PFC Royden L. Diaz was born to Ben & Ida Diaz on October 23, 1916, in Monterey County, California, and was of Spanish and Portuguese Decent. He was known as “Roy” to his family and friends and attended local schools and graduated from Salinas High School. After high school, he worked on the family’s ranch. In 1936, Roy enlisted in the California National Guard’s 40th Division Tank Company which was headquartered in Salinas, California, to earn extra money.
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. During this time, Roy and other members of the battalion who were training as mechanics were sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, to attend mechanics’ school. Upon completion of the training, they returned to Ft. Lewis.
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 which 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 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 an unknown destroyer 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 taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed. They were met by Gen. Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed. On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
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.
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. At exactly noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. 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. 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.
Roy recalled that, 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 at this time that the 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.”
General Edward King announced at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6,000 sick and wounded and 40,000 civilians. He also estimated that less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and would hold out for one more day. He ordered his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender.
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. Those who fell out were bayoneted, shot, or were beaten. The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given a few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and 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,” he says. “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.”
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 remained in the camp until October 26, 1942, when he was selected to go out on a work detail to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs were taken from the camp to the barrio of Cabanatuan. They were boarded onto a train and taken to Manila. Unlike the trip to Camp O’Donnell, the doors of the boxcars were left open.
In Manila, the POWs were marched down Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison. They were housed in the prison for two days until they were marched to the Port Area. Upon reaching the pier, the POWs were boarded onto the Erie Maru. The ship sailed the same day for Lasang, Mindanao. The trip took thirteen days since the ship made stops at Iloilo and Cebu.
When the ship arrived at Lasang, they were taken to the POW camp outside of Davao. There, they joined other POWs who were not very happy to see them. The reason for the animosity was that with the arrival of the new POWs, the food ration each man was receiving was cut in half. 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. 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.
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. The really sick remained on the ship when it arrived at 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 September 1 5, 1945.
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, and arrived in Seattle, Washington, on October 12, 1945. From there, Roy returned 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.
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xN4Exkj2ps