PFC Royden Louis Diaz was born to Ben & Ida Diaz on October 23, 1916, in Monterey County, California, and was of Spanish and Portuguese Decent. He lived in Monterey for the first five years of his life until the family moved to the 165 acres his mother inherited from her grandfather. He was known as “Roy” to his family and friends and attended local schools and attended Monterey High School. He left school and worked on the family’s ranch located on Route 4, San Benancio Road outside of Salinas.
In 1936, Roy enlisted in the California National Guard’s 40th Division Tank Company which was headquartered in Salinas, California, to earn extra money. Since he was in the National Guard, he did not have to register for the draft on October 16, 1940.
On February 18, 1941, Roy’s tank company was called into federal service as C Company, 194th Tank Battalion, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, to train.
The members of the company spent a week getting their equipment ready for movement to Fort Lewis, Washington, where it was joined by A Company from Brainerd, Minnesota, and B Company from Saint Joseph, Missouri. It was after arriving there that he was put in charge of the C Company’s reconnaissance platoon.
The weather at the camp was described as constantly rainy during the winter months. When they first arrived many men caught colds, pneumonia, and the flu and spent time in the fort’s hospital. The situation became bad enough that doctors went to the barracks to treat the men.
A typical day started at 6:00 A.M. with the first call followed at 6:30 with breakfast. During this time the soldiers made their cots, policed the grounds around the barracks, swept the floors of their barracks, and performed other duties. From 7:30 to 11:30 A.M., the men had drill followed by lunch. They again had drill from 1:00 P.M. until 4:30 P.M. Evening retreat was at 5:00 P.M. and dinner was at 5:30 P.M. After this, the men were off duty except for those assigned to the guard detail who worked two hours on and four hours off during the night.
A canteen was located near their barracks and was visited often. There was also a movie theater on the base that they visited. The theater where the tanks were kept was not finished, but when it was, the tankers only had to cross the road to their tanks.
Saturdays the men had off, and many rode a bus 15 miles northeast to Tacoma which was the largest town nearest to the base. They also went to see the Tacoma Narrow Bridge which had collapsed in 1940. On Sundays, many of the men went to church and services were held at different times for the different denominations.
One of the biggest problems for the tankers was that the regular Army seemed to have a problem with them since they were National Guardsmen. After arriving at the fort, they trained in whatever clothing they had. One day, while they were training three officers, on horseback, rode up and asked why they weren’t training in the proper uniforms. It was explained that what they were wearing was what they had. That afternoon, a truck loaded with army clothing showed up at the 194th’s barracks. As it turned out one of the officers was the chief of staff of the camp’s commander, the officer’s name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The battalion went on long reconnaissance with trucks and tanks and drove all over reservation following maps. They learned from observation what the land surrounding the fort looked like. The purpose of this training was to collect tank data which they would use later. They often had to live off the land during the training.
On April 30, 1941, the battalion went on an all-day march and ate dinner in woods brought to them by the cooks in the food trucks. The march was two hours one way and covered about 10 miles total. At one point the soldiers stopped in an abandoned apple orchard in bloom.
The battalion’s first motorcycles arrived in May 1941 and all battalion members had to learn to ride them. In early May 1941, the battalion – except men who had been drafted – went on its first overnight bivouac. The reason the new men did not go is that they did not have shelter halves. The battalion left around noon and returned around noon the next day.
Men assigned to jobs requiring special training were sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for training as mechanics, tank mechanics, radiomen, and radio repair for six weeks. During March, Roy and other members of the battalion who were training as tank mechanics were sent to Ft. Knox to attend mechanics’ school. While he was there, someone in the barracks he was in had infantile paralysis and they ended up in quarantine. He did not return to Ft. Lewis until July. Those who remained at Ft. Lewis were given the job of policing the base collecting garbage and distributing coal.
Orders were issued, on August 15, 1941, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island – hundreds of miles away – that had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron, of planes, was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the company was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. Arriving by train, the company was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion’s medical detachment. The battalion remained at the fort for two weeks.
Roy recalled that his parents came to see him off. His father went into a bar where the battalion officers were drinking and when he came out said, “I know where you going and you’re not coming right home either, it’s going to be a long time before you come home.” Roy asked him where they were going. His dad said, “I ain’t going to tell you.”
The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship’s holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a fleet replenishment oiler, that were its 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 Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets.
The battalion rode buses 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. They remained in the tents until November 15th when they moved into their barracks.
The barracks’ outside walls were opened and screened from the floors to three feet up the wall. Above that, there was woven bamboo. This design allowed air to pass through the barracks. Sanitation facilities appeared to have been limited and a lucky man was one who was able to wash by a faucet with running water.
