Cecil R. Vandiver was born on August 5, 1919, the son of Susie Cumingo-Vandiver and Cecil O. Vandiver. He grew up in rural Mercer County, Kentucky, on Cornishville Road and attended Cloyd Grade School and Cornishville High School from which he dropped out during his sophomore year. He worked with his father on the family farm.
In 1939, Cecil joined the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg with his best friends Bland Moore and Claude and Willard Yeast. The friends joined to have fun, to see new things, to have adventures, but little did they know they were signing up to become part of history.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28th and its tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving four hours later at 4:30 P.M.
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.
The First Sergeant, Edwin Rue, – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed Hq Company. Many of the men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay. It was at that time that Cecil became a member of the company.
The new company was the largest company in the battalion and divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks that every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties. Men were also sent to specialty schools with training in areas like tank mechanic, radio, automotive mechanic, and small and large arms.
D Company moved into its barracks in December 1940. The barracks were adjacent to the Roosevelt Ridge Training Area. The men assigned to the Hq Company still lived with the D 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 company shared its mess hall with A Company until that company’s mess hall was finished.
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 captain’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.
The biggest problem facing the unit was the lack of equipment. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. The companies received new trucks and motorcycles in the Spring of 1941.
The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
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. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. All classes they attended were under the command of the 1st Armored Division.
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. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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.
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.
During his time at Ft. Knox, Cecil attended cooks school. Upon completion of the program, he was assigned to Headquarters Company, as a cook, when the company was formed in early 1941.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments 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. They received their rations from a food truck.
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.
On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company 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 included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments 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 through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
During the late summer of 1941, Cecil suffered a hernia and was hospitalized at Ft. Knox. It was at that time that the battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
Cecil joined the maneuvers several weeks after they had started. He and several other members of the battalion brought with them the remaining equipment of the battalion.
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks of the 753rd. The decision to send the battalion to the Philippines was made on August 15, 1941. Cecil returned to Harrodsburg to say his goodbyes. He also married.
Cecil and the other members of the 192nd were sent west by train to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. After boarding a ferry, the soldiers were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than go where you all are going.” Cecil believed he and the other men stayed on Angel Island for two days.
On Angel Island, the soldiers were inoculated for duty overseas. The reason given for the battalion going overseas was that they were going to take part in extended maneuvers. 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. The ship 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.
After sailing, Cecil recalled that mail call was held at the ship they were on passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. He got his letters and made his way to the railing. No sooner than he got to the railing that Cecil was seasick. After the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.
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, another transport, the S.S. 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. It was about November 11th that they arrived at Wake Island to pick up food and water and drop off B-17 ground crew personnel.
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. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 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 Colonel Edward P. King, 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 – which was stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own 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.
Cecil recalled that life at the fort was easy because there was little guard duty and everyday chores like making their beds and shining shoes were done by a Filipino boy. Things began to change as December came.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, Cecil and the other cooks were straightening up their equipment. 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. His 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. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
Cecil was working in the kitchen at that time. He and the other cooks had just finished preparing lunch and preparing to serve it. He recalled looking up and seeing a lot of planes approaching. Having heard the rumor that Clark Field was going to be reinforced he thought nothing about the planes approaching the airfield. He and the other men got up and began counting the planes.
It was at this time that bombs began falling from the planes. Cecil like the other men dove into a ditch. During the attack, Cecil stood up to see what was happening. He watched the trees exploding from the Japanese bullets. Capt. Havelock Nelson seeing Cecil standing up yelled at him to take cover.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the company kitchen was near the main road between the fort and airfield, Cecil watched as the dead, dying and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. He recalled that anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, he watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. The sight sickened him.
That night, there was one air-raid after another. Since they did not have any foxholes, Cecil and the other men used an old latrine pit for cover. Being that it was safer in the trench than in their tents, he and the other men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. The next morning the decision was made to move the company into a tree-covered area. Without knowing it, he had slept his last night on a cot or bed. From this point on, Cecil slept in a blanket on the ground.
For Cecil, the coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward the Bataan Peninsula. He recalled that once they were in Bataan they had water all around them on three sides and the Japanese blocking the only way out.
During this time, the soldiers were bombed and strafed. The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to where Cecil’s company kitchen. That night the sky was lit by the fire burning of the ammunition dumps.
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni 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 only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks. He also told them that from this point on, it was each man for himself. 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.”
On the morning of April 9, the company was supposed to join up with other troops and surrender together. Cecil and the other men took their ammunition and weapons and put them in piles in the last tank and half-track they had. They poured gasoline into the tank and the half-track and both were set on fire.
Two days after the official surrender, a Japanese officer and soldiers entered HQ Company’s bivouac. The Americans were ordered out onto the road that ran past their encampment. Once on the road, the Prisoners of War were ordered to kneel along the shoulders of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them took what they wanted from the Americans.
