T/5 Neil Bee McCage was born on December 20, 1917, in Stigler, Oklahoma, and was the seventh of eleven children born to George Dorse McCage and Minnie Pearl Bonds-McCage. Neil’s family moved to Canon City, Colorado, where he attended school. On December 24, 1930, Neil’s mother passed away leaving his father to raise the children. In 1938, Neil left home and settled in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, to work, and while living there. When Selective Service Registration became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his father as his contact person. Although family members stated his middle name was “Boyd,” he indicated his middle name was “Bee.” He also stated he was working construction in Denison, Texas, building a dam. On March 20, 1941, in Oklahoma City, Neil was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Being that he had been a truck driver, at Ft. Knox, he was trained as a tank driver.
In the late summer of 1941, the 753rd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, from Ft. Benning, Georgia. Neil and other soldiers were sent there to join the battalion after completing basic training. After arriving there, he was assigned to A Company. The Louisiana maneuvers were taking place, but the battalion did not take part in the maneuvers that were taking place.
The 192nd Tank Battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. It was then ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. The members of the 192nd were informed that they were being sent overseas. There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made in early 1941. It was at this time that men who were married with families, men with dependents, men whose enlistments would end within a year, and men who were 29 years old or older were allowed to transfer out of the battalion. The battalion’s commander, because of his age, was replaced by Major. Theodore Wickord his executive officer. Since the battalion was made of National Guard tank companies, men who were married with dependents, men who had dependents. men who were 29 years old or older, or men whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas, were allowed to resign from federal service.
192nd Tank Battalion had received orders to go overseas. According to the first story, the decision for this move 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, whose plane was flying at a lower altitude than the other planes, noticed something odd and took his plane down to take a look. He identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more flagged buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original members of the 192nd believed they were selected to be sent overseas because they had performed well on the Louisiana maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks as part of the Blue Army under Patton’s command during the maneuvers – to go overseas. Although Patton praised the 192nd and the 191st Tank Battalion who participated in the maneuvers as the First Tank Group, there is no evidence that he had anything to do with the 192nd being sent to the Philippines.
The reality was that the 192nd was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion, while the 70th was a Regular Army tank battalion– at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The tank group also contained the 193rd Tank Battalion at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th Tank Battalion 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, and documents show the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines well before June 1941.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months, and on August 14th, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived in Hawaii the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – was on 48-hour standby orders for the Philippines but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs home so that they could say goodbye to family and friends but had to be back at Camp Polk by the morning of October 14th. At the base, the men lived in tents, and it was stated that it seemed to rain every day they were there. Some men said they didn’t take showers for days because they were always wet.
The battalion was scheduled to receive new M3 tanks, but none were available for some long-forgotten reason. A large number of the battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. The tanks were only new to the 192nd, and in many cases, the tanks were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance. The battalion also received peeps (later known as jeeps) and half-tracks to replace their scout cars. It is believed the half-tracks were waiting for them on the dock in Manila.
HQ Company left for San Francisco a few days earlier than the rest of the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over different train routes, the letter companies were sent to San Francisco, California. A Company took the southern route along the Mexican border through Needles, California, and north through Los Angeles to San Francisco. B Company went west through Denver and the Rocky Mountains, C Company went a little further north through the center of the country, and D Company went north and then west along the Canadian border.
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. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated 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, while other men were simply replaced by men sent to the island as replacements that may have come from the 757th Tank Battalion which was at Ft. Ord, California. To maintain secrecy, the soldiers were not allowed off the island. It was also at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver joined the 192nd as its commanding officer.
With the arrival of the 192nd
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.
After hearing the news, Capt. Write went to his company and informed his men that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. To an extent, the news of the war was no surprise to the men, and many had come to the conclusion it was inevitable. The remaining members of the tank crews, not with their tanks, went to their tanks at the southern end of the Clark Field. The battalion’s half-tracks joined the tanks and took up positions next to them.
It was lunchtime and members of the tank battalion were allowed to go to the mess hall to eat. The men assigned to the tanks and half-tracks were receiving their lunches at food trucks. At 12:45 p.m., as they stood in line to be fed they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes that was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.
The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.
