My Hitch In Hell - a sample chapter
This is one chapter from "My Hitch in Hell" (ISBN 0-02-881125-9) by Dr. Lester I. Tenney a survivor of the Bataan Death March as a POW during WW II.
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Chapter 4: The March
Knowing the war was over for us and that it was only a matter of time before we would become formal prisoners of the Japanese, caused emotions to run high the night of April 9th. Bob Martin, Jim Bashleban, Orrie T. Mulholland and I sat around our bunk area whispering about our concerns and what our families would think of us, when they found out we had surrendered.
I started to speak of Laura and all she meant to me. There was no doubt in my mind, I said, I would return home. I tried to explain how I was going to always make decisions, and what my first priority would be. I finally said, "You can do anything you set your mind on doing, you just have to set goals and priorities." My words must have had some meaning to these friends of mine, for all three came home.
The men who stayed together that night in our company bivouac area were abruptly awakened the following morning by loud voices speaking what was obviously Japanese. The Japs had come for us. They stormed our area carrying handguns and machine guns; they were ready for business. My knees began shaking, my hands felt cold and clammy and the sweat started to show on my neck and forehead. We were all scared beyond anything imaginable; what was going to happen now? Were we going to be shot? Was this what happens to soldiers that surrender? I began recalling some of the stories I had heard about how some of our men who were captured early in the war were treated. Then, as a terrifying afterthought, I realized that at that moment we were facing the same enemy who only days before we were killing. And of course if I knew that, so did the these fighting Japanese soldiers who were just now coming up the path to where we had been sleeping. Their mission, we were praying, was to take us prisoner.
The first Japanese soldier I came into contact with used sign language to ask if I had a cigarette. Fingers together, arm movement to the mouth, and a long suck-in of air made it easy to see what he was saying. Within seconds, dozens of Japanese soldiers came into our area, some asking politely for cigarettes, others pounding heads with bamboo sticks with the ends loaded with sand. These rough soldiers didn't ask for a thing, they just took whatever they wanted. They ransacked our bodies and our sleeping area. They were belligerent, loud and determined to act like the winners of a tough battle (which they were).
Once again we were frightened beyond imagination, scared of what was happening, fearful that whatever was going to happen was going to be worse. I had to tell the first Japanese soldier I didn't have any cigarettes. He smiled and then a second later hit me in the face with the butt of his gun. Blood spurted from my nose and from a deep gash on my cheekbone. He laughed and said something that made all of his buddies laugh, too. He walked away from me and went to the man on my right. Same sign language, but this time my buddy had cigarettes and offered him one. He took the whole pack and then he and his friends began beating my friend with rifle butts and cane-length pieces of bamboo, until he couldn't stand any longer. Then they left, laughing, laughing at the defeated and weak Americans. My God, what was next? I wondered how I would stand up to this type of punishment for a prolonged period. If we had known ahead of time just how we would be treated, and for how long, I think we would have fought to the last man, taking as many of the enemy with us as possible, rather than endure the torture, hunger, beatings and inhumane atrocities we were to undergo during the next three and a half years.
On the morning of April 10 we were marched to the main road, a distance of about a half a mile. During this short march, the Japanese soldiers hollered and continued to prod us with their bayonets to walk faster. Once at the main road, we waited for three hours, standing, sitting or resting any way we could, but talking was not allowed.
Down the road in the distance we saw a cloud of dust from which a group of walking-shuffling men emerged. When they passed our point we were told to join them and to start walking. For our group the Bataan Death March began at Km. Post #167, about two miles east of Mariveles. The Bataan march began at the barrio of Mariveles, at the tip of Bataan. This is where many of the American and Filipino soldiers had congregated, and where on the Bataan peninsula the Japanese made their main landing.
If only we had heeded General King's message to save enough of the vehicles for moving the forces to another location. If we hadn't destroyed our trucks, maybe we would have been able to begin our trek to prison camp riding, instead of walking. For some unknown reason, or just being in the right place at the right time, a few of the American prisoners ended up riding all the way to our first prison camp, Camp O'Donnell.
