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, an unknown destroyer, and the U.S.S. Guadalupe a fleet replenishment oiler.
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.
Since the commanding officer of the installation, General Edward King, had not received advanced warning of the arrival of the units, the tankers found themselves living in tents along the main road between Ft. Stotsenburg and Clark Airfield. 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. They did not move into their barracks until November 15.
The description of the barracks was that from the floor, the barrack’s walls were open with screening going up three feet from the bottom of the outside walls. Above that, the walls were woven bamboo that allowed the air to pass through them. Bathroom facilities appeared to be limited and a man was considered lucky if he washed by a faucet with running water.
The workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. and from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. The belief was it was too hot to work after that time. After 2:30, the tankers took part in “recreation in the motor pool” which meant they worked to 4:30. Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies at the base theater. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw a football around to pass the time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming.
Activities outside the base were available and they also went to Mt. Aarayat National Park and swam in the swimming pool there that was filled with mountain water. The men were 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.
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, a 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 3, 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.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack 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. A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left..
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 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, 192nd Tank Battalion.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
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 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.”
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.
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 cleaned area, and the area they had lain 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.
“Dear Mrs. M. Costigan:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of First Lieutenant Harold E. Costigan, O, 890, 115, 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”
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.”
His family received a second message from the War Department during July 1942. This 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, First Lieutenant Harold E. Costigan 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 needed 1000 POWs to go on a detail to Davao in October 1942. On October 24, the POWs were marched to the barrio of Cabanatuan, loaded onto boxcars, and sent by train to Manila arriving in the afternoon. During the trip, the doors of the boxcars were left open so there was ventilation. When they arrived at Manila, they remained in the boxcars until after dark when they were marched through the empty streets to Bilibid Prison. Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice.
The next day they were assembled in 100 men formations and marched to the Port Area of Manila where they boarded the Erie Maru. The hold was divided into box spaces and twelve men were assigned to each box. There was only enough room in a box for six men to sleep at a time. The POWs quickly became infested with bedbugs and lice. The hold smelled from the gasoline that was being stored in it and quickly was joined by the smell of human excrement.
The next morning the POWs were fed rice and spinach soup. At noon, they received rice and dried fish. For dinner, they had corned beef and rice. The POWs assigned to cooking discovered the Japanese officers had a large stock of captured American pork and slipped it to the men in the holds which resulted in many of the POWs developing dysentery.
The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo, Panay, and Cebu, Mindanao. At Iloilo, they buried one man who had died. The POWs arrived at Lansang on November 7.
When they arrived at the camp, the POWs were in such bad shape that the ranking Japanese officer, Major Mida, ordered them fed. They ate pork and beef, rice cabbage pinch, squash onions, potatoes, and peanuts which were all produced on the farm. From the orchards, they were given fruit which included raw and cooked plantains. The sick were given medical treatment and there was enough water for drinking, bathing, and laundry. When the recuperation took too long, their diet was cut to rice and greens soup.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor, and the American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
There were various details. 30 men were assigned to work as carpenters, 25 POWs worked in the orchards, 50 POWs made rope, 20 POWs worked the bodega (storeroom) detail, and for four months the POWs cut and picked coffee. There were smaller details that took from 2 to 35 men that lasted weeks or months, while other details were continuous, such as the farm detail that 250 to 300 POWs worked on plowing fields and harvesting crops.
50 to 100 POWs were sent to a plantation and given the job of building roads. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. The Japanese decided that they were getting nowhere, so they sent the POWs to the ricefields to plant rice.
350 to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields and were responsible for planting 1600 acres of rice. The POWs attempted to grow as little rice as possible and would drop the rice stalks in the mud and “unintentionally” step on them. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
When harvesting the rice, the POWs would “miss” the collection baskets spilling the rice onto the ground. At the threshing machine, the POWs made sure that as much of the rice as possible was blown away with the chaff. They would also “forget” to push the rice carts into the warehouse when it rained which caused the rice to get moldy. Although they did these things, most of the rice still made it to the warehouse. Once piled inside, the prisoners often poked holes into the roof directly above the rice. When it rained, the rice would get wet and moldy.
The one good thing that happened to the POWs on this detail was that they were given Red Cross packages. The medicine in the packages also helped to bring the number of cases of malaria and dysentery under control.
At first, the work details were not guarded as the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs, who could not do this work, made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. The treatment the POWs at this time changed. Those POWs working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, and there were misunderstandings between the POWs and guards. In addition, the translator could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Some POWs were sent to a plantation and given the job of building a road. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. Other men worked in a quarry that contained a great deal of coral that cut their feet. What they dug out went to build the road. The Japanese decided that they were getting nowhere, so they sent the POWs to the ricefields to plant rice.
Beatings were common and usually, the guards slapped the POWs in their faces. On occasion, there were severe beatings. This occurred if the Japanese suspected the POWs were planning an escape.
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.”
The POWs were still receiving three meals – which were measured down with a sardine tin – a day and received one water buffalo a week but they were being worked harder and longer. At times, after the POWs had slaughtered the water buffalo and had it ready to cook, the Japanese made them bury it. From October 1, 1942, until March 1, 1944, rations were reduced often as a punishment.
