PFC Otto Robert Kafer was born on July 5, 1917, in Eureka, South Dakota, to Karl Kafer and Caroline Mettler-Kafer, and had three sisters and two brothers. His family owned a clothing store until his father’s death in 1925. His mother worked as a cook at a hospital and later remarried and with her new husband moved to North Dakota. It appears Otto and his two brothers were given to his oldest sister and her husband to care for. It is known they were living with his sister and her husband in 1930. Otto married Kathryn Kertzman in 1938 and the couple had one son. He supported them by working as a farmer. The marriage ended in 1940. When the Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, Otto register and named his friend, Henry Humann, as his contact person. He was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 11, 1941.
Basic training for men from Selective Service was condensed down to six weeks, or less, under the direction of sergeants from the HQ Company. The sergeants lived with them and dealt with all their problems or directed them to someone who could help them. They supervised the selectees’ calisthenics and drill, besides holding classes in all the different subjects they needed to be trained as tank battalion members. They lived with HQ Company until they joined their assigned company. The first group of draftees completed their training in May.
The battalion during June trained under what was called, “wartime conditions.” On one date, orders they received orders at 2:00 A.M. to move out as soon as possible to the attack position. They found themselves in dense woods in pitch black conditions. For the tanks to move, a soldier guided them with a small green flashlight. The soldiers were expected to have their gas masks with them and had to use them if ordered to do so.
The battalion, in July, still had only the eight M2 tanks that came with the companies to Ft. Lewis. It received some single turret tanks in late July that had been built in 1937, and a few beeps (later known as “jeeps”). It was the only unit at the base with them. On August 1st, the battalion was told it was losing B Company. The company was detached from the battalion and issued orders to Alaska. The rest of the battalion took part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis, where they learned they were being sent overseas. The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort on flatcars and were about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west by train and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, 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 used by the Japanese military. 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 – that 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. On August 18, Miller stopped in Brainerd, Minnesota, to see his family after receiving orders at Ft. Knox. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. He later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was regular army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. 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. The reality was there were only three places the tank battalion could be sent; they were Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Two days later, 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 had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because of the war. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
On September 4, 1941, the remaining companies of the 194th were sent to Ft. Mason, north of San Francisco, by train and arrived at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated and given medical examinations by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men with medical conditions were replaced with men who had been sent there for that purpose. The battalion’s new tanks had their turrets removed to fit them in the ship’s hold. So that the turrets would be put back on the same tanks, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets.
The soldiers hiked from their barracks to a ferry and rode it to San Francisco, From the pier, they rode busses to another pier and boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. The ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands on September 8. At first, most of the soldiers were seasick. Once they had recovered, they attended classes, performed KP, did maintenance on the tanks, and painted the ship. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13 in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. One of the members of the company had friends stationed at Pearl Harbor, so many of the men went on a tour of Pearl Harbor months before the Japanese attack.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. During this part of the trip, the ship was joined by the heavy cruiser the U.S.S. Astoria, the fleet replenishment oiler the U.S.S. Guadalupe, and an unknown destroyer. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck. When it became apparent that a boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to another, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date became Thursday, September 18. On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country. At one point, the ships in total blackout passed islands during the night. The ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning of Friday, September 26. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with 17th Ordnance, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets which had been removed so the tanks would fit in the ship’s hold.
Upon arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that they had to live in tents and receive their meals from food trucks until their barracks were completed on November 15. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. The officers were put in two men tents while the enlisted men were assigned to six men tents. Each man had a cot, cotton pads, white sheets, a wool blanket, and a footlocker for personnel belongings.
After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18, the barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali This allowed the men to dress. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was always cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived, and although it was warm when they went to sleep by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them while wearing blindfolds. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
The battalion made one trip to the Lingayen Gulf. Things went well until they turned on a narrow gravel road in the barrio of Lingayen that had a lot of traffic. A bus driver parked his bus in the middle of the road and did not move it even after the tanks turned on their sirens and blew whistles. As they passed the bus, the tanks tore off all of one side of it. The tankers bivouacked about a half-mile from the barrio on a hard sandy beach with beautiful palm trees. The tankers had a swim and got in line for chow at the food trucks. It was then that the battalion’s two doctors told them that they needed to wear earplugs when they swam because the warm water contained bacteria and they could get ear infections that were hard to cure. No one came down with an ear infection. The soldiers went to sleep on the beach in their sleeping bags when they began to hear humming and scratching. When they turned on a flashlight they found their sleeping bags were covered with beetles and other bugs. They quickly moved to an uninfested area.
It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos. Many men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency. At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful.
The 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20 with four tank companies. The process was begun to transfer D Company from the 192nd to the 194th giving each battalion three tank companies. The 192nd also arrived with a large amount of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train the Philippine Army and had a large number of ham radio operators. Shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of American planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling about – in a large circle – in the South China Sea. On December 1, the two tank battalions were put on full alert and ordered to their positions at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 194th guarded the north half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. The airfield two runways were shaped like a “V” and the Army Air Corps’ hangers and headquarters were at the point of the “V”. The tankers slept in sleeping bags on the ground under their tanks or palm trees. On December 7, the tanks were issued ammunition and the tankers spent the day loading ammunition belts and 37-millimeter shells into their tanks. They also were given sidearms.
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 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, commanding officer of the tank group, and Major Ernest Miller, read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed his officers of the attack. He also ordered his officers to have the half-tracks join the tanks at Clark Field. Their job was to engage Japanese paratroopers. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The first wave of bombers was followed by a second wave of bombers and a third wave of bombers. The bombers were followed by Zeros that strafed the airfield. Each attack lasted about 15 to 20 minutes. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could drop the bombs accurately. It was reported that the tankers saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack while other pilots had been killed attempting to get to their planes. They saw bodies of men with half their heads blown off and others whose intestines were lying on the ground.
The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Joaquin on the Malolos Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12. The move was made at night without lights and resulted in two tanks going off the road into ditches, but no major damage was done to either tank. The battalion received 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank. When they left Ft. Stotsenburg, the tankers left all the personal possessions at the fort. It was the last time they saw them. On December 22, they were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. There, they engaged the Japanese who were attempting to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops. The night of December 22, the battalions were operating north of the Agno River when they found that the bridge they were supposed to use had been bombed. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.
The 192nd received orders to withdraw, but the 194th did not receive the order for some unknown reason. The battalion finally was ordered to withdraw and 1st Lt. Harold Costigan informed the members of A Company, and D Company, 192nd, that they would have to fight their way out. The tanks fought their way through Carmen losing two tanks but saving the crews except for Capt. Edward Burke. He had been hit by enemy fire and presumed dead. The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.
On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge, over the Pampanga River, about withdrawing from the bridge and half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese at Guagua on January 5. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. On the night of January 5, the tank battalion was holding a position near Lubao. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the battalions’ outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be Japanese. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located. They then charged toward the tanks, through an open field, and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks.
The Japanese attacked Remedios in force at 8:00 A.M. with an artillery barrage and used smoke as cover on the 7th. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 6:30 P.M. the defensive line broke through the area held by the tanks. Lt. Col. Ernest Miller, 194th, ordered both tank battalions to form on the main road to the east. It was dusk, but the tank drivers somehow managed to get the tanks out of the area to Abucay-Hacienda line which was the new defensive line. The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the Bataan peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. On January 8, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls. It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.
Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. If it could be eaten, it soon became scarce on Bataan. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. The only animal that most men could not eat was the monkeys. The reason why was the monkeys’ faces made them look too human.
On one occasion, the tankers were moving their tanks to a sugarcane field. They discovered that the field was filled with Japanese soldiers. The tankers opened fired and killed over 300 Japanese soldiers. The Japanese sent raiding parties into the Filipino and American lines at night. They would kill someone and then drop back. To prevent themselves from giving away their positions, the Americans had orders to use bayonets at night and not their guns.
On March 1, the soldiers had their rations cut in half again and the men were starving. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to the Dutch East Indies. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined this suggestion.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. C Company was attached to the 192nd and the company had only seven tanks left. A counter-attack was launched – on April 6 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. Other tanks of C Company tanks were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of Company C was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. 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. B and D Companies, 192nd, and A Company were preparing for a suicide attack 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.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. A truck driver for A Company, 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, 192nd and A Company received the order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. 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.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. At 6:45 A.M., the order “CRASH” was sent out and 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.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would 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 line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
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.”
That night the soldiers went to sleep and were still sleeping when the Japanese entered their bivouac. They were awakened with kicks from hobnailed boots and jabs from bayonets that communicated the message to form two columns. They were now Prisoners of War. As they stood there, the Japanese soldiers took their watches, rings, money, and anything else they wanted. They took the glasses from the men wearing them and smashed the lenses. HQ Company was ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2. The company destroyed all its vehicles and rode one half-track to the Tank Group Headquarters. Two of the soldier’s clothes were soaked in gasoline so they could use the clothing to burn the half-track.
When they arrived at tank group headquarters they had just missed breakfast which was the best one any of the tankers had had in months. The cooks at the HQ were able to give the members of the company a can of food and a can of condensed milk. With a guard escorting them, the men were allowed to get water from a well that was down a hill. When the Japanese realized that they were not a threat, they allowed the prisoners to go to the well unescorted. The Japanese ordered them to remain where they were the rest of the day and they went to sleep along the side of a road. The next day they woke to the sound of Japanese artillery firing at Corregidor. The island had not surrendered. From the battalion’s officers, an older Japanese general attempted to find out where the water line to Corregidor was located. The water line did not exist, but the Japanese believed that it did and that they could get the island to surrender by cutting off its water.
The POWs were ordered out to a road where the Japanese who had no interpreters beat and clubbed the Prisoners of War until they formed ranks. As they stood on the road, a shell from Corregidor hit the barn where they had spent the night. At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and made to march the north-south road where they were searched again. It was at this time that the company began what they called “the march” or “the hike.” As soon as they began marching, they saw and smelled the dead along the sides of the road.
The POWs marched for three or four kilometers and then were turned around and marched back to where they started. They were ordered to fall out and left sitting in the sun with few trees for shade. They were ordered to fall in and marched 12 kilometers to Cabcaben where they joined other POWs who had already been marched there. It was nearly dusk and more and more detachments of POWs kept arriving. The POWs were put on the airfield and given enough space to lie down for the night.
At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00. When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher were separated from the enlisted men and the lower-ranking officers. The higher-ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they marched north to Orani. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
As they made their way north toward the Lamao area of Bataan. They were joined by other POWs coming from side roads and trails. There were many more Filipino POWs than Americans and the two groups mixed together. The road was hard to walk on because of the holes from the shelling and bombings. The POWs were moved to the side of the road whenever a Japanese convoy came by heading south. The Japanese soldiers tried to hit the POWs in their heads with their rifle butts as they passed them.
The guards were assigned a certain distance to cover and wanted to finish it as fast as possible so they moved the POWs at a fast pace which was hard for the POWs in worse shape. If a man fell the guards did not want to stop the column so they shot or bayoneted the man. When the guards finished their assigned part of the march, the POWs were allowed to rest, but when the new guards took over, they also wanted to finish their part of the march as fast as possible, so the POWs once again were moved at a fast pace. They made their way north to Limay where they could see the destruction caused by the shelling and bombing. The jungle had been obliterated. They passed large crows that were eating the bodies of the dead Filipinos, Americans, and Japanese. Some of the crows circled over the POWs as they made their way north.
The Japanese provided no water to the POWs. Since it was dark, men were able to fill their canteen cups at artesian wells since the guards could not see them. At a small barrio, Filipinos appeared with buckets of water for the POWs. The Filipinos were gone by the time the guards arrived to see what was going on among the POWs. The POWs were left in the compound for the day, and there was no cover from the sun that beat down on them. The Japanese gave enough water to the men to wet their tongues. The POWs did not know it, but they were receiving the sun treatment. Some men went out of their heads and drifted into comas. At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given very few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
The POWs made their way to Balanga where they were searched again. North of the barrio they were herded into a field. The POWs were forced to sleep on top of each other. The next morning the POWs were ordered to assemble and those who had died continued to lie on the ground. The large crows circled the field. The POWs finally received their first meal. It was also at this time that the Filipinos were separated from the Americans.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. At Lubao, they were put into a bullpen the size of a football field.
The next morning, the POWs marched 13 kilometers to San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share. At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
From Capas the POWs walked 8 kilometers, to Camp O’Donnell, arriving in the camp on April 14, 1942. The camp was an unfinished Filipino military base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. The Japanese estimated that the camp could hold from 15,000 to 20,000 POWs.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
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, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.
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.
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 bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital. It is known Otto had an ear infection and was reported to have died.
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. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
To get out of the camp he went out on a 100 man scrap metal detail of 500 men to San Fernando on May 11. There, the POWs lived in a Methodist school. The POWs picked up all the junk leftover from the battle. When they collected that, they began to recover all the vehicles that had been disabled before the surrender. To get the vehicles to Manila, where they were flattened before being loaded on ships – the POWs tied them together with ropes behind an operating vehicle. A POW sat in each vehicle and steered it as they were towed to San Fernando or Caloocan. Where other POWs worked as mechanics and attempted to get the vehicles running. If they did, the vehicles were sent to the Bachrach Garage for additional repairs. If they could not get the vehicles running, they were tied together again and taken to Manila as scrap metal. Before this was done, the POWs stripped the vehicles for parts.
While driving the vehicles, the POWs learned that if the brakes of any of the vehicles were quickly applied, it would stress the ropes and cause them to snap. The convoy then had to stop and retie the rope to the vehicle and continue the trip. The POWs quickly learned that the best time to do this was when the vehicles were approaching the town market of a barrio. If they timed it right, a rope would snap as they entered the market and the vehicles had to stop to reattach the rope. While this was done, the Filipinas came up to the POWs and gave them food without the guards interfering. Once the ropes were reattached, they were on their way.
In May 1942, while he was on the detail, his friend received a letter from the War Department
“Dear Mr. Henry Humann:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private First Class Otto R. Kafer, 37,025,530, 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)
His friend received a second message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private First Class Otto R. Kafer had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
He became ill on the detail and was sent to the Pampanga Provincial Hospital with malaria. When he was admitted is not known, but it is known that he was discharged on October 10, 1942, and sent to Cabanatuan which had been opened to replace Camp O’Donnell. On October 12, 1942, he went out on a work detail to Ft. McKinley as a member of a 270 man POW detachment. There, the POWs did cleanup work clearing the grounds of junk from the battle. The POWs lived in the two-story barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts. The entire POW compound covered an area of 300 feet by 150 feet that the POWs were allowed to walk around. The POWs lived in the upper and lower squad rooms and the rest spread throughout the rest of the building. Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on sawale floor mats and in ten men mosquito nets issued by the Japanese. Blankets were also issued, but there were several POWs without them. No furniture was provided, but they were able to get chairs and tables from nearby buildings. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets that they found or made. When the detail started, the POWs were issued coconut fiber hats and shoes. Both these items did not last long on the detail.
The latrines in the camp had three stalls, a four-foot urinal, a tray sink with five spigots, and a shower room with four showerheads. Because of the demand on the facilities in the morning and evening about one-fourth of these were out of service at any time. Because of the lack of proper materials, the POWs were unable to keep all the showers functioning in spite of their best efforts.
The POW kitchen was in a stone building that was fifty feet from the POW barracks. Meals for the men were prepared in four halved oil drums that served as stoves that had no grates or chimneys to vent smoke. Cooking utensils consisted of four rice pots, two knives, an icebox, and an old well perforated Army-issued stove. The POWs also managed to get a meat grinder, several more knives, and a wooden chopping block. A pool table became the main food preparation table in the kitchen. Water spigots were added and the water drained into the floor and out of the building through holes the POWs chiseled through the wood. Waste from the kitchen was hauled away by Filipinos and burnt.
The POWs ate their meals on the second floor of a barracks that served as a mess hall with the Japanese quarters on the first floor. There were enough tables and benches for every POW, and the meals were carried to them in five-gallon drums. About 80% of the POWs had mess kits with the other 20% using pottery plates, tin pans, and tin cans. They were able also to clean their mess gear.
The camp medical facilities were two small rooms served as a hospital but there was no medical equipment or supplies until December 1942. A table that was found in a nearby building was used for examinations under a 40 watt light bulb. Water – when needed – came from a latrine twenty feet away from the infirmary. POWs who were ill were not required to work. Requests for medical supplies to the Japanese commanding officer were ignored. Most of the POWs treated at the hospital were many cases of malaria and diarrhea. There were also illnesses caused by the poor diet, Medicine was issued at the camp, but there was never enough to really help the POWs.
When the work was finished, they were moved to Nielson Field. Some sources state the move took place on January 20, 1943, while others state it happened on January 29, 1943. For the first six weeks, the POWs marched 8 kilometers to the airfield each morning and marched 8 kilometers back to their barracks in the evening. Later, they rode trucks to the airfield. Some sources also state the compound was 500 feet by 200 feet and surrounded by barbed wire while others state it was approximately 300 feet by 200 feet. These may simply be the dimensions for each of the POW compounds.
The POWs were soon moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in four Nipa barracks that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had been built for them. Each barrack had a six-foot-wide aisle down the center with sleeping platforms along the walls. One-quarter of the space was used for sleeping quarters for the officers which meant the enlisted POWs slept shoulder to shoulder again. The center aisle was lit by a 40 watt light bulb located above the center aisle. One barracks contained the camp’s medical facility which occupied a quarter of the building. There were two 7 foot long shelves on each wall that served as beds for the sick. There were no medical supplies or equipment. The area was lit by the one 40 watt bulb in the barrack and even though the POW doctor requested more lighting be provided, and was assured it would be dealt with, nothing was ever done. Again, most of the POWs suffered from illnesses caused by a poor diet and there were many cases of malaria and diarrhea but injuries to the POWs’ feet and legs also became a factor. The doctor simply washed them with soap and water and applied iodine which was all he had. Since the POWs were working with dirt, the wounds should have been covered, but there was not enough available and medical tape also was unavailable. The camp doctor did receive surgical equipment on November 19, 1943, and in January 1944, he was able to sterilize them by making sterile distilled water with a hot plate and copper tubing from a car. It was noted that the Japanese soldier in charge of the supplies attempted to keep the hospital stocked with supplies.
The POWs cleaned the area around the barracks daily and the ill POWs swept up the area around the tables where they ate. On the POWs “day off,” the barracks were emptied of furniture and everything was put in the sun. The barracks were then swept and mopped. This ended in February 1944 when the POWs began working 6½ days a week.
Behind each barrack was a small building, with a concrete floor, that was its latrine with seven individual latrine boxes in separate stalls. The latrines were concrete pits that with individual latrine boxes sitting over them. Nothing had been done to prevent the flies from breeding in the pits so maggots soon crawled up the sides of the pits and filled the latrines. The native ants proved to be an ally to the POWs and wiped out the maggots. Flimsy covers were made that usually solved the problem, but once in a while, there still was a problem with flies. The POWs on sick call cleaned the latrines daily and with a creosote solution once a week.
The latrines also had shower rooms with seven showers. There were also spigots attached to the showers that allowed the POWs to fill buckets, canteens, and other utensils. The water was also used to prepare their meals. It was quickly found that when all the showers were turned on that there was not enough water pressure for them to work, so most of the bathing was done by using the spigots. All the water came from a 1½ inch pipe that was soon tapped to supply water to other buildings. Several times when the POWs tried to wash all they got from the line was a trickle of water. Since the building and showers were flimsy, it was not long before most were not working.
The kitchen used to prepare meals was on the Japanese side of the compound. It appears the kitchen had a concrete floor, brick and clay ovens, and two storage rooms. The floors were relatively clean because the POWs used wood ashes to cover them. Flies were always a problem in the kitchen and at Nielson, it was worse because the native workers threw their garbage from their meals anywhere and also relieved themselves anywhere. Tables for meals were in the center aisle of each barracks. Waste from the kitchen was hauled away by Filipinos and burnt.
There, the POWs worked at constructing a northeast to the southwest runway and building revetments at Nielson Field. The runway was built through rice paddies which made the work harder since they still had water in them. There were tents for sun and rain protection, but as time went on these became dilapidated. There was plenty of drinking water and the latrines were straddle trenches fenced in on three sides.
The workday for the POWs was from 8:00 A.M. until Noon and 1:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M. The noon lunch was later reduced to two 15 minute breaks; One in the morning and one in the afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was increased to three 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. When they arrived at the airfield they were divided into two groups which alternated between working for an hour while the other and resting for an hour. The work was hard and required the POWs to remove dirt and rock – with picks and shovels – from one area and dumping it onto the runways. Wheelbarrows were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to work. Small mining cars were brought in that the POWs filled with dirt and rock before they were pushed by five men down a track that was from 200 feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where the material was wanted as a base for the runway, they emptied the car. The number of men on each car was later reduced to three men. The POWs were forced by guards, standing along the tracks, to push the cars at a fast pace. It was not uncommon for the guards to make push the cars as they ran. The POWs received one day off a week.
In May 1943 – some sources state March – the Japanese instituted the “speedup program” to get the work done quicker. The POWs weren’t sure if this was done because the construction was behind schedule or if the airfield was needed because of the military situation. The POWs looked forward to the rainy season when they believed work would be temporarily suspended. Instead, they were made to work in the rain in conditions that were worse than before the rains. On most days, the heaviest downpours did not stop work, but it is known that there were occasional times when the Japanese halted work for half the day. When the POWs returned to their barracks, they had no dry clothes to change into, so they went to bed in wet clothes resulting over half the POWs becoming sick.
The POWs would fall in for work and those men who believed they were too sick would fall out and form a separate line. It was a Japanese soldier who decided who was sick enough to remain in quarters and who should go to work. Often, the POWs were severely beaten by the guard. The Japanese later allowed the POW doctor to select who would remain in camp, but they often sent men to work who he had felt were too sick to work. The Japanese finally realized that they had to deal with the sick so they had the POW doctor make a list of POWs too ill to do heavy work and assigned them light work. The Japanese also reduced the number of carloads of rock the POWs had to move a day and the POWs could walk the cars to the dumping area instead of being forced to push them as fast as possible. The speed-up was also ended on July 4 and with its end, the number of POWs reporting for sick call dropped.
When the runway was completed, the POWs were moved to Camp Murphy #1, Quezon City, on October 25, 1943. The POWs were housed in the former headquarters building which was a two-story building with multiple rooms. 250 POWs were quartered on the second floor in crowded conditions so the POWs slept in the hallway and on the landings of the stairwells. When they requested lumber to build platforms to sleep on, the Japanese ignored the requests. The POWs were able to build a small number of bunk beds with scrap lumber that they found.
There were five tiles latrines for POW use with 13 stalls, 13 urinals, 9 sinks, and 1 shower, but like in the other camps, much of the plumbing needed to be repaired. The POWs repaired them and somehow managed to keep most of them running. They also built 8 other showers and an area where their mess kits could be washed. Water pressure was adequate up to February 1944, but after that there were days were the POWs went hours without water at noon or in the evening when the POWs returned from work. The latrines were emptied every two months with cans that were dumped in a dried-out creek.
The POW kitchen was a napa building with a dirt floor that was 20 feet from the POWs’ barracks. Wood ashes were once again spread on the floor and kept the floors relatively sanitary. Water was supplied by a single hose. Meals appear to have been prepared in 50-gallon drums that had been cut in half lengthwise. Flies again were a problem in the kitchen. Since the POWs worked about ¾ of a kilometer from the camp, they returned to the camp for lunch and then marched back to the worksite. The POWs’ food ration also declined during this period which caused the spread of disease among them. On November 29, the POWs received Red Cross packages that helped stop the spread of diseases.
Garbage was a problem in the camp since the Filipinos were not allowed to collect it and haul it away. Garbage pits were dug but were put into use before they were deep enough and were filled near the top. They soon became the breeding grounds of flies. Within weeks maggots were crawling out of the pits. To stop this, fires were built on the pits and did control the fly population.
The POWs were again involved in building a north to south runway at Zablan Field, and their work hours were changed in January 1944. From that time on, the POWs started at 7:00 A.M. and worked until 11:00 A.M. to avoid the hottest part of the day. In the afternoon, the POWs worked from 1:30 to 5:00 P.M. Once again they did the work with picks and shovels. They had their one day off a week that was later cut to a half-day off a week. Once in a while, the POWs got half a day off for a Japanese holiday. On May 26, the afternoon work hours were extended to 6:00 P.M. At some point, some POWs were assigned to building a second runway about three miles from the camp. Since the detachment had more than doubled in size, part of it was taken by truck to an airfield 4 kilometers from the camp and began building a runway there with picks and shovels. The lunch for the POWs was brought to the airfield each day.
There were no latrines at the worksite and men relieved themselves anywhere. This resulted in the site quickly being covered in human defecation. The spread of disease was prevented by the sun and the rain washing away the waste. Straddle trenches were built, but it appears they were not used for long.
In August 1944, POWs were selected to be sent to Japan. 25 to 30 trucks arrived at Cabanatuan on the 17th. The POWs boarded them and they left for Bilibid Prison at 8:00 P.M. arriving there at 2:00 in the morning. The POWs left the prison and went to Pier 7. According to some POWs, they were taken by barges to the Noto Maru. The POWs boarded the ship and they were sent down into one of its holds which was extremely hot. Another company of POWs arrived by barge and were also put into the ship’s hold. The last two companies also entered the hold. According to men who were on the ship they boarded and disembarked the ship two more times. The last time they boarded the ship was on August 25th. Some men believed this happened because American submarines had been seen in the area. After they were in the hold, the Japanese removed the ladder. The ship finally sailed on August 27th, but it spent the night in Subic Bay.
Since all the POWs were in one hold, there was no place for anyone to lie down to sleep. The POWs either stood or squatted. The POWs lost their tempers with each other at times, but it appeared they understood they were all in the same situation and there were no major fights.
A large barrow cut half length-wise was below the hatch was supposed to serve as the latrine but it was almost impossible to get to it. To get to it the POWs had to crawl over other men. When the man was finished, he found someone else had taken his place. Many men simply could not make it to the tub, so the floor of the hold was soon covered with human waste. When the half barrow was hoisted out of the hold, human feces fell on the men below in the hold. The smell coming out of the hold was so bad that the Japanese covered the hatch which made the hold get hotter and made the smell worse.
The ship remained in the bay until three other ships were ready to sail. The ship finally sailed as part of a convoy on August 28th. Once at sea the convoy was hunted by American submarines. The POWs chanted for the subs to sink the ship. At least two torpedos were fired at the ship, but since they ran deep, the torpedos went under the ship. It is known that several other ships in the convoy were sunk. One POW said, “That is an eerie feeling. Here, it’s an American sub firing at you. You’re below the waterline.”
The POWs were fed boiled barley once a day and given water once or twice a day. A POW was lucky if he received a tablespoon of water. As the ship made its way to Japan men died of sickness and starvation. With each death, there was more room in the ship’s hold. The dead were hoisted from the hold by rope and thrown into the sea. The suction of the ship’s propellers pulled the bodies into them and resulted in the bodies being cut up.
The ship arrived at Takao on August 30. While it was docked, the smell from the hold was so bad that the POWs who could walk were brought up on deck, taken ashore, and hosed down with saltwater. The Japanese also washed down the hold to clean out the waste on the floor. After the POWs went back into the hold, the temperature dried the water off them but left a layer of salt on their skin.
It arrived in Moji, Japan on September 4, and the POWs were given a piece of colored wood as they left the ship. The color of the piece of wood determined what camp the POWs were going to be sent to. When the POWs left the ship, the Japanese civilians held their noses to show them how bad they smelled.
The first American POWs arrived at the camp on September 7, 1944. When they arrived at the camp, each man received 1 cap, 1 pair of trousers, 1 shirt, 1 coat, and a pair of canvas shoes with rubber soles. In the winter the POWs received a Japanese Army winter uniform and coat to be worn only in the camp. The only officer in the camp was Major, R. Townsend Artman the POW doctor, who also became the POW commanding officer for not only the Americans but the British who lived in a separate compound and had arrived in November 1942. All the POWs appeared to have liked him because he spoke out against the Japanese treatment of the POWs and was said to have prevented many deaths.
The camp was surrounded by a eight foot high wooden wall with barbed wire on top. The American POW housing was described as two 30 foot wide by 100 foot long buildings made of unpainted rough wood and divided into three rooms. Each room housed 33 POWs. The roofs were also made from rough wood and had fireproof paper on them. There were two decks of bunks with a ladder going up every twenty feet to the second deck which was 8 to 10 feet off the ground. Shoes had to be taken off at the foot of the ladder. There was a latrine at the end of each barracks with six holes over a concrete pit that had to be emptied once a week. Water faucets were also available for the POWs to wash their hands, faces, and clothes, but the water was not drinkable. None of the buildings were heated but they did have adequate lighting. A bathhouse was located in the British compound for use by all the POWs. They were allowed to take two hot baths a week.
The POWs had a galley that prepared their food. It was a separate wooden building with a concrete floor. It was equipped with four built-in fireboxes with four 20 gallon cauldrons and the food was prepared by both American and British POWs. There was no mess hall, so the POWs ate in their barracks.
The typical POW meal – served three times a day – consisted of rice or beans, or barley, with soup made from whatever vegetables were in season. But there were days where the soup was not served. Once in a while, the POWs received a very inferior fish. The size of the meals varied and the POWs received 320 grams to 700 grams a day depending on the type of work the POWs did. The meals were based on the POW’s classification. The classifications were heavy workers, light workers, non-workers, or on the sick list. The sick only received 350 grams of food a day. All the food was inferior, but it appears that the Japanese had actually tried to get the POWs better food. Water came from a pump house and was boiled by a POW who on sick call.
A sick call was held every evening after work. Besides the doctor, there were two medics who helped care for the sick. The POWs who worked on the docks received medical treatment from the company’s medical staff, but it appears it wasn’t very good. All medicine and medical supplies came from the Red Cross.
The Japanese practiced collective punishment when a camp rule was broken by one POW, all the POWs were punished. Minor rule infractions usually resulted in the POW being beaten with fists, bamboo poles, and rifle butts. This frequently was the punishment given to POWs who were too sick to work. The men were also forced to kneel, for hours, at rigid attention, on two bamboo sticks that were three inches apart on the ground. One was under the knees and the other was used to support the insteps. Sometimes after doing this, the POWs were ordered to stand at attention which was impossible for them to do because their legs were cramped, so they were beaten for not following orders.
At some point in the camp, almost every POW spent time in “the box” which was 5 feet 4 inches high, 3 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. POWs were fastened to the box and remained inside it for days, in a crouching position, without the ability to stand or lie down. The cells were described as being unfit for human inhabitation. While in the box, the POW was fed one pint of water a day and three handfuls of rice and salt. The POW was given an empty can to use as a bathroom in complete darkness.
During their time in the camp, the POWs received five Red Cross boxes. Red Cross boxes were misappropriated by the Japanese for their own use. The POWs were allowed to write postcards monthly, but there is no proof that they ever left the camp.
The POWs worked at the docks and cleaning ships, hauling lumber and other supplies, welding, blacksmithing, and they did other jobs. The working conditions were poor because of the weather they were exposed to, and the places they were forced to work. The little protection they had during an air raid was inadequate.
At night, the POWs heard the American planes and the explosions from the bombs. The windows of the barracks shook with the explosions. Many of the POWs worked on the docks, so they could hear the Japanese talking about the bombings on loudspeakers. From this, they learned what cities had been bombed. If the bombing was accurate, the Japanese guards took it out at them.
One day after the POWs got up to work, they were told that they would not work that day. This happened again for another two or three days. Then, an American major came to the camp and told the POWs that the war was over and the POWs shouted, hugged each other, and cried. The Swiss Red Cross came from over to the American compound from the British compound and told the Americans to paint the letters POW on the roof of a building in the camp. After they did, American B-29s dropped food and clothes to them, and many liberated POWs got sick from overeating.
About the atomic bomb, he said, ” I don’t feel guilty at all. If the atomic bomb wasn’t dropped, we wouldn’t be here.”
When American troops showed up on September 12, the POWs were officially liberated. The men were taken to Yokohama on September 15, where they lived in hangers at an airfield. The Red Cross was there and gave the men coffee, candy, and razor blades. It appears they were flown by C-47 to Okinawa before being returned to the Philippine Islands.
He was promoted to Staff Sergeant and returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes arriving in Seattle, Washington on October 9, 1945. From there he was taken to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis before being sent to a hospital closer to home. He married Antonette Fischer in 1946 and they lived in Roseville, Minnesota, until her death in 2009. He then moved to Springfield, Missouri, where he passed away on January 8, 2015. He was buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Roseville, Minnesota, next to his wife.