The Zeros strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As they flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
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, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had filled to capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. The battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. 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. The tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau on December 12th so it could protect a highway bridge and railroad bridge against sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. It was at this time that Bill managed to send a telegram home on December 19th, which was the last time his family ever heard from him. This would be the last information his family had about him for three and one-half years.
A platoon of B Company tanks engaged Japanese tanks at Lingayen Gulf on December 22nd. One tank was lost and its crew became Prisoners of War. The other tanks withdrew, were damaged by enemy fire, repaired, and put back into use. From this time on, the tanks served as a rear guard holding roads open until all the other troops withdrew before falling back to another predetermined position to repeat the action.
A Company lost its commander, Capt. Walter Write, on December 26th. According to the story, he saw Sergeant Owen Sandmire placing landmines in the road. The mines were made by Philippine Ordnance from cigar boxes with dynamite. Write took a mine away from Sandmire and told them it looked funny. As he was placing it, it exploded in his hands. Before he died, he asked that roses be placed on his grave, but since there were no roses, the men placed a native red flower on his grave. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th when the 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
The next morning, December 30th, 2nd Lt. William Read’s tank platoon was serving as a rearguard and was in a dry rice paddy when it came under enemy fire by Japanese mortars. Read was riding in a tank when one of the enemy rounds hit one of its tracks knocking it out. After escaping the tank, Read stood in front of it and attempted to free the crew. A second round hit the tank, directly below where he was standing blowing off his legs at the knees and leaving him mortally wounded. The other members of his crew carried Read from the tank and laid him under a bridge. Read would not allow himself to be evacuated since there were other wounded soldiers. He insisted that these men be taken first. He would die in the arms of Pvt. Ray Underwood as the Japanese overran the area.
On December 31st, Gentry sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town, Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge. Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of Marshall was to the southwest of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge, hidden in huts, while the third platoon commanded by Capt. Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston and his tank platoon had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind but got lost.
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag and stopped in front of a hut where he was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town’s church’s steeple. The Japanese lookout became very excited. Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks’ positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village. When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Marshall’s tanks which had been radioed and were waiting. Marshall held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the barrio through buildings and under them. By the time Gentry’s unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks. This was the first American tank battle victory of World War II.
Gentry and the other tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge which they discovered had been blown up when they reached it. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops. Gentry spaced his tanks about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire. Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire and then used their 37 mm guns. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a 37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier. During the fighting, HQ Company was listening to the battle and it was stated they would make comments or cheered as if they were at a football game. The tanks broke off the attack when they ran out of ammunition.
All the defenders had withdrawn except for the tanks and they dropped back and found the Calumpit Bridge had been dynamited, but they were still able to cross it. After crossing it, just north of the bridge, there were dried rice paddies, since the rice had been harvested and was piled in stacks around the field. The tankers believed the Japanese would attack at night, so they aimed their main guns at the rice stacks. The first round they would fire would be a tracer right through the stacks setting them afire. The tanks were about 100 yards apart and to give the appearance of a large defensive force tank crews shouted at each other so the Japanese advance would be slowed.
The Japanese moved troops and equipment across the bridge from dusk to midnight and set up mortars that began firing rounds at the area of the tanks. Shells exploded among the tanks wounding men. The tanks fired and set the rice stacks on fire then opened up with their machine guns. They then used their 37-millimeter guns on the Japanese equipment. It was said that it reached the point where 37-millimeter shells were used to kill individual Japanese soldiers. This continued until they were ordered to pull out and had to San Fernando to be refueled and to pick up ammunition.
It was at this time on December 30th, his brother and sister received a telegram from him that said, “still fine.” As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River on the night of December 31. As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers which created gaping holes in their ranks. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.
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.”
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the Southern forces could escape. At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. The smoke blew back into the Japanese and since they were wearing white shirts, they were lit by the moonlight. After taking heavy casualties they withdrew. That night, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. The 194th crossed the bridge covered by the 192nd and then covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge before it was destroyed by the engineers. The 192nd was the last unit to enter Bataan.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and the members of the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self-Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
A Company, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack.
A composite tank company was formed the following day under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.
The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and actually made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire. The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers. The tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds a Japanese reconnaissance plane would be sent up to locate the guns. It wasn’t long after this that the Japanese would zero in on where the guns were located. The tankers and artillery crews learned how to “shoot and scoot” very quickly.
