Cpl. Joseph Gillis was born on September 18, 1920, in Wheeling, West Virginia. He was the son of Giovanni T. Gillio-Tos & Victoria F. Moral-Gillo-Tos, he had five brothers, one sister, three half-brothers. His mother remarried and he grew up in Watsonville, California, and attended high school there. He was the younger brother of Sgt. August Gillis and the step-brother of Sgt. Emile Morello of C Company. At some point, with his brother, he moved to Castroville, California, and enlisted in the 40th Divisional Tank Company of the California National Guard. Since he was in the National Guard, he did not have to register for the draft on October 16, 1940.
On February 10, 1941, Joseph’s tank company was federalized as C Company, 194th Tank Battalion and was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington state for eight months of training. During that time, he attended different tank classes and qualified as a tank driver.
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. Those who remained at Ft. Lewis were given the job of policing the base collecting garbage and distributing coal.
In September 1941, the 194th was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the attempt to strengthen the American Military Forces in the islands. The reason for this move was based on an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and 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 located hundreds of miles away. The island 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, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way to shore. Since radio communications between the Air Corps and Navy were poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. The tankers were taken by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco and arrived at 7:30 in the morning. They were ferried on the U.S.A.T. Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
To get the tanks to fit in the ship’s holds, 17th Ordnance removed the turrets and spray painted the tanks’ serial numbers on them. 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. 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 ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and it became Thursday, September 18. 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 told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning, the sky was filled with American planes. At 12:30 the planes landed, to be refueled while the pilots went to lunch. Around 12:45, the tankers noticed planes approaching the airfield. Some of the soldiers commented about how pretty the planes looked. A few moments later, bombs began exploding on the runway destroying almost the entire American Army Air Corps.
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. On the night of the 12th/13th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13.
After the 194th was sent to the Calumpit Bridge area. On December 12, the tankers found themselves attempting to make their way through an unknown area. One platoon of tanks took a wrong turn and ended up heading toward Bataan. They finally made their way south through Manila and joined up with the Southern Luzon Forces.
It was at this time that C Company was ordered to support forces in southern Luzon. The company proceeded through Manila. Since they had no air cover, most of their movements were at night. As they moved, they noticed lights blinking or flares being shot into the air. They arrived at the Tagaytay Ridge and spent the time attempting to catch 5th columnists.
They remained in the area until December 24, when they moved over the Taal Road to San Tomas and bivouacked near San Paolo and assisted in operations in the Pagbilao-Lucban Area supporting the Philippine Army. One of the most dangerous things the tanks did was cross bridges with a ten-ton
On December 26, the five tanks of Joe’s platoon were sent to an area on the east coast of Luzon near Lucban. The Japanese had landed troops in the area, and the American Command wanted to see what the strength of the enemy was.
The tanks were ordered by a major to proceed up a trail, without reconnaissance. The tanks went down a narrow path. Joe’s tank was the second tank in the column. Since the area was mountainous, the tanks had a hard time maneuvering. As the tanks went down the path, the drivers attempted to keep their spacing so that each driver could each see the tank in front of him. At one point, the tanks found that the trail made a sharp turn. Joseph made the turn with his tank and realized that he could not see the lead tank. In an attempt to find the lead tank, Joseph sped his tank up.
As it turned out, this maneuver by Joe saved the lives of the tankers since a shell exploded just to the rear of the tank. The shell had been fired by a Japanese 77-millimeter anti-tank gun. Joe increased the speed of his tank and zigzagged to prevent the gun from getting off another shot. He then drove the tank into the log barricade and crashed through it taking out the gun.
Joe continued to drive the tank down the trail until he reached an opening at a rice paddy. There, he turned the tank around and went back the way had just come. He did this because his tank’s commander realized that the only way out of the situation was the same way the tank had come into it.
As they approached the destroyed barricade, Joe’s tank crew saw the lead tank off to the side of the road. It had taken a direct hit from the gun his tank had knocked out. The fire from the gun had knocked the hatch coverings off the front of the tank. From what the tankers could see, the Japanese had machine-gunned the crew while they were still in the tank.
Believing they were safe, the members of Joe’s crew took their tank began to congratulate themselves on getting out of a tough situation. Suddenly, the tank took a direct hit from another Japanese anti-tank gun. The hit knocked off one of the tracks and the tank veered off the road and went over an earthen embankment. The tank came to a stop in a rice paddy. They had no idea that their little reconnaissance mission had taken them straight into the main Japanese staging area.
As Joe and the other men in the tank played dead, the Japanese tried to open up their tank. Later in the day when a new group of Japanese soldiers came upon the tank, they too tried to get into the tank. The tankers sat quietly in the tank, without food or water, until seven the next morning. Knowing that it was safe to do so, they left their tank and attempted to make their way to the American lines.
The tank crew, with the help of Filipino guides, walked for the next six days attempting to reach their lines. At Nagcarlan, a Catholic priest gave them food. Since the Japanese were approaching the barrio, he also told them which trail to take to reach the coast.
Reaching the coast, the tankers were able to get a boat to take them to Manila. There, the tank crew caught the last boat leaving Manila for Corregidor. From Corregidor, the tankers were taken by boat to Mariveles.
