2nd Lt. Donald Ray Bertrand was born in Roswell, New Mexico, on August 8, 1919. When he was two, his parents, Thomas Bertrand & Mary Pope-Bertrand, moved their family first to Estherville, Iowa, and later to Maywood, Illinois. In Maywood, he, his brother, and two sisters were raised at 205 South 8th Avenue and attended Emerson Grade School. He graduated from Proviso Township High School in 1939 and worked as a receiving clerk at a paper goods company.
Donald joined the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard to fulfill his military obligation. On November 28, 1940, Donald left Maywood for Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training. At Fort Knox, Donald learned to operate all the equipment used by the 192nd.
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. He attended radio operators school and qualified as a radioman on May 6, 1941.
When Headquarters Company was formed, in January 1941, Donald was assigned to the company as the technical sergeant in the reconnaissance platoon. From September 1 to 30, the 192nd was sent to take part in maneuvers in Louisiana. When the maneuvers ended, the battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. The members of the battalion had no idea why they were being sent there. What they were told, on the side of a hill, was that they were being sent overseas. He returned home on leave and got engaged to Evelyn Crowe.
The reason the battalion was being sent overseas 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, whose plane was lower than the others, 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, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, hundreds of miles away, that had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and back to Clark Field. After the planes landed, they reported what they saw, but it was too late in the day to do anything.
The next morning, planes were sent to the area and saw a fishing boat making its way toward the shore with the buoys under a tarp on its deck. Since radio communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boar escaped.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, from the 753rd Tank Battalion, for the men released from federal service, the battalion also received the 753rd’s tanks. The companies of the battalion traveled over different train routes to San Francisco, California, and were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. On the island, the battalion’s medical detachment gave the soldiers inoculations and physicals. Those who had minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced. Donald left the United States as a sergeant.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, 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. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
On Sunday night, November 9, the ships crossed the International Dateline and when the soldiers awoke, it was Tuesday, November 11. 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 that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. In the case of the officers, they were invited to have dinner with the 194th Tank Battalion. The enlisted men had 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.
Seventeen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Donald and the other members of Company B arrived in Manila. The battalion was deployed Fort Stotsenburg. At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King. The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.
In the Philippines, Donald received a battlefield commission as an officer and reassigned to C Company. He was made a tank platoon commander. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On December 8, 1941, December 7 in the United States, the members of B Company heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many of the men believed that this was the start of the maneuvers they expected. At 8:30, the planes of the Army Air Corps filled the sky in every direction. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.
At 12:45, while the tankers were having lunch, planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north. They had enough time to count 54 planes in formation. As they watched, what appeared to be “raindrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one-half years.
On December 16, 1941, Donald and Lt. Emmett Gibson was at Clark Field when Japanese planes appeared and bombed the airfield once more. The two officers found themselves in a slip-trench during a Japanese air attack. Each one had a .30 caliber machine gun and opened fire on the planes. Both men watched as their tracers went through the wings of the Japanese fighters. The pilots of the planes broke off the attack and took off for home.
The tank battalion received orders on December 20 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough gas 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, 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 but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
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 fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27 and were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but they were able to find a crossing over the river. During the withdrawal into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown. The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur’s chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
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. 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.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. 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.
One night, while on beach duty, the Japanese attempted to land troops on the beach guarded by B Company. The company and the Japanese got into a tremendous firefight. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had been landed on the beach. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting other landings.
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 in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
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 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.
In March, 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. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
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. It was at this time that Donald was transferred to C Company.
The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. The tanks were pulled out of their position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. 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 sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. The tankers disabled their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them. When they did, the tankers, who were now Prisoners of War, were ordered to Mariveles. Making their way north along the east coast of Bataan, they made it to San Fernando where 100 POWs were packed into wooden boxcars known as “forty of eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. When a man died, he remained standing since there was no room for him to fall to the floor. At Capas, those POWs still living left the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors of the cars.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
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.
No water was available 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. Tsuneyoshi also told the doctor that the only thing he wanted to know about the Americans was their names and serial numbers when they died. The ranking American officer was beaten, with a broadsword, when he asked for additional food, medicine, and materials to patch the roofs of the 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 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 lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. During this time, he lived in Barracks #29.
In May or early June 1943, his parents received a message from the War Department:
“Dear Mrs.M. Bertrand:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Second Lieutenant Donald R. Bertrand, O&,890,432, 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 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”
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, Second Lieutenant Donald R. Bertrand 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.”
It is also known that Donald was sent to Davao, Mindanao, on a detail that built runways. At Pier 7, the POWs were boarded onto the Erie Maru. The POWs had enough room to lay down without being crowded. The hatches to the ship’s holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila Harbor.
Food for the prisoners was generous. The food was well prepared and each POW received a full mess kit of rice and a canteen cup filled with a thick cabbage soup containing pork. They even were given corn beef and cabbage one night.
The trip on the freighter lasted 13 days. The reason was the ship made frequent stops in ports along the coast of Luzon. The POWs disembarked the ship at Davao, where they joined another group of 1000 prisoners. To the POWs, these prisoners at Davao appeared to be well fed when compared to the men in their group. Upon the arrival of new POWs, the rations for these men were cut in half which caused friction between the two groups.
At Davao, the prisoners were assigned to a farm. The prisoners grew rice, sweet potatoes, cassava roots, coffee, and squash. The food was used to feed the Japanese soldiers in the Philippines. Leftover food was ship to the military in Japan. The only part of this food the prisoners received were the plant tops from the sweet potatoes. The prisoners were fed rice three times a day. The evening meal would also include mongo beans. For three to four months, the POWs also received tuna fish once a week.
Unlike the many camps, there was plenty of water available to the prisoners and there was a well in the compound. The POWs could actually keep themselves and their clothes clean. Being clean was a great help in improving the health of the POWs. While he was a POW there, his parents received a POW card from him.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindanao, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship’s front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao, for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25 and was sent to Cabanatuan.
In September 1944, Donald had been selected to be sent to Bilibid Prison. There were inspections and the POWs received a breakfast of a piece of cornbread and rice. They were loaded onto six trucks with 50 men put on each one which made the ride uncomfortable. They were packed so tightly, they had to stand.
At 11:00 A.M. on their way to the prison, the POWs saw to large formations of American planes which were the fifth or sixth straight day they had seen American planes. The trucks stopped and the POWs were fed, but they were not allowed off the trucks. The POWs made their way to the side of the truck to urinate. They arrived at Bilibid at 4:00 P.M. and remained there for the next two and a half months.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The next day, December 13, the POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection which started at 7:30 in the morning and lasted until after 9:00. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. They were allowed to roam the compound. By 11:30 A.M., the POWs were lined up, roll call was taken, and the POWs formed detachments of 100 men. The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march, down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the streetcars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was an old run-down ship, while the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened at about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s aft hold. Being the first one on the ship meant that they would suffer many deaths. Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out.
One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.”
The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it. The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died.
One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”
At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
The POWs received their first meal at dawn. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three-fourths of a cup of water that was shared by 20 POWs. It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
At first, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us.”
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties.
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan.
The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes were running out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs. During the attack Lt. William Cummings, a Catholic chaplain, led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship.
Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship’s had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped. At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15 and the POWs sat in the ship’s holds for hours after dawn. The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water. At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, “Planes, many planes!”
In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold a Catholic chaplain, Major John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fell, hit near the stern hatch, and debris goes flying up in the air.”
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court. POWs who died while there were buried in a bomb crater on the beach.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. What was learned is that these men were taken to a cemetery, shot, and buried. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for days. During that time, they were given water but not fed.
The POWs remained on the tennis courts for nine days. During their time on the courts, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs dropped their bombs and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. What is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The evening of December 16, the Japanese brought 50-kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes in them. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 20, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis courts. Rumors flew on where they going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, “No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid.” The guard knew as little as the POWs.
On December 21, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw the theater as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, the POWs lived through several air raids, since the barrio was military headquarters for the area, and most of the civilians had been evacuated from the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
At about 10:00 PM on December 23, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. It was believed these men were taken to Bilibid Prison. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
About ten in the morning on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the train station had been hit by bombings and that the train cars had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 POWs were packed into steel boxcars with four guards inside with them. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards on each car. The guards told the POWs it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Francisco, La Union, at 2:00 A.M. They walked two kilometers to a schoolyard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25 until the 26, the POWs were held in a schoolhouse. The morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to a beach. During the time on the beach, the POWs were given one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that some men drank seawater. Many of the men who did this died.
At 8:00 A.M., on December 27, the remaining prisoners were boarded onto barges and taken to another ship, the Brazil Maru or Enoura Maru which already had POWs on them. During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31 and dropped anchor around 11:30 AM.
After arriving at Takao, each POW received a six-inch-long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1 through January 5, the POWs received one meal a day which resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6, the POWs on the Brazil Maru were transferred to the forward hold of the Enoua Maru and began to receive two meals a day.
While in the harbor at Takao, the Enoura Maru came under attack by American planes on the morning of January 9. The POWs were receiving their first meal when the sound of the ship’s machine guns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard and the waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb that hit the ship exploded outside the front of the ship blowing a hole in its haul. A second bomb fell right through the open hatch and exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead, and the stench from the dead filled the air. The POWs stacked the corpses under the main hatch so that the first thing the Japanese smelled and saw were the bodies when they looked into the hold.
On January 11, a work detail was formed and the dead were removed from the hold. placed on a barge, and taken to shore. The POWs on the burial detail were too weak to lift the bodies, so ropes were tied to the bodies, they were dragged to shore, and buried in a mass grave. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold.
On January 13, the surviving POWs were boarded onto the Brazil Maru. The POWs found they had more room and were actually issued life jackets. The ship sailed for Japan on January 14 as part of a convoy. 2nd Lt. Donald R. Bertrand died in the ship’s hold on January 20, 1945. The cause of death was listed as dysentery on the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion, but U.S. Army records show that he died from wounds he had received during the attack on the Enoura Maru. Donald was 23 years old.
After 2nd Lt. Donald R. Bertrand died, his body was stripped of its clothing and thrown overboard. His clothing was given to other prisoners who needed it. Since he died at sea, 2nd Lt. Donald R. Bertrand’s name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
After the war, his family received a letter stating that Donald had died on December 15, 1941. the family received another letter correcting the earlier message and stating that his date of death was January 20, 1945.