Pvt. Melvin Rojas Madero was born in San Antonio, Texas, on August 5, 1920, to Manuel F. & Mary Madero. He had a sister and a brother. A few months later his family moved to Salinas, California. It is known what happened, but he became the foster son of Martin & Florence Besterio. Melvin attended local schools and was a 1939 graduate of Salinas High School. While in high school, he worked as a doorman at the local theater. After high school, he worked as a repairman for the local telephone company.
Melvin enlisted in the California National Guard on October 10, 1940, which meant that on October 16, when the draft act took effect, he did not have to register. He was inducted into federal service on February 10, 1941, as a member of C Company, 194th Tank Battalion.
The members of the company spent a week getting their equipment ready for movement to Fort Lewis, Washington, where it was joined by A Company from Brainerd, Minnesota, and B Company from Saint Joseph, Missouri. It was after arriving there that he was put in charge of the C Company’s reconnaissance platoon.
The weather at the camp was described as constantly rainy during the winter months. When they first arrived many men caught colds, pneumonia, and the flu and spent time in the fort’s hospital. The situation became bad enough that doctors went to the barracks to treat the men.
A typical day started at 6:00 A.M. with the first call followed at 6:30 with breakfast. During this time the soldiers made their cots, policed the grounds around the barracks, swept the floors of their barracks, and performed other duties. From 7:30 to 11:30 A.M., the men had drill followed by lunch. They again had drill from 1:00 P.M. until 4:30 P.M. Evening retreat was at 5:00 P.M. and dinner was at 5:30 P.M. After this, the men were off duty except for those assigned to the guard detail who worked two hours on and four hours off during the night.
A canteen was located near their barracks and was visited often. There was also a movie theater on the base that they visited. The theater where the tanks were kept was not finished, but when it was, the tankers only had to cross the road to their tanks.
Saturdays the men had off, and many rode a bus 15 miles northeast to Tacoma which was the largest town nearest to the base. They also went to see the Tacoma Narrow Bridge which had collapsed in 1940. On Sundays, many of the men went to church and services were held at different times for the different denominations.
One of the biggest problems for the tankers was that the regular Army seemed to have a problem with them since they were National Guardsmen. After arriving at the fort, they trained in whatever clothing they had. One day, while they were training three officers, on horseback, rode up and asked why they weren’t training in the proper uniforms. It was explained that what they were wearing was what they had. That afternoon, a truck loaded with army clothing showed up at the 194th’s barracks. As it turned out one of the officers was the chief of staff of the camp’s commander, the officer’s name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The battalion went on long reconnaissance with trucks and tanks and drove all over reservation following maps. They learned from observation what the land surrounding the fort looked like. The purpose of this training was to collect tank data which they would use later. They often had to live off the land during the training.
On April 30, 1941, the battalion went on an all-day march and ate dinner in woods brought to them by the cooks in the food trucks. The march was two hours one way and covered about 10 miles total. At one point the soldiers stopped in an abandoned apple orchard in bloom.
The battalion’s first motorcycles arrived in May 1941 and all battalion members had to learn to ride them. In early May 1941, the battalion – except men who had been drafted – went on its first overnight bivouac. The reason the new men did not go is that they did not have shelter halves. The battalion left around noon and returned around noon the next day.
Men assigned to jobs requiring special training were sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for training as mechanics, tank mechanics, radiomen, and radio repair for six weeks. Those who remained at Ft. Lewis were given the job of policing the base collecting garbage and distributing coal.
On August 15, 1941, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the 194th received orders for duty in the Philippine Islands because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next morning, by the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. Arriving, by train, at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, they were taken by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found with medical conditions were replaced.
The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship’s holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th 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 a heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria and a replenishment oiler, U.S.S. Guadalupe, that were its 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 soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed. They were met by General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed. On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
On December 1, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the battalion was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Just hours early, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. As the tankers guarded the airfield, they watched American planes flying in every direction. At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. It was 12:45, and as the tankers watched, a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
On the night of December 12/13, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13.
