PFC Lawrence Henry Rotharmel was born on August 14, 1922, in Madera, California, to Gottlieb Rotharmel and Mary Karg-Rotharmel. With his sister and five brothers, he lived on the family produce farm on Fontes Road outside of Alisal, California. He was known as “Larry” to his family and friends. He attended high school for two years and joined the California National Guard’s tank company in Salinas.
After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard GHQ tank battalions. The GHQ battalions were still considered infantry and created a “buffer” between the armor forces and infantry to protect the regular army tank battalions from being used by the infantry when they wanted tanks. This would allow the Armor Force to develop into a real fighting force. To do this the California National Guard was informed on September 1, 1940, that the tank company was being called to federal service for one year.
The tank company was scheduled to be called up on November 25th and serve for one year in the regular Army, but the date was postponed until January 6, 1941, because of a lumber strike in Washington State. In December, when it was known the battalion’s barracks would not be completed on time, the date was changed to February 10th. That morning the enlisted men arrived at the armory at 7:00 A.M. and were sworn into the U.S. Army as a private first class. The officers had arrived at 6:30 A.M. and had been given physicals days earlier. Next, the enlisted men received physicals, and six men – out of the 126 men sworn in that morning – failed their physicals and were released from federal service by noon. For the next several days, the men lived in the armory receiving their meals there and sleeping on cots on the drill floor, but a few were allowed to go home to sleep since there wasn’t enough space. During this time, they readied their equipment for transport, were issued uniforms and arms, drilled, and did exercise.
The company finally received orders of transit from the Presidio in San Francisco stating they were to be at the Southern Pacific Train Station and scheduled to leave at 2:30 P.M. on the 17th. The soldiers left the armory at 1:30 P.M. and marched up Salinas Street to Alisal Street, where they turned right and left onto Main Street. The company was led through the streets – in the rain – by the Salinas Union High School and Washington Elementary School Bands. The high school band played at Main Street and Gabilian Street while the grammar school band played at the train depot. The townspeople were encouraged to show up along the route to cheer the company. Children were allowed out of school to see the event. At the Southern Pacific Train Depot, they boarded their train.
The company’s four trucks had been put on flat cars while other equipment and supplies were put in a baggage car. There was also a kitchen car and three coaches for the men. The company’s two tanks were already at Ft. Lewis since they were left there for repairs after the maneuvers in August 1940. For many of the men, it was their second trip to Ft. Lewis since they had taken part in maneuvers. At Oakland, California, the train cars were separated and the flat cars were attached to a freight train while the passenger cars, the baggage car, and the kitchen car were attached to the end of a passenger train.
In Portland, Oregon, the train was transferred to the Northern Pacific Railroad and went to Tacoma, Washington. From the station, they were taken by truck to Ft. Lewis. As they entered the base, they passed barrack after barrack and kept going. Many of the men wondered where they were being taken. When the trucks stopped, they found themselves in front of an area known as Area 12 with 200 brand-new barracks that were built among the fir trees. It was referred to as being scenic since they had a view of Mount Rainier to the east 70 miles away. The barracks were located at the south end of Gray Army Air Field. Their twelve two-story wooden barracks and recreational and supply houses were on both sides of the road and covered an area of four city blocks.
The barracks were long and low and could sleep, 65 men. The buildings had forced air heating, but two soldiers in each one had to take turns at night to feed the coal furnaces. The barracks had electricity and adequate showers and washrooms for the men. There was a battalion mess hall that allowed 250 men to be fed at one time. Located across the street from the barracks was a branch of the post exchange. After arriving, they got to work fixing their cots in their barracks. Each man was issued two sheets, a mattress, a comforter, and a pillow and pillow cover.
Sunday morning the men got up and many went to church. The church was described as very beautiful for an army base. Catholic services were at 9:00 followed by Protestant services at 10:45. After church, the men spent much of their day working in their barracks. One of the major jobs was cleaning stickers off the window panes.
The weather was described as being constantly rainy. This resulted in many of the men being put in the base hospital to stop the spread of colds. It was noted that the members of the company found the morning temperature hard to deal with since they were used to a warmer climate. The longer they were there, the weather improved.
Once off duty many of the men visited the canteen near their barracks or went to the theater located in the main part of the base. The movies shown were newer but not the latest movies. A theater near their barracks was still being built, but when it was finished they only had to walk across the street. Since they were off Saturday afternoons on weekends, the men went to Tacoma or Olympia by bus that was provided by the Army and cost 25 cents. Tacoma was a little over 11 miles from the base and Olympia was a little over 22 miles from the base. Many of the men went to see the remains of the Narrows Bridge which had collapsed on November 7, 1940. On base, they played football, basketball, and softball.
The most difficult things the battalion had to deal with were the lack of tanks and other equipment, the lack of proper clothing, and the anti-National Guard attitude that existed among the base’s command. The battalion’s uniforms were a collection of various uniforms with some men wearing WWI uniforms, others denim work uniforms, while still others had the latest issue. One day three officers on horseback rode up to members of C Company and asked the sergeant in charge why the men were dressed the way they were. Sergeant Joseph Aram explained they were a federalized National Guard tank battalion and what they were wearing is what they had. (Even the men from selective service did not have the proper uniforms.) After this conversation, the three officers rode away. That afternoon, two trucks with new coveralls pulled up to the battalion’s barracks, and each man was issued a pair. Since they were the best clothing they had, many of the men wore them as their dress uniform. As it turned out, one of the three officers who had talked to the sergeant was Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower who had overseen tank training for the army at one time.
At the end of February, the first detachment of men was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for training as radio operators for 13 weeks. On March 5, the soldiers were paid for the first time receiving pay for 18 days of service. A second detachment of men was sent to Ft. Knox the second week of March. Another detachment of men was sent to mechanics school and gunnery school at Ft. Knox the last week in March. At one point, there were more members of the battalion at Ft. Knox than at Ft. Lewis. On March 10th, the company took a 3-mile hike with backpacks. When they returned they had to pitch their tents and there was an inspection. They took an 8-mile road march through the fir trees on March 14th. The next day they had a field inspection. The battalion at one point had more men at Ft. Knox than at Ft. Lewis, so they were given the job of garbage collection and distributing coal to buildings for the coal-fired furnaces.
