Pvt. Albert Cuchessi Jr. was born on November 11, 1917, in Newark, New Jersey, to Albert Cuchessi Sr. and Eleanor Cuchessi. With his two sisters and two brothers, he grew up in Newark and attended high school for three years. He went to work as an assembler at the American Can Company. When the Selective Service Act became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. He was inducted into the Army on February 14, 1941, sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training, and assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion.
The soldiers were assigned weapons and issued a pistol, and possibly a machine gun or submachine gun. Basic training was six weeks long and each week something else was covered. The soldiers did the physical conditioning, but each week they also trained to master a skill. During week one, the soldiers did infantry drilling. Week two, they did manual of arms and marching to music. They learned how to fire a machine gun during week three, while week four covered the 45 caliber handgun. The Garrand rifle was the focus of week five, and week six had the soldiers training in gas masks, pitching tents, and hiking.
After the basic training was completed, the men attended different schools for vehicle training such as tank maintenance, truck maintenance, scout car maintenance, motorcycle maintenance, and carpentry. The battalion’s machine shops, welding shops, and kitchens were all on trucks. It is known the members of the battalion often trained on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
While taking part in the maneuvers in Arkansas, A Company of the battalion received orders to return to Ft. Knox. Once there, the company was inactivated and activated the next day, August 17, 1941, as the 17th Ordnance Company and received orders to go overseas. It is not known if he was already a member of A Company, or if he replaced another man. The reason the 17th Ordnance Company was created appears to be tied to the First Tank Group, and there are at least two stories of how the tank group ended up in the Philippines.
In the first story, told by Col. Ernest Miller of the 194th Tank Battalion, the decision to send the tank group overseas was the result of an event that happened earlier in 1941. According to this story, 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, 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 Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter that the Japanese military used to communicate with its troops. 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, another squadron was sent to the area and found the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering what appeared to be the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In the second story, the 192nd Tank Battalion members believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George Patton – who had commanded their tanks as part of the Blue Army during the maneuvers – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that both battalions were part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. The group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion while the 70th was regular army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The tank group also contained the 192nd, at Ft. Knox, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been light tank National Guard battalions.
It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands. The 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started. It is possible that the 19th Ordnance Battalion was part of the tank group, but nothing has been found to confirm this. Creating the 17th Ordnance Company allowed the tanks of the two battalions to receive support without sending the entire battalion to the Philippines.
Traveling west the company was assigned to a train that was also carrying the M3 tanks that were assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion. The company arrived at Ft. Mason north of San Francisco, California, and was ferried by the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the company received medical examinations from its medical detachment. Men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
The members of the company spent the next several days preparing the tanks and weapons for transport overseas. This meant that all weapons had cosmoline put on them to prevent them from rusting. Since – in some areas – the hold of the ship was not tall enough to fit some of the tanks in with their turrets on, the turrets were removed. To ensure that the turret went on the tank it came off of, the tank’s serial number was painted on the turret.
The men boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge around 3:00 P.M. on September 8, and the ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. that night. The enlisted men were quartered in the hold with the tanks. During this part of the trip, the seas were rough and many of the soldiers were seasick. One tank broke free from its moorings and rolled back and forth in the hold slamming into the side of the ship’s hull until it was tied down again.
They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M. After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the replenishment oiler the U.S.S. Guadalupe. The U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer were the two ships’ escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18. They entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and reached Manila several hours later. The 194th’s soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and rode a train to Clark Field. 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets. To do this, they worked all night sleeping in shifts.
The company rode a train to Fort Stotsenburg and was taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort had learned of their arrival only days earlier. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. The officers were put in two men tents while the enlisted men were assigned to six men tents. Each man had a cot, cotton pads, white sheets, a wool blanket, and a footlocker for personnel belongings. During the first night in the tents, there was heavy rain that caused his footlocker to float out of the tent.
After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18, the barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali; this allowed the men to dress. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was always cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived, and although it was warm when they went to sleep by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
Since the job of ordnance was to service the tanks, they followed the workday used by the 194th Tank Battalion. A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” It is not known what precisely the members of the company did at this time.
For the next several weeks, they spent their time removing the cosmoline from the weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. Many of them had never trained on one during their time at Ft. Knox. In October, the 194th was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf, since 17th Ordnance’s job was to keep the tanks running they went with the battalion. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
Things went well until they turned on a narrow gravel road in the barrio of Lingayen that had a lot of traffic. A bus driver parked his bus in the middle of the road and did not move it even after the tanks turned on their sirens and blew whistles. As they passed the bus, the tanks tore off all of one side of it. The company bivouacked about a half-mile from the barrio on a hard sandy beach with beautiful palm trees. The men swam and got in line for chow at the food trucks. It was then that the doctors told them that they needed to wear earplugs when they swam because the warm water contained bacteria and they could get ear infections that were hard to cure. No one came down with an ear infection. The soldiers went to sleep on the beach in their sleeping bags.
When the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20th which was Thanksgiving, the members of the company were waiting at the pier to unload the battalion’s tanks. To do this, they slept in shifts and worked all night with the battalion’s maintenance section. The one good thing is that they had a real turkey dinner on the ship.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the two tank battalions were put on full alert and ordered to their positions at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 194th guarded the north half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. The airfield two runways were shaped like a “V” and the Army Air Corps’ hangers and headquarters were at the point of the “V”. The tankers slept in sleeping bags on the ground under their tanks or palm trees. On December 7, the tanks were issued ammunition and the tankers spent the day loading ammunition belts.
Some members of the company were in the mess hall when they heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio. They ate breakfast and then went to their trucks and other vehicles. Other enlisted members of the company were putting down stones for sidewalks when they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On a map, one of the officers saw a thicket that the company could use for cover so they moved there.
The company moved to a bamboo thicket and set up its trucks. Later that morning the alert was canceled and the company was ordered back to Clark Field. The cooks had just finished preparing lunch so they remained in the thicket. The members of the company watched as B-17s were loaded with bombs but remained on the ground because they could not get the order to bomb Taiwan. They received permission to fly there but not to bomb.
While they were eating lunch, at 12:45 the Japanese planes approached the airfield from the north, The men had time to count 54 planes in the formation. As they watched, what looked like raindrops fell from under the planes, when the bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese. The Zeros that followed strafed the airfield and banked and turned over the thicket the company was located in. The planes banked and returned to straf the airfield again. The members of the company were ordered not to fire because some of the machines they had to manufacture tank parts were the only ones of their type in the Philippines.
After the attack, the company remained at Clark Field until the 192nd was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf. From this time on, wherever the tank battalions were sent the members of 17th Ordnance. The company members often made repairs to tanks on the frontlines and under enemy fire. They repaired tanks damaged by Japanese fire and those damaged by the tankers. To make the repairs they manufactured many of the parts themselves.
From the Lingayen Gulf, the tanks were sent to the Urdaneta area, they were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. Every move the tanks made, 17th Ordnance moved with them. The tanks were next at Culo and Hermosa and the half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each tank battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road in mid-January. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had long overdue maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls. The company also took over 1000 rounds of World War I anti-personnel ammunition and converted it for use by the tanks.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tanks took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they were had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, 192nd, were able to clear the pockets by February 18. But before this was done, one tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew had attempted to escape the tank, and the Japanese seemed to have expected this move. It appears that most of the crew was killed with grenades as they attempted to escape through the turret. One man apparently was still alive when the Japanese filled the crew compartment with dirt and was buried alive inside the tank. When the Japanese had been wiped out, 17th Ordnance helped with the recovery of the tank and put the tank on its side to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use after repairs were made.
