Pvt. Marvin W. Jaeger was the son of Frank W. Jaeger & Rose Brandt-Jaeger. He was born on June 1, 1918, and lived at 701 Stark Street in Wausau, Wisconsin. With his sister and brother, he attended Wausau schools. He was a 1936 graduate of Wausau High School. After high school, he worked in the stockroom at the Marathon Electric Motors.
In April 1941, was drafted into the U.S. Army and was inducted in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From Milwaukee, Marvin was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was assigned to the medical attachment of the 192nd Tank Battalion. He was then trained as a medic. One of the first men he met was Ardel Schei, who he became best friends with.
After training at Ft. Knox, Marvin went with the battalion on maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the members of the battalion were informed that they were being sent overseas. Each man received a furlough home to take care of any unfinished business.
The decision for this move – which had been made in 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.
The company traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
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 2 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 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
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.
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 Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner 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.
On December 8, 1941, Marvin lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tank companies had been ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against paratroopers. Most were getting lunch when the Japanese attacked. As a medic, he cared for the wounded and dying during and after the attack.
During the Battle of the Philippines, Marvin treated the members of the 192nd who were wounded during engagements with the Japanese. In addition, he treated the men of the other units that worked with the Provisional Tank Group.
On April 9, 1942, Marvin became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American armies were surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the Death March. The things that stood out about the march was the lack of food and water, the tremendous exhaustion he felt, and the brutality of the Japanese.
As a medic, Marvin attempted to help the sick and weak as they struggled. But the attitude of the Japanese guards made this extremely difficult. He watched as those who fell out were shot or bayoneted. In his opinion, many who fell out mentally found it too hard to go on.
At San Fernando, Marvin and the other POWs were loaded into boxcars. The prisoners had to sit down while the Japanese continued to force men into the car. The trip in the car took a day. When the prisoners left the cars, they marched the last miles to Camp O’Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. 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. Tsuneyoshi also told the doctor that the only thing he wanted to know about the Americans was their names and serial numbers when they died.
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 hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow. Only one of the six medics – assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the 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.
The burial detail would carry the dead to the cemetery and put the corpse in the grave. Since the water table was high, so that it could be covered with dirt, one POW held the body down with a pole while dirt was thrown on the corpse. The next day when the burial detail returned to the cemetery, the dead often were dug up by wild dogs or sitting up in their graves.
As a medic, Marvin attempted to give first aid to those men who were sick or dying. In particular, he worked with those men suffering from malaria. This job was impossible because the doctors and medics had no medicine to treat the sick. Sixty men died a day because of the lack of medicines to treat them.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. The trip was not as bad since the POWs had more room in the boxcars. 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.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. The camp was later closed and the POWs were sent to Camp 1.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. Camps 1 and 3 were later consolidated into one camp.
The barracks were built for 50 men, but most had 60 to 120 men in them. Each man had a are two feet wide by six feet long to sleep in. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, bedding, and mosquito netting. Disease soon spread quickly.
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. In September 1942, three officers were caught attempting to escape. After being beaten for a day, they were shot. In October, seven POWs were made to dig their own graves and shot. 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. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, 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 1 hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Inside the buildings were two rolls of wooden platforms along the walls. The sicker
POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into them. This allowed the POWs to relieve themselves without having to get off the platform. Medical records from Cabanatuan show that Marvin was hospitalized at the camp on July 5, 1944. They also show that he was transferred from Hospital Building #19 to Building #1. No reason the hospitalization is given.
At the camp, he once again treated the sick and dying. Again, the lack of medicine, the poor quality of food, and the sanitary conditions made life hell. Marvin recalled that he did not take a bath until he left Cabanatuan on November 11, 1944.
The cruelty of Japanese guards added to the suffering the prisoners. Guards would break the arms and legs of the POWs to show they were superior to the prisoners. The smallest guards would make the biggest Americans bend over and then hit them in the face.
While Marvin was a prisoner he received two Red Cross packages, but both packages were looted by the Japanese. The Japanese also would keep the POWs’ mail in a building for months. The mail was also censored by the Japanese. When it was passed out, it was passed out in a piecemeal method.
From Cabanatuan, Marvin was sent to Ft. McKinley and was held there for fifty days. From there, he was sent to Bilibid Prison which was about nine miles from Manila and remained a POW at Bilibid until he was liberated by the 37th U.S. Infantry on February 4, 1945. He and the other liberated POWs were assigned to the 12th Replacement Battalion.
Marvin returned to the United States on the S.S. Monterey and arrived in San Francisco on March 16, 1945. He was treated at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco and then Gardner General Hospital in Chicago. When he returned to Wausau, he married Marion Scheel on May 6, 1945. Marion had written a letter to Marvin every day while he was a Prisoner of War. Marvin was discharged, from the army, on August 10, 1945. The couple became the parents of a daughter and son.
One of the lasting effects of his time as a POW was that Marvin would not go out to eat, and he went for years without a telephone or a television. The reason was that he didn’t like noise.
Marv and Ardel Schei remained friends for the rest of their lives. Marvin W. Jaeger passed away on February 11, 2003, in Wausau, Wisconsin, and was buried at Restlawn Memorial Park in Wausau.