1st Lt. Fred Phillip LaBoon was born on September 28, 1915, in Chickasha, Oklahoma, to Wade H. LaBoon and Mae E. Folsom-LaBoon. With his three sisters and four brothers, he grew up in Chickasha, Oklahoma. where his father was postmaster. His mother passed away on September 2, 1933. Fred graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Science and a Masters in Engineering in 1939. While at the university he participated in the ROTC Program and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserves in 1938. He was called to active duty on January 13, 1941, and reported to Fort Knox, Kentucky, on March 23. There he was assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion.
A great deal of the training the 19th Ordnance Battalion did was alongside the 192nd Tank Battalion. In August 1941, the 19th went on maneuvers in Arkansas. While taking part in the maneuvers, A Company of the battalion received orders to return to Ft. Knox. Once there, the company was inactivated and activated the next day, August 17, as the 17th Ordnance Company and received orders to go overseas. It is not known if he was already a member of A Company, or if he replaced another man. It was at this time that he was promoted to First Lieutenant.
The reason the 17th Ordnance Company was created appears to be tied to the First Tank Group, and there are at least two stories of how two tank battalions of the tank group ended up in the Philippines. In the first story, the decision to send the 194th Tank Battalion overseas was the result of an event that happened earlier in 1941. According to one 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, 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 covering what appeared to be the buoys – 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.
In the second story, the 192nd Tank Battalion members believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George Patton – who had commanded their tanks during the maneuvers as part of the Blue Army – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that both battalions were 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. The tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion while the 70th was regular army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 192nd, at Ft. Knox, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been light tank National Guard 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 buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd, 194th, and 17th Ordnance, reaching the islands. The 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started. It is possible that the 19th Ordnance Battalion was part of the tank group, but nothing has been found to confirm this. Creating the 17th Ordnance Company allowed the tanks of the two battalions to receive support without sending the entire battalion to the Philippines.
Traveling west, the company was assigned to a train that was also carrying the M3 tanks that were assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion. The tanks had been requisitioned from other tank battalions at Ft. Knox to give the 194th its full complement of tanks. The company at Ft. Mason north of San Francisco, California, was ferried by the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the company received medical examinations from its medical detachment. Men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
The members of the company spent the next several days preparing the tanks and weapons for transport overseas. This meant that all weapons had cosmoline put on them to prevent them from rusting. Since – in some areas – the hold of the ship was not tall enough to fit some of the tanks in with their turrets on, the turrets were removed. To ensure that the turret went on the tank it came off of, the tank’s serial number was painted on the turret.
The men boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge around 3:00 P.M. on September 8, and the ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. that night. Being an officer, he shared a cabin with the other officers of the 17th. The enlisted men were quartered in the hold with the tanks. During this part of the trip, the seas were rough and many of the soldiers were seasick. One tank broke free from its moorings and rolled back and forth in the hold slamming into the side of the ship’s hull until it was tied down again.
They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M. After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the replenishment oiler the U.S.S. Guadalupe with the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer as the two ships’ escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18. They entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and reached Manila several hours later. The 194th’s soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and rode a train to Clark Field. 17th Ordnance and members of HQ Co., 194th, remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets. To do this, they worked all night sleeping in shifts.
The company rode a train to Fort Stotsenburg and was taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since General Edward P. King Jr., commanding officer of the fort, had learned of their arrival only days earlier. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. The officers were put in two men tents – in a low area – 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. During the first night in the tents, there was heavy rain that caused the company’s commander’s, Capt. Richard C. Kadel’s, footlocker to float out of his tent.
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.
Since the job of ordnance was to service the tanks, they followed the workday used by the 194th Tank Battalion. 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.” It is not known what precisely the members of the company did at this time.
For the next several weeks, they spent their time removing the cosmoline from the weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. Many of them had never trained on one during their time at Ft. Knox. In October, the 194th was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf, since 17th Ordnance’s job was to keep the tanks running they went with the battalion. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
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 company bivouacked about a half-mile from the barrio on a hard sandy beach with beautiful palm trees. The men swam and got in line for chow at the food trucks. It was then that the 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 the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20th which was Thanksgiving, the members of the company were waiting at the pier to unload the battalion’s tanks. To do this, they slept in shifts and worked all night with the battalion’s maintenance section. The one good thing is that they had a real turkey dinner on the ship.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling around 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 airfield from paratroopers. The 194th guarded the northern 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 and 17th Ordnance spent the day loading ammunition belts.
Some members of the company were in the mess hall when they heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio. They ate breakfast and then went to their trucks and other vehicles. Other enlisted members of the company were putting down stones for sidewalks when they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On a map, one of the officers saw a thicket that the company could use for cover so they moved there.
The company moved to a bamboo thicket and set up its trucks. Later that morning the alert was canceled and the company was ordered back to Clark Field. The cooks had just finished preparing lunch so they remained in the thicket. The members of the company watched as B-17s were loaded with bombs but remained on the ground because they could not get the order to bomb Taiwan. They received permission to fly there but not to bomb.
While they were eating lunch, at 12:45 the Japanese planes approached the airfield from the north, The men had time to count 54 planes in the formation. As they watched, what looked like raindrops fell from under the planes, when the bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese. The Zeros that followed strafed the airfield and banked and turned over the thicket the company was located in. The planes banked and returned to straf the airfield again. The members of the company were ordered not to fire because some of the machines they had to manufacture tank parts were the only ones of their type in the Philippines.
After the attack, the company remained at Clark Field until the 192nd was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf. From this time on, wherever the tank battalions were sent the members of 17th Ordnance went with them. The company members often made repairs to tanks on the frontlines and under enemy fire. They repaired tanks damaged by Japanese fire and those damaged by the tankers. To make the repairs they manufactured many of the parts themselves. It is known the company converted over 1,000 rounds of 37 millimeter WWI antipersonnel shells for use in the tanks.
From the Lingayen Gulf, the tanks were sent to the Urdaneta area, they were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. Every move the tanks made, 17th Ordnance moved with them. The tanks were next at Culo and Hermosa and the half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each tank battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road in mid-January. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had long overdue maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls. In January, food rations for the soldiers had been caught in half. This resulted in illnesses spreading among them.
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 Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tanks took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they were had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, 192nd, were able to clear the pockets by February 18. But before this was done, one tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew had attempted to escape the tank, and the Japanese seemed to have expected this move. It appears that most of the crew was killed with grenades as they attempted to escape through the turret. One man apparently was still alive when the Japanese filled the crew compartment with dirt and was buried alive inside the tank. When the Japanese had been wiped out, 17th Ordnance helped with the recovery of the tank and the tank on its side to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use after repairs were made.
It is known that the company set up its operations in a large ordnance building on Bataan which had been emptied of all its ordnance. The company remained in the building throughout the Battle of Bataan. Companies A and C, 192nd, were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Co. 192nd – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. 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 in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Wainwright abandoned the idea. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
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. The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. The tanks were pulled out of their position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
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. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on 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.”
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. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company 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 11:00 P.M. the company was told it had 30 minutes to evacuate the ordnance building before the ammunition dumps on both sides of the building were destroyed. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps went up in flames. At midnight Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, received an 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. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews destroyed their tanks by cutting the gas lines and throwing torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Co., 192nd, and spoke to the men from the company and men from 17th Ordnance. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.”
The company remained in its bivouac, at kilometer 181, until the Japanese arrived and ordered them to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan, where they were searched and stripped of anything the Japanese could use. He was placed into a detachment of 100 POWs that was guarded by six to eight guards and ordered to march. The first five miles were extremely hard because it was uphill. The beatings and killings started almost at the same time as the march started. One guard would beat a POW while five minutes later another guard would give the POW a cigarette.
The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace. Those men who were sick had a hard time keeping up and if they fell out were bayoneted or shot simply because the guards did not want to stop for them. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The new guards also had a certain distance to cover, so they too wanted the POWs to move as fast as possible.
As the POWs made their way north, the Filipinos filled containers with water and placed them along the road. The POWs could not stop but many were able to scoop water into their canteens. By doing this the Filipinos saved a great many lives. The POWs also could see them flashing the “V” for victory sign under their folder arms. In the barrios, as the POWs passed through, the Filipinos would make rice balls the size of baseballs and throw the rice balls to the POWs.
The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery. The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they sat there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese riding past them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.
The men were marched until they reached 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 got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
The POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men and 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 because there were 100 men in each detachment 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 bananas, mangos, rice cakes, and sugarcane at the POWs and gave the POWs water. The guards did not stop them. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. 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 a box, 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 where the bodies had lain was cleaned and scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
His father received a telegram from him on April 20th that was sent before the surrender. “O.K. Philippines,” was all it said.
It is not known when, but Fred went out on a work detail to Balanga. Not much is known about the detail, but it may have been a cleanup detail collecting the debris from the battle. What is known is that while on the detail a member of 17th Ordnance, T/Sgt. William D. Oliver and a member of the Air Corps, Pvt. Farrell F. Hickman, were killed when an anti-tank landmine exploded. It is not known if they were loading munitions or if they were removing the landmine from the ground. Fred drew a map of where the men were buried so that their remains would be recovered.
In May, his father received his first letter from the War Department.
“Dear Mr. W. LaBoon:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if First Lieutenant Fred P. LaBoon, O,366,669, 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”
When the detail ended, Fred was sent to Cabanatuan, but it is not known when he arrived there. Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Cabanatuan #1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Cabanatuan #2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. 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.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. 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. 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. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
On July 7, 1942, his father received a second letter from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from the letter.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, First Lieutenant Fred P. LaBoon 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.”
Also 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.
On November 1, 1942, the Japanese drew 1500 POW names of men who were being sent to Japan. When the names were drawn, the POWs had no idea what was happening. Many came to the conclusion on their own that they were being sent to Japan. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with, which was a small issue of rice and what the Japanese termed “a large piece of meat.” The large piece of meat was two inches square and large next to a piece of meat they usually received at a meal. At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan where a Japanese officer lectured them before they boarded train cars. 98 POWs were put into each car which allowed them to position themselves so they could move around. They remained on the train all day and arrived in Manila at 5:00 P.M. After they disembarked, they were marched to Pier 7 where they spent the night sleeping on a concrete floor in a building.
When they arrived at the barrio according to one source, 98 POWs were put in each car. The POWs could move if they worked together. They rode the train to Manila and arrived at 5:00 P.M. and marched to Pier 7. On the pier, they slept on the floor of a building. The next day the POWs boarded what would become known as a hell ship. They boarded the Nagato Maru on November 6, at 5:00 P.M. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold. The hold was 40 feet wide and 50 feet long and the Japanese believed it could hold 1000 men without a problem. In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 1000 men so 200 to 300 POWs were moved to another hold. According to one member of the tank group that was on it, they put 800 POWs in it. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 750 and 800. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All three holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner. The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts, but even this was not organized. Meals on the ship consisted of rice and a watery soup but the sickest POWs did not eat. The amount of water given to the POWs was almost non-existent. The ship sailed on November 7, 1942. The bodies of those who died were left in the holds for days before the Japanese allowed them to be removed. The POWs apparently called the ship the “Maggot Maru.”
During the trip, the two boards that were left off the hatch opening for ventilation were put in place at night and a tarp was put over the boards. This made the holds hotter. The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious this was not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line. For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had stepped on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Pescadores Islands the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18 and arrived at Keelung, Formosa the same day. The ship sailed again on the 20th and during this part of the trip, the POWs heard and felt the explosions from depth charges. They also heard a torpedo hit the haul of the ship, but it did not detonate. The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship. It is believed that 27 POWs died during the trip to Japan. As they disembarked, each POW received a chip of red or black colored wood. The color of the wood determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused, showered, issued new uniforms, and inoculated.
By ferry, the POWs were taken to Shimonoseki, Honshu, where they were loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There, the prisoners were divided into two groups according to the color of the wood chip they had selected. It was at this time that 500 POWs were taken to Tanagawa Camp (Osaka #4-B) arriving there late in the evening of November 26.
The camp covered an area of approximately 10,640 feet and contained ten barracks with paper-thin walls that went down to six inches above the dirt floors. Each barracks housed 50 men. 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. At the foot of each bunk were five synthetic blankets made out of peanut shell fiber and a rigid pillow in the shape of a small cylinder packed with rice husks. There was a room in each barracks that served as the officer quarters. In winter the barracks were warmed by drum-can stoves which burned wood or sawdust, but the barracks were always cold. Japanese guards patrolled through the barracks at regular intervals. There was also a building that served as a hospital, a camp kitchen, a shoe repair shop, and warehouses. The Japanese had their own barracks and administrative office. The camp was surrounded by a high wooden wall with barbed wire on top. There also were two guard towers at the corners and only one gate to enter the camp.
The POWs were fed rice three times a day. Once in a while, they received a fish head, a piece of beef, or a piece of pork in the rice. The Red Cross boxes sent to the camp for the POWs were misappropriated by the Japanese. They took a great portion of the food from the boxes and were seen walking around the camp eating American chocolate and smoking American cigarettes. Empty cans from American meats, fruit, and cheese were seen by the POWs in the Japanese garbage.
Corporal punishment was common in the camp and done for the slightest reason or for no reason. One guard in the camp, Tsunesuke Tsuda, beat the POWs the most because he wanted to break their spirit and humble them. From January 5, 1943, until March 21, 1943, the POWs were made to run excessive distances. On one occasion, in March 1943, they were forced to run 4 to 5 miles in the rain without shirts. Individual beatings were also common in the camp. When a POW was beaten, he frequently had to hold a heavy object like a log or rock, or a bucket of water, over his head as he stood at attention. POWs also were slapped, or hit with a rifle butt, because during muster, they failed to bow to the guard at the right angle. Most of the beatings took place during morning muster or evening muster while the POWs were at attention. The POWs were punched, slapped, clubbed, kicked, hit with shoes and belts, and even furniture was used on the POWs as they stood at attention. Some POWs were hit in the throat which resulted in their not being able to speak for a week. One guard beat the POWs so severely and often, that he was required to sign a statement that he would not beat the POWs under penalty of death.
Being ill was not an excuse to get out of work. The POW doctor had a sick call each morning and created a list of men who were too ill to go to work. After he created it, a Japanese medical clerk took the list and decided who was sick enough to stay in camp and who had to go to work. Those who were admitted to the hospital received little help because the POW doctor had no medicine to treat them. Like the Red Cross food, the medical supplies sent to the camp were also misappropriated by the Japanese. One POW who escaped and was recaptured was beaten black and blue. The camp doctor was ordered to inject him with drugs to kill him.
In the camp, the POWs, regardless of rank, were used to construct a dry dock for Japanese submarines in violation of the Geneva Convention. To do this, the POWs tore down the side of a mountain. The POWs worked in groups known as “sections.” When the POWs in a section did not load the expected number of train cars, the Japanese beat them. The POWs worked seven days a week and were given one day off in warm weather. It was so cold in the winter, that the water remained frozen from December 1942 until March 1943. The prisoners also retaliated against the Japanese by committing acts of sabotage. One of the easiest acts of sabotage to commit was to mix the concrete for the dry-dock walls to thin. The POWs would make the concrete soupy and mostly water. They did this so the walls of the dry-dock would start to crumble after it was completed. The POWs worked this detail for two years until the Japanese ended it after discovering that the dry-dock was too short to be used. According to one story, while working in the office for the Japanese, one POW somehow managed to alter the blueprints for the dry-dock. In all likelihood, it was simply designed too short.
On September 3, 1943, he was sent to Zentsuji Camp which was also known as Hiroshima #1-B. The camp’s POW population was mostly officers. The enlisted men in the camp were captured on Wake Island and on Guam. What is known about life in the camp was the POWs took classes in foreign languages, military tactics, cooking, science, drawing, and sewing and knitting. Medical operations were performed and it is known that POWs had their tonsils, appendixes, and gallstones removed without anesthetic.
In each barracks, 30 men lived in each room. Each man had a space that was 2 feet wide and 7 feet long for his living quarters. A guard came through the barracks every 30 minutes. They often rewarded to punished the POWs by taking away their mattresses and blankets or giving them blankets. The POWs believed that the Japanese code of discipline was based on their belief in saving face.
The POWs stated that the Japanese doctors had figured out how much food each POW had to receive each day to keep the man alive. To the POWs, the Japanese “saving face” controlled everything they did in the camp. When they gave out food like jam, bread, and fruit, it was distributed in minuscule amounts that had no traditional value. If the POWs asked for more at a later date, they were given an answer similar to “We just gave you that six weeks ago.”
Unlike other camps, it appears the POWs received more Red Cross packages while in the camp. When the POWs received them, the Japanese would have to save face and give the POWs things they believed were just as good as what was in the boxes. Depending on when the POWs arrived in the camp, he may have received as many as 11 Red Cross boxes.
It was on December 17, 1942, that his father received word from the War Department that Fred was a POW.
“MR W LABOON
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON FIRST LIEUTENANT FRED P LABOON IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.”
His father next received a letter confirming the telegram from the War Department.
“Mr. Wade LaBoon
402 South 12th Street
“Dear Mr. LaBoon:
“Report has been received that your son, First Lieutenant Fred P. LaBoon, O,366,669, is now a prisoner of war of the Japanese Government in the Philippine Islands. This will confirm my telegram of December 17, 1942.
“The Provost Marshal General, Prisoner of War Information Bureau, Washington D.C., will furnish you the address to which mail may be sent. Any future correspondence in connection with his status as a prisoner of war should be addressed to that office.
“Very truly yours,
J.A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
Within days of receiving the second message, his father received the following letter.
“Mr. Wade LaBoon
402 South 12th Street
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the enclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“1st Lt. Fred P. LaBoon, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau
In the camp, two guards were known for their mistreatment of the POWs. One was called “Leatherwrist” and the other was known as “Clubfist” because both men had injured right hands. The two hit POWs, but since their right hands were of little use, they usually knocked them to the ground and kicked them with hobnail boots. In addition, POWs were often beaten for no apparent reason with kendo sticks, bayonets, and rifle butts.
The POWs worked as stevedores at rail yards and a port. When the areas around a train station and the train yards were bombed, the Japanese locked the POWs in the baggage and boxcars and took shelter in air raid shelters. According to the POWs, American planes began bombing closer and closer to the camp, so on June 25, 1945 – some sources state it was April 25, 1945 – the POWs were sent to the northern part of Honshu to Rokuroshi.
During the trip to the camp by train, the POWs witnessed the Japanese command system in action. When they pulled into one station the bento boxes containing the food for the POWs were not at the station. The Japanese prison officer bawled out the Japanese lieutenant who was the station officer and slapped him across the face a couple of times. After he left, the lieutenant called over the first sergeant and yelled at him, and slapped him. The sergeant did the same to a corporal, who did the same to a private first class who called his detail to the station with the bento boxes. The POWs enjoyed their meal.
When they arrived at the camp, they were told that they would have to earn their room and board by working. Their job was to clear semi-fertile mountainsides and plant sweet potatoes and soybeans.
His father received a POWs postcard from him the week of October 19, 1943. He wrote:
“Dear Dad and Family:
“I am feeling fine and in good health. How are you and the rest of the family? Hope this finds everyone in best of health.
“I am not working, but receiving equivalent pay of Nipponese officer.
“Last month should have been car payment. Please pay my insurance.
“Love to all, you son
“Fred P LaBoon
The reference to his car insurance indicated the card was months old.
It was on December 10, 1943, that his father received a handwritten letter from Fred. It was dated July 8, 1943, and his father was informed he had been transferred to Zentsuji Camp.
“Dear Dad: I have had several occasions to write before, but not knowing whether you have received them or not there will be some repetition in this letter.
“I do sincerely hope that this will find you and the children in the best of health and happiness. Time has certainly been flying by and it hardly seems possible that it is two years to the day since I was home. It is hard to believe that Marion is in high school, Rosaland in junior, and Macjean in the fifth grade this fall. I do hope so much that Frank is finishing his college degree and V. L. and Folsom are all right and happy. I pray for all of you every day, hoping that this will be over soon and we can all be together again. Give my regards to all my friends and my love to Ellen Dee and Eunice.
“I am in the best of health and company. We have a very fine camp, had a No. 1 inspection a week ago.
“Hope that you are still getting my allotment . . . Love to all, Fred P. LaBoon”
On January 28, 1944, his father received word from the provost marshall general that a Japanese propaganda short-wave radio broadcast had been intercepted and the POW message from Fred was heard during the broadcast.
“The following enemy propaganda broadcast from the Japanese government has been intercepted:
‘Hello, dad and family in Chickasha, Oklahoma, and all my friends. Please write as circumstances permit. Also, send some pictures of the family as I do not have a one of any of you. Dad do not worry about me for I am taking care of myself, and I am in the best of health. I want you and the family to do the same. I take this opportunity to wish every one of you and all my friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Again, I want to repeat don’t worry. Signed Fred P. LaBoon, Zentsuji Camp’
“This broadcast supplements all previous reports, Lerch, provost marshall general.”
Another letter was received by his father in August 1944 that had been written by Fred in December 1943.
“Dear Dad and Family:
“As yet, I have not received any news from home, but account this to changing camps since you last heard from me. I hope you and the folks are in the best of health, and can’t help but feel that you are. I am in the best of health so please don’t worry about me.
“The fellows in camp who arrived prior to myself receiving numerous letters and parcels off the last exchange ship. Consequently, everyone is in the highest of spirits for this grand holiday season. We are planning a grand program for Christmas, singing the ‘Messiah.’ Christmas carols and several plays.
“I made a recording for broadcast to you about six weeks ago. I hope you heard it for I mention many friends whose folks you may find interesting on contacting, Meade Willis, from Winston Salem, N.C. stays in the same room with me. I have told him ‘That I want to take you back to your old home visiting your folks, and also looking him up,’ when we get back. How about it, Dad?
“Captain Clif Hines, also here, is the brother of Glen Hines who married Josephine Conrad. There is a close acquaintance if you care to look into it.
“Dad, I am looking and praying every day at our daily prayer service that everyone at home is in good health and high spirits. Please take care of yourself and the family and I hope the day is not far off when we will have that grand reunion. I send my regards to all my friends and love to you and the family.
“F. P. LaBoon
“Zentsuji War Prisoner Camp, Japan”
His father received another message from Fred on December 11, 1944.
Dear Dad and family, I am well, hope you and family same. Received your letters through Dec. 13 (1943) snapshot was great, hope to receive more. Received your parcel, can’t thank you enough, really nice. Favorite pass time is my professional classes. Regards to our friends, write often. Chin up. Love to you and family. Your son, Fred.”
It was on January 21, 1945, that his dad received a POW postcard from him that had been written in September 1944. This was the first of four cards he received from Fred during the week.
“Received yours of May. Glad to know everyone’s well. Looking forward to reunion. Still studying and feeling fine. Prayers, love, and thoughts for all.”
A few days later on January 25, received another postcard from Fred. He wrote:
“Dear Dad and Family. Privileged to write to you again. Very cheerful to hear you all enjoy good health, that goes for me too. We had a beautiful Easter service, communion, and chorus. Received most of your letters, 38 in all, 34 yours and Ellen Dees also Folsoms, Franks, Rosamonds, and Mr. Spinnings. Keep writing, tell everyone to write, and send pictures. Organized a class of engineers with Red Cross textbooks, studying thermo, diesels, metallurgy, mechanics, electricity. I am instructing refrigeration and air conditioning, so we are not sitting dormant, also time passes faster. George Holland is here. Jack Woodson still in PI when I left. Must say goodbye, regards to all our friends, pulling and praying for all of you, chin up, Love and best wishes to you and family.”
One day the POWs were planting sweet potatoes when the phone in the camp office rang. In a sharp clear voice, the person on the other end requested that he be allowed to speak to the ranking American officer. The ranking officer was sent to the office. As it turned out, it was the American command notifying the POWs that the war was over.
The POWs were liberated from the camp on September 7, 1945. The next day the former POWs rode a train to Yokohama, where, they were greeted by an American band playing the song, “California, Here I Come.” Many of the POWs became overwhelmed by their emotions. They were taken down to the docks and stripped off the clothing they had received during the airdrops from B-29s. The clothing was thrown into 55-gallon drums and burnt. They were sprayed with DDT and then showered. Next, they were issued new clothing and shoes. After this was done, they had a meal of hotcakes, jam, butter, and coffee was waiting for them. They boarded a hospital ship and were given physicals. It was at this time that it was determined if a man was sent back to the Philippines or immediately to the United States. In Fred’s case, he was returned to the Philippine Islands and promoted to Captain.
Fred was one of 1438 former POWs who sailed for the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dickman which sailed from Manila on September 26, 1945, at 6:00 A.M., but returned to port because a port engine intake was clogged with mud. It sailed again at 11:10 A.M. and arrived at Pearl Harbor on October 9, at 1:00 P.M. The ship sailed the next day at 4:00 P.M. and arrived in San Francisco on October 16th at 4:00 P.M. From the dock, the men were taken to Letterman General Hospital for additional medical treatment. From there, he was sent to a hospital closer to home.
During this time, he was elected National Vice-president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In December 1945, Fred was requested to testify at the War Crime trial of General Homa, but he declined. He felt there were many men already testifying who would do a better job than he could. He also was elected to the position of National Vice Commander of the American Legion.
Fred met President Harry S. Truman on March 1, 1946, in the White House. It is known that Fred received orders to report to the Rock Island, Illinois, arsenal on May 23. It is not known how long he was there. Fred was discharged from the Army on September 21, 1946, and married Helen Jeanette Reed on October 4. The couple became the parents of three sons. Fred P. LaBoon passed away on December 14, 1996, in Norman, Oklahoma, and was buried in Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery in Norman, Plot M-R3-4.