It was at this time that C Company was ordered to support forces in southern Luzon. The company proceeded through Manila. Since they had no air cover, most of their movements were at night. As they moved, they noticed lights blinking or flares being shot into the air. They arrived at the Tagaytay Ridge and spent time there attempting to catch fifth columnists.
They remained in the area until December 24, when they moved over the Taal Road to San Tomas and bivouacked near San Paolo and assisted in operations in the Pagbilao-Lucban Area supporting the Philippine Army.
It was at this time that his parents received a telegram from him. In it, he said, “Merry Christmas, happy New Year, am well. Love Melvin.”
One of the most dangerous things the tanks did was cross bridges with a ten-ton weight limit. Each tank weighed 14 tons, so they crossed the bridges one tank at a time. On the 30, the company supported the withdrawal of the Philippine Army south of San Fernando on Route 3 and rejoined the battalion on December 31.
The tanks withdrew through San Fernando at 2:00 A.M. on January 2 and fell back to the Lyac Junction. The two tank battalions were holding a line between Culis and Hermosa. The tanks withdrew from the line the night of the 6/7. While doing this, the maintenance section of the battalions repaired abandoned trucks used to haul food and the gasoline caches they found and bring it into Bataan. That night, the 194th crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek, covered by the 192nd, and entered Bataan.
The company, with A Co., 192nd Tank Battalion, withdrew from the Guagua-Perac Line to Remedio where they established a new defensive line on January 5. That afternoon, C Company, supported by four self-propelled mounts stopped a Japanese advance which kept the road open for withdrawing forces.
The next night, the tanks were holding the line when the Japanese attempted to infiltrate under a bright moon. The tanks opened fire resulting in the Japanese losing half of their troops. In an attempt to cover their advance, the Japanese used a smokescreen that blew back on them. The battle lasted until the Japanese broke off the attack at 3:00 in the morning. After this, there was a two-day lull in the fighting.
A composite tank company was formed from the tank battalions and given the job of protecting the East road north to Hermosa. This was a dangerous job since the tanks were in the range of Japanese artillery. The other tanks were ordered to a bivouac south of the Abubucay-Hacienda Line.
The tanks formed a new bivouac just south of the Pilar-Baggao Road and had a few days rest. While they rested, 17th Ordnance and the maintenance sections of the battalion did long overdue work on the tanks. Also around this time, the tank companies were reduced to ten tanks so that tanks could be given to D Company, 192nd, which had lost its tanks after a bridge had been destroyed before they had crossed it.
C Company and D Company, 192nd, were sent to the Cadre Road on the 12 but returned on the 13 because ordnance had planted landmines which made reaching the road impossible. C Company was sent to Bagac, on the 16, to reopen the West Highway Road that had been cut by the Japanese so troops trapped behind the roadblock could escape. A platoon of tanks at the Moron Highway and Trail 162 knocked out an anti-tank gun, and with the help of infantry, cleared the roadblock.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
Both tank battalions held a line along the Balanga-Cardre Road-Banobano Road so that other units could withdraw which was completed by midnight. They held the line until the night of the 26th/27th when they withdrew and formed a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Road. In a letter home, he said, “There just aren’t any free passes to this show, and we reserve the right to chose our customers.”
At about 9:45 A.M., a Filipino civilian came down the road and warned the tankers that a Japanese force was on its way. The tanks, with four Self=Propelled Mounts, opened up on the Japanese when they appeared. The fighting lasted 45 minutes when the Japanese withdrew having suffered 50 percent casualties. This action prevented the Japanese from overrunning the new defensive line which was still being formed.
The tank battalions were given beach duty so that the Japanese could not land troops behind the main line of defense. The half-tracks of the battalions patrolled the roads. At 2:50 A.M., a Japanese motorized unit was head coming down the road with the lead vehicle having dimmed headlights. The 194th had a roadblock in place with guns aimed at various angles. When they opened up, they caused heavy damage to the Japanese column.