The tankers started working from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work. According to members of the battalion the term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming.
Off the base, the soldiers went to Mt. Aarayat National Park and swam in the swimming pool there that was filled with mountain water. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. They also went to canoeing at Pagsanjan Falls in their swimsuits and described the country was described as being beautiful
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. When they were discovered working in their coveralls by the base’s officers, the soldiers were reprimanded for not wearing dress uniforms while working. The decision was made by Major Ernest Miller to continue wearing coveralls in their barracks area to do their work but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they were expected to wear dress uniforms, including going to the PX.
On December 1, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November, guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. Anyone not assigned to a tank remained behind at the battalion’s command post.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Earlier that morning, the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Roy recalled what happened that morning, “The sergeant came into our barracks at about 4 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘Hey, you guys, wake up! The Japs just bombed Pearl Harbor. Be prepared. They’re on their way.’ So we got up and started loading ammunition into machine-gun belts and .45s, then got into our half-tracks and went on patrol around the airfield.”
That morning the sky was filled with American planes. According to Roy, it was 11:30 and all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. He said to the other men, “You know guys. Maybe they don’t know nothing about this war business.” Around 12:45, planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers thought the planes were American and counted them. They then saw silver “teardrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding on the airfield, they knew the planes were Japanese. According to Roy, “All of our pilots were having lunch when we got bombed. Eighty-three of them died in the mess hall. We didn’t have a single plane in the sky.”
For the next four months, Roy fought the Japanese by keeping the tanks of C Company running. During the retreat toward Bataan, Roy and Cpl. Frank Muther were going for food when a Japanese Zero spotted a Filipino convoy and dove on it. Roy and Frank dove into the ditches on the side of the road. A bomb hit the road and made a huge hole in the road. Muther dove into the hole and yelled at Roy to get in it. Roy ran and dove into the hole. A bomb from a second Japanese Zero exploded where he had been lying.
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. C Company was attached to the 192nd and the company had only seven tanks left.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 6 – 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. Other tanks of C Company tanks were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of Company C was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail.
Roy recalled events on April 6. At one point three tanks were in a valley and about to be surrounded by the Japanese. “My sergeant told me to go down and tell those guys to get the hell out of there, so I ran down the hill with machine-gun fire going right over the top of my head, cutting limbs off the trees. I found about 20 Filipinos down there and said, ‘Where are all of your officers?’ They said, ‘They all got killed. We’re all privates down here.’ And I said, ‘Get in those tanks and get up to the top; you’re gonna get trapped down here!”
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
At 6:00 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. A truck driver for A Company, 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 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed.
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. At 6:45 A.M., the order “CRASH” was sent out and 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.
Between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M. on April 9, 1942, the order “CRASH” was issued. The tankers destroyed their tanks and waited for orders from the Japanese. The members of the 194th were ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2. When he got in line to start the march a Japanese guard pointed at his mess kit. Roy remembered, ” I couldn’t understand what he was saying, and I figured he was going to take it away from me,” Diaz recalled, “But he gave all of his rice to me and some of the other guys. I guess he felt sorry for us. It was the last thing we’d have to eat.”
Roy recalled the march, “The thing I remember most was all those dead bodies. I never saw so many dead people in my life! One time we tried to get water from an artesian well. There was this guy drinking water — I was two people behind him. A (Japanese) soldier came up behind him and stuck a bayonet in his back, all the way through until it came out in front of the guy. He died. I knew I wouldn’t get water that day.”
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.
During this part of the march to reach the main road out of Bataan, the POWs noted that they were treated well by the Japanese who were combatting hardened troops. Their guards were surprised that they had surrendered and treated them fairly well. It was at Limay that the treatment they received would change.
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 had joined the main march from Bataan and later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
Somehow Roy managed to keep his canteen filled with water on the march. Other POWs, who were not as lucky, drank from ditches along the road. He decided that he was going to get away from the front of the detachment when another C Company man asked him, “Hey Diaz, where you going?” Roy said, “I am going to the rear.” He said, “No! God Don’t! That’s where I’m coming from. Don’t go down there! They’re slaughtering people down there. You fall down and you don’t get up again. You’ll get bayonetted or shot.” So Roy stayed where he was. He and the other men went ten days without food or water.
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 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 men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. Because he had wounds on his legs, it took Roy ten days to reach San Fernando. When he got there, he recalled, “They finally gave us some rice to eat there, and then, the next morning, they loaded us all into these wooden boxcars on a narrow-gauge train to take us to Capas.”
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.
The POWs were organized 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.
