2nd Lt. Matthew Sidney MacDowell was born in Addison, New York, on August 22, 1912. As a child, he and his sister grew up at 612 South 21st Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. He was the son of Matthew D. MacDowell and Dorothy MacDowell and was called “Sonny” by his family. Matthew attended Proviso Township High School and was a member of the Class of 1931. After high school, he worked as a receiving clerk at a company that manufactured printer rollers. On September 23, 1935, Matthew enlisted in the Illinois National Guard as a member of the 33rd Tank Company from Maywood. The tank company was inducted into the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940, at 7:00 A.M. During this time, the soldiers were given physicals, and men who were inducted into the army that morning were released from federal service that afternoon after failing their physicals. The remaining men spent the next several days living in the armory. He was one of 131 men who traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was supposed to be a year of training.
One group of 17 soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27 at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox. the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip, one of the main topis was where they going live in tents or barracks. They reached the fort late in the day on Thursday and found they were housed in barracks for the night before moving into tents with stoves for heat.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28th. From their armory, the soldiers marched west on Madison Street to Fifth Avenue, in Maywood, and then north to the Chicago & Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. In Chicago, the soldiers rode busses to the Illinois Central train station and boarded another train. The flatcars with their tanks were transferred to the train and the Illinois Central took the men and tanks to Ft. Knox. Once at the fort, they were met by Army trucks at the station which took them to the fort where they reunited with the men who drove. The soldiers lived in six-man tents which had stoves for heat since they were assigned to a newly opened area of the fort and their barracks were not finished.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. The game that many of the men began to play was chess and one group became known as “The Chess Clique.” During this time Bert was one of the sergeants sent to radio communications school.
Many of the members of the company were given 4½ day furloughs home for Christmas arriving back the base just before breakfast, which was at 6:00 A.M. on December 26. 1st/Sgt. Richard Danca – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon-to-be-formed HQ Company. 35 men were picked because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. The men assigned to the company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished until February. At Fort Knox, Matthew was “Sergeant of the Guard.”
The biggest task at Ft. Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get used to each other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fistfights. As time passed, the fights ended as the members of the battalion became friends. Each company was made up of three platoons of thirty men and each company had the same number of tanks assigned to it. The one exception was Headquarters Company which had three assigned tanks. When the battalion finally received all its tanks, the soldiers were told to “beat the hell out of them.”
B Company moved into its barracks in December 1940. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space. The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the sergeant’s office, and one was in the Lt. Donald Hanes’ office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February. The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M. By February, HQ Company had its own barracks.
As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. Volleyball was also often played. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
Matthew resigned as an enlisted man and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on February 11, 1941. It was also at this time that all the companies had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the companies. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the companies in March 1941.
The men attended the various schools they were assigned to on January 13 starting in February until May 31. The tankers went through intensive training at the various classes at the Armored Force School which taught classes in gunnery, radio communications, tank maintenance, vehicle maintenance, driving, as well as other classes. Each of the new officers went to a service school to help them learn the skills of administering a tank company.
The battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30, 1941. The soldiers rode trucks to the maneuvers while their tanks and other equipment were sent by trains. HQ Company’s job during the maneuvers was to keep the letter companies supplied with fuel and make tank repairs. The tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
During their training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
After taking part in maneuvers. the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill that they learned the battalion was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Many believed PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila, but there is no proof of this. He received a leave home to say goodbye to his parents and friends. Donald returned home on leave and got engaged to Evelyn Crowe.
The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The reality 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 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – both had been medium National Guard tank battalions – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. 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. It is known that 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 Philipines because the war with Japan had started. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected.
At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan. When they arrived in San Francisco, they rode the ferry, U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville, and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, while two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan. When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. A Marine was checking off their names as they left the ship. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. Since he was an officer, Matt was invited to have dinner with the officers of the 194th Tank Battalion which had arrived in the Philippines in September.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued were heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat. At some point, the officers order Philippine white uniforms to replace their regular ones.
