Pvt. Merle Lloyd Miller was born on August 7, 1919, in Hooker, Oklahoma, to John Miller and Living Sellars-Miller. With his two sisters and brother, he grew up and worked on the family’s farm in Hardesty Township, Texas County, Oklahoma.
Merle was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 24, 1941, at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. After basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Benning, Georgia, but did not take part in the maneuvers taking place at the base.
After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was informed that they were being sent overseas. Since the battalion was mostly National Guardsmen, those men 29 years or older were allowed to resign from federal service. Merle volunteered, or had his name drawn, to replace a National Guardsman and was assigned to C Company.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude – noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 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. The ship intercepted two other ships which turned out to be Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.
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 Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and 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 from WW I and were pretty ragged. They 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. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield. It turned out the planes were Japanese reconnaissance planes.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. On the morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The soldiers returned to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack, the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were then sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The tankers fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27 and were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able to find a crossing over the river.
At Cebu, C Company’s tanks were hidden in the brush. The Japanese troops passed the tanks for three hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese. They then fell back to Cabanatuan.
C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that C Company’s tanks won the first tank battle victory of World War II against enemy tanks. After the battle, C Company made its way south. When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.
On December 31, 1941, the commanding officer of C Company 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 and to cross the river, the company set up its 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 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge. Lt. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge 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 had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town’s church’s steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Bill 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. The tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady’s tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.
Kennady’s platoon held it’s 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 village, through buildings and under them. By the time Bill’s unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
The tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. 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.
The tanks were spaced 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. They 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.
The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked. Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns.
After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across. The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.
In addition to serving as a rearguard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left behind. They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan 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 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank 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 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 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 send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets. The Japanese had launched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line. Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line. The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out. One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon. The tanks would do this one at a time.
The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole. Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks. Each man had a bag of hand grenades. As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole. The driver would then give power to one track and the tank went in a circle and ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese. The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn’t have to smell the rotting flesh.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3 against the defenders. The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
On the morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45 the tankers received the order “crash” and destroyed their tanks. When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to Mariveles where they started the death march.
From Mariveles, the members of C Company made their way north along the east coast of Bataan. The first five miles of the march was more difficult since the march was uphill. The POWs also were denied food and received little water. Those who attempted to get water from the artesian wells that flowed across the road were often killed. It is known that on the march Merle helped to carry a member of D Company so that the man would not be killed.
When the POWs reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull-pin. In one corner, was a trench that was used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface was alive with maggots. The Japanese allowed the POWs to sit in the sun for hours.
At some point, the POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men, marched to the train station at San Fernando, and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights.” This was because each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments were made up of 100 men, the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. The POWs who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
The POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base which the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
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 area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped 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.
In May, to get out of the camp, he went out on a work detail that was sent to Clark Field. The POWs on the detail dug revetments to hide planes. The Japanese guards encouraged the POWs to take their time when digging. The guards didn’t care how much dirt the POWs moved all they had to do is look busy. The reason the guards did this was that they liked the detail and wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. The only time the POWs were expected to work hard was when big shots came around to expect the work.
The POWs had to dig out volcanic rock which was used in the construction of runways. He did this work until August 1944. How the POWs did this was to sift the sand through a screen trapping the rocks. The rocks were used as a base material for new runways for heavy bombers. When the rock ran out, the Japanese engineers told the POWs to use sand for the base material for the last half of the runway.
They worked long hours – starting at 6:00 A.M. – even during the typhoon season without a day off. They were fed a cup of rice, twice a day, but the amount of food was inadequate. The Japanese did not give the POWs any medical supplies, and if they had them it was because the POWs had scrounged them. They were housed in the same barracks that many of them had lived in before the war.
If a POW escaped, the POWs remaining POWs were forced to stand at attention, information, for hours. On one occasion, they stood at attention until 4:00 A.M. Afterward, they went to work. The Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule since several POWs escaped from the detail. If one man escaped, the other nine men in the group would be executed. Men were often thrown into the metal shack that served as a cellblock that had no windows and had only enough room for the man to squat. They also witnessed the execution of Filipinos who had been caught stealing sheet metal. They were tied to poles and used for bayonet practice.
As completion of the runway neared, stone for the base of the runway ran out. The Japanese decided to use sand as the base of the runway. The first time a Japanese heavy bomber landed on the runway it sped across the first half of the runway. When it hit the second half of the runway, the bomber’s carriage suddenly sank out of sight and the bomber flipped over. The prisoners hid their laughter to avoid being beaten.
On August 8, 1944, Merle was sent to Bilibid Prison. The prison was the processing center for POWs being sent to Japan or another occupied country. He was given a rudimentary physical and declared healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
The POWs were boarded onto the Noto Maru on August 25 and packed into one hold. The ship sailed, as part of a four-ship convoy, on the 27th but dropped anchor off Bataan. On its trip to Formosa, depth charges were dropped since American submarines were believed to be in the area of the ships. The ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30th. The convoy sailed again on August 31 and arrived at Moji, Japan, September 4.
Once at Moji, the POWs were broken into two groups. After the Japanese disembarked them from the ship, the POWs realized how bad they smelled. Their smell was so bad, that the Japanese civilians held their noses as the POWs passed.
The POWs next were put on a ferry to cross the Bay of Kobe. They then were boarded onto a train. As they boarded, they noticed that there was a large number of Japanese civilians who appeared to be maimed. The men then were boarded onto a silver streamliner. It was nice inside, but there was no air conditioning. They were ordered not to touch the curtains and to leave them down. The POWs peaked out the windows and learned why. The Japanese city had suffered a great amount of damage from American bombers.
In his case, Merle was in the detachment of POWs sent to Nagoya # 6-B, which took its name from the railroad station. The camp was built for 300 POWs and located near the Nomachi Smelting Plant which violated the Geneva Convention since it was in a war materials manufacturing area. When the Americans got to the camp, it appeared that the barracks had been built in a hurry. The one barracks building in the camp was divided between American and British POWs. This was done to keep order and to prevent problems with camp records.
In the barracks were two tiers of platforms. The POWs climbed ladders to reach the upper tier. Six POWs slept on a platform which was 7 foot long by 18 feet wide with each prisoner had a sleeping area of three feet and a straw mattress for each POW to sleep on. Each man received four to six blankets and four coal-burning stoves, two in each half of the barracks, provided what little heat they had. There were 24 toilet spaces, cold water showers, and a large bathing tub filled with heated water. Clothing for the POWs consisted of what they already had when they arrived at the camp, Japanese army uniforms, and some clothing from the Red Cross.
In front of the prisoners’ barracks, there was an area for calisthenics. There was also a zigzag trench that was supposedly an air raid shelter. The entire compound was surrounded by an eight-foot wooden fence.
When the Americans arrived, the Japanese commanding officer addressed the prisoners. He had only one arm having lost one fighting the Chinese. He spoke decent English and informed them that the harder they worked, the better they would get along. He also informed them that those who could not work would receive reduced rations. The 150 British prisoners who joined the Americans in the camp in early 1945 had been captured at Hong Kong. The biggest problem the two groups of prisoners had with each other was language. As for behavior and discipline, the British were no better or worse than the Americans.
The POWs worked 12 hours workdays with most of the POWs working during the day shift and a small detachment working at night. Those working at the Nomachi Smelting Company walked about 400 yards to the camp, while those working at Hokkai Dneka Smelter marched for five minutes before boarding a boat for a five-minute ride. The POWs, in most cases, were used as laborers at the smelters and mixed iron, coke, and lime before throwing it into a furnace. Others load the mixture into carts and pushed it to furnaces before throwing it into the furnaces. No protective clothing was provided to the POWs so blisters and burns were common.
In addition, the POWs stirred the mixture so that it would melt faster and puddle it when it was ready. Other POWs worked in the machine shop and operated cranes.
The attitude of the Japanese civilians at the plants varied. Some of the civilians were very friendly while others were hostile. The son of the owner of the manganese works liked associating with the POWs because he could speak English. Those who abused the POWs often had the men stand in front of the blast furnace, at attention, which resulted in the men developing blisters. As they stood at attention, they were hit in their heads. They were frequently slapped, punched and hit with 2 foot long by 2 inch wide sticks the civilian guards carried.
Air raid shelters were provided, but it appeared they were not large enough to hold all the POWs. The third detail of POWs worked at a quarry where 20% of the POWs assigned to the job died due to accidents. Officers were not required to work.
Every two weeks the prisoners would change shifts. When this happened there was an eighteen-hour-long swing shift. Since the ore was heavy and the heat tremendous, the POWs worked thirty minutes on and thirty minutes off. From September 8, 1944, until September 1, 1945, the POWs were forced to work without a day off.
The food at the camp was prepared by prisoners and the rations were better at this camp than at the other camps. Although it was mostly rice, there was also barley and soybean when it was in season. They also received daikons which were an overgrown white reddish. Most of the vegetables they ate were from a garden they tended. The prisons sliced it and boiled it into a thin soup. The only meat they received was from three or four cobras that they had discovered inside a giant anthill. Once they even had real Irish potatoes.
The Japanese used collective punishment when they believed a POW had violated a rule. The food rations of the POWs were cut in half or they did not receive fuel for the stoves in the barracks. On one occasion, the Japanese denied the fuel to the POWs for seven days.
The prisoners knew that the war was not going well for Japan. When they were working in the plant, they watched how tightly the food was rationed to the civilians. The foreman gave each worker the same amount of rice. The workers made sure that the kernels that fell on the floor were picked up and put in their baskets. The rats and mice also felt the food shortage. The rats had started to kill the mice for food.
One of the benefits of working in the plant was that there was always enough hot and cold water. The hot water was the result of the furnaces. The prisoners at the plant introduced the Japanese to taking showers. A couple of POWs who worked in the machine shop got permission to make a showerhead. The Japanese liked it so much that they had one made.
While working in the plant, the Americans and British were not allowed to be mixed in the work details. They worked in the same areas but never together.
The camp had a small wooden building with six beds that served as a hospital and no more than six POWs were allowed to be sick at a time. The camp doctor, Capt. Max Bernstein, who had been a member of 17th Ordnance of the Provisional Tank Group, was the camp doctor. He was assisted by three medics, and once a week, a Japanese doctor came to the camp to provide assistance. The Japanese Army provided no medical supplies for the POWs, but the two companies did, and additional medical supplies were received from the Red Cross. Most of the POWs who died in the camp died from pneumonia.
Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick. At one point most of the POWs had diarrhea and still had to work. Those who were too sick to work were beaten with shovels, sticks, rocks, and anything else that was nearby, to get them to do work that they were too sick to do. They also had their meal rations reduced. The camp doctor, Capt. Max Bernstein, of 17th Ordnance, treated the sick with very few medical supplies.
On two occasions, Ted was weak from the lack of food and was beaten by two guards who were known by the names the Ape and the Dwarf. The first time he was beaten was on September 8, 1944, and the second beating took place on September 1, 1945.
Collective punishment was also practiced in the camp. On one occasion, a POW violated a camp rule during the winter. The result was that the POWs went 7 days without fuel for their barracks stoves. What made this worse was while working in the mill, the temperature was 185 degrees and they had to return to unheated barracks.
The British did not tolerate stealing within their ranks. If a British soldier was caught stealing, the punishment was harsh. Those who were victimized formed a ring around the thief. They were allowed to hit the man until he could not stand or his face was a bloody mess. The thief was then carried on a stretcher to the camp hospital.
When an American was caught stealing from another POW, the ranking American officer, 1st. Lt. George Sense, knocked him down on his rear. Many of the POWs believed that this was the right thing to do because it sent the right message. The only stealing that was tolerated was stealing from the Japanese.
By November 1944, snow was everywhere, and the Japanese put markers about five feet tall on the buildings and on posts along the roads. One morning, the POWs went to work in a foot of snow. It snowed every few days until there were about four feet of snow on the ground. They had no boots and their shoes were three years old, so many of the POWs worked in the snow without shoes.
The Japanese denied the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and other items sent to the camp by the Red Cross. Instead of giving these things to the POWs, the Japanese pilfered the items for their own use. The guards were seen wearing shoes sent by the Red Cross for the POWs. The POWs knew of the air raids because the Japanese workers brought newspapers to the mill that the POWs brought into camp and figure out what was happening.
When Christmas, 1944, approached, the POWs hoped that they would have the day off. They hoped that the Japanese would also allow them to have decorations inside their barracks. There also was a rumor that they would receive Red Cross parcels for Christmas. As it turned out, parcels were delivered and each was shared by two men.
A few days before Christmas, the Japanese brought ornaments into every barracks. The ornaments looked just like the ones back home. As it turned out they were the same. These ornaments were supposed to have been shipped to the United States when the war started.
On Christmas, both the Americans and British POWs sang carols together. They also learned that the Japanese had received the Red Cross parcels months earlier, but had held them back to have something to give the prisoners on Christmas. The prisoners needed the food inside the parcels, but what they needed, even more, was what the packages represented. To them, the parcels meant that they had not been forgotten back home.
Men would wear out from being overworked and underfed. Then pneumonia took over and the men died in a couple of days. Their bodies would be put in a four by four-foot by two-foot box. It had handles that allowed it to be carried. A Buddhist priest from the village walked ahead of the procession in his white and gold robes. When the remains were returned to the camp, they were in a four by four-inch by twelve-inch box. The man’s name and serial number were on the box. The box was kept by the camp commandant in his office.
Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick. At one point, most of the POWs had dysentery and were too sick to work. The sick were beaten with shovels, sticks, shovels, and anything else available to get them to do work. They also had their meal rations reduced.
Collective punishment was a common occurrence in the camp. When one POW broke a camp rule, all the POWs were punished. On one occasion, for 7 days, the POWs were denied coal, in the middle of winter, because someone had broken a rule.
The first time the POWs saw American planes pass over the camp, the POWs cheered in spite of the Japanese trying to silence them by hitting them with their sabers. By June 1945, the air raids were getting closer. Sometimes at night, the plant would be blacked out and the POWs were returned to their barracks. Occasionally, they had an air raid drill were the POWs went into the zigzag trench. As the war went on, as the prisoners marched to the mill, they saw teenage boys being trained by army officers. They knew that it was for the expected invasion of Japan. The boys also used sticks for rifle practice.
On August 15, the POWs knew something was going on when the Japanese held a meeting. The Japanese men were sad and the Japanese women cried. They also seemed not to care if the POWs did any work, so the POWs took it easy. On August 17 and 18, the POWs were told they did not have to work. Finally, the guards came to the barracks and told the POWs that the war was over. Then the guards vanished from the camp. The Japanese civilians began bringing food to them.
The Swiss Red Cross arrived at the camp on September 5 and began to make the arrangements for the POWs to leave the camp. Later in the day, the POWs were taken to the train station and put on trains. Once on the train, they were given three days of k-rations for the trip. The POWs ate the rations the first night on the train, and when they got to Tokyo, most of the POWs were sick from overeating.
Merle was taken to Okinawa and later returned to the Philippines for medical treatment on the U.S.S. Rescue. He returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Tryon on October 24, 1945. After further medical treatment, he was discharged from the Army on June 9, 1946. He married Wilma Sellers and became the father of two daughters and two sons. With his family, Merle resided in Guymon, Oklahoma.
Merle L. Miller passed away on March 29, 1990, in Guymon, Oklahoma. He was buried at Elmhurst Cemetery in Guymon.