In recalling this part of the march, Roy said, “The heat in that boxcar was unbearable. People defecated and urinated. I must have been standing in a spot where a little bit of air was coming in because I made it, but when they finally opened the doors there were three guys right next to me who was dead.”
Roy walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell. When he got to the camp, Frank Muther walked right past him without saying anything. Roy shouted at Muther who took a good look and realized who he was and told Roy that he hadn’t recognized him from the way he looked.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Base put into use by the Japanese as a POW camp on April 1. There was only one water faucet for 12,000 men. Men literally died for a drink. The conditions in the camp were so bad that the POWs died at a rate of 50 men a day. The burial detail worked both day and night to bury the dead.
He recalled standing in line for a drink of water. “There was this guy standing three guys in front of me. The guy reached out for a canteen then all of a sudden a bayonet went through his back and came out through his chest. I thought, what the hell is this?”
Three days after arriving in the camp, Roy was picked to go out on a work detail. The detail was to repair the disabled American trucks. In his words, “The Japs wanted mechanics. They picked a half-dozen of us, put us on trucks and drove us all the way back where we had just come from. I never saw so many dead bodies in my life; bodies left and right as we drove along that road. And the stink … oh, my God.”
It was while he was on this detail that his parents received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. I. Diaz:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private First Class Royden L. Diaz, 20, 900, 673, 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”
When Roy came down with malaria, in July 1942, he was sent to Cabanatuan. This camp had opened, in an attempt by the Japanese, to improve the conditions for the POWs. He got over the malaria when he came down with dysentery. He went and saw a medic who asked him if he had any talcum powder. For some reason on the march, Roy picked up a tin of it someone else had thrown out. The medic told him to take a spoonful of it with just enough water to get it down. Roy did and his dysentery went away.
It was also in July that his family received another message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private First Class Royden L. Diaz had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
The Japanese needed 1000 POWs to go on a detail to Davao in October 1942. On October 24, the POWs were marched to the barrio of Cabanatuan, loaded onto boxcars, and sent by train to Manila arriving in the afternoon. During the trip, the doors of the boxcars were left open so there was ventilation. When they arrived at Manila, they remained in the boxcars until after dark when they were marched through the empty streets to Bilibid Prison. Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice.
The next day they were assembled in 100 men formations and marched to the Port Area of Manila where they boarded the Erie Maru. The hold was divided into box spaces and twelve men were assigned to each box. There was only enough room in a box for six men to sleep at a time. The POWs quickly became infested with bedbugs and lice. The hold smelled from the gasoline that was being stored in it and quickly was joined by the smell of human excrement.
The next morning the POWs were fed rice and spinach soup. At noon, they received rice and dried fish. For dinner, they had corned beef and rice. The POWs assigned to cooking discovered the Japanese officers had a large stock of captured American pork and slipped it to the men in the holds which resulted in many of the POWs developing dysentery.
The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo, Panay, and Cebu, Mindanao. At Iloilo, they buried one man who had died. The POWs arrived at Lansang on November 7.
When they arrived at the camp, the POWs were in such bad shape that the ranking Japanese officer, Major Mida, ordered them fed. They ate pork and beef, rice cabbage pinch, squash onions, potatoes, and peanuts which were all produced on the farm. From the orchards, they were given fruit which included raw and cooked plantains. The sick were given medical treatment and there was enough water for drinking, bathing, and laundry. When the recuperation took too long, their diet was cut to rice and greens soup.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor, and the American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
There were various details. 30 men were assigned to work as carpenters, 25 POWs worked in the orchards, 50 POWs made rope, 20 POWs worked the bodega (storeroom) detail, and for four months the POWs cut and picked coffee. There were smaller details that took from 2 to 35 men that lasted weeks or months, while other details were continuous, such as the farm detail that 250 to 300 POWs worked on plowing fields and harvesting crops.
50 to 100 POWs were sent to a plantation and given the job of building roads. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. The Japanese decided that they were getting nowhere, so they sent the POWs to the ricefields to plant rice.
350 to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields and were responsible for planting 1600 acres of rice. The POWs attempted to grow as little rice as possible and would drop the rice stalks in the mud and “unintentionally” step on them. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
When harvesting the rice, the POWs would “miss” the collection baskets spilling the rice onto the ground. At the threshing machine, the POWs made sure that as much of the rice as possible was blown away with the chaff. They would also “forget” to push the rice carts into the warehouse when it rained which caused the rice to get moldy. Although they did these things, most of the rice still made it to the warehouse. Once piled inside, the prisoners often poked holes into the roof directly above the rice. When it rained, the rice would get wet and moldy.
