PFC Charles Chris Jensen was born on July 16, 1919, in Chicago. He was the son of Carl Jensen and Jenny Lizburg-Jensen and lived, with his two sisters, at 6830 South Justine Avenue in Chicago. He was a graduate of Harper High School and attended college for one year at Wilson Junior College. He worked as an office clerk at a Swift Premium Meat Packing Company at the Chicago Stock Yards. The Selective Service Act went into effect on October 16, 1940, and he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. Charles was drafted into the army on April 3, 1941, and joined Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. He began basic training and had completed about three weeks of it when he was sent for training as a medic by Capt. Donald Hanes. He received hands-on training since the Army believed this was the best type of training a medic could receive. This training was done by the battalion’s medical officers. Some classes were available – which appeared to cover administrative duties – but it is not known if he attended any of the classes.
Each of the companies of the battalion received two medics. Charles and Martin Wasserman were assigned to B Company because, like the members of the company, they were from Illinois. They lived in one of the two barracks assigned to the company. Being that they traveled in half-tracks, the medics learned the jobs of the half-track crew members. The only job they didn’t learn was how to operate the radio since that was a specialized job.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, 160 miles south of Ft. Knox. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, later that day, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station in the trucks.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchie National Forest, near DeRidder, Louisana, where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators. They described the land as swamps, woods, and shacks. They also heard they were going to North Carolina on October 6th.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called “Iron Rations” – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Water was scarce and men went days without shaving and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
He recalled that one day they were going for chow at a food truck when someone yelled, “Gas!” He said, “So they hollered gas and what we did is claimed inside of a two and a half truck and laid on the floor because the umpire came in to check everybody. So we thought we were safe until the vehicle tipped a little bit, and this Major stuck his head in there and screamed at us to get out of the vehicle, you know. So what they did is they, outside they wrote ‘gas casualty’ on our foreheads, and then–and that was the best two days I ever had. Everywhere they carried us all over on stretchers you know, and took us to the hospital. That was the best time–time I had.”
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service. Instead, they were being sent overseas as part of “Operation PLUM.” Within hours, many of the members of the battalion believed they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. There is no proof that this was true. Men who were married or 29 years old or older had the opportunity to resign from federal service. National Guardsmen whose enlistments were about to expire were transferred to other units. Replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move 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 Taiwan which 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.
Many of the men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The reality was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion, but the 70th was Regular Army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The tank group also contained the 193rd Tank Battalion at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th Tank Battalion at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines well before June 1941.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived at Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs home from October 6 to 14 to say goodbye to family and friends, but they had to be back at Camp Polk by the morning of October 14. While at home, they found themselves being repeatedly asked where they believed they were being sent. A number of local newspapers stated that their destination was the Philippines. A large number of the battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division, while a detachment of men from the battalion acquired other tanks using written orders from the War Department that gave them the authority to take the tanks from other units. In some cases, the tanks had just arrived on flat cars and were about to be unloaded from the flat cars when they presented the paperwork taking the tank from the unit.
At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than go where you all are going.” Cecil believed he and the other men stayed on Angel Island for two days. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
The 192nd was 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 11th. 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, 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. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as they left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” 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 Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received 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 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 from the engines 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.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – 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 in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon. The medics again received training from the battalion’s doctors
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. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX. 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. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Chuck recalled hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor. “So, I-I was going to breakfast, and I ran into Jim Griffin, who was a Chicago cop. He said, ‘I was just over to the radio shack.’ and I said, ‘Well what’s new?’ He said, ‘They bombed Pearl Harbor.’ I said, ‘Say that again.’ And he said, ‘They bombed Pearl Harbor.’ All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning long on December 8, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall. Chuck said, “Well as I headed to the PX, which was closest to the airfield there was a beehive of activity, see planes were taking off–P-40s were taking off and you know– and abut oh I would say about–I’m guessing 10-10:30 in the morning. I was in the 1st Sergeant’s tent and I think I was there to answer the phone or something. I was laying on the bunk and noticed all the guys were pointing up. And so I got out the field glasses and they–they were all saying ‘Oh their Dutch planes.’ Well, the Dutch had the same insignia that the British had–the circle–but I looked it was that little red circle.”
At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the 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. Capt. Alvin Poweleit and an unknown number of medics drove to the airfield to see if they could aid the wounded and dying. When they got there, the hangers and barracks were destroyed, and that the B-17s also were totally wrecked. As they were doing this, Japanese fighters began strafing the airfield. To avoid being hit, they hid in a bomb crater. After the planes were gone, the medics treated Filipino Lavenderos (women who did laundry) and a number of houseboys. They also treated officers and enlisted men. They also saw the dead, men with half their heads torn off, men with their intestines lying on the ground, and men with their backs blown out.
When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the 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. Capt. Alvin Poweleit and an unknown number of medics drove to the airfield to see if he could aid the wounded and dying. When they got there the hangers and barracks were destroyed and that the B-17s also were totally wrecked.
As they were doing this, Japanese fighters began strafing the airfield. To avoid being hit, they hid in a bomb crater. After the planes were gone, the medics treated Filipino Lavenderos (women who did laundry) and a number of houseboys. They also treated officers and enlisted men. They also saw the dead, men with half their heads torn off, men with their intestines lying on the ground, and men with their backs blown out. 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. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry. That platoon from B Company fought the first tank battle of WWII involving American tanks on December 22.
The medical detachment was at Sison on the 23rd and was shelled and bombed. The medics left their trucks and ambulances and took cover. The detachment did not get the order to withdraw and soon found itself behind enemy lines. They made their way south and drove through the barrio of Urdaneta. When they went through, the barrio was on fire. The battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and was involved in a large tank battle. It found the bridge it was going to use to cross the Agno River destroyed so the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river. The battalion was also involved in on and off engagement with the Japanese at Cabanatuan that lasted three days. During the fight, five Japanese tanks were knocked out.
Charles recalled, “Our battalion began a series of delaying actions, guarding the rear as the infantry fell back to Bataan. Our first big fight was at Urdaneta, but we really did ourselves proud at the town of Cabanatuan, which then was just a spot on the map to us. Our fight at Cabanatuan went, on and off, for three days. You can see the wreckage of five Jap tanks.”
The two tank battalions, the 192nd and 194th were used as the rear guard as Filipino and American soldiers withdrew into Bataan. The tanks would hold an area until the infantry withdrew and then fall back themselves. Sometime during the fighting against the Japanese, Charles was assigned as a medic to Company A. While serving as a medic with the company, he lived through the chaos of a night battle.
The company had bedded down for the night alongside a road. During the night, a bicycle battalion of the Japanese Army rode into their position. The members of the company grabbed their Tommy-guns and manned their tanks machine guns and opened fire. Charles recalled that the entire scene was chaotic. There were flashes of light everywhere, and the darkness was filled with the sounds of men screaming and men dying. The entire scene was like a nightmare. When morning came, Charles witnessed the carnage of the battle. For all practical purposes, Company A had wiped out the bicycle battalion.
According to Charles, the tankers were the last American troops to enter Bataan. This was on January 6, 1942. The tanks were used to form a line across the entrance to the peninsula, but because of the density of the jungle, they were pretty useless. The tanks were reassigned to guard the coasts of the peninsula. “We arrived in Bataan on New Years Day. We were the last. At first, we were in the line across Bataan. But the tanks weren’t very good in the jungles, so we were assigned to defend the west coast. The only other tank battalion on Bataan moved to the east coast.”
On February 15, 1942, Japanese Marines landed at Agloloma Bay in the southwestern part of Bataan. The Japanese were wiped out by the tanks of the battalion. To do this, Filipinos rode on the backs of the tanks and dropped hand grenades into the foxholes of the Japanese. Of this, he said, “We had a field day when the Japs tried to land at Agloloma Bay on the southwest tip of Bataan, Feb. 15. They did get ashore, but with the help of infantry we slaughtered them, and in five days had the beaches cleared.”
For the next few months, Charles would administer first aid to the members of the 192nd who needed it. Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by planes and artillery. 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. The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 and 8, and the other tanks withdrew. On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the lines on the east side of Bataan. The tanks were pulled from the west coast and traveled through Mariveles in an attempt to reinforce the eastern defenses. Charles described what happened in an interview after he was liberated.
“When the big breakthrough came on the eastern part of the front across Bataan on April 7, we hurried down the west coast past Mariveles. But the retreat was on. The road was so jammed with trucks coming our way it took us two hours to go half a kilometer. Our commander saw it was hopeless.
“We only had 19 tanks left in two battalions of the 100 with which we started the war. We were in front of the infantry when the surrender came. We blew up our tanks and turned ourselves in.”
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 were 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. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
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.) 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 the order “crash.” 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. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag that morning. 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 managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At 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 not 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 in the line of 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.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
On April 9, 1942, Charles became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese. As a prisoner, Charles would witness a number of atrocities. The 192nd was bivouacked at kilometer 192 on the West Road on Bataan. The Prisoners of War made their way to Mariveles where they were searched and the Japanese took what they wanted from them.
During the march, he witnessed both acts of kindness and acts of inhumanity by the Japanese. He saw guards pull Americans out of the march and into the woods to give the man a biscuit. He also saw guards pull men out of the march to beat them. Japanese guards also took from the prisoners their watches, pants, and other clothes. He remembered dying of thirst while walking through springs of water running across the road from pumps and wells. The POWs were not allowed to drink, and those who tried were killed.
Charles witnessed the Japanese throw a Filipino into a hole full of waste. When the man tried to climb out, a Japanese guard would stomp on his hands with their hob-nailed boots. Seeing this, other Japanese soldiers joined in the fun. When they were tired of this, they beat the Filipino to death with the butts of their guns.
The guards also had an assigned distance to walk. To get finished as fast as possible, they made the POWs walk at a faster pace. Those who were sick had a hard time keeping up with the pace. Recalling the march, he said, “They marched us in relays. One set of guards would take us so far and then another set would take over. A lot of people couldn’t keep up. A lot of people who fell out of line were shot.”
Charles was first held as a POW at Camp O’Donnell. Here he remembered that the survivors of the march, many of whom had only one meal in seventeen days, were left laying on the ground and on the wooden boards of the sheds in the camp. The healthier POWs also laid on the floors of the barracks since they were exhausted and in Charles’ case, he had one meal in the last 17 days.
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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes since they had so little water, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled, so the smell from the camp could be smelled for miles away. 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 to 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 medic out 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.
Those POWs near death had maggots crawling in their mouths, ears, and on their bodies. 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 been laying was scrapped 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.
Charles recalled he was walked past a slit trench and the Japanese threw a Filipino into it. When the man attempted to get out they stepped on his hands with their hobnail boots and beat him to death with their rifle butts.
It was in May that his parents received a message from the War Department.
Dear Mrs. J. Jensen:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private First Class Charles C. Jensen, 36,016,217, 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
On June 1, detachments of 100 men were formed and marched out of the main gate of the camp toward Capas. Once there, each detachment was packed into steel boxcars with two guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. The trains arrived all day long.
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 who were sent to Camp 1 on November 7, 1942.
Once in Cabanatuan #1, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. 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.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp. The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across 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 to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Another detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and known as Maniquis Airfield. The Japanese had the POWs build runways and revetments. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. 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 to drive their faces deeper into the mud. 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 consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. The conditions in the camp were no better. Charles, himself, became a patient when he was admitted to the hospital on June 12, 1942, because he had cerebral malaria. It is not known when he was discharged. 7,000 men arrived in June and by July, 385 men had died. He remembered that on July 12, 48 men died. The burial detail for the camp could not bury the men fast enough.
On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp. It is known that 783 POWs died in July.
Nearly every prisoner was sick from something with the big killer being dysentery. Those who were extremely ill were put in Zero Ward. When it became full, the worst cases were put under the building on the ground. Charles being a medic recalled that even before the men had died, maggots crawled in their mouths, ears, and on their bodies. Instead of providing medicine, the Japanese put up a fence around the ward to isolate the dying men and would not go near it.
Since the medical staff had no medicine, Charles recalled what happened to one man who had a gangrenous leg. The condition had gotten so bad that the bone and tendons could be seen. A Japanese guard said to the man that he was going to save him with or without medicine. He took a white sheet, filled it with a handful of maggots, and wrapped the bandage around the man’s leg. The man was alive when the camp was liberated by the Rangers. Charles recalled that another POW, a sailor, had wet beriberi. The man swelled to the point that he literally split open.
Chuck recalled, that the Japanese did nothing to stop the spread of disease among the prisoners. What they did do was erect a fence around the hospital. Their reason for doing this is that they believed that the fence would protect them from the diseases. He recalled that in July, 385 POWs died with 48 dying on July 12.
In Charles’ opinion, the Japanese had a plan. “The plan was to keep us in a constant state of semi-starvation so we couldn’t run away. We could work, but we didn’t have the energy to make a break, run more than 50 yards away.
“They put us in what they called shooting squads of 10 men. If one man tried to escape, the other nine in his shooting squad would be killed. One day, a guy did try to escape. They found him huddled in a field 50 yards from the camp…. they kept the other nine digging their own graves. I thought they were bluffing. That they wouldn’t do it. Then they called us all-out and executed all nine of them in front of our eyes.”
Charles recalled that there was an escape from either Camp 2 or Camp 3 but the POWs were recaptured. Two of the recaptured POWs were sent to Camp 2 and two were sent to camp 3. Being that Camp 1 was the big camp, they had five of the men sent to it.
Of the event, he said, “And we got five, and they had the five digging there and digging there; we said ‘Oh, they –they must be bluffing. They can’t do that,’ you know. Well, one Sunday morning, they had herded us all out of the barracks and they had them kneel down in front of their holes and this officer would shoot them in the back of the head and they would fall in And I couldn’t believe it.”
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
Fr. Bruttenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12. There was also medicine and books for the POWs but he was turned away because he did not have the proper paperwork. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14 and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot attempting to escape on November 16. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming is he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22. On November 23, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work. During this time, 9 POWs died each day and approximately 250 POWs died in November.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools.
The Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads as they left the shed. The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. 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. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings. Another guard, “Smiling Sam” would tell the POWs he was taking a break and then turned his back to them. While he was on his break, they could rest or steal food. Before he ended his break he warned them that his break was over and when he turned around, they were all working.
Jensen and Norman Lev – another former POW – spoke of the camp farm.
“Prisoners ran a 100 acre farm, supposedly for our keep. But all the okra, beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, turnips, and other crops that the Japs permitted us to get in the form of rations were the tops of sweet potato vines.
“So we cut the bottoms of our canteens and filled them with food in the garden when the guards weren’t looking, or we hid food in our shorts. Sometimes, when extra hungry, we would try to smuggle food in our pockets, but the Japs usually shook us down, and if they caught us with food this called for a beating. The only way to carry food was in a way that a Jap running his hands hurriedly over your clothes couldn’t feel it.
“We quanned (quan – anything editable) thru bribery. If anyone got his hands on sulfathiazole tablets he could set his own price with the venereal disease ridden Japanese. The Japs would even give cigarettes.
“Men on the pig feeding detail were very lucky — they would pick out choice pieces from the garbage for their midnight quan. For a while the Japs were eating lots of potatoes, and we almost got in a fight over the peelings. We settled this by agreeing that the barracks would take turns salvaging the peels.
“We couldn’t help feeling happy when a man got sick. He would be unable to eat, and we would eat his food–the quickest man won, of course.”
Fr. Bruttenbruck returned on December 10 without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruttenbruck returned on December 24 with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box were milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
A regular day in Cabanatuan started before dawn with the buglers. After most had died or been sent to Japan, the POWs were awakened by the curses of the guards. In Charles’ own words, “Usually most of us were already awake. It gets chilly just before dawn and few of us had blankets.” The men would line up for roll call and count off in Japanese. They learned to do this quickly because those who were slow at learning to count in Japanese were beaten with a heavy rod.
Afterward, the POWs had breakfast and at dawn, they went to work. Men who worked nearby came back to the camp at about 11:30 A.M. for a tin of rice and then returned to work. A typical workday was ten hours long. In the evening, there really wasn’t much for the POWs to do. The Red Cross had sent books, but the Japanese took them away a few days after they came. The prisoners also had an orchestra in which many of the men played by ear. In Charles’ opinion, they sounded pretty bad but listening to them passed the time.
Charles also remembered, “the angels” who tried to help the POWs at Cabanatuan. One was a Catholic priest the other was Mrs. Yu. “Nothing that anyone can ever do for her will ever repay her service to us.” Her husband was an American soldier who was captured on Bataan and died within a month of arriving at Camp O’Donnell.
Mrs. Yu gathered food and supplies for the POWs at Camp O’Donnell. In July, she was ready. At the new camp near Cabanatuan, she bribed the guards to allow her to get food and other supplies to the prisoners. On one occasion, she bribed a guard to allow a gravel truck into the camp. She had loaded the supplies on the truck and covered them with gravel. That night, the supplies were given out to the POWs. When dysentery was running wild in the camp, Mrs. Yu smuggled in eight bags of mango beans into the camp. The bean, the size of a pea, was a cure for the illness.
Charles said that in 1943 the Japanese picked up Mrs. Yu on one of her trips to Manila and accused her of helping the prisoners. When she denied it, they tortured her, but she never admitted that she had helped the POWs. The priest worked more openly and convinced the Japanese commander he had the proper papers to enter the camp. Each time he visited, he brought money, food, and medicine.
Food was an issue always on the minds of the POWs. About it, Jensen and Lev said, “We talk a lot about quan. It’s a word that belongs to Cabanatuan.
“This word we use in talking of food we obtain in addition to the Japanese ration. We didn’t eat food, we quanned it. We cooked it our quan stove We didn’t get it, we quanned it quan had an important place in our lives.
“True we always had three meals daily in prison. For breakfast, we had what we called lugow (watery rice). soup for dinner, and for supper we just had steamed rice, plus on special occasions, fat, potato greens, or dry fish, formerly sold as fertilizer for $6 a ton, but which we like because it was salty.
“As occasional side dish was what we called whistle weed. This was a woody stalk like willow, from which small boys made whistles. For a drink, on rare occasions, we had tea. Sometimes we had coffee, made from boned rice. At least it was black.
“How much did we get? You know those little cups, about two and a half or three inches across and an inch or so high. One of those would hold a meal.
“At first the Japs allowed the Filipinos to set up a commissary in our camp. Canned milk, beans, fruit, and sometimes meat, poultry and fish were brought in by the Filipinos and sold. At first, prices were not so bad–that is, is we spent a week’s salary we could get one can of milk or some corned beef.
“Of course a few could and did buy large quantities and hoarded them. Some of these goods, hoarded in 1942, were still in footlockers when we were released. But these men were few, and we hated them with our whole souls — more even than our Jap tormentors.
“About the end of 1943, the Japs stopped the Filipinos from coming into camp. but would let them deliver their good to the gates, and the Japs would bring it in and sell it for them. Of course, adding their profit to the price. The Japs stopped this completely last February (1944).“
There were also two guards that the POWs liked. One was a sergeant who had been stationed at the Japanese embassy in the U.S. When the Japanese interpreter said something that was meant to get the POWs in trouble he would intervene and prevent them from being punished.
Another was a guard who had been a theology professor in Taiwan and was drafted into the Japanese army. The POWs fought to go out on his work detail. Charles stated that the guard would yell and scream at them as they left the camp, but once they were in the woods where they were cutting down trees, he let them sit down and rest and gave them cigarettes to smoke.
Available information shows that Charles, on December 20, 1942, was sent to Bilibid Prison to work as a medic. He remained there until June 22, 1944, when he returned to Cabanatuan and was assigned to the medical staff at the camp. He recalled that the POWs beds in the barracks were double-decked shelves. The shelves were nine feet wide and eight feet long and made of bamboo slats, with each shelf shared by eight POWs. Seven men lay side by side with an eighth lying across the bottom of the shelf. All the prisoners developed soars from the shelves, and one man’s sore on his back was so bad that it oozed constantly. Through the soar, it was possible to see the man’s spine.
Life in the camp was monotonous, and the POWs continued to go out on work details. It was September 21, 1944, when the POWs heard the sound of planes. But, the sound of these planes was different. As they looked up, American planes flew over the prison. It was in October 1944 that the POWs see their first American planes. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The POWs heard a rumor from guards Americans were on Mindanao Island. It turned out the rumor was false. The POWs heard and saw the heavy bombing of Clark Field on October 29. The POWs learned from a map in a Japanese paper – on October 30 – that American troops were on southern Luzon. In addition, American planes flew over the camp that night.
The Japanese guards admitted, on November 2, to the POWs that American troops were on Leyte and Mindoro. On November 5, American bombers flew over the camp all day long. To see how close the Americans were, the POWs looked for land-based planes but saw none. The next day, the POWs watch two planes circle the camp. As they watched, the planes strafed and bombed Cabanatuan Airfield. The airfield was bombed and strafed three times that day.
In November 1944, his mother received a transcript of a POW propaganda broadcast that Chuck had made from the War Department. Since there was a great deal of static, parts of the message could not be understood. The following are excerpts from it.
“I am well and thinking of you.
“Tell Ann…(not understandable)… that Paul is…(not understandable)…Charles Joseph Katz is here and doing fine. Frank Simas Jr. is doing fine, too. Say hello to all the Kripps(?) also to Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Stevens. and Miss Lucy (Lemke). My love to all.
By November 13, the POWs were no longer excited by American planes flying over the camp. What they wanted to know was where the troops and tanks were. On November 24, a large convoy of Japanese trucks passed the camp at night heading north. The POWs also received mail that was postmarked May and June 1944 which was the fastest they had ever received mail before. During this time the meals got worse and they received less rice and instead of fish, they were given fish powder. The POWs’ breakfast was plain lugao. To supplement their meals they ate dog soup. From November to December food was the main focus of the POWs.
From talking to the guards, the POWs learned that there are only about 1000 American POWs left in the Philippines. The rest had been sent out on ships for Japan or other parts of the empire. The POWs knew there were 500 POWs at Cabanatuan.– approximately 500 at Cabanatuan so the remainder had to be at Bilibid Prison outside Manila.
American planes again appeared over the camp on December 14 and bombed to the north and west of the camp. For the first time, the POWs believed the planes were land-based. The next day before dawn, American planes flew over on their way to bomb Clark Field. The POWs heard and saw anti-aircraft fire as the planes attacked Later that day, they saw more planes fly over and bomb the Cabanatuan Airfield twice in one day. The next night, December 16, the POWs were sleeping when explosions from six bombs from an American plane dropped on a Japanese convoy on the road that ran past the camp woke them. At first, the POWs thought the camp was being bombed and took cover. A few days later the POWs heard that 38 Japanese soldiers had been killed and 20 wounded during the attack. That same day at 8:00 P.M., the Japanese moved some tanks, armored trucks, and small artillery pieces into the camp and stored them in old barracks and mess halls that had been abandoned.
The Japanese camouflaged the camp with nets, ropes, wires, and tree branches on December 18, and the next day the POWs heard the news that Americans had landed on Mindoro Island south of Luzon. It was at this time that two truckloads of Japanese troops and equipment entered the camp, as well as, several truckloads of lumber and supplies were brought into the camp. Approximately 100 Japanese troops with full combat gear entered the camp after dark. Food again was an issue, and the POWs noted their food was radish tops and some meat. When they received fish, the dried fish issued to them was mostly scales and bones since worms had eaten the meat.
The POWs watched heavy American bombers attacked by a single Japanese plane on December 22, and one plane crashed. The POWs hoped that it was the Japanese plane. A few days later, on December 24, 21 American bombers flew over the camp on their way to bomb Clark Field. In the distance, the POWs heard the ack-ack fire from the Japanese anti-aircraft guns. As the planes flew over the camp on the way back from the bombing, the POWs counted that all 21 planes had survived the mission.
On Christmas Day, the POW watched American fighters and bombers attack Clark Field. Again, they heard the bombs exploding the fire from the anti-aircraft guns. The next day they heard a rumor that all the POWs at Bilibid had been sent to Japan. Two days later, on December 28, the POWs were awakened by the sound of Japanese tanks and trucks passing the camp. Someone was able to see that the Japanese soldiers were dressed as Filipino civilians.
On the morning of January 7, 1945, the Japanese abandoned the camp and told the POWs that they were no longer prisoners of war. Before they left, the camp commander told them that if they stayed in the camp they would be safe but if they went beyond the fence they would be shot. The POWs wondered if the Japanese were going to return to kill them. When they did leave, they would not tell the POWs where they were being sent. Before they left the camp, the Japanese told them there were about 30 days of rations in the warehouse and that if they wanted food they must help themselves. They also told them they were no longer prisoners but that they should not leave the camp or they would be shot. The gardens that the Japanese grew their vegetables in were also turned over to the POWs. The prisoners raided the camp warehouse for food and clothing.
Retreating Japanese soldiers spent the nights in the camp but did not bother the POWs. Ironically, they asked the POWs for food. The POWs on January 9, heard shelling from American guns in the distance. Many wondered when the troops and tanks would reach them. The next day, Japanese troops returned to the camp and posted guards who had been wounded in combat. They also returned the POWs to the hospital area of the camp.
The U.S. 6th Rangers left on the mission to liberate the camp on January 27, and at 2:00 P.M. the Rangers crossed into Japanese territory. They stealthily made their way through enemy lines covering 29 miles until they reached an area just north of the camp in the late afternoon of the 29th It was at that time that the Rangers learned that there were 1000 Japanese troops bivouacked in the camp, so the decision was made to wait until the 30th to attack. The next day the Japanese troops pulled out of the camp. The Rangers reached the camp at 5:45 P.M. and broke into two detachments. The first group took nearly two hours to crawl into position behind the camp. The second group crawled for an hour and a half to get into position for a frontal attack on the main gate. The Rangers heard what they thought was a gunshot and believed they had been seen. When nothing happened they continued their mission. It turned out the “shot” was a Japanese truck backfiring as the Japanese attempted to get it running. By 7:30 P.M., all the Rangers were in position.
The initial shot that started the assault was made by the Rangers who had taken positions beneath the rear guard tower. The shot killed the guard in the tower and bedlam broke out. At 7:40 P.M. the Rangers opened fire on the guard tower. Another Ranger was about to shoot the lock off the main gate when his ammunition clip fell to the ground. He reached for his pistol, but the guard at the gate had recovered from his initial shock and knocked it from his hand. The Ranger recovered the gun killed the guard and shot off the lock.
Gunnery Sergeant Harry Arnold, U.S.M.C. said, “We were sitting around batting the breeze when shots rang out thru the camp. We thought the Japs were going to murder every prisoner in the camp.
“Then I raised my head in time to see a big guy come tearing across the yard. Jees, he was tall — he must have stood at least seven feet.
“As he neared us he shouted ‘We’re Yanks!’ All of you Americans get the hell out of here!
“Needless to say, we didn’t waste time clearing out.”
The Rangers poured through the main gate while the second group of Rangers came through the rear gate. The Rangers who came through the main gate came upon a guard tower but didn’t see anyone, so 18 Rangers continued moving. As the last men went past, a guard, in perfect English yelled “Stop,” but he didn’t fire. One Ranger stayed behind. The Rangers reached the Japanese barracks and opened fire. One Japanese soldier came to the door and fell face-first to the ground. They never saw any others. The one Ranger who remained at the guard tower killed the guard. Another Ranger detachment cleared out a pillbox at the corner of the camp with four rockets from a bazooka. 150 Japanese who were leaving the camp in a convoy were killed in a shed when it was hit by bazooka fire. Inside were 150 Japanese soldiers waiting to leave the camp as part of a convoy. They had been held up because they could not get a truck running.
Many of the POWs had just bedded down for the night but quickly woke up believing it was the Japanese returning to kill them. The Rangers shouted, “We’re Yanks!” They also yelled that the POWs should go toward the main gate. Seven minutes after the start of the raid, the first ragged POWs made it through the gate. 15 minutes after the start of the raid all the POWs had made it through the gate, but the Rangers searched the barracks to make sure no one was left behind. By 8:15 P.M. the camp was secured and the POWs had been rescued without any POW casualties. Two POWs later died because of health issues.
The Rangers recalled that the freed POWs rushed up to them and kissed them on their cheeks. Of the rescue Pvt. LeRoy Myerhoff of the Rangers stated that a POW said to him, “Don’t leave me for I may need your help.” The Rangers were well supplied with cigarettes and gave them out freely to the rescued men. One Ranger gave a POW a canteen full of coffee which was the first the man had in almost three years. He drank about half the canteen and broke down and cried.
Hearing the commotion, 800 Japanese troops came rushing down the road from Cebu, shouting and firing as they ran. The Filipino guerrillas held their fire until the Japanese were in range, then opened fire resulting in Japanese bodies piling up on the road. It was estimated the guerrillas had killed 400 of the Japanese before Japanese tanks arrived pinning down the guerrillas. It was 8:40 when the signal was given that all the POWs had been rescued and the guerrillas should withdraw. In all, 21 guerrillas and two Rangers were killed. Two other Rangers were wounded.
It was said that the entire operation took 27 minutes. The Rangers carried the sick POWs two miles to 20 waiting carabao carts. One Ranger carrying a POW began crossing what he thought was a river when he slipped and fell to his knees. he realized, from the smell, it was the drainage ditch and began to swear. The POW said to him, “Please don’t be angry. I’m a Catholic priest, Lt Hugh Kennedy.” The Ranger asked Kennedy to forgive him for swearing. Kennedy said, “Son, you are forgiven because there is a time and place for everything — and this is the time and place.” The Rangers and former POWs reached Plateros at 10:00 P.M. and a radio message was sent that all POWs had been rescued. The fact was one POW who had hidden during the attack had been left behind.
At 11:30 P.M. the column left Plateros for American lines with the Japanese in pursuit until they reached the Pampanga River where the pursuit ended. The trip was hard because the carabao became tired and had to be driven, pulled, and helped across streams. The former POWs not in the carts were barefooted and the Rangers also had to drive the POWs to keep them moving. Between the column and the Japanese were Filippino guerrillas protecting the column’s flank. The good news was the American line had moved forward by ten miles. During the day, American planes protected the group which successfully reached American lines on February 1, 1945.
During this trek, Charles watched the Rangers destroy Japanese tanks with bazookas. This was the first time that he had seen one used. Seeing the bazooka used reinforced his belief that he and the other soldiers who fought on Bataan were poorly equipped.
As the column of Rangers and former POWs neared Sibul they passed through long lanes of American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas who stood at rigid attention presenting their arms. Ambulances were waiting for the former POWs and they were taken to the 92nd Evacuation Hospital. Once behind American lines, the former POWs were given cigarettes, coffee, and a meal of eggs, meat, grapefruit, biscuits, and jam.
The one POW who had been left behind also was rescued. The next morning, he found the camp empty when he went looking for the other POWs. He went back to his barracks and gathered his possessions together and left the camp through the main gate. In the jungle, he was found by Filipino guerrillas who took him to the American lines.
Of the rescue, Staff Sgt. Charles W. Brown of the Rangers said, “It was a moot question whether we or the prisoners were the happiest. I know that I was happier than I have ever been before to see those prisoners when they knew they were free at last.”
When his mother was told of his liberation by a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, her response was simply, “I can’t believe it. This is the best news I’ve had in three years. I think this is all a dream” His sister, Evelyn Larson, said, “It’s been so long.” She then started to cry.
His liberation made Charles one of the first members of the 192nd to be freed from a Japanese prison camp. Charles, like the other liberated POWs, was given the choice to return to the United States or stay in the war zone. When the majority of men chose to stay in the war zone, the army made the decision that all liberated Americans would return to the United States.
The former POWs received medical treatment before being returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General A. E. Anderson which sailed on February 11, 1945, from Tacloban, Leyte, Philippine Islands. The ship had a two-day layover at Hollandia, New Guinea, from February 18 to 20, before it sailed for the U.S. arriving in San Francisco on March 8, 1945. The ship carried between 272 and 274 of the POWs rescued at Cabanatuan. It is believed a large number of the former POWs had been flown home before the ship arrived.
What is known about the arrival in San Francisco is that as the ship approached the Golden Gate Bridge, American planes and Navy Blimps flew over to greet the former POWs. The ship followed a tug boat with a siren blaring and a banner flying behind it that read, “Welcome Home.” 20 WACs boarded the ship and handed out messages and mail to the former POWs. The Anderson tied up to the Embarcadeo Pier where many of the men had family members waiting for them. The crowd pushed against the police line attempting to see their relatives. As they left the ship they were given lapel pins which guaranteed them free rides in cabs and to other things. The last two former POWs to leave the ship were on stretchers. All the former POWs boarded trucks or were put in ambulances and taken to Letterman General Hospital.
He returned to Chicago and told his story of life as a Japanese POW to Chicago newspapers. On May 12, 1945, he married Emily Popelka and became the father of four children. The couple divorced in 1961. He married Mariette Mortier on March 31, 1962, and resided in Downers Grove, Illinois, until he retired. He later lived in Monticello, Indiana, and at the age of 66, he received a Bachelors’ Degree from Michigan State University.
Charles C. Jensen passed away on November 17, 2006, at Home Hospital in Lafayette, Indiana.