The 192nd had a large number of ham radio operators and 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.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” that they borrowed from the 194th, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
Upon arrival at Fort Stotsenburg, Matthew was informed that he had been attached to the 194th Tank Battalion along with D Company from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, which was scheduled to be transferred to the battalion. Together the two battalions formed the Provisional Tank Group under the command of General James N. R. Weaver.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 194th were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning long on December 8th, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall. At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese. A truck was delivering the white officers’ uniforms when the attack started so the soldiers threw them on the ground and took off in the truck. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. Being that the tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield, and the new white officers’ uniforms were still sitting on the ground. 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. 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. 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.
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. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.
After the Japanese invaded the Philippines, Matthew and the other members of his company fought a slowing action to disrupt the Japanese timetable of conquest. On December 12, 1941, Matthew and his tanks were ordered north toward Lingayen Gulf to cover the troop withdrawal. His company would play leapfrog with the Japanese until December 23rd. Near the town of Urdaneta, Matthew was transferred back to Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, and rejoined his old platoon. Matthew recalled that the men of the platoon loved to play jokes, get into fights, and drink beer.
The platoon was constantly on the move which resulted in the chow truck not being able to find them at times. Despite this, the men of the platoon always seem to eat well. The one thing Matthew never did was ask where the food came from. His platoon’s job at this time was to guard the beach against a possible Japanese landing. It was at this time that the platoon met up with a Self-Propelled Mount outfit that had a good supply of canned food. Matthew and his men ate well once again.
It was during this time that Matthew and his platoon had to go through the town of Gapan. After they got through the town, they were informed it had been held by the Japanese. Matthew could never figure out how the Japanese had missed them.
On January 1, 1942, somewhere near Baliug, there was a bridge that Matthew’s platoon and the platoon of Lt. Bill Gentry of Company C were ordered to hold. The two platoons saw movement on the other side of the bridge and opened fire. Later they learned that they had knocked out several Japanese tanks. Matthew’s platoon was ordered to Bataan leaving Lt. Gentry’s platoon holding the bridge.
On January 3, Matthew’s platoon arrived in a bivouac area but had to move three days later when the Japanese got too close. His platoon was then sent to Mariveles and would not see the other tankers of the 192nd until the fall of Bataan. Matthew was told to camouflage his tanks and cover the beach and the airstrip. His platoon did such a good job of hiding their tanks that when Col. Ted Wickord came looking for them, he could not find them.
Around February 5, Matthew and his men befriended two engineering officers who knew a Chief Petty Officer from the sub-tender Canopus. One night the CPO asked Matthew and his men aboard the ship for supper. Matthew recalled the meal was magnificent. The men had a complete steak dinner from food that had been meant for the submarines which were long gone.
In a letter dated February 27, 1942, Matthew encouraged his mother not to worry about him. In the letter he said.
“There isn’t an awful lot that I can say because of strict censorship of mail. I don’t know when you will get this if you get it at all, but please don’t worry about me as it won’t do any good. Now, if you don’t hear from me, it’s all right because under these conditions it is hard to get mail and of anything should happen to be you’ll be notified.
“I took out some government insurance, making a total of $10,000. So I’m O. K. in that respect.”
He commented on possessions he left behind at Clark Field.
” Gee, when I think of all that stuff I more than likely lost, it makes me feel pretty bad. And then when I think of having to buy it all over again I feel downright sick. It must be my Scotch blood.”
He also commented on the life of a soldier on Bataan.
“This outdoor life isn’t so bad, but I’m afraid it will kill my taste for picnics.”
He closed the letter with these words:
“Well, I guess this is all for now, so will close. Give my regards o everyone you see and to the family I send love.
Your loving son,
In another letter dated March 13, 1942, Matthew once again attempted to assure his family not to worry. He said:
“Just a few lines to let you know I’m O. K. You aren’t worrying about me?”
In his third letter dated March 26, and written on a postcard, Matthew talked about running out of smoking materials:
” I’m out of paper and this will have to do. Not much that I can say.
” Cigarettes are hard to get, although I manage to get enough. Pipe tobacco and cigars are just impossible to get. I started out with one pipe, broke it, and got another and lost that. Finally, got one more but now I have no tobacco.
“I save my butts and smoke them. Had a box of cigars when the war started but in the past few weeks, or rather the last two months, I have had three. Will have to start another pipe collection when I get home.
“Gee, I wish I knew how you were. I hear we have mail someplace. Hope to get it soon. Also, I have a package with pipe, tobacco, cigars, and something to eat in it.”
