2nd Lt. Ralph Eugene Crandall was born on June 8, 1904, in Kansas to Albert J. Crandall and Phebe V. Peck-Crandall. With his two sisters, he lived at 810 South 11th Street in Saint Joseph, Missouri. He attended Central High School in St. Joseph graduating in 1923. After high school, he attended college for one year. Ralph was employed by the Missouri National Guard as a tank mechanic and worked full time for the National Guard. He was married to Helena and resided at 1020 Seneca Street in St. Joseph. On February 10, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army when his tank company was federalized as B Company, 194th Tank Battalion. He traveled to Fort Lewis, Washington, with the company, and held the rank of Master Sergeant. By train, with its two tanks on flatcars, the company traveled to Ft. Lewis, Washington, for training.
A day started with morning reveille at 6:00. During this time the men dressed, shaved, made their cots, policed the grounds around the barracks, and swept the floors of the barracks. Next, at 6:30 they ate breakfast, and at 7:30 drilled until 11:30. They ate lunch and drilled again from 1:00 P.M. until 4:30 P.M. Evening mess was after 5:00, and they were free after it. The only men not off duty were the six men from each company assigned to guard duty for the night. Those men took shifts during the night with two men on duty and four off. The theater in Area 12 – where the tank crews parked their tanks – was not finished. When it was finished all the tankers had to do is cross a road to get to their tanks.
There was a canteen near their barracks which they frequented and a movie theater on the base. On weekends, many of them went into Tacoma or Olympia. During their time at the fort, many visited the site where the Narrows Bridge had stood before it collapsed into Puget Sound late in 1940. Some men attended church services on Sundays which were held at different times for the different denominations.
Men who needed specialized training were sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, at various times to attend school. There, they learned tank maintenance, radio operations, small vehicle maintenance, and other jobs. During his training, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for training in March 1941. It was after this training, in July 1941, that he stopped in St. Joseph, with his wife, on his way to Ft. Lewis. At some point, Ralph was selected to attend officers’ candidate school. After completing it, he was commissioned a second lieutenant. It appears that at that time he was reassigned to Headquarters Company. It was also at this time that the rosters for the companies were filled out with men from the home states of each company.
On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during that summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots – who was flying at a lower altitude – noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy, in the water, and saw another in the distance. He flew toward the second buoy and came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island hundreds of miles to the northwest. The island had a large radio transmitter on it. The planes returned to their flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron of planes was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the battalion, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco for overseas duty. Taking a train to San Francisco, they were ferried to Angel Island and Fort McDowell on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men who had medical conditions were held back and replaced.
On September 8, they were boarded onto the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge and sailed at 9:00 P.M. the same night. On the morning of Saturday, September 13, the ship arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii. The soldiers were allowed to go ashore but had to back on the ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. After sailing, the ship headed south and was joined by its escort, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer. On several occasions, the smoke was seen on the horizon and the cruiser intercepted the ships. Each time, the ship was from a friendly country.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18. They arrived in Manila Bay on Friday, September 26, at 7:00 A.M. The soldiers remained on board until 3:00 P.M. when they disembarked. They were bused to Ft. Stotsenburg where they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King who apologized that they had to live in tents until their barracks were completed on November 15. He made sure that they were settled in his bivouac before he left. The soldiers spent the next few months taking part in maneuvers and maintaining their weapons.
In the first week of December 1941, the tanks and half-tracks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th was assigned the northern part of the airfield while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles and received their meals from food trucks.
During the night of December 7, 1941, the tankers were informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor that had just taken place. The tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard the airfield against Japanese paratroopers. At 12:45 in the afternoon of December 8th, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ralph lived through the attack on the airfield.
For the next four months, Ralph worked to supply the tanks with gasoline and ammunition. He and the members of his section also worked to keep the tanks running. From December 8th until January 6, 1942, Ralph took part in the Battle of Luzon. On January 7th, the tankers withdrew into Bataan and took part in the Battle of Bataan.
On February 25th, he wrote to his sister. In the letter he said,
“Everyone here is very much alive and well. Of course, there has been a little sickness, but then that happens in the best of regulated families. No one has been seriously ill, however. We don’t have all the conveniences of home, but we manage to get along quite comfortably. It is surprising how one can invent little gadgets to improve life in the jungles. We should be qualified for some African expedition by the time the war is ended.
“It has been said that ‘necessity if the mother of invention’ but I never realized the true meaning of that phrase until the past few weeks. It would surprise you to read a list of things that we have had to build, rebuild, and repair in order to keep things on the go. Some of the wildest brainstorms are actually put into working order. Someone decided, for instance, that wood stoves would operate more efficiently than the splendid gasoline units that we have been using in our kitchen, so we went to work on the special Crandall model.
“It worked so successfully, that we had to build them for the whole battalion. They operate more efficiently and faster than others, so now our meals are ready sooner than they formally were. Also, it is possible to do things on our special model that couldn’t be done on the others.
Censorship regulations and the articles of war prevent me from telling you how we obtained the materials, but it could make quite a story.
Another day has dawned which brings forth the same old seven and six (confusion). For diversification, I took a couple of men on a banana hunt. We came back with about fifteen stalks. Each contains four to ten dozen bananas. The fruit is smaller than what you get in the states, but it is thinner-skinned and much sweeter when ripe. Once in awhile we able to find a few papayas or mangoes. For supper yesterday, we had a salad made of Jak salad. It is a rather peculiar fruit but is delicious if properly prepared. It grows to be 5 or 6 inches in diameter and up to 18 inches long. On the outside, it looks like a hedge ball and on the inside looks like a lot of Brazil nut kernels surround by a yellow meat.
“On the 22nd of February, yours truly became a second lieutenant in the United States Army. I was assigned the same old job, which makes me happy. This business of being an officer is not so bad. It gives a fellow a little more time to loll around, write, read, play cribbage, and carry out crazy brainstorms. Speaking of reading. I could use a new magazine now and then. All the old ones have been traded and re-read until the covers have fallen off long since. When you mail magazines, roll each into an individual package so that if something happens to the mail, all won’t be lost. Inside the tube, you might have to place a tube of toothpaste or shaving cream now and then. In the rest, you can put candy bars such as Milky Way, Three Musketeers, or other good bars of that shape.
“As to the magazines, I would prefer the ‘Readers Digest,’ ‘Popular Science,’ ‘Red Book,’ “Cosmopolitan,” or any other that you think might be interesting and entertaining. In your letters, you might drop two or three double edge razor blades. We don’t shave as often as we would if we were circulating in society, but we appreciate having sharp blades when we do shave. Some of the men have raised beautiful Van Dykes, but I have not broken over yet.
“When we came to the Islands, I thought that I could never eat rice like the natives do, but in the past few months, we have learned to like it. I never knew that it could be cooked in so many ways. When I was home, I used to like a little made into pudding now and then, and I thought that was the only way that it could be cooked. But now I know different.
“When I return home, I’ll show you some new tricks in the art of culinary. Did you ever eat any fried biscuits? If you haven’t, you don’t know what you have missed! There is one thing that I hope, and that is, and that is that they don’t send us back to the states during the winter season. In the first place, I could never stand the cold weather after spending so long here in this warm weather. In the second place, I would have to buy a uniform just to be discharged in, and that costs money.”
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.) 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 the morning of April 9th somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M., the order ” crash” was given. This meant the tank battalions were to destroy their tanks and any other equipment that had military value to the Japanese.
Hq Company was ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2. At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march. They made their way from the former command post, and at first, found the walk difficult. When they reached the main road, walking became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher were separated from the enlisted men and the lower-ranking officers. The higher-ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given a few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lurbao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
The men were marched until 4:00 P.M. when they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
From Capas, the POWs walked 8 kilometers, to Camp O’Donnell. was an unfinished Filipino military camp that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. The Japanese estimated that the camp could hold from 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When the men arrived at the camp they were searched and those found to have any Japanese items on them were separated from the other POWs and accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. They were taken to the guardhouse and held there until they were taken to an area southeast of the camp and shot.
The other POWs had any extra clothing taken away from them and the Japanese did not return it to them. Since there was no water available for washing clothes, since the POWs could not bathe and their clothing became soiled, they threw it away. They also stripped the dead of their clothing before they were buried. Most of those who were ill and in the camp hospital had little to no clothing. In addition, there was no water to wash the mess kits.
The only water in the camp came from one spigot which the Japanese guards would arbitrarily turn off. If it was turned off, the next man in line for a drink could wait as long as 4 hours for it to be turned on again. The average wait for one drink of water was from 2½ to 8 hours. For cooking rice, the water was carried from a river located 3 miles from the camp. The Japanese installed a second water spigot which made things better.
The POW bathrooms were slit trenches which quickly overflowed since most of the POWs had dysentery or diarrhea. Flies from the latrines were everywhere in the camp including the kitchens and on the food which caused disease to spread.
The camp hospital had no soap or disinfectant. When senior-ranking American doctor wrote a letter to the Japanese commandant of the camp, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, stating the medical supplies he needed, he was told never to write another letter, and that the only thing that he wanted from the hospital were the names and serial numbers of the dead.
When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross offered a 150-bed hospital for the POWs in the camp, a Japanese second lieutenant slapped him in the face. When the Catholic Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medicine to the camp, the Japanese turned the truck away. Medicine sent by the Philippine Red Cross was appropriated by the Japanese for use on their troops. The medical staff at the hospital did surgery with mess kit knives since there were no medical supplies. For every six medics assigned to work in the hospital, only one man was healthy enough to perform all his duties.
The death rate in the camp rose to 50 men dying each day. Each morning, the POWs collected the bodies of the dead, which were found all around the camp, and carried them to the camp hospital. There, the bodies were placed under the hospital awaiting burial which usually took two to three days. To clean the dirt under the hospital, the POWs moved the dead, scrapped the ground, and spread lime on the soil. They moved the bodies back into the area and repeated the process where the bodies had lain while they were cleaning the other area.
A burial detail worked daily to bury the dead. Two POWs carried a body, in a sling to the camp cemetery, and placed it in a shallow grave. The graves were shallow because the water table was high, and as they dug the graves, the graves would quickly start to fill with water. To hold the body down in the grave a POW used a pole while the other men threw dirt on the body.
Daily work details left the camp to cut firewood for the POW kitchen and to perform other duties for the Japanese. Long term work details also were sent out, and many of the POWs volunteered to go out on them so that they could escape the camp.
It was at that time that Ralph began to keep a record of his POW experience. According to the dairy, he left Camp O’Donnell on April 27, 1942, for Bataan. He may have been one of the POWs who went out on the Bridge Building Detail. It is not known how long he was on the detail, but it is known that when the detail ended, he and the other POWs were sent to Cabanatuan.
Cabanatuan had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army and was previously known as Camp Pangatian. The camp was actually three separate camps. Camp #1 was where those men who had been POWs at Camp O’Donnell were sent. Camp #2 was four miles away from Camp 1, and because of its water problem closed quickly. It was later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp #3 was six miles from Camp 2 and later housed the POW from Corregidor, from the hospitals on Bataan, and those who had been at Camp 2. These POWs were generally in better shape than the men who had taken part in the march. Frank was assigned to Barracks 10 at Camp 1.
Details at Camp 1 went out daily to cut wood for the camp kitchens, plant rice, and farm. Each morning, when the POWs lined up for roll call, it was common practice, of the Japanese guards, to kick the POWs in their shins with their hobnailed boots. They also, for no apparent reason, frequently hit the POWs, as they stood at attention, with a pick handle as they counted off.
The POWs who went out on the rice planting detail had to get their tools from a tool shed. As they left the shed, it was the common practice of the guards, to hit the POWs, on the top of their heads. If a guard on the detail decided that a POW was not working hard enough, he was beaten. They also would push the man’s face into the mud and stepped on his head to force it down deeper. The POWs returning from the details often were able to smuggle food, medicine, and tobacco into the camp.
The POWs were underfed and the typical meal was 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. This resulted in many becoming ill since they could not fight off illnesses. The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards which each holding 40 men. It was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each ward had two tiers of bunks with the sickest POWs lying on the lower bunk. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. A hole was cut into the platforms so that those suffering from dysentery could relieve themselves without leaving the tier.
