Pvt. Charles Harold Steel was born on June 27, 1919, in Wilson, Oklahoma, to Charles H. Steel and Eva T. Cody-Steel. It is known that his father died and that he and his mother lived at North Rock Creek Road in McCurtain County, Oklahoma. When he registered for Selective Service on October 16, 1941, and used “Charley” as his first name. He also named his mother, who had remarried, as his contact person and stated he was working at Millard Stove Company, Jasper, Alabama.
Charley was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 21, 1941, in Oklahoma City and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished in seven weeks or less. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. The selectees lived in tents that were pitched on concrete slabs. Each tent had four bunks, a stove in the center, and had electricity running to them to provide lighting. It is not known when he and the other selectees moved into barracks.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterward, they attended the various schools to which they had been assigned, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. It is not known what specific training he received. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
It is not known where he was stationed next, but it is known that there are at least two possibilities. He may have been a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion at Camp Polk, Louisiana, and volunteered or had his name drawn from a hat to join the battalion before it was sent west to San Francisco. The other possibility was that, after basic training, he was sent to Ft. Ord, California, and assigned to the 757th Tank Battalion. From there, he was sent to Angel Island, where he joined the 192nd Tank Battalion, in late October 1941, when it arrived in San Francisco before being sent to the Philippine Islands.
After taking part in the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941, the 192nd was ordered to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service. Instead, they were being sent overseas as part of “Operation PLUM.” Within hours, many of the members of the battalion believed they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. There is no proof that this was true. Since the battalion was originally National Guard tank companies, men who were married or 29 years old or older had the opportunity to resign from federal service. Other men whose enlistments were about to expire were transferred to other units. Before the battalion headed west, replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original battalion members believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The reality was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion, but the 70th was Regular Army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The tank group also contained the 193rd Tank Battalion at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th Tank Battalion at Ft. Lewis, Washington. 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 well before June 1941.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. 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 was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived at Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
When the 192nd arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried to Angel Island. During their time on the island, they received physicals, and those with minor medical conditions that needed treatment were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men failed their final physicals and were replaced. It is believed it was at this time that he joined the 192nd.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness when the ship sailed into a storm. Men wrote home about how other men were really seasick but never mentioned if they had been sick. Once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Thursday, November 6, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. On Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal. When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and to see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Had they been slower getting off the ship, they would have had a turkey dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of Japanese reconnaissance planes flying over the airfield. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
Before the battalion had been sent overseas, it was issued a great deal of radio equipment. This was done because part of its job in the Philippines was to set up a radio school to train radio operators for the Philippine Army. Shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours since the battalion had a large number of ham radio operators. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave the battalion frequencies to use.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” – which came from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. Many men wrote home and told their families about how hot the weather was, the kind of food they were eating, about the countryside, and about the Filipinos.
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 battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, at about 6:30 AM, HQ company was in their chow line when they heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. The tank companies were ordered to Clark Field to guard it against Japanese paratroopers. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
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. It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. 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.
Since they had no weapons to use against the planes because of their altitude the tankers ran for cover. When the Zeros began to straf the airfield, the soldiers all opened fire with their guns. The enemy plane shot down by a member of a tank battalion in WWII was shot down by a member of the 192nd. 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. (It should be noted that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened at 1:55 A.M. on December 8 in the Philippines, so the attack on Clark Field was almost 11 hours later.) Eighty-nine of the planes that had been sitting along the runway at Clark Field were destroyed, and there were approximately 236 casualties.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything 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. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. It was hard for them to sleep because they were afraid and trucks, motorcycles, and trucks all sounded like planes to them. The tankers guarded the airfield during the day against paratroopers, and at night they enforced blackouts in the villages around the airfield.