He also joked about the drinking:
“I haven’t had a drink since he first week in January. Am I reforming! I am growing a mustache. Wonder how you will like it? Well, this is all for now. Write soon, and if you wish, send me some of my pipes and some tobacco. Hope you are all well.
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. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left. The tanks repeatedly were sent into areas to stop Japanese advances but often could not reach them because the roads were clogged with retreating troops and civilians.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. 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 11:40 P.M., the soldiers heard a thud and the ammunition dumps went up in flames. At midnight Companies B and D, 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, Cpl. Bill Burns, was a former member of B Company. Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment.
It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit 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, but 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.
It was at this time that Matthew and his men made their way to the beach and found an old tugboat. On it, they made their escape to Corregidor. It should be mentioned that when his parents heard the news of the surrender of Bataan, his father suffered a heart attack and died. How they made it through the minefields was something that Matthew could never explain. When they reached the dock, they were met by Col. Carlos Ramouls and were sent to a cave. The next morning Matthew was attached to the Fourth Marines and sent topside to take over a defensive position. He would remain there until May 6, 1942.
Matthew recalled that all the men on Corregidor sat and waited for the end to come. There was no place for them to go and it was just a matter of time. M/Sgt. Ralph W. Pope, from the engineers, found a seagoing tugboat that they stocked with food and fuel. The men spent their time getting it ready to leave the island. The day before the men were to leave, the Japanese bombed Corregidor and sank the tugboat. Matthew had a good cry that night.
The Japanese landed on Corregidor on May 5, 1942, the next day Matthew and the other men were informed that it was all over and that they were Prisoners of War. Matthew recalled that the men did not know what to expect from the Japanese. They were ordered to report to the Radio Tunnel. The Japanese came and ordered the Americans to bury the dead and take their dog tags.
After the surrender, Matthew and the other prisoners remained on Corregidor for two weeks. During this time, the POWs worked a detail collecting the dead. Matthew recalled that the Japanese combat soldiers were a lot more respectful to the American soldiers. He told of how he watched a Japanese soldier make a cross for the grave of a Marine, place a jug of water in it, and step back and salute. When the detail ended, Matthew and the other prisoners were placed on landing barges and made to jump off the barges near the shore off Manila.
It was after the surrender of Corregidor that his parents received this message in May or early June 1942, from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. D. MacDowell:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Second Lieutenant Matthew S. MacDowell, O, 404,975, 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”
The POWs marched to Bilibid Prison where they were able to get equipment like mess gear, clothes, and blankets. From May 26 to 28, the Japanese marched 2,000 POWs a day to the train station where they boarded freight cars. Each car held 75 to 80 men. In the cars, the POWs were taken to the barrio of Cabanatuan where they lived in an old schoolhouse. Once there, they formed 100 men detachments and ordered them to march. They were warned that anyone who fell would be killed. The reality was those who fell were beaten until they got back up.
During the march, they walked almost six miles and passed Camp #1 where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march were held. They next passed Cabanatuan #2 which was about four miles past Camp #1. The camp did not have an adequate water supply and was closed, but it later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 which was about seven miles from Camp #1 was where those men captured on Corregidor were taken. The POWs arrived at Camp #3 from May 26 to May 29 in detachments of 1500 men which meant the total number of POWs in the camp was 6,000 men. On May 30, after arriving at the camp, the first four POWs escaped and were caught on the road that ran past the camp. They were able to escape because the north perimeter of the camp did not have a fence. The men were brought back to the camp and beaten. The next day, May 31, they were executed.
Meals at first consisted of an onion soup without any onions in it. Later, the meals consisted of 16 ounces of rice for each man each day, 4 ounces of top greens (similar to spinach) was issued. Once a week, one ounce of carabao meat was issued. Two ounces of coconut were issued and this was used with cornstarch and sugar to make a pudding. Also, once per week for one month, one small banana was issued and this was also used for pudding. It appears that during the first month in the camp that the POWs also received 15 limes.
Filipino guerrillas ambushed a convoy that had POWs in it on June 16. Four POWs were wounded and one died the next day. The “Blood Brother Rule” was put into effect on June 21. If one POW escaped, the other nine men in his group would be executed. The Japanese allowed the first church services on June 28. The next day, the POWs organized a morale program. The POWs played volleyball, basketball, softball, ping pong, created singing groups, and a band.
It is not known how long Matthew remained in the camp since POW details were sent out almost from the time they arrived. One reason this happened was the POWs were in much better shape than the men captured on Bataan. Many POWs worked day details where they left the camp and returned the same day. On one of these details, four POWs working on a truck detail were wounded when it was attacked by Filipino guerrillas. One of the men died.
To prevent escapes, the Japanese instituted the “blood brother” rule on June 21. The POWs in the camp were placed in ten men groups and lived in the same barracks, slept in the same area, ate together, and worked together. If one man escaped, the other nine were executed since – according to Japanese logic – they should have been able to stop the man from escaping. The first church services were held in the camp on June 28. The next June 29, the officers organized activities for the POWs to improve morale. Teams were organized to play softball, basketball, volleyball, and ping-pong. In addition, sing-a-long groups were organized to entertain the POWs. On July 17, an organized effort started to catch flies in the camp since they spread dysentery. For a milk can filled with flies, a POW received two biscuits and some cigarettes.
In July, his parents received a second letter 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, Second Lieutenant Matthew S. MacDowell 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.”
POWs during this time were sent out on details and returned to the camp. 360 POWs left the camp for a work detail at Manila. Another group of 150 men was sent there on July 30. Followed by the third detachment of 198 men on September 1. The Japanese gave physicals to 344 POWs who they referred to as “producers” and were being sent to Japan. The term producer meant the POWs had training in areas that the Japanese wanted to exploit. 1oo POWs left the camp on a work detail on September 23, followed by another 100 POWs the next day. Another 32 men were sent to the detail at Manila on September 28 followed by 119 POWs the next day. On October 4, 374 POWs were sent to the Manila work detail and the next day another 676 POWs were sent there. On October 12 the POWs were organized into two groups. Group I was made up of all Army and Air Corps personnel, and Group II was made up of all Navy personnel.
The POWs remaining in the camp reorganized the POWs still there and created Group I made up of Army personnel and Group II made up of Navy personnel. It was at this time that the Japanese began the transfer of sick POWs to Camp 1 with 20 men being sent to the hospital there on October 14 and another 10 men being transferred there the next day. On October 21, 322 POWs, from Group I, were sent to Camp 1 followed by another 15 sick POWs on October 23. Another 297 POWs were sent to Manila to the work detail there o October 26. The POWs still at Camp 3 on October 27 received word that they were all going to be sent to Camp 1. The 74 sick POWs in the camp were sent to the hospital at Camp 1on October 28. On October 29, 1,126 POWs boarded trucks and rode to Camp 1. The next day, the remaining 775 POWs were taken by truck to the camp. Camp 3 officially went out of existence on October 30, 1942.
When this was done, Matthew met the survivors of the death march. The death march survivors told them of the brutality shown to the Filipino and American soldiers as they made their way from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell. They also learned that all full-colonels and generals had been sent to Tarlac.
Once in the camp, 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.
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.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M.
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.
As a prisoner in Cabanatuan, Matthew worked in the rice fields planting and cultivating rice plants. Since clothing was a major concern of the prisoners, when a POW died, they would strip him of his clothes and wash them in hot water. They would bury the dead prisoner naked. The POW as a person was almost forgotten by his fellow prisoners who were concerned with dividing up his belongings so that they could continue to live. Matthew wondered what the people back home would think of him and his fellow prisoners and how hard and cynical they had become as human beings.
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 needed 1000 POWs to go on a work detail to Davao in October 1942. On October 24, the POWs were marched to the barrio of Cabanatuan, loaded onto boxcars, and sent by train to Manila arriving in the afternoon. During the trip, the doors of the boxcars were left open so there was ventilation. When they arrived at Manila, they remained in the boxcars until after dark when they were marched through the empty streets to Bilibid Prison. Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice.
The next day they were assembled in 100 men formations and marched to the Port Area of Manila where they boarded the Erie Maru. The hold was divided into box spaces and twelve men were assigned to each box. There was only enough room in a box for six men to sleep at a time. The POWs quickly became infested with bedbugs and lice. The hold smelled from the gasoline that was being stored in it and quickly was joined by the smell of human excrement.
