Pvt. Wallace Herman Coats was born on February 27, 1918, in Birdwell, Texas. He was the son of Mattie F. Cline-Coats and Wallace O. Coats. With his sister, he grew up outside of Ryan, Oklahoma, on the family farm and married Venis E. Smith on January 5, 1941. When Selective Service Registration became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his foster father as his contact person. He also indicated he was self-employed and gave his address as Route #2, Jefferson County, Oklahoma. Wallace was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 24, 1941, in Oklahoma City and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. It was during this time that Wallace qualified as a tank driver. After basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent there from Fort Benning, Georgia, in the summer of 1941. Maneuvers were taking place in Louisiana, but the 753rd did not take part in them.
The 192nd Tank Battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. It was then ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. The members of the 192nd were informed that they were being sent overseas. There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made in early 1941. It was at this time that men who were married with families, men with dependents, men whose enlistments would end within a year, and men who were 29 years old or older were allowed to transfer out of the battalion. The battalion’s commander, because of his age, was replaced by Major. Theodore Wickord his executive officer. Since the battalion was made of National Guard tank companies, men who were married with dependents, men who had dependents. men who were 29 years old or older, or men whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas, were allowed to resign from federal service.
Gen. Weaver on December 2nd ordered the tank group to full alert. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, Weaver appeared to be the only officer on the base interested in protecting his unit. When Poweleit suggested they dig air raid shelters – since their bivouac was so near the airfield – the other officers laughed. He ordered his medics to dig shelters near the tents of the companies they were with and at the medical detachment’s headquarters. On December 3rd the tank group officers had a meeting with Gen Weaver on German tank tactics. Many believed that they should be learning how the Japanese used tanks. That evening when they met Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, they concluded that he had no idea how to use tanks. It was said they were glad Weaver was their commanding officer. That night the airfield was in complete black-out and searchlights scanned the sky for enemy planes. All leaves were canceled on December 6th.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.
Most of the tankers heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor at roll call that morning. Some men believed that it was the start of the maneuvers they were expecting to take part in. They were also informed that their barracks were almost ready and that they would be moving into them shortly.
Captain Donald Haines told B Company about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ordered all the members of the tank crews to their tanks. Some sources state the half-tracks took up positions alongside the tanks while other sources state they remained in the battalion’s bivouac.
It was lunchtime and members of the tank battalion not assigned to tanks or half-tracks were allowed to go to the mess hall to eat. It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. At 12:45 p.m., as they stood in line to be fed at their food trucks, they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes that was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.
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. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.
The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.
The Zeros doing a figure eight strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As they flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had filled to capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. When the hospital ran out of room, the battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
Sgt. Robert Bronge, B Co., had his crew take their half-track to the non-com club. During the three weeks, the 192nd had been in the Philippines, Bronge had spent three months of pay on credit at the club. When they got to the club they found one side was collapsed from an explosion of a bomb nearby. Bronge entered the club and found the Aircorpsmen – assigned to the club – were putting out fires or trying to get the few planes that were left into the air. He found the book with the names of those who owed the club money and destroyed it. HIs crew loaded the half-track with cases of beer and hard liquor. When they returned to their assigned area at the airfield, they radioed the tanks they had salvaged needed supplies from the club.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. The newspapers in the U.S. wrote about the lull in Bataan and the preparations for the expected offensive.
Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd 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.
On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left. The Japanese attacked the line held by American troops on April 8th. It was said that the Japanese made what the Americans called “A Bridge of Death” where the Japanese threw themselves on the barbed wire until there were enough bodies on it so the following troops could walk over it. The defenders were not only defending against a frontal attack, but they also were defending against attacks on their flanks and rear.
It was the evening of April 8th 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 on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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.”
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.” Capt. Robert Sorenson, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company. After arriving there, it was reported the half-tracks were driven off cliffs and a number of men attempted to reach Corregidor.
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 truck driver for A Company, realized that he had white bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. on April 9th, 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.”
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.” As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” 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. Another jeep followed them – 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 Gen. 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. 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.”
