What is known about 1st Lt. William Lucas Cockrum is that he was born on October 25, 1910, and was the youngest of two sons of William Monroe Cockrum and Mary Jackson-Cockrum. As a child, he lived in Brown, Arkansas. It is known that William was called up to active duty on July 5, 1941, while working as a salesman. He was assigned to Hq Company, 194th Tank Battalion. It appears he was the commander of tanks assigned to Hq Company. This may have taken place as the battalion prepared for duty overseas.
On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippines because of an event earlier in the year. 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 in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy and saw another one 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 returned to 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 of planes 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 194th, minus B Company, was sent to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, and ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, were the members of the battalion were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
On September 8, 1941, the battalion was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9:00 P.M. that night. The ship arrived at Hawaii on September 13, remained in port most of the day, and sailed at 5:00 P.M., but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was joined by an unknown destroyer, the heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Astoria, and the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a replenishment oiler, which were its escorts.
During the voyage, on several occasions, smoke from unknown ships was seen on the horizon. The cruiser revved up its engines and intercepted the ships. On each occasion, it turned out that the ship belonged a friendly country. On Tuesday, September 16, the ships crossed the International Dateline and the date became Thursday, September 18. On September 26, they arrived at Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. but did not reach Manila until later in the morning. The soldiers did not disembark until 3:00 P.M. The maintenance section of the battalion helped 17th Ordnance unload the tanks and reattach the turrets.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and was taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since Gen. Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort had learned of their arrival only days earlier. They remained in the tents until November 15 when they moved into their barracks.
The barracks’ outside walls were opened and screened from the floors to three feet up the wall. Above that, there was woven bamboo. This design allowed air to pass through the barracks. Sanitation facilities appeared to have been limited and a lucky man was one who was able to wash by a faucet with running water.
The tankers’ day started at 5:15 with reveille. After washing, breakfast was at 6:00 A.M. The soldiers worked from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was at noon. They went back to work at 1:30 P.M. and worked until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work. According to members of the battalion the term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon. At 5:10, they ate dinner and were free afterward.
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. Off the base, the soldiers went to Mt. Aarayat National Park and swam in the swimming pool there that was filled with mountain water. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. They also went canoeing at Pagsanjan Falls in their swimsuits and described the country was described as being beautiful.
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 fatigues to do the work on the tanks. When they were discovered working in their fatigues, the soldiers were reprimanded for not wearing dress uniforms while working. The decision was made by Major Ernest Miller to continue wearing fatigues in their barracks area to do their work but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they were expected to wear dress uniforms. This included going to the PX.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th guarded the northern half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times. Their meals were brought to them by food trucks. On December 8, 1941, having heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the officers ordered the tank crews up to full strength at the airfield. The half-tracks also took positions around the airfield. Many of the soldiers laughed believing that this was the start of the expected maneuvers.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line – outside the pilots’ mess hall – to be refueled while the pilots were having lunch. Planes approached the airfield, at 12:45, from the north and the tank crews counted 54 planes in formation. As they watched, “raindrops” appeared under the planes. Bombs exploded on the runways wiping out much of the Army Air Corps. One bomb was a direct hit on the pilots’ mess hall. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. From their tanks, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
The 194th was sent to Mabalcat on December 10, and it was at this time that C Company was sent to southern Luzon where the Japanese were landing and put under the command of Brigadier General Albert M. Jones. To avoid Japanese planes, the company tried to cover the distance at night. They were successful and going 40 miles during the night but had to make a run for it during the day. They were successful and reached Muntinlupa and made it to Tagatay Ridge on December 14.
The tanks remained at Tagatay until December 24th doing reconnaissance and hunting for fifth columnists who would signal planes with mirrors during the day near ammunition dumps resulting in the dumps being bombed and shelled. At night, the fifth columnists shot off flares near the ammunition dumps. The activity ended, when the company shot up native huts suspected as being used by the fifth columnists. At 2:00 A.M. on December 24, the Japanese landed 7,000 troops at Lamon Bay. The Japanese began advancing in the direction of Lucban. The company took a position to aid the 1st Infantry Regiment, Philippine Army, that was fighting the Japanese.