Remembering this event, he said, “The Japanese officer made his inspection, and then they took our jewelry and everything we had. They made us kneel in the hot sun with our hats off for half a day.”
Finally, the members of HQ Company made their way to Mariveles by truck. At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded into a field, and the Japanese soldiers had the POWs lined up for an inspection. The Japanese took the prisoners’ jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.
As the POWs sat in the sun, they began to notice a line of Japanese soldiers was forming across from them. The watched and realized that the Japanese were going to execute them. At that moment a Japanese officer got out of the car and ordered the soldiers to lower their guns. He climbed back into the car and drove off.
Cecil and the other POWs were ordered to move to a schoolyard where they were made to sit in the sun without food or water. The Japanese let them sit there most of the day before they were told to move. It was from Mariveles, late in the afternoon, that Cecil began what would later become known as the death march. With him on the march, was Bland Moore of D Company.
“Then the death march started, at a little town called Mariveles. We marched all night the first night. We marched on for days, it seemed endless. They would tell us food was at the next stop, but there wasn’t any. My mouth swelled up and my tongue burst open. When we came to water, the Japs would post guards around the water holes and wouldn’t let us have any.”
The first place that they were allowed to stop was near Japanese artillery. Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them. When they moved again they were given a five-minute break every hour. This was done so the Japanese could change guards and keep the POWs moving.
What made things worse was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells. It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells. This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.
Cecil recalled, “The Filipinos would try to help us. One woman tried to slip us some rice wrapped in a banana leaf. The Japs saw her and knocked her down. She was pregnant. They jumped up and down on top of her until she was dead.”
Other Filipinos believed that the POWs had money and attempted to sell rice to them. One of these vendors had rice in a sock. As Cecil passed him he grabbed the sock. The Filipino yelled at Cecil to give him his money. Cecil told the man that he did not have any which caused the man to pull a gun a Cecil. Cecil was so tired that he did not care if the Filipino shot him or not. Cecil looked at the man and told him to shoot.
At one point during the march, the POWs were stopped. The Japanese made the prisoners crowd together. After this was done, the POWs were told to lay down for the night. Since they were packed in so tightly, it was impossible for them to lay down. The next morning when Cecil and Bland got up, they discovered that the two men next two them had died during the night.
Of the event, he said, “It was a nightmare. I can’t remember the number of days we walked or anything. Every water hole was a scene of a lot of people killed because we were so thirsty that we would crowd on in regardless of the Japanese and they would bayonet us down.”
What little food Cecil and the other POWs got, consisted of burnt rice, tree bark, and green banana shoots. At one point Bland and Cecil got a hold of half a canteen full of burnt rice. Bland, Pvt. Earl Pratt and Cecil split the rice among them.
Cecil even saw a suicide while on the march. A major jumped off a bridge that they were crossing. Before he jumped, he said, “I can’t take it another step!” He leaped off the bridge and sank into the mud of the riverbed up to his shoulders.
At another point on the march, Cecil fell out under a large tree, because he felt that he could not take another step. Bland More and another Pvt. Earl Pratt, of HQ Company, carried Cecil between them so that the Japanese would not kill him. These two did this although they themselves were having a hard time walking. That night Bland gave Cecil some water and a half of a cigarette which seemed to revive him. The next day, Cecil was able to continue on the march alone.
Of this event, Cecil said, “I fell one day under a fig tree. Bland Moore and another boy from Oklahoma got me up, half dragged me between them until the Japs put us up for the night. It was plain hell. It was death every day, all around us. Each day the Japs would take some boys off; we’d hear a rifle shot and the boys wouldn’t come back.”
After several days, Cecil made it to San Fernando. Cecil was so sick at this point that he laid down in the bullpen they were put in. Bland Moore saw him and told him not to give up. When the order came to form 100 men detachments, Bland picked up Cecil and told him to go. The men were marched to the train station, there, the prisoners were crammed into wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights,” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly, that those who died could not fall to the floors. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and walked the last few miles 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 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 area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped 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.
Cecil recalled that once in the camp men began to come down with beriberi and dysentery. Conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as fifty men died each day. Cecil worked the burial detail. The bodies of the dead were placed in mass graves. Since the water table was high, the workers used poles to hold the bodies down so they could be covered with dirt.
One day, Cecil was working the detail when he recognized the man he was burying a friend from Harrodsburg, Edward G. Wills. Cecil did not want his friend to be buried in a mass grave and attempted to bury him alone. When the Japanese guard noticed what Cecil was doing, he pushed Cecil into the grave and had bodies thrown on top of him and began to have the POWs bury Cecil in the grave. Cecil made his way around the trench and found a spot where there was no Japanese guard and climbed out. The guard told Cecil that if he ever tried this again, he would be buried alive.
Each morning the POWs would return to the cemetery to dig graves for the men who had died during the night. When they got there, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them. The men would chase off the dogs, knock the arms and legs down, and rebury them.
To get out of the camp, Cecil volunteered to go out on the bridge building detail. He was held at Calumpit in a schoolhouse near the bridge the POWs were rebuilding. Their diet consisted of fish and rice. The POWs developed beriberi, malaria, and dysentery; those too ill to work were sent to Cabanatuan and replaced by other POWs. During his time on the detail, seventeen POWs died.
One of the good things about this detail was that the Filipinos attempted the help the POWs by slipping them food. While the POWs were building the bridge, they camped along the bank of the river. At night, the Filipinos would cross the river in their small boats. After the Japanese guards had passed, the Filipinos put one or two of the prisoners in the boat and have them lie down to hide in the bottom of the boat. The prisoners were taken across the river where they were fed. When they had finished, the POWs were brought back to the camp. Cecil credited the improvement in his health to the efforts of the Filipinos.
When the bridge was finished, Cecil and the other POWs were returned to Cabanatuan #1. They boarded trucks and were driving back to the camp. As they passed, a Filipino recognized them as being Americans. He stuck up his hand and had made a “V for Victory” sign with his fingers. The Japanese guards on the truck saw him do this and stopped the truck and chased him down. The guards laid his hand on the road and caught off his two fingers with a bayonet.
After arriving in at Cabanatuan, Cecil was put into the camp hospital on Thursday, July 1, 1942, suffering from dysentery. He remained in the hospital until he was discharged on July 10.
In late September 1942, Paul’s name appeared on a transfer list. 800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6 and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball. After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M. There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M. The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
From the train station, the men were marched to pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila. Some of the Filipinos flashed the “V” for victory sign as they made their war to the pier. The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M and was tired and hungry and was put in a warehouse on the pier. The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted. They also were allowed to wash.
Before boarding the ship on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs those on deck were better off. This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon. In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship. That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck. The first day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals – which equaled one American loaf of bread – the loaves were supposed to last two days, but most men ate them in one meal. The men did ration their water. The ship was at sea when two torpedoes fired at by an American submarine missed the ship. The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed. A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine. The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11. Since most were sick with something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The American doctors had no medicine to help the sick, and some were seen as benefiting off the sick. It was at this time that the POWs on the ship, from Mindanao, were moved to a second hold putting 500 POWs in each hold.
On October 14, foodstuffs were loaded onto the ship, and each POW got two candy bags of hardtack and one meal of rice and soup each day. The ship sailed on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but turned around at 3:30 P.M. arriving back at Takao at 10:30 P.M. It was believed the ship had turned around because American submarines were in the area.
While the ship set in the harbor, Cecil lost his eyesight because of the poor diet. Another American, from Indiana, had a tube of onions he had stolen from the ship’s galley. He gave some of the onions to Cecil, who, because of the vitamins in the onions, regained his sight.
The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Makou, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored until October 27 when it returned to Takao. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked foodstuffs were again loaded onto the ship.
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned. They were again put into the holds and the ship and remained there until the ship sailed on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Mako, Pescadores Islands. During this time the POWs were fed two meals a day of rice and soup. The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven-ship convoy. During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea. On November 3, three more POWs died. On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.
The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the 1400 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until November 8 and were issued fur-lined overcoats and new clothing. Those POWs who were too ill to continue the trip to Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan. Those who died were cremated and had their ashes placed in small white boxes that were sent to Mukden.
As they marched, the civilians in the town spit on them, hit them and made fun of the POWs. The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box that contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish. They were sent on a three-day train trip north to Mukden, Manchuria,
The camp he was taken to had been a college, but the buildings had been bombed out. The only thing left of them was the basements, which the Japanese had built roofs over so that they could serve as barracks for the prisoners.
Since the POWs had come from the Philippines, many of the men were unprepared for the weather. Many became ill and died from exposure during the first winter. An American who was a carpenter built boxes for the bodies, but the ground was so hard that the dead could not be buried until the spring. To solve this problem, the bodies were stored in a large warehouse near the camp.
At Mukden, each day, Cecil and the other prisoners marched three miles to work and back. They then spent the day unloading sacks of cement and coal. The job was tough enough, but when winter came the weather conditions made it worse. The POWs often worked for hours in temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero., so the men often grew beards to protect their faces from the cold.
The temperature was something that the prisoners had to deal with on a daily basis. According to Cecil, the Japanese gave the POWs only a bucket of coal. This bucket was supposed to heat an entire barracks and last one day and night. The POWs were so cold that they snuck out of the barracks at night to the warehouse where the dead were stored. They would take a corpse out of a box and put it in a box with another corpse. They would take the box and break it up so they could burn it to keep warm. Cecil recalled that if a POW was the first to wake up in the morning and looked down the aisle of the barracks, every man would have his blanket pulled over his head for warmth.
The Japanese decided that the POWs would be sent out to work in a factory in Mukden. The walk from the camp to the factory was three miles. The POWs marched to the factory every morning and marched back to the camp every night. Since the daily meal for the POWs consisted of rice and pickled grasshoppers, as they marched, if a cat, dog, or duck got caught in their ranks, one of the POWs would grab it and put it in his coat for supper.
Those men too ill to go to work were setting traps attempting to catch sparrows, dogs, or anything else they could eat. One day as Cecil returned to camp, he could not believe that he was smelling liver and onions cooking. It turned out that the men in the camp had found a wild onion patch near the camp and cooked them with a dog’s liver. It was one of the best meals that Cecil had.
One day, Cecil and Claude Yeast were at the front of the POWs as they walked to work. Cecil looked up and saw a big yellow dog trotting through the town with a little girl in its mouth. The poorer villagers could not afford to bury their dead, so they left them out for the animals to get. That was the last time he ate dog meat.
At the factory, the Japanese used the POWs to run lathes, drill presses, and other machinery. When the Japanese believed that the POWs were good enough, they put them to work making gun barrels. The POWs intentionally messed up and ruined the barrels and also dropped sand into the oiling holes of the machines. When the Japanese realized what they were doing, they responded by making them work outside stacking the lumber.
The factory they worked at had hogs that the Japanese said they were going to give to the prisoners for food once they were fat. Cecil’s friend, Claude Yeast from Harrodsburg, was put in charge of the hogs. Claude used lumber and built a little shack that looked like it was part of the hog house. He put a wall up to hide it from the Japanese. Claude used this room to eat what he was supposed to feed to the hogs. Cecil was lucky enough to have a chance to eat a meal of hot feed.
The Japanese could not understand why the hogs were not getting fat. When the time came to butcher them, the Japanese butchered the hogs and kept the meat for themselves. The prisoners cared less because they had eaten the feed in place of the hogs.
When the Japanese looked for contraband cigarettes, in the barracks, that had been bought from the Chinese workers in the factories, the POWs were forced out into the cold and snow, made to strip, and made to stand in the snow barefooted while the Japanese searched all 700 POWs.
Punishments were given for any infraction. Two POWs were knocked out and kicked in the ribs for violating a camp rule. At other times, the camp’s food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. They would also withhold Red Cross packages. On one occasion, Lt. Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with his shoes.
The Japanese began splitting the POWs up into smaller groups and sent them in groups of 100 to different factories. Some POWs worked in textile factories or in the steel mill. Cecil ended up working in the steel mill. Since the Japanese did not have enough masks, they made the POWs pour the molten steel without masks. It was at this time that Cecil got tuberculosis.
Just before the surrender, American planes bombed the main camp at Mukden. The reason this happened was the Japanese had intentionally set up three ammunition dumps that lined up with camp. Several Americans were killed in the air raid.
The first sign that the war was over was when Americans parachuted into the camp. After meeting with the camp commander, the announcement was made to the POWs that the war was over.
Finally, the terrible times came to an end when Cecil and the other prisoners were liberated. The prisoners had heard of the surrender, but the Japanese guards attempted to act like it never happened. One POW slipped around the guards and climbed over the camp wall and saw Russian tanks passing the camp. The POW could speak some Russian and Polish and was able to tell the Russians that behind the wall were POWs. The Russians turned one of the tanks and came through the camp’s gate. The tank stopped near the POWs and the crew disarmed the Japanese and gave the guns to the freed POWs.
The POWs stayed in their camp for three days before making their way back to the main camp where they were reunited with friends that they had not seen for some time. At the camp, food was dropped to the POWs by American planes. The first American food to be eaten by the men, in over three years, was canned peaches. They washed the peaches down with coffee.
Being ill, it was determined that Cecil would be flown from Mukden to Kunming, China, and next flown to the Philippine Islands. In the Philippines, Cecil was put into a rest camp where the Americans attempted to give him, and the other men, anything that they had not had in three years.
From the Philippines, Cecil returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dyckman. The ship sailed in September 1945 and arrived at San Francisco on October 16, 1945. He was taken to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco for further medical treatment. It was there that it was discovered that he had tuberculosis. Because of this condition, he was not discharged until July 18, 1946.
Cecil returned home to Kentucky and married Ruby Hawkins. The couple had two sons and a daughter. He spent the rest of his life in Harrodsburg and remained friends with Earl Pratt for the rest of his life.
Cecil Vandiver died on October 27, 1999, from leukemia, and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.