The cars were known as “forty or eights” since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar because the detachments had 100 men in them. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floors of the cars. When the prisoners got off the train, there were Japanese offering them money to buy food. The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. They believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. Wallace arrived at the camp 8 days after starting the march.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they needed to do something so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The only POWs who would remain in the camp were those POWs considered “too ill” to be moved. Most of those POWs would die in the camp.
In May his family received this message.
“Mr. Wallace Coats
Rte 2 Ryan, Oklahoma
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Wallace H. Coats, 38,021,015, 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 Camp #1 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of the healthier POWs to the camp was completed on June 4th.
The camp was actually three camps. Cabanatuan #1 housed most of the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Cabanatuan #2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed most of the POWs from Corregidor and was closed on October 30th and the POWs were sent to 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. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.”
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 ensure 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.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. The camp 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. 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. The platform was covered in feces which was made worse by the excrement from the higher platform dripping down onto it. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
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. For those POWs with tuberculosis who were in the hospital, their rations were reduced to 240 grams of rice, camote (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.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. The water table was high so when the bodies were put into the graves, POWs held them down with poles until they were covered with dirt. The next day when the burials continued, the dead were often found sitting up in their graves or dug up by wild dogs.
On June 26th, 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.
On August 7th, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17th. 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 12th and were recaptured on September 21st 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 29th, the Japanese executed three POWs after they were 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-man 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, thrown into a truck, driven to a clearing in sight of the camp, and shot.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
The day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.
The POWs were sent out on work details near the camp to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. When working in the rice paddies, the POWs not only planted rice but also massaged the rice. This meant that 50 POWs lined up at the end of a rice paddy in four to six inches of water. Then arm to arm about a foot apart they stoop over and go to the other side. The purpose of this was to work the mud around the plants. The Japanese always stopped the POWs before they got to the other side. The POWs found out there were poisonous water snakes that were black that moved ahead of them as they did this. The guards stopped the POWs so they could kill the snakes and prevent them from being bitten.
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 worst detail the POWs worked on was the latrine detail where the POWs cleaned the Japanese latrines with their bare hands. The POWs removed the feces and put it in 55-gallon drums. It is not known what happened to the feces, but it is known it was often used as fertilizer by the Japanese. Returning from the work details in the evening, the POWs – even though they were searched – somehow managed to bring medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp. The POWs ate supper but after they finished there wasn’t much time for them to do anything since dusk was an hour after supper. Later, the POWs had books to read that were sent by the Red Cross.
The POWs were organized in groups on November 11th. Group I was made up of all the enlisted men who had been captured on Bataan. Group II was the POWs who had come from Camp 3, and Group III was composed of all Naval and Marine personnel from both Camps 1 and 3 and any civilians in the camp. It was also at this time that an attempt was made to stop the spread of disease. The POWs dug deep drainage ditches, and sump holes for only water, and the garbage began to be buried, and the grass in the camp was cut. 100 POWs worked on Sunday, November 15th digging latrines and sump holes. Since Sunday was a day off, Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C., made sure each man received 5 cigarettes. On November 16th, a Pvt. Peter Laniauskas was shot trying to escape. Two other POWs were tried by the Japanese for being involved in the escape attempt. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement and the other 30 days.
Fr. Antonio Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14th and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peter Lankianuskas was shot while attempting to escape on November 16th. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20th, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd. On November 23rd, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 24th with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work. It should be mentioned that Fr. Buddenbroucke was executed after he was caught snuggling messages to the POWs and from them.
Each month on the eighth, the Japanese read the Japanese declaration of war on the United States to the POWs. This usually got them wound up and the POWs knew that the number of beatings they received would increase. On January 11th, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18th, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th.
Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1,255 to 1,450 POWs on them. Men who worked near the camp came back at about 11:30 AM for a tin of rice and then returned to work again to finish out a 10-hour day. After they had supper, there wasn’t much for the POWs to do. The Red Cross had sent books, but the Jap censors took them away a few days after they arrived. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7th. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued blankets by the Japanese on February 22nd. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3rd, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1st, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
During his time as a POW, his parents received a POW card from him. In the card, he asked for vitamins, clothing, and canned food. While a POW at Cabanatuan, he became ill and was admitted to the camp hospital on Friday, February 5, 1943, and again on Saturday, April 10, 1943. No reason for his admittance or date of discharge was given.
Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1255 to 1450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12 that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
The Japanese allowed the POWs, on May 30th, to hold a memorial service to honor the nearly 2,600 men who had died. (This number is the total number of deaths at both Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan.) At 9:00 AM, the POWs marched to the camp cemetery which was slightly over a half-mile from the camp. The services were conducted by Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant chaplains. The Japanese camp commandant presented a wreath. The POWs choir sang a number of hymns, the POWs were called to attention, and taps were blown as they saluted.
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11th and was captured in a barrio. At about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, POWs described what they saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed as was the top of his skull, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum. Also in July, the names of 500 POWs were posted on the list of POWs being sent to Bilibid Prison. Wallace’s name was on the list. On July 22nd, the POWs were issued new shoes, a suit of “Philippine Blues” and were 2 cans of corn beef, and 3 cans of milk. They were informed they would be taking a 21-day trip. The detachment left the camp that night. As it turned out, when they arrived in Manila, they were used in The Dawn of Freedom, a Japanese propaganda film, to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos. After this, they were sent to Bilibid Prison for the night.
The POWs were boarded on the Clyde Maru and sailed on July 23rd. The ship arrived at Santa Cruz, Zambales, Philippines, the same day. There, it was loaded with manganese ore. It remained in port for three days before sailing on July 26th. During this part of the voyage, the Japanese allowed 100 POWs, at a time, to be on deck from 6:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 28th.
At 8:00 A.M. on August 5th, the ship sailed as part of a nine-ship convoy. The ships arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7, but the POWs did not disembark until the next day. As they left the ship, each man was given a colored piece of wood that determined where the man would be sent. They were divided into 100 men detachments and taken by train to the various POW camps along the line.
Wallace was held at Fukuoka Main Camp after arriving in Japan. The POWs in the camp worked in a coal mine. A workday was 12 hours long seven days a week. It is also known that the POWs built an airfield near the camp. Each morning, all POWs who were healthy enough had to go outside and do calisthenics in their underwear. At some point, officers were dismissed, but the enlisted men continued until they were exhausted. While they were exercising, a Japanese guard walked among them and beat them with a stick to encourage them to work harder.
Non-perishable foodstuffs were sent to the camp, once a month, for the POWs. It was stated that a meal consisted of a quarter of a bowl of soup, a small bowl of rice, and a teaspoon of sweet fish. After they arrived the Japanese cut the food rations for the POWs, and at the end of the month, about half of the food was put on a truck and taken to some unknown destination. The POWs were very much aware that the camp commandant and others were making money by selling the food. Food that was sent by the Red Cross for the POWs was only issued on two occasions. Milk and meat from the packages were taken by the Japanese for their own use and what remained in the boxes was kept in a warehouse. When vegetables, like turnips, carrots, and onions, were given to the POWs, the Japanese only gave the POWs the tops of them.
On August 6th, Coats was in the camp hospital’s tuberculosis ward when in his words, “an awful war, then the whole world shook.” The shaking went on for 30 seconds. The men walked outside and saw a huge mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. He recalled, “I figured it was a fuel or storage tank that had been hit. We didn’t realize it was that far away. The cloud was a yellowish-orange color. I guess that should have been told us something.”
On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered. Men from the camp went to another camp and spoke with a Japanese officer who was fluent in English. Since they were near Nagasaki the men told the officer they planned to go there. In Wallace’s words, the colonel said, “We’d better not go down there now, there was some kind of reaction to the bomb. We didn’t go, and I guess that was a smart thing. — We didn’t know anything about the atomic bomb then.”
Wallace remained in the camp until liberated on September 18, 1945, and was promoted to Private First Class. The official announcement of his liberation was received on October 21, 1945, by his mother.
“Mrs. Coats: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, PFC Wallace H. Coats was returned to military control Sept. 18 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”
Wallace returned to the Philippines for medical treatment and then returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Tryon, at San Francisco, on October 24, 1945. After being discharged from the Army, Wallace married Venis E. Smith and the couple moved to Washington State and became the parents of five daughters and a son. The couple later returned to Oklahoma.
Wallace H. Coats passed away on April 23, 1989, in Witchita Falls, Texas, and was buried in Ryan, Oklahoma.