Zero Ward, which is where those who had little or no hope of recovering, were sent. It got its name because it was missed when the wards were being counted. The Japanese were so afraid of becoming ill from being that they put up a fence around it and would not go near it.
In his diary, Ralph wrote down what was being said about the defenders of Bataan by the American media after the surrender. How he was able to get these quotes is not known. Perhaps he got them from members of his battalion who had escaped to Corregidor. Of the fall of Bataan, the San Francisco Chronicle said, “The war was not won or lost on Bataan. Bataan won a bugle call to the attack. Bataan had told us how to win the war.” The British Broadcasting Company said, “Tonight we must close with on a note of sorrowful pride; Britain has been moved almost to beyond words to learn that the four months’ defense of Bataan had ended. They have written a story that will never be forgotten.” The complete text of the BBC broadcast can be found in Gen. Johnathan Wainwright’s press release on the fall of Bataan.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. At some point, 50 grams of mongo beans replaced some of the rice. In addition, sick POWs also received an additional 50 grams of meat. In March, the POWs received fresh tomatoes, onions, and native greens. This ration was supplemented by food from the Red Cross. The result of the improvement in the diet was that in early 1943, the death rate among the POWs began to drop. The improvement in the diet only lasted until August when rations were cut.
In November 1000 POWs left Camp 1 for Manila. The remained POWs believed that the men were being sent to Davao, Mindanao. A detachment of 1500 POWs was sent to Manila and then sent to Japan. Cpl. Donald K. Russell was shot and beheaded on November 21, 1942, after being recaptured after escaping.
A German Catholic priest, Fr. Bruttenbruck came to the camp without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. He returned on December 24 with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, Red Cross boxes were distributed in the camp. In each package, which was British, were canned pudding, syrup, tomatoes, tea, curry mutton, meat and vegetables, sugar, cheese, milk, jam, oleomargarine, chocolate, biscuits, soap, and gelatine. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
The POWs heard explosions on January 11, 1943, as Japanese dive bombers attacked a target about 30 kilometers from the camp. Several of the explosions were extremely loud. The POWs later heard scuttlebutt that 102 Filipino men, women, and children had been killed during the attack. Two days later, they heard another rumor that half of the barrio of Cabanatuan where the warehouses were located had been burned by the guerrillas. It was also in January that the officers were required to work on the camp farm with the enlisted men.
Ralph was reunited on April 3, 1943, with 2nd Lt. Frank Riley and 1st Lt.Ben Gwynn who had been sent to the camp from a work detail. According to Ralph, he had not seen Riley since April 28, 1942, when he left Camp O’Donnell on a work detail. During this period, the Japanese bomber flew out of the airfield and headed north almost on a daily basis. When they left, the POWs counted the number of planes and they counted the number of planes when they returned to see how many had been lost.
During his time in the camp, there was an incident with the camp band at Cabanatuan. The band always tried to learn new songs to play for the POWs. One of the songs the band learned to play was “Paper Moon.” The only problem was that the song had not become popular until after the soldiers had become POWs. When the Japanese realized this, they knew the POWs had a radio hidden in the camp. The Japanese searched the camp vigorously to find the radio and tortured many men, but they never did find the radio.
During July, the names of 500 POWs were posted, and on July 22, the POWs were issued new shoes, a suit of “Philippine Blues” and were 2 cans of corn beef and 3 cans of milk. They were informed they would be taking a 21-day trip. The detachment left the camp that night. As it turned out, when they arrived in Manila, they were used in the Japanese propaganda film The Dawn of Freedom to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos. After this, they were sent to Japan.
In his diary, Crandall also told how a POW, Conley, who had escaped from the garden detail on July 11 and was captured in a barrio on the 13th. He stated that at about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, he described what he saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed, the top of his skull had been crushed, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum. Crandall’s comment was, “It doesn’t pay to escape from the Japanese.”
During his time at Cabanatuan, he began to have a problem with a tooth. From what he wrote in the diary, the tooth was removed by Lt. Col. Fields an Army dentist. Fields chiseled the tooth to the bone and then pulled the root. It was also about this time on August 16, 1943, that his mother received a POW postcard from him. The postcard was the first word received by his family from him in eighteen months.
The Japanese continued to shoot the propaganda movie and ordered the POWs to turn in all good khaki garments, hats, rifle belts, and field bags they had on October 3. The Japanese also sent 1300 POWs to Bongabong in captured U.S. trucks. He noted that on one of the front bumpers of a 6 by 6 truck was the markings Hq 192nd. The POWs were back in the camp by 8:00 P.M. and to his surprise, his shirt and field bag were returned to him.
The POWs received on December 7, 1943, ½ a pound of sugar, 2 cans of soluble coffee, 2 chocolate emergency rations, 1 pound of prunes, and a ½ pound cheese. The items were perishable goods that came from the Red Cross Christmas boxes sent to the camp. That night they received a Japanese “news sheet” that told of the terrible American losses in the southwest pacific. According to the sheet, the U.S. had lost most of its navy. It also stated that the U.S. lost 5 carriers, 2 cruisers, and a battleship in the Gilberts, and 37 ships were lost at Bougainville. On the 11th, they received more coffee, two cheeses, two chocolate bars, and two boxes of raisins.
On Christmas eve the Japanese gave each man an unopened Red Cross box. Inside the POWs found cigarettes which usually were missing from the boxes. From 9:00 P.M. until midnight on Christmas eve, carolers were all over the camp. Christmas started with midnight mass for the Catholics with Protestant services at 5:30 A.M. Bango was at 7:00 A.M. instead of 6:30. The Japanese also handed out to each man an unopened Red Cross box.
One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worse beatings was considered the best detail to be on. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside was 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.
During February, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila.
His wife received another postcard from him in August 1944 that he had filled-out in November. On September 21, 1944, the POWs saw the first American planes fly over the camp on their way to bombing Manila. This was the first sign that American forces were getting closer to the Philippines. Life in the camp was monotonous, and the POWs continued to go out on work details. It was in October 1944 that the POWs saw their first American planes in nearly three years. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The POWs heard a rumor from guards Americans were on Mindanao Island, but it turned out the rumor was false.
In October, his name appeared on a list of POWs selected to be transferred to Bilibid Prison. Six trucks arrived a the camp and spent the night of October 17 at the camp. The next morning the POWs were fed corn cakes and rice for breakfast and were inspected at 7:30 A.M. The POWs were loaded onto the six trucks with 50 men put on each one. At 11:00 A.M. as they made their way to Bilibid Prison, the POWs saw two large formations of American planes on their way to bomb a Japanese fortification at Nichols Field and the Port Area of Manila. It was the fifth or sixth day in a roll that the POWs had seen American planes. This made the ride uncomfortable since they were packed so tightly they had to stand. At 11:00 A.M. they were on their way to the prison, the POWs saw two large formations of American planes which were the fifth or sixth straight day they had seen American planes. The trucks stopped and the POWs were fed, but they were not allowed off the trucks. The POWs made their way to the side of the truck to urinate. They arrived at Bilibid at 4:00 P.M.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent to Japan. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 13, the other POWs were awakened. By 7:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men selected for transport to Japan. As it turned out, it took until 9:00 to finish this task. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to “fall-in.” The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila.
At 11:30 A.M., they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men, fed, and marched to Pier 7 in Manila which was two miles away. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the streetcars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair. The Filipinos lined up along the street and gave the“V” for victory sign to the Americans when they thought the Japanese wouldn’t see them. They noticed there were bicycles, push carts, carts pulled by men or animals, and some Japanese cars and trucks on the street. Japanese soldiers seemed to be everywhere. They also noticed that grass along the street was now full of weeds and the street was also in terrible shape. They also saw the results of American bombings on the city. The Bachrach Garage where a POW detachment had worked for almost over two years was now partially destroyed. When the POWs reached Pier 7, they saw almost 40 Japanese ships sunk in the bay. There were three ships docked at the pier. One was an old run-down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened at about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s aft hold. Being the first one into the hold meant that they would suffer many deaths since they had the worse conditions of any of the holds. 500 POWs were put into the forward hold, 600 in the middle hold, and 520 in the aft hold. Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.” The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it. Ralph was put into the ship’s forward hold with 700 POWs.
The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”
At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing. The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who out of their minds into it. On the walls of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
It was noted that one American plane flew over the ships at 6:00 A.M. The POWs received their first meal which consisted of a little rice, fish, and water at dawn. Three-fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs. It was 7:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill. To the POWs, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us. They are! They’re diving! Duck everybody!”
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock. Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day. Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only its 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship. At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. The POWs felt the ship shake as it was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs that came through the hatch. Some bombs exploded near the ship throwing water spouts over the ship. The POWs actually rooted for the bombs to hit the ship. During the attack Chaplain William Cummings – a Catholic priest – led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the hull, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship’s rudder had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered. Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. They could hear boats being rowed, people shouting and the sound of children and babies crying until about 3:00 A.M. They also heard the voices of the men in the forward hold shouting and the words “quiet” and “at ease men” over and over. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere. The ship steamed closer to the beach at Subic Bay and at 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark in one or two hours at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15 and the POWs were sitting in the ship’s holds when a guard shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. The POWs selected 35 wounded and sick to be evacuated when planes appeared at 8:00 A.M. The POWs took cover but the planes circled around and did not attack. Since there was no ack-ack fire from the ship, and no movement on deck, the POWs guessed that the pilots believed the ship had been abandoned. Three men who tried to go up the ladder without permission were shot and killed. About a half-hour later, they were ordered to send up the wounded. Ten minutes later a guard shouted that the next 25 men should be sent up. As the POWs were coming up, the guard suddenly looked up and motioned to them to get back into the hold. He shouted, “Planes, many planes!” As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack.
The POWs quickly realized that this attack was different. From the explosions, they could tell the bombs were heavier and all aimed at the ship which bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs felt the ship shake every time a bomb hit it. Small holes appeared in the hull and when a bomb fell near the ship water came into the holds through the holes. The stem of the ship was hit by a bomb which also allowed water to enter the holds. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air.”
In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold a Catholic priest, Chaplain John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited a Japanese guard who had been at Cabanatuan yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. The POWs scrambled up the ladders and stairway. As they left the holds they knew that there was a good chance they would have to swim to shore. When they got on deck they found that the ship was parallel to the shore and about 400 to 500 yards away from it. The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned the ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. They also found that it was a sunny day and the sky and water were blue. The water toward shore was filled with swimming Americans and Japanese all headed toward shore while Japanese machine guns fired on the POWs to prevent them from escaping. The ship was still floating okay, except the stern was sitting lower in the water and was listing.
The POWs in the water shouted to those on deck to get off the ship because it only had about 2 to 3 minutes more before it went under. Many of the men, climbed onto the railings and jumped into the water – which was 30 feet below them – feet first. The better swimmers helped the weaker swimmers get to anything that floated. As they swam away from the ship, for the first time they saw how badly it had been damaged. An entire section of the stern had been blown away and the ship looked like a pile of scrap metal. The entire ship was pitted, bent by bullets, or twisted or bent. The stronger swimmers kept an eye out for anyone having problems swimming.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically and shouted at the planes so they would not be strafed. One of the planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilot dipped his wings to show that he knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship’s stern began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks. The stronger swimmers returned to the ship and encouraged the poor and non-swimmers to jump into the water. Once in the water, they made sure they had a plank to float on and make it to shore. The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed that as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was shot and wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
After the POWs had abandoned ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk by American planes. One POW stated there were men, who had been wounded, still alive in its holds. The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court. When roll call was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack. Ralph was one of the POWs killed.
1st Lt. Ralph Crandall died in the sinking of the Oryoku Maru in Subic Bay, off Olongapo Naval Base, on December 15, 1944. His death was reported on July 25, 1945, but his family did not receive the official word of his death until August 1945.
Since the remains of 1st Lt. Ralph Crandall were not recovered, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.