PFC Earl Maurice Conover was the son of Wyatt Conover and Ila Epperson-Conover. He was born on September 17, 1917, in Columbia, Kentucky. With his two sisters, he grew up on Jamestown Street in Columbia, Kentucky, and was a 1935 graduate of Columbia High School.
After high school, Earl opened a jewelry shop where he repaired watches. When Selective Service Registration became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his father as his contact person. He also indicated he was self-employed. Knowing that it was just a matter of time until he was drafted into the army, he enlisted in January 1941. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky to train with the 19th Ordnance Battalion. Ironically, Earl sold his shop to another jeweler who was from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, the hometown of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
During Earl’s training at Ft. Knox, he and the other members of 19th Ordnance trained on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion. In August, the battalion was taking part in maneuvers when A Company was ordered to return to Ft. Knox.
At Ft. Knox, A Company was inactivated and activated as 17th Ordnance Company and received orders to go overseas. The decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 1941, at Ft. Knox, Kentucky – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
By train, the company traveled to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. Arriving by train with the new tanks for the 194th Tank Battalion, the company spent three days removing the turrets and putting cosmoline on the guns to prevent rust. The turrets were removed because the hold’s ceiling was too low for the tanks to fit with them on. So that the correct turrets were placed on the tanks they came off of, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on them.
The company boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship’s holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, an unknown destroyer, and the U.S.S. Guadalupe a replenishment oiler. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets. They did this in shifts and slept on the ship. By 9:00 A.M. the next day, the job was finished.
At the fort, the company found itself living in tents since their barracks were not finished. The area the tents were pitched in was low, so the first night when there was heavy rain, the tents flooded. On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
Since they worked with the 194th, they had the same workday. The soldiers’ 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 to 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.
On December 8, 1941, he lived the bombing of Clark Field. The soldiers were putting down stone for sidewalks when their commanding officer, Major Richard Kadel, told them of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The company moved to a bamboo thicket and set up its trucks. Later that morning the alert was canceled and the company was ordered back to Clark Field. The cooks had just finished preparing lunch so they remained in the thicket. While they were eating lunch, at 12:45 the Japanese bombed the airfield. The Zeros that followed strafed the airfield and banked and turned over the thicket to straf the airfield again. They were ordered not to fire because some of the machines they had to manufacture tank parts were the only ones in the Philippines.
While they were eating lunch, the Japanese bombed the airfield. The Zeros that followed banked and turned over the thicket to straf the airfield again. One of the officers manned a 50 caliber machine gun but was told by Major Richard Kadel to hold his fire because the planes were Filipino.
He and his company spent the next for months servicing tanks during the withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula. Wherever the tanks were fighting, 17th Ordnance was nearby. They often did the tank repairs on the front line under fire.
On Bataan, the company set up its headquarters in an empty ordnance depot which was surrounded by ammunition dumps. There they continued repairing damaged tanks and manufacturing tank parts. They also set up fuel dumps for the tanks to use as they fell back.
On February 1, he wrote a letter to his parents which they received in early April 1942.
“No chance to write before. Am in the best of health, although losing sleep and getting two meals a day. Have been both bombed and strafed but only had dirt thrown on me so far. Guess you know more about the war than I do. We hear nothing. At present we are in a hot spot. Jap planes bomb across from us almost every day. Have done lots of shooting with .50 cal. machine gun. Know I’ve hit the planes but haven’t brought any down yet. Will be home when this is over. /s/Earl”
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack with troops brought in from Singapore 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.
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.
At 6;30 P.M. order went out. “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.”
17th Ordnance at 11:00 P.M. was given a half-hour to vacate the ordnance building before the ammunition dumps around it were blown up at 11:40 P.M. 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 and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received 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. The company destroyed any equipment that would be useful to the Japanese.
As King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the tank group and spoke to them. He told them he was going to get them the best deal he could get. 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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
When the surrender came on April 9, 1942, the company remained in its bivouac. The next day the Japanese arrived and ordered 17th Ordnance to Mariveles. It was from there that they started what the prisoners simply called “the march.” When they started the march at Mariveles, they marched back and forth a number of times because the Japanese didn’t really know what to do with them. Late that evening they marched again, this time they made their way north up the zig-zag road that led out of Mariveles.
Since the first five miles of the march were uphill, it was midnight before the Prisoners of War reached the highest ground. It was at that time that the guards gave the POWs a rest.
When ordered to move, the column made its way north. At some point, his commanding officer and several other men from his company escaped into the jungle. They would spend the rest of the war as guerrillas, and some would not live to see the end of the war.
The column made its way to Cabcaben. During this part of the march, they saw dead Filipinos lying along the sides of the road. Outside of Cabcaben, the Japanese had set up artillery which was firing on Corregidor which was returning fire. The POWs were ordered to rest in front of the guns because the Japanese believed that if they did, the Americans would stop their fire. They didn’t and knocked out three of the four Japanese guns. After this didn’t work, the Japanese ordered the men to move again.
On the march to Lamao, men were beaten to the ground and bayoneted. If you were caught looking at what was happening the guards came after you. Many of the POWs looked down so they did not become targets for the guards.
Although there were artesian wells flowing across the road, the guards would not let the POWs drink any of the water. Men who broke ranks and ran to the wells were shot. Those who made it back to the ranks and had wet clothing were also shot.
Along the sides of the road were ditches filled with dirty water. Often a dead body was floating in the water. The guards had no problem letting the POWs drink the filthy water which later led to the deaths of many of the POWs.
It was during this part of the march that the guards took the canteens away from the POWs and had them sit in the sun from 10 A.M. until 1 P.M. This was known as “the sun treatment.” Since they had no head protection they became sunburned and many had blisters.
They continued march north and had not eaten in days. It was at this time that they passed sugarcane fields. Men were so hungry that they broke and ran into the field for food. As they ran to get food, the guards shot at them killing some. Those who returned to the march with sugarcane shared it with others.
The detachment reached San Fernando where they were put in a bullpen which had been used by other POWs. It was covered with human waste. In one corner was a slit trench that was live with flies. Once in the pen, they were ordered to sit. They remained there until they were ordered to form 100 men detachments and march to the train station at San Fernando.
The small wooden boxcars were known as “forty or eights” because each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments had 100 men in them, the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Once in the cars, those men who died remained standing since they had no room to fall to the floors. When the living left the cars at Capas, the dead fell to the floor. The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.
The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again, but the Japanese never had a shortage of water. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The POWs received three meals a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half of cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men but those did sleep in one slept in a barracks it was with as many 80 to 120 men.
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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi 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 with medical supplies sent by the Red Cross to the camp was turned away at the gate.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs in the hospital – 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. In an attempt to stop the spread of disease, the dead were moved to one area, and the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The less sick from the hospital were required to dig latrines and were given a canteen of water that was expected to last three days. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria.
Earl was selected to go out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges that the Americans had destroyed during the withdrawal into Bataan. The POWs on the detail were divided into two detachments. One rebuilt the bridges while the other cut the lumber at a sawmill. Earl was sent to the sawmill.
In May, his family received a letter from the War Department
“Dear Mrs. Earl M. Conover:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private First Class Earl M. Conover, 35,100,454, 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”
While on the detail, Earl witnessed the execution of ten POWs. One night, a POW escaped into the jungle. The Japanese had instituted “the blood brother rule.” If a POW escaped, the five men who slept to his right and left would be executed. The Japanese were true to their word.
A member of the 192nd Tank Battalion, Ralph Hite, became ill, after eating “Pony Candy” and developed dysentery. He died within four days. The Japanese allowed the POWs to build a coffin for Hite, and Earl was given the job of building the coffin.
When the detail ended, Earl was sent to Cabanatuan – which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division as Camp Pangatian – and assigned to Barracks 2, Group 3.
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.
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched 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 later released. They were later executed.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. 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.
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. 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 camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier. It was while a POW there that Bob came down with dysentery and admitted to the camp hospital.
The daily meal for the POWs was 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Because of the poor diet, the POWs suffered from malnutrition which prevented their bodies from fighting illnesses.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, PFC Earl M. Conover 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.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched 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 later released.
It was at this camp the Japanese implanted the “Blood Brother” rule. The POWs were put in groups of 10 men. If one man escaped the other nine would be killed. The justification was that the POWs who slept on the man’s right or left would have been able to stop him. 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.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese.after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
In January 1943, his family received notice from the War Department that he was reported as a POW by the Japanese. This was the first time they had heard anything about him in nine months. In August 1943, they received a POW postcard from him.
The family received three postcards from him in December 1943. In one he said:
“Hoping this finds everyone well. Am homesick at times, but time passes fast. I hope Rochelle (his niece) remembers me. Give my regards to all my friends. Do not get too many gray hairs. I’ll be back someday. Have great plans for the future. /s/ Earl M. Conover.”
He was selected for a work detail to Las Pinas. The POWs on the detail built runways at an airfield with picks and shovels. On September 21, 1944, the POWs heard planes approach the airfield. These were the first American planes they had seen in over two years. The planes bombed and strafed the airfield. The Japanese ended the detail the next day.
Earl and the other POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison. There, they were selected for shipment to Japan. The POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru on October 1, 1941, and the ship moved away from the pier but dropped anchor at a buoy. The POWs went three days without water and the temperature in the holds rose to over 100 degrees. Men began going crazy and began screaming. The Japanese threatened to cover the holds unless those screaming stopped. To stop these men from screaming, the POWs killed them by strangling them or beating them to death with canteens.
The ship sailed from the Philippines on the Hokusen Maru on October 4, 1944, and stopped at Cabcaban, the same day, and San Fernando, La Union, on October 5. There it joined a convoy that sailed on October 6 and came under attack by submarines. Two ships were sunk and, on October 7, the decision was made for the ships to attempt to reach Formosa on their own. As the Hokusen Maru made its way to Formosa, on October 9, there was a false air raid warning, so the captain made the decision to go to Hong Kong.
During this part of the trip, the ships heading to Hong Kong ran into a Wolf Pack and two ships were sunk. The ships made it to Hong Kong on October 10. Six days later, it was still in the harbor when American planes bombed the harbor. After the attack, the ship remained in Hong Kong until October 21 when it sailed. After three days at sea, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 24.
After arriving at Takao, the Japanese made the decision to disembark the POWs, on November 8, and send them to a POW camp on the island. On Formosa, Earl worked at Inrin Temporary Camp where the POWs did light work. The healthier POWs worked in a sugar mill.
In January 1945, Earl was selected to be sent to Japan. He and other POWs were put on the “Hell Ship” the Melbourne Maru, which sailed on January 14 and arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 25. Next, Earl was boarded onto a train, and after transferring to another train, he arrived at Sendai #3 in February. The POWs in the camp worked in a lead and zinc mine owned by Mitsubishi.
It was also in January 1945, that his parents received another POW postcard from him which had been written while he was still in the Philippines. The next word they received was from the War Department in July 1945, which indicated he had been sent to Japan.
In the camp, the guards carried bamboo clubs which they hit the POWs with on a regular basis for various reasons. When being punished, the POWs were ordered and forced to stand at attention, in the snow, in their inadequate clothing. On several occasions, they were forced to stand at attention with holding buckets of water at arms’ length.
What is known about the camp is that the hospital was a cold wooden barracks and that the medical equipment was poor. Red Cross medicines and medical equipment arrived at the camp but were not issued to the POWs. The result was that fourteen POWs died in the hospital. The camp doctor was known to eat vitamin tablets from the packages in front of the POWs. All the deaths were contributed to lack of clothing against the cold and inadequate heating of the barracks and poor diet. Even though POWs were certified as too sick to work, POWs were forced to work in the mines because a certain number of POWs had work each day.
Those POWs who reported for sick call had to line up in the hallway to the Japanese doctor’s office and take off all their clothes before they entered. While in line, they were often slapped in the face. The doctor made the POWs stand at attention, bow, and follow orders given to them. Since this took so much time, most of the POWs were never examined and had to work. Cold weather clothing and blankets from the Red Cross were never given out to the POWs who had to sleep in the poorly heated barracks in the winter.
Red Cross clothing was stored in a warehouse at the camp and never issued to the POWs. The Japanese used blankets intended for the POWs as cushions for chairs in the camp’s offices. They also wore the shoes and Red Cross clothing meant for the POWs. If Red Cross packages were given to the prisoners, they had been previously opened and cigarettes and chocolate bars were missing. Food also meant for the prisoners was eaten by the Japanese.
The POWs were marched to and from the mine by Japanese civilians. If they fell behind during the march, the guards beat them with their bamboo clubs. While working in the mine, if an “Overseer”, the name given to the civilian supervisors, thought a POW was not working hard enough, the POW received a whack with a bamboo stick.
Earl remained at Sendai #3 until he was liberated on September 12, 1945. The same day, he was taken to Yokohama and boarded the U.S.S. Rescue and was given a medical exam and processed. It was at that time it was determined he should be flown to the Philippines for additional medical treatment. At some point, his family received this message.
“Your son, PFC Earl Conover, has been returned to military control and will be in the United States in the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon arrival.”
His family received this message from him in September 1941:
“Japan, Sept. 14
“In good health. Waiting at Yokohama Airport for plane to Manila. Will write from there. Very homesick but will soon be home. Can’t tell you the words how I feel but maybe you have the same feeling. Love to all. /s/Earl”
After receiving medical clearance in the Philippines, he was boarded onto the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze and sailed, from Manila, on September 23, 1945, and went to San Pedro Bay on Leyte. There, it most likely picked up additional patients. The ship arrived at San Francisco on October 16, 1945, where he was sent to Letterman General Hospital. At a later date, he was sent to Nichols General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, for further treatment. He returned home and was discharged on January 16, 1946, at Nichols General Hospital.
Earl married Clara Matthews in Columbia on October 9, 1950, and they became the parents of two children. He became a volunteer firefighter and worked in the State of Kentucky’s Fire Marshall’s Office. He retired in 1980.
Earl M. Conover passed away on June 19, 2005, in Columbia, Kentucky, and was buried at Columbia Cemetery.