PFC Lawrence Ira Martin was the son of Charles F. Martin and Lillie Westerfield-Martin and was born on February 7, 1922, in Mercer County, and was raised near Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Lawrence was one of the original members of the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard called to federal duty on November 25, 1940. With his company, he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28th, where it was designated as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
In January 1941, Headquarters Company was formed with men from the four letters companies of the battalion. It was at that time that Lawrence was transferred to the new company and assigned to tank maintenance.
Over the next several months, Lawrence was also assigned to driving a truck, driving a staff car for the battalion’s headquarters, and he attended cook’s school. At various times, he did all of these jobs.
In the late summer of 1941, Lawrence took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. During the maneuvers, he drove a truck supplying the tank companies with needed supplies.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. Lawrence recalled that after the maneuvers, the tankers were told that they were being sent overseas. He was given a ten-day leave home. When he returned to Camp Polk, he was assigned to putting the gear together and getting the tanks onto railroad flat cars.
Lawrence and the rest of HQ Company rode a train along the southern route which went through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to San Francisco, California. There, they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. It is known that during his time on the island, he had to do KP. The soldiers were given shots and physicals for duty in the Philippine Islands. Some men were held back for minor medical conditions and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
After passing physicals and being inoculated, HQ Company was boarded onto the Hugh L. Scott which sailed on Monday, October 27, 1941. After many of the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, Lawrence 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 2nd, and the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Wednesday, November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam as part of a three-ship convoy which took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.
During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila. At one point, the ships passed an island, at night, 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 day. At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and most were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Others, assigned to trucks, drove them to the fort. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance. Lawrence stated that many of the other jobs were done by Filipino boys. The boys washed their clothes and shine their shoes. Lawrence was assigned to driving a two and one half-ton truck and the hardest thing for him was getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
On December 8, 1941, the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Lawrence was greasing a tank when a Filipino boy said, “Here comes some pretty looking airplanes.” Lawrence looked up at the high flying planes. While he was looking at the planes, someone else said, “Airplanes! The devil…..That’s the Japs!” No sooner was this said that bombs began exploding.
To Lawrence, the attack was a scene of confusion. Men were running in every direction. During the attack, the tank park was bombed. Many of the bombs were duds. Lawrence climbed on a tank and began firing a machine gun at the planes. After the attack, he looked around and saw that it seemed like everything was on fire.
During the fight against the Japanese, Lawrence drove a truck delivering ammunition and gasoline to the tanks at the front lines. He also delivered shells to the 200 Coast Artillery.
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.
During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders. At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. Lawrence was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
Lawrence and the other soldiers were loaded onto trucks. He recalled that they tied their duffel bags to the front and sides of the trucks. He assumed that the Japanese would allow them to keep their extra clothes. Lawrence and the other men began the drive to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
During the trip, they were flagged down by a Japanese soldier. After stopping them, he tore their duffel bags off the sides of the truck. Lawrence opened the door of the truck to get out when he was hit on the side of his head with a bayonet scabbard. Lawrence got back into the truck and drove it the rest of the way to Mariveles.
At Mariveles, the Japanese had a large number of American trucks that they did not know how to drive. Lawrence was given the job to teach them how to drive the trucks. While doing this job, Lawrence dealt with a Japanese soldier who couldn’t get the truck out of low gear. The soldier kept saying, “speedo” to Lawrence. Lawrence got into the truck with the soldier and put it into fifth gear. He must of gone too fast for the soldier. When Lawrence stopped the truck, the Japanese soldier kicked him out of it. A little while later, he saw the truck, with the soldier still in it, stuck on a slope.
Lawrence was picked up by another truck and returned to Mariveles. When they got to Mariveles, the POWs got out of the trucks and were held at Mariveles Airfield. The men were told to line up and required to kneel with the Japanese in front of them with guns aimed at them. Lawrence realized that the Japanese were preparing to execute them.
Next to Lawrence was Cecil Van Diver, who said to him, “I suppose this it.” Lawrence said, “I guess if you know any prayers, you better say them.” At about that time, a staff car pulled up and a Japanese officer got out. The officer said something to a Japanese sergeant because after the officer drove off, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Not too long after this incident, the Prisoners of War were ordered to move. They were marched to Mariveles and put in a schoolyard. There, they sat in the sun without food or water. Men began to pass out.
