Cpl. John Rawlins Atwell was born on April 13, 1905, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, to Rawlins P. Atwell and Gertrude W. Duncombe-Atwell. and had four sisters and a brother. His great-grandfather founded Ft. Dodge. He enlisted in the Iowa National Guard on April 1, 1924, and attended Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, for two years from 1925 to 1927. It is not known how long he was in the National Guard. He married Susan Hawley on February 21, 1929, and they became the parents of two sons and two daughters. The family resided at 1859 8th Avenue North, Ft. Dodge. His father was a florist and John took over the family business after his father died in 1934. He registered with Selective Service when the act took effect on October 16, 1940, and named his wife as his contact person. After registering he attempted to enlist in the army for three years, but because he was 35 years old, he was rejected. He was allowed to enlist for one year to fulfill his military obligation on March 31, 1941. After enlisting, he made it clear that he was going to attempt to remain in the army longer than one year.
It is not known where he did his basic training or when he joined the 194th Tank Battalion, but he may have volunteered to join the battalion because it was being sent overseas. The 194th, at Ft. Lewis, Washington, was taking part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis, where they learned they were being sent overseas. After receiving their orders, men who were 29 years old or older or married were allowed to transfer out of the battalion. Since the battalion was made up predominately of National Guardsmen, men whose National Guard enlistments were about to expire were allowed to transfer out of the battalion. Replacements of these men came from other units at Ft. Lewis. He may have become a member of the 194th at this time.
The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort on flatcars and were about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west by train and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason. On August 1, the battalion had been told its B Company was being detached from the battalion. It was later sent to Alaska.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, a squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines. On August 18, Miller stopped in Brainerd, Minnesota, to see his family after receiving orders at Ft. Knox. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. He later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was regular army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The reality was there were only three places the tank battalion could be sent; they were Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Two days later, on August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because of the war. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
On September 4, 1941, the remaining companies of the 194th were sent to Ft. Mason, north of San Francisco, by train and arrived at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated and given medical examinations by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men with medical conditions were replaced with men who had been sent there for that purpose. He may have been one of these men. The battalion’s new tanks had their turrets removed to fit them in the ship’s hold. So that the turrets would be put back on the same tanks, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets.
The soldiers hiked from their barracks to a ferry and rode it to San Francisco, From the pier, they rode busses to another pier and boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. The ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands on September 8. At first, most of the soldiers were seasick. Once they had recovered, they attended classes, performed KP, did maintenance on the tanks, and painted the ship. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13 in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. During this part of the trip, the ship was joined by the heavy cruiser the U.S.S. Astoria, the fleet replenishment oiler the U.S.S. Guadalupe, and an unknown destroyer. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck. When it became apparent that a boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to another, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date became Thursday, September 18. On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country. At one point, the ships in total blackout passed islands during the night. The ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning of Friday, September 26. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with 17th Ordnance, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets which had been removed so the tanks would fit in the ship’s hold.
Upon arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that they had to live in tents and receive their meals from food trucks until their barracks were completed on November 15. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. The officers were put in two men tents while the enlisted men were assigned to six men tents. Each man had a cot, cotton pads, white sheets, a wool blanket, and a footlocker for personnel belongings.
After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18, the barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali This allowed the men to dress. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was always cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived, and although it was warm when they went to sleep by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them while wearing blindfolds. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
The battalion made one trip to the Lingayen Gulf. Things went well until they turned on a narrow gravel road in the barrio of Lingayen that had a lot of traffic. A bus driver parked his bus in the middle of the road and did not move it even after the tanks turned on their sirens and blew whistles. As they passed the bus, the tanks tore off all of one side of it. The tankers bivouacked about a half-mile from the barrio on a hard sandy beach with beautiful palm trees. The tankers had a swim and got in line for chow at the food trucks. It was then that the battalion’s two doctors told them that they needed to wear earplugs when they swam because the warm water contained bacteria and they could get ear infections that were hard to cure. No one came down with an ear infection. The soldiers went to sleep on the beach in their sleeping bags when they began to hear humming and scratching. When they turned on a flashlight they found their sleeping bags were covered with beetles and other bugs. They quickly moved to an uninfested area.
