Pvt. Ross Casmo Jr. was born on September 12, 1919, in Ohio to Ross Casmo Sr. and Vinnie Mae Beidler-Casmo. His parents divorced during the 1920s, his mother married Roy C. Tillis, and he became a half-brother to a sister and brother. The family resided at 859 Leonard Avenue in Columbus, Ohio. He attended high school for two years before leaving and working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. When the Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, he registered and named his mother, Vinnie Mae Tyllis, as his contact person. He also indicated he was working at the Donaldson Baking Company in Columbus.
Ross was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 22, 1941, at Fort Hayes in Columbus and sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. What armor school he attended after basic training is not known. After his training was completed, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent there from Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Maneuvers were taking place at Camp Polk, but the 753rd did not take part in them. At the end of September, the 192nd Tank Battalion – which had taken part in the maneuvers – was ordered to Camp Polk instead of going to The Carolina Maneuvers near Chester, South Carolina, to take part in maneuvers there. On the side of a hill, the tank battalion members were informed that it was being sent overseas. Those men 29 years old or older, married with dependents, or whose National Guard enlistments were almost over were allowed to resign from federal service. It was at this time that the men were replaced with men from the 753rd and possibly the 3rd Armor Division. Ross either volunteered or had his name drawn from a hat to join the battalion and was assigned to D Company.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move 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 Formosa 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 covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the 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.
Many of the original members of the 192nd believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks during the maneuvers – to go overseas. Patton did praise the 191st and 192nd for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, the battalion even fought as the First Tank Group with the 191st Tank Battalion. Documents show that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 71st was a regular army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. 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 and 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. On August 14, 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 Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived in Hawaii the battalion was held there. Either the 70th or 191st had standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10 because the war with Japan had started.
The 192nd was scheduled to receive brand-new tanks, but for some unknown reason, it did not. The battalion’s new tanks – which were only new to the battalion – came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. Many of the tanks were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour maintenance. The tanks were loaded onto flat cars on different trains, and the soldiers put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. One company went north to the Canadian border and then west and south down the west coast. It appears that D Company was one of the two companies that went through the middle of the country over different train routes. HQ Company left a few days earlier on the southern route through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and up the west coast to San Francisco. A Company took the same route on the 20th. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the USAT General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced by men sent to the island as replacements. It appears these men came from the 757th Tank Battalion at Ft. Ord, California. Also waiting for the battalion was Col. James R. N. Weaver who was given command of the battalion.
The 192nd was boarded onto the USAT 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. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
During this part of the voyage, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. To do the job 500 men reported each day to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and painted the boats after they had been needled chip. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP. 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home 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 blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines.
The ships sailed south along the east coast of Luzon, around the south end of the island, and made their way north along the island’s west coast where they entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20. They docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Once off the ship, they unloaded the battalion’s equipment from the ship while a Thanksgiving Dinner was being cooked for them. When they finished early, the decision was made for most of the men to ride a train to Ft. Stotsenberg. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind to unload the tanks with the help of the 17th Ordnance Company.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – beans or stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, they had beans left over from the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. 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. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worse part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely. The battalion also lost four of its peeps, later called jeeps, used for reconnaissance to the command of the United States Armed Forces Far East also known as USAFFE.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion and 17th Ordnance joined on the 29th. Both units arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, promoted to brigadier general, and Maj. Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. James Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Col. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, as the tankers ate lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until they saw what appeared to be “raindrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind and that a man with a shotgun could bring a plane down.
During the attack, American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. (It should be noted that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened at 1:55 A.M. on December 8 in the Philippines, so the attack on Clark Field was almost 11 hours later.) Eight-nine of the planes that had been sitting along the runway at Clark Field were destroyed, and there were approximately 236 casualties. That night, most men slept under their tanks or in a dry latrine since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd and appeared on the battalion’s daily reports, and after the war, it was listed on the battalion’s unit citations.
The 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard beaches. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
On December 22, they were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. There, they engaged the Japanese. The Japanese attempted to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops. On the night of December 22, the battalions were operating north of the Agno River when they found that the bridge they were supposed to use had been bombed. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.
The 192nd received orders to withdraw, but the 194th did not receive the order for some unknown reason. The battalion finally was ordered to withdraw and 1st Lt. Harold Costigan informed the members of A Company, and D Company, 192nd, that they would have to fight their way out. The tanks fought their way through Carmen losing two tanks but saving the crews except for Capt. Edward Burke. He had been hit by enemy fire and presumed dead. It was on December 26 or 27 that Byron’s parents received a telegram from him telling them that he was okay.
The tanks formed a new defensive line known as the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line was formed on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese. At Bayambang, Lt. Weeden Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company lost all its tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Capt. Jack Altman, had the tanks disabled but he could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks. He hoped the tanks would be recovered. The Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan a few days later. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned his tank, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. He got his tank driver, with a gun pressed to the back of the man’s head, to ford the river. The tank commander was awarded the Silver Star.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
It was at this time the tank platoons were reduced by one tank so that D Company would have tanks. The crews who did not get tanks would relieve sick, tired, or wounded crew members. At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and used smoke as cover. But since they were wearing white t-shirts they were easy to see in the dark. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6 the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan. After they had crossed, they covered the 192nd withdrawal making it the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the food rations were cut in half. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time: “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.”
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never attacked allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that the tank companies were reduced to nine tanks with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. While attempting to do this, two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but were recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance. The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline against Japanese landings from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
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. Wainwright rejected the suggestion. For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. The newspapers in the United States reported both sides were strengthening their lines in expectation of an all-out attack. The reports stated that the Japanese did not have air support because their planes had been shifted south in the assault on Java. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to Java. During this time, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew’s fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched – on April 3, 1942 – an all-out 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. A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – 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. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. 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 the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. the 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. Phil Parish, A Co., 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, and at midnight Companies B and D, and A Co., 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
That evening, Capt. Jack Altman, the company’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender. He told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. It was emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The soldiers piled up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. The only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks.
Many of the soldiers took the news as meaning they would be free from the constant shelling and air raids. At the time, the Provisional Tank Group’s Headquarters was near Limay, and shells, from Corregidor, were falling around it. The soldiers on Corregidor had no idea that the barrio was still in American hands and was shelling the area. That night, he watched as ammunition dumps were destroyed. Usually, when one was torched, there was a loud thud and flames shot into the sky.
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. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it and opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. 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 managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At 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 the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived, and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
On April 10, the Japanese arrived in D Company’s bivouac and ordered the Prisoners of War onto the road. They quickly stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and sunglasses. The POWs were taken to a trail and found that walking on the gravel trail was difficult. They immediately witnessed “Japanese Discipline” toward their own troops. The Japanese apparently were marching for hours, and when a man fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone. At 7:00 PM, the POWs were ordered to march and made their way from the former command post. At first, they found the walk difficult, but this changed when they reached the main road and the walking became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks which were moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was at this time that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. Looking at them, they realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving. When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell.
At Limay on April 11, the officers with the rank of major or above were put into a schoolyard. The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. It was there that they joined the main column of POWs being marched out of Bataan and they began to witness the abuse of POWs. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men walked to Balanga and Orani.
Later in the day, the enlisted POWs arrived in Orani. At 6:30 or 7:00 that evening, they resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs make their way to Hermosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete and the change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lie down were jabbed with bayonets. The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months, it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks. At 4:30 PM on April 13, they arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were put into a bullpen and remained there for the rest of the day.
It is not known how long Ross was in the bullpen, but at some point, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and were marched to the train station. Since there were 100 men in each detachment, the Japanese packed 100 men into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died from suffocation. The dead could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall. The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to the POW camp.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. Once in the camp, the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. The Japanese also took away any extra clothing the POWs had brought with them and refused to return it.
Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many as 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
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 they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
His parents a letter from the War Department in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. V. Casmo:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Ross Casmo Jr., 35,030,783, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known as Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where most of the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The men were also put into ten men groups known as “blood brothers” if one man escaped the other ten would be killed. The Japanese logic was these men should have been able to stop the man. The men in the groups lived together in the same barracks, slept together, and went out on work details together. The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. The POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill. There also were no showers.
The camp guards were soldiers who the Japanese did not believe were fit for combat and considered inferior. The guards took their frustrations out on the POWs who because they had surrendered were considered not to have honor.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many of the POWs quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks and divided into groups of ten men. This meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. There were no latrines or showers for the POWs, and the POWs used buckets or cans to hold water so they could wash.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. Returning from details 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 worst detail was the latrine detail, where the POWs cleaned the latrines used by the Japanese. They weren’t given any tools to do this job, so they cleaned them with their bare hands. The feces was carried to 55-gallon drums and dumped into them. It appears it was then used as fertilizer.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff antibiotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
The camp hospital was described as being horrible and beyond description. There was no water for washing and barely enough to drink. There were no blankets or any other coverings for the sick. Just like in Camp O’Donnell the dead were found around the camp.
The hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died. The Archbishop of Manila again attempted to send medicine and nurses to the camp to care for the sick POWs, but the Japanese refused to allow them into the camp.