It was also at this time that the tank battalions, without orders, took on the job of protecting three airfields. The airfields had been built so a rebuilt Air Corps would have places to land. About the same time, the fighting on Bataan came to a standstill since the Japanese troops were exhausted and suffering from the same tropical illnesses as the defenders. To end the stalemate, the Japanese brought in fresh troops from Singapore.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out 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.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. 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.
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.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.) 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 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.”
The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. 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 inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M. on April 9, 1942, the order “CRASH” was issued. The tankers destroyed their tanks and waited for orders from the Japanese. The members of the 194th were ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2.
At 7:00 P.M. on the 10, the POWs were ordered to march. They made their way from the former command post, and at first, found the walk difficult. When they reached the main road, walking became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
During this part of the march to reach the main road out of Bataan, the POWs noted that they were treated well by the Japanese who were combat-hardened troops. Their guards were surprised that they had surrendered and treated them fairly well. It was at Limay that the treatment they received would change.
When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher were separated from the enlisted men and the lower-ranking officers. The higher-ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given a few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At some point, 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 men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
The Japanese organized the POWs into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. They believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When the POWs arrived at the camp, they were searched and anyone found with Japanese money was separated from the other POWs and sent to the guardhouse. These POWs were accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. Over several days, gunshots were heard coming from southeast of the camp as they were executed.
The Japanese also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried with them and refused to return it. Since there was no water to wash their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2½ to 8 hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guard in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason, and the next man in line would have to wait up to four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking food had to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess kits could not be cleaned.
Since most of the POWs had dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in flies being everywhere in the camp including the camp kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant which also caused diseases to spread. When the ranking American doctor presented a letter with the medicines and medical supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another letter. He also said that the only things he wanted to know about the POWs were their names and serial numbers after they died.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese refused to let it into the camp. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a Japanese lieutenant that they could set up a 150-bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the lieutenant. Medicines sent to the camp by the Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own use.
The POWs called the hospital “Zero Ward” because most of the men who entered it never came out alive. The Japanese were so afraid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire fence up around it. The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed with knives from mess kits. Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough to perform his duties.
Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and placed them under the hospital building. To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the ground, put down lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the bodies had been. It took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk, went out on a work detail for the day such as the one collected wood for the POW kitchen. Some POWs went out on work details which lasted for months to get out of the camp. The worse detail a man could be put on was the burial detail. On this detail, two POWs carried a dead man to the camp cemetery. Once there, they put the body in a grave and held the body down with a pole, since the water table was high, and covered it with dirt. The next morning, when the burials resumed, the dead were often sitting up or had been dug up by wild dogs.
To get out of the camp, Melvin volunteered to go out on the bridge building detail which was under the command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, who had been the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The detail’s job was to rebuild the bridges that the retreating Filipino and American forces had destroyed as they fell back into Bataan. Wixkord attempted to fill the detail with as many tankers as possible.
The POWs first worked at Calaun, where they were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
It was while on this detail that his family received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. M. Madero:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Melvin R. Madero, 20, 900, 727, 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”
It appears Melvin became ill while out on the detail and was sent to Cabanatuan. 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.
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.
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. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “Speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them. “Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building.
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. According to medical records kept at the camp, Melvin was in the camp hospital on June 8, 1942. No date was listed for his being discharged.
The POWs also had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
In July 1942, his family received a second message from the War Department. The following are excerpts from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Melvin R. Madero 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.”
On June 23, 1943, his parents officially received notification that he was a POW at Cabanatuan. This was the first news they had heard about him in over a year.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE MELVIN R MADERO IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“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:
Pvt. Melvin R. Madero, 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
On August 22, 1943, his family received a POW postcard from him. In it, he said, ” please give my regards to the family and my best regards to Peggy Johnson.” On December 10, they received another postcard from him.
In July 1944, Melvin’s name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Japan. On July 15, the POWs were boarded on trucks for an eight-hour ride to Manila. They arrived at Bilibid Prison at 2:00 A.M. They remained at the prison for a day. During their time there, the only thing they were fed was rotten sweet potatoes.
At 7:00 A.M., the POWs were marched from the prison to the Port Area of Manila. Arriving at pier one, they were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru. At first, the Japanese attempted to put all the POWs into the rear hold. When they realized this would not work, they put 900 men in the forward hold. 600 remained in the rear hold. The ship sailed but upon reaching the harbor’s breakwater, it dropped anchor. The ship remained anchored at the breakwater. For the first 30 hours in the holds, the POWs were not fed. From this time on, the POWs were fed rice and vegetables twice a day and received two canteen cups of water.
On the 23rd, the ship weighed anchor and sailed to a point off Corregidor. Once again it dropped anchor. It remained off the island for the night. The next day it sailed as part of a convoy for Formosa.
During this part of the trip, at night, some POWs cut the throats of other men and drank their blood. One night, the convoy was attacked by a Wolf Pack of American submarines. Since the hatch covers were not on, according to the POWs, one ship’s explosion lit up the night sky. Some POWs reported they heard a bang against the haul of the ship. A torpedo had hit the ship but had failed to explode. Four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk.
The remaining ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, on Friday, July 28 at 9:00 A.M. The POWs remained in the holds all day. The ships sailed that evening for Japan. During this part of the trip, the POWs sailed through a storm. They arrived at Moji, Japan around midnight the night of August 3.
The next morning, the POWs disembarked at 8:00 A.M. and taken to a movie theater and held in darkness. Later that day, the POWs were broken into detachments of 200 men and marched to the train station. They boarded trains and taken to camps along the train lines. Melvin’s POW detachment arrived at Fukuoka #23 on Saturday, August 5.
On July 21, 1945, Melvin after working all night in the coal mine, reported for sick call because he had a bad toothache. Major Kenneth R. Hagan, the American POW doctor, looked at the tooth and recommended that it be removed. He asked the Japanese doctor, Lt. Manso Danno to remove the tooth. Danno looked at the tooth, laughed at Melvin and then slapped him three times in the face. The only thing Maj. Hagen was allowed to do is put a small amount of iodine on the tooth to relieve pain. The iodine did very little to relieve the pain.
At Fukuoka #23, the POWs worked in a coal mine in two shifts. On May 28, 1945, his parents received a POW postcard from him. In it, he said, “My health is fine. I hope this finds you and the family the same. Give regards to Mrs. Errington and friends. In your next letter enclose photos of the family. Love to all.”
On August 15, 1945, when the POWs in group A, which worked during the day, returned to the camp, they were told by the POWs in Group B, who worked at night, that the war was over. They did not believe them even though they had seen Japanese civilians crying.
The next day, when the bell that told the POWs it was time to form ranks to go to the mine, did not ring the POWs believed that the war may be over. At 10:00 that morning, the camp commandant told the POWs they did not have to work, but that they also could not leave the camp.
On August 24, the Japanese gave the POWs paint and canvas. They told the Americans to paint POW on the roof of the barracks. Four days later, on August 28, the American B-29s appeared over the camp. Two of the planes circled the camp and then dropped 55-gallon drums to the POWs. In the drums were food, medical supplies, and clothing. The planes would return almost on a daily basis and continue to drop supplies to the men.
American soldiers entered the camp on September 15, 1945. The liberated POWs were processed and boarded on trucks supplied by the Japanese. They were taken to the train station and rode a train to Nagasaki. In Nagasaki, they were taken to the port area. As they rode through the city, they saw the damage done by the atomic bomb.
The POWs were deloused and given new clothing. They were boarded onto the U.S.S. Marathon and taken to Okinawa. From Okinawa, the men were flown to Manila for further medical treatment. They were finally returned to the United States in October 1945 and was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis. On November 1, he returned home to Salinas.
Melvin returned home and was discharged, from the army, on May 25, 1946. He returned to Salinas and married Gloria C. Romero. He was the father of a son. At one point, he moved to Denver, Colorado. In 1976, he became the President of the American Ex-Prisoners of War.
Melvin R. Madero passed away on May 12, 1992, in San Diego, California. He was buried in Section I, Site C-554d, at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California.