On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road in a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16th. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry.
The tankers stated that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground as the Japanese got close to the tanks. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.
During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officers in the area and that they could change the tank company’s orders. Most wanted the tanks to kill snipers or do some other job the infantry had not succeeded at doing. This situation continued until Gen Weaver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should hand the officer the order. When the officer looked up at the tank commander, the tank commander had his handgun aimed at the officer. Gen Weeaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.
The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later in the day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio. On the morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it but tanks were still straggling in at noon. The tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn.
The tank companies also were given the job of protecting the artillery. The guns were mobile and hooked onto the tanks with a special carriage which allowed them to be moved. According to the tankers, it took a lot of preparation to set them up and a lot of preparation to take them down. The tankers didn’t like doing this job because minutes after the guns began firing, the Japanese sent up reconnaissance planes to find the guns. When they did, Zeros would appear and strafe the area. The gun crews quickly learned to “shoot and scoot.” After firing a few rounds the guns were quickly broken down and moved out of the area.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese attempted several landings on Bataan. One night while on this duty, the B Company, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.
The battalions took on the job of guarding the airfields in Bataan in February which had been constructed because of the belief that aid would be coming by air. Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. The well-camouflaged tanks surrounded the airfield and had several plans on how they would defend the airfields from paratroopers.
It seemed to the members of A Company that they always seemed to have the job of protecting the 155-millimeter howitzers that the Army used in batteries of six guns. The guns were mobile and could be hooked up to the tanks with a special vehicle and moved to another location. It was recalled that moving them took preparation and setting them up also took preparation. The tankers didn’t like this duty because the guns attracted Japanese fire. Whenever the guns started firing, the Japanese would send up Recon Joe to try to locate them. Shortly after this happened, the dive bombers came in and peppered the hell out of the position.
Sgt. Owen Sandmire, A Company, said that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.
After being up all night on beach duty, B Company, on February 3rd, was strafed by Japanese planes after one of its members pulled his half-track from under the jungle canopy, onto the beach, took a pot-shot at Recon Con Joe, and missed. Recon Joe was attempting to locate the tanks. Twenty minutes later Japanese planes appeared and dropped bombs on the company that exploded in the tree tops. Two men were killed in the attack and two others later died of their wounds. Later in the day, A Company was bivouacked near a 155-millimeter artillery battery near Bambang, Limay, at KM 144. After the artillery fired several rounds the Japanese sent in planes that came in low. During the strafing and bombing, Sgt. Ivan Wilmer was attempting to reach his tank when he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese bomb killing him instantly.
That same day, according to Abel Ortega, one of the company’s tanks was hit by enemy fire and the members of the crew abandoned the tank. As they made their way toward the other tanks and half-tracks in their platoon, Pvt. Miles Weech was shot in the stomach by a Japanese sniper. T/5 Neil McCage, another member of the crew, seeing his friend shot, ran up to Ortega and grabbed the Tommy Gun that he was holding. McCage ran up the road in the direction of the tree where he believed the sniper was. As he ran, he fired the gun into the tree by starting at its base and working his way up the trunk. Since there was no more sniper fire it appeared he had killed the sniper.
The 192nd took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops on points sticking out of Bataan but they ended up trapped. When reinforcements were landed, they landed in the wrong places. One battle was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, a second battle was the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the last battle was the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.
C Company was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, another platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4th, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that each tank could be ordered to where it was needed. John led as many as five attacks a day, into the pocket, to wipe out the Japanese. A few of the cleansing missions lasted for five hours. After several days of this, the pocket was completely cleared of enemy soldiers. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. When the attack resumed the next morning, the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the cliff’s edge out of view. They were forced out of the caves and into the sea. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd and the 45th mopped up the Japanese.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18th. But before this was done, one C Company tank that had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been of a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The one good thing about the leaflets was that they were printed on tissue paper which was used by the tankers as toilet paper.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks so Wainwright abandoned the idea. Since the tanks were the only vehicles receiving fuel, they were used to carry 115-millimeter shells to the artillery by attaching them to long poles. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short-wave radio. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. 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.
It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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.”
That evening, Capt. Fred Bruni, A’Company’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. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
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 white bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. on April 9th, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.”
