On June 27, 1921, Sgt. Alva J. Chapman was born in on June 27, 1921, in Seattle, Washington. He was the son of Arthur & Lena Chapman and had three younger sisters. His family moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, where he was raised at 309 Holmes Street and worked in a hotel as a busboy.
Alva joined the Wisconsin National Guard in Janesville after graduating from high school in 1940 and was known as “Chipper” to the members of his tank company. In the fall of 1940, the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal duty as A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. A three-man advance team was sent to Ft. Knox that was followed by a detachment of 23 soldiers that left the armory at 7:00 A.M. It is known that the roads were ice-covered so the trip was slow which resulted in one truck hitting a civilian’s car. No other information is available about the incident. The further south the convoy got the better the road conditions were. The soldiers spent the night at an armory in Danville, Illinois, before heading south to Ft. Knox arriving there sometime the next afternoon.
The next day, November 28th, between 4:00 and 5:00 P.M., the main detachment of soldiers that marched from the armory to the Milwaukee Road train station in Janesville where they boarded special cars that had been added to the Marquette to Chicago train. One was a flatcar with the company’s two tanks on it. At some point, the train cars were uncoupled from the train and switched onto the Chicago & Northwestern line that went into Maywood, Illinois. There, the members of B Company boarded the train and their equipment – including their two tanks – was loaded onto the train. In Chicago, the train cars were switched onto the Illinois Central Railroad and taken to Ft. Knox arriving around 8:00 A.M. When they arrived, trucks were waiting at the station to take them to the fort. Their first housing were six men tents since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
It is known that he was one of the soldiers from Janesville who went home for Christmas. The soldiers left Ft. Knox at about 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, December 21st – by chartered bus – and arrived in Janesville at about 3:00 A.M. on Sunday, December 22nd. They remained in Janesville until the afternoon of Christmas Day when they boarded the chartered bus for the return trip to Ft. Knox.
1st Sgt. Dale Lawton – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. Men were picked for the company because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay.
A Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the A Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 50 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the Capt. Walter Write’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned. Although the barracks were finished, A Company shared D Company’s mess hall until the company’s mess hall opened.
The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. During this time he qualified to do motorcycle reconnaissance.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. At first, A Company’s meals were served in D Company’s mess hall until heir mess hall was finished in December. After dinner, they were off duty, and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
It was also at this time that all the battalion had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the company. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the company in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
Capt Walter Write, during February, commanded a composite tank company made of men from all the companies of the battalion. The company left Ft. Knox on a problematic move at 9:00 A.M. The company consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water.
At noon, the column stopped for a short rest and a lunch that did not materialize. A guide had failed to stay at one of the crossings until the kitchen truck arrived there, so instead of turning into the woods, the truck went straight. After the break, Capt. Write ordered the men back to Ft. Knox without having been fed.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
In August 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. It was after the maneuvers that it was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. There, the battalion received orders for overseas duty. Men, 29 years old or older, were given the chance to resign from federal service.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled west, over different train routes to San Francisco, California, and was taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2. The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
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 on the 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.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, 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.
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 do the 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 including going to the PX.
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.
On the morning of December 8, December 7 in the United States, the 192nd was ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. A week earlier, they had been given assigned positions around the airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers. At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky. They landed at 11:30 and lined up near the mess hall.
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes. When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the battalion’s bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. Anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
After the attack on December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad against sabotage. On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27. The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese. A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.
On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River on the night of December 31 and January 1. Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep. It was that night that the Japanese launched an attack to cross the river.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur’s chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion.
Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. On the night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. On the morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn.
While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point-blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties. On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle dragging the unpowered track and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
On March 2 or 3, during the Battle of the Points. The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The Japanese were soon cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket. Both of the pockets were wiped out.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack, on April 3, 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.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
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 white flag was bedding from A Company.) 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 this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
The 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.
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.
When word of the surrender reached the members of A Company, Alva and the other soldiers destroyed their equipment. They then went to Mariveles at the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula.
It was from Mariveles that Alva began the march with 1st Lt. John F. A. Bushaw and M/Sgt. Ossie McDonald. The three men thought about going into the hills but decided not to do it. It took the three soldiers fourteen days to complete the march. Of the three friends, only Alva Chapman would survive life in the prison camps. When he was asked about his condition when he reached Camp O’Donnell, he said, “Damn good – I hit camp in about as good as shape as anyone.”
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
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 Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
Alva was first held as a POW at Camp O’Donnell for a short time before he went out on a ten-man detail to Manila. Speaking of his time on the detail, he said, “I was awfully lucky through most of it. When we were first captured, I was assigned to a ten-man detail in Manila. The guard was pretty decent when they had a small number to handle. At night we’d sit around and they’d teach us and their language and explain to us some things we asked about and we return information of that sort. I got so that I could speak the Nip language enough so that it got me out of a lot of trouble because if you were able to explain an incident, they usually accepted it.