The next morning the POWs were fed rice and spinach soup. At noon, they received rice and dried fish. For dinner, they had corned beef and rice. The POWs assigned to cooking discovered the Japanese officers had a large stock of captured American pork and slipped it to the men in the holds which resulted in many of the POWs developing dysentery.
The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo, Panay, and Cebu, Mindanao. At Iloilo, they buried one man who had died. The POWs arrived at Lansang on November 7.
The camp Matthew was sent to had once been a prison for political prisoners. After he arrived, Matthew entering a barracks and recalled falling asleep fully clothed. It was there that the prisoners were told that if one man escaped, ten POWs would be killed because the man escaped. This was the beginning of the “Blood Brother” rule.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because all the majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
There were various details. 30 men were assigned to work as carpenters, 25 POWs worked in the orchards, 50 POWs made rope, 20 POWs worked the bodega (storeroom) detail, and for four months the POWs cut and picked coffee. There were smaller details that took from 2 to 35 men that lasted weeks or months, while other details were continuous, such as the farm detail that 250 to 300 POWs worked on plowing fields and harvesting crops.
50 to 100 POWs were sent to a plantation and given the job of building roads. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. The Japanese decided that they were getting nowhere, so they sent the POWs to the ricefields to plant rice.
350 to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
On February 2, 1942, the War Department released a list of names of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. Matt’s name was on the list. His parents had been informed he was a POW weeks earlier.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON, SECOND LIEUTENANT MATTHEW S MACDOWELL IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
A week or so after this notification, they received a letter from the War Department.
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“2nd Lt. Matthew S. MacDowell, 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”
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working in the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth. Beatings were common and usually, the guards slapped the POWs in their faces. On occasion, there were severe beatings. This occurred if the Japanese suspected the POWs were planning an escape.
The POWs were still receiving three meals – which were measured down with a sardine tin – a day and received one water buffalo a week but they were being worked harder and longer. At times, after the POWs had slaughtered the water buffalo and had it ready to cook, the Japanese made them bury it. Trees at the experimental farm were loaded with bananas, oranges, and other fruits that fell to the ground and rotted since the POWs were not allowed to eat them.
By now, Matthew had lost about forty pounds due to the lack of food, not having proper medication, beriberi, yellow jaundice, and several attacks of malaria. About this time the POWs began to receive better treatment. The food also improved and they did receive some medicines. The prisoners were also informed that they would be paid if they worked. The pay was ten pesos or five American dollars a month. The Japanese did open a commissary where the prisoners could buy things. Matthew would buy tobacco by the handful and taught by a Filipino how to roll cigars. He became pretty good at rolling them.
After the escape of Capt. William Dyess, LTC Melvyn McCoy, Maj. Stephen Mellnik, Maj. Michael Dobervitch, and another POW on April 4, 1943, the 600 remaining POWs from their barracks were moved to another compound and had their rations reduced, they were confined to quarters, and they were abused. During the day, they were not allowed to sit down. The Japanese commanding officer ordered and allowed collectives punishment on all the POWs. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep.
In November 1943, his mother received two POW postcards from him. In both cards, he indicated he was a POW at Camp #2.
When two other POWs escaped, 22 other POWs were confined to the guardhouse for ten days. They were made to stand at attention all day in the cells. The cells were eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide. Eleven prisoners were put into each cell. At night they were beaten with sticks when they attempted to lie down. They were fed one meal a day of rice with a little salt.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong. The barracks of the POWs were only 400 yards from the airfield. The POWs believed this was done so if American planes attacked, they would kill their own countrymen. The POWs either built runways or were sent to a quarry to mine coral for runways. The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it onto trucks that were driven to the airfield. When the POWs slowed the pace of their work down, the Japanese resorted to torture to get them to work.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindanao, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship’s front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25.
During the trip, the POWs spent the entire time in the hold of the ships. Some of the men died days before their fellow prisoners knew that they were dead. The prisoners arrived in Manila on June 17th and were returned to Cabanatuan where they found that there was no food or medical supplies.
