2nd Lt. Jacques V. Merrifield was born in Amboy, Illinois, to the Rev. Roy and Mrs. Jeanette Merrifield on March 26, 1918. He was known as “Jack” or “PK,” which stood for “Preacher’s Kid,” to his friends. Jack, with his sister and two brothers, was raised at 1113 South Fifth Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. His father, the Rev. Roy Merrifield, was the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church.
Jack graduated from Proviso Township High School, as a member of the Class of 1938, with 2nd Lieutenants Ben Morin and Richard Danca. After high school, he worked as a paint mixer, at Gillette Paint and Varnish, while attending the University of Chicago.
On September 23, 1940, Jack enlisted in the Illinois National Guard. His reason for doing this was that a federal draft act had been passed, and he wanted to complete his military obligation before he was drafted into the army.
He was called to federal service with the 33rd Tank Company from Maywood, Illinois, as a member of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The battalion trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where Jack attended radio operators school and qualified as a radioman. During this time, he rose in rank from private first class to technical sergeant.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. The game that many of the men began to play was chess and one group became known as “The Chess Clique.”
1st/Sgt. Richard Danca – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. 35 men were picked because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. In his case, he was promoted to sergeant. The men assigned to the company still lived with the company since their barracks were unfinished. Jacques was one of these men. HQ Company was divided into staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks which every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.
The company also moved into its barracks in January 1941. Before this, they had lived in six men tents with stoves. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space. The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the sergeant’s office, and one was in the Lt. Donald Hanes’ office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February.
The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks.
It was also at this time that all the companies had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the company. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the company in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, before returning to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th. While at the lake, they swam, boated, and fished.
After nearly ten months of training at Ft. Knox, the battalion went on maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 to 30. When the maneuvers ended, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. This was done so that it could be refitted with new equipment for overseas duty. During this time, he rose in rank to Technical Sergeant.
The reason the battalion was sent to the fort was because of an event in the late summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots – whose plane was lower than the others – noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, hundreds of miles to the northwest, which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan and landed in the evening.
Since it was too late to do anything that day, another squadron was sent to the area the next day, but the buoys had been picked up and a fishing boat was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, no ship was sent to the area to intercept the boat. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, over different train routes. Arriving there, they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance., and prepared for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two members of each tank crew had to remain with the tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks. For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance expecting to take part in scheduled maneuvers.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the officers of the battalion were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. At 12:45 in the afternoon, the Japanese attacked the airfield destroying most of the Army Air Corps. With the Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands, Jack was involved in the fight against the Japanese invasion force when it landed at Lingayen Gulf.
While involved in the Battle of Bataan, Jack had his first brush with death. On December 30th, the Bren Gun Carrier he was riding in was approaching a bridge when a Japanese shell exploded next to it. The gun carrier missed the bridge and went into the river. Jack was rescued by Dr. Alvin C. Poweleit, of the 192nd Tank Battalion Medical Staff. Dr. Poweleit dove into the river and, after a struggle to extract Jack, pulled him from the wreckage. The driver, a Pvt. Winton Long, who was a member of the 19th Bomber Group, was rescued but could not be revived. The results of this accident were that Jack developed bronchitis and would suffer from it throughout his time as a prisoner of war. He also would have problems with his neck for the rest of his life.
Sometime during this event, Jack lost his dog tags. It would be this event that would result in his parents believing that he had been Killed in Action. As it turned out, one of his dog tags was found on the body of a dead American soldier. Jack’s parents were notified of his death on January 21. During his sermon on a Sunday morning, his father announced Jack’s death to his congregation. At the end of his sermon, on Sunday, February 1, 1942, he read a list of the members of B Company fighting in the Philippines. He ended his sermon with, “And also my son, Jacques. He was killed in action while guarding Clark Field on Luzon on Dec. 30, according to a telegram I received this morning.”
The family received this telegram on March 194 2, “Referring to my telegram of January 21, I am deeply gratified to inform you that the commanding forces in the Far East MacArthur, general of the U.S. Army reports of this date, that your son, Jacques Merrifield, Technical Sergeant, previously reported killed in action on Dec. 30, has been found alive and well.”
On March 22, 1942, Jack was given a battlefield commission. Jack’s job with Headquarters Company was that of communications officer. In this role, he witnessed the Japanese bomb and strafe the rail yard at Pampanga. A few days before the surrender, he was reassigned to C Company.