The road we marched on was about twenty feet wide and was constructed of rock covered with crushed stone, then a layer of finely crushed rock with a final coat of sand. The sand, when put down, was intended to make the road hard enough for small automobiles, Filipino carts pulled by carabao and of course people just walking. By the time the march started the road had already been over-used and the entire road was now nothing more than pot- holes, soft sand, rocks and loose gravel. Not only was this road used by all of our heavy trucks, but also our tanks and half-tracks whose metal and hard rubber tracks made the road a shambles for driving, yet alone for walking. Walking on this type of terrain for short distances would have been bad enough, but walking for any long distance or for any extended period of time was going to be a painful and difficult experience.
We didn't go very far before we found out what kind of treatment was in store for us. After the first shock of being taken prisoner wore off, we realized that the condition in which we were taken from our bivouac area was the way we were going to spend the balance of our march. Those who left without a canteen had no means of getting water, even if it was available. Those who left with no cap or headpiece walked in the broiling hot sun, with temperatures by midday well in the 100s, without any head protection, and they suffered the pain of stinging rain during those periods when it would pour down in buckets and the wind-blown dust made seeing difficult.
The Japanese guards began hollering, hollering at us in a language we didn't understand. And because we didn't respond to their commands as fast as they thought we should, they started beating us with sticks that they picked up from the side of the road. What they were trying to do was to get us to walk faster. Actually, to walk at a slow trot would be a better way to describe it. It made no difference to the guards that we couldn't understand what they were saying, they just continued repeating the same words over and over again. It was at this time that I began to realize that the soldiers that were our guards were not the brightest members of the Japanese army. In fact, I concluded they were most probably the poorest educated, and couldn't connect the fact that we didn't respond with our inability to understand what they were saying..
After four or five hours of this constant harassment and beating, of being forced to march in their poor physical condition, many of the men just couldn't go on any further without a rest. But rest was not on the minds of the guards--not allowed under any circumstances. One of the men in my group limped over to the side of the road and fell in the brush. Within seconds a guard came running over to the fallen man. Some of us passing our falling friend hollered as loud as we could, "Get up, get up." But it was too late. With bayonet aimed at my friend's body, and while screaming something in Japanese at the top of his voice, the guard proceeded to jab the bayonet into the prostrate body of the exhausted American soldier. After five or six jabs, the wounded man struggled up, blood trickling down the front of his shirt. He hobbled back into the line of marching prisoners--not the same group he dropped out of, but into a different group of prisoners who were marching by at that particular moment.
Hank survived, but not for long. That evening I was told by another friend of ours that Hank couldn't go on any further. He passed out while walking, fell to the road and was shot by one of the guards. I couldn't cry, it seemed I was all cried out, no tears left, just memories, memories of a fine young man who did nothing wrong, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing could be clearer, taking a rest while on the march was impossible. Not if you wanted to live. But what would you do when you had to defecate? Or urinate? How was this to be accomplished? We sadly found out. In order to live, one had to "do it," in his pants.
On the second day of the march, when we were stopped at the Cabcaben barrio, a Japanese soldier finished eating rice from his "bento" box (his mess kit) and from a can of fish he had just opened. He had about two spoonfuls of fish left in the can, and as he turned in my direction he looked me in the eye and pushed the can towards me. He must have seen a pitifully hungry-looking soldier, staring, not at him, but at his can of fish. I hadn't eaten in almost two days, I was hungry, tired and my spirit was broken. Without a moment's hesitation I took the can. Using a piece of tree bark I found on the side of the road, I scooped out just enough for a good taste. I then turned to my friend Bob Martin, took one look at his face as he sat there staring at me, and gave him the makeshift spoon and the can of fish. It seemed that from that moment on, Bob and I became close friends
Always happy-go-lucky, nothing seemed to ever bother Bob. Maybe nonchalant would better describe him. Although only five foot seven inches tall, he was a big man when it came to giving of himself, and nothing was ever too much to ask of Bob. His smiling face always made people feel warm and friendly, his brown hair and green eyes just added to his effervescent personality. Wearing his dress uniform hat or his fatigue cap, he always perched it jauntily on the back of his head; it was one of Bob's trademarks.
Watching Bob keeping up his own spirits while at the same time trying to make the rest of us on the march feel better made all of us realize that Bob Martin was someone special. We had many experiences together on the march, on the ship to Japan, in the coal mine and in Prisoner of War Camp #17 at Fukeoko, Japan, and lastly, leaving our Japanese POW camp on September 5, 1945 and traveling through Japan looking for the Americans. I am glad to be able to say he's alive and well today, and we still have a very close relationship.