As more and more POWs were sent to Manila for shipment to another part of the Japanese empire, the officers were put to work on the camp farm with the enlisted men. Jack worked on the wood detail that collected wood for the POW kitchen. In August 1944, the POWs found themselves working to move the hospital to the same area as the POW barracks. The reason was that the Japanese wanted to reduce the size of the camp so they would need fewer guards. The POWs were keeping their own gardens and growing their own food, but the Japanese now insisted that the POWs stop cooking their own food. The POWs adopted a group cooking policy where the POWs in a group placed an order 24 hours before they wanted it, and it was deducted from that group’s food stock. The POWs were also able to purchase coffee. They noticed that the Japanese attitude also had changed and that they wanted the POWs more involved in the running of the camp.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs saw the first American planes fly over the camp on their way to bombing Clark Field. This was the first sign that American forces were getting closer to the Philippines. Life in the camp was monotonous, and the POWs continued to go out on work details. Not long after this, 150 guards who had been at the camp for awhile left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The POWs heard a rumor from guards Americans were on Mindanao Island, but it turned out the rumor was false. At this time, Matthew was sent to Bilibid Prison. He recalled the entire trip was by truck and that he stood the entire way. By the time he arrived at Bilibid, his legs were swollen because he was suffering from wet beriberi. At the same time, he began running a fever due to another attack of malaria. Matthew was very sick and now weighed only 102 pounds and had a total of fifteen malaria attacks during his time in captivity.
At Bilibid, Matthew was assigned to a work detail at a warehouse. He was smoking a cigarette when a Japanese guard ordered him to carry a bucket of water across the warehouse. The POWs were not allowed to smoke in the warehouse, so Matthew put out the cigarette but kept it since cigarettes were hard to get. An enraged guard pulled the butt from his hand and stuffed it, ashes still hot, in his ear. “My first reaction was to throw the water at him. It’s lucky I didn’t. I would have been shot on the spot.”
One of the most difficult things for Matthew was the soldiers who went blind because of the lack of vitamins. The American doctors had no idea if they would regain their vision when their diets improved. He recalled that on Navy chaplain spent his days reading to these POWs. Matthew held this chaplain with high regard.
When the Japanese got ready to ship the prisoners to Japan, a Japanese doctor determined that Matthew was too ill to be sent to Japan and that he would not last much longer. He was admitted to the hospital ward with dengue fever and was not discharged until November 11, 1944. As it turned out, this medical decision would save Matthew’s life. The ship that Matthew would have been on was the Arisan Maru. On October 24, the ship was torpedoed by an American submarine resulting in the deaths of nearly 1766 POWs.
It was also at this time that his mother received news from the War Department that a shortwave radio broadcast had been heard which stated that the POW talking was 2nd Lt. Matthew MacDowell. In the broadcast, he said he was well and that he had received a package from home. He also stated that many of the members of the battalion had been sent to Japan.
Like the other prisoners, Matt only had rumors of the advancing American forces. The one story the prisoners heard was those men who were still at Cabanatuan had been liberated by American forces at the end of January 1945. They hoped that this would soon happen to them. On February 2, the last American POW died in the prison of dysentery.
The night of February 2nd, the POWs heard a series of detonations that lasted for over an hour to the southeast at 10:30 P.M. There were some small ones and big ones too that we mixed together. The POWs heard the echoes of explosions all night long. The POWs began to believe that it was just a matter of days before they were free. On February 3 was a normal day for the POWs who went around performing their chores. They told each other the latest rumors as they ate their evening meal. It was at that time that six American planes flew over the compound flying very low and very slow. At 6:00 P.M. they took part in an evening roll call. At 6:30, they heard the sound of artillery in the distance. Then they heard heavy machine-gun fire which got closer and closer and closer. All hell broke loose and there was light artillery fire or fire from tanks, heavy machine-gun and light machine-gun fire, rifle fire, and pistol fire all coming from the north and east of the prison. At 10:30 P.M., the electricity went out. The POWs heard the sound of guns and the ammunition dumps going up. The sound of moving tanks, artillery fire, small arms explosions continued until 2:00 A.M. when everything got quiet except for heavy artillery that could be heard in the distance.
