1st Lt. Harold Elvis Costigan was the son of Joseph P. Costigan and Mary F. Taylor-Costigan. He was born on July 2, 1916, in Grain Valley, Missouri, and went to the University of Missouri where he majored in agriculture. While in college, he joined ROTC at the university. He graduated in 1937 and became an assistant farm security office.
At some point, Harold joined the Missouri National Guard in Saint Joseph, Missouri, and became a member of the 35th Division Tank Company. The company was called to federal service on February 10, 1941, and traveled to Fort Lewis, Washington, arriving there sometime around February 22. There, the company was designated B Company, 194th Tank Battalion and trained at the fort until September 1941.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was at that time that Bob and the other members of the battalion were informed that they were not being released from federal service as expected. Instead, they were told that their time in federal service had been extended and that they were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. There, they were told that they were going overseas.
The decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Companies A and C, of the battalion, received orders for overseas duty. Harold’s Company, B, was ordered to Alaska. It was at this time that Harold was assigned to A Company – which was in need of officers – and put in command of a tank platoon. Knowing he was leaving the country, Harold married Lenora Merle Houston, his high school sweetheart, on August 23, 1941, just ten days before the battalion went overseas.
With the remaining companies of the battalion, Harold traveled to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island and given physicals and inoculated. Those men with medical conditions were replaced.
The battalion boarded a transport bound onto the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands on September 8. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13 at Honolulu, Hawaii. The soldiers were given four hour passes ashore. At 5:00 P.M., the ship sailed again but headed south away from the main shipping lanes. It was during this part of the trip that it was joined by the heavy cruiser the U.S.S. Astoria.
Several times during this part of the voyage, the Astoria took off in the direction of smoke which was seen on the horizon. Each time the ship was from a friendly country. The ships entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and the soldiers were disembarked at 3:00 P.M. They were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from a food truck
On December 8, 1941, December 7 in the United States, Harold lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tanks of the 194th were ordered to defend the northern portion of the main runway, so they surrounded that end of the runway.
At noon, the American planes that filled the sky landed. At 12:45, 54 planes the airfield from the north. When bombs exploded on the runways, the tankers knew they were Japanese. A fire broke out in the grass that the tanks were in. Costigan’s tank was closest to the fire. His radioman gave a play-by-play of the fire approaching his tank. The fire went out about forty feet from his tank.
The 194th was sent to Mabalcat December 10, and it was at this time that C Company was sent to southern Luzon where the Japanese were landing. On the 12th, the A and D Company, 192nd, were sent to a new bivouac south of San Fernando and arrived at 6:00 A.M. They received Bren gun carriers on the 15th and used them to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank.
Around December 22, his tank platoon was ordered north, to Rosario, to slow the advancing Japanese who had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf. On December 25, Harold’s tank platoon had taken positions west of Carmen. When they began taking fire from a strong Japanese force, he ordered the tanks to open fire with their machine guns. Realizing that they had a very good chance of being cut off, he ordered his tanks to withdraw through Carmen the evening of December 26.
While the tanks approached the barrio, the tanks came under heavy fire from the Japanese who had occupied the barrio. The tanks ran into a roadblock and smashed their way through it firing their guns losing two tanks. The crews were picked up by other tanks. The tanks then made a sharp turn and continued their withdraw from Carmen. The Japanese fired on them the entire time until they got out of range. In the dark, Costigan’s platoon passed the Provisional Tank Group’s Headquarters in the dark without knowing it. When Harold reported to Gen. Weaver about what had happened, he was chastised by the general. Weaver ordered him to get back into his tank and return to his previous position.
The tank battalions found themselves in the role of holding positions so new defensive lines could be formed. Recalling engagements while performing this job against the Japanese, he said, “We soon taught the Nips not to move in too close.”
The battalions were holding the Tarlac Line on December 28 and withdrew to form the Bamban Line the night of the 29th/30th which they held until they were ordered to +withdraw. On January 2nd the battalions withdrew to Layac Junction with the 194th using highway 7. The 194th, covered by the 192nd, withdrew across the Culis Creek into Bataan. After the 192nd crossed the bridge, it was blown starting the Battle of Bataan.
