Major John Coffinberry Morley was the oldest of five children born to Lieutenant Commander John Edward Morley and Nadine Morgan Coffinberry-Morley. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 6, 1904, and lived at 10819 Magnolia Avenue in Cleveland, where he attended school.
After graduating high school, John attended Yale University graduating in 1925 with a Bachelor of Arts. On June 17, 1925, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. He was nonactive in the Army Reserve during the time he went to law school at Harvard University where he earned a law degree in 1928. After graduation, he returned to active duty.
John married Gretchen, and the couple adopted a son, David. The family resided at 2912 Weybridge Road in Shaker Heights, Ohio. On February 17, 1936, he was promoted to First Lieutenant, and on November 11, 1938, he transferred to the Ohio National Guard as a 1st Lieutenant.
On February 3, 1941, John was called to federal service and assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion. On July 2, 1941, he was promoted to captain and made the commanding officer of Headquarters Company. Later, he was given the duty of intelligence officer, or S-2, for the battalion.
In late March 1941, the 192nd was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
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. Afterward, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. 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 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.
On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company 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 included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments 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, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
On July 2, 1941, he was promoted to captain and made the commanding officer of Headquarters Company. Later, he was given the duty of intelligence officer, or S-2, for the battalion.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of the soldiers had any idea why they were remaining at the base. On the side of a hill, the battalion was informed that their time in the Army had been extended from one to five years. They also learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, most had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from military service. Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 192nd also received the 753rd’s M3 “Stuart” Tanks.
The decision to send the 192nd to the Philippines was because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island located hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter on it. The planes returned to their flight plan south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen.
The next morning another squadron was sent to the area and found the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, there was no ship was in the area
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while 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 5th, 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 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
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, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling 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 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 – 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 ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. 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.
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 which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. 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.
After living through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield on December 8, 1941, John’s job was to make sure that the different tank platoons of the 192nd were in contact with Headquarters Company. He also provided information on the Japanese to the tank companies.
During the fight against the Japanese, John often went out on reconnaissance gathering information on Japanese positions. He also went out repeatedly, contacting the tank companies to see what their needs were at that moment. During these missions, John often came under attack by Japanese planes. He recalled in a letter home the bombings and strafing by the planes.
On one occasion, as part of his job, John was sent into the jungle with troops to find the surviving members of a Japanese bomber that had been shot down. John returned from this assignment having captured the Japanese bomber crew.
On a different occasion. a platoon, of B Company’s tanks, was sent north to Damaris. The Japanese had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf. John went north with the company where it ran out of gasoline at Gerona. The company waited for trucks to arrive with the fuel. After refueling, one platoon was sent north to support the 26th U.S. Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.
On December 25, John was in one of the tanks assigned to Hq Company of the 192nd. The Japanese were involved in a battle with the tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion. The tank was parked under the canopy of a gas station near Carmen when PFC Wayne Buggs tuned the tank’s radio to the 194th’s frequency. As they listened to the battle, Morley attempted to follow the action on a map. John and the tank’s crew sat in the tank listening to the battle while shells landed around them. As the battle got closer to them, the decision was made to move their tank back to a safer location.
During the Battle of Bataan, a platoon of C Company tanks, under the command of Lt. William Gentry, came into contact with a Japanese force at the Filipino barrio of Bailiuag. The Japanese needed to use the bridge across the Calumpit River which had not been blown up. Gentry ordered his tank crews to hide their tanks in the huts at the south end of the barrio.
John had lost contact with the tanks and wanted to know what had happened to them, since the tanks, not wanting to reveal themselves, had kept radio silence. All that John knew was that the tanks were in the area of Bailiuag. Late in the afternoon, John drove into the barrio looking for the tanks. The Japanese had crossed the river and had placed lookouts in the church tower at the north end of the town. Seeing John in his jeep caused a commotion among the Japanese. John realized that he was about to blow the cover of the tanks got back into his jeep and drove away as if nothing had happened. The tanks would later attack and wipe out a platoon of Japanese tanks.
During the Battle of the Pockets, the tanks were sent north to help clear the Japanese trapped behind the main defensive line on Bataan. To get a better idea of the situation, John did reconnaissance on foot across the front. While doing this he was under constant enemy fire.
On December 31, the 192nd had been ordered to drop back to new positions. Once the battalion had established its new headquarters, John noticed that the medical detachment was missing and went looking for them. When he found them, he learned that they had never received the order to drop back. He told Capt. Alvin Poweleit that the Japanese were now behind them and that the best way to get to the new front line was to cross a river.
On February 6, 1942, while performing reconnaissance to coordinate tank action in front of two American divisions in the II Corp sector of Bataan, John received the Silver Star. According to the citation, he managed to deploy tanks in conditions that were not suitable for tanks. While doing this, he often put himself in harm’s way by crossing the front-line on foot while under enemy fire. It was sometime after this that John was promoted to major. He told his wife in a letter home that he was expecting the promotion.
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.
Gen. Edward King facing the reality that only about 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight and most likely would last one more day. It was at this time that he decided to send his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender since he wanted to avoid the slaughter of 6,000 wounded and sick troops and 40,000 civilians. At 10:30, these orders were given: “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.”
At about 6:45 on the morning of April 9, the order “crash” was given to the soldiers. John like many others took the news as being free from the constant shelling and air raids. At the time, the Provisional Tank Group’s headquarters was near Limay. Corregidor had no idea that the barrio was still in American hands and was shelling the area. That night, he watched as ammunition dumps were destroyed. In his journal, he wrote that there was a loud thud and flames shot into the sky.
Before the surrender, John saw Col. Cliff Williams of General King’s staff who had come to his bivouac on the back of a motorcycle at 6:00 in the morning. Gen. King had given him a letter for Gen. Homa of the Japanese army. Williams looked at John and said, “Morley, never in my life did I ever conceive of being required to carry out such a bitter task as this.” Morley offered William’s use of his jeep and driver, Cpl. William Burns.
On April 8, John made his way to Lamao with orders to send three tank companies north, in a last stand movement, from which, he knew, few would return. About midnight. the order was revoked, and he was told to prepare the tankers to destroy their equipment. It was when the ammunition dumps went up in great explosions and flames that he knew a decision had been made.
John was also involved in the destruction of B Company tanks. After the crews had opened the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. The last tank would not blow up, so John personally dropped the grenade into it. Afterward, he and Captain Robert Sorenson, the commander of B Company, made their way to the tank group headquarters.
At Hq, he saw General Weaver. In John’s opinion, the general looked tired. He also believed that Weaver wanted to fight to the death instead of surrendering. John then made his way to Hospital #1 to get Capt. Alvin Poweleit. During the trip, he saw his first Japanese troops. His driver pulled the jeep into their tank column and followed them to the hospital. Since Poweleit could not leave until the evening, John made his way back to tank group command. He went to sleep that night wondering what lay in store the next morning.
The next morning John was awakened by the sound of grunts. John’s field bag was packed, and he was able to put canned food and an additional set of clothes in it. When the Japanese arrived, he was able to take the bag with the food with him.
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. In a letter home, John told of how walking on the gravel trail was difficult. John recalled that he witnessed “Japanese Discipline.” If a Japanese soldier fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
The trail the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road. The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
At one point, John saw Filipino civilians who were making their way down the road. He could not believe how thin they were. Yes, he and the other soldiers had been hungry, but these people had starved.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11, they were put into a schoolyard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp. There, he and Major Havelock Nelson shared a can of mushroom soup.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment, the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, John and the others were put into a pen where they were ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 that evening, John resumed the march and wrote that this part of the march was different. The POWs were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs make their way to Hermosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete. John found that this change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets. John received one of these jabs.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months, it began to rain. John wrote the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13, he arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a pen. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell.
John recalled this was the worse part of the march. It was short, but most of the POWs were exhausted. It was during this portion of the march that Major Havelock Nelson began to have problems. He fell and was carried by John and Capt. Malcolm Fowler, 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the rest of the way to Camp O’Donnell. Arriving at the camp. the two men placed Nelson under a hut with his field bag. It was the last time John ever saw Nelson.
On June 4, John was transferred to Cabanatuan. He remained in the camp until October 26, 1942, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila. He remained in the prison until October 28, when he was taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Erie Maru. The ship sailed for Iloilo, Mindanao and also stopped at Cebu before arriving at Lasang, Mindanao. The entire trip took two weeks. John’s diary noted that he arrived at the Davao Penal Colony on November 11, 1942. The colony was 36 miles from Davao City.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
In the diary John kept as a POW, he wrote of the food the POWs were served. In it, he stated the POWs received a dish of steam rice and salt for breakfast and a cup of ginger tea. He stated that when he first became a POW, he had to force the rice down his throat since he found it disgusting. He noted that by July 1943, he could eat the rice and want more.
John also noted that lunch and dinner for the POWs was a dish of rice and salt and kang-kong soup. He described kang-kong soup as a leafy plant that grew in wet ditches. This soup was supplemented at times with carrots, cassava, gobbi, green papaya, and beans. In addition, fish was added to the meal.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded as the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs, who could not do this work, made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. The treatment the POWs at this time changed. Those POWs working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, and there were misunderstandings between the POWs and guards. In addition, the translator could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Many of the POWs became ill with what John called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent John, and other POWs, to Lasang, Mindanao, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship’s front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25. From there he was sent to Cabanatuan.
John was returned to Bilibid, a third time, on October 12, 1944. This time he was being processed for shipment to Japan. 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 8:00, the POWs were lined up, roll call was taken, and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. 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.
At the harbor, they 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.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon when they were awakened. The POWs boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. 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 began 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 sailed and became a part of a convoy, MATA 37, which moved without lights. 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.
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.”
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 were 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.
The POWs received their first meal at dawn. 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., and the ship was off the coast of Luzon. The POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the anti-aircraft gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no 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 or the engines of the planes as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the ship. Bullets from the planes ricocheted into the hold causing many casualties. After the first raid, the ship was left alone by “playing possum” in the water. The American fighters went after the other ships in the convoy. The POWs believed, from the attacks, that the planes were attempting to take out the anti-aircraft guns on the escort ships.
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.
The attacks followed the same pattern. Each time, 30 or 50 planes attacked in a wave. The attack lasted for about twenty minutes when the planes broke off the attack. After each attack, there was a twenty to thirty-minute lull before the next wave of planes attacked.
Overall, six bombs hit the ship. At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack. It was hit at least three times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it. Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevent most from penetrating the hull. Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours. One bomb hit the stern of the ship killing many before the attacks ended when dusk came. The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
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 would never reach Japan. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes were running 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.
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 1st Lt. William Cummings, a Catholic chaplain, 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. It headed in this direction 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 fell, 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 chaplain, Major John Duffy, began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
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. The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
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.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court. The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end. They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, 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. What was learned was that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. They were also buried at the cemetery. The remaining POWs remained on the tennis courts for nine days. During this time, they were given water but not fed.
While they were on the tennis court, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
On the evening of December 16, the Japanese brought 50-kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes in them. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, “No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid.” The guard knew as little as the POWs. The POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
On December 23, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid while the remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards inside each car. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a schoolyard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. On December 25, the POWs were being held in a schoolhouse. On the morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to the beach. During this time, the prisoners 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 those who drank the seawater died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another hell ship the Brazil Maru. During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31 and docked around 11:30 AM.
After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six-inch-long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. On January 6, all the POWs were consolidated in the holds of the Enoura Maru, and the amount of food they received improved.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes on the morning of January 9. One bomb hit outside the starboard side of the bow blowing hole in it. A second bomb came through the open hatch and exploded. Together the two bombs killed approximately 258 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three more days with the dead since the Japanese did nothing to remove the corpses. Taking matters into their own hands, the POWs stacked the dead under the hatch opening so they would be the first thing the Japanese saw and smelled when they looked into the hold.
On the third day, the Japanese brought a barge alongside the ship and organized the POWs into crews who loaded the dead on the barge. Even after this had been done, there were still dead in the ship’s hold. The barge moved close to shore where the POWs tied ropes to the feet of the corpses and dragged them to shore to be buried. Ropes were used since the POWs were too weak to carry the corpses.
About 1000 POWs were transferred to the Brazil Maru on Saturday, January 13. The ship sailed at dawn on the 14th and sometime that afternoon the POWs received their first meal of a quarter cup of red rice for each POW. The POWs found the first night on the ship was extremely cold. What made it worse was that most of the POWs had dysentery.
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. The POWs received two meals a day which consisted of each man receiving a third of a cup of rice and eight teaspoons of tea.
Major John C. Morley died on Thursday, January 18, 1945, in the hold of the Brazil Maru. One story is that he died of starvation, while the other is he was wounded during one of the attacks and died from his wounds. After he died, his body was stripped of its clothing and thrown into the sea.
Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan. After the war, Major John C. Morley’s name was placed on the Tablets of the Missing at the new American Military Cemetery at Manila. His family also had his name placed on a headstone in Section 13, Row 9 – 1, at Evergreen Cemetery, Painesville, Ohio.