On the morning of February 4, the POWs talked about what they had heard. They also noticed that the Japanese guards seemed to be getting ready to leave. The senior American medical officer was called to the Japanese commanding officer’s office and told that they were freeing the POWs. He also told them to stay inside the prison. Before the camp commandant left, he posted a typed document stating the Japanese were releasing the POWs.
“1. The Japanese army is now going to release all prisoners of war and internees here on its own accord.
‘”2. We are assigned to another duty and shell be here no more.
“3. You are at liberty to act and live as free persons but you must be aware of probable dangers if you go out.
“4. We shall leave here foodstuffs, medicines, and other necessities of which you may avail yourselves for the time being.
“5. We have arranged to put signboard at the front gate bearing the following context: ‘Lawfully released prisoners of war and interests are quartered here. Please do not molest them unless they make positive resistance.'”
At 11:45 A.M., the Japanese left and the POWs posted their own guards and waited for the American to arrive. The POWs had three good meals that day and noted that a small American plane flew over the prisoner repeatedly that day.
Early on the next morning of February 4th, soldiers in funny-looking uniforms appeared at Bilibid. Ardell Schei, a medic, recalled that the windows of the buildings were boarded up and that the soldiers broke into the building to see what was behind the boarded-up windows. It was at 6:00 P.M., that a wooden shutter on one of the walls was knocked down by a rifle butt. As it turned out, it was the Americans who had completely surrounded the prison and had been trying to get in to see what was inside. At first, the POWs thought the soldiers were Germans because of their helmets and uniforms. It was only when the soldiers spoke to them in English that the POWs knew that they had been liberated.
The POWs remained in the prison. Since the possibility existed that the Japanese may attempt to retake the prison. The 37th Infantry Division from Ohio came to the compound and visited the POWs. They were followed by 148th Infantry, 7th Division. Matthew recalled the event, “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” The Americans gave their cigarettes and K rations to the former POWs and seemed unable to do enough for them. They even gave the former POWs their whiskey, beer, and cigars that the Filipinos had given them.
At 9:00 P.M. on February 5th, there was gunfire on three sides of the prison so the former POWs so the decision was made to move the former POWs to the Ang Tibay shoe factory on the outskirts of Manila. The members of the 148th Infantry carried POWs out on litters and were evacuated in ambulances and on jeeps. When Matt was liberated, he was carried from the prison on a stretcher. During his time as a POW, he had beriberi and malaria. The soldiers also helped the weak onto trucks and made sure that all the POWs were out of Bilibid which was completed by 11:35 P.M.
On February 6, the former POWs were ordered back to Bilibid since the prison had better sanitary facilities. When they got there they found it had been looted and much of their personnel effects were gone. They received their first American food that morning which was canned ham and eggs, cereal milk, K biscuits, butter, jam, and coffee with milk and sugar. The former POWs who were seriously ill and needed better medical treatment were sent to Santo Tomas on February 9th. On the 10th, more men were sent there while those men not able to make the trip were sent to Quezon Institute with the remainder transferred to 12th Replacement Battalion.
After he was liberated, his mother received a telegram from the War Department.
“Mrs. Dorothy McDowell: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, 2nd Lt. Matthew S. McDowell was returned to military control Feb 4 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
After liberation, Matthew was sent to Australia to recuperate. During his stay, on May 22, 1945, that he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He was next sent to a Veterans’ Hospital in California where he had the chance to call home. He kept asking his mother if he could speak to his dad. Not wanting to tell him that his dad had died from a heart attack on April 6, 1942, she kept changing the subject. She finally told him his dad was dead. To her surprise, Matt told her that he has had men die in his arms and at his feet, and he was now able to take almost anything.
After returning to the U.S., Matthew asked to be sent back to the Philippines to fight the Japanese. He said, “We did a lot of catching. Now, I want to do some throwing.” When the announcement of the Japanese surrender was made on August 15, 1945, he said, “I’m awfully glad it’s over, but for many, it will be filled with heartbreaks. Many folks have been living in hopes that their ‘missing son’ will turn up alive. Now they may find that he has died.”
Matthew remained in the army and rose in rank to Captain. He served in the Korean War and retired from the military in 1960. Matthew married Doris Dittner on February 1, 1946, raised a family, and spent the rest of his life in Hillside, Illinois. Matthew S. MacDowell passed away on December 31, 1985, in Hillside. He was buried at Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois.