Lt. Col. Theodore Francis Wickord was born on August 2, 1907, in Chicago, to Peter H. Wickord & Julia Nevecerel-Wickord. He married Marie Falisiewicz and with his wife lived at 1839 South 7th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. The couple became the parents of two sons. He was employed as a Field Engineer by the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois, in its operating department, which supplied gas and electric power to the Chicago area.
Wickord started his military career in the Citizens Military Training Corps in 1924 and 1925. He next joined the 33rd Infantry in Chicago and remained with the unit from 1926 to 1927. On June 9, 1927, he joined the Illinois National Guard’s tank company in Maywood, Illinois, and held the rank of private until April 14, 1931, when he was promoted to corporal. He was promoted to sergeant on August 18, 1933, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on April 14, 1936, until he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 3, 1937. From February to May 1940, he attended tank school at Ft. Benning, Georgia. On November 7, 1940, he was promoted to captain and became the commanding officer of 33rd Tank Company when they were called to federal service on November 25, 1940.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was federalized as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. One group of 17 soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27 at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox. the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip one of the main topics was were they going live in tents or barracks. They reached the base late in the day on Thursday and were housed in barracks for the night. The next night they were moved to tents.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28th. From their armory, the soldiers marched west on Madison Street to Fifth Avenue, in Maywood, and then north to the Chicago & Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. In Chicago, the train switched onto the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad which took them to Ft. Knox. Once at the fort they were met by Army trucks at the station which took them to the fort where they reunited with the men who drove. The soldiers lived in six-man tents which had stoves for heat since they were assigned to a newly opened area of the fort and their barracks were not finished.
The soldiers 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.
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. While at Ft. Knox, he trained as a tank driver and assigned to a tank crew.
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.
When Headquarters Company was formed, in January 1941, with soldiers from the letter companies of the 192nd Tank Battalion, Capt. Theodore Wickord became the Executive Officer of the battalion. In early September, the battalion traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers. After the maneuvers, they remained behind instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was at this time, officers of the battalion, too old for their rank, were released from federal service. This included the battalion’s commanding officer.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The command of the battalion was offered to Capt. Walter Write of Janesville, Wisconsin, who turned the command down to remain with A Company. As a captain, Wickord assumed the command of the 192nd Tank Battalion as it prepared for duty in the Philippine Islands. He was also promoted to major.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island, where they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those who did not pass the physicals were transferred out of the unit, or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd 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 11. 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.
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 Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were greeted by General Edward P. King who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He remained with the battalion until every member had had Thanksgiving dinner. Afterward, he went to have his own.
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Major Wickord lived through the attack on Clark Field. Having heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, his tanks had been deployed around the perimeter of the airfield. This was done to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers to capture the field.
When the planes approached the airfield, Wickord took his camera, that he had bought so that he could film his time in the Philippines, and filmed the planes. He stood like the other men in awe of the planes. It was only when he saw the bombs falling from the planes, through the magnification of the camera lens, that the spell was broken. He threw the camera down and ordered his men into action.
Sometime around December 21, Wickord was promoted to Lt. Colonel. On that day, he was given orders to send a platoon of tanks north to the Lingayen Gulf. As it turned out, the tanks he sent were from B Company his original company of Illinois National Guardsmen. It was at this time while he was riding on the back of his tank, that a tree branch knocked him from the tank. The result was he suffered a back injury that would bother him the entire time he was a Prisoner of War.
Under Lt. Col. Wickord’s command, 13 tanks of the 192nd were deployed as the rear guard of the North Luzon Force as it retreated into the Bataan Peninsula. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The tankers fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able to find a crossing over the river.
During the withdrawal into the peninsula, Wickord crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown. He wanted to see if all Allied forces had crossed the bridge. On the other side of the bridge, he discovered a company of his tanks parked along the road. The crews were asleep inside the tanks. The company was awakened and became the last American unit to enter Bataan.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank had left the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank to go around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks because of the rotting in their tracks.
For five days, during the Battle of the Anyasan Pocket, American tank forces had attempted to recover a tank as salvage. It was during this battle that Lt. Col. Wickord, personally led an effort to recover a tank.
On February 6, while under heavy fire, Lt Col. Wickord took his own command tank into combat to tow out the disabled tank. The crew of the tank had been killed and the tank was being used by the Japanese as a hostile strong point. Lt. Col. Wickord’s actions inspired the supporting tank maintenance and tank troops to make the salvage possible. For his actions on this day, Lt. Col. Wickord received the Silver Star for gallantry in action.
On April 8, at 6:30 P.M., Wickord received this message from General Weaver the commander of the Provisional Tank Group: “You will make plans, to be communicated to tank company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word CRASH, all tanks, and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios, reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as possible thereafter.”
The tankers received the order at 6:45 A.M. on April 9, and Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M. It was on this date that Lt. Col. Ted Wickord became a Prisoner of War. He was aware like the other members of the battalion that the Japanese had promised that the Americans would be loaded onto ships and sent to San Francisco. Smelling something rotten, he attempted to get his men taken to Manila. Unfortunately, when the trucks they were riding in stopped, they found themselves at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It was from there that Lt. Col. Ted Wickord began what was to become known as the “Bataan Death March” on April 11, 1942.
On the march, Lt. Col. Wickord witnessed the kindness and great courage that the Filipino people showed by throwing food to the starving POWs. The Filipinos would make balls out of rice and throw them to the marchers. The marchers had to catch the rice balls “just right” or they would disintegrate and the POWs would get nothing to eat.
Of the march, he said, “The heat was terrific. Pith helmets were selling for $50 and $100. The Japanese bayoneted and machine-gunned men who tried to get drinks out of the artesian wells in the area.”
It took Lt. Col. Wickord four days to complete the march and reach San Fernando. It was there that a Japanese officer told the American prisoners that all American cities had been blown off the face of the map. The officer would say, “Chicago – boom, boom! No more! Detroit -boom, boom! No more! “ One prisoner shouted, “Baloney!” The officer answered, “Baloney-boom, boom! No more!”
As a POW, Lt. Col. Wickord arrived at Camp O’Donnell on April 18. 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 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.
While at Camp O’Donnell, he was selected to be the American commanding officer of a work detail that was being sent out to rebuild bridges. He wrote down that detail left Camp O’Donnell on May 1st with 1000 POWs on it. Upon arriving in Calauan, the workgroup was divided into three details of 250 men or more. Two details would build bridges while the other detail would work at a sawmill providing lumber.
Lt. Col. Wickord filled as many of the worker positions on this detail with men of his own battalion to get them out of the Camp O’Donnell. Since at this time, as many as fifty men a day were dying in the camp, it was his hope that doing this would save some of their lives. On the detail, he was also given the authority to decide which prisoners were strong enough to work that day and which ones were not strong enough to work.
While in command of this detail, one POW assigned to the sawmill detail escaped during the night. Because of this, Lt. Col. Wickord was informed by the ranking Japanese officer that he was being sent to the sawmill to witness the execution of ten prisoners because the one POW had escaped.
The American commanding officer of the sawmill detail was told by the ranking Japanese officer that he had to select ten prisoners for execution. The officer first considered a lottery to select who would die, but later decided that the five men who had slept nearest to the escapee’s left or right would be executed. No matter what decision the officer made, he could not win.
The morning of the execution all the POWs were silent. Finally, one of those selected to be executed asked the American commanding officer if there was some way he could stop the execution. The officer simply said, “No.” Another of the chosen men simply said, “I guess I’ll never see Denver again.” Still another of the “selected” POWs was the brother of another POW on the detail. Even though other POWs offered to take his place, the Japanese would not allow the switch. The prisoners were offered blindfolds but refused them. They were lined up next to their grave and shot.
After the execution, Lt. Col. Wickord was shown the grave and told that he had to tell his men what had been done because one POW had escaped. He was told to inform his men that if they attempted to escape the same thing would be done to them.
As it turned out, a prisoner on the bridge detail attempted to escape. The man-made a break and ran down the main road in Calauan before being stopped by a guard. The Filipino doctor who provided medical treatment to the Americans convinced the Japanese that the POW was mentally ill and could not be held accountable for his actions. By doing this, the doctor saved the lives of the ten other prisoners. The POW who had tried to escape was returned to the main camp.
After the bridge building was completed at Calauan, the POWs were sent further south to Batangas. Again, the prisoners rebuilt a bridge that had been destroyed. There the Sisters of the Good Shepherd invited twelve POWs for a dinner. The Japanese commanding officer gave his permission and allowed Lt. Col. Wickord to pick the twelve men. Lt. Col. Wickord picked six Catholic and six Protestant POWs who were the most emaciated. The thirteen men were allowed to attend this meal with only one guard.
Wickord stated that one day while on the detail, someone found a tube of Colgate toothpaste. The toothpaste was the start of a meal that Wickord said, “didn’t taste bad at all.” They filled a bowl with about a half-inch of water grated in some orange peels they had found and then squeezed in the toothpaste. The toothpaste gave the mixture a peppermint taste.
Again the prisoners were moved to build another bridge. This time they were moved north to Candelaria. The prisoners slept in an old coconut mill which was surrounded by fencing. Again, the Filipino people showed their courage by aiding the prisoners. Twice a week two Filipinos would bring bread and food to the POWs to supplement their diet.
While working on the detail, Wickord told of a Japanese guard who was somewhat decent to the POWs. The guard told Wickord he could go to the PX and get himself unsweetened gelatin. Wickord knew from having it before that it had no taste, but it would provide him with some nourishment.
When Wickord had eaten it, he thought of the other fourteen men he was working with and bought fourteen packs of cigarettes and took them to the men. The guard that sold him the cigarettes at the PX reported him to his commanding officer. Another guard asked Wickord if he had purchased the cigarettes. When Wickord stated he had, he was taken to the commandant’s office and questioned. The Japanese were angry because he had bought so many cigarettes. Wickord was marched out of the office by three guards, two with fixed bayonets. The three guards led him to a wall and beat him unconscious with their fists.
The guard who was relatively nice to the POWs came up to Wickord, the next day, and offered him a little doll that was dressed like his sister had been at her wedding. The guard was extremely upset about the beating.
Sometime in May or in early June, his wife received a message from the War Department on his status:
“Dear Mrs. Wickord:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Lt. Col. Theodore F. Wickord, O&,345,291, 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 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”
His wife received a second message from the War Department during July 1942. This 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, Lt. Col. Theodore F. Wickord 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.”
When this detail was completed, he was sent to Cabanatuan. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, they received bread.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 buildings that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks.
The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
On November 1, 1942, the Japanese drew 1500 POW names of men who were being sent to Japan. When the names were drawn, the POWs had no idea what was happening. Many came to the conclusion on their own that they were being sent to Japan. At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with, which was a small issue of rice and what the Japanese termed “a large piece of meat.” The large piece of meat was two inches square and large next to a piece of meat they usually received at a meal.
After they arrived at the barrio, a Japanese officer lectured the POWs before they boarded train cars. 98 POWs were put into each car which allowed them to position themselves so they could move around. They remained on the train all day and arrived at Manila at 5:00 P.M. After they disembarked, they were marched to Pier 7 where they spent the night sleeping on a concrete floor in a building.
The POWs boarded the Nagato Maru at 5:00 P.M. on November 6. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold which the Japanese believed could hold 600 men without a problem. In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 600 men. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 550 and 560. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All the holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner. With him, were Capt. Ruben Schwass, Lt. Richard Danca, Lt. Tom Savage and Lt. Ben Morin, and Sgt. Jack Griswold.
He stated that there were 600 POWs in the forward hold and 400 in the rear hold. The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts. The Nagato Maru sailed on November 7, 1942.
The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was at the on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line.
For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had stepped on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Formosa the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18. During this part of the trip, the POWs felt the explosions from depth charges.
The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship. As they disembarked, each POW received a chip of red or black colored wood. The color of the wood determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused, showered, and issued new uniforms.
By ferry, the POWs were taken to Himoneski, Honshu, where they were loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There, the prisoners were divided into two groups according to the color of the wood they had. Wickord was sent to Tanagawa Camp arriving there on November 27, 1942.
The POWs arrived at night and were housed in five flimsy barracks that were unheated and had dirt floors. The POWs slept on two sets of platforms along the perimeter of each barracks. To reach the upper bunks the POWs used ladders. Each POW received five blankets made of peanut shell fiber and a pillow stuffed with rice husks.
In the camp they POWs, regardless of rank, were used to construct a dry dock for Japanese submarines in violation of the Geneva Convention. To do this, the POWs tore down the side of a mountain. To do this, the POWs worked in groups known as “sections.” If the section did not reach its quota, the POWs were beaten. The reason most could not meet the set quotas was that they were weak and hungry from lack of food.
The Red Cross boxes sent to the camp for the POWs were misappropriated by the Japanese. They took a great portion of the food from the boxes and were seen walking around the camp eating American chocolate and smoking American cigarettes. Empty cans from American meats, fruit, and cheese were seen by the POWs in the Japanese garbage.
Corporal punishment was common in the camp and done for the slightest reason or for no reason and was a daily event. One guard in the camp, Tsunesuke Tsuda, beat the POWs the most because he wanted to break their spirit and humble them. Most of the beatings took place in the morning or evening muster while the POWs were at attention. During this time, the POWs were punched, slapped, clubbed, kicked, hit with shoes and belts, and even furniture was used on the POWs as they stood at attention from 2 to 2½ hours. Some POWs were hit in the throat which resulted in their not being able to speak for a week. He beat the POWs so severely and often, that he was required to sign a statement not to beat the POWs under penalty of death.
No real reason was needed for the beatings, but a violation of some camp rule usually was the given reason. If a workgroup of POWs did not remove their quota a material from the worksite, they received a beating. Usually, the reason they failed to meet the quota was the POWs were too hungry and weak to meet the quota. While being beaten, the POWs were forced to hold a heavy log or rock above their heads.
At some point, Wickord was one of 150 officers who left Tanagawa and sent to Umeda Camp where he remained from 1 April 1943 until 11 August 1943. In the camp, he was the highest-ranking American officer and made frequent demands for better food, medical treatment, and clothing for the POWs. It appears he may have been repeatedly beaten for doing this and later nominated for the Bronze Star.
His wife received notification that he was a POW, and she also received this letter.
406 Oak Street
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your husband, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Lt. Col Theodore F. Wikord, U.S. Army
Interned in Japan
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”
It appears in August 1943, he was sent by rail to the Island of Shikoku to a camp at Zentsuji. The camp was used in Japanese propaganda to show how well the POWs were being treated. In all, there were 700 officers and enlisted men in the camp, and he met American officers who were not captured in the Philippines, as well as, British and Australian officers.
In the camp, two guards were known for their mistreatment of the POWs. One was called “Leatherwrist” and the other was known as “Clubfist,” since both the right hands of both men had been injured. The two hit the POWs, but since their right hands were of little use, they usually knocked them to the ground and kicked them with their hobnail boots. In addition, POWs were often beaten for no apparent reason with kendo sticks, bayonets, and rifle butts.
At night the POWs read books by the light of a 15 watt light bulb that hung high above their heads. After reading for hours, the POWs no longer felt hungry. This allowed them to fall asleep even though fleas and rats were crawling over them.
It was while he was a POW in Japan that his wife received a telegram that he was a POW.
“Report just received through International Red Cross states that your husband Lt. Col. Theodore F. Wickord is a Prisoner of War of the Japanese government in Japan Letter of information follows from the Provost Marshall General=
Ulio The Adjutant General=
Wickord was one of the officers selected to go to another camp. The POWs were boarded into boxcars and baggage cars, but by this point in the war, American planes roamed the skies over Japan at will. During the trip, on several occasions, the Japanese uncoupled the engine from the cars and left the cars sitting on the rails as a target, when they believed the train was going to be strafed. The POWs made it safely to their new camp.
The final camp Wickord was held at was Rokuroshi which opened on June 25, 1945, and was located next to the great Zen temple about twenty miles northeast of Ono. The POWs worked as stevedores at rail yards and a port. When the areas around a train station and the train yards were bombed, the Japanese locked the POWs in the baggage and boxcars and took shelter in air raid shelters.
Of his time in the camps, he recalled, “We certainly had some odd concoctions in the way of ‘food.’ We had rice for every meal, regardless of what camp we were in; once in a while, we were given some ‘vegetable’ soup. The soup had the roots of weeds, leaves of sweet potatoes, horse bones, and sometimes cucumbers in it. Afterward, the meatless bones would be carefully saved and used a few more times. Finally, they would be raffled, and the lucky winner could then break open the bones and scrape out the marrow to eat.”
In June, the POWs managed to smuggle a newspaper into the camp and read that Okinawa had fallen to the advancing American forces. Wickord remained a prisoner at Rokuroshi until he was liberated on September 7, 1945, and the next day they boarded a train to Yokohama. There, the former POWs were greeted by an American band playing the song, “California, Here I Come.” Many of the POWs became overwhelmed by their emotions. They were taken down to the docks where a meal of hotcakes, jam, butter, and coffee was waiting for them. The men were returned to the Philippine Islands.
A telegram was sent to his wife which stated:
“Mrs. Marie Wickord: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your husband, Lt. Col. Theodore F. Wickord was returned to military control Sept. 5 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
He returned to the Philippines on the U.S.S. Tryon, and after receiving medical treatment, he was sent home on the U.S.S.Storm King, which arrived at San Francisco on October 15, 1945. From there the former prisoners were taken to Letterman General Hospital for additional treatment. Wickord was promoted to the rank of colonel in September 1945 and returned to Maywood to his wife and two sons. He was discharged from the army on November 15, 1946.
After the war, Wickord returned to the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois and was associated with safety at work. On January 19, 1952, he was appointed safety supervisor for the Public Service Company, in charge of all the safety activities for the company’s five divisions covering 11,000 square miles in the northern part of Illinois. When the company was split up into several utility companies, he became an employee of Commonwealth Edison.
Theodore Wickord passed away on October 16, 1967, and after a funeral service at St. Eulalia’s Church in Maywood, he was buried at Saint Joseph Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.