On December 20, 1917, James Philip Bashleben was born to Kuno Bashleben & Frances Boening-Bashleben. When he was ten, his mother passed away on May 2, 1928. After her death, he and his father lived with his grandmother at 3248 West Warner Avenue in Chicago. His father remarried and, with his half-sister, he was raised in Chicago until his family moved to 1719 Glenview Avenue in Park Ridge, Illinois.
In Park Ridge, he attended Maine Township High School, where he played football and was a member of the Class of 1936. After graduation, he joined the Illinois National Guard with his high school friends, Andrew Hepburn and Willard Von Bergen, and was employed by the Northern Illinois Public Service Company.
Jim ended up in the Maywood Tank Company because he, and his friends, had heard that two National Guard units from the Chicago area were being federalized. The draft act had recently been enacted by Congress which meant that the three would most likely be drafted. Since the three friends wanted to get their military obligation completed, in August 1940, they took a ride to Maywood to check out the National Guard tank company. The other unit was cavalry, and the three agreed that riding in tanks sounded better than riding on horses.
Upon arriving at the armory in Maywood, the three friends made an agreement not to join the National Guard until they had a chance to talk about it. When they entered the armory, Jim had his first experience of “divide and conquer.” The entire time the three friends were in the armory, they never saw each other. It was only when they were driving back to Park Ridge that each one admitted to the other two that he had joined the National Guard. The three friends started laughing that they had enlisted. On November 25, 1940, the tank company was federalized and designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
At Fort Knox, Jim was selected by Lt. Richard Danca to attend radio school while in the mess hall. He recalled that Danca was looking for “volunteers” to attend the classes and that he attempted to hide from Danca by not looking up at him, but Danca saw him and told him he was going to radio school. What sold Jim on the idea was that he would not be on any work details.
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. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
One day, while in class at radio school, Lt. Danca walked in and informed Jim that he was now going to learn to ride a motorcycle since they had enough men training to be radio operators. Jim remembered his father’s words, “No, you cannot have a two-wheeler bike – they’re too dangerous.”
As it turned out, being on a motorcycle had its advantages. Jim could get off base by telling the first sergeant that he was taking a test hop. One of the most famous war bond posters was a picture of Jim flying through the air on his Harley-Davidson Motorcycle which was taken by a photographer from the Chicago Tribune.
Jim recalled that the photographer asked him if he could jump over a log on the bike. Jim said, “No problem,” but was lucky enough not to find any logs to jump, so he rode down through a deep gully and came flying out on the other side becoming airborne before he barely survived the landing. The photographer told Jim it looked great and then said, “Do it again so we can get your picture.” The picture was later used on a Harley Davidson War Bonds poster.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. Men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
The decision to send the 192nd to the Philippines was because of an event that happened during 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 and came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen. By the time a Navy ship was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco. Arriving there, they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27, and arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2. The soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
While in Hawaii, Ray Mason and Jim stopped into a bar to have a drink. There, the two soldiers got into a conversation with two sailors. The sailors told them that they were going to school to identify enemy planes. The sailors stated that they were learning to identify German, Italian, and Russian planes. Jim asked them, “How about the Japanese?” The sailors told Jim, “Are you kidding? All they have are wooden propeller bi-planes.”
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, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner- which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. As it turned out, their Thanksgiving dinner was a stew thrown into their mess kits. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance. Jim was given the job of being the battalion’s reconnaissance sergeant. Sometime during this time, Jim was given command of a reconnaissance half-track.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank or half-track at all times.
On the morning of December 8, the tankers heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. Jim moved his half-track to a designated position at the airfield. Next to his half-track was the half-track of Sgt. Zenon Bardowski. A little over two weeks after arriving in the Philippines, and just ten hours after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Philippine Islands were attacked by the Japanese. Jim witnessed the Japanese destroy almost the entire American Army Air Corps as they bombed and strafed Clark Field. Jim was on a half-track with Zenon Bardowski and Ray Mason, “Bud” – as Bardowski was known – and Jim were firing fifty caliber machine guns at the planes. Jim’s gun jammed, but Bud shot down a Zero. As another Zero whistled overhead, Jim heard Ray say, “There goes another one of those wooden propeller bi-planes.”
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
During one withdrawal, the half-track Jim was in could not make it up the bank of a river. Sgt. Bob Bronge, who was in the last tank, looked back and saw that the half-track was missing. He reversed his tank and found it stuck at the bottom of the river bank. Bronge attached a tow cable to the half-track and pulled Jim and the half-track William Oldaker to safety. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
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 bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
During the withdrawal into the peninsula, the night of January 6/7, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
During the night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, 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. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
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 which 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 Bakanga-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 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took potshots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the treetops. Three members of the company were killed.