Unfortunately for the men on the Bataan march, the Japanese plan for the evacuation of their captive prisoners was based on three assumptions, all of which proved to be without merit. The first assumption was that there were only between 25,000 and 35,000 military people on Bataan. The correct number may never be known. This is due to the large number of men killed the day before the surrender, and the large number of men who escaped into the jungle or attempted to reach Corregidor. In addition to the military, there were almost 25,000 Filipino civilians who also sought the shelter and expected safety of the Bataan Peninsula. Therefore, the number of people in Bataan at the time of the surrender was closer to 105,000. The number that actually started the infamous Bataan Death March has been estimated at 65,000 Filipino military, 28,000 civilians and 12,000 Americans. Considerably more than the Japanese had estimated.
The second assumption made by the Japanese was that the American forces were in good physical condition and capable of a sustained march without much food or water. The reality of this assumption was just the opposite. The men on Bataan had their rations cut to as few as 800 calories a day during the past forty-five days. The food that the men received consisted of rice and a very small spoonful of "C" rations, (an emergency military field ration of food intended to be used under combat conditions, consisting of specially prepared and packaged meats) augmented in some cases by a snake or a monkey or two, or possibly even an iguana. For all of the men on the front lines, there were only two meals a day. This starvation diet brought along with it scurvy, pellagra, beriberi and of course the lack of the ability to fight off the malaria bug or any other sickness. We were anything but ready to march, with or without water and food. Those of us able to walk should have been in the hospital, those in the hospital looked as if they were dead.
The third assumption by the Japanese was that all details of the evacuation of the prisoners was planned to perfection; that they knew what had to be done and how to do it. In fact, the Japanese soldiers didn't know what they were supposed to do. No sooner had one group of Japanese lined us up and told us to start walking than another group of Japanese told us to wait. All of these orders were issued in Japanese, and if we didn't respond immediately we would be hit, spat upon, shoved or in some cases shot for not obeying orders. Once again, it was obvious they wanted to "get even," wanted revenge, wanted to show us they were superior. And of course in some situations it was simply a matter of the guards being ignorant of the outside world, and thinking that everyone understood Japanese. They became irritated by our slowness to respond and our inability to understand their commands.
When the march began from Mariveles there was confusion everywhere. Cars, trucks, horses and field artillery filled the road, all going in different directions. The Japanese were moving all of their heavy equipment and guns into Bataan for the assault on the Corregidor. How to achieve total victory in the Philippines with all of the American service personnel in the way was a major problem to the Japanese. There was confusion everywhere, and it seemed that no specific officer was in charge, which made the task of control almost impossible.
It is interesting at this point to note that the men captured on Corregidor never made the Bataan Death March. Instead, after the fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942, the captives were taken by boat to Manila and from there trucked to Cabanatuan, the second prison camp in the Philippines. None of those from Corregidor had to suffer the cruelty and hardships of Camp O'Donnell. One of the significant differences between the prisoners from Bataan and those from Corregidor was their overall health condition.
The men from Bataan were half dead by the time they arrived at Camp O'Donnell. Without any hesitancy I can say that fully one hundred percent of the men who arrived at that first camp had at least one, and most of the men had two or three, of these health problems: malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, hunger, dehydration, pneumonia, beriberi or diphtheria. In addition, almost all of the men on the march were beaten and tortured beyond the body's normal endurance. Then of course there was the psychological damage suffered by all the men -- defeat, surrender, and helplessly watching their buddies being killed right in front of them, with nothing anyone could do to stop the slaughter, and always the real possibility that they would be next.
On the other hand, the prisoners from Corregidor ate well until the last days of fighting. Those who were not wounded during the fighting were in pretty good health. Malaria, which struck ninety-nine percent of those on Bataan, did only mild damage to those on Corregidor. The jungles of Bataan were known to have the heaviest infestation in the world of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
None of the assumptions made by the Japanese were realistic or based on knowledge. In the opinion of many, the assumptions, which were talked about at the end of the war at the War Crime Trials, were made to justify the treatment meted out to the men on the march. They had no way of knowing the real situation on Bataan, and they didn't really care. At their courts-martial many high ranking Japanese officers who served in the Philippines said about the same thing, "I didn't really know the situation or condition of the Americans and the Filipinos."