It was also in March that C Company lost its commanding officer and one of its lieutenants. Captain F. E. Heple was relieved of command. 1st Lt. Fred Moffett assumed command of the company. Heple was sent back to Salinas and scheduled for a medical examination at Ft. Miley Hospital in San Francisco. The same was true for the lieutenant. Nothing is known about how this came about, but it is known that both men were under medical treatment in May 1941. It is also known that neither man rejoined the company.
For the next six months, the battalion trained at Fort Lewis, Washington. A typical day started at 6:00 AM with the first call. At 6:30 they had breakfast. When they finished they policed the grounds of their barracks and cleaned the barracks. This was followed by drill from 7:30 until 9:30 AM. During the drill, the men did calisthenics and marched around the parade grounds. At 9:30, they went to the barracks’ day rooms and took classes until 11:30 when they had lunch. The soldiers were free so many took naps until 1:00 PM when they drilled again or received training in chemical warfare. They often took part in work details during this time. At 4:30 PM, they returned to their barracks to get cleaned up before retreat at 5:00 PM. At 5:30 they had dinner and were free afterward. During this time many played baseball or cards while other men wrote home. The lights out were at 9:00 PM. but men could go to the dayroom.
Men were still being sent to Ft. Knox in April for special training. The entire battalion on April 23rd went on an all-day march, having dinner out in the woods, brought to them by cooks in trucks. It was a two-hour march each way and covered about 10 miles total. They stopped at noon in a beautiful spot in a valley where there was an old deserted apple orchard in bloom, the blossoms were like small yellow sweetpeas and it was just a mass of yellow. The other hill in the back of the valley was thickly covered with woods, many of the trees were flowering dogwood and the many other flowers and strange plants made the soldiers conscious of the fact they weren’t in Minnesota. The company also received twelve motorcycles and every man in the company had to learn to ride them. The entire battalion on April 30th, except ‘the selectees,’ who didn’t have shelter halves, went on their first overnight bivouac together. They left at noon and returned before noon the next day. Part of the reason they did this was to practice pitching tents and for the cooks, it gave them the chance to supply food to the men out in the field. The men referred to the food trucks as “bean guns.”
In May, seventeen “selectees” joined the company but lived with Headquarters Company had been condensed down to six weeks under the direction of sergeants from the company. The sergeants lived with them and dealt with all their problems or directed them to someone who could help them. They supervised the selectees’ calisthenics and drill, besides holding classes in all the different subjects they needed to be trained as tank battalion members. The original company members called them “Glamor Boys” and “Refugees.” The battalion’s first motorcycles also arrived in May and all battalion members had to learn to ride them. Still, more men were sent to Ft. Knox for training.
The battalion during June trained under what was called, “wartime conditions.” On one date, orders they received orders at 2:00 A.M. to move out as soon as possible to the attack position. They found themselves in dense woods in pitch-black conditions. For the tanks to move, a soldier guided them with a small green flashlight. The soldiers were expected to have their gas masks with them and had to use them if ordered to do so.
In late July, the battalion still had only the eight M2 tanks that came with the companies to Ft. Lewis. It received some single turret tanks in late July that had been built in 1937, and a few beeps (later known as “jeeps”). It was the only unit at the base with them. On August 1st, the battalion was told it was losing B Company. The company was detached from the battalion and issued orders to Alaska. The rest of the battalion took part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis, where they learned they were being sent overseas.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 13, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, 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 Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. 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 buoys on its deck covered by a tarp – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the 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 fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a regular army tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd was at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Major Ernest Miller was ordered to Ft. Knox by plane arriving the next day August 14th. That afternoon he received the battalion’s overseas orders. During the meeting, one of General Jacob L. Dever’s staff officers – Dever was the commanding officer of Ft. Knox – let it slip that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. On August 18th, Miller stopped in Brainerd to see his family after receiving the battalion’s orders. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. Miller later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis. Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The fact there were only three “overseas” locations the tanks could be sent which were Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines, and Alaska was already eliminated because B Company was being sent there. Ironically, a week before this, the wife a 194th officer, from St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote him a letter and asked her husband, “Is it true that your unit is going to the Philippines?”
Documents show that the entire First Tank Group was scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. The 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some military documents from the time show the tank group in the Philippines was scheduled to be made up of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Other documents show the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines was also called the First Provisional Tank Group. At the same time, the men in the Philippines referred to the tank group as the First Tank Group.
After receiving orders to report to Ft. Mason, California, men with dependents, men 29 years old or older, or whose enlistments were going to end were replaced. The replacements came from the 41st Infantry Division and had absolutely no training in tanks. The remaining members and new members of the battalion – on September 4th – traveled south from Ft. Lewis, by train, to Ft. Mason north of San Francisco arriving at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated and given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men with medical conditions were replaced. These replacements appear to have come from units stationed at Ft. Ord, California. While the battalion was at Ft. Mason, the town of Salinas provided a bus so that the parents of men could go to San Francisco to say goodbye to their sons. Many had no idea that this was the last time they would be seeing them.
The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort on flatcars and were about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west by train and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason.
The tanks fit fine in the ship’s first and second hold, but the deckhead in the ship’s third hold was too low, so 19 tanks had to have their turrets removed to fit them in the hold. So that the turrets went on the tanks they came off of, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets. The ship’s captain also ordered that all ammunition, fuel, and batteries be removed from the tanks. He stated they would be sent later, but it appears the batteries were sent to the Philippines with the tanks. It was stated that the men loading the tanks on the ship learned they were going to the Philippines from the longshoremen who were also loading supplies on the ship.
The soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9 PM. The enlisted men found themselves assigned to bunks in the ship’s holds with the tanks. Those men with lower bunks found them unbearable to sleep in because of the heat and humidity. Soon, most men were sleeping on deck but learned quickly to get up early because the crew hosed down the deck each morning. Many of the men had seasickness during this part of the voyage. The soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. At 5:00 PM that evening the ship sailed.
The next morning, the members of the battalion were called together and they were informed the battalion was going to the Philippines. On the next leg of the voyage, the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a replenishment oiler. The heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer were the ships’ escorts. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge for a personnel transfer. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck as it attempted to make the transfer. When it became apparent that a small boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to the other, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline the night of Tuesday, September 16th, and the date became Thursday, September 18th. A few days past Guam, the soldiers saw the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed south along the east coast of Luzon, around the southern end of the island, and up the west coast. On Friday, September 26th, the ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were bused to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with the 17th Ordnance Company, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets.