The one good thing that happened to the POWs on this detail was that they were given Red Cross packages. The medicine in the packages also helped to bring the number of cases of malaria and dysentery under control.
At first, the work details were not guarded as the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs, who could not do this work, made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. The treatment the POWs at this time changed. Those POWs working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, and there were misunderstandings between the POWs and guards. In addition, the translator could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Some POWs were sent to a plantation and given the job of building a road. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. Other men worked in a quarry that contained a great deal of coral that cut their feet. What they dug out went to build the road. The Japanese decided that they were getting nowhere, so they sent the POWs to the ricefields to plant rice.
Beatings were common and usually, the guards slapped the POWs in their faces. On occasion, there were severe beatings. This occurred if the Japanese suspected the POWs were planning an escape.
During his time at Davao, Roy worked on a farm and built runways. He also came down with beriberi while on the detail.
Remembering his time at Davao, “It was nice down there and the Japanese were a lot better to us. They had me cleaning fish, chopping up tuna, so that’s what we ate for a long time.”
While he was at Davao, his parents were officially notified he was a POW on January 26, 1943.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE FIRST CLASS ROYDEN L DIAZ IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
Corral de Tierra
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“PFC Royden L. Diaz, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau”
They also received two POW postcards from him in September 1943. In one, he told them, “Inquire Red Cross how to write to me. Hope we will be together again. Don’t worry.” He also asked them to say hello to his friends and relatives.
The POWs were still receiving three meals – which were measured down with a sardine tin – a day and received one water buffalo a week but they were being worked harder and longer. At times, after the POWs had slaughtered the water buffalo and had it ready to cook, the Japanese made them bury it. From October 1, 1942, until March 1, 1944, rations were reduced often as a punishment.
After the escape of Capt. William Dyess, LTC Melvyn McCoy, Maj. Stephen Mellnik, Maj. Michael Dobervitch, and another POW on April 4, 1943, the 600 remaining POWs from their barracks were moved to another compound and had their rations reduced, they were confined to quarters, and they were abused. During the day, they were not allowed to sit down. The Japanese commanding officer ordered and allowed collectives punishment on all the POWs. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep.
When two other POWs escaped, 22 other POWs were confined to the guardhouse for ten days. They were made to stand at attention all day in the cells. The cells were eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide. Eleven prisoners were put into each cell. At night they were beaten with sticks when they attempted to lie down. They were fed one meal a day of rice with a little salt.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong. The barracks of the POWs were only 400 yards from the airfield. The POWs believed this was done so if American planes attacked, they would kill their own countrymen. 550 POWs either built runways or were sent to a quarry to mine coral for runways. The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it onto trucks that were driven to the airfield. When the POWs slowed the pace of their work down, the Japanese resorted to torture to get them to work.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindanao, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship’s front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao, for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25.
Roy was held at Bilibid Prison for two weeks when he was selected to be sent to Japan on the Canadian Inventor. The ship sailed for Formosa and made stops at Takao and Keelung. From Formosa, the ship sailed, as part of a convoy, to Okinawa and stopped at Naha. Recalling this portion of the trip, Roy stated, “We started hearing, boom! boom! boom! When we woke up the next morning, the other ships were gone. We were all by ourselves. All I can figure is the ship we were on wasn’t worth a torpedo. We sailed the rest of the way to Japan on our own.” The ship finally reached Moji, Japan, on September 1.
It is not known if Roy was held in any other camps in Japan, but it is known he was held at Nagoya #5-B. The POWs in this camp worked in a plant manufacturing Sulphuric Acid. He also worked at a sawmill. Remembering the work he said, “At one point, they made me carry these wide pieces of lumber the size of sheetrock up a step ladder to the next floor of the factory. When he felt the load was enough, he said, ‘That’s enough,‘ and they said, ‘No, no, no,’ and stacked two more on me. I was 80 pounds but managed to carry all three pieces up the ladder. If I had dropped them, they would have killed me.”
Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles which damaged the POWs teeth. The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks. A Japanese medic had final say over who worked and who stayed in the camp.
In late 1944, the POWs received a full Red Cross Box and celebrated their blessings. It was at this time that one American POW who was known as “Muscleman” because he had been a boxer, attempted to collect debts, with interest, from POWs. When he began to rough up another POW who refused to pay him with his Red Cross supplies, the other POWs jumped him and beat him. They had, had enough of the man.
Many of the punishments received by the POWs were the result of the Japanese interpreter, Shinshi Kirio, intentionally misinterpreting orders, or outright lying so that the POWs would be beaten. He also made POWs, as punishment, run in circles in the cold. The POWs were frequently punished by being hit with sticks, clubs, fists, leather belts, shoes, ropes, belt buckles, and bamboo sticks while standing at attention.
Afterward, it was not uncommon for the Japanese to rub salt into the man’s wounds and had their food rations cut. They would also be made to stand at attention with their arms outstretched hold a bucket of water at arm’s length. Other men were suspended from ladders – by their wrists – and beaten while they hung there. They also were made to kneel on rocks or bamboo poles with heavy rocks behind their knees or squat for hours at a time.
When Cpl. Takeo Shuraki discovered that the POWs had cut two bars on a window of a bay of the barracks that Roy lived in – for a possible escape during an air raid – the 20 POWs who lived in the bay were questioned one at a time, in Japanese, to find out who had cut them. This was done even though two POWs confessed to cutting the bars.
The three POWs, one of which was Roy, were lined up in the gangway of the barracks and were severely beaten; first by Cpl. Shuraki and followed by Japanese civilians. During the beating, the POWs were hit with sticks, wooden shoes, fists, bayonets, and practice sabers. Roy was beaten until he was unconscious.
About this incident, Roy said during testimony after the war, “On or about 18 June 1945, we had an air raid at the Yokkaichi Camp, also known as Nagoya #5, at which American planes were dropping bombs and incendiaries on some oil tanks and naval base about five miles across the channel. At such time we were locked in the barracks and unable to seek shelter in the event bombs were to hit close. There were twenty of us in the bay in the barracks and two of the men, Corporal Nick Galleogas and Sergeant John Fitzjohn both confessed, but nevertheless, the Nips lined all twenty of us up in the bay. Thereupon Corporal Shuraki first walked down the line and hit everyone in the face as hard as he could with a rubber sole of a shoe. Then he took the wooden practice saber and started hitting everyone over the head swinging as hard as he could with both hands. He hit me hard enough that it cut my head. I was not beaten further but I was told that Shuraki then beat the rest of the men across their faces with a heavy leather garrison belt. I did not see this as I was in the next bay but could hear the sounds of this beating. It lasted for thirty minutes. Later on, we went out to work, Shuraki gave Galleogas and Fitzjohn and extra good working over with a garrison belt.”
The POWs went to work on August 15, but returned to the camp early and did not go to work the next day. On August 17, American planes were everywhere but there were no air raid sirens, and that night the lights in the camp were left on all night. The POWs noticed the size of their rations increased a couple of times. Finally, the planes dropped food and clothing to the former POWs in 50-gallon drums.
On September 4, 1945, the POWs left the camp and taken to Hamamatsu, where they boarded the U.S.S. Rescue, a hospital ship. According to records kept on the ship, he remained on the ship for medical treatment and taken to Yokohama. From there, the POWs were driven to an airfield south of Tokyo and flown to Okinawa and later returned to the Philippines. His mother learned he had been liberated on September 15, 1945.
“Mrs. Ida Diaz: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, PFC Royden L. Diaz was returned to military control Sept. 4 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
In the Philippines, Roy received medical treatment. When it was determined he was healthy enough, he boarded the U.S.S. Gosper which sailed on September 24, 1945. The ship went south to the Marianas Islands and picked up American soldiers. From there it sailed to Pearl Harbor and spent three days. During the time, the former POWs were not allowed off the ship. According to Roy, it was because if they left the Americans off they would have to allow the British off the ship and the military was afraid they would steal everything in sight. The ship sailed and went to Vancouver where the Canadians and British were disembarked on October 11. From there, the ship sailed and arrived in Seattle, Washington, on October 12, 1945, in the middle of the night. From there, Roy and the other men were taken to Ft. Lewis, where he was treated at Madigan General Hospital.
For his service, he received the Purple Heart, three Bronze Stars, Good Conduct Medal, Prisoner of War Medal, American Defense Service Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Medal, Philippine Defense Ribbon, Philippine Independence Ribbon, General De dePilar Medal, California National Guard Medal, and three Presidential Unit Citations. On March 8, 1946, he was discharged from the Army, but since he had not registered for the draft, he registered on March 13, 1946. His registration indicated he had just been discharged.
Roy returned to Salinas and worked as a salesman and a sugar company. He next owned a vegetable farm. In 1955, he met Lorraine Sayers at a rodeo. She was eighteen years younger than him. The couple married a year later and resided in the Salinas area. Of his time as a POW, he said, “You think that every day, you know. You don’t get it out of your mind. I think about it just like it was yesterday.”
Roy Diaz passed away on May 24, 2013, in Salinas and was buried at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Salinas.
The photo below was taken of Roy while he was POW in Japan.
Video Clip about Roy Diaz: