PFC Martin Litton Wasserman was born on June 15, 1918, to Lewis Wasserman and Fanny Litton-Wasserman. With his brother and sister, he grew up at 734 North Hamilton Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. He attended college for three years and worked as a janitor for the Chicago Public Schools. He was a student at the University of Chicago in 1940.
The Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, and he registered for the draft and named his father as his contact person. In April 1941, Martin was drafted into the U.S. Army and joined the 192nd Tank Battalion as a replacement after Headquarters Company was created in January 1941. Being from Illinois, he was originally assigned to B Company, but according to members of B Company, Martin was selected by Lt. Donald Hanes for training as a medic. It seems that Hanes noticed that Martin had a gift for giving medical aid.
He began his basic training which lasted for about three weeks before he was reassigned for medical training by the battalion’s doctors. The training was hands-on because the Army believed this was the best kind of training. Martin, PFC Charles Jensen, and PFC Curtis Massey were assigned to live in the B Company barracks.
Like the other members of the battalion, Martin took part in the Louisiana maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The battalion boarded trucks and went on maneuvers in Louisiana in late August 1941. Its tanks were sent to the maneuvers by train. During the maneuvers, the medical detachment treated, injuries, snakebites, and other ailments.
One of the major problems was snake bites. It appeared that every other man was bitten at some point by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snakebit kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.
There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm.
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.”
The maneuvers were described by some men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. Some felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot. The medics assigned to the tank companies traveled with the companies in the half-tracks.
During their training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought in a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret.
At night a number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
After the maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana, he learned the battalion was being sent overseas. Men who were married and those men 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service.
The reason the battalion was being sent overseas was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. 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. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen.
The next morning another squadron was sent to the area and found 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, no ship was in the area to intercept the boat. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island and given physicals and inoculations. The members of the medical detachment administered the physicals to the soldiers of the tank companies. Men with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other 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. 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.
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. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., 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 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
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 – a 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 ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. 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.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines 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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers. In the case of the medics, they received additional training in first aid.
On the morning of December 8, the officers of the tank battalions were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The tanks of the battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers. The medics remained behind. At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese planes bombed the airfield destroying the Army Air Force. John and the other medics treated the wounded. When the 192nd received its orders to move out, the medics went with.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. Capt. Alvin Poweleit and an unknown number of medics drove to the airfield to see if he could aid the wounded and dying. When they got there the hangers and barracks were destroyed and that the B-17s also were totally wrecked.
As they were doing this, Japanese fighters began strafing the airfield. To avoid being hit, They hid in a bomb crater. After the planes were gone, the medics treated Filipino Lavenderos – women who did laundry – and a number of houseboys. They also treated officers and enlisted men. They also saw the dead. Men with half their heads torn off, men with their intestines lying on the ground, and men with their backs blown out.
The battalion remained at the fort for the next few weeks. They lived through several more attacks including attacks on December 10 and 12. The second bombing destroyed the battalion’s barracks that were still being built by the Filipino contractor.
During this time, the medical detachment treated soldiers suffering from gonorrhea and syphilis. They also checked to make sure that the medics assigned to each tank company had what they needed. On the 20th, the soldiers had the chance to send telegrams home.
On December 21, B, C, and Hq Companies and the medical detachment were ordered to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing. During the trip they went through an area were the Philippine Scouts had fought the Japanese. The men remembered that body parts and discarded equipment were everywhere. When they arrived at the gulf, they counted 54 ships in the gulf and watched the troops landing. Since they were on a ridge, the tanks wanted to engage the Japanese. Instead, the battalion was ordered to withdraw. One platoon was sent north to engage the Japanese so that the Scouts could disengage. They did this without reconnaissance and the lead tank with the platoon’s commander was lost. The other tanks withdrew but were later damaged.
The medical detachment was at Sison on the 23rd and was shelled and bombed. The medics left their trucks and ambulances and took cover. The detachment did not get the order to withdraw and soon found itself behind enemy lines. They made their way south and drove through the barrio of Urdaneta. When they went through, the barrio was on fire.
On December 25, they were south of Rosales and set up their aid station. The medics also checked up on the different companies which at times included tank companies from the 194th. They remained there until the 27th when they moved to Santo Tomas. While there they were shelled and treated minor wounds. General Douglas MacArthur on December 28, ordered that medics should not carry guns. The officers and enlisted men of the medical detachment ignored the order.
The detachment was at San Isidro on December 28/29 and went through three hours of shelling. One tank was turned over by a shell and the crew was taken to the field hospital. The medics could see the tank crews were not doing well from a lack of sleep, poor diet, and constantly being on alert.
The detachment did not get the order to withdraw from the area on the 30, and although given the order to abandon their equipment they loaded up their equipment and made their south through Gapan. As they went through the barrio, there were Japanese in the streets who did not attempt to stop them. The medics were near San Fernando on the 31st and ordered to bivouac near Luog on January 1.
The medics were at Culis on January 4 where they treated many of the 194th Tank Battalion’s wounded. They were at kilometer 142 on January 12 and fell back to Pilar and Balanga on January 18. The medics had a hard time sleeping because of the fear of Japanese snipers. The next day they dropped back to Orion and dropped back to kilometer 147 the next day. They were at kilometer 218 on February 9. It was during this time that the detachment began treating many of the men who were running fevers and showing signs of malnourishment.
On February 11, they dropped back to kilometer 201. On the 24th they were near the Pantingan River. During this time, the medics used Japanese hand grenades to catch fish. Sickness was now as big as a threat to the soldiers as the Japanese.
During March things on Bataan were relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. Part of the reason why was because they were suffering from the same diseases as the Americans.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
Having brought in fresh troops from Singapore, on April 3, 1942, they launched an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At midnight an order came from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed.
About midnight, the tankers were informed an order would be given for them to destroy their equipment. The Americans began blowing up the ammunition dumps so that the ordinance could not be used by the Japanese. The soldiers heard a loud thud and flames shot into the sky. This was the ammunition dumps being blown up.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment.
At 6:45 A.M., the order “CRASH” was sent out and the tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
The medical detachment bivouacked in an area next to Hq Company, 192nd, on the west side of the Bataan Peninsula. Around 3:00 A. M. in the morning on April 9, 1942, Martin with the rest of the medical detachment was informed of the surrender. He and the other members of the detachment stayed in their bivouac area until 5:00 P. M., then they were ordered to Mariveles.
The members of the medical detachment boarded their trucks and began to drive to Mariveles. With Martin were medics, PFC Ardell Schei, and T/5 Paul Moser. Moser was the driver of the truck. The three men rode in the last truck of the convoy. On their way to Mariveles, the trucks were stopped by Japanese soldiers who took their watches.
The men continued on and ran into two Japanese soldiers who did not know what to do with them, so one went to get their commanding officer. While they waited, the remaining Japanese soldier began bragging to them how Japan had conquered the Philippines and would conquer Australia and the west coast of the United States.
When the Japanese commanding officer arrived, he had the Americans disembark from the trucks and go into an open field. They were now officially Prisoners of War. Martin and the other men remained in the field the remainder of the day and all of the next day. Sometime during the day, they received rice.
After dark, Martin and the other POWs were ordered to move. They were marched to Mariveles where they joined other American POWs. It was from Mariveles that Martin started what became known as the Bataan Death March. With him on the march was Ardell Schei.
Martin and the other medics remained together on the march. As they walked, they passed the bodies of Japanese soldiers who still had not been buried. At one point, their group was stopped and a Japanese soldier began going through their wallets. When he got to Martin, the soldier looked at the photo of Martin’s girlfriend and said to him, in perfect English, that she was “Hot-stuff.” The Japanese soldier told Martin and Ardell that he had gone to school at the University of Santa Clara in California, and had returned to Japan, where he was drafted into the army.
At San Fernando, Martin and the other members of the medical detachment were housed in a cockfight stadium. The next day, he boarded a boxcar. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing. At Capas, Martin disembarked the boxcar and walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell which 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 medic – of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the dead were moved to one area, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. 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. At the camp, Martin worked in the hospital attempting to make the lives of the sick and dying as comfortable as possible. Since the medics had no medicine, there was little that they could do for the men. Martin was next sent to Cabanatuan after the new camp opened.
In May 1942, his family received a letter from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. F. Wasserman:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private First Class Martin L. Wasserman, 36,016,335, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of 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 and 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.
In July 1942, his parents received a second message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private First Class Martin L. Wasserman 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.”
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 War Department released a list of names of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War on July 10, 1943. His parents were informed he was a POW weeks earlier.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE FIRST CLASS MARTIN L WASSERMANIS IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your brother, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“PFC Martin L. Wasserman, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau”
From medical records kept at Bilibid Prison, it is known that Martin was admitted to the hospital at the prison on August 30, 1943, suffering from dengue fever. This would seem to indicate that he had been sent to the prison from a work detail. The records also indicate that he was being held at the prison in Building 18 before being admitted to the hospital. No date of discharge was recorded, but the records show he was readmitted on September 2 suffering from dengue fever.
In early 1944, the Japanese decided that they needed to transfer doctors and medics to Japan to treat the sick POWs in Japan. Martin was sent to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. It was at this time that he was reunited with Donald Norris of the medical detachment. The two men were boarded on the Kenwa Maru on March 6, 1944. The ship sailed the same day and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on March 13. It sailed again on March 15 and arrived at Moji, Japan, on March 22.
In Japan, Martin and Donald Norris were separated when Martin was sent to Hakodate Main Camp. This camp was known as Bibai Machi. It is very likely that being a medic, Martin aided the sick POWs in the camp. While he was a prisoner, Martin kept a diary which became three volumes long and dealt with his life as a prisoner.
Red Cross medicines and medical supplies from the POWs that would have helped the sick were withheld from them. Each morning the medical parade took place at which the camp commander attended. Many POWs reported for sick call but were sent to work without ever receiving medical treatment. When a POW was obviously extremely ill, the Japanese doctors said, “I think you will die tonight,” but they would not treat the man. The doctors often said that they would kill more enemies at the prison camp than at the front.
POWs who had sores on them did not receive treatment because there were no new bandages or gauze available to treat them. The Allied medical staff washed used bandages to reuse them. To go to the washroom, the medical staff had to carry sick POWs to latrines in the cold even though some had pneumonia. The sick were put in small rooms with no stoves. Anyone on the sick list had his food ration cut.
Upon arrival in the cam, each POW received five blankets which were never cleaned again. The POWs also lived in barracks – which had four stoves – but were poorly heated because there wasn’t enough fuel to keep the barracks properly heated during the winter. One bucket of coal was issued for every two stoves. The huts were always overcrowded and housed 150 POWs each.
The barracks were divided into 12-foot by 9-foot rooms and six POWs lived in each room. The POWs slept on straw mats, on the floors, with each man having a 3-foot wide area to sleep in which spread colds and influenza. When it rained – which happened frequently in the winter – the rain poured through the roofs which meant the men were always wet. The barracks were also infested with lice.
There were no proper sanitation facilities which caused the spread of disease with most of the POWs suffering from scabies, dysentery, and diarrhea. No real treatment for these illnesses was ever provided by the Japanese which resulted in many of the deaths in the camp.
Food in the camp was poor and consisted of rice, which had grit in it, three times a day. As the war went on, the daily ration dropped from 400 grams a day to 200 grams. The POWs at times also got a few rotten potatoes, a little cabbage, some fish, and a small amount of salt during the last two years of the war. Those POWs who somehow managed to get extra food were beaten.
The POWs often went through the Japanese garbage for fish heads that they roasted and ate. Those POWs who were desperate attempted to trade clothing for food. The Japanese camp doctor withheld the food until it spoiled before issuing it to the POWs. If a stray dog or cat was caught, it was slaughtered and given to the POWs as food.
Red Cross clothing and shoes were in a warehouse and not issued to the POWs. The shoes issued to the POWs were made of straw and fell apart in the snow. According to post-war documents, the POWs received Red Cross packages on three occasions when they were brought to the camp. The camp commandant allowed Japanese personnel, military or civilian, to hit the POWs.
Martin remained at Bibai Machi until he was liberated by American troops in September 1945, and returned to the Philippines. On the U.S.S. Marine Shark, Marin returned to the United States, at Seattle, Washington, arriving there on November 1, 1945. Martin returned home to Chicago and married Shirley Bergman on May 3, 1948.
In July 1947, Martin and his brother opened a dry cleaning business at 226 West 47th Street in Chicago. It was one of thirteen cleaners that they owned. One day, Marie Washington, a woman who worked for the brothers at the store, told Martin that the man she was living with, Eddie Washington, had beaten her. While she was working, Eddie Washington entered the store and began slapping her. In an attempt to stop the abuse, Martin stepped between the man and woman. The two men got into a fight. Washington became so enraged he shot Martin with the gun he was carrying.
Martin L. Wasserman was shot in the heart and died, at the age of 30, on July 17, 1948. Eddie Washington was found guilty of his murder.