After the escape of Capt. William Dyess, LTC Melvyn McCoy, Maj. Stephen Mellnik, Maj. Michael Dobervitch, and another POW on April 4, 1943, the 600 remaining POWs from their barracks were moved to another compound and had their rations reduced, they were confined to quarters, and they were abused. During the day, they were not allowed to sit down. The Japanese commanding officer ordered and allowed collectives punishment on all the POWs. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep.
When two other POWs escaped, 22 other POWs were confined to the guardhouse for ten days. They were made to stand at attention all day in the cells. The cells were eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide. Eleven prisoners were put into each cell. At night they were beaten with sticks when they attempted to lie down. They were fed one meal a day of rice with a little salt.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong. The barracks of the POWs were only 400 yards from the airfield. The POWs believed this was done so if American planes attacked, they would kill their own countrymen. 550 POWs either built runways or were sent to a quarry to mine coral for runways. The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it onto trucks that were driven to the airfield. When the POWs slowed the pace of their work down, the Japanese resorted to torture to get them to work.
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.”
The POWs only had rumors of the advancing American forces. The one-story he and the other prisoners heard was those men who were still at Cabanatuan had been liberated by American forces at the end of January 1945. They hoped that this would soon happen to them. On February 2, the last American POW died in the prison of dysentery.
The POWs heard a series of detonations that lasted for over an hour to the southeast at 10:30 P.M. There were some small ones and big ones too that we mixed together. The POWs heard the echos of explosions all night long. The POWs began to believe that it was just a matter of days before they were free.
February 3 was a normal day for the POWs who went around performing their chores. They told each other the latest rumors as they ate their evening meal. It was at that time that six American planes flew over the compound flying very low and very slow. At 6:00 P.M. they took part in an evening roll call. At 6:30, they heard the sound of artillery in the distance. Then they heard heavy machine-gun fire which got closer and closer and closer. All hell broke loose and there was light artillery fire or fire from tanks, heavy machine-gun and light machine-gun fire, rifle fire, and pistol fire all coming from the north and east of the prison. At 10:30 P.M., the electricity went out at 10:30. The POWs heard the sound of guns and the ammunition dumps going up. The sound of moving tanks, artillery fire, small arms explosions continued until 2:00 A.M. when everything got quiet except for heavy artillery that could be heard in the distance.
On the morning of February 4, the POWs talked about what they had heard. They also noticed that the Japanese guards seemed to be getting ready to leave. The senior American medical officer was called to the Japanese commanding officer’s office and told that they were freeing the POWs. He also told them to stay inside the prison. Before the camp commandant left, he posted a typed document stating the Japanese were releasing the POWs.
“1. The Japanese army is now going to release all prisoners of war and internees here on its own accord.
‘”2. We are assigned to another duty and shell be here no more.
“3. You are at liberty to act and live as free persons but you must be aware of probable dangers if you go out.
“4. We shall leave here foodstuffs, medicines, and other necessities of which you may avail yourselves for the time being.
“5. We have arranged to put signboard at the front gate bearing the following context: ‘Lawfully released prisoners of war and interests are quartered here. Please do not molest them unless they make positive resistance.’”
At 11:45 A.M., the Japanese left and the POWs posted their own guards and waited for the American to arrive. The POWs had three good meals that day and noted that a small American plane flew over the prisoner repeatedly that day.
Early the next morning of February 4th, soldiers in funny-looking uniforms appeared at Bilibid. It was at 6:00 P.M., that a wooden shutter on one of the walls was knocked down by a rifle butt. As it turned out, it was the Americans who had completely surrounded the prison and had been trying to get in to see what was inside. At first, the POWs thought the soldiers were Germans because of their helmets and uniforms. It was only when the soldiers spoke to them in English that the POWs knew that they had been liberated. Ardell recalled the feeling of joy that filled his body. Harold weighed 100 pounds when he was liberated.
The POWs remained in the prison. Since the possibility existed that the Japanese may attempt to retake the prison. The 37th Infantry Division from Ohio came to the compound and visited the POWs. They were followed by 148th Infantry, 7th Division. The Americans gave their cigarettes and K rations to the former POWs and seemed unable to do enough for them. They even gave the former POWs their whiskey, beer, and cigars that the Filipinos had given them.
At 9:00 P.M. on February 5, there was gunfire on three sides of the prison so the former POWs so the decision was made to move the former POWs to the Ang Tibay shoe factory on the outskirts of Manila. The members of the 148th Infantry carried POWs out on litters and were evacuated in ambulances and on jeeps. The soldiers also helped the weak onto trucks and made sure that all the POWs were out of Bilibid which was completed by 11:35 P.M. The former POWs were moved to a brewery and drank beer at the brewery.
On February 6, the former POWs were ordered back to Bilibid since it had better sanitary facilities. When they got there they found it had been looted and much of their personnel effects were gone. They received their first American food that morning which was canned ham and eggs, cereal milk, K biscuits, butter, jam, and coffee with milk and sugar. The former POWs who were seriously ill and needed better medical treatment were sent to Santo Tomas on February 9. On the 10th, more men were sent there while those men not able to make the trip were sent to Quezon Institute with the remainder transferred to 12th Replacement Battalion.
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 master’s 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.