In January 1942, the tank companies were reduced to three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, attached to the 194th, would have tanks. The company had abandoned its tanks after the bridge they were scheduled to use had been destroyed by the engineers before they had crossed.
On January 20, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry. On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective because of landmines that had been planted by ordinance.
The battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese was on there way. When they appeared the battalion, and self-propelled mounts opened up with everything they had. The Japanese broke off the attack, at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.
In March, two of the 194th was attempting to free two tanks that were stuck in the mud. As the tankers worked to get them out, Japanese Regiment entered the area. Lt. Col. Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point-blank range and ran from tank to tank directing fire. When they stopped firing, they had wiped out the regiment.
Gen. Weaver also suggested to Gen Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor. This idea was rejected by Wainwright. It was also at this time that gasoline for most vehicles, except tanks, was caught to 15 gallons a day.
The Japanese brought fresh troops to Bataan since the Americans and Filipinos with the help of tropical illnesses had fought the Japanese to a standstill. On April 4, the Japanese launched a major offensive. In an attempt to stop them, the tanks were sent into various sectors. It was also at this time that tanks became the favorite targets of Japanese planes and artillery.
The tanks were fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban when General King determined that the situation was hopeless and sent his staff officers to meet with the Japanese command.
Somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 in the morning the tankers received the order “bash” and destroyed their tanks. The tanks were circled and an armor-piercing shell was fired into the engines of each tank. Afterward, the gasoline cocks were opened in the crew compartments and hand grenades were dropped into the tanks setting them on fire.
Of the surrender, he said, “We were surrendered by General King on April 9, 1942. Approximately 8000 Americans were surrendered that day. That was Bataan. Never doubt what General King did save the lives of us men.”
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. They quickly stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and sunglasses. They were taken to a trail and found that walking on the gravel trail was difficult. They immediately witnessed “Japanese Discipline” toward their own troops. The Japanese apparently were marching for hours, and if a man fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
The trial the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road. The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men and counted them. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day wondering what was going to happen. That night they were ordered north which was difficult, on the rocky road, in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks that were moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was then that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. They realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.
When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell.
At Limay on April 11, the officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel or above were put into a schoolyard. The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment, the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, the officers were put into a bullpen where they were ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, they received their first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other enlisted POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group who had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 or 7:00 that evening, they resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace, and the guards also seemed to be nervous about something. They made their way to an area north of Hermosa, where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks. At 4:30 PM on April 13, they arrived at San Fernando. The POWs put into a bullpen and remained there for the rest of the day.
At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors.
The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died. They could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall. The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell.
The members of the 194th and some units of the 192nd were ordered to the Headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group. He said of the march, “We were blindfolded and tied to the man next to us as we marched. Of course, once in a while we could look over the blinds and see the mountains over to the side.” In addition, he stated, “The first ten days we marched the road to the first prison camp. Many men died along the way. That was the death march. It was 60 miles.”
He and the other POWs were packed into small boxcars so tightly that the dead remained standing. At Capas, the POWs climbed out of the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell. The POWs walked the last 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 for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scraped and lime was spread over it.
He said of this, “In the camps, men were crowded in like cattle. There was no sanitation, little water, and practically nothing to eat.”
On June 1, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and were marched to Capas, where they were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a former Philippine Army Base, which had been known as Camp Pangatian, and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division’s home. The transfer of all healthy POWs to the camp was completed on June 4.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Many of the POWs became malnourished which made fighting illnesses hard on their bodies.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most housed 60 to 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses. covers or mosquito netting which allowed diseases to spread quickly.
It appears that as soon as he arrived at Cabanatuan, Harold was sent to the camp hospital with malaria. The hospital consisted of 30 wards which could each hold 45 men. The reality was that as many as 100 men were in each one. There were two tiers of bunks in each building, and the sickest POWs lay on the lower tier which had cutouts so that the POW could relieve themselves without having to climb out of the tier.
“Zero Ward” got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the ward those who were expected to die were sent. His name appears on hospital records, without any dates for admittance or release. Of his time at Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, he stated, “We were always in our own group; we were in our own area, had our own administration, our own doctors, our own cooks. The Japanese had guards just posted around us.”
He remained in the camp until he was sent out on a work detail to Davao, Mindanao. In October, Harold and 200 other POWs were boarded onto the Interisland Steamer for Davao. The trip ended when the ship arrived at Davao. At Davao, the POWs worked on a farm growing rice or at runway construction.
In his opinion, the treatment the POWs received from the Japanese reflected the code they lived by. The Japanese made it clear to the Americans that escapes would be severely dealt with. Harold stated that is a POW escaped and recaptured, the man severely punished. “If you tried to escape and were caught you could expect to be hung by your thumbs. I never heard of anyone who tried to escape and was caught who lived.”
The Japanese punished any inflection severely. He recalled, “I saw them take away water from 2000 hens because they wanted to punish them for not laying enough eggs.”
In Harold’s opinion, the Japanese left the POWs to take care of themselves. The POWs had their own doctors, own cooks, and camp administration. The Japanese simply posted guards at the camp. For the POWs, the real punishment was dealing with the psychological impact of not being free.
Remembering his time at Davao, Harold said, “When we were moved to Davao on Mindanao the prisoners worked on farms for food. We received only two Red Cross packages at Davao on Christmas of 1941 and 1943. The food drugs and clothing were saviors. Our own doctors took care of us as best they could, and the Red Cross materials were a great help. There was no medicine other than that furnished by the Red Cross.”
Harold was physically affected by his time as a POW. He suffered blindness because of the poor diet. He also had scars from lacerations on his spine, loss of hearing, and was affected by poly-neuritis, a painful nerve inflammation of his hands and legs. Recalling his time in the camps, “In the camps, men were crowded in like cattle. There was no sanitation, little water and practically nothing to eat.”
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindanao, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship’s front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao, for two days, before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25 and taken to Bilibid Prison.
When Harold arrived at Bilibid, he was admitted into the hospital ward on June 26th. Medical records indicate he was suffering from optical neuritis brought on by beriberi. No date of discharge is given.
Recalling his time at Bilibid, he said, “From May 1944, until February 4, 1945, I was at old Bilibid Prison in Manila, when we were liberated by the 37th Division. Starvation was the outstanding feature of Bilibid. Of course, the suspense was high. The American blockade was on, the air attacks started September 21, and carried all through until liberation.”
It needs to be mentioned that records from Bilibid show the Costigan arrived, at the prison, in June 1944. He also said of his time there, “Food. Our lives revolved around food. Meals twice a day. We got a cup of rice and a serving of King Kong; that’s a weed that grows wild in the slums of Manila. We never tired of rice.”
As the American forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began to transfer large numbers of POWs to safer parts of the Japanese Empire. Harold was considered too ill to be sent to Japan. “The Japs stayed with us till the day before the troops came. We were scared then because we thought they might kill half of us, but they didn’t take it out on us.”
On February 4, 1945, Harold was liberated by American forces. He weighed 100 pounds.
While a POW, he wrote a poem about those who fought on Bataan:
“Were those our comrades whose bleached bones now lay
Shining forever on the road by the bay?
Shining a beacon so all who might see
Would know now the price of liberty.”
Harold returned to the United States and was promoted to captain. He spent over a year in VA Hospitals and was discharged, from the army, on February 18, 1947. The physical effects of being a POW remained with him for the rest of his life. He was declared legally blind and never regained all of his hearing.
About his homecoming, he said, “I came home during the war. People didn’t have time to stop and throw hats into the air. But all the people knew where we were and what we went through and were kind to us.”
Harold refused to allow his disabilities to keep him from achieving his goals. He returned to school and earned a masters degree. With Merle, the couple bought a farm, and he took a job with the Missouri Bureau of the Blind and taught farm skills to visually impaired students. He and Merle also became the parents of two daughters.
In later interviews about his time as a POW, he said, “I think often of my commanding officer, Colonel Miller, and the men who were with me.“ He also said of his memories of being a POW, “I live with a little of it each day but not too much of it each day, I hope.”
Harold Costigan passed away on December 25, 2004, in Blue Springs, Missouri, and was buried at Blue Springs Cemetery.