Directly behind the POWs were two or three pieces of Japanese artillery. These guns were firing on Corregidor. The Americans on Corregidor were also returning fire. While Lawrence sat there, three or four shells from Corregidor exploded behind him and the other prisoners. Lawrence watched as five Americans attempted to get out of the line of fire by hiding in an old brick building. American shells hit the building blowing the roof off and killing all of them. American shells also hit the guns knocking out most of them.
Not too long after this, the POWs were put into groups of 50, seventy-five, or 100 men. They were then given the order to move. Not knowing it at the time, Lawrence had started what became known as the death march. At the time, he weighed 165 pounds.
On the march, Lawrence learned that getting ahead of his group had its advantages. It allowed him to get away from the guards, which allowed him to leave the road to get water. With him, he had a large tomato can that he filled with water from the artesian wells. If he was seen by a guard, he was shot at by them.
Sickness was the major killer of the march. Lawrence witnessed the killing of sick men who attempted to relieve themselves along the side of the road. One of the prisoners he saw killed was Emery Boardman of HQ Company. Boardman had been a National Guardsman from Illinois. Suffering from dysentery, Boardman had gone to the side of the road to relieve himself. A Japanese guard bayoneted Boardman in his stomach.
Lawrence said that the POWs in his group were given little time to rest. At night, they were allowed an hour or two in a field. At other times, they were marched all night. The only food he received was rice which was thrown to him by Japanese soldiers sitting alongside the road.
Lawrence had a razor blade in his pocket. When he knew there were no guards around, he ran off the road and cut sugarcane to chew on for its juice. Doing this made him thirsty and resulted in him getting dysentery.
At one point, the POWs were put into a pen, and men died while they waited there. The only food they received was burnt rice with dirt in it. When they left the pen, they started marching again. It was about this time that he noticed that his feet were starting to swell.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into railroad cars. In the boxcars, men fainted while others died. The cars were so crowded that the dead could not fall to the floor of the cars. It was only when the POWs got out of the cars that the dead fell to the ground.
From Capas, the POWs walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base which the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the
POW kitchens and in the food. At Camp O’Donnell, Lawrence was assigned to the cooking detail. He was given the job of carrying water from a creek to the kitchen area.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
Up to this point, Lawrence had not had dysentery, malaria or any other illness. What he did notice was that his feet had swollen to the point that his ankles hung over his shoe tops. When he pushed his thumb into his leg, it left a print in the skin. A doctor in the camp told Lawrence that he had wet beriberi.
To get out of Camp O’Donnell, Lawrence volunteered to go out on a work detail. He and the other men were sent back to San Fernando and held in a large building. He believed that the building had been a hospital before the war. Their beds in the building were straw mats, and each man had a small blanket.
The work detail’s job was to collect scrap metal for the Japanese. Most of this metal were cars and trucks destroyed by the Americans as they fell back into Bataan. Since these vehicles could not run on their own, the Americans tied them together with ropes behind a working vehicle. Then each man drove a vehicle to San Fernando and left them in a large park. From there, the vehicles were taken to Manila. From there, the vehicles were sent to Japan as scrap metal.
While on this detail, Lawrence became ill with malaria. He was sent to Pampanga and put in a Pampanga Provincial Hospital. The patients in the hospital were mostly Filipino, Lawrence was one of only five or six Americans in the hospital. The patients were treated well and got all the water they wanted and three meals a day. There was very little medicine to treat the patients.
When Lawrence’s health improved, he was taken to Bilibid Prison on October 10, 1942, and put into the isolation ward. The POWs in this ward were expected to die. Lawrence on several occasions woke up to find that the men on both sides of him had died during the night. He remained in the ward until he was discharged on December 2, 1942.
From Bilibid, Lawrence was taken to Fort McKinley which had been a Filipino Army Base. At the base. the POWs were used to collect scrap metal and lived in the barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts. Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on sawale floor mats and in ten men mosquito nets issued by the Japanese. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets. The meals for the POWs were cooked in four halves of 50-gallon oil barrows. They remained there until they were done cleaning up junk that had been left from the fighting.
The next place the POWs worked was at Nielsen Field. The work started on January 29, 1943, and for the first six weeks, the POWs marched 8 kilometers from Ft. McKinley to the airfield. They were later moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in Nipa huts that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had been built for them and were taken to the airfield by truck. There, the POWs worked at constructing a northeast to the southwest runway and building revetments.
At first, tents were provided for protection against the sun and rain, but many were stolen by the Filipinos and the rest deteriorated until they were useless. There was plenty of water for drinking and adequate latrines were provided. The POWs were divided into two groups. One group worked for an hour while the other rested. This was later reduced to two 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was increased to three 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon.
The POWs worked from 8:00 A.M. to noon and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The POWs were divided into two groups. While one group was working for an hour, the other group rested. The work was hard and called for the POWs to remove dirt and rock to the area where the runway was being built. Wheelbarrows were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to work. The POWs received one day off a week.
Small mining cars were brought in, and the POWs filled the cars with dirt and rocks before they were pushed by five men down a track from 200 feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where the material was wanted, they emptied the car.
On March 28, the Japanese instituted the “speedup program” to get the work done quicker. The POWs did not know if it was because they had fallen behind in the construction of the runway, or if it was because the war was going badly for the Japanese, and they needed the runway finished. This lasted until July 4 when it was ended. When the work was finished on the runway, the POWs were moved, on October 25, 1943, to Camp Murphy #1 where they were housed in the former headquarters building.
In October 1943, the POWs’ food ration was cut and many became ill. The sick call took place in the evening until 8:00 P.M. when roll call took place. A Japanese private determined who was sick enough not to work. The American doctor later was allowed to decide which POWs could not work. Often Japanese doctors went over his selections and determined which POWs would remain in the camp hospital. To the American medical staff, it seemed that the Japanese doctors sent men to work because they wanted to save face.
The POWs once again worked on constructing a runway. This time it was a north/south runway through a rice paddy at Zablan Field. When the work started the rice paddies were filled with water and it was the rainy season. In addition to picks and shovels, the POWs also operated diesel compressors, rollers, and drills. Each day they walked about three-quarters of a mile to where the construction was taking place. For lunch, they returned to their barracks. There was never enough water for the POWs when working, so men attempted to bring it with them in bottles if they did not have canteens.
No latrines were provided, so the POWs relieved themselves anywhere they wanted at the worksite. The spread of disease was prevented because of the sunshine, and frequent rains. This problem was never adequately dealt with.
The Japanese built five new barracks at Camp Murphy and the POWs were moved to them on April 28, 1944. This new housing was given the name Camp Murphy 2. The original POW compound was located about 250 yards away. A total of 200 POWs were housed in each of the barracks. The entire POW compound was 350 by 400 feet.
On January 4, 1944, the workday changed and the POWs now worked 7 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. To avoid the heat of the midday, the POWs started again at 1:30 and worked until 5:00 P.M. Their one day off a week was cut to half of a day off. Sometimes, they received a half a day off for some Japanese holiday. Their work hours were changed a second time with their afternoon hours being extended until 6:00 P.M.
The POWs worked for one hour and were given one hour off. Since they were divided into two groups, one group would always be working. Their job was to build a runway through rice paddies which meant they had to move dirt and rock to build it. To do this, they had mining cars which they pushed down 300 to 500 feet down the track to where the dirt was to be dumped. The POWs workday started at 7:00 A.M. and they worked until 11: A.M. when they stopped. At 1:30 P.M., they started again and worked until 5:00 P.M. On May 28, 1944, an additional hour was added to their workday, and they worked until 6:00 P.M.
The POWs were moved to Camp Murphy 2 on January 29, 1944, which was 200 yards from their old quarters. On March 1, 1944, the POWs witnessed the execution of Pvt. George Garrett by the camp commander, Lt. Yoshi Koshi, for planning to escape. According to the POWs, Garrett and two other men had planned an escape and were informed on by the Navy Chief Signalman, Harold Hirschberg, who the POWs considered a collaborator. According to the POWs, Hirschberg told Garrett, who he had, had a fight with, “You’ll never leave this camp alive.”
The POWs stated that over several days, the Japanese starved Garrett, beat him, and finally placed a garden hose in Garrett’s mouth until his stomach was filled with water. The Japanese then stood on his abdomen which caused his death three days later.
The Japanese decided that work needed to be done at another airfield close by, so POWs were sent there to work. The airfield was 4 kilometers from Camp Murphy, and they were taken to it in trucks. They also received their meals at the airfield.
One of the biggest problems the POWs, and Japanese were having at this time was what was known as “foot pain,” which was a form of dry beriberi. If a man in the hospital showed signs of it, one Japanese soldier hit them in the head with a broom handle. The Japanese slowly came to respect the American medical staff’s selections and stopped questioning them.
Later in 1944, while the POWs were building runways, the airfield was attacked by American planes. For safety, they hid in the revetments as the planes strafed and bombed the field. As they watched the events, they enjoyed watching the damage the planes were doing. It was not long after witnessing the attack that he and the other POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison.
The ship remained in port until the next morning. The ship sailed on August 27 and arrived at Takao, Formosa, a few days later. It sailed from Takao on September 1st and arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 4.
During the trip, many of the POWs died. The latrine for the men was a wooden bucket pulled out of the hold by a rope. When the ship arrived in Japan, the POWs remained in the hold overnight. When they disembarked, Lawrence was taken to Hiroshima #4. There, he worked in shipyards.
With him in the camp was Pvt. Bland Moore. The POWs were housed in wooden barracks. Each morning, the POWs walked three miles each way to and from the shipyards.
The Japanese practiced collective punishment when a camp rule was broken by one POW, all the POWs were punished. Minor rule infractions usually resulted in the POW being beaten with fists, bamboo poles, and rifle butts. This frequently was the punishment given to POWs who were too sick to work.
The men were also forced to kneel, for hours, at rigid attention, on two bamboo sticks that were three inches apart on the ground. One was under the knees and the other to support the insteps. Sometimes after doing this, the POWs were ordered to stand at attention which was impossible for them to do because their legs were cramped, so they were beaten.
At some point in the camp, almost every POW spent time in “the box,” which was 5 feet 4inches high, 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. POWs were fastened to the box and remained inside it for days, in a crouching position, without the ability to stand or lie down. While in the box, the POW was fed one pint of water a day and three handfuls of rice and salt. The POW was given an empty can to use as a bathroom in complete darkness.
On September 7, 1944, Lawrence was called out of ranks because he supposedly had stolen rice and fish powder. Other men believed he had worn his dress shoes to work. His coat and shoes were taken away. As he stood at attention, in front of the other POWs, a guard, Koseki Yamaji, slapped him in the face, hit with a 5′ or 6′ long bamboo pole over the head and on his back. He was also hit with the butt of a rifle and a bayonet in its scabbard. When he fell down, he was kicked in his face until he was unconscious. Other POWs stated the beating lasted for about 30 minutes. After he passed out, the Japanese threw water on him until he revived and repeated the beating. He was next made to kneel on a ladder, with a stick behind his knees. As he knelt there, Yamaji jumped up and down on his legs and on the stick until 9:00 P.M. Afterwards, he was sent to the camp hospital where he remained for a day or two.
Upon being released from the hospital, sometime between September 7 and 15, he was beaten a second time. Again, he stood at attention and was beaten with bamboo poles, rifle butts, and a pick handle. He was also punched and kicked in the ribs. Again, when he passed out, water was thrown in his face to revive him and he was beaten two or three more times. Afterward, he was made to stand at attention for a long period of time.
At some point in the camp, almost every POW spent time in “the box,” which was 5 feet 4 inches high, 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. POWs were fastened to the box and remained inside it for days, in a crouching position, without the ability to stand or lie down. While in the box, the POW was fed one pint of water a day and three handfuls of rice and salt. The POW was given an empty can to use as a bathroom in complete darkness.
At night, the POWs heard the American planes and the explosions from the bombs. The windows of the barracks shook with the explosions. As Lawrence and the other POWs worked on the docks, they could hear the Japanese talking about the bombings on loudspeakers. From this, they learned what cities had been bombed. If the bombing was accurate, the Japanese guards took it out at them.
One day after the POWs got up to work, they were told that they would not work that day. This happened again for another two or three days. Then, an American major came to the camp and told the POWs that the war was over. Lawrence recalled that the men shouted, hugged each other, and cried.
Across the road, was a British POW Camp. The Swiss Red Cross came from this camp and told the Americans to paint the letters POW on the roof of a building in the camp. After they did, American B-29s dropped food and clothes to them. Lawrence remembers that he and many other liberated POWs got sick from overeating.
When American troops showed up on September 12, the POWs were officially liberated. Lawrence and the other men were taken to Yokohama on September 15, where they lived in hangers at an airfield. The Red Cross was there and gave the men coffee, candy, and razor blades.
Next, Lawrence was flown by C-47 to Okinawa. He remained there for three or four weeks and then was flown by B-17 to the Philippine Islands. After arriving there, he was reunited with Claude Yeast and Elmore Sadler.
Lawrence returned to the United States and spent time at VA Hospitals in West Virginia and Indiana, and was promoted to corporal. He returned to Harrodsburg and was discharged from the army on April 11, 1946.
Lawrence would work for International Harvester in Indianapolis. He also worked as a farmer and woodworker. He would marry, Hazel Goode, and become the father of a daughter.
Lawrence I. Martin passed away on December 19, 2007, and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.