The Nips, as a rule, were quite interested in Americans — if they let themselves go to let it be seen. The officers, especially, who were better educated than the guards, liked to associate with the American prisoners.”
The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan. 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.
In May 1942, his family received this letter from the War Department.
Dear Mrs. L. Chapman:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Sergeant Alva J. Chapman, 20,645,256, 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
At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads. After arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard 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.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Sergeant Alva J. Chapman had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
It was while a POW there that Alva went out on a work detail to Ft. McKinley. On the detail with him were Sgt. Owen Sandmire, 1st Sgt. Dale Lawton, Pvt. Lloyd Richter, and Sgt. Forrest Knox. The POWs drove trucks for the Japanese. While he was on this detail, a Japanese guard took the time to help Alva learn Japanese. The reason Alva wanted to learn Japanese is that he wanted to speak the language well enough to stay out of trouble.
In December 1942, Alva went out on a work detail to Ft. McKinley arriving there on the twelfth. There, the POWs did cleanup work clearing the grounds of junk from the battle. When the work was finished, they were moved to Nielson Field on January 29, 1943.
At Nielson, the POWs lived in barracks that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide. One-quarter of the space was used for sick wards which meant the POWs slept shoulder to shoulder again. Tables for meals were in the center aisle of each barracks. The POW compound was they could walk around freely was 500 feet by 200 feet and surrounded by barbed wire. Each day, the POWs had to walk almost five miles to and from the airfield.
The POWs on the detail worked at constructing a northeast to the southwest runway. The workday for the POWs was from 8:00 A.M. until Noon and 1:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M. When they arrived at the airfield they were divided into two groups which alternated between working for an hour while the other and resting for an hour.
The work was hard and required the POWs to remove dirt and rock from one area and dumping it onto the runways. The dirt and rock were removed with picks and shovels and put into mining cars which were pushed by POWs to the area where they were going to be dumped.
In May 1943, the work was sped up. The POWs weren’t sure if this was because they were behind schedule or if the airfield was needed because of the military situation. The runway was built through rice paddies which made the work harder since they still had water in them.
POW work hours were changed in January 1944. From this time on, the POWs started at 7:00 A.M. and worked until 11:00 A.M. to avoid the hottest part of the day. In the afternoon, the POWs worked from 1:30 to 5:00 P.M. They had their one day off a week cut to a half-day a week. On May 26, the afternoon work hours were extended to 6:00 P.M. At some point, some POWs were assigned to building a second runway about three miles from the camp.
According to medical records kept at Bilibid Prison, Alva was admitted to the hospital ward on May 24, 1944, with a wart on his left foot. He was treated and discharged on May 27 and returned to the work detail. On May 30, he was readmitted with dengue fever. He was discharged the next day and returned to the work detail.
Alva was sent to Bilibid Prison to be processed for shipment to Japan. While he was boarding the Nissyo Maru, Alva watched as other POWs who had already boarded were carried from the holds of the ship dead. On July 17th, the ship sailed for Japan.
The ships encountered an American wolf pack made up of the American submarines of U.S.S. Crevale, the U.S.S. Angler, and the U.S.S. Flasher. During the attack, several ships in the convoy were sunk. Attempting to avoid the wolf pack, the ships did not arrive at Takao, Formosa, until July 27.
The next day the Nissyo Maru sailed for Moji, Japan, arriving there on August 3. The conditions in the hold were so bad that the men had passed out or died. Alva recalled that one of the worse experiences about the trip was that 1533 men were packed so tightly into the holds that no one could sit down.
Recalling the event he said, “As they were loading more men — trying to pack up all into one hold — we saw them carrying men out the other side. The heat in the crowded holds was so terrific they had evidently fainted. When they did get all the prisoners loaded, there was barely room to stand. We were fed two meals a day on the way to Japan, but not enough water. The matter of food was never so bad. but we got so little water, we often could not eat what we were provided.”
After arriving in Japan, Alva was sent to a sub-camp of Osaka near Nagoya, Japan. The POWs soon learned that if the foreman of the detail believed they were sincerely making an attempt to work, their lives were easier. If he did not believe they were attempting to do the best they could, he beat them.
“When we were in Nagoya camp we found it was better to let the foreman, who constantly stood over you for every little mistake or hesitation worked you over, have confidence in us by seeing our sincere efforts. Then he assigned us to work and allow us to do it ourselves. We did general strong-arm work there — loading and unloading boxcars and coal for instance.”
The camp was Nagoya #2 which was also known as Narumi Camp which was built on the side of a hill with local lumber with an 8-foot fence around it. The building – which was 40 feet long and 25 feet wide – was new but poorly built and during the winter the building was cold since it was not insulated and the wind blew through it. There were three fire pits and two stoves for heat, but the stoves were broken and never were used. The POWs lived in groups of four men with one man receiving the food ration for the men at each meal. The POWs slept on straw mats which were 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, and their pillows were canvas stuffed with rice husks.