When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese, Jack became a Prisoner of War. According to his diary, he surrendered somewhere between kilometer markers 188 to 121 when he ran into Japanese. After making contact with the Japanese, he continued to Mariveles.
From April 9 through the 16, Jack took part in the death march. In his diary, he stated that he was suffering from dysentery as he made his way to San Fernando. He did the march with his friend, Lt. Bill Gentry.
On the march, the two men witnessed a number of incidents of Japanese brutality. The Japanese took great pleasure in hitting Americans wearing World War I style helmets across the top of their heads. The reason was that at the top of the helmet was a rivet that would tear into the scalps of the men. Many Americans got rid of the helmets which proved to be a bad decision because of the sun.
Somewhere along the march, as they watched some POWs were forced to dig their own graves and then were shot. They were pushed into the graves and other POWs buried them.
At some point, Gentry had an attack of malaria that lasted three or four days. During this time, Jack carried him for three or four days until he recovered.
At San Fernando, the POWs were put into a bullpen, but how long they remained there is not known. At some point, the Japanese ordered them to form detachments of 100 men and marched them to the train station. The boxcars that the Japanese packed them in were known as “forty or eight” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since there were 100 men in each detachment, they put 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors.
The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing because they could fall to the floors. When the living left the boxcars at Capas, those who had died fell to the floors of the cars. From Capas, they walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area where they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
It was at this time his parents received a message from the War Department:
“Dear Rev. R. Merrifield:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of 2nd Lieutenant Jacques V. Merrifield, O&, 890,431, 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 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 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured on Corregidor were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1. He arrived in the camp on June 7.
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.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. He was assigned to Barracks 7.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. It is known that Jack was the work detail. Being on the detail meant that the POWs left the camp. They went into the woods and cut down trees. One day on this detail, the ax slipped hitting Jack’s foot and almost cutting off his big toe. Since there was a lack of medicine, Jack was lucky that he did not lose his toe. Leroy Scoville another member of the 192nd put a tourniquet on his leg stop the bleeding. Next Scoville and three other POWs carried him without stopping to the road. The one result of this injury was that he had severe lacerations on his left foot and part of the second toe on his foot was removed. The injured toe bothered him for the rest of his life.
The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. 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.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The other major work detachment was sent out from the camp each day to build an airfield, for fighters, near the camp. The detail supervisor was known as “Air Raid” to the POWs. He usually was fair in his treatment of the POWs, but he was unpredictable and had to be watched. “Donald Duck” was another guard on the detail. He got his nickname because he talked a lot and reminded the POWs of the cartoon character. He was unpredictable and was known for beating POWs.
The POWs cut grass, removed dirt and moved it with wheelbarrows. When that became inefficient, the Japanese brought in track and mining cars and the POWs pushed them to where the dirt was being dumped. While doing this Jack aggravated his neck injury and was admitted to the camp hospital on September 7, 1942.
During this time in July, his parents received a second message from the War Department.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, 2nd Lt. Jacques V. Merrifield had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received. “Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, they received bread. Jack and other officers of the 192nd scrounged seeds to start a garden. The vegetables they grew were eaten to supplement their meals. He and the other officers pooled their money and bought seasonings and other food.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building.
There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
Jack’s health suffered while he was a prisoner. It is known he was admitted to the camp hospital on August 9, 1942. No reason for the hospitalization or date was given for his discharge.
Jack was also listed on the hospital report compiled by the camp’s medical staff on October 1, 1942. He was listed as being admitted to the camp hospital because he was suffering from dysentery and malaria. He was released from the hospital but readmitted on October 27, 1942, still suffering from malaria. This time he remained in the camp hospital until November 15, when he was discharged again.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
It was while he was a prisoner there that Jack’s parents received a postcard stating that he was alive and being held in the POW camp. This was the first time his parents heard that he was still alive since the telegram stating he was still alive during the Battle of Bataan.
Jack also recalled an incident with the Japanese, and the camp band, that took place while he was at Cabanatuan. The band always tried to learn new songs to play for the POWs. One of the songs the band learned to play was “Paper Moon.” The only problem was that the song had not become popular until after the soldiers had become POWs. When the Japanese realized this, they knew the POWs had a radio hidden in the camp. The Japanese searched the camp vigorously to find the radio and tortured many men. They never did find the radio.