It is known that the company set up its operations in a large ordnance building on Bataan which had been emptied of all its ordnance. The company remained in the building throughout the Battle of Bataan. Companies A and C, 192nd, were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Co. 192nd – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
In January, food rations for the soldiers had been caught in half. This resulted in illnesses spreading among them. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an 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. The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. The tanks were pulled out of their position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. 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 were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Co., 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:00 P.M. the company was told it had 30 minutes to evacuate the ordnance building before the ammunition dumps on both sides of the building were destroyed. It was 11:40 P.M. when the ammunition dumps went up in flames. At midnight Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews destroyed their tanks by cutting the gas lines and throwing torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men from the company and men from 17th Ordnance. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed. and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer 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 in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
On April 9, 1942, his company received the news of the surrender from Major Richard Kadel their commanding officer. The men got together and cooked one more good meal with all the food they had. There wasn’t much to cook. They moved to a pass and waited an entire day for the Japanese. During this time, Japanese planes came over and dropped bombs so they took cover. This happened all day and only ended the next day about noon when the Japanese finally entered their bivouac at kilometer 181 and ordered them to Mariveles. The members of the company made their way south to Mariveles. At Mariveles, they were ordered to form ranks of 100 men. As they stood there, the Japanese took their watches and rings. If a man couldn’t remove a ring, they cut his finger off. The Prisoners of War formed 100 men detachments that were guarded by six to eight guards After this was done, they started what they simply called “the march.” Members of the company recalled that when they started the march in Mariveles, they marched back and forth a number of times because the Japanese didn’t really know what to do with them. Late that evening they marched again, this time they made their way north up the zig-zag road that led out of Mariveles.
The first five miles were extremely hard since the POWs were weak from lack of food and because they were uphill. At one point, they came to the airfield that had been built during the battle. They were given a rest there but behind them was Japanese artillery that was firing on Corregidor. When shells began landing around them from Corregidor, they quickly concluded that they did not want to stay there long and moved. The beatings and killings started almost at the same time as the march started. One guard would beat a POW while five minutes later another guard would give the same POW a cigarette.
During the battle, Bataan Airfield had been built by the defenders. Not long after starting the march, when the POWs reached the airfield, the Japanese sat them down in front of Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor, and the American artillery on the island was returning fire and a number of the POWs were killed. One group had hidden in a small brick building that took a direct hit. The POWs recalled that a Japanese officer was directing the fire of one gun and waving his sword while doing it. There was a flash and explosion and when the smoke cleared the officer and gun were gone.
The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace. Those men who were sick had a hard time keeping up and if they fell out were bayoneted or shot simply because the guards did not want to stop for them. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The new guards also had a certain distance to cover, so they too wanted the POWs to move as fast as possible.
As the POWs made their way north, the Filipinos filled containers with water and placed them along the road. The POWs could not stop but many were able to scoop water into their canteens. By doing this the Filipinos saved a great many lives. The POWs also could see them flashing the “V” for victory sign under their folder arms. Other Filipinos in the barrios would take rice and form baseball size balls with it and throw it to the POWs. Members of the company witnessed a Japanese soldier walk up to a Filipino holding a baby in his hands when a guard walked up to him and fired his rifle under the baby’s chin.
The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery. The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they sat there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese riding past them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march. The first food they received was just before they reached San Fernando.
The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
The POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men and 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 because there were 100 men in each detachment 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 bananas, mangos, rice cakes, and sugarcane at the POWs and gave the POWs water. The guards did not stop them. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. He told them those who tried to escape would be shot and they were Japan’s eternal enemy. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. Many of these men returned from the work details only to die in the camp. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledged they had to lower the death rate, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In May, his mother received a letter from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. E. Cuchessi:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Albert Cuchessi Jr., 32,059,907, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of the healthier POWs was completed on June 4.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Cabanatuan #1 held most of the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the march. Cabanatuan #2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. The camp was closed on October 30, and the POWs were sent to Cabanatuan #1. Once in Cabanatuan #1, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. This was done because those who escaped and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
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. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.”
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The camp was divided between the camp side and the hospital side. Each of the buildings on the hospital side was called a ward. In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. The camp hospital was on one side of the camp and consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. The platforms were covered in human excrement which was made worse by the excrement from the higher platform dripping down on it. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp. By July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-toxin to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate, and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down, thrown into a truck, driven to a clearing in sight of the camp, and shot.
The Japanese began issuing the POWs identification numbers beginning in September. It was at that time that Albert was given the number I-00629. It appears the POWs being sent to Manchuria and Japan on the Tottori Maru were the first to receive POW numbers. The letter “I” may have stood for Imperial or it may simply have been a way to indicate the POW camp or that the POW was being held in the Philippines.
The Japanese posted the names of 800 POWs who were being transferred from the camp. Many of these POWs were experienced, machinists. The POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6 and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball. After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M. There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M. This time, the doors of the cars were left open. The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
From the train station, the men were marched to Pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila. Some of the Filipinos flashed the “V” for victory sign as they made their war to the pier. The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M. and was tired and hungry and was put in a warehouse on the pier. The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted. They also were allowed to wash.
Before boarding the Tottori Maru on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs on deck were better off. This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage, the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon. In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship. That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck. The first day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals – which equaled one American loaf of bread – the loaves were supposed to last two days, but most men ate them in one meal. The men did ration their water. The ship was at sea when two torpedoes fired at by an American submarine missed the ship. The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed. A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine. The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11. Since most were sick with something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The American doctors had no medicine to help the sick, and some were seen as benefiting from the sick. It was at this time that the POWs on the ship, from Mindanao, were moved to a second hold putting 500 POWs in each hold.
On October 14, foodstuffs were loaded onto the ship, and each POW got two candy bags of hardtack and one meal of rice and soup each day. The ship sailed on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but turned around at 3:30 P.M. arriving back at Takao at 10:30 P.M. It was believed the ship had turned around because American submarines were in the area. The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Mako, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored until October 27 when it returned to Takao. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked foodstuffs were again loaded onto the ship.
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned. They were again put into the holds and the ship and remained there until the ship sailed on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands. The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven-ship convoy. During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea. On November 3, three more POWs died. On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.
Many POWs died from malnutrition and dysentery. The POWs received one meal a day which consisted of dried fish and soup. Water was rationed and there were no medical supplies to treat the sick. The floor was covered in human waste.
The ship arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the 1400 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until November 8 and were issued fur-lined overcoats and new clothing. Those POWs who were too ill to continue the trip to Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan. Those who died were cremated and had their ashes placed in small white boxes that were sent to Mukden, while those who recovered were sent to Mukden. As they marched through the town, the civilians spit on them, hit them, and made fun of them. The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box that contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish. They were sent on a two-day train trip north. The 400 men still on the ship were sent to Japan.
In Mukden, the POWs were held at Hoten Camp. After the POWs arrived, the Japanese issued new POW numbers and Albert was now POW 645. The first camp was a temporary camp surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with crisscrossed barbed wire between two fences. The fences were three and a half feet high and four feet apart. The POWs lived in 19 barracks built by the Russians. Each one was a long, low, and doubled-walled wooden structure sunk about two feet into the ground. They were about 14 feet wide and 125 feet long and had three entrances. There were entrances at each end of the barracks and one in the middle of every barrack. The middle entrance was the widest entrance. The barracks were built by the Russians with half of the building in the ground and half of the building above ground. A center-bricked aisle ran down the center of the buildings with raised wooden platforms on both sides for the POWs to sleep. Each barrack also had two or three wooden blank tables and benches. The POWs received one shuttle of coal so they could heat the barracks once a day.
The temperature was something that the prisoners had to deal with on a daily basis. The Japanese gave the POWs only a bucket of coal that was supposed to heat an entire barracks and last one day and night. The POWs were so cold that they snuck out of the barracks at night to the warehouse where the dead were stored. They would take a corpse out of a box and put it in a box with another corpse. They would take the box and break it up so they could burn it to keep warm. If a POW was the first to wake up in the morning and looked down the aisle of the barracks, every man would have his blanket pulled over his head for warmth.
The clothing issued to the POWs was adequate, but each man only received one change of clothing. There are discrepancies in what sleeping supplies the POWs received. Some sources state that each enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover himself with at night. The report that was written after the war about the camp stated that each POW received six blankets, a pillowcase, sheets, and a straw mattress. If a POW was the first to wake up in the morning and looked down the aisle of the barracks, every man would have his blanket pulled over his head for warmth. Temperatures during the winter averaged 40 degrees below zero resulting in 205 POWs dying the first winter. Since the ground was frozen, the bodies of the dead were stored in a warehouse until the ground had thawed. Officers were housed separately and each officer had one blanket and a mattress. In all, each barracks held 70 to 91 men.
The camp latrines were separate from the barracks and contained approximately twenty stalls and two urinal troughs in each latrine. In each stall, there was a twenty-four by six-inch slit in the floor headed by a splashboard. Unlike other camps, the latrines were cleaned by the Chinese. The camp also had a bathhouse had six tanks and was in a separate building. Each tank was 6 foot by 6 foot by 6 foot, but the POWs were not allowed in the tanks. Instead, buckets were used to remove water from the tanks so the POWs could wash. A dressing room was at one end of the building. Since there were a large number of POWs, the POWs were assigned a day each week to bathe.
The camp hospital was at first staffed by four Japanese doctors and four POW doctors. The facilities were inadequate and later expanded to include three additional barracks. The main hospital building contained the Japanese doctor’s office, the sick cell, a treatment room, and a pharmacy, but when the POWs arrived, the medical supplies were inadequate. Many of the POWs who died in the camp died due to illnesses caused by malnutrition. These men died from illnesses that could be treated if the POW doctors had been given the medicine sent in the Red Cross boxes. 205 POWs died the first winter in the camp. Most died from malnutrition.
The POWs worked either at a machine shop or a sawmill from 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day. The machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese. Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese. To prevent the production of weapons, they committed acts of sabotage like pouring sand into the machine oiling holes. The Japanese usually blamed these acts of sabotage on the Chinese in the plant because they believed the Americans were not smart enough to commit the sabotage.
In July of the second year, the POWs moved to a new permanent camp by marching four miles to the camp. The sick were taken there by truck. At the camp, the company built three new barracks which were more comfortable and had electricity – but the light bulbs were only 10 watts – and running water, but the heating situation remained the same. Heat in the barracks was provided by stoves known as “patchkas” – six-foot-tall stoves – at each end of the barracks. Each stove could heat two rooms, but the POWs still only received one shuttle of coal each day. The building was divided into 10 sections with five on the ground floor and five on the second floor. Each section was divided into four 20 foot long double-decked sleeping bays with straw mattresses that held 8 men. In all, 48 men slept in a section that was infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. There was a shelf two feet higher than the platforms for the men’s clothing and personal items.
The latrines were located in three separate one-story buildings each connected at one end of the building to each barracks. To relieve themselves, the POWs used straddle-type holes in the floor. The Japanese had set up a latrine detail that was supposed to empty them twice a week, but they failed to enforce the rule so the latrines were unsanitary and very dirty. The building also contained washrooms with running cold water and concrete sinks. The latrines were separate from the barracks and contained approximately twenty stalls and two urinal troughs. In each stall, there was a twenty-four by six-inch slit in the floor headed by a splashboard. There was also a canteen where POWs could purchase cigarettes. Later they could also purchase combs, soybean jelly candy, and hair cream.
For bathing, there was a bathhouse in a separate building and this was considered to be the best thing about the camp. There were three concrete pools and 22 showers. The pools were ten feet square with one pool containing hot water while the other two pools had cool water. The hot water came from a small heating plant in a nearby building. The enlisted POWs could bath every other day, but they had to wash off outside the polls, rinse off, and after doing this they were allowed in the pools. No heat was provided for the bathroom during the winter.
The mess hall was used only as a kitchen and bakery. Cooking was done in large caldrons and baking in three ovens. Meals were the same every day. For breakfast, they had cornmeal mush and a bun. Lunch was an hour long and consisted of maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun. The food was carried to each factory in buckets and given out to the POWs. The POWs had three meals a day. The food was good, but the POWs did not receive enough. Breakfast was always a cornmeal mush, soybean or maize, vegetable soup, and a bun. The buns were made of cornmeal and wheat flour. There was no rice and meat was provided once every two months. The vegetables came from the farm kept by the POWs with the excess vegetables stored in a cellar for future use. Waters came from a well, but it had to be boiled for use. Since they were underfed, the POWs trapped wild dogs to supplement their meals of soybeans which usually came in the form of soup. They continued to trap dogs until, while marching to work, they saw one eating a dead Chinese. Rations were cut when in 1945 with the arrival of the POWs from the Oryoku Maru. After liberation, it was found that the camp warehouse had enough food to feed the POWs for three months.
The camp hospital was a two-story building that could house 150 POWs and was larger than the other buildings. On the second floor were the tubercular and isolations wards. There was also a recreation room. On the ground floor were an x-ray room, consultation rooms, a pharmacy, and a morgue. The equipment provided was the same as could be found in the Japanese hospital. There was a considerable amount of Red Cross medical supplies and they were issued very carefully in limited amounts. The POWs were vaccinated against smallpox, and they were also inoculated against dysentery, cholera, and paratyphoid. A Japanese doctor, Jiechi Kumashima, denied Red Cross medicine to the POWs and overruled the POW doctors on who was ill, so the sick were forced to work. He was later found guilty of war crimes and hanged. His Japanese medical staff consisted of three nurses and three soldier orderlies. Juro Oki was a Japanese civilian doctor who smuggled medicine into the camp for POWs. He did this knowing that he would have been shot if he had been caught. In addition, there was an American doctor, an Australian doctor, and 29 medics. POWs with problems with their teeth were not treated since there was no dentist until April 1945.
Red Cross boxes were sent to the camp but were raided by the Japanese. According to POWs, the Chinese who they worked with, told them that there was a warehouse full of Red Cross food. When the Red Cross visited the camp, the rations were larger and the sick were told to lounge around. None of the POWs were allowed to talk to the Red Cross representative. The POWs received their first Red Cross boxes in September 1944 when a single box was given for four men to share. A month later another box was issued for four men. This happened two more times so, in the end, each man received the equivalent of one Red Cross box. One result of this was that the death rate dropped to near zero. According to the POWs, the Chinese who worked with them told them there was a warehouse full of Red Cross food. When the International Red Cross visited the camp, food rations were larger and the sick were told to lounge around. None of the POWs were allowed to talk to the Red Cross representatives.
Some POWs from the camp were selected to be used in Japanese germ warfare experiments done by Unit 731. The POWs were injected with deadly diseases while some of these men were dissected alive. The Japanese also tan blood and feces. They also had parts of their bodies frozen and anthrax put into wounds. Still, others were infected with bacillus, cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. The POWs stated that in November 1942, Japanese wearing face masks sprayed a liquid into the faces of prisoners and administered injections. About 300 of these POWs died.
According to post-war reports, the enlisted POWs were allowed to send home three postcards a year. While the officers were allowed to write three letters and three postcards. The POWs received very little mail, and if they did get mail it was 7 to 8 months old. After the camp was liberated, 65 bags of mail were found in a warehouse. Some of the letters were two years old.
Stealing from the Japanese was a way of life, and the POWs stole the raw materials for what they needed on a daily basis. From the raw materials, they manufactured what they needed.
Punishments were given out for no reason or for violating a rule. Being slapped in the face was a common event. The POWs were beaten, hit with bamboo poles, kicked, hit with shoe heals, hit with clubs, punched with fists as they stood at attention. At other times, the camp’s food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. The Japanese, on one occasion, made the POWs come out of their barracks and line up at attention as they searched the barracks. They had all the POWs strip bare because they believed some POWs had bought cigarettes from the Chinese. A Lt Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with the man’s shoes. All the POWs stood barefooted in the snow, for 45 minutes, as the Japanese searched 700 POWs. Another time, when three POWs escaped and were recaptured, the other POWs watched as they were hit on their heads, shoulders, and backs with sticks for hours. At other times, the POWs’ food rations were cut in half because the Japanese believed POWs were not working as hard as they should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. They would also withhold Red Cross packages.
One guard, Eiichi Nada, who was born, raised, and educated, in Berkley, California, was considered to be the worse abuser of the POWs. It was common while the POWs were lined up at morning assembly for him to hit men for no reason. He continued to hit them until they fell to the ground and said, “Get up, you yellow, white, son of a bitch.” Another guard walked through the barracks and hit the POWs, with a 3-foot club, for no real reason. On one occasion, Lt. Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with his shoes.
The Japanese began splitting the POWs up into smaller groups and sent them in groups of 100 to different factories. The POWs were assigned to three branch camps. Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese. To prevent the production of weapons, they committed acts of sabotage like pouring sand into the machine oiling holes. When they were pouring a concrete floor, the POWs took parts from the machines and dropped them into the cement. The Japanese usually blamed these acts of sabotage on the Chinese in the plant because they believed the Americans were not smart enough to commit the sabotage. The one good thing about working in the factory was that it was well heated. At Camp #1, 150 POWs worked at the MKK factory which attempted to airplane parts, tools, and dyes. The workdays – for the groups of POWs – was 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day. The POWs claimed that the machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese. At camp #2, the 150 POWs worked at a textile mill, while 125 POWs worked at a combination steel and lumber mill.
On December 7, 1944, B-29s started bombing Mukden. The camp was accidentally bombed because it was lined up with military targets. Since the Japanese believed that the camp would not be bombed, they did not construct air raid shelters. Two of the bombs exploded inside the camp compound wounding over 30 POWs and killing 21 POWs. The other POWs were not angry, instead, they were happy to know that American forces were close enough for the planes to reach Manchuria. After this, the POWs were allowed to dig air raid trenches. After one air raid, the Japanese medical officer, Jiechi Kuwashima, asked the POWs, wounded from the bombings to write letters asking the Allies to stop the bombing of Mukden. The POWs did write the letters but told the Allies that they wouldn’t mind more frequent bombings.
On August 16, 1945, American OSS officers parachuted into the Mukden from a B-24. The team was intercepted by a Japanese detachment of soldiers who ordered them to stop and kneel. As they knelt, the Japanese made menacing gestures with their bayonets. One of the team produced a piece of paper and read to the guards the news of the surrender. They laughed when they heard it and refused to believe the war was over. Another OSS man produced a paper signed by Gen Wedemeyer stating they were an advance team bringing relief to the prisoners. At that moment, a Japanese officer rode up on horseback and spoke to the guards whose entire attitudes suddenly changed. Another officer arrived and apologized to the OSS team. News of the surrender had just been received at the camp. The Japanese were still cautious and blindfolded the members of the team and put them on a truck. They were taken to the local military police headquarters but still were denied access to the camp. After arguing with the Japanese for an hour, they were taken to the camp, but the camp CO refused to give the team access to the POWs. The team protested, but he still did not give them access to the POWs. The team was taken to a local hotel for the night while the camp CO contacted his superiors.
The next day, August 17, 1945, the OSS team members were driven to the camp and met with the prisoners. The POWs were overjoyed and had a million questions. During the conversation, the team learned that Gen. Johnathan Wainwright and other high-ranking officers had been moved to another camp at Sian more than 100 miles away. The POWs at Mukden had been liberated. When the Russians entered Mukden on August 20, one POW slipped around the guards, climbed over the camp wall, and saw Russian tanks passing the camp. The POW could speak some Russian and Polish told the Russians that behind the wall were POWs. The Russians turned around one of the tanks and came through the camp’s gate. The tank stopped near the POWs and the crew disarmed the Japanese and gave the guns to the freed POWs. The Russian general made the Japanese go through a formal surrender ceremony where the camp was turned over to the former POWs. Shortly after this, B-29s dropped 50-gallon drums attached to parachutes to the men in an area marked by lit oil drums. The lead plane came down and saw the POWs. It circled and dropped medical supplies, food, and clothing to them. The planes also dropped walkie-talkies to the former POWs so that they could talk to aircrews. This allowed them to tell the aircrews what they needed. The planes dropped everything from ice cream to strings for a fiddle.
An American Recovery Team arrived at the camp on August 29. Their job was to process the former POWs for transport. The really ill former POWs were flown out while the remaining men took a train to Darian, China. Most boarded the U.S.H.S. Relief and taken to Okinawa. During the trip, the ship went through a terrible storm, and another shop in the group hit a mine resulting in one death. After arriving at Okinawa, the men were flown to the Philippines. While in the Philippines, he was promoted to Sergeant and then Staff Sergeant.
Albert sailed for the United States on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman and arrived in San Francisco on October 3, 1945. From the docks, the POWs were taken by trucks or ambulance to Letterman General Hospital. From there, he was sent to a hospital closer to his home. It appears his stay was long.
Albert was not discharged from the Army until September 9, 1946, at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. As it turned out, he was selected to take part in a five-minute ceremony to receive his discharge for his 5½ years in the service and the fact he spent most of the time as a Japanese POW. He was presented his discharge by Gen. W. W. Eagle, commanding general of Ft. Dix, and Col. Thomas M. Childs the commander of the separation center. According to available information, he was selected because he had the best service record. Albert reenlisted on November 6, but it is not known how long he served.
After his service in the Army, he returned to his job at American Can Company. Albert Cuchessi passed away on June 21, 1996, in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover, New Jersey.