Pvt. Charles G. Riedmiller was born on May 15, 1917, in Columbus, Ohio, to Frederick Riedmiller and Catherine Marie Taylor-Riedmiller. He was known as “Chuck” to his family. With his sister and four brothers, he grew up in Milford Center, Ohio. He graduated from Fairbanks High School in Milford Center.
After high school, he worked in a restaurant until he was inducted into the U.S. Army on January 30, 1941, at Fort Hayes, Ohio. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. It was at that time he was assigned to C Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
The Army rushed his basic training which he completed in seven weeks. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7, was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.
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. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. After dinner, they were off duty, and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. It was during this training that he qualified as a truck driver and drove a gasoline truck that hauled five-gallon cans of gas. The two things that Riedmiller remembered about his training were that he did way too much marching and he spent a lot of time on KP.
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.
In August 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. 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.”
In late August 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th. When the arrived there, they had no idea that they had already been selected for duty overseas. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill, instead of the expected news that they had completed their military duty, and that they were being sent home. What they heard was their time in the military had been extended from three to six years, and that they were being sent overseas. Many of the men returned home, got their affairs in order, and married.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, 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 which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled west over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. There, the tankers were given physicals, and men found to have minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Men with major medical conditions were replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. 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 that the unknown ship was from a friendly country, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters 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. The one thing he remembered is that when they got off the ship the little Filipino children asked for money from them. After he got off the ship he and the other drove their trucks to the fort. The maintenance section of the battalion 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 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 which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes.
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 came from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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.
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.
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. On the morning of December 8, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the letter companies were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Hq Company remained behind in their bivouac.
The tank companies were brought up to full strength at the airfield on December 8. He recalled that the officers told them not to camouflage the tanks. Later that morning as they watched the sky, it was filled with American planes. At twelve noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. He recalled that he was in his tent and heard a news report on the American radio station that Clark Field was being attacked.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the men believed the planes were American. It was only after bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese. Since they had no weapons to use against planes, they watched as the bombs destroyed the Army Air Corps.
He said that he had just returned from lunch and a corporal told him what he had heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. He the Japanese came in with the sun at their backs and went after the planes. He saw the wounded and dead being carried to the hospital on bomb racks. He said that the dead were just stacked up by the morgue. When the tank crews began firing at the planes, he recalled officers shouting at them to stop firing because they were not at war.
Charles recalled he just stood there and watched and never took cover as the planes attacked. In his own words, “I was just numb I guess.” After the attack, they saw the destruction done by the Japanese planes.
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.
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 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge. 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 John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, 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 steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told Morley 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 held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time C Company was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
Kennady’s platoon held its 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.
During the withdrawal into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown. The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
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.
C Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks because of the rotting flesh in the tracks.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. The Japanese dropped leaflets of a nude woman to the soldiers in an attempt to get them to surrender. They would have had a better result had the leaflets had a hamburger and milkshake on it. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3 against the defenders and broke through the east side of the mainline of defense on April 7. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.
Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces. The tanks were a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they 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.
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 were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At midnight an order came from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
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 white flag was bedding from A Company.) 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 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.”
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.
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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
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 no 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, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. They made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. From Mariveles, the tankers made their way north to San Fernando. At one point, they had to run past Japanese artillery which was firing at Corregidor. The guns on the island returned fire. Charles and the other POWs went days without food or water. It took Charles five days to complete the march.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed each car with 100 POWs. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. They then fell to the floor of the cars.
Charles walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell. This Filipino Army training base was pressed into service 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.
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 prevent the spread of disease and to clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved, 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.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
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.
Of the camp, he said, “About the best way I can describe the prison camp is to compare it with a hog pen or chicken coop. There was no real sanitation system or bedding …. you found a place on the floor to sleep at night. We were fed twice a day with steamed rice and watery soup — just enough to exist on. Many died from neglect — not enough food or medical attention. I was never afraid of being shot while I slept, but there was a constant fear of getting sick.”
To get out of the camp, Charles went out on the bridge building detail under the command of Lt. Col. Theodore Wickord who had been the commanding officer of the 192nd. The detail was known to them as “The Bridge Building Detail” since the POWs rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed – during the American retreat – for the Japanese Engineers. The detail left Camp O’Donnell on May 1, 1942.
Once out of the camp, the POWs were broken into four detachments of 250 men each. Jim’s detachment was sent to Calauan. There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctors and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
The detail was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge. Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed. Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.
The next bridge the POWs were sent to build was in Batangas. Once again, the people of the town did whatever they could to help the Americans. An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner. Wickord picked the twelve sickest looking POWs.
The last bridge the POWs rebuilt was at Candelaria. At this barrio, the POWs slept in a coconut processing mill with a fence around it. When the detail ended, Charles was sent to Cabanatuan POW Camp – where most of the other POWs had been sent in June – when the detail ended.
While he was on the detail, his parents received a message from the War Department in May 1942.
While Jim was on the detail his parents received a letter from the War Department in May or early June. It said:
“Dear Mr. C. Riedmiller:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Charles G. Riedmiller, 35,001,807 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, the family 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, Private Charles G. Riedmiller 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.”
The Japanese had opened Cabanatuan in an attempt to relieve the conditions at Camp O’Donnell. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured on Corregidor were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used the word when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. The death rate dramatically dropped when the POWs were given their first Red Cross packages. He remained in the camp until December 6, 1942. It was at that time he was sent out on a work detail to Nichols Airfield. The detail was known as the Las Pinas Detail.
The POWs on the detail built runways with picks and shovels and literally removed a mountain to build the airfield. Carts, pushed by two POWs, were used to remove rubble from the worksite. They were housed in Pasay School which was several miles from the airfield. Meals for the POWs were the leftovers from the Japanese kitchens.
“But it was always spoiled. If it hadn’t been, the Japs would have eaten it themselves. I don’t know what we would have done without the Red Cross. Their local representatives were as bad off as we were, but those packages from outside came through with shoes and clothing and food. That food was the difference between living and dying for some of us. When a man starved long enough it doesn’t take much to push him one way or the other. The shoes and clothing were a big help. It’s no fun to live like animals and half starve in the bargain. Some of the boys had no shoes and hadn’t had for a long time. When the shoes arrived from the Red Cross it made a big difference. We at least felt like men again.”
One day, in June 1943, while working at the airfield, Charles saw two POWs executed by the Japanese. Both men were part of his POW detachment. The two men were weak and sick and could not do much work. They decided to crawl to a tree and rest. The Japanese discovered one man leaning against the tree and killed him by order of the detail’s Japanese commanding officer Captain Kazuki.
When they found the second POW, the Japanese made six POWs dig his grave and stand at attention around it. As they watched the Japanese shot the second man. His body fell into the grave and the other POWs covered it with dirt. Charles recalled that the man was a redhead.
He remembered that on the detail he saw POW attacked by guards, “One man was beaten so badly around the face you couldn’t recognize him afterward.”
On June 22, 1943, Charles’ name appeared on a list of men known to be Japanese POWs in the Philippines. His mother had received word from the War Department that he was a POW weeks earlier.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON, PRIVATE CHARLES G RIEDMILLER IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
A week or so after this notification, they received a letter from the War Department.
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Charles G. Riedmiller, 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”
Charles witnessed the death of a second POW in February 1944. According to Charles, the POWs had lined up for morning assembly. One POW had lined up incorrectly causing the POWs to be late in leaving to work at the airfield. Captain Kazuki, who was known as “The Wolf” to the POWs, ordered the guards to beat the POW. They proceeded to beat the man on his head and back for twenty minutes. After they were done, the man was taken back to the compound and never seen again.
The rumor spread in the camp that the man had died from a broken back. The Japanese ordered the American doctor to list the cause of death for the man as malaria. Having little choice, he did so.
Chuck, at some point, was on another detail and the guard believed they were not working hard enough, so he hit Chuck in his back with his rifle butt. “That happened when the guards thought a group of prisoners was too slow in getting chores done We weren’t able-bodied enough to do them any faster.” He was bothered by the injury his entire life.
On July 6, 1944, the detail ended and Charles was sent to Bilibid Prison. He was held there for ten days. On July 16th, he and other POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila. They were boarded onto Nissyo Maru which sailed on July 17th. It arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27. It took the ship this long to reach Formosa because it was avoiding American submarines. The ship sailed from Takao on July 28th for Moji, Japan. It arrived at Moji on August 3rd.
In February 1945, Charles was already a POW in Japan when his mother received a POW postcard stating he was in good health and a POW at Cabanatuan.
In Japan, Charles was sent to Osaka #3-B or Oeyama POW Camp. The POWs worked at the Hachidate Branch Nickel Refinery which manufactured corrugated metal. With a pick and shovel, he and the other POWs had to extract ore from the mine. When they loaded a car, they next had to push it to the railroad track that ran past the mine. The prisoners had to work in all types of weather and in snow as deep as six feet. Other POWs were required to walk nearly six miles to another nickel mine.
Other POWs were also assigned to do stevedore work at Miyazu Harbor and on a detail referred to as the carpentry detail. The prisoners unloaded food, coal, and coke from ships for a nickel refinery at the Miyazu docks. The food they unloaded was bound for the Japanese army so the POWs would steal a couple of pocketful of beans every day.
The Japanese enforced collective discipline in the camp. Sometimes workgroups would be punished, other times larger groups of POWs were punished, and there were times all the POWs were punished. On one occasion a workgroup of twelve POWs was made to stand at attention for two hours before they were forced to swallow rope which caused them to throw up. This was done because the Japanese believed they had stolen rice. When none was found, the Japanese fed the POWs rice and sent them to their barracks.
On December 6, 1944, the entire camp was placed on half rations because one POW had violated a rule. The entire camp again was put on half rations on January 7. At various times a portion of the POWs was put on half rations. 80 to 90 POWs were put on half rations on March 7, 1944, while 60 POWs were put on half rations on April 7 and made to stand at attention in heavy rain.
Beatings were a common event and the POWs were beaten, punched, slapped, hit with sticks, and kicked. During the winter, they were made to stand at attention in sleet and snow for long periods of time. The POWs were also forced to run as far as two and one-half miles. When one or a few POWs were being punished it was not uncommon for the other POWs to have to hit the POWs. They also were forced to kneel and hold a heavy object, like a log, over their heads. One POW, who took the blame for breaking into a warehouse was forced to squat with a pole behind his knees and hold a log over his head until he passed out.
Since a certain number of POWs had to report for work everyday, illness was not an excuse for getting out of work. The camp POW doctor’s recommendation that POWs not work, because they were too ill, was overruled by a Japanese medical corpsman, and men suffering from dysentery or beriberi were sent to work.
Red Cross packages were withheld from the POWs and the Japanese raided them for canned meats, canned milk, cigarettes, and chocolate. These items were seen by the POWs in the camp offices. The clothing and shoes sent for POW use were also appropriated by the Japanese.
The attacks by American B-29s became more frequent in 1945. On July 30th, B-29s bombed Miyazu doing heavy damage. Two weeks later the bombers returned bombing all night ending about noon the next day. A short time later, many of the POWs witnessed the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. Chuck said that he and other POWs had no idea how the war was going. “The only thing we heard were rumors by the Japanese that the end was near. The POWs believed the Japanese were talking about a Japanese victory.
Charles remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 9, 1945. When he was freed, he weighed 93 pounds. About the day, he said, “We raised the American flag and the National Anthem was played. That was a pretty emotional day.”
The former POWs received medical treatment on a U.S. hospital ship. It was at that time that the decision was made that Charles would be sent to Saipan on the U.S.A.H.S. Marigold and was flown to Hawaii by the Air Transport Command to Hawaii. On September 20th, he landed at Hamilton Airfield north of San Francisco and was sent to Letterman General Hospital. He was also promoted to the rank of sergeant. He was then sent to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco before being sent to Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.
On September 24, he gave testimony in an affidavit against Capt. Kazuki. Charles returned home to Ohi o and visited his family in October 1945. He recalled, “When I came back, people asked where I was when the atomic bomb fell. I didn’t even know what an atomic bomb was.” He was discharged from the army on May 13, 1946, and married Mildred Fladt on February 14, 1947.
The couple resided in Marysville, Ohio, where Charles worked as an electrician owning his own contracting business from which he retired in 1970. They remained married until Mildred’s death on May 18, 2000. A little over a year later on May 2, 2001, he married Brenda Stanforth.
Looking back on his time as a POW he said, “I was in pretty good physical condition before I became a prisoner, and I didn’t associate with the enemy following my capture and didn’t antagonize them either. The ones who antagonized the enemy were often abused and many later died.”
Charles Riedmiller died on April 3, 2005. He was buried at Saint John Lutheran Church Cemetery in Marysville, Ohio.