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. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields at different places to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks which had rotting flesh in their tracks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Siliiam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
On another occasion, B Company was in its bivouac when it came under fire from a sniper. Capt. Donald Hanes called Jim and his half-track driver, William Oldaker, over and said he wanted them to take care of the sniper. Hanes pointed to a tree down the road and told them that he believed the sniper was in it. The two soldiers climbed into their half-track and made their way down the narrow road. As they went forward, Jim realized that they were sitting targets in the open half-track. Oldaker stopped the half-track and Jim fired its .50 caliber machine gun into the tree zigzagging as he fired up the trunk. Jim wasn’t sure if he hit the sniper, but he did see something fall from the tree.
Another time, Jim and Oldaker pulled their half-track into a palm grove for the night. The Fifth Columnists must have seen them do this because the next morning shells began landing around the half-track.
On another occasion, Jim’s half-track was behind a platoon of tanks crossing a river. The tanks, being tracked, climbed up the river bank without a problem. When Jim’s half-track reached the bank, its front wheels prevented it from climbing out of the river onto the bank. As they attempted to climb the bank the Japanese began shelling the area. The shelling got so bad that Jim and Oldaker climbed out of the half-track and laid against the side of the bank while shells landed in the river behind them. The explosions drenched both men. After the shelling, they made their way back to the half-track which was still intact. It was at that time that Sgt. Zenon Bardowski returned to the river, in his tank, after noticing the half-track was missing. He threw a cable to Jim and Oldaker, they attached it to the half-track, and his tank pulled the half-track up the slope.
Jim and Oldaker were separated when Jim was sent north to attempt to make contact with B Company tanks. It was while attempting to do this that Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese. Tank battalion commanders received this order and issues it to their men: “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.”
On April 8, Jim received orders to surrender to the Japanese. The surrender would officially take place the next day. He and the other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at Bataan’s southern tip. It was from this barrio that Jim took part in what he referred to as “the march.”
The Americans were marched in groups of 100 with guns on them at all times. Each group was assigned six Japanese guards who would be changed at regular intervals. During the 70 mile march, the Americans were seldom allowed to stop and were not fed until the fifth day. Those who stopped or dropped out were bayoneted or left to die.
For Jim, hearing men who had fallen to the ground begging for help and not being able to help them was one of the hardest things he experienced on the march. The POWs who continued to march and those who had fallen both knew that to do so meant death for both men.
The lack of water and food was extremely hard on Jim and the other prisoners. He watched as two POWs ran to a water spigot to fill their canteens with water. Both men were shot by the Japanese. Jim felt he was luckier than many of the other POWs since he had drunk three cans of condensed milk and eaten a can of corn-beef hash before starting the march. This food in his opinion helped him make it through the march.
The first camp Jim was interred at was Camp O’Donnell which 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.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The ranking American officer was beaten with a broadsword after he requested medicine, additional food, and materials to repair the leaking roofs of the POWs’ 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 Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
Jim like other POWs wanted to get out of the camp because of the number of POWs dying each day. He volunteered, with his high school friend, Sgt. Willard Von Bergen to go out on a work detail to rebuild bridges. The detail was known to them as “The Bridge Building Detail,” since the POWs rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed – during the American retreat – for the Japanese Engineers. This detail was also under the command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The detail left Camp O’Donnell on May 1, 1942.
Once out of the camp, the POWs were broken into four detachments of 250 men each. Jim’s detachment was sent to Calauan. There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctors and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
One day, while on a break from bridge building, Jim was sitting on a log, with Bob Stewart of A Company, having a smoke. A jeep pulled up in front of the two men and stopped. A Japanese Naval Officer, in full dress uniform, got out and sat down next to the two prisoners.
Bob Stewart looked at Jim and asked him if they should offer the officer a smoke. Jim said to Bob, “If he wants a cigarette, let the son-of-bitch smoke his own.” At that moment, the officer took out a cigarette and said to them, “If I were you, I’d be pissed off too.” The officer told them that he had a wife and son in the United States and that he had returned to Japan because his grandmother was dying. After she had died, he tried to leave the country but couldn’t. The officer preceded to tell them that he had traveled all over the United States and saw the might of American industry and that he knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans would begin to win the war. The Japanese officer said that his only regret was that he feared he would not be alive to see the end of the war.
When the officer got up to leave, he looked at Bob and Jim, pulled out a pack of American cigarettes, and threw the cigarettes to them and said, “Smoke something good.” He got back into the jeep and drove off.
Jim was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge. Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed. Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.
On the detail with him was his high school buddy Willard Von Bergen. Von, as he was known as, had joined the National Guard with Jim. It was during this time that he became ill and sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
The next bridge Jim and the other POWs were sent to build was in Batangas. Once again, the people of the town did whatever they could to help the Americans. An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner. Wickord picked the twelve sickest looking POWs. Jim must have looked like he needed a good meal because he was one of the twelve men selected by Wickord.
The last bridge the POWs rebuilt was at Candelaria. At this barrio, the POWs slept in a coconut processing mill with a fence around it.
While Jim was on the detail his parents received a letter from the War Department in May or early June. It said:
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Sergeant James P. Bashleben who according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to give you more information. 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 of other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese government has indicated its intentions of conforming to the terms of the Geneva convention with respects 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 the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is hoped that the Japanese government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At this time you will be notified by this office in the event his name (James P. Bashleben) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. 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, Sergeant James P. Bashleben 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.”
When the POWs finished the bridge, they were sent to Cabanatuan. After coming off a work detail, Jim checked himself into the camp “hospital” at Cabanatuan suffering from dysentery and also bleeding from his rectum. He believed it was just a matter of time until he would die. He entered the hospital ward and the sergeant in charge told him to climb into a top bunk that held five men. Jim went to the bunk and counted five men in it and told the sergeant it was full. The sergeant and a medic walked up to the bunk and pulled the body of a dead GI from the bunk. After this was done, Jim climbed into the bunk and slept the night.
The next morning Jim woke and wanted to get out of the bunk because his name had been called by a medic. He nudged the man next to him and discovered the man was dead. He turned over and nudged the man on his other side of him to tell him the first man was dead and discovered that he too was dead. Jim called for the medics who removed the first dead man so that Jim could get out of the bunk.
The medic who was calling Jim’s name told him that there was someone at the barbed wire fence – that surrounded the hospital ward – looking for him. The Japanese were so afraid of the sick GIs that they had erected a barbed wire fence around the ward. Jim went outside and saw that the person wanting him was Sgt. Zenon Bardowski of B Company. “Bud” had seen Jim entering the hospital.
Jim went to the fence and Bud handed him a tinfoil package. Jim opened it and found two yellow sulfur pills in it, and Bud told him to take the pills. At that moment Jim knew that Bud was truly his friend because he was offering him pills that possibly could one day save his own life. Jim took the pills and placed the tinfoil wrapped pills in his waistband.
Jim went to sleep that night with the pills still in his waistband. The next morning, when he awoke, his dysentery and bleeding had stopped, and he had never touched the pills. When he was released from the hospital, Jim returned the pills to Bud, who would later give them to a member of C Company and save his life.
After he was released from the camp hospital, Jim went looking for Von Bergen. From other members of B Company, he learned that Von had died from his illness. It is known that during the Christmases of 1942 and 1943, the POWs received Red Cross packages as Christmas presents from the camp commandant. In each package were 2 cans of meat, 1 can of dried milk, and a chocolate bar.
Jim came down with wet beriberi and was admitted to the camp hospital on May 20, 1943. Since he could not go to the washroom, his body began to swell like a beach ball, and his skin appeared to be transparent. Knowing lying down to sleep would mean his death, Jim remained standing when he slept. He did this by leaning against a wall.
One day, Jim made the decision to go to the slit trench that served as the toilet and remain there until he went to the bathroom. He could not recall how long he stood there attempting to urinate, but once he started it seemed as if he was there for hours. It is not known when he was discharged from the hospital.
Jim worked on a farm in rice fields. 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. 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.
At Camp One, the prisoners ate rice and lived in crude huts. If a prisoner was late or missed a detail, that POW was made to kneel on a ladder with a pole placed behind the knees to cut circulation. The prisoner stayed like this until he fell over.
The longer that Jim was held at Cabanatuan, the worst the food situation became. He and the other POWs worked in the camp farm, yet rations for the POWs were shrinking on a daily basis. He also worked building runways while a POW in the camp.
At some point, Jim spent five days in a small punishment box, without food or water, because he had violated a camp rule. The Japanese also practiced collective punishment when a rule was violated by one POW. It was not uncommon for all the POWs to be hit when a rule was violated by one man.
According to Jim, the guards were given nicknames by the POWs. Donald Duck was a guard who would jump up and down and scream when he became excited. The POWs would tell him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star. Another guard was known as “P-40” because he would frequently attack the POWs for no reason.
On October 15, 1943, his father was informed he was officially listed as a POW by the International Red Cross. Within days of the notification, his father received this message from the War Department:
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON SERGEANT JAMES P BASHLEBEN 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:
3248 West Warner Street
“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:
“Sgt. James P. Bashleben, 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”
It was around this time that Jim made the decision that volunteering for transport to Japan may be a good idea. He believed that in Japan, the POWs would be fed better since they were in the Japanese homeland.
On July 4, 1944, Jim was boarded onto a ship for shipment to Japan. He spent 62 days crammed in the hold of the Canadian Inventor. The ship sailed but returned to Manila. On July 16, the ship sailed again. After stops at Takao and Keelung, Formosa, the ship sailed for Naha, Okinawa, before arriving at Moji, Japan. It arrived there on September 4, 1944.
Jim was imprisoned at Fukuoka #17 and given the number 1165. At the camp, the POWs worked in a condemned coal mine where each team of POWs was expected to load three cars of coal a day. The POWs worked 12-hour workdays with the constant threat of rocks falling on them. Those POWs who the Japanese believed were not working hard enough were beaten. The POWs worked in three shifts with a 30-minute lunch and one day off every ten days.
The camp was surrounded by a 12-foot wooden fence that had three heavy gauge electrified wires attached to it. The first wire was attached at six feet with the others higher up. The POWs lived in 33 one-story barracks 120 feet long and 16 feet wide and divided into ten rooms. Officers slept four men to a room while enlisted men slept from four to six men in a room. Each room was lit by a 15-watt bulb, and at the end of each building was a latrine with three stools and a urinal. The POWs slept on beds that were 5 feet 8 inches long by 2 feet wide and made of a tissue paper and cotton batting covered with a cotton pad. Three heavy cotton blankets were issued to each POW plus a comfortable made of tissue paper, scrap rags, and scrap cotton.
Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners. To prevent this from happening, the POWs would “buddy-up” with each other. While one man was working in the mine, the POW who was not working would watch the possessions of the other man. Jim’s buddy was a Navy seaman who was too sick to work in the mine. He also told Jim the latest camp news when he returned from the mine.
A meal consisted of rice and vegetable soup three times a day. Those POWs working in the mine received 700 grams a day, while camp workers received 450 grams a day. Officers, since they were not required to work, received 300 grams a day. Those working in the mine received three buns every second day since they did not return to camp for lunch. The meals were cooked in the camp kitchen which was manned by 15 POWs. Seven of the POWs were professional cooks.
The kitchen had 11 cauldrons, 2 electric baking ovens, 2 kitchen ranges, 4 storerooms, and an icebox. To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens, and seaweed. As they entered the mess hall, they would say their POW number to a POW standing by a wooden board. He would take a nail and place it in the hole in front of the man’s number. After all the POWs had been fed, the board was cleared for the next meal.
There were also bathing rooms in the camp with two bathing tanks that were 30 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. The tubs were heated with very hot water. The POWs working in the mine bathed during the winter after cleaning themselves before entering the tubs. They did not bathe during the summer months to prevent skin diseases.
The camp hospital was a building of ten rooms that could each hold 30 men. There was an isolation ward for 15 POWs usually men suffering from tuberculosis. The POW doctors had little to no medicines or medical supplies to treat the ill. Dental treatment consisted of removing teeth without anesthesia.
In addition, the sick were forced to work. The Japanese camp doctor allowed the sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine. He also took the Red Cross medical supplies meant for the POWs for his own use and failed to provide adequate medical treatment. Food that came in the packages was eaten by the guards. Those POWs working in the mine were given more Red Cross supplies than the other POWs.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp. The guards beat the POWs for the slightest reason and continued until the POW was unconscious. The man was then taken to the guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without food or water for a long period of time.
During the winter, the POWs were made to stand at attention and had water thrown on them as they stood in the cold, or they were forced to kneel on bamboo poles. It is known that the POWs were made to stand in water and shocked with electrical current. At some point, Jim recalled, two POWs were tied to a post and left to die. This was done they had violated a camp rule.
The Japanese interpreter in the camp refused to perform his duties resulting in the POWs receiving beatings because they could not explain the situation. He also would inform the guards of any alleged violations of camp rules which resulted in the POWs being severely beaten. This happened frequently at the mine with the interpreter usually the person responsible. He also, for no reason, slapped and beat the POWs.
On one occasion in November 1944, shirts had been stolen from a bundle in a building. The Japanese ordered all the POWs to assemble and told them that they would not be fed until the shirts were returned. The men returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00 P.M.
One day after working in the mine, Jim’s buddy told him the latest news. He told Jim that he could not believe how stupid the Japanese were. When Jim inquired why he believed this, the POW said that that morning he saw the greatest explosion he had ever seen in his life. He concluded that the explosion was caused by a Japanese ammo dump exploding from being bombed.
In reality, on August 9, 1945, some of the POWs saw the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Nagasaki. Those who saw it described that it was a sunny day and the explosion still lit up the sky. The pillar of smoke that rose from the bomb was described as having all the colors of the rainbow. Afterward, the POWs saw what they described that a fog blanketed Nagasaki and that the city had vanished. Shortly after this, the Japanese became more tolerant, which caused the prisoners to hope that liberation was near. The Japanese guards soon disappeared from the camp.
The POWs also talked to minors who told them about how Japanese civilians, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated they died within days. A detachment of Japanese soldiers was said to have been sent into Nagasaki the next day to look for survivors and later its members suffered the same fate.
One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News entered the camp. He told the POWs that there were American troops on Honshu. Jim and other POWs left the camp and contacted the troops. On August 14, 1945, Jim was liberated.
His family received this message from the War Department:
“Mr. Kuno Bashleben: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Sgt. James P. Bashleben was returned to military control Aug. 13 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
After liberation, he sent to the Philippines. It was at this time that Jim received the rank of staff sergeant. Jim finally returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dychman arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945, eleven days short of four years since he had sailed for the Philippines.
After being liberated and returned to the Philippines, Jim wrote home:
“Dear Folks —
“Arrived here by plane on the fifteenth and having the time of my life. Everyone is treating me swell. I left Fukuoka and went by train and ferry to Konoye Field and the southern tip of Kyushu where we were flown by plane (C-47), one of the “Jungle Skippers” to Okinawa, where we were put on a B-24 and flown to Manila. It took us 20 days to go from P. I. to Japan in 1944 —- 4 hours to come from Japan to P. I. No wonder the Nips lost the war.
“I weighed 123 lbs. when I left Japan and when I reached here I had already gained 27 lbs. Probably weigh around 170 now and going strong. All we do here is eat, eat and sleep. You can imagine having American food 3 times a day after rice and seaweed watery soup for 3½ years. All my cravings have been satisfied (all the candy, meat, bread that we want). I still look forward to a pineapple upside down cake, Bernie, so practice up (also Dressel’s cake). Used to think about those until I was ready to go nuts.
” Got my physical exam and so far I’m o.k. slightly underweight, but by the time I pull into P. R. I hope to be the well-rounded lad you last saw (224lbs). Received 3 mos. back pay, $324. Nothing here to buy worthwhile, and what little that is here costs a fortune.
“An idea of what this place is like is — we live in tents. Japanese P.O.W.’s clean up the tents and pull all the work details (Ha! Ha!) — no sympathy from us. Four separate buildings: (1) Px, where we get our beers, 4 cigars, 2 pkgs. of cigarettes, 3 candy bars a day) — all the coca cola we want; (2) a doughnut shop (free fruit juice, coffee and doughnuts); (3) writing room; (4) library.
“Fellows from the outfit are drifting in. Sure is good to see some of the old faces after 3 years.
“I imagine things at home have changed quite a bit. Hope everyone is o.k. How are Alvin, Len, Sam, Hep, and the others are doing? I hope their still home.
“Would sure like to see a picture of Donna (his sister). I’d bet she’s quite a lady now
“Please write and send some pictures if possible. Say ‘Hello’ to everyone for me. Will be home as soon as I can get there. Expect to leave here within the next few days.
“See you soon —- Jimmie”
While he was recovering in Galesburg, Illinois at Mayo Hospital, he met a nurse, Joyce Peyron, that he would marry on June 16, 1946. He was discharged, from the army, three days later on June 19, 1946. He and his wife raised two sons. Jim returned to Park Ridge and to his job at the Northern Illinois Public Service Company. When the company was split into several utility companies, he became an employee of Northern Illinois Gas were worked until he retired.
Ironically, during the war, Joyce passed a war bond poster from the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company – of a motorcycle messenger flying through the air on his Harley – on her way to and from work every day. The man in the poster, which was taken at Fort Knox in 1941, was of the same man that she married.
Jim Bashleben resided in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He passed away on July 30, 2009, in Arlington Heights and was cremated. His ashes are at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Arlington Heights.