Capt. Alvin Charles Poweleit, M. D. was born June 8, 1908, to August Poweleit and Caroline Yutze-Poweleit. His mother died and his father remarried. He had two sisters and one brother, a half-sister, and a half-brother. Alvin married, Loretta Catherine Thesing, on June 28, 1930, and attended the University of Louisville. He graduated from the university’s medical school in 1936. After residency, he had a general medical practice in Newport, Kentucky. With his wife, he lived at 327 East Park Avenue in Newport, Kentucky. While in school, Alvin enlisted in the U. S. Army Reserve and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He was trained in infantry tactics during the summers between school years.
In January 1941, Alvin was called to federal duty. Reporting to Fort Knox, he was assigned to the newly formed medical detachment of the 192nd Tank Battalion. During this time, Alvin and the other members of the detachment did basic infantry training. It was his job and the job of the battalion’s other medical officer to train the medics of the battalion. The reason for this was that the Army offered limited classes and believed hands-on training was better than classroom training.
In the late summer of 1941, Alvin and the medical detachment traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana for maneuvers. The medical detachment did not take part in the maneuvers, but they did treat the members of the battalion for injuries and snake bites which were very common.
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. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The medical detachment quickly found themselves dealing with injuries tank crew members.
A major problem was snake bites. It appeared that every other man was bitten at some point by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snakebit kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
At night a number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
After the maneuvers, the battalion members were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as was expected. At the fort, they learned that their battalion was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. The soldiers received furloughs home to say their goodbyes before they returned to Camp Polk.
The reason for this move 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. 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, hundreds of miles away, with a large radio transmitter on it. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed that evening, it was too late to do anything that day. The next morning, 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 toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars on different trains. The soldiers also put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust. Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other 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. They 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 U.S.A.T. 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.
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. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as they left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. From there, they rode a narrow-gauge train to Ft. Stotsenburg.
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 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 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.
Poweleit and PFC Ardell Schei, the company clerk, worked to organize the military records of the battalion. Part of the reason this was done was that D Company was being reassigned to the 194th Tank Battalion. This transfer would never be completed and suspended indefinitely in January 1942.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” which the battalion borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX. For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ernest Miller, the commanding officer of the 194th, Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, the commanding officer of the tank group, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 194th were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning long on December 8, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall. At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.
Since the 192nd Tank Battalion were assigned to tents along the main road to Fort Stotsenburg, Alvin drove to the airfield to see if he could aid the wounded and dying. He recalled that the hangers and barracks were destroyed and that the B-17s also were totally wrecked. As he was doing this, Japanese fighters began strafing the airfield. To avoid being hit, Alvin hid in a bomb crater. After the attack, Alvin continued to give first aid to the wounded. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing, and he recalled that the dead were everywhere. He and the medics treated Filipino Lavenderos – women who did laundry – and a number of houseboys. They also treated officers and men. They also saw the dead, men with half their heads torn off, men with their intestines lying on the ground, and men with their backs blown out.
The airfield was bombed again on December 10 and 13. It was on the later date that while Alvin and three medics were crossing the airfield in a jeep, they heard the sound of engines. The driver stopped the jeep, but when he tried to start it, it wouldn’t start. The men took cover on the ground during the attack as planes strafed the area. On December 21, Alvin was with B Company when one platoon of its tanks was sent north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops. Alvin stated that Gen. Wainwright was advised, by Lt. Col. Wickord, that the tanks should not be sent into the area without reconnaissance. According to Alvin, Wainwright demanded the tanks be sent into the area. The result was that the tank platoon was lost.
One day while doing this job, Alvin, Sgt. Howard Massey, and Cpl. John Reynolds, and PFC Curis Massey encountered a Japanese patrol. The three soldiers were in a stream bed when they heard a twig snap. Carefully, they made their way back to their truck and hid in the brush. As they watched, a Japanese patrol made its way down the bed of the stream. Each of the medical detachment men aimed their guns at a specific member of the patrol. They opened fire and continued to fire until the patrol was wiped out.
The medical detachment was near San Isidro on December 28/29. The detachment did not get the order to withdraw from the area on the 30, and although given the order to abandon their equipment they loaded up their equipment and made their way south through Gapan. As they went through the barrio, there were Japanese in the streets who did not attempt to stop them. The medics were near San Fernando on the 31st and ordered to bivouac near Lubao on January 1.
The medical detachment fell back with the tanks and was near Culis on January 4. It was there they gave aid to the wounded from the 194th. On January 6, with shells flying over them and exploding around them, the medical detachment fell back to the Pilar-Bagac Road. They stayed in the area for days before dropping back through Balanga as it burned. The units were at Orion on the 19th. It was at this time the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points took place.
According to Alvin, the reason Bataan held out for four months was that Gen. James Weaver was a good tactician. Weaver, by moving the tanks around, convinced the Japanese that the Americans had a greater number of tanks than they actually did. A Japanese officer, on Formosa, would later confirm this belief in a conversation with Alvin while he was a POW there. The officer stated that the one thousand tanks the Americans had was the reason it took so long to capture the Philippines. Alvin responded that they had only slightly more than one hundred tanks.
Alvin was made the physician for the tank group on March 9, 1942. It is known that he traveled to different areas checking on the medics. It is known that his first few days doing the job he told Gen. Weaver that only half the men in both tank battalions were healthy enough to do a full day’s work. He did note that the men of 17th Ordnance were slightly in better shape. He noted that malaria, dysentery, and malnutrition were taking their toll on the men.
On March 14, he was sent to work at General Hospital #1 for two or three weeks. The hospital consisted of 16 wooden buildings with Nipa roofs that were 25 feet wide and 75 feet long. Fifteen of the buildings were used as wards and one was used as the officers’ quarters. There were also six buildings of the same construction but 18 feet wide by 27 feet long. One served as the Department Surgeon’s Office, one as Headquarters General Hospital Number One, one as minor surgery, Dental Clinic, and Laboratory, one as a Receiving Office and Pharmacy, one as the Quartermaster’s Office, and one as the Registrar’s Office for Sick and Wounded. There was one large building that was twice the size of Ward buildings that was used as the Nurses’ Quarters at one end and Officers’ Mess at the other. Another building of the same size was used as the Main Operating Pavilion. There were also ten other buildings of different sizes. Three were used as mess halls, one was the bakery, four were latrines, one was the laundry, and one was the laundry for contagious disease patients. There were also four galvanized iron buildings 80 feet wide by 100 feet long. One was used as a Convalescent Ward, another as Medical Supply, one as a storage warehouse, and the last as a drying room for hospital laundry. During his time there, he was able to send home a radiogram to his wife. It is known that while he was there that he performed surgery, treated the wounded and sick, and lived with frequent bombings by Japanese planes. He was still there when Bataan was surrendered.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack with fresh troops brought in from Singapore on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. 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. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that 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.”
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
On April 9, 1942, Alvin left the hospital and found the 192nd’s medical detachment at kilometer 192 on the west road on Bataan. It had already been given its order to surrender. They remained in their bivouac for two days until they received orders from the Japanese to report to Mariveles where the soldiers were searched. It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that Alvin started what became known as the death march. As he marched, Alvin saw bodies of the dead lying along the road. He believed there were ten bodies for every mile. The bodies were bloated from lying in the sun and had maggots crawling on them. Alvin also witnessed three Filipinos have their heads cut off for giving rice to the Prisoners of War.
All these things built up in Alvin until he snapped. When a Japanese guard approached to hit a POW, Alvin grabbed him and snapped his neck. He and other POWs hid the guard’s body and a gun in the undergrowth. As he continued the march, he heard the guards call the missing guard’s name. As far as Alvin knew, the guard’s body was never found.
At San Fernando, Alvin and the other prisoners were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” The name meant they could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each POW detachment had 100 men in it, the Japanese pushed 100 men into each car. Those POWs who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors. They rode the cars until they reached Capas. There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked the last six miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that was pressed 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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
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 they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan. Alvin remained to administer medical aid to the sick who were too ill to be moved from the camp.
It was in May that his wife received their first letter from the War Department.
Mrs. L. Poweleit:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Captain Alvin C. Poweleit, O,344,885, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General ”
In July 1942, his wife received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Captain Alvin C. Poweleit 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.”
Alvin remained at Camp O’Donnell until he went to Capas with the sick released Filipino prisoners. He returned to Camp O’Donnell and remained there until January 23, 1943, when he was sent to Cabanatuan. Alvin did not remain in the camp long, because he was sent to Bongabon on February 7, 1943, and remained there until October 1943, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.
On May 17, 1943, his wife was informed by the War Department that he was a Prisoner of War. This was the first news she had of him since the initial letters in 1942.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR HUSBAND CAPTAIN ALVIN C POWELEIT IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your brother, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Capt. Alvin C. Poweleit, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau”
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. 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. 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. 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 camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. Zero ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. It is known that Alvin was the surgeon for Ward 10, and he also held the jobs of the sanitary officer and utility officer after he returned to the camp.
An order was issued on October 3 that all good khaki garments, hats, rifle belts, and field bags they had must be turned over to the Japanese. The next day, the Japanese sent 1300 POWs to Bongabong in captured U.S. trucks. Alvin was one of those men selected to be an extra in the movie. On one of the front bumpers of a 6 by 6 truck were the markings “HQ 192nd.” The POWs were back in the camp by 8:00 P.M. and to the surprise of the other POWs, their possessions were returned to them. It turned out that the Japanese were still shooting the movie, and the POWs were used as extras in the movie. Also during the month, the POWs noted that the food they were growing on the camp farm was being sent to Manila. On October 18, 103 telegrams were brought to the camp but only 21 men present in the camp received them. It appeared that other men were out on work details. Four days later, 175 telegrams arrived at the camp, but only 65 were distributed. It was noted that some had been received in Tokyo that same month.
The POWs received on December 7, 1943, ½ a pound of sugar, 2 cans of soluble coffee, 2 chocolate emergency rations, 1 pound of prunes, and a ½ pound cheese. The items were perishable goods that came from the Red Cross Christmas boxes sent to the camp. That night they received a Japanese “news sheet” that told of the terrible American losses in the southwest pacific. According to the sheet, the U.S. had lost most of its navy. It also stated that the U.S. lost 5 carriers, 2 cruisers, and a battleship in the Gilberts, and 37 ships were lost at Bougainville. On the 11th, they received more coffee, two cans of cheese, two chocolate bars, and two boxes of raisins.
On Christmas eve the Japanese gave each man an unopened Red Cross box. Inside the POWs found cigarettes which usually were missing from the boxes. From 9:00 P.M. until midnight on Christmas eve, carolers were all over the camp. Christmas started with midnight mass for the Catholics with Protestant services at 5:30 A.M. Bango was at 7:00 A.M. instead of 6:30. The Japanese also handed out to each man an unopened Red Cross box.
One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worse beatings was considered the best detail to be on. It is known that Alvin worked on this detail. Officers were put to work because with the shipments of POWs to Japan there were fewer men in the camp. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside was 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.
During February 1944, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila.
As more and more POWs were sent to Manila for shipment to another part of the Japanese empire, the officers were put to work on the camp farm with the enlisted men. In August 1944, the POWs found themselves working to move the hospital to the same area as the POW barracks. The reason was that the Japanese wanted to reduce the size of the camp so they would need fewer guards. The POWs were keeping their own gardens and growing their own food, but the Japanese now insisted that the POWs stop cooking their own food. The POWs adopted a group cooking policy where the POWs in a group placed an order 24 hours before they wanted it, and it was deducted from that group’s food stock. The POWs were also able to purchase coffee. They noticed that the Japanese attitude also had changed and that they wanted the POWs more involved in the running of the camp.
In September 1944, Alvin and many of the other POWs were sent to Manila and held at Bilibid Prison. After receiving a physical, it was determined that he was healthy enough to be sent to Japan. The POW detachment Alvin was in was marched to the Port Area of Manila. Once there, the POW detachment was boarded onto the Hokusen Maru on October 1.
The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn’t quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten-ship convoy, the ship sailed again on October 4 and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk. The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong when it was informed American planes were in the area. The ships changed course during this part of the trip and attempted to reach Hong Kong. The ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships.
The Hokusen Maru arrived in Hong Kong on October 11. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16. On October 21, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24. The POWs were in such bad shape that the Japanese took them ashore, on November 8, and sent them to Inrin Temporary. The camp was specifically opened for them and they only did light work and grew vegetables to supplement their diets. Many of the men recovered while in the camp.
On Formosa, Alvin was held at Shirakawa and Taihoku POW camps. He would remain there until the end of the war. He and the other POWs learned of the end of the war on August 10, 1945. Returning to the Philippines, he received medical treatment and boarded the U.S.S. Marine Shark and arrived at Seattle on November 1, 1945.
Alvin returned to Kentucky and was discharged, from the army, on September 9, 1946. He went back to school and became a specialist in eye, ear and throat medicine. He opened a practice in Covington, Kentucky, from which he retired. He became known for his aggressiveness in fighting cancer through surgical procedures that were considered risky in the 1950s. He was viewed as someone who took this type of surgery from primitive medicine to modern medicine.
On July 13, 1997, Dr. Alvin C. Poweleit died of injuries he received from a car accident. He was 89 years old. He is buried at Saint Stephen’s Cemetery in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.