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. Another jeep followed them – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed.
King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
On the morning of April 9, 1942, the members of A Company destroyed their equipment. They drained the oil out of some of the jeeps and trucks and ran them to burn up the engines. In the case of other vehicles, they poured sand into the motors and ran them. The soldiers piled up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. They also took their guns apart and scattered the pieces so that they would not be found. After all this was done, the men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move.
When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to Mariveles where they were searched and the Japanese took whatever they wanted from the men. Men with rings were told to turn their hands over so that the Japanese could see if it was a wedding ring. If it was, they left the POW alone, if it wasn’t the man was ordered to remove it. Those who could not remove their rings had their fingers cut off.
At Mariveles, members of A Company were mixed in with other Prisoners Of War and began what they called “the Hike” or “the March,” which became known as the Bataan Death March. The Japanese guards were mean for no apparent reason and did things to the POWs because they could do them. Other men stated that if the guards were combat veterans, they treated them better because they viewed the POWs as combat veterans.
The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace so they could finish their assigned section as fast as possible. Those men who were sick and had a hard time keeping up were bayoneted or shot if they fell. POWs who attempted to help these men were also shot or bayoneted. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The new guards also wanted to complete their assigned distance, so the POWs again found themselves moving at a fast pace.
The lack of food and water was also a major issue for the POWs. It was stated that the members of C Company went nine days without water. The POWs were amazed by the courage of the Filipino people who openly defied the Japanese by giving food and water to the POWs. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery.
On the first day of the march, they were marched until well after sundown. When they were finally given a rest it was already late. After midnight, it began to rain. Although the rain lasted for about one-half hour, the prisoners attempted to catch the rain on their tongues or lick the drops off their lips and hands. Some men stated it felt like the water was being absorbed into their skin. The rain was the first drink the prisoners received on the march.
The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours which was intentional. Men commented that they did most of the march at night. While they sat there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese passing by them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
When the prisoners reached Cabcaban Airfield, they saw that the Japanese had set up guns and were firing on Corregidor. The marchers had to get past the guns that were firing on Corregidor. As it turned out, this was a dangerous undertaking. It was about this time that the American guns on Corregidor began to pinpoint the location of the Japanese guns. Shells were landing on the road that the POWs were marching on so they ran to get away from the battle. Men stated that a Japanese officer was directing a gun crew when there was a flash. After the smoke cleared the Japanese gun and its crew had vanished.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they marched and reached Orani by the time the sun began to rise. There they were herded into a filthy pen that had been used by other prisoners before them and left to bake in the sun for the rest of the day. At the end of each portion of the march, the POWs would be put into another pen. Since his group was not the first to use them, they were filled with human waste. Often there were decaying bodies of American soldiers still inside the pens. The prisoners also had to deal with Blue Bottle flies, mosquitos, and maggots.
When they continued the march, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.
At San Fernando, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share. The area where the POWs sat was covered in human feces from the POWs who had occupied the bullpen before them. How long the man remained in the bullpen varied from hours to days. Some men remained in it for four or five days.
The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were about thirteen feet long and ten feet wide and known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments had 100 men in them, the Japanese put 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Since the POWs were packed in so tightly, men suffocated from the lack of air but could not fall to the floors since there was no room to fall. At Capas, the living left the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors as they left the boxcars. The POWs walked the eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
At Camp O’Donnell, the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money or other items on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1st, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
The Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
The dead were carried to the cemetery in litters and placed in a grave with four other POWs. It was not unusual for a POW working this detail to die and be put into the grave with the other dead. Before they were buried, the dead were stripped of their clothing, which was boiled in hot water and then given to another POW who needed clothing.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
The Japanese finally acknowledged they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
In May 1942, his parents received a message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“Dear Mrs. M. McCage:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Technician Fifth Grade, Neil B. McCage 38,020,752, 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”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan Camp 1 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of the healthier POWs to the camp was completed on June 4th.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed, but it later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and it was later consolidated into Camp 1 on October 30th.
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 double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” 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. He was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 2. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.”
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 ensure 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.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. The platform was covered in feces which was made worse by the excrement from the higher platform dripping down onto it. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff antibiotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. For those POWs with tuberculosis who were in the hospital, their rations were reduced to 240 grams of rice, camote (made from camote peelings), and powdered dried fish. In addition, the POW doctors were given four twelve-ounce cans of milk for every 39 patients with malaria.
