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 company was scheduled to be called up in November but there appears to have been a lumber strike and the barracks for the battalion could not be built. Because of this, the federalization date was pushed back. The members of the company were called to the armory the morning of February 10 at 7:00 A.M. and 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 Sothern 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 from the armory up Salinas Street to Alisal Street, where they turned right and then turned 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 Great Northern Railway 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.
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 10, 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 14. 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 the 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.
The uniforms they wore 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 one of the companies 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.
Men were still being sent to Ft. Knox in April for special training. The entire battalion on April 23 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 the 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 30, 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 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 town of Salinas provided a bus so that the parents of men could go to San Francisco to say goodbye to their sons.
The story that Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 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 Taiwan 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 a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The 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 regular army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Two days later, on August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. 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. It is also known that 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. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because of the war. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
Upon receiving its orders to report to Ft. Mason, California, men whose enlistments dates were going to expire were replaced. The replacements had absolutely no training in tanks. The remaining members and new members of the battalion – on September 4 – 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. 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.
The battalion’s new tanks had to have their turrets removed to fit them in the ship’s hold. So that the turrets went on the tanks they came off of in the Philippines, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets. The soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands on September 8th. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore.
At 5:00 this part of the trip that it was joined by the heavy cruiser the U.S.S. Astoria and, the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a replenishment oiler. The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date became Thursday, September 18. On Friday, September 26, 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 taken by bus to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with 17th Ordnance, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and was taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since General Edward P. King Jr. commanding officer of the fort had learned of their arrival only days earlier. They remained in the tents until November 15th when they moved into their barracks.
The barracks’ outside walls were opened and screened from the floors to three feet up the wall. Above that, there was woven bamboo. This design allowed air to pass through the barracks. Sanitation facilities appeared to have been limited and a lucky man was one who was able to wash by a faucet with running water.
The tankers started working from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work. According to members of the battalion the term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming.
Off the base, the soldiers went to Mt. Aarayat National Park and swam in the swimming pool there that was filled with mountain water. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. They also went canoeing at Pagsanjan Falls in their swimsuits and described the country was described as being beautiful
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. When they were discovered working in their coveralls by the base’s officers, the soldiers were reprimanded for not wearing dress uniforms while working. The decision was made by Major Ernest Miller to continue wearing coveralls in their barracks area to do their work but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they were expected to wear dress uniforms, including going to the PX.
The 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20. The battalion had four tank companies, so the process was begun to transfer its D Company to the 194th to replace B Company. The battalion also was sent to the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school. Since it had a large number of ham radio operators, within hours of arriving, a communications tent had been set up and was in touch with the U.S.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed his officers of the attack. He also ordered his officers to have the half-tracks join the tanks at Clark Field. Their job was to engage Japanese paratroopers. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
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 in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he 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. 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.
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 of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.
After the attack, the 194th was sent to a bivouac three kilometers north of Clark Field from there they were sent to Barrio of San Joaquin on the Malolos Road. They spent their time loading ammunition belts because they had fired so much during the attack on Clark Field. On December 12, 1941, the company received orders to go to southern Luzon and was detached from the battalion. There it became part of the Southern Luzon Force.
C Company was ordered to Muntinlupa near Bilibid Prison. The battalion’s reconnaissance half-tracks were assigned to defend Batangas Bay, Balayan Bay, and Tayabas Bay. The company remained at Muntinlupa from December 14 to 24 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 24. 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.
On December 26, 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. 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 each 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 and killing PFC Robert Bales. 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.
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 Pvt. James Hicks and Pvt. James McLeod, Hicks was a half-track driver who had volunteered to drive the tank. 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 American a hospital near Lucbam by a Filipino taxicab. It was there that they were captured by the Japanese later the same day. For six weeks Brokaw recalled that he was pretty much ignored by the Japanese who would change his bandages a few times. A few weeks after the surrender, he was taken 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.
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.
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 31 and traveled 100 miles one night to Bocaue where it rejoined the 194th. On January 1, 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 2 to 4, 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 5. It was also in January 1942, 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. On the night of January 5, the tank battalion was holding a position near Lubao. It was about 2:00 in the morning when one of the battalion’s outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be Japanese. When they attacked, the Japanese were mowed down by the guns of the tanks. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located. They then charged toward the tanks, through an open field, and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, 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.
January 8, 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.
On January 12, 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 13 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. 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 long past their 400-hour overhauls.
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.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. 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 on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, 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.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. One night, the Japanese attempted to land troops on a beach guarded by B Co., 192nd. There was a tremendous firefight, but the next morning, not one Japanese soldier had landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that the tanks were the reason why they attempted no other landings.
The tank battalions took on the job of guarding the airfields on Bataan in February. They had been constructed because of the belief that aid would be coming by air. Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. Food was also an issue and men hunted for anything they could eat. If it could be eaten, it soon became scarce on Bataan. The only animal that most men could not eat was the monkeys. The reason why was the monkeys’ faces made them look too human.
On March 1, the soldiers had their rations cut in half again and the men were starving. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to the Dutch East Indies. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined this suggestion.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount 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. C Company was attached to the 192nd and the company had only seven tanks left and most of its members were fighting as infantry. At 4:00 P.M. on the 4th they moved east in an attempt to reach Secord Corps. The remaining tanks of C Company tanks were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. the next morning at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of Company C was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail. From this point on, the defenders were in full retreat.
It was the evening of April 8 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. B and D Companies, 192nd, and A Company were preparing for a suicide attack 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. A truck driver for A Company, 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, 192nd and A Company received the order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. At 6:45 A.M., the order “CRASH” was sent out and 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. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
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.”
When Bataan surrendered, Larry was hospitalized at Hospital #2 at Cabcaben. What is known is that on April 9 at 9:00 P.M., ten or twelve Japanese soldiers arrived and spent the night before moving on. A Japanese doctor and enlisted men arrived the next day and all Filipino doctors and patients were advised to leave the hospital. All day long Filipinos passed through the hospital. The food situation grew worse since it was no longer under the control of the hospital staff. Rice became their main meal.
The patients at the hospital who had recovered wanted to leave. FOr two weeks there were no Japanese guards and anyone could walk away without being stopped. That did not mean the man would get far since the Japanese were everywhere. A Japanese doctor told the medical staff that the situation at Camp O’Donnell was bad with as many as 40 to 50 Americans dying each day and many more Filipinos than Americans dying.
The ill and wounded remained at the site when they were told the hospital would be moved. Busses had been brought to the hospital to serve as quarters for the nurses. Most had gasoline in their tanks. There were also trucks with full tanks of gasoline. The mechanics among the patients got the busses running and they were adapted to carry patients and could carry 300 patients unable to walk. During this time, shells from Corregidor were landing around the hospital since the Japanese were moving troops and supplies through the area. Shells finally hit Ward 14 in the hospital area killing four men and wounding twelve. They also heard what they described as a terrific artillery bombardment of Corregidor on April 29, followed by another on what was even more intense on May 3 and May 5.
After Corregidor surrendered on May 6, the POWs at the hospital who were still under care were told that they would be moved to Littel Baguio while those who had recovered would be sent elsewhere. The hospital was closed on May 12 and the POWs unable to walk were put on the buses and trucks and rode to Hospital #1. Those who could walk marched to the hospital and saw the dead from the march lying along the road. They remained at Hospital #1 until May 20 when the healthier POWs were taken by truck to Bilibid Prison arriving at 10:00 P.M. and they remained there for three days. During this time, the POWs slept on the concrete floor of the hospital.
On May 30, the POWs were marched to the train station in Manila, boarded a train of steel boxcars with 75 to 100 men put into each boxcar. They rode the train to the barrio of Cabanatuan. From the train station, they marched about 1¼ miles to a schoolyard and spent the night there. The ground was covered in human waste from other POWs who had been held there before them.
They formed detachments on May 31 and were told they would be shot if they fell, but those men who did were beaten with canes until they got back up. They marched 8.7 miles to Cabanatuan Camp #2 where the POWs were given showers. During the march, they passed Cabanatuan #1 where the POWs who took part in the march would be held. They remained at Cabanatuan #2 until June 1 when they were marched back to Cabanatuan #1 and were soon joined by the POWs from Camp O’Donnell.
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”
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken 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.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
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 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. 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 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 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 29, 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 Lima Maru sailed in September, but it is not known if POW numbers were assigned to the men on the ship. The first men known to receive POW numbers were the men on the Nagato Maru which sailed for Japan in September. It is not known when, but Lawrence received the number I-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 14, 1942, 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.
Fr. Bruttenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14 and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot attempting to escape on November 16. 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 20, 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 21. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22. On November 23, 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.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. The Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads as they left the shed. The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings.
Fr. Bruttenbruck returned on December 10 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. Bruttenbruck returned on December 24 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 11, 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 14 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 24 which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27.
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 the February 11 and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12 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 22. 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 3, 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 1, 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.
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 during July, the names of 500 POWs were posted on the list of POWs being sent to Bilibid Prison. On July 22, 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. On July 15, 25 to 30 trucks arrived at camp to transport POWs to Manila. 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 that 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 20, 1943, 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 5. 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 office left for the night. One POW was beaten 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 a red armband 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. Rail cars 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.