Cpl. Robert J. Stewart was the son of Robert and Edna Stewart and was born on October 8, 1918, in Gettysburg, South Dakota. As a child, he grew up on a farm west of Baraboo, Wisconsin. While he was in high school, he played football and the team he played on went undefeated. It was the first Wisconsin high school team to finish a season never having been scored on by their opponent.
Bob attended college for one year at the University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse. He was forced to leave school when he ran out of money, so he moved to Janesville, Wisconsin, looking for a job.
In 1940, Bob joined the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd Tank Company headquartered in Janesville. His reason for doing this was because his good friend, Owen Sandmire, had told him about the tank company, and Owen and Bob were looking for work but not having much luck. This would give both of them the opportunity to earn some extra money. Owen also explained to Bob that if he joined the tank company, he would fulfill his year of military service.
Since a draft act had been passed by Congress, Bob knew that he was most likely going to be drafted into the army. He decided that riding in a tank was better than walking. On either September 14th or 16th, Bob enlisted into the National Guard.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was activated as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and ordered to Fort Knox, Kentucky. A three-man advance team was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was followed by a detachment of 23 soldiers that left the armory at 7:00 A.M. on November 27th in nine trucks. It is known that the roads were ice-covered so the trip was slow and the conditions resulted in one truck hitting a civilian’s car. No other information is available about the incident. The roads improved the further south the convoy traveled. The soldiers spent the night at an armory in Danville, Illinois, before heading south to Ft. Knox arriving there sometime later in the afternoon.
The next day, November 28, between 4:00 and 5:00 P.M., the main detachment of soldiers that marched from the armory to the Milwaukee Road train station in Janesville where they boarded special cars that had been added to the Marquette to Chicago train. One was a flatcar with the company’s two tanks on it. At some point, the train cars were uncoupled from the train and switched onto the Chicago & Northwestern line that went into Maywood, Illinois. There, the members of B Company boarded the train and their equipment – including their two tanks – was loaded onto the train. In Chicago, the train cars were switched onto the Illinois Central Railroad and taken to Ft. Knox arriving around 8:00 A.M. When they arrived, trucks were waiting at the station to take them to the fort. Their first housing were six men tents since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks that the tankers were ordered not to abuse.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. 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; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were 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.
It is known that some of the soldiers from Janesville went home for Christmas. It appears that Bob’s duties or training prevented him from going home.
1st Sgt. Dale Lawton – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. Men were picked for the company because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay.
A Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the A Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 50 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the Capt. Walter Write’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned. Although the barracks were finished, A Company shared D Company’s mess hall until the company’s mess hall opened.
The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the 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. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. In Bob’s case, he learned the necessary skills of a company clerk and became one of the clerks for A Company. It was his job to distribute the company’s mail each day.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. At first, A Company’s meals were served in D Company’s mess hall until heir mess hall was finished in December. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
It was also at this time that all the battalion had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the company. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the company in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
Capt Walter Write, during February, commanded a composite tank company made of men from all the companies of the battalion. The company left Ft. Knox on a problematic move at 9:00 A.M. The company consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water.
At noon, the column stopped for a short rest and a lunch that did not materialize. A guide had failed to stay at one of the crossings until the kitchen truck arrived there, so instead of turning into the woods, the truck went straight. After the break, Capt. Write ordered the men back to Ft. Knox without having been fed.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
Almost a year after arriving in Kentucky, his battalion, the 192nd Tank Battalion, was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through the 30th. It was after these maneuvers that Bob and the other members of the battalion received the surprise of their lives. Instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the entire battalion learned that they were being sent overseas for further training. Their time in the regular army had been extended from one to six years. Those men 29 or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion also got the 753rd’s tanks.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude – noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
A Company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and ferried. on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island]and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S. S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
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. Allen stated that the Louisville intercepted two Japanese freighters that were hauling 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. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. He recalled a Marine was checking off their names as they left the ship. 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, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in WWI tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – leftover beans from the 194th Tank Battalion – before he left to have his own dinner. If they had been a bit slower getting off the ship, they would have had a turkey dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
Their bivouac 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 from the engines – as they flew over- was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. They remained there off and on for several days. At all times, two crew members remained with the tanks.
Ten hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked, December 8 in the Philippines, the tankers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. At 8:30 AM, American planes took off and patrolled the skies. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots parked them in a straight line outside their mess hall.