On June 26th, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
On August 7th, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17th. 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 12th and were recaptured on September 21st 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 touching 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 was later released.
On September 29th, 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-man 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, thrown into a truck, driven to a clearing in sight of the camp, and shot.
From September through December, the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The first men known to receive POW numbers were the men on the Tottori Maru which sailed for Japan on October 8th. It is not known when, but Neil received the number 2-14587 which was his POW no matter where he was sent in the Philippines.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
The day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.
The POWs were sent out on work details near the camp to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. When working in the rice paddies, the POWs not only planted rice but also massaged the rice. This meant that 50 POWs lined up at the end of a rice paddy in four to six inches of water. Then arm to arm about a foot apart they stoop over and go to the other side. The purpose of this was to work the mud around the plants. The Japanese always stopped the POWs before they got to the other side. The POWs found out there were poisonous water snakes that were black that moved ahead of them as they did this. The guards stopped the POWs so they could kill the snakes and prevent them from being bitten.
Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. The worst detail the POWs worked on was the latrine detail where the POWs cleaned the Japanese latrines with their bare hands. The POWs removed the feces and put it in 55-gallon drums. It is not known what happened to the feces, but it is known it was often used as fertilizer by the Japanese. Returning from the work details in the evening, the POWs – even though they were searched – somehow managed to bring medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp. The POWs ate supper but after they finished there wasn’t much time for them to do anything since dusk was an hour after supper. Later, the POWs had books to read that were sent by the Red Cross.
Fr. Antonio Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14th and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peter Lankianuskas was shot while attempting to escape on November 16th. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20th, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd. On November 23rd, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 24th with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work. It should be mentioned that Fr. Buddenbroucke was executed after he was caught snuggling messages to the POWs and from them.
Each month on the eighth, the Japanese read the Japanese declaration of war on the United States to the POWs. This usually got them wound up and the POWs knew that the number of beatings they received would increase. On January 11, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18th, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th.
Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1,255 to 1,450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7th. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22nd. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1st, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
The Japanese allowed the POWs, on May 30th, to hold a memorial service to honor the nearly 2,600 men who had died. (This number is the total number of deaths at both Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan.) At 9:00 AM, the POWs marched to the camp cemetery which was slightly over a half-mile from the camp. The services were conducted by Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant chaplains. The Japanese camp commandant presented a wreath. The POWs choir sang a number of hymns, the POWs were called to attention, and taps were blown as they saluted.
Any POW who was healthy worked on the airfield detail or on the farm detail. For the farm, the POWs cleared a large area for planting a large garden that they called the farm. They grew camotes (sweet potato), cassava, taro, and various greens like okra and sesame. Although the Japanese told the POWs what they grew would supplement their meals, they took most of what was grown for themselves. The POWs ate the tender tips of the sweet potato plants.
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. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean 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. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. The second in command was a guard the POWs called “Donald Duck” because he talked constantly and was described as being unpredictable and would beat POWs at a whim. He knew the POWs called him Donald Duck and they told him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star. One day, he saw a Donald Duck cartoon while in Manila and came looking for the POWs who used the name. The POWs stated they stayed out of his way for days.
Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings. Almost every POW in the camp worked on the detail at some point. Weeds were removed from the fields by hand, and the POWs were required to bend over and pick them. If a POW was tired and went down to one knee or squatted, he was hit with a club. The hits always were across the spine or on the ribs. It is known that Clinton recorded in his diary that he worked on the farm on July 9 in the rain with a fever of 103.2. He again noted on July 15, that he worked barefooted with diarrhea, a fever, and cramps.
The Japanese continued to discipline the POWs. Those POWs who were too sick to work were made to stand in the sun for hours with their arms stretched out straight in front of them or above their heads holding heavy objects. Another common punishment was for the POWs to squat for 2 to 3 hours with pick handles placed between their thighs and calves to cut off circulation. Both on the work details and in the camp the POWs continued to be beaten with holes, rifle butts, 2x4s, and bamboo whips. The most vicious guard when it came to the beatings was called “Clark Gable” by the POWs.
From a guard tower, a drunk Japanese guard shot 2nd Lt. Robert Huffcutt while he was working in his garden. After shooting him from the tower he went into the garden and shot him a second time. The guard claimed Huffcutt had tried to escape although he was nowhere near the camp fence.
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11th and was captured in a barrio. At about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, POWs described what they saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed as was the top of his skull, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum. Also in July, the names of 500 POWs were posted on the list of POWs being sent to Bilibid Prison. On July 22nd, the POWs were issued new shoes, a suit of “Philippine Blues” and were 2 cans of corn beef, and 3 cans of milk. They were informed they would be taking a 21-day trip. On July 15th, 25 to 30 trucks arrived at the camp to transport POWs to Manila. The trucks with the POWs left at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid Prison at 2:00 A.M. The only food the POWs received was rotten sweet potatoes. As it turned out, when they arrived in Manila, they were used in The Dawn of Freedom, a Japanese propaganda film, to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos. After this, they were sent to Japan on the Clyde Maru.
In August, the rainy season had started, and all the extra food was long gone. The Japanese planned to move the hospital to the same area as the healthy POWs to reduce the size of the camp so they could reduce the number of guards. On September 22nd, the hospital was moved. The POWs also were ordered to stop cooking their own food. For the sick, this was bad news since meals for them were being cooked individually. The POWs adopted a system where a group placed an order for food 24 hours before they wanted the food. The supplies were debited from that group’s supplies.
It was in September that a new detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and had been known as Maniquis Airfield. Some sources state this detail started in January 1944. The airfield was seven miles southeast of the camp and the POWs marched to it and from it each day. It was reported that 1,500 POWs were used on the detail in the construction of runways and revetments. Those POWs working on the airfield dug dirt and moved it to where the Japanese wanted it with wheelbarrows and small mining cars. The POWs worked at the airfield until March 1944 when the detail ended. A guard the POWs called “Air Raid” was in charge of the detail. It was said that the POWs had to watch him but that he was usually fair.
An order was issued on October 3rd that all good khaki garments, hats, rifle belts, and field bags they had must be turned over to the Japanese. The next day, the Japanese sent 1300 POWs to Bongabong in captured U.S. trucks. On one of the front bumpers of a 6 by 6 truck were the markings HQ 192nd. The POWs were back in the camp by 8:00 P.M. and to the surprise of the other POWs, their possessions were returned to them. It turned out that the Japanese were still shooting the movie, and the POWs were used as extras in the movie. Also during the month, the POWs noted that the food they were growing on the camp farm was being sent to Manila. On October 18, 103 telegrams were brought to the camp but only 21 men present in the camp received them. It appeared that other men were out on work details. Four days later, 175 telegrams arrived at the camp, but only 65 were distributed. It was noted that some had been received in Tokyo that same month. A POW Pvt. Julian C. McCord was shot and killed in the camp.
The POWs noticed a change in the running of the camp on November 7th. There was only one detachment of guards and only Americans were cooking for the Japanese. The Japanese supply warehouse was broken into and sugar and milk were found to be missing. The POW punishment was that they would not receive their meat ration that day. Later in the day, the order was changed and the POWs received the meat ration. The Japanese explanation was, “We know the Americans did not steal the foods.”
The POWs received on December 7, 1943, ½ a pound of sugar, 2 cans of soluble coffee, 2 chocolate emergency rations, 1 pound of prunes, and a ½ pound of cheese. The items were perishable goods that came from the Red Cross Christmas boxes sent to the camp. That night they received a Japanese “news sheet” that told of the terrible American losses in the southwest Pacific. According to the sheet, the U.S. had lost most of its navy. It also stated that the U.S. lost 5 carriers, 2 cruisers, and a battleship in the Gilberts, and 37 ships were lost at Bougainville. On the 11th, they received more coffee, two cans of cheese, two chocolate bars, and two boxes of raisins.
On Christmas Eve the Japanese gave each man an unopened Red Cross box. Inside the POWs found cigarettes which usually were missing from the boxes. From 9:00 P.M. until midnight on Christmas Eve, carolers were all over the camp. Christmas started with midnight mass for the Catholics with Protestant services at 5:30 A.M. Bango was at 7:00 A.M. instead of 6:30. The Japanese also handed out to each man an unopened Red Cross box.
One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worst beatings was considered the best detail to be on. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside were 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.
During February, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila.
After arriving in the camp, the POWs were able to set up an underground mail network with Filipinos who served as couriers. Those POWs involved had code names so if the mail was intercepted they would be hard to identify. It appears that for almost two years the mail flowed into and out of the camp on a regular basis. The Japanese discovered underground mail on May 1, 1944, and the 23 POWs believed to be involved in the network were taken by the Kempi Tai to Manila. For one week, the POWs were tortured before 10 of the POWs, all officers, were later returned to the camp but segregated from the other POWs for a month. They sat on benches during the day and slept on the ground at night. The abuse also continued.
Neil appears to have remained at Cabanatuan most, if not the entire time, he was a POW. Medical records kept at Cabanatuan show that on July 5, 1944, Neil was admitted to Hospital Building #3, from Group II, Building #5. The reason he was admitted was not recorded.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs were finishing working for the day when they heard the sound of planes. The sound of these planes was different from the sound of Japanese planes. They looked up and saw a formation of about 80 planes flying over. The planes were way too high for them to see any insignias. The planes seemed to agitate the Japanese so the POWs whispered to each other that they may be American. After entering the camp, they got their answer as they watched a dogfight directly above the camp. Some of the planes came over the camp low and on the planes, they saw the U.S. Navy insignias on the planes. A loud wild cheer came out of the mouths of thousands of POWs. When the Japanese plane involved in the dogfight crashed to the ground in flames another wild cheer went up. As they watched, wave after wave of American planes flew over the camp. Even the hospital patients crawled out of their beds to get a look at the planes. Next, they heard the explosions of anti-aircraft shells over Clark Field and Manila. After the attack ended many of the POWs sobbed. Many of the POWs believed this would end the transfer of POWs to Japan. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The POWs heard a rumor from guards that Americans were on Mindanao Island, but it turned out the rumor was false.
On October 7th or 8th, Neil’s name was listed on a paper of POWs being sent to Bilibid. Trucks arrived at the camp and at dawn on October 9th, the POWs rode to Bilibid Prison where they spent the night. They were next taken to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. The POWs were boarding the ship at 4:00 P.M. on the 11th when they heard air raid sirens. Nothing on the ship showed that it was carrying POWs. All but 200 of the POWs were put into hold #2. The other 200 went into the #1 hold. Along the sides of the hold were shelves that served as bunks, but the bunks were so close together that a man could not lift himself up when he used one. Those standing had no room to lie down. The latrines for the prisoners were eight five-gallon cans, which the POWs could not use since they were packed in the hold so tightly. This resulted in the floor of the hold being covered with human waste.
Anton Cichy said, “For the first few days, there were 1,800 of us together in one hold. I don’t know how big the hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck together.”
Calvin Graef said about the conditions in the hold, “We were packed in so tight most men couldn’t get near the cans. And, of course, it was a physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with lice, bedbugs, and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description.”
The ship returned to Manila on October 20th, where it joined a twelve-ship convoy. On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs making them targets for American submarines. In addition, U.S. Military Intelligence was reading the Japanese code as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the submarine crews that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines. The POWs in the hold became so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by torpedoes.
Graef described conditions in the hold. “There were so many (that died ) out of 1800. The condition in that hold…..men were just dying in a continuous stream. Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died. You were being starved men were dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like you were choking to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard.”
Cichy said, “The Japs told us that they’d be in Formosa the next day to pick up some cargo. They had to make room on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one but didn’t think anything about it.”
It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24th, and some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship’s holds and had fed about half the POWs. The waves were high since the ship had been through a storm in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, at about 4:50 P.M., bells and sirens sounded a warning of submarines. The POWs began to chant for the Navy to sink the ship.
The Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and a torpedo passed in front of the ship. Moments later, the Japanese ran to the ship’s stern and watched as a second torpedo passed behind the ship. There was a sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the water. It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships, in an empty hold.
The POWs began cheering wildly, but it stopped when they realized they were facing death.
Cichy recalled, “When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered ‘Hit her again!’ We wanted to get it over with.”