One platoon of five tanks – on December 26 – was ordered to advance down a trail in an area where the Japanese were known to be. A major ordered the tanks to advance even though no reconnaissance had been done. The trail made a sharp turn, and when the tanks made the turn, the first was knocked out by a Japanese anti-tank gun killing the platoon commander and the driver of the tank. The other two crewmen escaped into the jungle. The remaining four tanks were also knocked out by enemy fire resulting in two more men being killed. From this point on the tanks fell back toward Bataan and were serving as the rear guard for Gen. Jones’ troops when they withdrew past Manila. C Company at one point saw 100 to 150 trucks belonging to the Philippine Army pass warehouses full of food and other supplies.
It was at this time that the 192nd Tank Battalion and A Company, 194th Tank Battalion were fighting to keep the roads open so that the troops withdrawing from southern Luzon would not be cut off. The southern Luzon force with C Company serving as its rearguard crossed the Calumpit Bridge on January 1st. After the company crossed the bridge was destroyed. the tanks went through San Fernando and formed roadblocks to keep the junction of Routes 3 and 7 open. Also on January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders of the northern force who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. The orders came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff and told the units holding open the bridges to withdraw. General Wainwright – who was in command – was unaware of the orders. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and half of the defenders had withdrawn. When Gen Wainwright became aware of what was going on, he countermanded the orders. 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 allowing the southern forces – including C Company – to escape.
Both tank battalions ordered to withdrawal to Lyac Junction on January 2, 1942, with the 194th withdrawing there on Highway 7. On January 5, 1942, C Company and A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, withdrew from Guagua-Porac Line and moved into position between Sexmoan and Lubao. At 1:50 A.M., the Japanese attempted to infiltrate their line in bright moonlight which made them easy to see. It also helped that the Japanese wore white shirts which reflected the moonlight. The tanks opened fire and in an attempt to cover their advance, the Japanese lay down smoke which blew back into them. It was 3:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the engagement having suffered 50% casualties.
C Company was with the 31st Infantry on January 5 ambushed between 750 to 800 Japanese troops resulting in the Japanese suffering 50 percent casualties. When the company withdrew, the barrio of Lubao was in flames. A small skirmish took place on January 6 resulting in two members of C Company being wounded. One man died from gas gangrene. A new defensive line was formed at Remedios along a dried creek bed. They fell back from this position and the tank battalions flanked the Layac Bridge over the Culo River. The night of January 6, the 194th crossed a bridge covered by the 192nd. The 192nd crossed the bridge becoming the last unit to enter Bataan before the bridge was destroyed.
For the first time in a month, both battalions bivouacked south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road giving long overdue maintenance work to be done on the tanks by the battalions’ maintenance crews and 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that rations were cut in half and tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each. One reason this was done was to give D Company, 192nd, tanks since it had lost all its tanks but one when a bridge had been destroyed before they had crossed it.
A composite tank company made up of tanks from the 192nd and 194th sent to protect East Coast Road north of Hermosa. Their job was to keep the East Road open north of Hermosa and to prevent the Japanese from driving into Bataan before the main battle line had been formed. The remainder of tanks ordered to bivouac for the night south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road. The tankers had been fighting for a month without rest and tanks also needed long overdue maintenance by 17th Ordnance. It was at this time that all tank companies reduced to ten tanks or three per tank platoon.
A platoon of tanks from C Company was sent to reopen Moron Road so General Segunda’s forces could withdraw. The tanks ran into an anti-tank gun that fired at the lead tank, but the shell went over the turret of the tank. The tank returned fire and destroyed the gun before it got off its next round. Two tanks hit landmines disabling them and were abandoned but later recovered. The mission was abandoned. Gen. Segunda’s troops escaped using the beach but lost their heavy equipment.
C Company, with D Company, 192nd, sent to Cadre Road on January 12 which was a forward position with little alert time. On January 13, 1942, mines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching Cadre Road so the tanks returned to the battalions. It is believed that it was during this time that Cockrum was transferred to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
The tanks on January 26, held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts with the battalion. At 9:45 A.M., they were warned by Filipino that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When the enemy appeared, the battalion opened up with all it had on the Japanese. At 10:30 A.M., the Japanese broke off the engagement and withdrew after losing 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new defensive line that was being formed from being breached.
The tanks from both battalions were given beach duty on January 28, 1942, with the tanks of the 194th given beach duty protecting southern beaches from Limay to Cabcaben with the half-tracks patrolling the roads. The tanks maintained radio contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group. On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The tanks were supposed to be supported by mortar fire, but the Army Air Corps men converted to infantry reported that the shells were bad. Maj. John Morley was present and looked at a shell, he removed the firing pin, dropped it in the mortar barrel, and after firing the shell exploded when it landed. It turned out that no one had told the Air Corps men they had to remove the firing pins before dropping the shells into the barrel. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other. On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
On March 2, during the Battle of the Pockets. 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. Most of the Japanese chose to jump off cliffs instead of surrendering. The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades. When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would explode. The second method was simple. The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole. The driver gave power to the opposite track causing the tank to go in a circle and dig into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead. According to members of the battalion, the tankers slept upwind from the tanks.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. 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. During this time the soldiers ate monkey, snake, lizard, horse, and mule. 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. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes, but Gen Weaver pointed out to him that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined. It was also at this time that the Self Propelled Mounts joined the tanks on the line. By doing this, the tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they 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.
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. The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern part 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.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. 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.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company, 192nd, and spoke to the men. He said to them, “I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “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. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
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 not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed, so King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line 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.
On April 11, 1942, the Japanese entered the bivouac area of C Company and after the Japanese made contact, the members of the company went to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. There they were searched and the Japanese took anything they wanted from the Prisoners of War. From Mariveles, they started what they simply called, “the march.” As the POWs made their way north, the Filipinos filled containers with water and placed them along the road. The POWs could not stop but many were able to scoop water into their canteens. By doing this the Filipinos saved a great many lives. The POWs also could see them flashing the “V” for victory sign under their folder arms.
The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace so they could finish their assigned section. Those men who were sick had a hard time keeping up and if they fell out were bayoneted or shot. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery.
The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they at there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese riding past them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles. When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.
The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a building, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share. The area where the POWs sat was covered in human feces from the POWs who had occupied the bullpen before them.
The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were about thirteen feet long and ten feet wide and known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments had 100 men in them, the Japanese put 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Since the POWs were packed in so tightly, men suffocated from the lack of air but could not fall to the floors since there was no room to fall. At Capas, the living left the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors as they left the boxcars and walked the eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off so they could bathe and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who found the pipe and dug the trench for it. Like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the faucet when they wanted water, but the POWs could turn the water on without the Japanese knowing it.
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 so they could bathe and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who found the pipe and dug the trench for it. Like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the faucet when they wanted water, but the POWs could turn the water on without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. A second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, but it was turned away.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic -out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the 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. This prevented the spread of disease since the bodies often were not buried for three or four days. At one point there were 80 bodies under the hospital waiting to be buried.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In May or early June 1942, his parents received a message from the War Department:
“Dear Mrs. M. Cockrum:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of First Lieutenant William L. Cockrum, O, 370, 593, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and it was later consolidated into Camp 1. Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks and divided into groups of ten men. This meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread. If they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
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 anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. June 26, 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.
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. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing and the man would be buried naked. The dead man’s clothing would be 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.
In July, his family received a second message from the War Department. The following are excerpts 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, First Lieutenant William L. Cockrum 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.”
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, 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. At some point, 50 grams of mongo beans replaced some of the rice. In addition, sick POWs also received an additional 50 grams of meat. In March, the POWs received fresh tomatoes, onions, and native greens. This ration was supplemented by food from the Red Cross. The result of the improvement in the diet was that in early 1943, the death rate among the POWs began to drop. The POWs celebrated the first day that no one died in the camp. The improvement in the diet only lasted until August when rations were cut.
Another POW, Cpl. Donald K. Russell, was shot and beheaded on November 21, 1942, after being recaptured after escaping.
A German Catholic priest, Fr. Bruttenbruck came to the camp 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. He returned on December 24 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, Red Cross boxes were distributed in the camp. In each package, which was British, were canned pudding, syrup, tomatoes, tea, curry mutton, meat and vegetables, sugar, cheese, milk, jam, oleomargarine, chocolate, biscuits, soap, and gelatine. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
The POWs heard explosions on January 11, 1943, as Japanese dive bombers attacked a target about 30 kilometers from the camp. Several of the explosions were extremely loud. The POWs later heard scuttlebutt that 102 Filipino men, women, and children had been killed during the attack. Two days later, they heard another rumor that half of the barrio of Cabanatuan where the warehouses were located had been burned by the guerrillas.
The Japanese installed a radio so the POWs could hear their version of the war. During February they heard that the Russians were driving the Germans from Russia but Japan would continue to fight on its own. They also heard the Allies were winning the European War and that there had been a battle in the Marshall Islands. It also during this time that the fly problem decreased because of the change from slit trenches to box toilets. This slowed the spread of dysentery.
During this time there was an incident between the Japanese and the camp band. The band always tried to learn new songs to play for the POWs. One of the songs the band learned to play was “Paper Moon.” The only problem was that the song had not become popular until after the soldiers had become POWs. When the Japanese realized this, they knew the POWs had a radio hidden in the camp. The Japanese searched the camp vigorously to find the radio and tortured many men, but they never did find the radio.
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11, 1943, 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 during July, the names of 500 POWs were posted, and on July 21, 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 Japanese propaganda film The Dawn of Freedom to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos. After this, they were sent to Japan on the Clyde Maru.
In August, the rainy season had started, and that all the extra food was long gone. The Japanese planned to move the hospital to the same area as the healthy POWs to reduce the size of the camp so they could reduce the number of guards. On September 22, the hospital was moved. The POWs also were ordered to stop cooking their own food. For the sick, this was bad news since meals for them were being cooked individually. The POWs adopted a system where a group placed an order for food 24 hours before they wanted the food. The supplies were debited from that group’s supplies.
An order was issued on October 3 that all good khaki garments, hats, rifle belts, and field bags they had must be turned over to the Japanese. The next day, the Japanese sent 1300 POWs to Bongabong in captured U.S. trucks. On one of the front bumpers of a 6 by 6 truck were the markings “Hq 192nd.” The POWs were back in the camp by 8:00 P.M. and to the surprise of the other POWs, their possessions were returned to them. It turned out that the Japanese were still shooting the movie, and the POWs were used as extras in the movie. Also during the month, the POWs noted that the food they were growing on the camp farm was being sent to Manila. On October 18, 103 telegrams were brought to the camp but only 21 men present in the camp received them. It appeared that other men were out on work details. Four days later, 175 telegrams arrived at the camp, but only 65 were distributed. It was noted that some had been received in Tokyo that same month.
The POWs received on December 7, 1943, ½ a pound of sugar, 2 cans of soluble coffee, 2 chocolate emergency rations, 1 pound of prunes, and a ½ pound cheese. The items were perishable goods that came from the Red Cross Christmas boxes sent to the camp. That night they received a Japanese “news sheet” that told of the terrible American losses in the southwest pacific. According to the sheet, the U.S. had lost most of its navy. It also stated that the U.S. lost 5 carriers, 2 cruisers, and a battleship in the Gilberts, and 37 ships were lost at Bougainville. On the 11th, they received more coffee, two cans of cheese, two chocolate bars, and two boxes of raisins.
On Christmas eve the Japanese gave each man an unopened Red Cross box. Inside the POWs found cigarettes which usually were missing from the boxes. From 9:00 P.M. until midnight on Christmas eve, carolers were all over the camp. Christmas started with midnight mass for the Catholics with Protestant services at 5:30 A.M. Bango was at 7:00 A.M. instead of 6:30. The Japanese also handed out to each man an unopened Red Cross box.
One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worse beatings was considered the best detail to be on. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside was 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.
During February, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila.