They lived through another attack on December 10, but this time the Japanese bombing started at the south end of the airfield where the tankers were located. Bombs fell between the tanks wounding men who were caught outside. They lived through another air raid on the 13th.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed. From this time on, HQ Company was always in the same area where the tank companies were fighting attempting to keep them supplied and the tanks running. On December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough fuel for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry. The platoon engaged the Japanese resulting in the loss of one tank and the capture of its crew. The other tanks withdrew but were damaged and later repaired. After the remaining tanks of B and C Companies were refueled, they made their way to Lingayen Gulf. On the trip, they went through an area where the Philippine Scouts had fought the Japanese. As they passed through it, they saw body parts and discarded equipment everywhere. When they arrived at Lingayen Gulf, there they found themselves on a ridge overlooking the beach where the Japanese were landing troops. The tankers wanted to fire on the landing barges but were ordered to withdraw from the ridge. The crews later realized that the Japanese destroyers that were offshore would have annihilated them in minutes with their guns. They were then asked to make a counter-attack on the same ridge they had vacated and failed to retake it.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlac-Cabanatuan Line and were near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th. The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion’s tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing 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 with 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. 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. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
On the night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. The 194th crossed the bridge covered by the 192nd and then covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge before it was destroyed by the engineers. The 192nd was the last unit to enter Bataan. During the night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge. The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
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.”
A composite tank company was formed the following day 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, 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 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. At this time, the tanks had maintenance work done on them by the 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
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 Bakanga-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 battalion took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time.
The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night. The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
Only 3 of 23 tanks were being used and without the support of infantry and the trick during the attack through the jungle was to avoid large trees and clear a way for the infantry to attack. This they did by thrusting into the jungle. They only became aware of enemy positions when they were fired on. The tanks were supposed to have support from mortars but the ammunition was believed to be defective. It was found that the mortars were manned by inexperienced air corpsmen converted to infantry who had no idea that the arming pins on the mortar shells had to be pulled before firing them so the shells landed and did not explode.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. While doing this job, the tankers 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 at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked. This time they were met from 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.
The battalion’s B Company, one night, also was involved in a firefight with Japanese barges that were attempting to land troops on one of the two beaches on the eastside of Bataan. According to Sgt. Lewis Wallisch, shells suddenly began landing on the beach and the tanks and half-tracks returned fire. It is not known how long the fight lasted, but it is known that not one Japanese soldier landed on the beach. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks being present on the beach prevented them from attempting landings.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Presidential Unit Citations.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough, but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. 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. For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen. Weaver pointed out to him that there weren’t enough tanks to effectively do this, and that if it was done, there soon would be no tanks. The self-propelled mounts joined the tanks and filled the gap of not having medium tanks. The tankers were not thrilled with this since the SPMs drew enemy artillery fire. Weaver suggested to Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
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. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
That evening, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The soldiers piled up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. The only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
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 Company 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 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys, I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
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 the line of 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.”
On April 9, 1942, the company became Prisoners of War when Bataan was surrendered. It was at this time they heard a rumor that had they held out three more days, reinforcements would have arrived. Within half an hour of hearing this, every member of the company had a working gun even though all weapons supposedly had been destroyed. The company remained in their encampment for three days before the Japanese arrived. The members of the company had their 45s on them with one bullet in the chamber. If the Japanese were going to kill them, they planned on killing themselves. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
Arrangements had been made between the tank group and the Japanese to allow the tank companies to ride trucks to Mariveles. HQ Company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat and watched, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them. As they sat there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese Naval officer pulled up to the soldiers in a car and got out and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. While he was driving away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the men were ordered to move. They had no idea that they had started what they simply called, “the march.” Most of the men had dysentery, some malaria, and others were simply weak from hunger. The first five miles were uphill which was hard on the sick men. It was made harder by the Japanese guards who were assigned a certain distance to march and made the POWs move at a faster pace so that they could complete their distance as fast as possible. Those who could not keep up and fell were bayoneted. At one point they ran past Japanese artillery that was firing at Corregidor with Corregidor returning fire. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide and some of the POWs were killed by incoming shells. Corregidor did destroy three of the four guns.
During the march, they received no water and little food. The further north they marched the more bodies they saw along the road. As they passed artesian wells, any man who attempted to get water was shot at or bayoneted., but they were allowed to take dirty water from ditches along the road. Some had bodies in them. Many of those who did later died of dysentery.
At San Fernando, the POWs were put into a bullpen with a barbed wire fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench that was supposed to be the POWs latrine. The surface of the latrine moved since it was covered in maggots. The ground they sat on was also covered with human feces. It is not known how long he remained in the bullpen or if he was fed while there, but at some point, the POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments and taken to the train station.
At the station, the POWs were packed into wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each detachment had 100 men, the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas and walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. The Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of POWs healthy enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. Many of these men returned to the camp from work details only to die. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria. When they buried the dead, the next morning many were found sitting up in their graves or that the dead had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
In May, his family received their first message from the War Department
“Dear Mrs. E. Steel:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Charles H. Steel, 38,020,910, 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 “
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of the healthier POWs was completed on June 4.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Cabanatuan #1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Cabanatuan #2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. Once in Cabanatuan #1, 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. Another detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and known as Maniquis Airfield. The Japanese had the POWs build runways and revetments. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
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. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. 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.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but 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. It is known that 783 POWs died in July.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Charles H. Steel had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
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 touched 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 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.
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. During this time, 9 POWs died each day and approximately 250 POWs died in November.
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. Another guard, “Smiling Sam” would tell the POWs he was taking a break and then turned his back to them. While he was on his break, they could rest or steal food. Before he ended his break he warned them that his break was over and when he turned around, they were all working.
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 were 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.
Each month on the eighth, the Japanese read the Japanese declaration of war on the United States to the POWs. This usually got them wound up and the POWs knew that the number of beatings they received would increase. 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 POWs watched the Marx Brothers movie “Room Service” on the 11th 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.
The POWs were also allowed to hold shows for entertainment. They performed comedy skits and other shows. They also formed a band that performed on Wednesday and Saturday nights and had a request portion of the program performing songs the other POWs wanted to hear. On one occasion they performed a song that became popular in the U.S. after they had become POWs. The Japanese realized that they had a radio and searched the camp looking for it. They never did find the radio.
His name appeared on a list of men known to be Japanese POWs on July 9, 1943. His mother had learned he was a POW weeks earlier.
“MRS E SMITH
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE CHARLES H STEEL IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message.
“MRS. E. SMITH
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
Pvt. Charles H. Steel, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau
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. Charley was one of the POWs selected to be sent to Japan. 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. After this, they were sent to Japan on the Clyde Maru.
The POWs boarded the Clyde Maru which sailed on July 23 and arrived at Santa Cruz, Zambales, Philippine Islands, the same day. While anchored there, it was loaded with manganese ore. The ship sailed again on July 26. During this part of the voyage, 100 POWs, at a time, were allowed on deck from 6:00 A.M. to 4:00 PM. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 28 and remained in the port until August 5 at 8:00 A.M., as part of a nine-ship convoy that arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7. unlike many other ships, its trip was relatively quick.
The POWs disembarked on August 8 and lined up on the dock. From there they marched to the train station and boarded a train that departed at 9:30 A.M. for a two-day train trip arriving at Omuta, Kyushu, Japan. From there, they marched 18 miles but those who were too sick rode in a truck. The POWs were taken to Fukuoka 17 which was seventeen miles from the City of Fukuoka.
The POWs were taken to Fukuoka 17 which was about eighteen miles from the City of Fukuoka. Those too ill to walk were driven by truck to the camp. The camp was 200 yards square when it opened on August 7, 1943, but was expanded to 200 yards wide and 1,000 yards long. The camp was surrounded by a 12-foot wooden fence that had three heavy gauge electrified wires attached to it. The first wire was attached at six feet with the others higher up. The buildings had been used by miners before the mine had been closed as being unsafe. Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners. It was said that the Americans had the worse discipline. To prevent this from happening, the POWs would “buddy up” with each other. While one man was working in the mine, the POW who was not working would watch the possessions of the other man. The camp was considered the worse camp in Japan to be held as a POW in and was called so by the POW Recovery Team after the war.
The POWs lived in 33 one-story barracks 120 feet long and 16 feet wide and divided into ten rooms. Officers slept four men in a room while enlisted men slept from four to six men in a room. Each room was lit by a 15-watt bulb, and at the end of each building was a latrine with three stools and a urinal. The POWs slept on beds that were 5′ 8″ long by 2½’ wide. Each POW received three heavy blankets made of tissue paper, scrap rags, and scrap cotton and a comforter made of tissue paper and cotton batting covered with a cotton pad. At the end of each of the barracks were three stools raised about 1½’ on a hollow brick pedestal that was covered with removable wood seats made by the POWs to reduce the fly problem. There was also a urinal. Concrete tanks were under each stool which were cleaned by Japanese laborers twice a week. The POWs dug air raid shelters that we 6 feet deep and 8 feet wide, and 120 feet long. They were covered with timbers covered with 3 feet of slag.
The meals served to the POWs were cooked in the camp kitchen which was manned by 15 POWs. Seven of the POWs were professional cooks. The kitchen had 11 cauldrons, 2 electric baking ovens, 2 kitchen ranges, 4 storerooms, and an icebox. As they entered the mess hall, they would say their POW number to a POW standing by a wooden board. He would take a nail and place it in the hole in front of the man’s number. After all the POWs had been fed, the board was cleared for the next meal. A meal consisted of rice and vegetable soup three times a day. Those POWs working in the mine received 700 grams a day, while camp workers received 450 grams a day. Officers, since they were not required to work, received 300 grams a day. Those working in the mine received three buns every second day since they did not return to camp for lunch. To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens, and seaweed. As they entered the mess hall, they would say their POW number to a POW standing by a wooden board. He would take a nail and place it in the hole in front of the man’s number. After all the POWs had been fed, the board was cleared for the next meal. POWs traded their food rations for cigarettes and were referred to as “future corpses.” The situation got so bad that the Japanese finally stepped in and stopped it.
The kitchen was under the command of Lieutenant Commander Edward N. Little, U.S.N., whom the other POWs viewed as a collaborator. He was also the highest-ranking American officer in the camp, at the time, and known to have reported POWs for stealing food which resulted in the POWs being beaten and thrown into the guardhouse. Little turned Pvt. James G. Pavlokos over to the Japanese. Pavlokos was known to be unruly. He had received two bowls of rice from a Japanese soldier and sold one to another POW. According to the POWs, Little knew that turning Pavlokos in meant certain death. He was put in the guardhouse and received rice and water for his meals. The POWs tried to throw him food, but the Japanese saw them and stopped them. He remained there from December 23, 1943, until January 28, 1944, when he died of starvation. Some accounts state he died after being in the stockade for 38 days or longer.
Pvt. Noah Heard, C Company, 194th Tank Battalion, was confined to the guardhouse for stealing food and escaped on May 30, 1944, sometime around midnight. Post-war documents state Heard had escaped six times from the camp. Other documents state that he had been caught stealing five or six times before and was confined to the guardhouse for three or four days each time. Heard escaped and was caught during the night in a latrine. 1st Lt. Kei Yuri ordered that Heard be beaten and he was beaten with fists, clubs, and rifles. On Wednesday, May 31, 1944, Lt. John H. Allen and Lt. Owen W. Romaine were called to the commandant’s office. Lt. Kel Yuri stated he would execute Heard because the Japanese Field Regulation of the Army allowed it and that Heard has signed a document stating he should be killed if he stole again. He told the American officers what he was going to do. The camp interpreter later stated that Yuri said he was going to, “Get rid of him” because Yuri considered him incurable.
This is Lt. Allen’s account of Noah Heard’s execution, “Yuri stood in front of Heard running his thumb along the blade of his sword. Then he put the sword in its scabbard but pushed Heard’s head back with the scabbard.” Heard was then taken behind the guardhouse and ordered by Yuri to kneel. According to Lt. Allen, Heard staggered as he was taken behind the building. Allen and others slipped into an empty building to see what the Japanese were going to do. Allen told the court what he saw. “At the command of Lieutenant Yuri, a Jap guard bayoneted Heard in the middle of his back. Heard grunted and as he rolled over, he screeched. A second Jap bayoneted Heard in the abdomen. Yuri, the interpreter, and others examined the body. It was still twitching so another guard slashed Heard vertically across the throat. Other guards came out and slashed his abdomen to ribbons.” Allen also stated that while Heard was on the ground twitching, a Japanese guard walked up to him and cut his throat.
There were also bathing rooms in the camp with two bathing tanks that were 30 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 4 feet deep. The tubs were heated with very hot water. The POWs working in the mine bathed during the winter after cleaning themselves before entering the tubs. They did not bathe during the summer months to prevent skin diseases. After bathing, the men would dress and go to bed for the night. Many filled their canteens with hot water and placed it under their covers. There were also outside wash racks at each barracks. Each had 16 cold water faucets and 16 wooden tubs with drainboards. The POWs used these to wash their clothes, but there was always a shortage of soap.
The camp hospital was a building of ten rooms that could each hold 30 men. There was an isolation ward for 15 POWs usually men suffering from tuberculosis. The POW doctors had little to no medicines or medical supplies to treat the ill. Dental treatment consisted of removing teeth without anesthesia. It is known that 76 POWs died in the camp hospital. In addition, the sick were forced to work. The Japanese camp doctor allowed the sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine. He also took the Red Cross medical supplies meant for the POWs for his own use and failed to provide adequate medical treatment. Surgery in the camp was performed with scissors and a razor. The POWs who died in the camp died because of the cold and malnutrition. It was said that most of those who died, died because they were starved to death.
The Red Cross boxes sent to the camp were misappropriated by the Japanese. When they arrived, they were locked in a storeroom. They were later issued 3 to 7 months after they arrived. The Japanese intentionally mixed up the contents so the POWs had no idea what had been taken from the boxes. The food in boxes was given out in small quantities so that it had no nutritional value. The POWs who worked in the mine received larger quantities in their boxes instead of the sick who really needed it. The Japanese misappropriated and ate the food and made the POWs watch them eat it.
The first mail in the camp was received in March 1944. After that mail was given out every two months. The POWs were allowed to mail home a postcard every six to eight weeks, but the POWs very seldom got mail.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp. The guards beat the POWs with fists, clubs, and sandals for the slightest reason and continued until the POW was unconscious. If they didn’t like the way a POW looked at them, the guards beat him. The man was then taken to the guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without food or water for a long period of time. POWs with red hair received worse treatment than other POWs. POWs who failed to bow or salute had to stand in front of the guardhouse for hours. During the winter, the POWs were made to stand at attention and had water thrown on them as they stood in the cold, or they were forced to kneel on bamboo poles. It is known that the POWs were also made to stand in water and shocked with electrical current. At some point in 1945, two POWs were tied to a post and left to die. This was done they had violated a camp rule.
The Japanese interpreter in the camp refused to perform his duties resulting in the POWs receiving beatings because they could not explain the situation. He also would inform the guards of any alleged violations of camp rules which resulted in the POWs being severely beaten. This happened frequently at the mine with the interpreter usually the person responsible. He also, for no reason, slapped and beat the POWs. He was known to hit POWs with a rubber belt. The POWs at the mine were frequently beaten by the civilian workers because of the actions of the interpreter. He also forced POWs who had been injured and assigned to light work at the mine to lift heavy material with their injured arms.
Scams were run, by POWs, to get the money or food from other POWs. One, which was run by another member of the 192nd, Pvt. Lester Tenenberg, was so successful that the Japanese shut it down and threw him in the guardhouse. POWs traded their food for cigarettes and were referred to as future corpses.
On one occasion in November 1944, shirts had been stolen from a bundle in a building. The Japanese ordered all the POWs to assemble and told them that they would not be fed until the shirts were returned. The men returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00 P.M. Another POW, Walter Johnson, between mid-November 1944 and March 1945 was repeatedly beaten with a club the size of a small baseball bat. This was alternated by placing a wire across his back and shoulders and running electricity through it while he stood in water. This was done because Johnson had been caught talking to a Korean while working. POWs who asked to be given lighter work were examined by the interpreter and punched in the face with fists.
The Japanese used the camp to shoot scenes for a propaganda movie about the treatment the POWs were receiving. The POWs thought it funny to watch Japanese running around wearing zoot suits and bell-bottom trousers. For a scene in the movie, the Japanese had the POWs move in a large circle. To “aid” the POWs to move in a circle, clubs were used to keep them moving. For another scene, they took a POW to the camp hospital and had him lay in a bed with sheets. The sick actually lay on the building’s floor. They also brought in fresh flowers and fruit and opened Red Cross packages that the POWs never received before the filming. They also had a Japanese nurse sit by the bed and hold the POW’s hand. As soon as the director yelled cut, the POW was thrown out of the bed, and the bed, flowers, fruit, and Red Cross boxes were removed from the building.
The coal mine where the POWs worked was a condemned mine that had experienced an earthquake in 1923, and the deep shafts were closed because they were considered unsafe. The unsafe shafts were reopened in 1943 because the POWs were viewed as expendable and replaceable by the mine’s owner Baron Takanaya Mitsui. (He was tried after the war for war crimes but not convicted.) He supposedly said that the POWs could be replaced if they were killed. The POWs worked three different 12-hour shifts each workday and were expected to load three cars of coal each day. They had one day off every ten days. They worked with the constant threat of rocks falling on them. They worked with 90-pound jackhammers which weighed as much or more than them. They drilled holes and packed them with dynamite then went to a safe area and waited. After the blast, they returned to remove the coal. Those POWs who the Japanese believed were not working hard enough were beaten. The civilian employees viewed the POWs as “white slaves” and liked to hit them with lead pipes. Sometimes they used a knotted rope and several POWs lost eyes because the rope hit them around their heads and then was jerked. Working in the mine actually became one of the few places where the POWs were warm and they often worked only in G-strings. To get out of working in the mine, prisoners paid other POWs to break their arms.
As the war went on, American planes began flying over the camp. While he was there, the camp was hit by bombs from American planes. The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they moved in with the British and Dutch POWs. The POWs hoped that it would be just before the war would end. The worse the war went for Japan, the worse the treatment they received. Another POW, Cpl. William N. Knight, who was known for stealing and wore an insignia on his clothing to show he was a thief, was turned over to the Japanese by CLCDR Little and was beaten with a pole two and a half feet long and six inches around until he passed out. He was revived with water and the beating continued. It stated this went on for several days. He was thrown into the cooler. He was starved and died five days later on May 5, 1945. His crime was he had stolen six buns.
Being superstitious, the Japanese made the POWs stop at a Shinto Shrine before they entered the mine. The POWs had to bow, clap their hands three times, and say a prayer to the mine gods to keep them safe. One day when the POWs left the mine, they found that while they had been working American bombers had leveled the shrine. He and the other POWs never had to stop there again.
As the war went on, American planes began flying over the camp. While he was there, the camp was hit by bombs from American planes. The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they moved in with the British and Dutch POWs. The POWs hoped that it would be just before the war would end. The worse the war went for Japan, the worse the treatment they received. Another POW, Cpl. William N. Knight, who was known for stealing and wore an insignia on his clothing to show he was a thief, was turned over to the Japanese by CLCDR Little and was beaten with a pole two and a half feet long and six inches around until he passed out. He was revived with water and the beating continued. It stated this went on for several days. He was thrown into the cooler. He was starved and died five days later on May 5, 1945. His crime was he had stolen six buns.
The POWs who were in the camp on the morning of August 9 told the POWs who had been in the mine that they had seen the greatest explosion they had ever seen in their lives. They concluded that the explosion was caused by a Japanese ammunition dump exploding during a bombing. In reality, they had seen the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Nagasaki. Those who saw it described that it was a sunny day and the explosion still lit up the sky. The pillar of smoke that rose from the bomb was described as having all the colors of the rainbow. Afterward, the POWs saw what they described that a fog blanketed Nagasaki and that the city had vanished. Over the next several days when the POWs went to work and talked to the Japanese civilians, they spoke about how those, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated these people died within days. The civilians also told the POWs of how they heard about a detachment of Japanese soldiers sent into Nagasaki to recover victims and that its members suffered the same fate.
On August 15, another POW Pvt. Paul J. Shaughnessy was caught stealing a pair of pants. LCDR Little told Shaughnessy that he was going to turn him over to the Japanese and they would shoot him. Little was about to turn Shaughnessy over when he was stopped by the American Commanding Officer in the camp. He ordered Little to think over what he was about to do for 12 hours before he did anything. The American CO knew that Shaughnessy would be shot if he was turned over to the Japanese since he had been caught stealing three times. While Little was thinking it over, the war ended, but the POWs were not told it was over. For the next five days, Shaughnessy waited for his punishment. After the war, Little was put on trial for a court-martial by the Navy but was acquitted.
That same day, the POWs who had been working in the mine came out and found that the next group of POWs was not waiting outside to start their shift. That night, the POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours. They all had their blankets because they believed they were going to be moved to another camp. Instead, they were returned to their barracks. The next day, when it was time to go to work, the POWs were told it was a holiday, and they had the day off. They knew something was up because they had never had a holiday off before this. The Japanese also became more tolerant, which caused the prisoners to hope that liberation was near.
According to some POWs, a Red Cross car pulled up to the camp and the occupants told the POWs the war was over. Finally, the POWs were gathered in the camp on August 30, 1945. The Japanese camp commanders received an order- from Gen. Douglas MacArthur – that the following statement had to be read by them, or a translator, in English in the camps.
“Pending arrival of Allied representatives, the command of this camp and its equipment, stores, records, arms, and ammunition are to be turned over to the senior prisoner of war or a designated civilian internee who will thenceforth give instructions to the camp commander for the maintenance of supply and administrative services and for amelioration of local conditions.
“The camp commander will be responsible to the senior prisoner or designated internee for maintaining his command intact.”
The POWs were also told to stay in the camp. After this, the Japanese guards soon disappeared from the camp. The POWs found a warehouse with Red Cross packages and distributed the packages to the entire camp. American planes appeared over the camp and dropped food, clothes, and medicine.
One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News entered the camp. He told the POWs that there were American troops on Honshu. One group of POWs left the camp and made contact with them while the rest of the men remained in the camp. The camp was liberated on September 13 by a POW Recovery Team and on September 18 at 7:09 A.M., the POWs left the camp and were taken to the Dejima Docks at Nagasaki. There, they were stripped of their clothing which was burned. They were deloused, showered, and issued new clothes before they boarded a hospital ship and received medical examinations that determined who would remain on the ship, who would be flown to the States, and who would be returned to Manila for more medical treatment. He appears to have been flown there since he left the Philippines a few days later.
Charley returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes and arrived in Seattle, Washington, on October 9, 1945, and was taken to Madigan General Hospital, Fort Lewis, Washington. He was discharged on January 13, 1946. He married Lorene who passed away in 1966.
Charles H. Steel passed away on May 2, 2000, in Oklahoma City. He was buried at Sunny Lane Cemetery, Del City, Oklahoma, in Section 5.