Lt. Robert S. Overbeck said, “When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn’t care a bit–they were tired and weak and sick.” He also said of the incident, “The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel but it didn’t break in two. For about five seconds there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips — 300 of them on deck — were scurrying about, scared as hell. The boilers exploded. I don’t think any of us got hurt in the torpedoing or the explosion. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The Japs took the two lifeboats aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. That was about 5:00 P.M.” It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S. Snook or the U.S.S. Shark.
The Japanese guards took their guns and used them as clubs on the POWs who were on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie them down before they abandoned the ship.
Cichy recalled, “The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have forgot about the prisoners on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches and told us to come up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of guys down below. One of them escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S. Overbeck, Baltimore.” Cichy also stated, “The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving their own.”
Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped them to the men in the holds. The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. On the ship’s deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, “Boys, we’re in a helluva a jam – but we’ve been in jams before. Remember just one thing: We’re American soldiers. Let’s play it that way to the very end of the script.” Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, “Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men.”
Overbeck also stated, “We broke into the ship’s stores to get food, cigarettes, and water — mainly water, we were so thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the destroyers, had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down the hold the day before.
“But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not tell who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been carrying Jap troops. The men were brave and none complained.
“Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry ‘so long’ disappeared.” The ship slowly sank lower into the water.
Graef said, “Men without any fear at all, just stayed where they were. They sat down, got water to drink, got rice to eat…they couldn’t swim. The majority went down with the ship.”
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the water. Some POWs walked back to see the damage caused by the torpedo. The deck was peeled back and water was inside the hold washing back and forth. When a wave went under the ship the stern would wobble up and down and the sound of steel tearing was heard. The stern finally tore off and sunk quickly. After that, the rest of the ship began to take on water quickly with what was left of the stern going under first and the bow coming out of the water. As the men in the water watched, the ship went under with those who could not swim still standing on the deck.
In the water, men attempted to reach a nearby Japanese destroyer. Of this Glenn Oliver said, “They weren’t picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were swimming for the destroyer, but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water.”
Oliver recalled, “I could see people still on the ship when it went down. I could see people against the skyline, just standing there.”
Of being in the water, he recalled. “I kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I didn’t ask them.”
Three POWs found an abandoned lifeboat and managed to climb in but found it had no oars. With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. Oliver – who was not in the boat – stated he heard men using what he called “GI whistles” to contact each other. “They were blowing these GI whistles in the night. This weird moaning sound. I can’t describe it.”
POWs were heard calling out the names of other men late into the night. The next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other men were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa before finally being sent to Japan. The next day the three men in the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom.
The next morning there were just waves. Oliver and three other men were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa and finally sent to Japan. The next day the three men in the boat picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom. In the end, only nine men out of the nearly 1775 men who boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila survived the sinking. Only eight of the POWs would survive the war. T/5 Neil B. McCage was not one of them.
His family received this message:
“Dear Mr. & Mrs. McCage:
“The International Red Cross has transmitted to this government an official list obtained from the Japanese government, after long delay, of American prisoners of war who were lost while being transported northward from the Philippine islands on a Japanese ship which was sunk on Oct. 24, 1944.
“It is with deep regret that I inform you that your son was among those lost when the sinking occurred and, in the absence of any probability of survival, must be considered to have lost his life. He will be carried on records of the war department as killed in action Oct. 24, 1944. The evidence of his death was received June 16, 1945.
“It is with deep regret that I inform you that your son, T/5 Neil B. McCage, 38, 020, 752, 192nd Tank Battalion, was among those lost when that sinking occurred and, in the absence of any probability of survival, must be considered to have lost his life. He will be carried on the records of the War Department as Killed in Action 24 October 1944. The evidence of this death was received 16 June 1945, the date upon which his pay will terminate and accounts will be closed.
“The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11, 1944, with 1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the south China Sea over 200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners escaped in a small boat and reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the Japanese by whom all others aboard are reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened to the other individual prisoners and known circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all other prisoners listed by the Japanese as aboard the vessel perished.
“It is with deep regret that I must notify you of this unhappy culmination of the long period of anxiety and suffering you have experienced. You have my heartfelt sympathy.
“J. A. Ulio
“Maj. Gen., The Adjutant General of the Army”
Since he was lost at sea, T/5 Neil B. McCage’s name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. His family also had a memorial headstone placed in Arlington National Cemetery.