For those POWs with tuberculosis who were in the hospital rations were reduced to 240 grams of rice, camote, so made from camote peelings, and powdered dried fish. In addition, the POW doctors were given four twelve-ounce cans of milk for every 39 patients with malaria.
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
On October 12, Ross was one of 270 POWs who left Cabanatuan on a work detail to Ft. McKinley. The POWs on the detail cleaned up the junk that was left from the battle. The entire POW compound covered was 300 feet long by 150 wide. The POWs lived in a two-story barrack that had previously belonged to the 45th Infantry Division. The POWs were spread out throughout the building and in the squad rooms on both floors. They slept should to shoulder on sawale floor mats with ten-man mosquito nets around them that the Japanese issued. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets that they found or made. The Japanese issued each man a coconut fiber hat and shoes which fell apart quickly.
The Japanese ate on the first floor of the barracks and the second floor of the barrack served as the POW mess hall with the POWs eating and sitting in chairs and tables. The water for the POWs was contaminated and many came down with dysentery. Food was carried to the barrack five-gallon drums. Eighty percent of the POWs had mess kits and the rest used pottery plates, tin pans, and cans. Water was available for the POWs to clean their mess kits. Breakfast was 1 cup of lugao for breakfast and the afternoon meal was steamed rice – about 225 grams each day – and a very thick camote soup. The rice was said to be moldy and had worms in it. It was stated that three times a week they were fed water weed with rice. Once every two weeks they were fed spoiled meat with a pint of weak meat broth. Fish was issued twice every seven weeks.
The latrines had three stalls, a four-foot urinal, a sink with five spigots, and a shower room with four showerheads. The demand made by the POWs using them in the morning and evening meant that a quarter of them was out of service at any time. Since the Japanese did not supply any materials to repair them when they stopped working.
The kitchen used by the POWs was a stone building that was 50 feet from the barracks. Meals were prepared in four halved 55-gallon drums that were used as stoves, but there were no vents or chimneys for the smoke. Meals were prepared with four rice pots, two knives, an icebox, and an old well-perforated stove. The POWs found a meat grinder, more knives, and a wood chopping block. A pool table became the main workstation and faucets were added that drained onto the floor and out of holes chiseled through the stone by the POWs.
The camp hospital was two small rooms without any medical equipment or supplies. A table from another building was brought to the hospital and used for examinations. The only light was a 40-watt light bulb. Sick POWs did not have to work. Although medical supplies were requested the Japanese commandant did not issue any. The only medicine they did give to the POWs was soda polls. Those men in the hospital slept on the floor and roll call was taken twice a day regardless of how sick the men were.
According to records kept by the medical staff at Bilibid, Ross was admitted to the hospital ward from the POW work detail in late October suffering from malaria. He was assigned to Ward 11. When he was discharged, on December 12, 1942, he was returned to Ft. McKinley.
The next place the POWs worked was at Nielsen Field. The work started on January 29, 1943, and for the first six weeks, the POWs marched 8 kilometers from Ft. McKinley to the airfield. They were later moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in Nipa huts that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had been built for them and were taken to the airfield by truck. There, the POWs worked at constructing a northeast to the southwest runway and building revetments.
At first, tents were provided for protection against the sun and rain, but many were stolen by the Filipinos, The remaining tents deteriorated until they were useless. There was plenty of water for drinking and adequate latrines were provided. The POWs were divided into two groups. One group worked for an hour while the other rested. This was later reduced to two 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was increased to three 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon.
The POWs worked from 8:00 A.M. to noon and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The POWs were divided into two groups. While one group was working for an hour, the other group rested. The work was hard and called for the POWs to remove dirt and rock and take it to the area where the runway was being built. Wheelbarrows were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to work. Small mining cars were brought in, and the POWs filled the cars with dirt and rocks before they were pushed by five men down a track from 200 feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where the material was wanted, they emptied the car. The POWs worked six days a week and had one day off.
On March 28, the Japanese instituted the “speedup program” to get the work done quicker. The POWs did not know if it was because they had fallen behind in the construction of the runway, or if it was because the war was going badly for the Japanese, and they needed the runway finished. The speedup lasted until July 4 when it ended.
It was on July 9, that the War Department released a list of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. Ross’ name was on the list. His family had received a message from the War Department weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE ROSS CASMO JR IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his wife received the following letter:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Ross Casmo Jr., U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau
When the work was finished on the runway, the POWs were moved, on October 25, 1943, to Camp Murphy #1 where they were housed in the former headquarters building. It was at this time that the POWs’ food ration was cut and many became ill. The sick call took place in the evening until 8:00 P.M. when roll call took place. A Japanese private determined who was sick enough not to work. The American doctor later was allowed to decide which POWs could not work. Often Japanese doctors went over his selections and determined which POWs would remain in the camp hospital. To the American medical staff, it seemed that the Japanese doctors sent men to work because they wanted to save face.
The POWs once again worked on constructing a runway. This time it was a north/south runway through a rice paddy at Zablan Field. When the work started the rice paddies were filled with water and it was the rainy season. In addition to picks and shovels, the POWs also operated diesel compressors, rollers, and drills. Each day they walked about three-quarters of a mile to where the construction was taking place. For lunch, they returned to their barracks. There was never enough water for the POWs when working, so men attempted to bring it with them in bottles if they did not have canteens. No latrines were provided, so the POWs relieved themselves anywhere they wanted at the worksite. The spread of disease was prevented because of the sunshine, and frequent rains. This problem was never adequately dealt with.
The Japanese built five new barracks at Camp Murphy and the POWs were moved to them on April 28, 1944. This new housing was given the name Camp Murphy 2. The original POW compound was located about 250 yards away. A total of 200 POWs were housed in each of the barracks. The entire POW compound was 350 by 400 feet.
On January 4, 1944, the workday changed and the POWs now worked 7 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. To avoid the heat of midday, the POWs started again at 1:30 and worked until 5:00 P.M. Their one day off a week was cut to half of a day off. Sometimes, they received half a day off for some Japanese holiday. Their work hours were changed a second time with their afternoon hours being extended until 6:00 P.M. The POWs worked for one hour and were given one hour off. Since they were divided into two groups, one group would always be working.
Their job was to build a runway through rice paddies which meant they had to move dirt and rock to build it. To do this, they had mining cars that they pushed down 300 to 500 feet down the track to where the dirt was to be dumped. The POWs’ workday started at 7:00 A.M. and they worked until 11: A.M. when they stopped. At 1:30 P.M., they started again and worked until 5:00 P.M. On May 28, 1944, an additional hour was added to their workday, and they worked until 6:00 P.M. at an airfield located 8 kilometers from the camp. Each day, the POWs were driven to and from the camp in trucks.
The POWs were moved to Camp Murphy 2 on January 29, 1944, which was 200 yards from their old quarters. On March 1, 1944, the POWs witnessed the execution of Pvt. George Garrett by the camp commander, Lt. Yoshi Koshi, for planning to escape. According to the POWs, Garrett and two other men had planned an escape, and Navy Chief Signalman, Harold Hirschberg, who the POWs considered a collaborator, informed the Japanese. According to the POWs, Hirschberg told Garrett, who he had, had a fight with, “You’ll never leave this camp alive.” The POWs stated that over several days, the Japanese starved Garrett, beat him, and finally placed a garden hose in Garrett’s mouth until his stomach was filled with water. The Japanese then stood on his abdomen which caused his death three days later.
The Japanese decided that work needed to be done at another airfield close by, so POWs were sent there to work. The airfield was 4 kilometers from Camp Murphy, and they were taken to it in trucks. They also received their meals at the airfield. One of the biggest problems the POWs, and Japanese were having at this time was what was known as “foot pain” which was a form of dry beriberi. If a man in the hospital showed signs of it, one Japanese soldier hit them in the head with a broom handle. The Japanese slowly came to respect the American medical staff’s selections and stopped questioning them.
It was stated that in July that every POW in the camp had to form lines and had to walk past the guards who hit them with hoe handles and bamboo poles. The reason this was done was a Japanese officer had heard that the POWs were complaining about the food. The most common punishments were to have POWs kneel for three days without food or water or to have the POWs stand at attention in the sun all day.
According to medical records kept at the prison, Ross was admitted to the hospital ward on July 19, 1944, with beriberi. For the POWs in Bilibid, one of the biggest problems the POWs had was boredom. Being that they were being held in a prison, they received little news about the outside world except what POWs entering the prison told them. As large numbers of POWs were being sent to Japan, or another part of the Japanese Empire, Ross remained behind at the prison.
The first American planes were seen over Manila on September 21. These were soon followed by other planes and became such a common occurrence that the POWs stopped paying attention to them. Most men simply wanted to know when the Americans would free them. While this was going on, the Japanese continued to transfer POWs out of the Philippines.
The POWs only had rumors of the advancing American forces. The one story they heard at the beginning of February was those men who were still at Cabanatuan had been liberated by American forces at the end of January. They hoped that this would soon happen to them. On February 2, the last American POW died in the prison of dysentery.
The POWs heard a series of detonations that lasted for over an hour to the southeast at 10:30 P.M. There were some small ones and big ones too that we mixed together. The POWs heard the echoes of explosions all night long and began to believe that it was just a matter of days before they were free.
February 3 was a normal day for the POWs who went around performing their chores. They told each other the latest rumors as they ate their evening meal. It was at that time that six American planes flew over the compound flying very low and very slowly. At 6:00 P.M. they took part in an evening roll call. At 6:30, they heard the sound of artillery in the distance. Then they heard heavy machine-gun fire which got closer and closer and closer. All hell broke loose and there was light artillery fire or fire from tanks, heavy machine-gun and light machine-gun fire, rifle fire, and pistol fire all coming from the north and east of the prison. At 10:30 P.M., the electricity went out in the prison. The POWs heard the sound of guns and the ammunition dumps going up. The sound of moving tanks, artillery fire, and small arms explosions continued until 2:00 A.M. when everything got quiet except for heavy artillery that could be heard in the distance.
On the morning of February 4, the POWs talked about what they had heard. They also noticed that the Japanese guards seemed to be getting ready to leave. The senior American medical officer was called to the Japanese commanding officer’s office and told that they were freeing the POWs, but he also told them to stay inside the prison. Before the camp commandant left, he posted a typed document stating the Japanese were releasing the POWs.
“1. The Japanese army is now going to release all prisoners of war and internees here on its own accord.
“2. We are assigned to another duty and shell be here no more.
“3. You are at liberty to act and live as free persons but you must be aware of probable dangers if you go out.
“4. We shall leave here foodstuffs, medicines, and other necessities of which you may avail yourselves for the time being.
“5. We have arranged to put signboard at the front gate bearing the following context: ‘Lawfully released prisoners of war and interests are
quartered here. Please do not molest them unless they make positive resistance.’”
At 11:45 A.M., the Japanese left and the POWs posted their own guards and waited for the Americans to arrive. The POWs had three good meals that day and noted that a small American plane flew over the prisoner repeatedly that day.
Later in the day on February 4, soldiers in funny-looking uniforms appeared at Bilibid. It was at 6:00 P.M., that a wooden shutter on one of the walls was knocked down by a rifle butt. As it turned out, it was the Americans who had completely surrounded the prison and had been trying to get in to see what was inside. At first, the POWs thought the soldiers were Germans because of their helmets and uniforms. It was only when the soldiers spoke to them in English that the POWs knew that they had been liberated.
The POWs remained in the prison. Since the possibility existed that the Japanese may attempt to retake the prison. The 37th Infantry Division, from Ohio, came to the compound and visited the POWs. They were followed by the 148th Infantry, and 7th Division. The Americans gave their cigarettes and K rations to the former POWs and seemed unable to do enough for them. They even gave the former POWs the whiskey, beer, and cigars that the Filipinos had given them.
At 9:00 P.M. on February 5, there was gunfire on three sides of the prison so the decision was made to move the former POWs to the Ang Tibay shoe factory on the outskirts of Manila. The members of the 148th Infantry carried POWs out on litters and they were evacuated in ambulances and in jeeps. The soldiers also helped the weak onto trucks and made sure that all the POWs were out of Bilibid which was completed by 11:35 P.M. The former POWs were moved to a brewery and drank beer at the brewery.
On February 6, the former POWs were ordered back to Bilibid since it had better sanitary facilities. When they got there, they found it had been looted and much of their personnel effects were gone. They received their first American food that morning which was canned ham and eggs, cereal milk, K biscuits, butter, jam, and coffee with milk and sugar. The former POWs who were seriously ill and needed better medical treatment were sent to Santo Tomas on February 9. On the 10th, more men were sent there while those men not able to make the trip were sent to Quezon Institute with the remainder transferred to the 12th Replacement Battalion.
After reaching American lines, the former POWs received medical treatment. Ross was promoted to Staff Sergeant. He arrived in the United States in late 1945 and was hospitalized at Letterman General Hospital suffering from malnutrition and was also diagnosed with astigmatism. Most likely the result of a beating while a POW. His mother – who was now Mrs. James Hudson – learned he was free and received a note from him written on a brown piece of scrap paper. It said, “Thanks to Go, free again. Feeling fine.”
He returned to Columbus, Ohio. He married, Clara, became the father of two daughters and a son, and worked for the U.S. Post Office. The couple would divorce. Ross would marry several times and later move to Texas. On July 30, 1984, he received the Bronze Star.
Ross Casmo passed away on October 18, 1996, in Tyler, Texas. He was cremated and his ashes were returned to Columbus where they were interred at Chapel Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Columbus.