops were landing off the coast of Bataan. When he got to the location all he saw was an open sea.
The tanks were also restricted to the roads. Allen stated that the first time a tank attempted to cross a rice paddy, the surface gave way and it was stuck in the mud. 17th Ordnance was able to pull the tank out of the paddy. In addition, none of the tank crews had ever fired the 37-millimeter main gun. They learned quickly there was a system to fire it. The turret had to be in the right position, it had been loaded and aimed correctly with the periscope. They were also faced with limited fuel supplies and they were always told not to move unless ordered to, to save fuel.
Allen recalled that he was on his motorcycle talking to some Filipino Scouts who were on their horses. Suddenly, he heard what he said was a “whack” sound. The man fell over bleeding from his face. He heard the whacking sound a few more times and a couple of horses went down. This was the first time he saw someone die in combat. He believed they were shot at because the horses made them easier to see than he was.
On April 9, 1942, Albert became a Prisoner of War when Filipino and American Forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. After the surrender, he and the other members of C Company made their way to Mariveles. It was from there that he started what became known as the Death March.
Before they started the march, Albert recalled that the POWs were stripped of everything except their clothing and canteens of water. On the march, Albert recalled that the Japanese enjoyed making the Americans do double time in 110-degree heat. He believed that this was done to cause the weaker POWs to fallout. When they did, they killed them as examples to the healthier prisoners. In recalling the march, he said:
“The worst part of the death march was being compelled to sit all day in the open field with the tropical sun beating down upon our unprotected heads and bodies.
The total mileage would not have been difficult. But we were permitted to go only a few miles during the day. and we would spend most of the time in some field at the mercy of the hot Philippine sun. There was little food or water.
At night we would not be permitted to rest for any length of time. Frequently we were moved as many as a dozen times, and many times we would end up in the same place from which we started. Once one of our boys slept through all of these movings, and in the morning he found himself with his original outfit not knowing it had been moved a half a dozen fields during the night.
We were told by the Japanese that the lowest Japanese enlisted man was better than our four-star generals. One night I came into a field where our men were resting very close together and wormed myself down between two men who grumbled considerably on being moved and pushed about. The next morning I discovered that I had slept between two generals.”
Not too long after starting the march from Mariveles, Albert realized that he and the other POWs were in trouble. From the very beginning, the Japanese soldiers abused the POWs. In his own words, “We thought Bataan was hell, we had no idea of the hell that was ahead of us.”
Albert recalled that the Filipino people attempted to throw rice to the POWs as they marched passed them. They would make balls out of the rice and throw them to the men hoping they would catch them. Most of the rice balls fell to the ground. He recalled that a Filipino boy had two of his fingers cut off by a Japanese guard after the boy had thrown food to them.
As it turned out, this was the only food or water any of the men in Albert’s group saw for days. Albert recalled that at one point, he and the other POWs were allowed to drink water from a stream. They later learned that upstream from the road, the stream was filled with the bodies of dead POWs and animals. He and the other men who had drunk the water came down with dysentery.
In recalling the march Albert said, ” You get almost used to seeing the dead men along the road on the march, seeing them shot, and die of hunger and thirst.”
At one point, a Japanese guard noticed Albert’s high school ring. He motioned for Albert to take the ring off. When Albert had difficulty removing the ring, the guard nearly tore his finger off to get it. The guard bit the ring and discovered that it was not gold. He then threw the ring on the ground and dug it into the ground with the heel of his boot. As the guard turned away, Albert bent down to pick the ring up. Through the corner of his eye, the guard caught him doing this. The guard turned around and hit Albert with his rifle butt. The guard then buried the ring in the ground with his boot heel.
At some point on the march, Albert was struck by a Japanese truck injuring his ankle. Having a hard time walking, Albert fell further and further behind his column until Albert sat down alongside the road. “While I was sitting by the side of the road nursing a badly ranched ankle a Japanese soldier, hurrying his captives on, bayoneted two of my companions. It didn’t take me long to get about 50 yards from the vicinity even with a bad ankle. At the next stop, I suffered sunstroke and was unconscious for a time. A Japanese soldier gave me some goat’s milk and told me that the next Jap down the line would take care of me. He was the one who had bayoneted the two soldiers, so I moved on.”
At one point on the march, Albert noticed that in the road there was something that popped up and fell back down as trucks ran over it. When he got closer, he realized from its shape that it was the flattened body of a POW. The body had dried out and was like a piece of wood. Each time a truck rode over it, It popped up and fell back down.
Allen developed dysentery while on the march. He hid behind some pushes and passed out. He felt something polking him. It was a young Japanese soldier. Allen didn’t care if the man bayoneted him. The guard gave him his canteen with sour goats milk. He gave the canteen back and told him to move on. He got to a Filipino hut and found an American colonel and got him some water. The next day, he saw the colonel laying on rocks on a riverbank while he crossed a bridge.
Some Filipinos were passing by in an old school bus with straw on it. When they saw him and knew he was an American, they put him on the bus, covered him with straw, and drove him for fifteen miles before they told him to get off because they were nearing Japanese soldiers. The soldiers were separating the Americans from the Filipino.
A Japanese general pulled up in the car and asked him in very good English what he was doing. The general had a soldier put a piece of burlap on the seat of the car and had his driver drive him to San Fernando. As the car approached Japanese soldiers would yell out that an officer was approaching. Since they could not really see inside the car, he saluted them. It turned out the car had an orange general’s flag on it. The driver of the car thought the situation was funny and smelled at Allen. When they got near San Fernando, Allen was pulled out of the car by the sergeant who did not find it amusing and he hit the driver. He also roughed Allen up.
His ninth day on the march, Albert reached San Fernando. He remained there for two days waiting for a train. During this time, he and the other men were held in a pen. At night they slept in human waste. During this time, Albert traded his underwear with another GI for penicillin pills because he was running a fever. He believed that the pills saved his life.
When the train arrived, the Japanese forced the POWs into boxcars that were used for hauling sugarcane. The cars were eight feet wide, seventeen feet long, and seven feet high. The doors on the cars were shut and locked.
Allen recalled that the smell and heat in the car were oppressive. Men who died slowly slid down to the floor. Other men screamed in agony. Being near the door, he was able to get air, but those in the corner of the car usually died.
At Capas, Allen and the surviving POWs walked the last seven miles to Camp O’Donnell. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp 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.
At this time, a captain from headquarters fell. He was bayoneted before he could get up. Upon arriving in the camp, the POWs had to listen to the camp’s commander lecture them.
Albert recalled, “About 5,000 of us were lined up on the field beneath a boiling sun. We were hungry and thirsty. The Jap captain talked to for two hours from a shelter. When he was through about two-thirds of the men had collapsed. I was one of them.”
here 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 Japanese beat the ranking American officer with a broadsword after he asked for medicine, additional food, and material to repair the roofs of the POW huts.
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 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 cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped 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.
Life in the camp was not easy for the POWs. On May 6th Albert went out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges that the Americans had destroyed as they retreated. Albert went out on the bridge building detail to Las Pinas but returned to Cabanatuan on September 8. Albert believed that this new camp was not much better than Camp O’Donnell.
In describing Cabanatuan, he said, “Cabanatuan was the worst, though. Men died by the hundreds there, and the graves made you sick. Some of the men that the Japs buried weren’t dead yet, but they were probably so far gone that they never knew it. There wasn’t anything that you could do. Medical supplies were nil, and everyone was too weak to care much.”
Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian. 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.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. 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. 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.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. The ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had.
Fifteen days after arriving at Cabanatuan, Albert was selected to be used as a slave laborer to aid the Japanese war effort. 800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6 and were given rice coffee, lugaw rice (a rice porridge), and a big rice ball. After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M. There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M. The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
From the train station, the men were marched to pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila. Some of the Filipinos flashed the “V” for victory sign as they made their war to the pier. The detachment, arrived at 5:00 P.M, tired and hungry and was put in a warehouse on the pier. The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted. They also were allowed to wash.
Before boarding the Tottori Maru on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs those on deck were better off. This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon. In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship. That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck. The first day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals – which equaled one American loaf of bread – the loaves were supposed to last two days, but most men ate them in one meal. The men did ration their water.
The ship was at sea when two torpedoes fired at by an American submarine missed the ship. The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed. A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine. The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11. Since most were sick with something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The American doctors had no medicine to help the sick, and some were seen as benefiting off the sick. It was at this time that the POWs on the ship, from Mindanao, were moved to a second hold putting 500 POWs in each hold.
On October 14, foodstuffs were loaded onto the ship, and each POW got two candy bags of hardtack and one meal of rice and soup each day. The ship sailed on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but turned around at 3:30 P.M. arriving back at Takao at 10:30 P.M. It was believed the ship had turned around because American submarines were in the area.
The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Mako, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored until October 27 when it returned to Takao. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked foodstuffs were again loaded onto the ship.
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned. They were again put into the holds and the ship and remained there until the ship sailed on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Mako, Pescadores Islands. During this time the POWs were fed two meals a day of rice and soup. The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven-ship convoy. During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea. On November 3, three more POWs died. On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.
The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the 1400 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until November 8 and were issued fur-lined overcoats and new clothing. Those POWs who were too ill to continue the trip to Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan.
Those who died were cremated and had their ashes placed in small white boxes that were sent to Mukden. Recalling the train ride, Allen said, “When we got there it was 40 below and we lost over 200 men the first winter. I contracted pneumonia in February 1943, and because of an American doctor in our tank battalion, was the first patient to pull through.” Why Albert pulled through was because the doctor stole medicine to save his life.
When the POWs first got to the camp, they lived in dugouts until two-story brick barracks were opened. Each enlisted man received two thin blankets to cover himself at night, while officers got one blanket and a mattress. The barracks were divided into ten sections. Five on the ground floor and five on the second story. Each section was divided into four double-decked sleeping bays which each held 8 men for a total of 48 men in a section. In addition, the barracks electricity and cold running water.
The camp was held in was a model camp and used to make propaganda movies for the Japanese public. During one visit by Japanese big shots, Albert remembered receiving meat in the soup served to him, but the reality was that the daily meals consisted of cornmeal mush, beans, and a bun for breakfast, maize, and beans for lunch, and dinner was beans and a bun. To supplement their meals, the men made snares to capture stray dogs that came into the camp. They did this until, one day while marching to work, they saw one of the dogs eating the body of a dead Chinese.
One night, the POWs were forced out of their barracks into the cold and snow and made to strip bare while the Japanese searched for contraband cigarettes that the prisoners had bought from the Chinese while working in the factories. They were made to stand in the snow barefooted, for 45 minutes, while the Japanese searched 700 POWs from the barracks.
Punishments were given for any infraction. Two POWs were knocked out and kicked in the ribs for violating a camp rule. At other times, the camp’s food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. They would also withhold Red Cross packages. When three POWs escaped and were recaptured, they were brought back to the camp and beaten on their heads, backs, and shoulders. When POWs violated a rule, the entire camp had to stand in the cold for hours. The morning they did not get breakfast.
One Japanese, Eiichi Nada, who was born, raised, and educated in Berkley, California, loved to hit the POWs while they stood at attention during morning assembly. He hit them until they fell to the ground and then kicked them while yelling, “Get up, you yellow, white, son of a bitch!”
The POWs worked either at a machine shop or a sawmill from 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day. The machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese. Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese.
It was while Albert was in this camp that his parents received a message from him through short-wave radio operators. The operators had picked up a message that Albert was allowed to broadcast by the Japanese. This was the first news that they had that he was alive. In the radio broadcast he said:
“Dear Folks. May this short message finds you both well and waiting for the day we will be together again. As the summer comes to a close my thoughts of home become stronger. This along with your wonderful letters make me feel the future will be happier and richer time of our lives than ever before. I am feeling fine and full of pep except for being a bit lonely. I’m sure that things there are well. Be sure to say hello to all my friends and let them know I have them on my mind always. That has helped me along while I am away, so be sure I will always remember them.
God bless you all and keep your chins up. All my love. Albert.”
At one point, four POWs escaped from the camp and made their way to the Russian border. They were recaptured because Chinese peasants turned them over to the Japanese. The men were returned to the camp and put in cells until they were taken to a cemetery and shot.
In December 1944, Manchuria came within the range of American B-29’s. Albert recalled the first air raid. During the raid, the camp was hit by bombs resulting in several POWs being killed. One of the planes was shot down and the crew captured. When the crew was asked by the POWs why they had bombed the camp, the response, according to Albert, they gave was, “The camp was right in line with a string of Jap ammunition dumps, and the fellow said that their bomb bay doors had jammed on them and they couldn’t help it.”
Albert also stated that he was wounded in the wrist by shrapnel from a bomb. His wrist carried a small scar from where the shrapnel burnt into the skin. In recalling the incident Allen said, “That was funny, my glove burnt off when the shrapnel hit me, but I wouldn’t take anything for that piece of metal.”
According to Albert, the camp was extremely isolated. ” We had no idea that the war had ended – not even the Japs knew it. Even with the rumors, we didn’t know for certain until the 19th when the Russians moved into the camp and relieved the Japanese of their guns.”
Of the event he said. “At noon we thought something was up. The Japs called us from the factory and the air raid sirens went off. We thought there was an air riad nearby.
“When we got back to the camp, we saw they were cooking extra food. We found out that the generals and colonels in the camp were going to be forced marched to the mountains. That worried us because we thought we would be moved too. It was a long-distance to the mountains and the Japs were giving only a baked potato and a small piece of bread to the officers for their marching rations.
“The rumors were strong that the Russians were moving toward Mukden and that the Americans were moving through China. Everyone was pretty excited. No one knew the war was over, but we had rumors that the Russians had declared war on Japan.”
Of the belief that the Russians were approaching the camp, he said, “It seemed to make them (the Japanese) meaner when they heard the Russians were coming. They dug gun emplacements all around the field. Excitement was really running high that day.”
Three OSS members parachuted into the camp. Of this, he said, “One was an American-Japanese and the other three were American-Chinese.”
In his opinion, ” The Russians thought the world of the Americans. They couldn’t do enough for us, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them.”
Albert described what it was like when American B-29’s began dropping food to the POWs. “They flew so low that we could almost shake hands with them. They even took off some of the chimneys on our barracks and we were sorry that we had filled in our fox holes. The whole place was littered with everything from fruit cocktail to vegetables, but were we ever glad to see them.”
In the first letter he wrote to his parents after being liberated, Albert said,
“It’s over and were coming home soon. For 45 months we waited and put up with a lot, especially with the 44-month enlistment (forced draft) into the Imperial Army of the Nip.
“We’ve been we look a lot older and tired looking, but I assure you a little State-side chow will do a lot. Have no gray hairs as some do. I can use a little more weight, but that’s natural. When I wrote my first card to you, sometime in March of 1943, I was just beginning to recover from pneumonia, my only serious illness.
“The first time I received mail from you was on January 20, 1944. Your mail was all from July of 1943 on. I have received some 60 letters from you, the last one written in March of 1945. I have received scatterings of mail from various friends of mine, except for one or two letters, so I know very little of them. When you have a chance to answer this, please tell me who’s married, who’s gone, and who I can have my first beer with.
“There are members of the 192nd Tank Battalion here, some of the 194th, and the 17th Ordnance.
I presume you know that even with all the action in the Philippines, our casualties were very small, but after our surrender, we lost over half of our men and most of our officers.”
After liberation, the ranking officers were flown out on B-24s. The same planes flew movie projectors and screens into the camp and the former POWs watched movies of American forces taking Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and other islands. He thought it was great.
Albert returned home and married Nancy Cox on July 13, 1946, and raised a family. After being discharged on April 10, 1946, from the army. He went to visit the mother of Sgt. Vincent R. Brown since the two had an agreement that whoever made it home would go see the family of the other man if he did not. He kept in touch with the family for years.
Albert enlisted in the reserves. During this time, he enrolled in college and received a degree from the College of Wooster in 1948. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, in the army reserve, April 8, 1949. He spent 24 years in the reserves and rose in rank to Lieutenant Colonel and also campaigned for the rights of former POWs.
In 1952, over ten years after Albert had been chased on his motorcycle by a Japanese Zero, Albert was awarded the Silver Star. In spite of the passage of time, he was still proud to receive the medal.
Albert L. Allen Jr. passed away on August 14, 2004, in Mansfield, Ohio, and was buried at Mansfield Cemetery.