Pvt. Ralph Hampton Buchanan was born on May 8, 1914, in Kimballton, Virginia, to John T. Buchanan and Lula C. Long-Buchanan. With his brother and parents, he moved to Geraldine, Montana, and worked as a ranch foreman. On March 28, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army at Missoula, Montana, and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for basic training. It appears after he was drafted that he was assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion and sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for 13 weeks, where he attended tanks mechanic school.
When he returned to Ft. Lewis a typical day started at 6:00 AM with the first call. At 6:30 they had breakfast. When they finished they policed the grounds of their barracks and cleaned the barracks. This was followed by drill from 7:30 until 9:30 AM. During the drill, the men did calisthenics and marched around the parade grounds. At 9:30, they went to the barracks day rooms and took classes until 11:30 when they had lunch. The soldiers were free so many took naps until 1:00 PM when they drilled again or received training in chemical warfare. They often took part in work details during this time. At 4:30 PM, they returned to their barracks to get cleaned up before retreat at 5:00 PM. At 5:30 they had dinner and were free afterward. During this time many played baseball or cards while other men wrote home. The lights out were at 9:00 PM. but men could go to the dayroom.
The battalion was taking part in maneuvers in August 1941, when Major Ernest Miller was called to Ft. Knox. There, he was given overseas orders for the 194th. The battalion was pulled from the maneuvers and ordered back to Ft. Lewis. The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, a squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – both had been National Guard medium tank battalions – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Two days later, on August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion arrived there after the attack and was held in Hawaii. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because of the war. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group as the First Provisional Tank Group.
In August 1941, the tank battalion received orders to report to San Francisco for deployment overseas. Arriving by train, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Any man with a medical condition was replaced.
The battalion boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge at 3:00 P.M. on September 8, 1941. The ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. the same day. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M.. The soldiers were allowed to go ashore for the day but had to report back to the ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. the same day.
The ship took a southern route away from the normal shipping lanes and was escorted by the cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer. Several times, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the cruiser took off in its direction. Each time it turned out the ship was friendly.
On Tuesday, September 16, the ships crossed the International Dateline, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18. The ships arrived in Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. on September 26. The soldiers disembarked the ship at 3:00 P.M. and most rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg. Some remained behind to unload the tanks with the help of 17th Ordnance.
The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. where they lived in tents, along the main road between the Clark Field and the fort, until their barracks were completed on November 15, 1941.
During the first week of December 1941, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers. Two tank crew members remained with the tank at all times. On the morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. As they sat their tanks, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were having lunch, which meant a tank crew member went to the food truck and got food for the other members of the crew. As they sat in their tanks, they watched two formations, of 27 planes each, approaching the airfield from the north. At first, they believed the planes were American, it was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Joaquin on the Malolos Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12. It would receive 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank. The battalion moved again to west and north of Rosario and was operating to the north of the Agno River the night of December 22/23.
The tank battalions formed the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas defensive line the night of December 26/27. They were holding a new line at the Bamban River the night of December 29/30 and were at the Calumpit Bridge the next night.
On January 5, they were at Lyac Junction and dropped back to Remedios were a new defensive line was formed. The night of January 6/7, the 194th withdrew over a bridge on the Culis Creek covered by the 192nd Tank Battalion and entered Bataan. The 192nd crossed the bridge before it was destroyed and entered Bataan.
The tank battalions were covering the East Coast Road on January 8. It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each and HQ Company with the 17th Ordnance Company were able to do long overdue maintenance on the tanks.
The tanks continued to cover withdraws for the rest of January and February. In March, HQ Company was recovering two tanks that had been bogged down in the mud when the Japanese entered the area. Lt. Col. Ernest Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point-blank range and ran from tank to tank directing the fire.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. C Company was attached to the 192nd and the company had only seven tanks left.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 6 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. Other tanks of C Company tanks were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of Company C was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. A truck driver for A Company, 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. At 6:45 A.M., the order “CRASH” was sent out and the tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to Ralph, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and told them something similar. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
The members of the 194th made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It was from there that Ralph started what was simply called “the march.” They made their way north to San Fernando, they were given little food or water. Those men who fell were often bayoneted or shot. When they reached San Fernando, they were herded into a bullpen. The floor was covered in human waste from the POWs who had been held in the bullpen before them. They were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were packed into small wooden railroad boxcars known as “forty and eights,” because the cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The men who died remained standing since there was no place to fall. When the living left the cars at Capas, the dead fell to the floor, while the living walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed 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 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 cleaned 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. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, the POWs formed 100 men detachments and marched out the gate toward Capas, where they were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division’s home.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.
It was only after the POWs received their first Red Cross packages that the death rate dropped. It is not known if Ralph remained in the camp the entire time he was a POW or if he went out on work details.
Ralph and other POWs were taken by truck to Bilibid Prison outside Manila. There, they were given physicals on December 12 to determine who was healthy enough to be sent to Japan. The POWs were told that they would be issued cigarettes, soap, and salt and that they would be issued to meals. The second to take with them. The lights in the prisoner were left on since the detachment was scheduled to leave early.
At 7:00 A.M. the POWs formed ranks for roll call which took until 9:00 A.M. When they were finished the POWs were allowed to roam the compound. At 11:00 A.M., they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Afterward, the detachments were marched down Luzon Boulevard the two miles to Pier 7 at the Port Area of Manila.
During the march, they saw that Manila was in disarray and the streetcars were not running. When they reached the port area, it was evident that American planes were doing a job on the transports by the number sitting in the bat as sunken hulks.
The POWs were allowed to sit, and many of them fell asleep. At 5:00 in the afternoon, the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru and put in one of the ship’s holds. The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s aft hold. Being the first one 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 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 sailed and became a part of a convoy that moved without lights. 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.
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.”
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 scrap 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. As the planes ran 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 its .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 Chaplain William Cummings, a Catholic priest 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!”
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 and hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air.”
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, another chaplain, Father 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.
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. On the evening of December 16, the Japanese brought 50-kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half the rice in bags had fallen out because of holes in the bags. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice to eat and a spoon of salt.
At 8:00 A.M. on December 20, twenty trucks arrived to take the POWs to San Fernando, Pampanga. They arrived there at 4:00 P.M. or 5:00 P.M. the next day. Once there, they were put into a movie theater which was completely dark. The POWs lived through several air raids while there since the barrio was a regional military for the Japanese. Many of the POWs believed that they had been brought there so they could be killed by their own countrymen.
The Japanese interpreter came to talk to the ranking American officer, on December 23, about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 A.M. on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit during bombings and the cars waiting for them had bullet holes in them from being strafed. 180 to 200 POWs were packed into the steel boxcars with four guards. After they were boarded, the doors were shut and the heat became terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told the POWs that if American planes appeared it was okay for them to wave to the pilots.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM. 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. On the morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another “Hell Ship” the Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle. The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The daily routine for the POWs was for six men to leave the hold to empty the pull up the bodies of the dead with ropes and empty the buckets that served as toilets. After this was done, the men would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and soap.
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 docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, 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 the 5, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes on the morning of January 9. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day 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. The waves they created rocked the ship.
One bomb exploded outside the hull of the forward hold blowing a hole in the side of the ship. A second bomb fell through the open hatch and exploded. The result was that 285 prisoners were killed. The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead. When the Japanese did not do anything, the POWs piled the corpses under the hatch so that they would be the first thing the Japanese saw when they looked into the hold. They finally brought a barge alongside the ship and the dead were loaded onto it. The barge moved offshore where the POWs assigned to the burial detail tied ropes to the legs of the dead and dragged them to shore. The POWs were too weak to carry them ashore. The bodies were placed in a mass grave and buried. Later that day, survivors from the forward hold were moved to another hold.
On January 13, about 1000 POWs were transferred to the Brazil Maru which sailed the next day at dawn. Sometime after noon, the POWs each received a quarter cup of red rice. During this part of the journey saw the largest number of deaths among the POWs with as many as 30 POWs dying a night. Since by this time, most of them had dysentery. At some point, the ship is believed to have towed one or two other ships that had engine problems. During this part of the trip, each man received two meals a day of a third of a cup of rice and eight teaspoons of tea.
When the ship arrived at Moji, Japan, only 459 of the original 1619 POWs who had boarded the Oryoko Maru disembarked the ship and were put in a dark movie theater. From the theater, the POWs were marched to the train station and sent to various POW camps in Japan. In Robert’s case, he was sent to Fukuoka #17.
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 work days 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 2½ feet wide, 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. Another problem in the camp was that POWs traded their food rations for cigarettes. POWs who did this were referred to as “future corpses.” The situation got so bad that the Japanese finally stepped in and stopped it.
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 at a 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.
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.
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.
During his time at the camp, he suffered from beriberi. While he was there, the camp was hit by bombs from American planes. The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they moved in with the British and Dutch POWs.
On August 9, 1945, some of the POWs saw the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Nagasaki. Those who saw it described said it was a sunny day and that 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 as a fog blanketing Nagasaki, and that the city seemed to have vanished.
On August 18, 1944, a short wave message from Japan listed Ralph as a POW. This was the first news his family had received about him since they had first received word that he was a prisoner of war.
The POWs went to work and talked to the Japanese civilians who spoke about how those, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated these Japanese died within days. They also told of how a detachment of Japanese soldiers who had been sent into Nagasaki, to search for survivors and suffered the same fate.
When the POWs came out of the mine, they found that the next shift of POWs was not waiting to go to work. That night, the POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours. They all had their blankets because they believed they were going to be moved. Instead, they were returned to their barracks. The next day, when it was their turn to go to work, they were told it was a holiday, and they had the day off. They knew something was up because they had never had a holiday off before this.
Shortly after this, the Japanese became more tolerant, which caused the prisoners to hope that liberation was near. When the Japanese told the prisoners that they did not have to work, they knew that the war was over. Finally, the POWs were gathered in the camp and told that Japan and the United States were now friends. They were also told to stay in the camp. The Japanese guards soon disappeared from the camp.
The POWs also found a warehouse with Red Cross packages and distributed the packages to the camp. One day, an American appeared at the gates of the camp who was a reporter from the Chicago Tribune and told the POWs that the war was over and Americans had landed on the island. Although they were told to stay in the camp, four men left the camp and took a train to Osaka. There, they met American troops.
Ralph was liberated on September 13, by a POW Recovery Team and on September 18, 1945, at 7:09 A.M., left the camp with the other POWs still there. At Nagasaki, they boarded a ship and were returned to the Philippines. Ralph returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Marine Shark which sailed in October and arrived at Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945. From there, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington, for additional medical treatment.
On February 2, 1947, Ralph married Eleanor (James) Houtz, who was widowed, in Fort Benton, Montana, and became the step-father to her son. They made their home near Geraldine, Montana, where Ralph was a wheat farmer. In 1950, the couple moved to Philipsburg. They also became the parents of two daughters. Eleanor was killed in a car crash on April 7, 1967.
Ralph married Gloria (Bauer) Grenz, on May 31, 1969, and lived the rest of his life on his cattle ranch near Philipsburg. Ralph H. Buchanan passed away on March 29, 2004, in Philipsburg, Montana. After a service at the Philipsburg Community Church, he was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Anaconda, Montana.