As more and more POWs were sent to Manila for shipment to another part of the Japanese empire, the officers were put to work on the camp farm with the enlisted men. In August 1944, the POWs found themselves working to move the hospital to the same area as the POW barracks. The reason was that the Japanese wanted to reduce the size of the camp so they would need fewer guards. The POWs were keeping their own gardens and growing their own food, but the Japanese now insisted that the POWs stop cooking their own food. The POWs adopted a group cooking policy where the POWs in a group placed an order 24 hours before they wanted it, and it was deducted from that group’s food stock. The POWs were also able to purchase coffee. They noticed that the Japanese attitude also had changed and that they wanted the POWs more involved in the running of the camp.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs saw the first American planes fly over the camp on their way to bombing Manila. This was the first sign that American forces were getting closer to the Philippines. Life in the camp was monotonous, and the POWs continued to go out on work details. It was in October 1944 that the POWs saw their first American planes in nearly three years. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The POWs heard a rumor from guards Americans were on Mindanao Island, but it turned out the rumor was false.
In October, William’s name appeared on a list of POWs selected to be transferred to Bilibid Prison. Six trucks arrived a the camp and spent the night of October 17 at the camp. The next morning the POWs were fed corn cakes and rice for breakfast and were inspected at 7:30 A.M. The POWs were loaded onto the six trucks with 50 men put on each one. At 11:00 A.M. as they made their way to Bilibid Prison, the POWs saw two large formations of American planes on their way to bomb a Japanese fortification at Nichols Field and the Port Area of Manila. It was the fifth or sixth day in a roll that the POWs had seen American planes. This made the ride uncomfortable since they were packed so tightly they had to stand. At 11:00 A.M. they were on their way to the prison, the POWs saw two large formations of American planes which were the fifth or sixth straight day they had seen American planes. The trucks stopped and the POWs were fed, but they were not allowed off the trucks. The POWs made their way to the side of the truck to urinate. They arrived at Bilibid at 4:00 P.M.
At Bilibid, meals for the POWs consisted of a half to three-quarters of a mess kit of rice twice a day. To cook the food, the POWs cut down trees and tore down wooden structures for firewood. The rice was contaminated so many of them came down with dysentery. Since the food ration was so small the POWs often ate garbage from scrap cans and ate from the pig troughs.
Most of the POWs slept on the concrete floor without the benefit of mosquito netting which resulted in many developing malaria. Many of the prisoners at the prison died from starvation, malaria, and dysentery. There were only three showers in the prison that the POWs could use. Clothing for the POWs consisted of two g-strings and two pairs of socks.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent to Japan. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 13, the other POWs were awakened. By 7:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men selected for transport to Japan. As it turned out, it took until 9:00 to finish this task. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to “fall-in.” The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila.
At 11:30 A.M., they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men, fed, and marched to Pier 7 in Manila which was two miles away. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the streetcars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair. The Filipinos lined up along the street and gave the“V” for victory sign to the Americans when they thought the Japanese wouldn’t see them. They noticed there were bicycles, pushcarts, carts pulled by men or animals, and some Japanese cars and trucks on the street. Japanese soldiers seemed to be everywhere. They also noticed that grass along the street was now full of weeds and the street was also in terrible shape. They also saw the results of American bombings on the city. The Bachrach Garage where a POW detachment had worked for almost over two years was now partially destroyed. When the POWs reached Pier 7, they saw almost 40 Japanese ships sunk in the bay. There were three ships docked at the pier. One was an old run-down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened at about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s aft hold. Being the first one into the hold meant that they would suffer many deaths since they had the worse conditions of any of the holds. 500 POWs were put into the forward hold, 600 in the middle hold, and 520 in the aft hold. Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.” The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”
At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing. The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who out of their minds into it. On the walls of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
It was noted that one American plane flew over the ships at 6:00 A.M. The POWs received their first meal which consisted of a little rice, fish, and water at dawn. Three-fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs. It was 7:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill. To the POWs, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us. They are! They’re diving! Duck everybody!”
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock. Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day. Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only its 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship. At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. The POWs felt the ship shake as it was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs that came through the hatch. Some bombs exploded near the ship throwing water spouts over the ship. The POWs actually rooted for the bombs to hit the ship. During the attack Chaplain William Cummings – a Catholic priest – led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the hull, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship’s rudder had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered. Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. They could hear boats being rowed, people shouting and the sound of children and babies crying until about 3:00 A.M. They also heard the voices of the men in the forward hold shouting and the words “quiet” and “at ease men” over and over. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere. The ship steamed closer to the beach at Subic Bay and at 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark in one or two hours at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15 and the POWs were sitting in the ship’s holds when a guard shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. The POWs selected 35 wounded and sick to be evacuated when planes appeared at 8:00 A.M. The POWs took cover but the planes circled around and did not attack. Since there was no ack-ack fire from the ship, and no movement on deck, the POWs guessed that the pilots believed the ship had been abandoned. Three men who tried to go up the ladder without permission were shot and killed. About a half-hour later, they were ordered to send up the wounded. Ten minutes later a guard shouted that the next 25 men should be sent up. As the POWs were coming up, the guard suddenly looked up and motioned to them to get back into the hold. He shouted, “Planes, many planes!” As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack.
The POWs quickly realized that this attack was different. From the explosions, they could tell the bombs were heavier and all aimed at the ship which bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs felt the ship shake every time a bomb hit it. Small holes appeared in the hull and when a bomb fell near the ship water came into the holds through the holes. The stem of the ship was hit by a bomb which also allowed water to enter the holds. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air.” In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold a Catholic priest, Chaplain John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
As the other POWs waited, a Japanese guard who had been at Cabanatuan yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. The POWs scrambled up the ladders and stairway. As they left the holds they knew that there was a good chance they would have to swim to shore. When they got on deck they found that the ship was parallel to the shore and about 400 to 500 yards away from it. The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned the ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. They also found that it was a sunny day and the sky and water were blue. The water toward shore was filled with swimming Americans and Japanese all headed toward shore while Japanese machine guns fired on the POWs to prevent them from escaping. The ship was still floating okay, except the stern was sitting lower in the water and was listing.
The POWs in the water shouted to those on deck to get off the ship because it only had about 2 to 3 minutes more before it went under. Many of the men, climbed onto the railings and jumped into the water – which was 30 feet below them – feet first. The better swimmers helped the weaker swimmers get to anything that floated. As they swam away from the ship, for the first time they saw how badly it had been damaged. An entire section of the stern had been blown away and the ship looked like a pile of scrap metal. The entire ship was pitted, bent by bullets, or twisted or bent. The stronger swimmers kept an eye out for anyone having problems swimming.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically and shouted at the planes so they would not be strafed. One of the planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilot dipped his wings to show that he knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship’s stern began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks. The stronger swimmers returned to the ship and encouraged the poor and non-swimmers to jump into the water. Once in the water, they made sure they had a plank to float on and make it to shore. The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed that as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape. When they looked at the water, it was full of dead fish of many sizes killed by the bombs. The men ate salted beans that were in a tub that had been looted from the ship.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to a grove of shady trees about 200 yards from the beach where they sat down and dried out the few possessions they had left. That afternoon they were moved to a single tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court and roll call was taken. It was discovered 329 of the 1,619 POWs who had boarded the ship had died. The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end. They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man. No sooner had they occupied the tennis court than American planes came over and began to make a strafing run. The men on the tennis courts waved their shirts and arms in an attempt to identify themselves as Americans. The lead plane’s pilot apparently realized they were Americans and flew over them to the Oryoku Maru and started bombing the ship which caused it to catch fire and sink.
While the POWs were at Olongapo Naval Station, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and shot and buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed until the 17th when the Japanese brought a 50 kilo-bag of rice. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of the holes. Instead of giving it out that night, Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C. said they should feed the men in the morning. The next day each man received 3 tablespoons of rice and a quarter spoon of salt. The POWs received the same amount of raw rice two more times while they were on the tennis court. The Japanese excuse for not giving the POWs cooked food was they were going to be moved soon, but the guards were seen eating cooked food on several occasions.
Beecher had several arguments with the Japanese over food and treatment of the wounded. When he told the Japanese interpreter, “For God’s sake! Hospitalize these wounded men or they are all going to die!” The interpreter said, “All Americans are going to die anyway.”
The POWs remained on the tennis court for six days. During their time on the court, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of their dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs dropped their bombs and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact. Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The first 500 POWs left Olongapo on December 21, and arrived at San Fernando Pampanga, at 3:00 P. M. and put in a prison. At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. A Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, “No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid.” The guard knew as little as the POWs. The POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about 6:00 P.M. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen. December 23, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid but the fact was they were beheaded and buried at the Campo Santo de San Fernando Cemetery. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and walked two kilometers to a schoolyard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25 until the 26. The POWs were held in a schoolhouse. On the morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater and died. The remaining prisoners boarded onto the Brazil Maru and held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle and the POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they used ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterward, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea. During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31 and dropped anchor around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six-inch-long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1 through the 5, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water resulting in the death rate among the POWs to rise. It was at this time that the POWs from the Brazil Maru were transferred onto the Enoura Maru and put in the forward hold. On January 6, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes on the morning of January 9. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day when the sound of ship’s machineguns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship. One bomb exploded outside the haul of the forward hold and another fell through the open hatch exploding in the hold. Together they killed 285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. Since the Japanese did nothing to remove the dead from the hold, the POWs stacked the corpses under the hatch so they would be the first thing that the Japanese saw when they looked into the hold.
On January 11 a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. The dead were unloaded onto a barge, and the bodies were taken to shore. A POW detail of twenty men dragged the corpses to the beach by tying ropes to the legs and dragging them to the grave on the beach. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold on the ship. After a couple of days, the Japanese sent medics into the ship to give aid to the POWs who had been wounded. If the wounds were too bad, they did not treat the man. At the same time, the Japanese organized another detail to remove the remaining bodies which were taken to a beach and buried.
The living were left on the ship and began to steal sugar from the middle hold of the ship. The Japanese officer, Lt. Toshino, wanted those stealing sugar turned into in and threatened to starve the POWs. Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C. called the officers together and said, “We’ve got to have two men who are willing to go up and offer themselves as hostages for all the others. I don’t have any idea what Toshino and Wada ordered done to those men. They may have had them shot. I just don’t know.
“The only thing I can promise is this if they survive whatever the Japs do to them, I will see to it that they are taken care of and don’t go without food the rest of the trip.”
An English sergeant and a husky medic volunteered and sent on deck. Each man was repeatedly beaten and if he passed out, he was slapped until he regained consciousness. When the Japanese were finished, the men were thrown back into the hold. Both men survived but would later die in Japan.
On January 13, the surviving POWs were boarded onto a third “Hell Ship” the Brazil Maru. Barges were used to take the POWs to the ship. The wounded suffered the most pain since some were lowered onto the barges with ropes. When they reached the ship, they were hoisted onto it the same way. The POWs found they had more room in the hold and they were actually issued lifejackets.
Since there were no medical facilities fifteen POWs died the first night. During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day, and the bodies remained in the hold until 50 POWs had died. One area of the hold was called the hospital area where the wounded and sick laid in feces. Men who were not in the area – and had shown no signs of illness – were found dead the next day. Usually, the men had frozen to death. This became so common that the medics as they made their rounds in the hold shouted, “roll out your dead.” Two chaplains died. One from giving all his food and water to others and the other died from becoming overtaxed from helping others. There was no water to wash the mess kits or for the men to use. The POWs used their urine on their heads to clean themselves.
At one point, the ship also towed one or two other ships that had been damaged. When the ship docked at Moji on January 29, the POWs were walking skeletons. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan. The Japanese civilians seeing the condition of the men showed shock on their faces. The POWs were shuffled through the streets to the train station.
On January 20, the Japanese organized a POW detail to remove the dead to a barge which had been brought alongside the ship. The barge took the bodies to shore, but the POWs were too weak to carry them. Ropes were tied to the legs of the dead and the bodies were dragged to the grave that had been dug and buried in a mass grave on a beach. Afterward, the Japanese finally sent medics into the hold to help with the treatment of the wounded. As many as 50 POWs died each day before the ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 29, 1945. Of the original 1619 POWs who had boarded the ship, only 459 had reached Japan.
Upon arriving in Japan, William was sent to Fukuoka #4 and later Moji Military Hospital. He died at the hospital on February 3, 1945, and his body was cremated and his ashes given to the camp commandant. It is not known when his family learned of his death.
After the war, the remains of 1st Lt. William L. Cockrum were reburied at the Corning Cemetery in Corning, Arkansas.