PFC Martin Litton Wasserman was born on June 15, 1918, to Lewis Wasserman & 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. After the maneuvers at Camp Polk, Louisiana, he learned the battalion was being sent overseas.
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. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, 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. 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 – 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 the 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.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Martin and the other medics heard the news about Pearl Harbor. As they worked, American planes flew overhead. Around 11:30 in the morning, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 11:45 A. M., more planes appeared over Clark Field. Only when bombs began exploding did Martin and the other medics know that the planes were Japanese.
Being that the medical detachment was in the battalion’s bivouac, the soldiers took cover. After the attack, Martin and the other medics watched as anything that could carry the wounded was in use. Most of those wounded were missing arms and legs. When the hospital filled, the wounded were put on the ground around the building.
The medics worked to prepare their equipment for use since the tanks were going to be sent out to protect strategic positions. On December 21, the battalion, minus A Company, was ordered north toward Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops. From this point on, Martin treated the ailments and wounds of the members of B Company.
During the Battle of Bataan, Martin did his best to give first aid to the wounded members of the various companies of the battalion. 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 of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had been laying 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.
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.
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.