PFC Philip Burson Tripp was born in Minneapolis on November 9, 1915. He was one of two sons of Frank M. Tripp & Lydia R. Smith-Tripp. His family resided at 3857 Garfield Avenue in Minneapolis. Philip was inducted into the army on April 14, 1941, and assigned to HQ Company, 194th Tank Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington, as a radio operator. This was done to fill out the ranks of the company which had been created at Ft. Lewis. During his training, he was sent to radio school at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he qualified as a radio operator, which indicates that he was assigned to one of three tanks assigned to HQ Company.
On August 15, 1941, orders were issued from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, to the 194th, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during that summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island. The squadron continued their flight plan to Mariveles before returning to When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen. The next morning, when another squadron flew to the area, the buoys had been picked up and a fishing boat was seen heading toward shore. Since communication was poor between the Air Corps and Navy, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion was ordered to San Francisco, California, and arrived at 7:30 A.M. on September 4 and ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received physicals and inoculations. Those who had health issues were held back and replaced by other soldiers. They boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge and sailed to the Philippine Islands at 9:00 P.M. on September 8. The soldiers were quartered in the hold of the ship while the officers slept in wardrooms shared by four officers. At 7:00 A.M. on Saturday, September 13, the ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were allowed ashore but had to be on board the ship before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship was joined by, a heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer. On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon and the cruiser revved its engines up and took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time, the ship belonged to a friendly country. The ships arrived in Manila Bay on Friday, September 26, in the morning, but the soldiers did not disembark until 3:00 P.M. The battalion, minus its maintenance section, rode buses to Ft. Stotsenburg. The maintenance section and 17th Ordnance remained behind on the pier to unload the tanks and reattach the turrets which had been removed so that the tanks would fit in the ship’s hold.
The soldiers were greeted by Colonel Edward King who apologized to them that they had to live in tents. He made sure they were settled into their bivouac before he left.
The soldiers spent the next weeks cleaning their weapons of cosmoline. The guns were sealed in it to prevent them from rusting on the trip to the Philippines. At one point, the battalion went on a maneuver to Lingayen Gulf.
The first week of December 1941, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the airfield from paratroopers. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times.
In September 1941, the 194th was sent to San Francisco for transport to the Philippine Islands. Arriving in the Philippines the battalion was housed in tents since their barracks were unfinished. They were moved into barracks in November.
On December 8, 1941, Philip lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. On December 19, he sent home this message by cablegram: “All ok. Everything fine. Best of health. Chin up.” He also told them to tell the parents of Phil Brain and Bill McKeon that they were fine. For the next four months, he saw action in various engagements against the Japanese.
On March 5, 1942, Philip picked up a Japanese leaflet that was supposed to convince them to surrender. He sent it home to his father. In the letter he mailed home he told how the leaflet made the Filipinos furious because they knew the truth about how they would be treated by the Japanese. “They knew that Japanese allegations of friendship and protection were false from previous experiences. The native troops and civilians would fight on, even though conquered.” He also told his family he was well and gone through several battles without a scratch.
On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. In Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan Philip began what became known as the death march. Philip believed that he would have never survived the march had he known how brutal the 65 miles were going to be. He watched as men were shot and beaten. He felt that the Japanese purposely starved the POWs.
At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were crammed into small wooden boxcars for transport to Capas. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars. Philip and the other POWs made their way to Camp O’Donnell.
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.
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 medics – assigned to care for 50 sick POWs in the camp hospital – 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 in was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
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 POWs was completed on June 4.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
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.
On Tuesday, February 2, 1943, Philip was admitted to the camp’s hospital. No reason was recorded as to why he was admitted, and no date indicating when he was discharged was recorded. It should be mentioned that in May 1943, his parents learned that he was a POW. It was the first information on him in thirteen months. They later received two POW postcards from him dated May 6, 1944, and July 22, 1944.
It is known that in August 1944, Philip was selected to be sent to Japan. On August 25, he was boarded onto the Noto Maru which sailed, for Japan, on August 27, 1944. The ship spent the night in Subic Bay before sailing the next day. The ship stopped at Takao, Formosa, on August 30 and sailed for and arriving at Keelung, Formosa, the same day. It sailed again on August 31 and arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 4, 1944.
In Japan, he 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 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 were issued 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. 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. To meet the quota, 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.
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.
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 August 1945, the POWs lined up to go to work as usual. This time they were sent back to their quarters. The same thing happened repeatedly over the next few days. The POWs knew something had happened, but no one wanted to think that the war was over. Finally, a Japanese officer stood on a box and announced the Japanese Empire and the United States were no longer enemies. He also told them that the camp was theirs. This was the first time the POWs received news on how the war was going.
Not too long after this, B-29s appeared and dropped food to the prisoners. The Japanese townspeople helped the POWs carry the food to the camp. Since material for clothing was scarce, they were interested more in the silk from the parachutes for clothing than the food in the drums.
One day, a jeep with American soldiers appeared and the soldiers told the former POWs to sit tight until the railroad line had been repaired. After it was repaired, the prisoners took the train and then an LST to Yokohama. Philip then took a destroyer back to the Philippines. The reason for this was that the former POWs were in such poor physical shape that the American Military Command did not want them to be seen back home in this condition. In Philip’s case, he had gone from 165 pounds down to 87 pounds.
After being “fattened up” Philip was allowed to return home. He was discharged on April 17, 1946. Philip married, Shirley Henneman, on January 2, 1947. Two of his groomsmen were Sgt. William McKeon and Sgt. Philip Brian who were members of the 194th Tank Battalion. The couple became the parents of a son and daughter. He worked as an electrical contractor and was known for his love of food and his sense of humor.
Philip B. Tripp passed away on March 25, 1992, in Minneapolis and was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis in Section 15, Site 2479.