The maintenance section and 17th Ordnance reinstalled the batteries, but they needed aviation fuel for the tanks’ engines to get them off the docks. 2nd Lt. Russell Swearingen went to the quartermaster and asked him for the fuel. He was told that they did not have any at the port so he would have to go to the Army Air Corps to get it. When he arrived at the Air Corps command, he was informed that they couldn’t give him the aviation fuel without a written order. It took two weeks to get the tanks off the docks. While all this was going on, the battalion’s half-tracks arrived as well as motorcycles. The battalion’s reconnaissance detachment had Harley-Davidsons at Ft. Lewis but the new motorcycles were Indian Motorcycles with all the controls on the opposite side of the bikes. The reconnaissance section also had peeps (later known as jeeps), but many of these were taken by high-ranking officers for their own use since they were new to the Army.
Arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that they had to live in tents and receive their meals from food trucks until their barracks were completed. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. They lived in six-man tents with dirt floors. It was so humid that their shoes would get moldy if not kept off the ground and cleaned. They received their meals from mess trucks. To eat, they lined up with their mess kits, canteen, and cup, and take their food back to the tents to eat. After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18th. The barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali. This allowed the men to have privacy as they dressed. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived so when went to bed it was hot but by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them while wearing blindfolds. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful. They also liked to go to the local bars and drink beer. It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos. Many men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency.
The 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20th. It was at this time that the process of transferring the battalion’s D Company to the 194th was begun which would give each tank battalion three tank companies. The 192nd was sent to the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radio operators for the Philippine Army. The battalion had a large number of ham radio operators and set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours after its arrival. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When it was informed it was the 192nd, they gave the battalion frequencies to use and men were able to send messages home to their families.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 194th, the tank group contained the 192nd and the 17th Ordnance Company – which arrived in the Philippines with the 194th – joined on the 29th. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. James Weaver who had been put in command of the 192nd in San Francisco left the 192nd and was appointed head of the tank group and promoted to brigadier general. In the Philippines, the men called the Provisional Tank Group by the name of First Tank Group.
It is known that during this time the battalions went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. They traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges at the base.
The tank battalions took part in an alert on November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would have been a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position below Watch Hill was among drums of 100-octane fuel and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield. The next day the tanks were ordered back to the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers after reconnaissance planes reported Japanese transports milling about in a large circle in the South China Sea. The 194th’s position was moved to an area between the two runways below Watch Hill. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. On December 7th, they loaded shells for the tanks’ main guns into the tanks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communication tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ernest Miller, Major Ted Wickord, CO, 192nd, Captain Richard Kadel, CO, 17th Ordnance Company, and Gen. Weaver read the messages of the attack. Maj. Miller left the tent and informed the officers of the 194th about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank crews were ordered to their tanks which were joined by the battalion’s half-tracks.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up – near the pilots’ mess hall – in a straight line to be refueled. While the planes were being serviced, the pilots went to lunch. The members of the tank crews received their lunches from the battalion’s food trucks. At 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the company lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. 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. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. One result of the attack was that the transfer of D Company to the 194th was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but remained part of the 192nd.
The tankers lived through two more attacks on December 10th and 12th. On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th. It was also stated the battalion was sent to Batangas in southern Luzon for about two weeks. During this time, little happened, but the tankers were strafed a few times by Japanese planes. The tanks spent much of their time doing reconnaissance and hunting down fifth columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day to show Japanese planes where ammunition dumps were located. They were ordered back north to the Agno River. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were manned by grounded Air Corps men and used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of tanks.
After the attack 194th was sent to a bivouac three kilometers north of Clark Field. They spent their time loading ammunition belts because they had fired so much during the attack on Clark Field. On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th.
C Company was ordered to Muntinlupa near Bilibid Prison and made the 40 mile move at night. When dawn came, they made a dash to the barrio. The battalion’s reconnaissance half-tracks were assigned to defend Batangas Bay, Balayan Bay, and Tayabas Bay. The company remained at Muntinlupa from December 14th to 24th and did reconnaissance patrols and hunted fifth columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day near ammunition dumps. On one occasion, they saw someone signaling with a flashlight from a building. The tanks opened fire on the building. When they entered the building, there was no one in it, but they also had no more problems with fifth columnists.
At Lamon Bay, the Japanese landed 7,000 troops at 2:00 in the morning of December 24th. After landing they began their advance toward Lucban. The commanding general, Brigadier General Albert M. Jones decided he wanted to see what was going on, so he did reconnaissance in a jeep with a half-track of the battalion to provide firepower. They were north of Piis when the half-track came under enemy fire. The driver attempted to turn the halftrack around and went into a ditch. The crew removed its guns and put down a covering fire allowing Jones to escape. The half-track crew was recommended for the Distinguish Service Cross but nothing came of it. Instead, the men – all but one posthumously – received the Silver Star after the war.
They remained in the area until December 24th, when they moved over the Taal Road to San Tomas and bivouacked near San Paolo, and assisted in operations in the Pagbilao-Lucban Area supporting the Philippine Army. One of the most dangerous things the tanks did was cross bridges with a ten-ton weight limit. Each tank weighed 14 tons, so they crossed the bridges one tank at a time.
The company was 57 miles southeast of Manila in the Antimon-Mauban Area. On December 26th, the four tanks of the 2nd platoon, under the command of 2nd Lt. Robert Needham, were sent to an area on the east coast of Luzon near Lucban. Pvt. Jim Hicks who was a half-track driver volunteered to take the place of Needham’s tank driver. When he volunteered, he said, “I’ll go. I want another shot at those damn Japs.” The Japanese had troops in the area, and the American Command wanted to see what the strength of the enemy was in the area. Needham protested because he believed the tanks were entering a trap, but the tanks were ordered, by a major, to proceed, without reconnaissance, down a narrow trail. Since the area was mountainous, the tanks had a hard time maneuvering. As they went down the trail, the tanks attempted to keep their spacing so that the driver of each tank could see the tank in front of him. At one point in the trail, the tanks found that the trail made a sharp right turn. As the lead tank made the turn, it was hit by a shell fired from a Japanese anti-tank gun. The shell mortally wounded Lt. Robert Needham, who had his legs blown off and killed Hicks. As the remaining crew members attempted to leave the tank they were machine-gunned.
Sgt. Emil Morello’s tank was the second tank in the column. As it came around the corner, his driver, Pvt. Joe Gillis realized he could not see the lead tank so he sped up the tank. As it turned out, this maneuver probably saved the lives of the tankers since a shell exploded just to the rear of the tank. The shell had been fired by a Japanese 77-millimeter anti-tank gun. The driver increased the tank’s speed and zigzagged to prevent the gun from getting off another shot. He then drove the tank into the log barricade and crashed through it taking out the gun. He continued to drive the tank down the trail until he reached an opening at a rice paddy. There, he turned the tank around and went back the way that had just come. He did this because Morello realized that the only way out of the situation was the same way the tank had come into it.
As the tank approached the destroyed barricade, the crew saw the lead tank off to the side of the road. It had taken a direct hit from the gun his tank had knocked out. The fire from the gun had knocked the hatch coverings off the front of the tank. From what the tankers could see, the Japanese had machine-gunned the crew while they were still in the tank. Believing they were safe, the members of the crew began to congratulate themselves on getting out of a tough situation. Suddenly, the tank took a direct hit from another Japanese anti-tank gun. The hit knocked off one of the tracks and the tank veered off the road and went over an earthen embankment. The shell also wounded Pvt. Joe Gillis, Pvt. William Hall, and an unknown crewman. The tank came to a stop in a rice paddy. They had no idea that their little reconnaissance mission had taken them straight into the main Japanese staging area.
Morrello’s crew played dead inside their tank. The Japanese pounded on the turret hatch and asked, “Hey Joe, you in there?” After the Japanese left the area 28 hours later, the crew left the tank and made their way to Manila. According to Morrello, Needham was still alive when he organized the surviving tank crew members to make a march to Manila, Needham refused to be moved. He believed that he would be a hindrance and jeopardize the attempt to reach the lines. He asked the men to button him in a disabled tank. He died in the tank.
The next two tanks were hit by enemy fire and disabled before the gun was knocked out by one of the tanks. Sgt. Glen Brokaw’s tank took a hit killing PFC Robert Bales and Pvt. James McLeod, As Brokaw attempted to leave the tank through its turret, he was shot five times by the Japanese. The one surviving member of his crew, Pvt. Harry Sibert, was wounded and later died at a hospital. Brokaw would later state in interviews that he lost his entire tank crew that day. Sgt. Robert Mitchell’s tank was hit by enemy fire, popping a rivet that went into the neck of Pvt. Ed DiBenedetti. The tank went off the road and Mitchell, Anson, DiBenedetti, and the fourth unnamed member of the crew escaped the tank and hid in the jungle.
Brokaw and Sibert were loaded into a taxi and taken to an American field hospital near Lucbam by a Filipino taxicab. It was there that they were captured by the Japanese later the same day. Two days later they were moved to a jail. Sibert died on the 22nd. For six weeks Brokaw recalled that he was pretty much ignored by the Japanese who would change his bandages a few times. He was taken to Ft. McKinley and then to Bilibid Prison in Manila. During this time, he stated that the Japanese made him serve wounded Japanese soldiers at the hospital. He remained at the hospital until he was sent to Cabanatuan, where he was reunited with other members of his company. The other men – after leaving Brokaw and Sibert at the hospital – caught a boat that took them to Corregidor. They remained there for about a month before they returned to the 194th. When they did, the other men didn’t believe it since they presumed they were dead.
The next day C Company with other defending forces was ordered to withdraw toward Bataan a distance of 70 miles. The tanks held a line and allowed the Filipino Army to pass. Many of the poorly trained soldiers literally were given guns and sent into combat. After they had passed the tanks had orders to “hit and run.” The tankers camouflaged their tanks and waited for the Japanese. Before the Japanese arrived, they were ordered out of the area. In the middle of the night, they went through Manila which was already an open city. The tanks were going down Rizal Avenue and the last in the column as it rounded a corner saw a crowd of Filipinos cheering. Knowing his tank was going to hit the crowd the driver tried to stop the tank so it wouldn’t hit the crowd. The tank skidded and when the driver tried to turn, the rear idler hit the curb of the monument throwing a track. The company’s ordnance section re-tracked the tank, but when the driver attempted to move the tank, the tank threw the track. The maintenance section left and the crew disabled the tank’s guns and then hitched a ride on Bren Gun carriers.
From this time on, the tanks served as a rearguard as the Southern Luzon forces fell back toward Bataan. The company was at Tagatay Ridge on December 31st and traveled 100 miles one night to Bocaue where it rejoined the 194th. On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge, over the Pampanga River, about withdrawing from the bridge and half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese at Guagua on January 5th, where the tanks had set up a defensive line. Heavy artillery fire hit around them all night since the Japanese advanced quickly. When dawn came it was quiet when suddenly the tankers heard yelling and screaming. The Japanese made a frontal attack and the tanks opened up with their machine guns. It said that some of the barrels turned red hot because instead of firing bursts the machine gunners just held the triggers down. The Japanese had not expected the tanks to be there and took heavy losses. Walter Martella, was wounded when he protected Capt. Moffitt for being hit by shrapnel, Martella was taken to Hospital #2, Cabcaben, Bataan.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. Once the 192nd crossed the bridge, the engineers destroyed it ending the Battle of Luzon. It was at this time that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements. It was also on the 7th, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
January 8th, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.
The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. C Company was on the Hacienda Flats in an area that appears to have been used by the Japanese as a field hospital before the Philippine Army drove them back. It was said that there were arms, legs, and guts everywhere. The tankers knew that the Japanese were going to do a Banzi charge. Suddenly, there was a heavy barrage and the Japanese attacked. The fire from the tanks halted the attack. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and actually made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire.
The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers. The tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds it didn’t take the Japanese long to zero in on where the guns were located. It didn’t take long for the gun crews to learn how to “shoot and scoot.”
The tanks withdrew during the day which made them easy to spot. As they were withdrawing a Japanese artillery shell landed in front of the lead tank and its driver, Orrin Eaton, did not have time to avoid the crater and went into it almost knocking out the crew. When they inspected the tank, they found there was a six-inch hole in the rear fender where a dud bomb went through during one of the artillery barrages. At about the same time, Capt. Moffit’s leg was broken when a 2×4 hit him after a bridge was dynamited.
On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry. The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. Bill Hennessey was wounded when his half-track was hit by a 40-millimeter shell, and he was taken to Hospital #2 on the 13th. Records show that he lost his foot.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls.
On January 20th, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry. On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective because of landmines that had been planted by ordnance. The battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese was on their way. When they appeared the battalion and self-propelled mounts opened up with everything they had. The Japanese broke off the attack, at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men. It was also at this time that the Japanese ended the assault and waited for fresh troops to arrive. This lull lasted six weeks.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later that day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. C Company while on beach duty would come under barrages from Japanese artillery. One night while on this duty, the B Co., 192nd, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings. The company also noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place at a certain time and waited for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time they were met by machine gun fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
At this time, C company was ordered to the west coast of Bataan where the Japanese had landed troops. To get there, the tanks took a jungle trail. The tanks slowly moved up the trail in case there were mines or snipers. As one tank came around a turn in the road, a shell from an antitank gun flew passed the tank. The crew saw the flash of the gun and the smoke ring around the gun’s barrel. Apparently, the guns crew hadn’t had time to properly set up the gun. The tank opened up with its machine guns hitting the guns crew and a shell from the tank destroyed the gun. The tankers realized they were behind enemy lines and began to withdraw. Three tanks hit land mines and lost tracks. What saved the tanks was the Philippine Army counterattacked and pushed the Japanese back. The battalion’s maintenance section was able to put tracks on the tanks and pull them out of the area.
The Battle of the Points also took place at this time. The Japanese landed Marines behind the main line of defense in an attempt to cut the supply lines from Mariveles to Baguio. After they had landed they were quickly trapped on a point sticking out into the China Sea. When the Japanese attempted to reinforce the point, they landed on another point, and the second group was quickly trapped. The Army Air Corps men converted to infantry, the 45th and 57th Philippine Scouts. and companies from the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalion were involved in the elimination of the points. When the Japanese attempted to send in a third detachment of reinforcements, the last three P-40s appeared and strafed the barges. The strafing ended the Japanese attempt to reinforce their troops. Through a coordinated attack by the infantry and the tanks, the Japanese were pushed back to the caves below the points before being wiped out.
Tanks parts were now rare and 17th Ordnance made repairs however they were able to make them. Tanks that had damaged main guns often had the barrels cut down – similar to a sawed-off shotgun – to keep them firing. 17th Ordnance also provided anti-personnel by converting WWI shells from the Philippine Ordnance Department so that they could be fired by the tanks. The company also had to deal with the fact the tanks’ suspension systems were locking up after being near or in salt water. The information was sent to the War Department in Washington D.C. which resulted in the suspension systems being replaced on all vehicles using it.
At some point, Lawrence was hospitalized at Hospital #2 at Cabcaben, Bataan. The hospital – which was created in December 1941 – was staffed by 8 doctors, 4 dentists, 3 pharmacists, and 2 MAC or administration officers who handled the paperwork. The hospital is known to have outdoor wards for the sick and wounded but shelter halves were used to provide cover for the patients. The hospital also had an operating room, a water plant, and an operating room which was a tent with a wooden floor that could hold the weight of the surgical equipment. A second surgical room – that held four operating tables – was built with wooden walls since casualties were expected to increase. The original operating room was replaced with another operating room because it was too close to the road and dust was everywhere. There was also a dental laboratory which it was said did excellent work. The hospital was near the bank of the Real River so a channel was dug that diverted about half of the river’s water to the water filtration plant supplying the hospital with an abundant chlorinated water supply. Electricity was supplied by a generator.
Food at the hospital consisted of fruit juices, canned milk, and meat. The number of patients the hospital received increased in February, and Lawrence may have been one of them. No information has been found as to why he was admitted, but the battalion was involved in the Battle of the Points. The records kept by the medical staff indicated that casualties increased at this time and that there was a large influx of patients the night before the surrender. In addition, the medical staff stated that the closer to April the number of cases of men with food deficiency diseases increased.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. 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 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.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Co., 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9th, 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.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. 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 the 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. 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 in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances 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.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
It is known that Lawrence was still in Hospital #2 when the surrender took place on April 9, 1942. This prevented him from taking part in the march from Bataan. It was feared that the Japanese would send troops right through the hospital since it was along the main road, but Gen. King apparently told the Japanese where the hospital was because this never happened. The first Japanese – 10 to 12 men – arrived at 9 PM but set up a bivouac for the night and left the next morning. A Japanese medical officer arrived the next day and questions were asked and reports were asked for. He told the medical staff what they could and could not do. One thing that changed immediately, was that the patients would no longer receive fruit or milk. They were also told they could only use the water supply for drinking and any other use would result in death. The Filipino patients were told to leave the hospital, and 5500 of its 7000 patients left and ended up on what became known as the march. The only Filipinos left were those that were bed cases. Most of the Filipinos who left the hospital when ordered died on the march.
The Japanese occupied the area and set up artillery that completely surrounded the hospital and fired on Corregidor. On April 29th, the hospital was shelled when Corregidor returned fire from Japanese artillery that was set up next to the hospital buildings. This was done to use the POWs as a human shield. Ward 14 was hit resulting in the deaths of 5 POWs and wounding 12 other patients. When Gen. Wainwright learned where the guns were firing from, he stopped his guns from returning fire. It was April 29th when they heard a terrific artillery bombardment on Corregidor. On the 3rd and 5th the bombardments were even worse. They received word that Corregidor had surrendered on the 6th.
It was known that the hospital would soon be closed although no date was known. Among the patients were mechanics who were able to get abandoned buses running. The buses were double-decked to carry as many patients unable to walk as possible. It was determined it would take two trips to do this. The patients who could walk would walk from Hospital #2 to Hospital #1. Many of the patients had recovered and wanted to leave the hospital and requested to do so. A Japanese medical officer informed them that they were better off staying in the hospital than being sent to Camp O’Donnell where 50 to 60 POWs were dying each day.
On May 12th, the hospital closed and the POWs were marched on the 12th and 13th to Hospital #1 at Little Baguio. As they marched they saw the dead still lying along the sides of the road in the ditches since the carnage had not been cleaned up. The POWs were identified as the Cabcaben Detachment on May 19, 1942. When they arrived at Hospital #1, they were held in an area north of the hospital that had been used by the Ordinance Department before the surrender. It is known that a roster of Prisoners of War from Hospital #2 who were patients was taken and Lawrence’s name was on it. The POWs remained at Little Baguio until May 26th when they were taken by a truck convoy to Bilibid Prison near Manila. In Tagalog, the word “bilibid” means prison but the Japanese now called it a hospital and turned it over to US Naval medical personnel as a hospital. The trucks carrying the men from Hospital 2 passed through a massive archway and two sets of iron gates in the cement and brick wall that surrounded the prison. Inside there was a third wall that divided the grounds. The trucks stopped in front of a three-story building that had once been the prison hospital. There was no roof over the third floor and when it rained, the rainwater seeped down to the second and first floors.
The POWs got out of the trucks and lined up to be counted. After this was done, they were sent to the second floor of the former hospital and took the floor over. The second floor was described as a big bare room, with stairs at both ends, without one cot and only a few mattresses lying on the floor. Most of the really sick lay on the concrete floor. Wherever the other POWs threw their belongings became their spot.
The other buildings in the prison were long narrow one-story wooden structures where the patients lay with their heads against the wall and their feet toward the center aisle of the building. Some of the sick had mattresses, others lay on blankets on the floors. Many of the POWs had no real clothing. It was stated that there were six or seven of the buildings and each had a pharmacist’s mate in charge of it. Men stated that the Naval personnel kept the buildings clean and sanitary.
The POWs had rigged a long flushing latrine described as an open depression. At the end was an automatic flusher made from half a gasoline drum they rigged up that allowed for a steady stream of water from the city water main to flow through it. When the drum filled, it tipped and flushed the latrine. It then swung back into position to fill and then repeated the process.
The prison guards carried rifles with bayonets attached. The guards seemed to be everywhere. They were outside the prison, walked the grounds, and walked through the hospital wards. When they did, the POWs were expected to stand up and bow to the guards or be beaten. This was a completely different experience than Baguio where – except for the one area that they were forbidden to enter – the POWs were allowed to walk where they wanted without Japanese interference. They also had never had a “bango” but now they did it daily until their first morning in the prison. The Japanese expected all the POWs to line up. This included the sick. The senior officer checked the POWs then they stood until every POW in the prison – from every building – was counted and a comparison was made of the count to the books with the recorded number of POWs being held. Sometimes it took as many as three counts before the numbers matched.
In May, his mother received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. M. Rotharmel:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private First Class Lawrence R. Rotharmel, 20,900,685, 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”
Most of the POWs from the Bataan hospitals remained at Bilibid until May 30 when they were moved to Cabanatuan. By train, they were taken to the barrio of Cabanatuan. From the barrio, they marched passed Cabanatuan #1 which had not opened and would house most of the POWs who had done the march. They marched to Cabanatuan #2, and those men who fell were not killed but beaten until they got up. It was stated that if they did not get up, they were put on a truck and driven to the camp. When they arrived there was no water supply, so men dug holes in the ground and sucked on the moist soil. That night it rained which probably saved many lives.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs were herded onto the road and retraced their route back 5 kilometers to Cabanatuan #1. When they arrived, it was said that the water supply was inadequate and the POWs stood in line for as long as two to three hours to get a canteen of water. They were given small quantities of rice in bulk for a group of men organized by their units and cooked by the unit. Later that same day, the first POWs who had been on the march out of Bataan began to arrive in the camp from Camp O’Donnell. The POW transfer from Camp O’Donnell ended on June 4th.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where most of the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were 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 when Corregidor surrendered 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.
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 double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” 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. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.”
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across 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 to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from details 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.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp. By July, it had spread throughout the camp before the Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-toxin to treat the POWs. Before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. 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. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
On August 7th, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17th. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12th and were recaptured on September 21st and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 29th, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate, and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
From September through December, the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The first men known to receive POW numbers were the men on the Tottori Maru which sailed for Japan on October 8th. It is not known when, but Lawrence received the number 1-06104 which was his POW no matter where he was sent in the Philippines. The letter in front of the number indicated he had been assigned the number at Cabanatuan.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
The day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.
The POWs were sent out on work details near the camp to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. When working in the rice paddies, the POWs not only planted rice but also massaged the rice. This meant that 50 POWs lined up at the end of a rice paddy in four to six inches of water. Then arm to arm about a foot apart they stoop over and go to the other side. The purpose of this was to work the mud around the plants. The Japanese always stopped the POWs before they got to the other side. The POWs found out there were poisonous water snakes that were black that moved ahead of them as they did this. The guards stopped the POWs so they could kill the snakes and prevent them from being bitten.
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 worst detail the POWs worked on was the latrine detail where the POWs cleaned the Japanese latrines with their bare hands. The POWs removed the feces and put it in 55-gallon drums. It is not known what happened to the feces, but it is known it was often used as fertilizer by the Japanese. Returning from the work details in the evening, the POWs – even though they were searched – somehow managed to bring medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp. The POWs ate supper but after they finished there wasn’t much time for them to do anything since dusk was an hour after supper. Later, the POWs had books to read that were sent by the Red Cross.
Fr. Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14th and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peter Lankianuskas was shot while attempting to escape on November 16th. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20th, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming is he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd. On November 23rd, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 24th with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
On January 11th, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th.
Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1255 to 1450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7. The War Department released a list of men known to be Japanese POWs on February 8. Emile’s name was on it. His wife had been informed he was a POW weeks earlier. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on February 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22nd. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3rd, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1st, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
The Japanese allowed the POWs, May 30th, to hold a memorial service to honor the nearly 2,600 men who had died. (Total number of dead from Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan.) At 9:00 AM, the POWs marched to the camp cemetery which was slightly over a half-mile from the camp. The services were conducted by Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant chaplains. The Japanese camp commandant presented a wreath. The POWs choir sang a number of hymns, the POWs were called to attention, and taps were blown as they saluted.
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11, 1943, and was captured in a barrio. At about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, POWs described what they saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed as was the top of his skull, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum. Also in July, the names of 500 POWs were posted on the list of POWs being sent to Bilibid Prison. On July 15, 25 to 30 trucks arrived at the camp to transport POWs to Manila. On July 22nd, the POWs were issued new shoes, a suit of “Philippine Blues” and were 2 cans of corn beef, and 3 cans of milk. They were informed they would be taking a 21-day trip. The trucks with the POWs left at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid Prison at 2:00 A.M. The only food the POWs received was rotten sweet potatoes. As it turned out, when they arrived in Manila, they were used in The Dawn of Freedom, a Japanese propaganda film, to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos.
In August, the rainy season had started, and all the extra food was long gone. The Japanese planned to move the hospital to the same area as the healthy POWs to reduce the size of the camp so they could reduce the number of guards.
It was in September that a list of POWs being sent to Japan was posted in the camp. The POWs left for Manila on September 18, 1943. There, they boarded the Koho Maru which was also known as the Coral Maru. (Apparently after the war, the ship was misidentified as the Taga Maru.) The POWs boarded the ship twelve at a time and stood on deck to be counted. When this was done, they went into the ship’s hold that had no air circulation. Within hours, the hold smelled of urine and feces. In the rear hold of the ship were 500 Japanese troops returning home. The ship moved into the bay and dropped anchor. It finally sailed as part of a convoy on September 20th, for Takao, Formosa, where it arrived around the 23rd. During this part of the trip, the POWs were allowed on deck to use latrines.
While the ship sat in port, tin ingots were loaded onto the ship. The exact date that the ship sailed is not known. The ship went through a storm that caused it to roll from side to side. To the POWs’ amazement, it did not sink it. Some POWs went mad and began screaming, but there was little that could be done for them. If a friend was near, he knocked his friend out. Because of the storm, the POWs could not go on deck to relieve themselves, so buckets were placed in the corners of the hold. They soon overflowed. Most of the POWs were too sick to even reach the buckets. Most of the freshwater supply – which was in tied barrows on deck – was washed overboard, so the Japanese cut the amount of water given to the POWs. After this was done, many of the POWs did not urinate since they sweated out what little water they received to drink. Those POWs who died had a rope tied around their chests and under their arms. They were pulled out of the hold and the bodies were thrown into the ocean.
The convoy came under attack by an American submarine. One POW had been a member of a submarine crew and said, “Here comes a fish.” The POWs waited for the impact but the torpedo passed under the ship since it was high in the water. They then heard a large explosion when the torpedo hit a ship sitting lower in the water.
The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5th. The POWs were allowed on deck while the tin was unloaded. This was the first sunlight they had seen in weeks. As the POWs left the ship they were given a chip of wood with a color on it that determined which POW camp they were sent to.
The POWs in his detachment were taken to Osaka 12-B which was also known as Hirohata. When they arrived at the camp the POWs were made to stand at attention and wait for the camp commandant to speak. He got up on a high platform and was described as a short man. He shouted, “Si Kin” to the POWs and none of them had any idea what he was saying. The interpreter told them that they had been ordered to bow deeply. Even after being told this, they just stood there. The commander shouted the command again, and once again the POWs just stood there. The camp commander shouted at the interpreter who told the POWs that if they didn’t bow, they would be beaten. The POWs knew he meant what he had said and this time when he shouted the order, the majority bowed. To be true to his word, those who hadn’t bowed were beaten into unconsciousness. During his speech, they were told that Japan’s aim was to inflict on its prisoners as much pain as humanly possible.
The entire camp was less than two acres in area and located about two miles from the north coast of the Inland Sea on the island of Honshu. The camp covered a 200-foot by 400-foot area and was surrounded by a 12-foot wooden fence that was topped with bamboo pointed bamboo spears and barbed wire. The POWs were housed in two 50′ by 100′ barracks that were not insulated and had numerous windows. Along the sides of the barracks were two tiers of wooden platforms where the POWs slept on straw mattresses. The lower platform was 16 inches above the floor. Each POW had a rice bag pillow the size of a loaf of bread and two blankets which were inadequate in the winter. Each barracks housed 240 POWs but there was room for ten more men. The latrines were two 25′ by 50′ buildings.
The POWs’ meals were prepared in a kitchen that was a 20′ by 40′ building. Their food was prepared by ten POWs assigned to the kitchen as cooks and cooked in 13 cauldrons. Rice and a watery soup were the main meal. There was no mess hall, so the POWs ate in the barracks on tables in the aisles. Red Cross food was never issued to POWs. When the Americans arrived in the camp, the food issued now had to be divided between the Australians, British, and Americans. The amount they received was not increased. Sometimes the POWs ate silkworms. Because of the diet, many of the POWs began losing their sight due to vitamin deficiencies in the diet, so the Japanese added a fish head soup that stunk so bad that the POWs held their noses. When it was eaten it restored their sight. The guards also stole food assigned to the POWs and canned meat and fruit, cigarettes, and other items from the POWs’ Red Cross packages. They also stole the Red Cross clothing and shoes sent for the POWs. The POWs recalled seeing the Japanese wearing items that were sent for the POWs by the Red Cross.
The camp commandant was seldom in the camp because he had other duties that kept him away. This left the camp to be run by enlisted Army personnel. The guards had no training in running a camp and abuse was frequent. One Japanese private liked to pretend that the POWs had been miscounted and make them go outside in the cold during the night to be counted again. He sometimes did this two or three times in one night. Beatings took place at night behind the camp kitchen after the commanding officer left for the night. One POW was beaten until he was senseless because he had taken his hat and made shoes from it.
Making the POWs kneel appears to have been a common practice in the camp. On one occasion, 40 POWs were made to kneel for eight hours, while on another occasion, every POW in the camp, during mustard, was made to kneel for five hours. Another sixteen POWs – who were accused of stealing rice – were lined up, with their hands behind their heads, and each was slapped in the face with a large, double-up, belt. One guard drilled the POWs and beat them if they missed a step even though the orders were being given in Japanese.
Thirty POWs worked at the camp doing camp maintenance while the other 400 POWs worked at the Japan Iron Works Company and were marched to and from the Seitetsu Mill regardless of the weather. The POWs loaded pig iron on ships and trains and unloaded ore. The American POWs wondered why the British would run to certain cars when unloading coke at the mill. They discovered it was because the cars with steel doors at the bottom emptied quickly so the POWs finished quickly. The cars with wooden doors would take longer to unload and it made the Americans look like they were slacking off. They quickly learned to run to the cars with steel doors. They also worked in the machine shops, worked at the blast furnaces, and cleaned the slag in the furnaces. From the furnaces came 3 feet wide by 10 feet long pieces of steel that were squeezed between two rollers to make steel plates. When the rollers wore out, the POWs had the job of changing them using an overhead crane that they rode above the furnaces.
Their workday was 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. When they arrived at the mill, the guards gave full authority over the POWs to the civilian workers who wore red armbands to show they were “honchos” and had authority over the POWs. These bosses would use any excuse to beat the POWs. The POWs described the guards as thieves who would loot the ships that were being unloaded and then blame the POWs.
All of the guards carried clubs that they constantly used on the POWs. They also made the POWs hold a shovel of pig iron bar above their heads until they passed out from exhaustion. POWs who did not salute properly, pick up a cigarette butt or did something else wrong were beaten. POWs who were reported as “bad workers,” no matter if they were sick or not, were beaten no matter how weak or sick they were. When the beatings started, other honchos came running with sticks and clubs and joined in the beating. After the beatings, the POWs were thrown into tubs of water – for extended periods of time – even with temperatures below freezing. The POWs had their faces pushed underwater in troughs and hit in the back of the head with clubs when they attempted to pull their faces out of the water. The guards also would force water, under pressure, up the noses of the POWs. The longer the war went on, the more frequent the beatings became as the POWs grew weaker.
On one occasion a POW called “Fink” – because he smiled at the Japanese and they liked him – stole jellybeans from the guards. When they got back to the camp, the POWs were searched, except for Fink since the Japanese trusted him. When nothing was found, they made all the POWs stand outside all night holding buckets of water above their heads while mosquitoes bit them. If a POW dropped his bucket, he was beaten with a rifle. The next morning the POWs were sent to work without breakfast. Ironically, after this, the guards treated the POWs as good soldiers for not telling on the man.
One day while the POWs were working in the mill, the ground began to shake, so they ran to the exits to get out of the building. Outside they watched as the chimneys swayed back and forth. When the shaking stopped the POWs looked at the railyard and the tracks looked like strings of spaghetti. Railcars were lying on their sides all over the yard. This was the worst earthquake the area had had in decades.
Red Cross medical supplies were seldom issued to POWs. The American POW doctor was in charge of the hospital but his diagnosis was overruled by a Japanese corpsman who ordered POWs with fevers to work. Even when this was done, the camp hospital was always filled with 50 POWs who were too ill to work. Many of these POWs had fevers over 100 degrees and those with beriberi also had diarrhea and went to work even those most could barely stand. This was done because the company wanted as many workers as possible. If the sick POWs who were forced to work asked to rest, they were beaten. If they asked for permission to go to the toilet twice during the morning, they were beaten. They were also beaten during the trip to or from the docks for going to the side of the road to urinate. It was stated that each evening when the POWs returned from work, there were always six men who had to be carried back to the camp because they were too weak to stand. The guards went to the washroom whenever they wanted. The medics who could have helped in the hospital were required to work at the steel mill in violation of the Geneva Convention. The sick POWs who were allowed to stay in the camp were harassed by the guards who hoped that by making their time in the hospital so bad, they would volunteer to work. The POWs who died in the camp were said to have died from starvation and disease.
It was stated that on July 4, 1944, the spirit of the POWs – which had been low – improved when they witnessed the first air raid on Himeiji. It was at this time that the POWs developed an excellent grapevine and it was said that they could follow the progress of US forces in the Pacific. The POWs knew that the war was not going well for Japan because the guards got meaner and hit the POWs for any reason. By this time in the war, the POWs were used to seeing B-29s flying over on their way to bomb Osaka. One day at morning assembly, the POWs found themselves standing in front of a machine gun – manned by three guards – aimed right at them. They were told that if American troops landed in Japan, they would be executed. The POWs developed a plan that if they started firing that all of them would rush the gun. The belief was that the Japanese would not be able to kill them all.
The camp was only 50 miles from Hiroshima and they had heard a tremendous explosion. Leaflets also were being dropped telling Japan to surrender. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, some POWs working in the mill stated that one of the bosses entered and said, “Ookii no bakudan,” which was “Big bomb! Big bomb!” From the civilians at the mill, the POWs heard that the U.S. had a bomb that could destroy a city but they did not believe it.
They finally heard that the Japanese issued a cease-fire on August 15, and took the guns away from the guards. Instead of B-29s, they saw small American planes flying over the camp. Seeing these planes told them that the Americans were near. One day they got up in the morning and the gates of the camp were wide open. The POWs collected the guns abandoned by the guards. The camp was not located by the occupation forces until August 25 when a pilot of a Grumman F4F Hellcat from the USS Bonhomme Richard spotted it. The pilot flew low over the camp and slowly circled around it several times as he did the POWs waved wildly to him. He dropped the POWs a half-full carton of cigarettes and nearly crashed into a rice paddy near the camp because he wasn’t paying attention to his plane’s altitude.
The pilot made it back to the carrier and soon other fighter planes from the ship flew over the camp dropping sea bags full of beans and other food to the POWs in the camp. The POWs stated that the bags were loaded with cans of pea soup. It was said the pilots dropped the sea bags flawlessly into a tiny clearing in the middle of the camp. Next, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped 55-gallon drums of food, clothing, and medicine to the POWs. One chute didn’t open killing a POW, while another drum, full of shoes, went through the roof of the camp’s shoe shop.
From the parachutes, the POWs made an American flag and a British flag and raised them over the camp on September 2. General Eichelberger’s 8th Army arrived at the camp on September 9 and the POWs were officially liberated. On the 10th, the former POWs took a two-day train trip to Yokohama. As they entered the city all they saw was the devastation the bombings had done. From the train station, the POWs were marched to an area with tents where they stripped off their clothes and were sprayed with DDT. The clothes that had been dropped on them by the planes were put into drums and burnt. They then took showers and were issued new clothes and shoes. The former POWs boarded a hospital ship for physicals. Many of them left Japan on September 12 on a hospital ship for the Philippines. The ship arrived there on September 22. One former POW said, “We were immediately put on a ship and sent to Manila to the 29th Replacement Depot, where we were given physicals, shots from a few nurses, and free beer.”
It appears he was in pretty good shape because he left for the United States on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze on September 23 and went to San Pedro Bay, Leyte. The ship arrived in San Francisco on October 16 and the former POWs were taken to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment. From there, he was sent to a Veterans Administration hospital for additional medical treatment. He was discharged from the army on March 23, 1946, and since he had not registered with Selective Service in 1940, he registered on March 25 and named his mother as his contact person. His registration card also indicated that he was a discharged veteran.
Larry married Maxine Rippey on October 16, 1948, and the couple became the parents of two daughters and a son. He worked as a carpenter and the family resided in Salinas until 1975, when they moved to Sacramento, California.
Lawrence H. Rotharmel passed away on January 7, 2012, in Sacramento and was buried at Hillcrest Memorial Park, Bakersfield, California.