It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos. Many men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency. At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful.
The 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20 with four tank companies. The process was begun to transfer D Company from the 192nd to the 194th giving each battalion three tank companies. The 192nd also arrived with a large amount of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train the Philippine Army and had a large number of ham radio operators. Shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of American planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling about – in a large circle – in the South China Sea. On December 1, the two tank battalions were put on full alert and ordered to their positions at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 194th guarded the north half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. The airfield two runways were shaped like a “V” and the Army Air Corps’ hangers and headquarters were at the point of the “V”. The tankers slept in sleeping bags on the ground under their tanks or palm trees. On December 7, the tanks were issued ammunition and the tankers spent the day loading ammunition belts and 37-millimeter shells into their tanks. They also were given sidearms.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, commanding officer of the tank group, and Major Ernest Miller, read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed his officers of the attack. He also ordered his officers to have the half-tracks join the tanks at Clark Field. Their job was to engage Japanese paratroopers. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The first wave of bombers was followed by a second and a third wave of bombers. Each attack lasted about 15 to 20 minutes. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, 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, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.
The 194th was ordered on December 12 to Calumpit. The move was made at night without lights. This resulted in two tanks going off the road into ditches, but no major damage was done to either tank. When they left Ft. Stotsenburg, the tankers left all the personal possessions at the fort. It was the last time they saw them. On December 22, they were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. There, they engaged the Japanese. The Japanese attempted to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops. The night of December 22, the battalions were operating north of the Agno River when they found that the bridge they were supposed to use had been bombed. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.
The 192nd received orders to withdraw, but the 194th did not receive the order for some unknown reason. The battalion finally was ordered to withdraw and 1st Lt. Harold Costigan informed the members of A Company, and D Company, 192nd, that they would have to fight their way out. The tanks fought their way through Carmen losing two tanks but saving the crews except for Capt. Edward Burke. He had been hit by enemy fire and presumed dead. The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.
On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge, over the Pampanga River, about withdrawing from the bridge and half of the defenders withdrawing. 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese at Guagua on January 5. 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. On the night of January 5, the tank battalion was holding a position near Lubao. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the battalions’ outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be Japanese. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located. They then charged toward the tanks, through an open field, and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks.
The Japanese attacked Remedios in force at 8:00 A.M. with an artillery barrage and used smoke as cover on the 7th. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 6:30 P.M. the defensive line broke through the area held by the tanks. Lt. Col. Ernest Miller, 194th, ordered both tank battalions to form on the main road to the east. It was dusk, but the tank drivers somehow managed to get the tanks out of the area to Abucay-Hacienda line which was the new defensive line. The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the Bataan peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. On January 8, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.
Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. If it could be eaten, it soon became scarce on Bataan. 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. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. The only animal that most men could not eat was the monkeys. The reason why was the monkeys’ faces made them look too human.
On one occasion, the tankers were moving their tanks to a sugarcane field. They discovered that the field was filled with Japanese soldiers. The tankers opened fired and killed over 300 Japanese soldiers. The Japanese sent raiding parties into the Filipino and American lines at night. They would kill someone and then drop back. To prevent themselves from giving away their positions, the Americans had orders to use bayonets at night and not their guns.
On March 1, the soldiers had their rations cut in half again and the men were starving. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to the Dutch East Indies. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined this suggestion.
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 the Japanese. C Company was attached to the 192nd and the company had only seven tanks left. A counter-attack was launched – on April 6 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. Other tanks of C Company tanks were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of Company C was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. 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 were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. B and D Companies, 192nd, and A Company were preparing for a suicide attack in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that 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.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. A truck driver for A Company, 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, 192nd and A Company received the order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. At 6:45 A.M., the order “CRASH” was sent out and the tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
That night the soldiers went to sleep and were still sleeping when the Japanese entered their bivouac. They were awakened with kicks from hobnailed boots and jabs from bayonets that communicated the message to form two columns. They were now Prisoners of War. As they stood there, the Japanese soldiers took their watches, rings, money, and anything else they wanted. They took the glasses from the men wearing them and smashed the lenses. HQ Company was ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2. The company destroyed all its vehicles and rode one half-track to the Tank Group Headquarters. Two of the soldier’s clothes were soaked in gasoline so they could use the clothing to burn the half-track.
When they arrived at tank group headquarters they had just missed breakfast which was the best one any of the tankers had had in months. The cooks at the HQ were able to give the members of the company a can of food and a can of condensed milk. With a guard escorting them, the men were allowed to get water from a well that was down a hill. When the Japanese realized that they were not a threat, they allowed the prisoners to go to the well unescorted. The Japanese ordered them to remain where they were the rest of the day and they went to sleep along the side of a road. The next day they woke to the sound of Japanese artillery firing at Corregidor. The island had not surrendered. From the battalion’s officers, an older Japanese general attempted to find out where the water line to Corregidor was located. The water line did not exist, but the Japanese believed that it did and that they could get the island to surrender by cutting off its water.
The POWs were ordered out to a road where the Japanese who had no interpreters beat and clubbed the Prisoners of War until they formed ranks. As they stood on the road, a shell from Corregidor hit the barn where they had spent the night. At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and made to march the north-south road where they were searched again. It was at this time that the company began what they called “the march” or “the hike.” As soon as they began marching, they saw and smelled the dead along the sides of the road.
The POWs marched for three or four kilometers and then were turned around and marched back to where they started. They were ordered to fall out and left sitting in the sun with few trees for shade. They were ordered to fall in and marched 12 kilometers to Cabcaben where they joined other POWs who had already been marched there. It was nearly dusk and more and more detachments of POWs kept arriving. The POWs were put on the airfield and given enough space to lie down for the night.
At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00. When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher were separated from the enlisted men and the lower-ranking officers. The higher-ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they marched north to Orani. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
As they made their way north toward the Lamao area of Bataan. They were joined by other POWs coming from side roads and trails. There were many more Filipino POWs than Americans and the two groups mixed together. The road was hard to walk on because of the holes from the shelling and bombings. The POWs were moved to the side of the road whenever a Japanese convoy came by heading south. The Japanese soldiers tried to hit the POWs in their heads with their rifle butts as they passed them.
The guards were assigned a certain distance to cover and wanted to finish it as fast as possible so they moved the POWs at a fast pace which was hard for the POWs in worse shape. If a man fell the guards did not want to stop the column so they shot or bayoneted the man. When the guards finished their assigned part of the march, the POWs were allowed to rest, but when the new guards took over, they also wanted to finish their part of the march as fast as possible, so the POWs once again were moved at a fast pace. They made their way north to Limay where they could see the destruction caused by the shelling and bombing. The jungle had been obliterated. They passed large crows that were eating the bodies of the dead Filipinos, Americans, and Japanese. Some of the crows circled over the POWs as they made their way north.
The Japanese provided no water to the POWs. Since it was dark, men were able to fill their canteen cups at artesian wells since the guards could not see them. At a small barrio, Filipinos appeared with buckets of water for the POWs. The Filipinos were gone by the time the guards arrived to see what was going on among the POWs. The POWs were left in the compound for the day, and there was no cover from the sun that beat down on them. The Japanese gave enough water to the men to wet their tongues. The POWs did not know it, but they were receiving the sun treatment. Some men went out of their heads and drifted into comas. At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given very few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
The POWs made their way to Balanga where they were searched again. North of the barrio they were herded into a field. The POWs were forced to sleep on top of each other. The next morning the POWs were ordered to assemble and those who had died continued to lie on the ground. The large crows circled the field. The POWs finally received their first meal. It was also at this time that the Filipinos were separated from the Americans.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. At Lubao, they were put into a bullpen the size of a football field.
The next morning, the POWs marched 13 kilometers to San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share. At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
From Capas the POWs walked 8 kilometers, to Camp O’Donnell, arriving in the camp on April 14, 1942. The camp was an unfinished Filipino military base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. The Japanese estimated that the camp could hold from 15,000 to 20,000 POWs.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
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 to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics 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 bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
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. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
In May his parents received a letter from the War Department
“Dear Mrs. S. Atwell:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Corporal John R. Atwell, 37,042,049, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they 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 Pangatian. The transfer of the healthier POWs was completed on June 4.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Cabanatuan #1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Cabanatuan #2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. Once in Cabanatuan #1, 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 the camp.
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.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across 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. Another detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and known as Maniquis Airfield. The Japanese had the POWs build runways and revetments. 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.
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 they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp. It is known that 783 POWs died in July.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. It was not uncommon for someone on this detail to see the body of a friend.
His family received a second message from the War Department in July 1942. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Corporal John R. Atwell had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
The Japanese drew the names of 1500 POWs on November 1 and posted them. The POWs went to the barrio of Cabanatuan where they boarded a train on November 5. According to one source, 98 POWs were put in each car. The POWs could move if they worked together. They rode the train to Manila and arrived at 5:00 P.M. and marched to Pier 7. On the pier, they slept on the floor of a building. The next day the POWs boarded what would become known as a hell ship. They boarded the Nagato Maru on November 6, at 5:00 P.M. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold. The hold was 40 feet wide and 50 feet long and the Japanese believed it could hold 600 men without a problem. According to one member of the tank group that was on it, they put 800 POWs in it. The POWs apparently called the ship the “Maggot Maru.”
In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 1000 men so 200 to 300 POWs were moved to another hold. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 750 and 800. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All the holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner. The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts. Meals on the ship consisted of rice and a watery soup but the sickest POWs did not eat. The amount of water given to the POWs was almost non-existent. The ship sailed on November 7, 1942. The bodies of those who died were left in the holds for days before the Japanese allowed them to be removed.
During the trip, the two boards that were left off the hatch opening for ventilation were put in place at night and a tarp was put over the boards. This made the holds hotter. The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious this was not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line. For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had stepped on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Pescadores Islands the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18 and arrived at Keelung, Formosa the same day. The ship sailed again on the 20th and during this part of the trip, the POWs heard and felt the explosions from depth charges. They also heard a torpedo hit the haul of the ship, but it did not detonate. The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship. As they disembarked, each POW received a chip of red or black colored wood. The color of the wood determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused and issued new uniforms. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused and issued new uniforms. They were also inoculated.
The POWs were ferried to Shimonoseki, Honshu where they boarded a train and rode along the northern side of the Inland Sea to Osaka-Kobe Area where they were divided into detachments – according to the colored wood chips – and sent to different camps.
The POWs were boarded onto a train and during the trip, one POW died. A tunnel the train used was blocked because of a wreck, so the POWs left the train and walked several miles, at night, so when they reached the Tokyo 12-B they were exhausted. When they arrived at the camp at 10:00 P.M., they had to listen to the camp CO give a long-winded speech in the cold wearing tropical clothing for an hour or an hour and a half. During the speech, he threatened to kill the POWs at every opportunity he had. The next morning, they were made to strip and forced out into freezing weather and so they could receive their first medical examinations with the camp CO present.
The camp was made up of thirteen buildings that were surrounded by a ten-foot-high wooden fence with nails sticking out of the top of the boards. There were three gates but from August 12, 1944, until September 4, 1945, the POWs only used two. The main gate was at the south end of the compound and was always guarded.
The POWs housing were barracks made of light wood and flimsy that was approximately 18 feet wide by 75 feet long and housed 120 POWs. The walls were made of boards a quarter of an inch thick and the walls and roofs were shingled with tree bark. The interior was divided into three sections with an upper and lower tier for sleeping. Straw mats were provided for sleeping. Each man had an area that was 30 inches wide and 73 inches long for his living quarters and storage of clothing. The floors were sand and dirt which flooded with as much as three inches when it rained since there was no drainage. The heat was provided by three-foot by three-foot fire pits – in the center of each section – that were too small to provide enough heat for the buildings, and since there were no flues the barracks filled with smoke. When they received wood, the POWs received ten sticks of wood four inches thick and two feet long that provided heat for an hour or two, usually 5 to 7 P.M., so it was common for ice to form under the mats in the sleeping area. It was not uncommon for POWs to die from the cold. They often did not receive wood and the excuse was always that a camp rule had been broken by someone. There also were few blankets in the camp for them to cover themselves with at night. Meals were eaten in the barracks at three tables since there was no mess hall. The buildings were infested with lice, fleas, and other bugs. To keep the problem under control the POWs spent hours killing the bugs in what was called the “fly campaigns.” The POWs received disinfectant but it was never enough to rid the barracks of the bugs.
At the same time, the Japanese lived in solid buildings where the stoves always were kept burning and they slept under heavy comforters. The POWs did not have winter clothing and wore flimsy shoes, but the Japanese had heavy winter clothing and shoes. In addition, there were 360 Red Cross shoes held in a warehouse that could have been issued to the POWs but weren’t because the camp commandant stated they would be issued when the POWs went home.
There were two latrines with straddle trenches in separate wooden buildings large enough for 30 men at a time. There was a bathtub that was 6x6x4 and was filled once every ten days so the POWs could bathe. The water to the bath was heated by a small fireplace. The POWs could take cold showers anytime but the POWs were too weak to chance getting sick after taking the shower.
There was no mess hall but each barracks had three tables for meals. Meals consisted mainly of barley and rice – with the ratio of 8 parts barley to 2 parts rice – and a soup made from mountain greens. Once in a while, the POWs received beans or vegetables. Very seldom did they receive meat or fish, but when they did, they boiled it until it could be eaten. When they did, it was often the stomachs of cattle that had been slaughtered at local butchers. Each POW received between 400 to 500 grams. The POWs in the sickbay had their rations cut by one-third. The camp commandant sent the official menu to Tokyo Headquarters that made it look like the POWs were well fed. The Japanese ate polished rice, soybean cakes, fish, meat, and fresh fruits.
The Japanese intentionally failed to give the POWs adequate food, and the Japanese supervisor of the POW kitchen, Tomotsu Kimura, also known as “The Punk” was known to take sacks of rice – meant for the POWs – home. The food the POWs did receive consisted of undercooked rice and barley, and a soup that was made from mountain greens and weeds. On very few occasions, the POWs received vegetables, meat, or fish. To make the fish edible, the POWs boiled it until they could eat it. The portions given to the prisoners were smaller than they should have been because Kimura skimmed food from the POWs and gave it to the guards.
There was one American and one British doctor in the camp who cared for the POWs. There was very little medicine to give the sick, and if they used it, they gave it to the sickest POWs. POWs who needed surgery were taken to the company hospital. The Japanese raided Red Cross packages and medical supplies not issued to POWs. Red Cross medicines intended for the POWs were used by the Japanese. The POWs in the camp suffered from infantile paralysis and tuberculosis. The sick slept with soiled blankets and sick POWs were forced to do hard labor which resulted in men dying.
The POWs got their water from a well next to the Tenryu River a few feet from where the sewer system from the town of Matsushima entered the river. The POWs had to carry the water to the camp in buckets. The only way they were able to drink it was to boil it in a small boiler that held up to 15 gallons. There was a small washboard with twelve spigots for washing clothes and dishes. There were two wooden buildings that served as the camp latrines which could be used by 30 men at a time. The waste had to be removed from them in buckets since there was no drainage and resulting in flies being everywhere in the camp. For bathing, the POWs had a 6-foot by 6-foot by 4-foot deep tub that was filled once every ten days.
The Red Cross sent clothing to the camp and there was more than enough for every POW, but adequate clothing was never issued to the POWs. Many of the POWs worked wearing straw shoes or barefooted in what was called summer clothing. To repair their clothes, the Japanese issued scraps of cloth to the POWs. After the war, Red Cross clothing, shoes, and coats were found in a warehouse in the camp. From 1944 to 1945, eight POWs both British and American died in the camp
The punishment given to the POWs was severe. Collective punishment was practiced at the camp when one POW violated a camp rule. The POWs were called out of their barracks for no reason and severely beaten for being uncovered while sleeping or for smoking while not near a tin can. The POWs were taken out of their barracks and made to stand at attention for no reason. As they stood at attention in the cold, cold water was thrown on them. The POWs also were made to hit each other in the face or forced to kneel on sharp pieces of wood. They were made to do strenuous exercise or hung from iron bars while guards used jiu-jitsu on them. POWs thrown into the guardhouse were not given bedding and had their food rations reduced.
The POWs worked in detachments at multiple steel mills and shoveled coal into furnaces without proper protection. The fumes made them sick and they frequently vomited. There were no real days off and if they did not work, they were expected to clean campgrounds.
On August 23, 1943, his wife learned he was a POW.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR HUSBAND CORPORAL JOHN R AWELL IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“Mrs. S. Atwell
1859 Eighth Avenue
Fort Dodge, Iowa
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Cpl. John R. Atwell, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau”
In April 1944, John was one of 100 POWs elected to be transferred to Tokyo 16-B which was also known as Kanose. Tokyo #16-B, which was also known as Kanose. The POWs worked at the Showa Denko Company under dangerous conditions since the factory was located in a mine and was poorly lit. The POWs also received little direction and supervision. Although the Japanese commanding officer did not personally abuse the POWs, he did not stop his subordinates from abusing the POWs. The POWs were beaten for violating camp rules. The POWs witnessed a Japanese guard, Tatsuo Tsuchiya – who was also known as, “Little Glass Eye” – beat to death PFC Robert Gordon Teas. He asked a question about a shirt he was wearing and when he didn’t like the answer, he began beating him with a knotted rope. The beating continued on in off for the next five days until Teas died. During the winter another POW was stripped naked and made to stand in the snow by Tsuchiya. The man also died. When a man fell to the ground during a beating, he was kicked.
Red Cross packages were misappropriated by the Japanese and if the POWs did receive them, it was obvious that items were missing. When the camp was inspected by Japanese officers from Tokyo, the POWs received Red Cross parcels, but they were not allowed to touch them and had to return them once they were gone. In July 1945, all the POWs were lined up and beaten. This was done because they had failed to fallout for an air raid. While in this camp, some of the POWs built a radio and hid it in the latrine. When it was discovered, the Japanese executed anyone they believed to be involved in building and hiding the radio.
POWs who were too ill to work were sent to work over the objections of the POW medical staff. It was said that the camp hospital was so bad that the POWs went to work sick to stay out of it.
The worse job a POW could get was on burial detail. On this detail, the prisoners had to carry bodies of the dead up a hill. When they reached the top, they had to report to a Japanese guard who recorded the dead man’s name. The Japanese would remove an anklebone from the corpse and put it in a box with the prisoner’s name on it. After this was done, the men on the detail had to roll the bodies down the hill and either leave them there or burn them. This depended on the Japanese guard on duty.
The camp was liberated in September 7, 1945. The POWs were taken to Yokohama and returned to the Philippines and promoted to sergeant. He returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Yarmouth and arrived in San Francisco on October 8, 1945. A little over four years since he had left from the same port. From there he was sent to Letterman General Hospital and then Schick Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. In December 1945, he testified against “Little Glass Eye” at his war crimes trial. He was not happy with the verdict and thought it should have been harder.
John R. Atwell passed away on August 13, 1963, and was buried at Oakland Cemetery, Fort Dodge, Iowa. The photo below is John Atwell’s POW photo.