He developed a calcium deposit on his right knee at one point and was readmitted to the camp hospital on March 22, 1943. Surgery was performed on the knee, and he later developed an infection and gangrene set in. The doctors performed an emergency appendectomy to save his life. Medical records from the camp indicate he was readmitted to the hospital on April 12, 1943.
It is known that on at least three occasions, Jack was beaten. At this time, the reasons for the beatings are not known. The beatings would affect his health for the remainder of his life. It is known that he was in the camp hospital in Building 15 on September 15, 1944.
Jack remained at Cabanatuan until October 18, 1944, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison as the Japanese prepared to send him and other prisoners to Japan. This was the processing center for POWs being sent to Japan or other occupied countries. He was given a physical and declared healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
There was an inspection and the POWs received a breakfast of a piece of cornbread and rice. They were loaded onto six trucks with 50 men put on each one. This made the ride uncomfortable since they were packed so tightly they had to stand.
At 11:00 A.M. on they were on their way to the prison, the POWs saw two large formations of American planes which were the fifth or sixth straight day they had seen American planes. The trucks stopped and the POWs were fed, but they were not allowed off the trucks. The POWs made their way to the side of the truck to urinate. They arrived at Bilibid at 4:00 P.M.
Not much is known about Jack’s time at Bilibid. It is known, that on December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 13, the POWs were awakened.
By 7:00, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. This process took two hours. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to “fall-in.” The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the streetcars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was an old run-down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
The POWs were allowed to sit, and many of them fell asleep. At 5:00 in the afternoon, the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru and put in one of the ship’s holds. The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s aft hold.
Being the first one into the hold meant that they would suffer many deaths. Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.” The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”
At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three-fourths of a cup of water that was shared by 20 POWs. It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Bataan, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
At first, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us.”
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties.
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr did not reach Japan.
When the planes ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only its 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs. During the attack Chaplain William Cummings – a Catholic priest – led the POWs in the Our Father.
As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship’s had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped. At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15 and the POWs sat in the ship’s holds for hours after dawn. The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water. At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, “Planes, many planes!”
As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris goes flying up in the air.”
In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold a Catholic priest, Father John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
About a half-hour later, the ship’s stern started to really burn. The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. Of abandoning ship Lt. Walter Scott said: “However, we did not get off it before the bombers had come back again and scored a direct hit on the middle hold of the ship.”
Jack made his way on deck and went over the side. He remembered how good the water felt. Jack swam to shore near Olongapo, Subic Bay, Luzon. As he swam to shore, which was about 300 to 400 yards away. Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs to keep them in the water so they would not escape.
Jack, seeing that a number of the other POWs could not swim, repeatedly swam out to the ship to tow them to shore. He did this while under Japanese machine gunfire. When he would not stop swimming out to save his fellow Americans, a Japanese soldier bayoneted him. In spite of this wound, he continued to rescue other men. This event would lead to his having to have an appendix operation.
The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
Seeing a large number of men abandoning the ship, four of the planes flew low over the men in the water. Those in the water waved and shouted at the planes in an attempt to stop the attack. One plane veered off from the group and returned. This time he was even closer to the water and wigged his wings to the POWs to show he knew they were Americans. When he rejoined the other planes, the attack stopped.
After the POWs had abandoned ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk by American planes. The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court. When roll call was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack.
Jack also had on him a wallet that belonged to Ralph Hite, of HQ Company. Hite had died on the bridge building detail in May 1942. Hite’s wallet was given to Jack so that he could return it to Ralph’s mother. He said that if he survived the war, he would return to the wallet to her.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach and herded on the tennis court. While the POWs were at Olongapo Naval Station, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. They were buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed.
On December 24, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando, Pampanga. The widows of the train were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. From December 24 to the 27, the POWs were held in a schoolhouse and later on a beach at San Fernando, La Union. During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of these men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando La Union where boarded onto another ship the Brazil Maru on December 27. The ship arrived safely at Formosa arriving there on December 31 and dropping anchor in the harbor at 11:00 A.M. During the time at Takao. Formosa, the POWs remained in the holds. From January 1 through the 5, they received one meal a day and not enough water.
The POWs were transferred to the holds of the Enoura Maru on January 6 and put into its forward hold. There, Jack once again came close to death when the ship was bombed and sunk by American planes on January 9, 1945, while it was still anchored. During the attack, the POWs watched as three bombs fell toward the ship. All they could do is wait to see where the bombs would hit. One bomb exploded in the hold Jack was in, but at the other end away from him. Unfortunately, his good friend, 2nd Lt. Leroy Scoville of A Company, was closer to the explosion and wounded by the bomb.
In an attempt to repair the ship, the Japanese transferred the POWs to the undamaged hold of the ship. The POWs watched as the Japanese attempted to patch the ship.
On January 13, 1945, Jack boarded the Brazil Maru which left Formosa, on January 14, and arrived in Moji, Japan, on January 29, 1945. During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day. The ship also towed one or two other ships that had been damaged. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan. His friend, Lt. Leroy Scoville, was not one of them.
Jack was held at Fukuoka #3 until the Japanese decided it was time for those that were supposed to go Manchuria to be sent there. He was boarded onto an inter-island steamer took the POWs to Korea during the night. He arrived in Pusan, Korea, on April 25, 1945, when he was sent to Mukden, Manchuria, by train. According to Jack’s diary, he arrived at Mukden on April 29. There, he was held as a POW at Hooton Camp. One of the biggest problems facing Jack and the other new arrivals at the camp was the belief among the older residents that the new arrivals were stealing their food, supplies, and making their lives worse by being there. This belief caused friction among the members of the two groups.
The POWs lived in two-story brick barracks that were divided into 10 sections. Five were on the ground floor and five on the second floor. Each section was divided into four double-decked sleeping bays which could sleep eight men each. 48 POWs slept in each and each section was heated by a “petchka” stove. The enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover themselves with at night. The officers got one blanket and a mattress. The barracks were infested with fleas, lice, and bedbugs.
For breakfast, they had cornmeal mush and a bun. Lunch was maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun. Since they were underfed, the POWs trapped wild dogs to supplement their meals of soybeans which usually came in the form of soup. They continued to trap dogs until, while marching to work, they saw one eating a dead Chinese.
The POWs worked either at a machine shop or a sawmill from 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day. The machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese. Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese. To prevent the production of weapons, they committed acts of sabotage like pouring sand into the machine oiling holes. The Japanese usually blamed these acts of sabotage on the Chinese in the plant because they believed the Americans were not smart enough to commit the sabotage.
Many of the POWs in the camp worked at the MKK Machine Shop which was attempting to produce copies of American weapons. To prevent this from happening, the POWs committed acts of sabotage. Many POWs believed that they never manufactured one usable weapon.
On August 18, 1945, an American Recovery Team from the OSS parachuted into the camp and entered the commandant’s office. They later told the POWs that the war was over. Jack was officially liberated by the Russian Army, who made the Japanese surrender in front of the POWs.
On August 20, Jack wrote in a journal he kept, “Allied planes over camp about 12:30 P. 5:35 P. B-24 came over camp at retreat & dropped pamphlets. 7:35 P. Russian Commander arrived and declared us free men. 8:00 P. Nips disarmed and marched before Americans. Russian Commander presents pistol to General Parker.” On August 29, 1945, his parents learned he was alive. Jack remained at Mukden until September 29, 1945, when he was listed by the Russians for transport.
Jack returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Marine Shark at Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. As Aide-de-camp for the 192nd Tank Battalion, he wrote the official U. S. Army report on the men of the 192nd Tank Battalion. It was his report that was the basis for this project.
While Jack was a POW, in November 1942, his father took a position at a Baptist Church in Urbana, Illinois. When Jack returned home, he visited his parents at their new home. It was while in Urbana, that Jack mailed Ralph Hite’s wallet to his mother, so he would keep his word and return it to Hite’s family.
Jack Merrifield married and raised a family. He made a career as a government employee with the Internal Revenue Service as a Special Agent. As an agent, he resided in Colorado. When he retired from the IRS, with his second wife, Grace, Jack moved to Arizona.and passed away on February 16, 1999, at a Phoenix Veterans Administration Hospital in Arizona.
As per his wishes, Jack Merrifield was cremated. His daughter and friend took his ashes out in a boat and scattered them in Lake Havasu, Arizona. His ashes were scattered in the same location as his wife who had passed away before him.