Sometime during January 1942, a composite tank company made up of tanks from the 192nd and 194th sent to protect East Coast Road north of Hermosa. Their job was to keep the East Road open north of Hermosa and to prevent the Japanese from driving into Bataan before the main battle line had been formed. The remainder of tanks ordered to bivouac for night south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road. The tankers had been fighting for a month without rest and tanks also needed long overdue maintenance by 17th Ordnance. It was at this time that all tank companies reduced to ten tanks or three per tank platoon.
A platoon of tanks from C Company was sent to reopen Moron Road so General Segunda’s forces could withdraw. The tanks ran into an anti-tank gun that fired at the lead tank, but the shell went over the turret of the tank. The tank returned fire and destroyed the gun before it got off its next round. Two tanks hit landmines disabling them and were abandoned but later recovered. The mission was abandoned. Gen. Segunda’s troops escaped using the beach but lost their heavy equipment.
C Company, with D Company, 192nd, sent to Cadre Road on January 12 which was a forward position with little alert time. On January 13, 1942, mines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching Cadre Road so the tanks returned to the battalions.
The tanks on January 26, held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts with the battalion. At 9:45 A.M., they were warned by Filipino that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When the enemy appeared, the battalion opened up with all it had on the Japanese. At 10:30 A.M., the Japanese broke off the engagement and withdrew after losing 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new defensive line that was being formed from being breached.
The tanks from both battalions were given beach duty on January 28, 1942, with the tanks of the 194th given beach duty protecting southern beaches from Limay to Cabcaben with the half-tracks patrolling the roads. The tanks maintained radio contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
Sometime in March 1942, two tanks were bogged down in the mud and the tankers were working to get them out when a Japanese Regiment entered the area. Lt. Col. Ernest Miller ordered tanks and artillery to fire at point-blank range to fire on the enemy troops. Miller ran from tank to tank directing fire and wiped out the Japanese regiment.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger and a milkshake since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
Also 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. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor which Wainwright denied.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3 and broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. 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. On March 30, 1942, his wife received a letter from him that was written on January 20. In it, he said he was well and in good spirits.
It was also at this time that the tank battalions, without orders, took on the job of protecting three airfields. The airfields had been built so a rebuilt Air Corps would have places to land. About the same time, the fighting on Bataan came to a standstill since the Japanese troops were exhausted and suffering from the same tropical illnesses as the defenders. To end the stalemate, the Japanese brought in fresh troops from Singapore.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
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.
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 combat-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 reached the barrio later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given very 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 4:00 P.M. when they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp 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 over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in this area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over 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. Since the death rate at the camp was extremely high, Ben volunteered to go out on a bridge-building detail to get out of the camp.
The death rate reached the point that the Japanese decided they had to do something to lower it, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Starting on June 1, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched out the gate and marched to Capas. Along the way, the Filipino people gave POWs small bundles of food and surprisingly the guards did not stop them. At Capas, the POWs were put into steel boxcars and rode them to Manila. The trains stopped at Calumpit and switched onto the line to Cabanatuan where the POWs disembarked and were put into a schoolyard and fed rice and onion soup. They continued and march to Cabanatuan #1.
Cabanatuan had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian. The camp was actually three camps. Camp One was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp Two did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp Three was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camps One and Three were later consolidated into one camp.
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. What details Joe took part in from the camp is not known.
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. In addition, the lack of proper bathrooms contributed to 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.
In May 1942, his mother received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. V. Santo:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Corporal Joe Gillis, 20, 900, 714, 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”
– in July his family received a second message from the War Department. The following are excerpts 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, Corporal Joe Gillis 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.”
Records kept by the medical staff at the camp hospital show that Joe was admitted on November 1, 1942, suffering from dysentery. The document also indicates that on Monday, November 23, 1942, Cpl. Joseph Gillis died from dysentery and was buried in the camp cemetery. A separate document shows his time of death at approximately 3:15 in the afternoon. His family learned of his death on July 15, 1943.
“I am deeply distressed to inform you report just received stating your son, Cpl. Joe Gillis, who previously reported missing in action, died on 23 November 1942, in the PhilippineIslands as a result of dysentery while a prisoner of war of Japanese government. The secretary of war asks that I express deep sympathy in your loss and regret unavoidable circumstances made necessary the unusual lapse of time in reporting your son’s death to you. Confirming letter follows.
=Edward F. Witsell, acting adjutant general of the army=
This message was followed by a letter.
“Dear Mrs. Victoria Santo:
“It is with deep regret that I am writing to confirm the recent telegram informing you of the death of your son, Corporal Joe Gillis, 20, 900, 714, Infantry, who was previously reported missing in action.
“Information has now been received from the Japanese government through the International Red Cross stating that your son was killed in action in the Philippine Islands on 26 December 1942.
“I realize the burden of anxiety that has been yours and deeply regret the sorrow this report brings you. May the knowledge that he made the supreme sacrifice for his home and country be a source of sustained comfort.
“I extend to you my deepest sympathy,
(signed) J. A. Ulio
The Adjutant General”
At the request of his family, Cpl. Joseph Gillis remains were returned to the United States in 1950, and he was buried at the Garden of Memories Memorial Park in Salinas.