At first, the POWs meals seemed to be adequate, but this changed the nearer the end of the war got. This resulted in the POWs, in the little free time that the POWs to sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
The POWs were used to manufacture wheels for railroad cars at the Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company which was also known as the Daido Electric Steel Company. One of the things Alva found amazing was that both the Japanese guards and officers found the Americans interesting. The officers, in particular, were extremely interested in the United States. Since the Japanese feared punishment, they would seldom show their interest publicly. If they did show it, they would only do so when there were no other Japanese around the POWs.
To get to and return from the mill, the POWs rode an electric train – with Japanese civilians – which took a half-hour to and from the mill. The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars. The Americans who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts.
At the mill, most of the POWs did common labor, but those who had machinist skills were put to work at finishing the wheels. The POWs worked from 6 to 8 hours a day. In the little free time that the POWs had, they would sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
In December 1944, the area was bombed by B-29s with one bomb hitting the camp and killing a guard. The roof of the barracks was damaged and the Japanese never repaired it. Overnight, the treatment of the POWs changed. The Japanese became extremely brutal with the POWs, especially those caught stealing food. The common punishment given to the POWs was to be beaten, kicked, hit with sticks, clubs, and rifle butts while standing at attention outside the guardhouse without food or water from hours to days. The POWs also were tied with a rope, in a crouching position, and left in it for as long as 24 hours. During the winter, they also had their clothing stripped from them and made to stand at attention for long periods of time in the cold and were denied food and water.
The clothing the POWs wore was the clothing they were given when they arrived at the camp. Red Cross clothing sent to the camp was misappropriated by the Japanese who were seen wearing it. This also was true for Red Cross medical supplies. The camp doctor, who was a POW, worked with a Japanese enlisted man. The Japanese soldier had control of all medicines and overruled the doctor on which POWs were too sick to work. Sick POWs were sent to work since they were needed at the mill.
As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp. The POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from air raids to knock out the train station. As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters. One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in. No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night. After the attacks, all work was stopped. Most of the POWs were put to work cleaning debris up at the mill.
It was also at this camp that Alva witnessed a prisoner put to death for stealing. One night, the man crawled into the camp kitchen to steal food. For whatever reason, the man did not get out. Realizing he would be caught, he attempted to kill himself by hanging himself. The Japanese allowed the man to heal and then made him stand naked in front of the other POWs. As he stood there, the Japanese proceeded to starve the man to death.
In another incident, four POWs who were caught stealing food were beaten with broom handles. After one bombing, the Japanese wanted the POWs to sign a complaint against the U.S. to the International Red Cross. Most of the POWs refused so the Japanese slapped them in their faces with rubber shoes. This still did not get the POWs to sign the letter.
In August, the POWs knew something was up because the climate in the camp had changed. They were finally told that the war was over. One morning the camp’s interpreter told the prisoners, “Between your country and mine we are now friends.” The camp was turned over to the POWs and the guards vanished. The guards left behind their weapons so the POWs posted guards to protect themselves against any possible attack.
The POWs marked the camp so that it could be spotted by American planes. The B-29s began dropping fifty-gallon barrels of supplies to the former prisoners. On September 2, 1945, American planes appeared and dropped food and clothing to These missions continued until the POWs were officially liberated.
When the POWs learned of the surrender, they pulled their earnings so the could purchase a bull that the Japanese had used as a work animal. The negotiated with the Japanese, who let the former POWs have the bull for the equivalence of $5000.00. They ate the meat for six meals, which was tough, but they refused to share it with the guards.
The strangest experience for the former prisoners was the fact the Japanese now insisted on bowing to them. It also seemed a little strange to them that the Japanese brought all the food dropped by the B-29s to them without taking anything for themselves. This was strange to the men because they knew that the Japanese civilians did not have much more to eat than the former POWs. The men assumed that the Japanese civilians had been told they would be killed if they were caught with American food. On September 4, 1945, American troops liberated the former POWs.
When liberation came, the POWs thought about taking to the hills. They decided that this was not a good or safe plan, so they remained in the camp until liberated by American forces.
After he was liberated, he was taken to Nagasaki where he boarded the U.S.S. Rescue and given a medical examination. It is known that he was on the ship on September 4th. It not known when he was deemed healthy enough to be transferred to another ship. Sgt. Alva J. Chapman was returned to the Philippines. It was at that time his parents received this telegram.
“Mr. & Mrs. Chapman: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Sgt. Alva J. Chapman was returned to military control Sept. 4 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
In September 1945, he boarded the U.S.S. Gosper which arrived at San Francisco on October 12. There he was treated to improve his health. He was discharged on February 23, 1946. He returned to Janesville and worked as an engineer for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. During this time, he had continued to have bouts of malaria.
On September 4, 1947, Alva married Betty Jane Kolbs in Oregon, Illinois. He and his wife resided in Janesville and raised four children. He worked for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Minneapolis Railroad as an engineer.
Alva Chapman died of a stroke on August 7, 1976, and was buried in Block 293, Lot 2, Grave 4 at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville.