Pvt. Elmer Earl Engle was born on September 18, 1915, in Knox County, Kentucky. He was the son of Joseph Engle & Annie Williams-Engle. It is known that he had an older sister and a brother. When Elmer was two, his mother died after childbirth in 1917. His little sister would die seven months later. When he was six years old, in 1921, his father died, so Elmer’s uncle took him into his home where he remained for several years. It is believed that Elmer joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. On August 24, 1937, Elmer married Irene Carter, and on May 1, 1940, the couple became the parents of a daughter. They resided at 205 Limestone, Springfield, Ohio.
On March 3, 1941, Elmer was inducted into the U. S. Army at Fort Thomas in Newport, Kentucky. He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. The basic training he received was shortened. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. During his training, he qualified as a tank driver.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterward, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
It is not known if he was assigned to Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion at Ft. Knox or if he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he joined the 753rd Tank Battalion when National Guardsmen were released from federal service after the battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers. It was at this time that the 192nd received orders to go overseas.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Over four different train routed the battalion was sent to San Francisco, California, and ferried to Angel Island on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here then going where you all are going.” Elmer and the other men stayed on Angel Island for two days for physicals and inoculations from the battalion’s medical detachment.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th was assigned the northern half of the battalion while the 192nd was assigned the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew were to remain with their vehicles.
The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalion were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying the American Army Air Corps. and the other members of HQ took cover since they had no weapons to use against the planes.
After the attack, they witnessed the devastation caused by the bombing and strafing. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13. The battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed. The battalion repeatedly dropped back as it fought the Japanese.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27 and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlac-Cabanatuan Line and were near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th.
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion’s tanks were on both sides of the on December 31st at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
The night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
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 which 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 withdraw 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 tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took potshots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the treetops. Three members of the company were killed.
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. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. 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 the tank companies were pulled 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.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
Captain Bruni took the men of HQ Company into the jungle near their campsite and fed them what would become their last supper. It consisted of Pineapple juice and bread. He said to them, as they ate, that it was now every man for himself.
Two days after the official surrender, a Japanese officer and soldiers entered HQ Company’s bivouac. The Americans were ordered out onto the road that ran past their encampment. Once on the road, the Prisoners of War were ordered to kneel along the shoulders of the road. They were told to put their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them took what they wanted from the Americans.
The members of HQ Company made its way to Mariveles by truck. At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded into a field. The Japanese soldiers had the POWs line up for an inspection. The Japanese took the prisoners’ jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.
As the POWs sat in the sun, they began to notice a line of Japanese soldiers was forming across from them. As they watched, they soon realized that the Japanese were going to execute them. At that moment, a Japanese officer got out of the car and ordered the soldiers to lower their guns. He climbed back into the car and drove off.
Elmer and the other POWs were ordered to move to a schoolyard where they were made to sit in the sun without food or water. They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. The American guns on the island began returning fire. Shells from the American guns began landing among the POWs. The men had no place to hide and several were killed. Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.
It was from Mariveles, late in the afternoon, that Elmer began what would later become known as the Death March. Elmer and the other POWs were lined up and marched all night the first night. They marched for days and were told there would be food and water at the next stop. But, these were lies to keep the prisoners going. During every hour, the POWs received a five-minute break. The Japanese would change guards and kept the POWs moving. The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machinegun nest. Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.
What made things worse was as the POWs marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells. It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water, they still went to the wells. This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.
The lack of food and water caused physical disabilities; such as the prisoners’ mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open. If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed. Elmer went days without food or water. The little food the POWs consisted of burnt rice.
As the prisoners went through the barrios, the Filipinos attempted to help the prisoners by sneaking them rice wrapped in banana leaves. Other Filipinos believed that the POWs had money and attempted to sell rice to them.
Elmer finally made it to San Fernando. The prisoners were crammed into wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were called, “Forty and Eights.” This meant that they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs who suffocated remained standing until the living left the cars. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread on it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area where they had been laying was scraped and lime was spread on it.
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. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
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 formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape 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. The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on 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. 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 hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
It is known that in late 1942 that Elmer was selected to be sent to Japan. Elmer and the other POWs were taken to Manila. There, they were boarded onto the Nagato Maru. The ship sailed for Formosa on November 7, 1942. After a two day stop at Takao, Formosa, it sailed for Moji, Japan arriving there on November 25th.
Elmer was put in a group of POWs that was sent to the M Matsushima POW Camp in Tenryu, Japan. The trip to the camp turned out to be extremely difficult. Most of the POWs were suffering from dysentery, beriberi, or enteritis, and were weak from the lack of food, water, and rest. Many POWs had died during the trip from the Philippines, and one POW died on the train trip to the camp. Because of a train wreck, which blocked a tunnel, the POWs had left the train and walk several miles over a mountain at night. When they reached the camp, they were exhausted and some could not walk.
After arriving in the camp, Capt. Sukeo Nakajima, the camp commander had them line up and stand in formation dressed in tropical clothing. The camp was located in the mountains. He made a lengthy speech in which he threatened to kill them for the slightest reason. The speech lasted an hour and a half. The next morning, the POWs were made to strip off their clothes and were given their first medical examination outside in the cold.
That night the POWs slept in cold barracks. The situation which was made worse by the fact they had tropical clothing and there were few blankets. The barracks were heated by 3-foot by 3-foot fire pits that were only used from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M., since each barracks received 10 – 4 inches wide by two-foot-long – pieces of wood each day which did not supply adequate heat. Since there were no flues for the smoke from the fire pits filled the barracks which irritated the POWs’ eyes.
Often, during the winter, the Japanese used excuses about rules having been violated so that they did not have to give the POWs firewood. In addition, the barracks were poorly constructed and the wind blew through the cracks at night. The floors were dirt and sand which meant the barracks flooded when it rained.
There were two latrines in the camp each of which could hold 30 men at a time. The latrines did not have a drainage system which meant that they had to empty the trenches by hand. Every POW had a turn doing this job.
The Japanese did not provide the Red Cross winter clothing or shoes sent to the camp for the POWs. After the war, a warehouse of clothing, shoes, and coats was found at the camp. Instead, the POWs wore their tropical clothing and straw shoes which were made by POWs too sick to work. The Japanese did supply rags so that the POWs could patch their clothes. The POWs also worked in the rain without raincoats or a change of clothes.
Red Cross medical supplies withheld from sick and the sick slept on soiled blankets since the POWs could not wash them since there were no washing facilities. The Japanese misappropriated Red Cross supplies for themselves and were seen wearing clothing and shoes meant for the POWs.
Collective Punishment was practiced in the camp. From post-war, war crime records, it is known that Elmer was one of 45 POWs who were punished because of the actions of a few. Eight Japanese guards repeatedly abused these POWs denying them – at various times – food, shelter, and clothing, between November 26, 1942, and his death. At night, POWs were called out into the cold and made to stand at attention. While standing there, they were slapped for no apparent reason. Eight Japanese guards repeatedly abused these POWs denying them – at various times – food, shelter, and clothing, between November 26, 1942, and August 5, 1944. Nine guards from this camp were executed for war crimes after the war.
It was common practice in the camp for the Japanese to call the POWs out of the barracks at night and make them stand at attention for no reason. One guard, Sgt. Masaru Mikawa would walk down the line and get in the faces of the POWs. If the man flinched, he walloped the man as hard as he could. Those POWs put in the guardhouse had no bedding and had their rations reduced.
The Japanese intentionally failed to give the POWs adequate food, and the Japanese supervisor of the POW kitchen, Tomotsu Kimura, also known as “The Punk,” was known to take sacks of rice – meant for the POWs – home. The food the POWs did receive consisted of under-cooked rice and barley, and a soup that was made from mountain greens and weeds. On very few occasions, the POWs received vegetables, meat or fish. To make the fish edible, the POWs boiled it until they could eat it. The portions given to the prisoners were smaller than they should have been because Kimura skimmed food from the POWs and gave it to the guards.
Red Cross packages which arrived at the camp were commandeered by the Japanese for themselves. If the POWs did receive packages, it was evident that they had been gone through. This was especially true from November 26, 1942, until August 5, 1944.
The camp hospital was a hospital in name only, and the POWs were given little to no medicine when they were sick. The medicine sent by the Red Cross for the POWs was used by the Japanese. In addition, there were no bathroom facilities for the sick. The POWs had to sleep on soiled blankets which could not be cleaned since there were no facilities to wash them.
The POWs were divided into detachments and taken to different steel mills. The working conditions were extremely bad at the antiquated furnaces where the POWs shoveled coal into the ovens. The POWs frequently became ill and vomited from breathing in the sulfur fumes. There was no real day off once a month since the POWs were expected to work around the camp on that day.
According to Japanese records, Pvt. Elmer E. Engle died of dysentery and cardiac beriberi on Tuesday, June 29, 1943, and most likely died in his own waste. Military records from the post-war trials of Japanese guards indicated that his death was a direct result of the denial of medicine, medical treatment, and being forced to do hard labor while sick. It is known that the corpses of the dead were securely tied with their heads between their legs and thrown into a coffin full of dirt.
In 2000, a memorial wall was erected at the site where Mitsushima POW Camp had stood. On it are the names of the POWs who died in the camp. On the site where so many men suffered, a Japanese junior high school now stands. Pvt. Elmer E. Engle’s name is the second from the bottom in the second column from the right.
It should be mentioned that after the war, the majority of guards and the camp CO, were sentenced to death since many POW deaths were the result of their actions.