At the same time, two tank crew members were allowed to go to a food truck to get meals for their tank crews. The tankers, who manning their tanks, watched as two formations of planes approached the airfield from the north. They counted the formations were made up of 54 planes. Many believed the planes were American until they saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. In Bob’s opinion, there was not very much left of use at Clark Field when the attack ended.
Being a clerk, Bob was not involved in action against the Japanese. But, Bob lived through the daily strafing and bombing by Japanese planes. He and the other soldiers would listen to Tokyo Rose on the radio. She told them to surrender and they would be treated well. She also told them that they would be sent home. By what she said, Bob was sure she knew of the food situation. By this time, they were eating anything that moved.
Everyday, “Photo Joe” would fly over in a Piper Cub. When Bob and the other men saw him, they would head for air raid trenches. They knew that it would be just a matter of time until they were hit by enemy planes. Bob believed that the reason the rear area was hit so hard and so often was that the Japanese were attempting to cut the supply lines.
In spite of how hopeless the situation seemed, Bob and the other soldiers always kept their hope that reinforcements were on the way. This was such a strong belief that American soldiers would climb trees to look for American ships.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
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 a left large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
On April 9, 1942, the word came down of the surrender. The tankers destroyed their tanks but remained at their bivouac. When the Japanese arrived the next day, they took whatever they wanted from the Prisoners of War. Afterward, A Company made its way down to Mariveles. There, they were searched again. Bob recalled that the Japanese took what they wanted from what the Americans still had.
It was at Mariveles that Bob and the other members of A Company began the death march. A Company was broken up into different groups. Some men finished the march in days, while others took weeks. Bob and the rest of the company marched up the eastern road. Bob attempted to keep his distance from the guards so he stayed in the center or front of the group.
The Filipino people attempted to help the Americans and dropped sugar cane off trucks as they passed them. When the column of men rushed one truck, the guards stopped them. The result was that no one received any food.
Bob also stated that the Japanese intentionally kept the prisoners from good water. They could take all the water they wanted from the ditches along the road. The problem was that floating in the water were the bodies of dead POWs. Those prisoners who refused to drink this water and attempted to get water from the artesian wells that flowed beside the road were bayoneted.
On the march, Bob was with PFC Carl Nickols. The two men had become best friends at Ft. Knox. During the march, Bob fell which was the first of the three times that he fell on the march. As he lay on the ground, he remembered what he had been taught by his high school football coach. His coach had told him what to do when he felt faint. Bob got up on his hands and knees and hung his head down. The blood flowed to his head which allowed him to get on his feet just as a guard was coming up to him to bayonet him.
The second time Bob fell he did the same thing again. Once again the trick of getting on all fours and dropping his head down saved his life. The third time Bob fell he could not get up, but this time Nickols fell with him. The Japanese had guards marching behind the column of prisoners. Their job was to bayonet the prisoners who had fallen out of the column. Bob recalled thinking that Jesus had fallen three times on his way to be crucified. The guard came up to Bob to bayonet him. To Bob’s surprise, the guard stuck his bayonet into the ground beside Bob’s head just inches from his nose. The guard did this so that the men could lie on the ground until they were strong enough to get up and go on again.
After Bob and Carl regained their strength, they rejoined the column of POWs. The two men came to an artesian well and took water from the well. As they were drinking, a truck loaded with Japanese soldiers pulled up to the well. The Japanese soldiers motioned to them to come to the truck. The Japanese soldiers handed their canteens to Bob and Carl and had them fill the canteens with water. When they returned the canteens, the Japanese gave them hard candy and the truck drove off.
Bob and Carl ate the candy. Bob said that it was the strangest thing that he ever experienced in his life since the sugar was like receiving a shot. Strength came into their bodies and both soldiers were able to complete the march.
Bob and Carl reached San Fernando. It was there that the two POWs were packed into boxcars with other men. The prisoners were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing. After disembarking from the cars, the POWs who survived the heat of the boxcars walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell.
When he arrived at the camp, Bob and the other prisoners were made to stand at attention and listen to a speech by the camp commandant. He told them that they would not be treated like guests of the emperor and that those who died on the march were the lucky ones. After the speech, they were shown their quarters.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added. In Bob’s own words, “Men would literally die of thirst.”
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic 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 ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
When Bob first arrived at the camp, twenty Americans died each day. This number was nothing when compared to the 150 Filipinos dying each day. In the coming weeks, the number of Americans dying rose to 50 a day, while the number of Filipinos dying rose to almost 500 a day.
During his time at Camp O’Donnell, Bob was selected by the Japanese to be on the burial detail. He and the other POWs would dig twelve-foot by twelve-foot holes that were four feet deep. Surrounded by death, Bob’s memories of home kept him going
While Bob was a prisoner in the camp, three men tried to escape. When they were recaptured, they were “crucified” at the front gate to the camp. Filipinos who passed them were required to hit them. Even the other POWs were expected to defecate on them as they went out on or returned from work details. After days of suffering the three men were loaded into a truck and shot.
Wanting to get out of Camp O’Donnell, Bob volunteered to go out on a work detail to rebuild bridges. Food was scarce on the detail, but each man received more food than if they were still in the camp. The food was mostly a watery rice soup with some greens. If a man became sick, his rations were caught in half. These men would almost always die because there was no medicine to treat their illnesses.
Since they were always hungry, the prisoners attempted to supplement their diets. One POW caught a rat and barbecued it. If he hadn’t known what it was, Bob probably would have eaten some of it. One night Bob smuggled a bag of rice to his fellow POWs. If he had been caught, he would have been killed by the Japanese.
The detail rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed during the withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula by the Filipino and American forces. The work was hard. One of the hardest jobs Bob had on the detail was driving pilings into the river banks. This the men did by hand.
While working with Bernard Fitzpatrick, of the 194th Tank Battalion, driving pilings, the two men were having a hard time using a Japanese saw and understanding the Japanese officer and interpreter. Fitzpatrick said to Bob, “I wish the bastards would use English.” In perfect English, they heard a voice say, “It would be much better, wouldn’t it.” The response came from Lieutenant Miyasato who the POWs liked.
On another occasion on the detail, Bob became friends with Sgt. Jim Bashlenben of B Company. One day, the two men were on their break having a cigarette. As they sat on the log a Japanese Naval Officer pulled up in a jeep. The Japanese officer got out of the jeep and sat down on the log. Bob asked Jim if they should offer the officer a cigarette. Jim told him no. Jim also said that if the officer wanted a cigarette he should smoke one of his own.
Right after Jim said this, the officer pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He looked at Bob and Jim and said in perfect English, ” If I were you, I’d be angry too. I returned to Japan to see my mother because she was dying. After she died, I tried to leave the country and couldn’t. I have a wife and son in the United States who I’ll probably never see again. I lived in the United States and know that the U. S. is going to win this war. When it’s over, I just hope that I’m alive.”
The officer got up and looked at Bob and Jim. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels. He threw the cigarettes to the POWs and said, “Smoke something good.” With that, he got back into the jeep and drove away.
It was while Bob was on the work detail, that his parents received a message in the War Department in late May or early June.
Dear Mrs. E. Stewart:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Corporal Robert J. Stewart, 20,453,289, 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”
When this detail ended, Bob was sent to Cabanatuan which was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1. Many things about the camp were similar to Camp O’Donnell, but the one improvement was the availability of water. It was at this camp that the Japanese began to use the POWs as slave labor for their war effort.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital 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.
It was in July 1942, that his parents a second message from the War Department:
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Cpl. Robert J. Stewart 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.”
Medical records from the camp hospital show that Bob was hospitalized on April 21, 1943. The records do not indicate why he was hospitalized or when he was released from the hospital.
In September 1943, Bob was selected to go out on a work detail to Las Pinas. On this detail, the POWs built runways for an airfield with picks and shovels. Bob remained on the detail until July 1944, when he was sent to Cabanatuan. One reason he was transferred was that the Japanese considered him too ill to continue working. He remained at Cabanatuan until he was sent to Bilibid Prison August 17, 1944.
It was while he was working on this detail that his family received another message from the War Department on December 1, 1943, stating that he was officially listed as a prisoner of the Japanese government. This was the first news about him that they had received since he became a POW.
Bob remained at Bilibid until August 23 or 24, when he and the other prisoners received physicals to determine if they were healthy enough to go to Japan or another occupied country. On August 25, 1944, Bob was boarded onto the hell ship the Noto Maru which was carrying POWs to Japan. He and 1,033 POWs were packed into the ship’s hold which was forty feet long by forty feet wide. The men were placed shoulder to shoulder and back to back so they could not move. As the hatch was closed, the Japanese guard said in perfect English, “Make yourself comfortable.”
The ship sailed, as part of a four-ship convoy, on the 27th but dropped anchor off Bataan. On its trip to Formosa, depth charges were dropped since American submarines were believed to be in the area of the ships. The ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30. The convoy sailed again on August 30th and arrived at Moji, Japan, September 4.
During the trip to Japan, the POWs were packed into the ship’s hold so tightly that they could not use the half barrel that was supposed to be the toilet. The floor of the hold was covered in human waste since most of the men were suffering from dysentery. The smell got so bad that the Japanese covered the hatch of the hold. The POWs received water twice a day and were fed once a day.
The Japanese finally decided that the only way to deal with the smell coming from the hold was to bring the POWs on deck and wash them down with seawater. They also washed down the floor of the hold at the same time.
As the ship made its way to Japan men died of sickness and starvation. With each death, there was more room in the ship’s hold. The bodies of the dead were hosted out of the hold by ropes and dumped in the sea. The suction of the ship’s propellers pulled the bodies into them and resulted in the bodies being cut up.
The POWs disembarked the ship, formed detachments of 100 men, marched to the train station, and rode a train which stopped at towns near the POW camps. Bob was sent to Sendai #6, which was also known as Hanawa, where 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi and under company supervision. The camp was approximately 200 feet wide by 350 feet long and had a 12-foot high wooden fence around it and was located at 4,000 feet. The POWs were housed in wooden barracks, with 30-foot ceilings, and two tiers of bunks, against each long wall, with straw matting and a mattress stuffed with straw for sleeping. They also had a 4″ by 4″ by 8″ block of wood for a pillow.
The floors of the barracks were packed dirt with a center aisle. There were covered walkways, without sides, that connected the barracks. To heat the barracks, there was a small potbelly stove. If they were lucky, the Japanese gave them enough wood for an hour’s heat. The POWs – who worked in the foundry – stole coal knowing that if they were caught they would be beaten. The barracks were not insulated and the heavy snow – which was as deep as 10 feet – served as insulation.
Other buildings in the camp were two buildings that served as a hospital for the POWs and an “L” shaped building that was the kitchen and POW bath. The latrines were three low buildings, and there was one building that served as the camp office. The POWs spent several days setting up the camp.
In the camp, 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi Mining Company and worked under company supervision. The POWs woke up at 5 A.M. and ate breakfast which was a small bowl of rice, barley or millet, and a bowl of watery soup. Meals for the POWs were brought to the barracks, in buckets, and the POWs ate at tables in the barracks. After breakfast, at 5:30, roll call was taken and the POWs and the POWs left the camp. They arrived at the mine at 7 A.M., had a half-hour lunch, and worked until 5:00 P.M. before returning to camp, usually after dark, and had supper. Afterward, they went to bed.
The clothing issued to the POWs was a combination of Japanese clothing, made of thin cloth and shoes, and captured American clothing. For the winter the POWs received a uniform made of burlap and long socks. Those who needed shoes were issued Japanese canvas shoes with webbing between two toes. They also received grass shoe covers so they could get through the snow.
Work details were set up for POWs who were machinists, electricians, mechanics. Those who did not have these skills were assigned to working at a foundry or mining. The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi. Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine. To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them. It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
Each detail had a “honcho” who was employed by Mitsubishi and supervised the POWs. They carried a large stick which they used on the POWs when they felt they were not working hard enough. The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult.
Each miner received a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men was never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding.
Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
Mitsubishi expected the Japanese Army to supply a certain number of POWs to work in the mine each day so men too sick to work were sent to work. The sick had to be carried between two healthier POWs to the mine. Since the Japanese found that the sick were too ill to work, the company came up with work for them to do in the camp like making nails or rope. If a POW still could not work, his rations were cut in half.
While working in the mine from November 1944 until August 15, 1945, the POWs were abused by the civilian foreman, Hichiro Tsuchiya, who was known to the POWs as “Patches.” Tsuchiya used any excuse to abuse the POWs. He was known to hit the POWs for no reason in their faces and to also use a wooden club or pickaxe handle. He also used a sledgehammer to hit the POWs on their heads. His parents received a postcard from him in January 1945.
In the camp, the Japanese withheld the Red Cross packages from the POWs and took the canned meats, canned fruit, canned milk, and cheese for themselves. Blankets and clothing intended for the POWs were used by the guards. If a POW violated a rule, the grain ration, for all the POWs, was reduced by 20 percent. At one point, 49 POWs were lined up – because one POW had broken a rule – and beaten with leather belts.
It was at this camp that Bob contracted wet beriberi. He recalled that his arm was so full of fluid that he could see through the skin. His condition worsened until he was sent to a hospital. The hospital he was in was known among the POWs as a place where the Japanese performed experiments on American POWs.
It was also at this hospital that Bob saw his first B-29. One day the sky was perfectly blue, Bob saw a large plane being attacked by three Japanese Zeros. The first Zero was hit and a black trail of smoke came out of the plane. He next saw a flash of light, and the second Zero disintegrated. With this, the last Japanese plane took off in the opposite direction.
After seeing this, Bob told the other prisoners that he believed that they would be home by Thanksgiving. Within a matter of months, his statement became a reality with Japan’s surrender.
On August 16, the POWs noticed all the guards were gone and only the camp commander who told them to paint the letters “POW” on the roofs of all the buildings so any planes flying over would know they were there. They were told the war was over on August 20 by the camp commandant in his broken English.
“Peace, peace comes to the world again. It is a great pleasure to me, to say nothing to you, to announce it for all of you now. The Japanese Empire acknowledges the terms of the suspension of hostilities given by the American Government even these two Nations do not still reach the best agreement of a truce. As a true friend from now, I am going to do my best in the future for the convenience of your life in this camp because of having been able to get friendly relations between them, and also the Japanese Government has decided her own Nations policy for your Nation.
“Therefore I hope you will keep as comfortable a daily life by the orders of your own officers from today, while you are here. All of you will surely get much gladness in returning to your lovely country. At the same one of my wishes for you is this: Your health and happiness calls upon you and your life henceforth and they will grow up happier and better than before by the honor of your country.
“In order to guard your life I have been endeavoring my ability, therefore you will please cooperate with me in any way more than usual, I hope.
“I close this statement in letting you know again how peace, the peace has already come.”
It should be noted that nowhere in his speech did the camp commander say that Japan had surrendered.
An American Naval plane flew over the camp on August 27. The pilot dropped a note to the POWs and told them to paint one stripe on the roof of a barrack if they needed medicine, two stripes if they needed food, and three stripes if they needed clothing. The POWs painted one stripe on one barrack, two stripes on another barrack, and three stripes on a third barrack.
When the plane returned. he dropped another note saying that there was no way for him to drop everything, so B -29s would have to drop the supplies. The POWs had no idea what the pilot was talking about. When the B-29s appeared over the camp, the POWs had never seen anything so large in the sky. The POWs received so much food and clothing that they shared it with the Japanese civilians who had been kind to them
On August 28, 29, and September 1, food was dropped near the camp by American planes. The Japanese civilians helped the POWs carry it into the camps. A great number of the former POWs gorged themselves on the food and became sick, but no one became seriously ill. The only thing the civilians were interested in was the silk from the parachutes so that they could make clothing.
A jeep with American Military Police arrived on September 2, 1945. The MPs patrolled the camp and kept the former POWs from leaving until arrangements were made to move the men. On September 13, the prisoners were sent to Yokohama by train, where they boarded the American hospital ship the U.S.S. Rescue on the 14 and received medical examinations. The date also became his official date of liberation. He was next boarded onto the U.S.S. San Juan and taken to Okinawa. There, the POWs were transferred to the U.S.S. Haskell and taken to Manila arriving there on September 25. He was malnourished and had been returned to the Philippines to be “fattened up.”
His family received a message from the War Department after he was liberated:
Mr. & Mrs. Robert J. Stewart Sr.: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Cpl. Robert J. Stewart Jr. was returned to military control Sept. 14 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
E. F. Witsell
Acting Adjutant General of the Army
He remained in the Philippines for a month before he was declared healthy, he returned to the United States on the Dutch ship, S.S. Klipfontein, which sailed from Manila on October 9, 1945, and arrived at Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1945. There, he was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington, and later returned to Janesville. He was discharged, from the army, on May 19, 1946.
In November 1948, he began working for the post office as a temporary mail carrier. In March 1949, he began working as a temporary clerk and in 1951 became a full-time clerk working at night. On November 11, 1950, Bob married Dorothy Jones-Briese in Madison, Wisconsin, and on November 26, 1951, he fulfilled a dream he had while a POW when he started working as a rural mail carrier. In 1956 he won the first federal efficiency certificate from the Post Office for suggesting that instead of having a one long mail sorting case that the post office put wings on the case so that the carrier only needs to turn to sort his mail.
Bob resided in Janesville for the rest of his life, and he and his wife raised three children, Katherine, Gary, and Sandra. On June 6, 1999, Dorothy passed away.
Robert J. Stewart passed away on January 27, 2003. He is remembered as a kind man who treated people the way he wanted them to treat others. He was buried next to his wife at Milton Lawns Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin.