Cpl. Matthew Baxter Braun was born on November 30, 1916, in Sedgewick, Alberta, Canada, to Andrew & Mable Braun. He was the second oldest of the couple’s four children and known as “Matt” to his family and friends. He grew up at 9 Williamstown Road in Camden, New York, until the family moved to 206 North Madison Street in Rome, New York. He graduated from Rome Free Academy in 1934 and after graduation, he held a job annealing at a brass mill.
Matt was drafted in the U.S. Army in Albany, New York, on March 27, 1941, and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. After completing basic training, he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where the battalion was stationed. After the maneuvers – that were taking place there – the 192nd Tank Battalion received overseas orders. Those men considered “too old” for overseas duty were given a chance to resign from federal service. It was at that time that Matthew joined the tank battalion and was assigned to Headquarters Company.
The decision for this move – which had been made in August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The company traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. 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 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5th, 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 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
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, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan.
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 – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. 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 ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, Matt, and the other members of his company worked to ready the equipment of the battalion for use in maneuvers they expected to take part in, in the coming month. They removed cosmoline from their guns which had been greased so they would not rust during the trip to the Philippines. They also loaded ammunition belts since they were scheduled to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On the morning of Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 192nd was assigned the south end of the airfield. Two members of each tank crew remained with their tank at all times. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
On Monday morning, December 8, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All members of the tank crews were ordered to their tanks. Hq Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying the American Army Air Corps.
Being that their job was maintenance and ordnance, the members of HQ company remained in the battalion’s bivouac. Since HQ Company had no weapons to fight planes, they could do little more than watching the attack and taking cover.
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. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed. The battalion repeatedly dropped back as it fought the Japanese.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
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 and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line and were near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28 and 29.
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion’s tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 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.
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 a bridge that 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 pot shots 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 and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. 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 the tank companies were pulled 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.
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.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3rd. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. 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.”
The night of April 8, Capt. Fred Bruni, the commanding officer of the company, told his men to destroy anything that the Japanese could use. He managed to scrounge enough food and pineapple juice to give the men what he called “their last supper.”
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M. The members of the company remained in their bivouac. The only thing they did not destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until the Japanese arrived and ordered them to move. Matt was now a Prisoner of War.
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
The company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat and watched, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. Afterward. the officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Matthew’s group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. They remained at the schoolyard until they were ordered to move.
Matt and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, he received no water and little food. At another point, the soldiers were ordered to sit. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs.
The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
When they began to the march again, it took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bullpen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bullpen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.
At San Fernando, Matthew was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. As they left the cars, the bodies of the dead fell to the floors of the boxcars.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that 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 Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The dead, at Camp O’Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp One was where the POWs who fought on Bataan and were held at Camp O’Donnell were sent. Camp Two was two miles from Camp One and because of a lack of water was closed and later reopened to house Naval POWs. Camp Three was six miles from Camp Two and was where the POWs who were captured on Corregidor were sent. In addition, the POWs who were in the hospitals on Bataan and did not take part in the march were sent there. The camp was later closed and the POWs were transferred to Camp One.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier.
On November 1, 1942, the Japanese drew 1500 POW names of men who were being sent to Japan. When the names were drawn, the POWs had no idea what was happening. Many came to the conclusion on their own that they were being sent to Japan. At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with, which was a small issue of rice and what the Japanese termed “a large piece of meat.” The large piece of meat was two inches square and large next to a piece of meat they usually received at a meal.
After they arrived at the barrio, a Japanese officer lectured the POWs before they boarded train cars. 98 POWs were put into each car which allowed them to position themselves so they could move around. They remained on the train all day and arrived at Manila at 5:00 P.M. After they disembarked, they were marched to Pier 7 where they spent the night sleeping on a concrete floor in a building.
The POWs boarded the Nagato Maru at 5:00 P.M. on November 6. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold which the Japanese believed could hold 600 men without a problem. In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 600 men. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 550 and 560. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All the holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner.
The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts. The Nagato Maru sailed on November 7, 1942.
The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was at the on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line.
For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had stepped on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Formosa the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18. During this part of the trip, the POWs felt the explosions from depth charges.
The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship. As they disembarked, each POW received a chip of red or black colored wood. The color of the wood determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once on shore, they were deloused, showered, and issued new uniforms.
By ferry, the POWs were taken to Shimonoseki, Honshu, where they were loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There, the prisoners were divided into groups according to the color of wood they had.
In Japan, Matt was taken to Tokyo #12-B which was also known as Matsushima. After arriving in the camp, Capt. Sukeo Nakajima, the camp commander had them line up and stand in formation dressed in tropical clothing. The camp was located in the mountains. He made a lengthy speech in which he threatened to kill them for the slightest reason. The speech lasted an hour and a half. The next morning, the POWs were made to strip off their clothes and were given their first medical examination outside in the cold.
That night the POWs slept in cold barracks. The situation which was made worse by the fact they had tropical clothing and there were few blankets. The barracks were heated by 3 foot by 3-foot fire pits that were only used from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M., since each barracks received 10 inches by 4 inches by two foot long – pieces of wood each day which did not supply adequate heat. Since there were no flues for the smoke from the fire pits filled the barracks which irritated the POWs’ eyes.
Often, during the winter, the Japanese used excuses about rules having been violated so that they did not have to give the POWs firewood. In addition, the barracks were poorly constructed and the wind blew through the cracks at night. The floors were dirt and sand which meant the barracks flooded when it rained.
There were two latrines in the camp each of which could hold 30 men at a time. The latrines did not have a drainage system which meant that they had to empty the trenches by hand. Every POW had a turn doing this job.
The Japanese did not provide the Red Cross winter clothing or shoes sent to the camp for the POWs. After the war, a warehouse of clothing, shoes, and coats was found at the camp. Instead, the POWs wore their tropical clothing and straw shoes which were made by POWs too sick to work. The Japanese did supply rags so that the POWs could patch their clothes. The POWs also worked in the rain without raincoats or a change of clothes.
Red Cross medical supplies withheld from sick and the sick slept on soiled blankets since the POWs could not wash them since there were no washing facilities. The Japanese misappropriated Red Cross supplies for themselves and were seen wearing clothing and shoes meant for the POWs.
Collective Punishment was practiced in the camp. From post-war, war crime records, 45 POWs were punished because of the actions of a few. Eight Japanese guards repeatedly abused these POWs denying them – at various times – food, shelter, and clothing, between November 26, 1942, and his death. At night, POWs were called out into the cold and made to stand at attention. While standing there, they were slapped for no apparent reason. Eight Japanese guards repeatedly abused these POWs denying them – at various times – food, shelter, and clothing, between November 26, 1942, and August 5, 1944. Nine guards from this camp were executed for war crimes after the war.
It was common practice in the camp for the Japanese to call the POWs out of the barracks at night and make them stand at attention for no reason. One guard, Sgt. Masaru Mikawa would walk down the line and get in the faces of the POWs. If the man flinched, he walloped the man as hard as he could. Those POWs put in the guardhouse had no bedding and had their rations reduced.
The Japanese intentionally failed to give the POWs adequate food, and the Japanese supervisor of the POW kitchen, Tomotsu Kimura, also known as “The Punk,” was known to take sacks of rice – meant for the POWs – home. The food the POWs did receive consisted of under-cooked rice and barley, and a soup that was made from mountain greens and weeds. On very few occasions, the POWs received vegetables, meat or fish. To make the fish edible, the POWs boiled it until they could eat it. The portions given to the prisoners were smaller than they should have been because Kimura skimmed food from the POWs and gave it to the guards.
Red Cross packages which arrived at the camp were commandeered by the Japanese for themselves. If the POWs did receive packages, it was evident that they had been gone through. This was especially true from November 26, 1942, until August 5, 1944.
The camp hospital was a hospital in name only, and the POWs were given little to no medicine when they were sick. The medicine sent by the Red Cross for the POWs was used by the Japanese. In addition, there were no bathroom facilities for the sick. The POWs had to sleep on soiled blankets which could not be cleaned since there were no facilities to wash them.
The POWs were divided into detachments and taken to different steel mills. The working conditions were extremely bad at the antiquated furnaces where the POWs shoveled coal into the ovens. The POWs frequently became ill and vomited from breathing in the sulfur fumes.
On April 16, 1944, Matt was one of 49 POWs transferred to Tokyo #16-B, which was also known as Kanose. The POWs worked at the Showa Denko Company under dangerous conditions since the factory was located in a mine and was poorly lit. The POWs also received little direction and supervision.
Although the Japanese commanding officer was fairly kind in his treatment of the POWs, like not forcing the sick to work, he did not stop his subordinates from abusing the POWs. The POWs were beaten for violating camp rules. In July 1945, all the POWs were lined up and beaten. When a man fell to the ground, he was kicked. This was done because they had failed to fallout for an air raid.
While in this camp, some of the POWs built a radio and hid it in the latrine. When it was discovered, the Japanese executed anyone they believed to be involved in building and hiding the radio.
While in this camp, some of the POWs built a radio and hid it in the latrine. When it was discovered, the Japanese executed anyone they believed to be involved in building and hiding the radio.
The worse job a POW could get was on burial detail. On this detail, the prisoners had to carry bodies of the dead up a hill. When they reached the top, they had to report to a Japanese guard who recorded the dead man’s name. The Japanese would remove an anklebone from the corpse and put it in a box with the prisoner’s name on it. After this was done, the men on the detail had to roll the bodies down the hill and either leave them there or burn them. This depended on the Japanese guard on duty.
Matt remained in the camp until the end of the war. He was liberated on September 7, 1945, and taken by train to the Yokohama Docks where he boarded a U.S. transport and returned to the Philippines. He returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Admiral Hughes, at Seattle, Washington, on October 9, 1945. He was discharged from the Army on February 11, 1946.
Matt attended school in Chicago to become an electrician. He worked as an electrician and resided in East Syracuse, New York. While he was working at Bristol Laboratories, he met his future wife, Marie Culgar. He married Marie on July 4, 1953, and became the father of two daughters and a son. Matt worked at Bristol Laboratories until he retired in the early 1980s. The couple remained married until his wife’s death in October 1999.
Matthew B. Braun passed away at New Britain General Hospital in New Britain, Connecticut, on June 29, 2010, and was buried at White Chapel Memory Gardens in DeWitt, New York.