Actually, if you look at a map of the Philippine Islands and especially of Bataan, it is easy to see that had the Japanese just kept a small force of fighting men along the Pilar/Bagac line, we would have been our own prisoners of war, under our own command. In fact we often said "If they leave us alone now, we will be the first POWs with guns and ammunition, taking orders from our own officers."
As you see, there was no place for us to go. Going north we would come into contact with the enemy. South, east or west we end up in the water. If the Japanese had just left us alone we would have starved, and would eventually have been forced to surrender. This would have allowed the Japanese a two-month head start on their conquest of Australia and their dreams of conquering and ruling the entire Southeast Asia territory. The Japanese ego, however, insisted upon a clearly defined defeat of the American forces in the Philippines. They were then faced with the problems of dealing with almost 80,000 disorganized and diseased prisoners, as well as 25,000 civilians.
After the first few hours of marching, the men who had taken a few extra items with them started discarding them along the road. Some of the men carried a knapsack loaded with a variety of gear; toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream and razors, even blankets and pup tents were being carried. The road out of Bataan was strewn with a sampling of these various articles, thrown away at random after the first few miles.
I remember a Lieutenant from the 194th Tank Battalion, a man about twenty-eight years old, a good-looking fellow, clean-shaven, with blond wavy hair. He was a large man, and appeared to be very strong, he was about six feet tall who I guess before the war weighed at least 200 pounds, but who now weighed closer to 150. He was walking very slowly, carrying a large bundle -- first under his arms, then as we walked further, he placed the bundle over his shoulder. Then he tried walking with the bundle on his head. None of us knew what was in the bundle, but we assumed it was the usual type of gear any good soldier would take with him for emergency purposes.
Our group was walking a little faster than the Lieutenant, and as I got closer to him I saw his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, almost as if he didn't know where he was. As I passed him I asked if he needed any help; I got no answer, then, as I looked toward him again, I realized he was not walking, but was staggering, first to the left, then to the right. He was not going to make it, that I knew, and it was an awful feeling not being able to help someone who was obviously in need of help, and was going to die. If any of us stopped, we would have had to accept whatever punishment the guard near us felt appropriate.
As the march continued he fell further and further back, hardly able to walk. We tried to persuade him to throw away unnecessary items, for his pack was too heavy a burden for him under these conditions. He refused, and after stumbling along for an additional few hundred feet, fell to the ground. The Japanese guard who was overseeing our marching group stopped and looked at the fallen figure. He yelled something in Japanese and without a moment's hesitation, shoved his bayonet into the chest of the young officer. Then with a mighty scream the guard yelled in Japanese what we interpreted to mean, "Get up." Of course it was too late -- the bayonet finished the job the march started, and another good United States soldier died in the service of his country. I couldn't help but think, "There but for the grace of God go I," and as I witnessed one after another of these atrocities I became more and more convinced that what was going to happen to me was, to a great extent, going to be up to me.
We were walking forward while looking backwards at the sickening scene. There he lay, in the middle of the road. Within minutes we heard the rumble of trucks coming down the road, they were moving some of their fighting men in position against Corregidor. Making no attempt to avoid the fallen body, they ran over our dead friend, leaving only the mangled remains of what once was a human being. No sympathy, no concern for us as humans, no burial, they were treating us like animals. We had no doubt as to how we would be treated as prisoners of war.
We thought that the first few hours of captivity would normally be the most dangerous, but the horrors we were witnessing were occurring many days after the surrender. For the Japanese, their sweet taste of victory should have overshadowed the bitter taste associated with their strenuous fighting on Bataan. It was obvious to us that the Japanese soldiers were committing acts of revenge. Many of them had witnessed the death of close friends only days before, and they wanted to get even with those who killed their comrades. Emotions ran high during the battle, and now the emotional feelings of victory, coupled with the vengeful feeling associated with close physical contact with their enemy, made many of the Japanese soldiers barbarians. The warrior philosophy associated with the tradition of the Bushido code was reawakened when the victorious Japanese achieved the surrender of the forces on Bataan. All Japanese soldiers were indoctrinated into the belief that surrender was the coward's way out, and a soldier who was captured was expected to commit "hari-kari," to kill themselves, at the first possible opportunity.
Our lack of understanding of the Japanese language, their customs and their military discipline contributed heavily to our casualties on the Bataan Death March. We were aware that many Japanese soldiers spoke a little English, but they wouldn't dare reveal this in front of their comrades, for fear of accusations of being pro-American. Of course I realized that there were far more Japanese who spoke English than there were Americans who spoke Japanese.
On the march the guards seemed to have most of their fun with prisoners who seemed to be weak. Later, in prison camps, the guards and civilian workers seemed to seek out for punishment those prisoners who appeared to be big and/or strong. Many times some of the Japanese guards would boast in English, "Americans are big but weak, Japanese are small but strong." They had a severe psychological hang-up about being small.
We had started our march in columns of fours, with about ten columns in a group. By the end of the first mile we were walking, not marching, and not in columns at all but as stragglers. What was at first an organized group of about forty men was now a mass of men walking or limping, as best they could. We had no idea as to our final destination -- many of us felt that death was where we were headed. It was just at this time that I decided if I were to survive it would be necessary to have a plan, a plan of survival. My first thought was I had to really believe, believe that I was going to survive and get home. It was necessary for me to set goals, goals that were attainable, like making it to that bend in the road, or to the herd of carabao in the distance. And of course I had to dream, it was the dream that kept me going.
After the first few days on the march, we had been stripped of just about everything we owned. After seeing the theft of my buddies' possessions, I placed my picture of Laura in my sock, on the side of the boot. She gave me inspiration for my dream, and I reasoned that without a dream, no dream could ever come true. I also knew that without a dream my resolve would weaken. And I didn't want the enemy to take away the very thing I was dreaming about, the reason why I had to live, to see my dream become a reality.
On the second day of the march I saw a Japanese truck coming down the road. In the back of the truck was a group of guards with long pieces of rope that they threw like whips out of the back of the truck towards the marching men. With these whip-like contraptions, they would try to hit any prisoner who wasn't marching fast enough. They snapped a rope at one of the marchers who was on the outside of the column, caught him around his neck, and then pulled him towards the back of the truck and dragged him for at least 100 yards down the road. The body just twisted and turned; he rolled this way and that way bumping along the gravel road until he was able to free himself from the whip. By then he looked like a side of beef. As he crawled on his hands and knees, and slowly raised his bleeding body off of the road, he screamed at them, "You bastards, I'll get even with you for this, I'll live and pee on your graves." In spite of his physical condition, the welled-up anger gave him new strength.
Under normal conditions, in the real world, there are only two possible courses of action open to us: either we can try to make our lives conform to our beliefs, or we can modify our beliefs to conform to our lives. Although true contentment may depend to a great deal on which path we choose, under the conditions I faced at the time, I quickly found that in order to survive emotionally and physically I had to choose a little of each. Therefore in order to survive I had to modify my beliefs to conform to what the Japanese wanted, while at the same time trying to make my life conform to my beliefs.
For example, if I were forced by the Japanese guards to assist in burying a man who might still be alive, I quickly realized that although abiding by the guards' commands did not conform to my beliefs, I still had to make my life conform to their beliefs in order to continue living. Had I insisted on conforming to my beliefs of not burying a man who may still be breathing, then I too would have been killed as were so many other prisoners, for disobeying a Japanese order. I rationalized that by altering my beliefs, I could increase my chances of being around later to help others. It is a blessing when you are able to be successful without compromising your moral sense, a blessing I had to forego in order to survive.
Being forced to go without water on the march was one of the most difficult and painful experiences I had ever encountered. Your stomach aches, your throat becomes raw and your arms and legs don't want to move. Words can't properly explain the mental and physical abuse your body takes when in need of liquid. By the third day, marching without food and water caused us to start day-dreaming about food and drinks we had consumed in the past.
Simple things like hamburgers covered with cheese and smothered with onions, milkshakes, or a beer or even a Coke, made our mouths water. Our minds played tricks on us, but eventually we came back to reality, we were hungry and thirsty and didn't know where or when our next meal or drink would come from. Still we were forced to push on, keep going, one foot in front of the other, making the movement that ended with our body going in the direction of our feet.
Although there were many free-flowing artesian wells located in and around Bataan the Japanese had no general consensus regarding giving water to the prisoners. Some of the guards would let a few men go to a well for water, but would deny others the same benefit. On one particular day our tongues were thick from the dust being created by the constantly passing trucks, and our throats were aching from the lack of liquid. We saw water flowing from an artesian well, and after a long hard look at the water being wasted, and the fact that there was no guard right at our side, a marching buddy, Frank and I ran towards the well to drink what we could, and fill our canteens for future use. We reached the well and started to swallow water as fast as we could, first I took some, then Frank took a turn, then I drank again, then Frank. We took turns until some other marchers saw us at the well.
Within just a few minutes another ten or fifteen prisoners were at the well waiting for water. At just that time a Japanese guard came over to the well and started to laugh at us. The first five of us drank, and when the sixth man began drinking the guard, for no reason, pushed his bayonet down into the man's neck and back. The American prisoner fell to his knees, started to gasp for breath, and then fell over on his face. He died without ever knowing what happened. Killed, murdered, slaughtered for no apparent reason, it makes no difference who or why, nor what word you use, the fact remains, the man is dead.
All of us who had obtained some water, as well as those who were waiting in line ran as fast as we could to get back into the marching line. Fear struck each of us, my heart was pounding like a jackhammer, my eyes had opened to twice their normal size, I couldn't help but think once again, "There but for the grace of God go I." Tears were running down my cheeks, after having watched as another human being was murdered, bayoneted in the prime of his life by a maniac who felt that killing was a game.
Then, about two hours later, we passed a carabao wallow, about fifty feet off the road. One look at the water and you could see it was not fit to drink; there was green scum floating on top and there were two carabaos in the water cooling themselves off. But when you are dying of thirst, you are ready to do anything for a drop of water. And not only were we thirsty, but many of us had malaria and were burning up with fever. In addition, most of the men on the march had a severe case dysentery; we felt that water was going to heal all of our problems. One of the men motioned to a nearby guard, and in sign language asked if he could get some of the water. The guard started to laugh and made a hand movement that indicated it was "OK."
It was only a matter of minutes before dozens of half-crazed men ran towards the carabao-occupied water. The men pushed the green scum away and started splashing water all over themselves, then they started drinking the infested water. Some thought that using a handkerchief to filter the filthy water was going to make it safer to drink. How foolish they were! Nothing could have filtered that dirty scum-laden, bacteria-infested water swarming with blow-flies, to make it fit for human consumption.
It seemed like only a few minutes went by before a Japanese officer came running up to the wallow and began hollering at the Americans in the water. Once again, none of us understood him, yet he continued to shout. He didn't use any sign language to indicate there was trouble, but the fellows in the water ran back into line to continue the march. Then the unbelievable happened. The officer, with a big broad smile on his face began prancing around the area where the Americans were, and he had the guards search our ranks for any man who had water-soaked clothes. He had the guards pick them out of our group of marching men and line them up on the side of the road. Then the officer ordered the guards to shoot all of those in the line.
What a horrible massacre! And those of us forced to watch had to stand by helplessly. We knew if we attempted to interfere with the orders of the Japanese officer we also would be shot. These past few horror-filled days helped me to evaluate my chance for survival. What would my priorities be? How would I deal with these overzealous conquerors of Bataan if they came for me? How would I be able to stay alive on what seemed to be a never-ending march to nowhere?
Hope is what kept most of the survivors alive on the death march. Hope that the starvation, the disease, the agonizing effort to put one foot in front of the other would end when we got to where we were going. Some of us heard rumors that we would be exchanged for Japanese prisoners, that we would be taken care of in an American hospital or in other U.S. facilities. Some hoped that our capture was a brief bad dream and that we would soon be on our way home. Those were the optimists. But everyone hoped at least for a destination where food and fresh water would revive us, where a shelter would protect us from the sweltering tropic sun and the stinging, slashing precipitation made up of rain and gritty sand.
The one thing that kept me going was my determination to "make it to that banana grove" or "mango tree" or whatever I could see down the road. I had to have a goal, a place to march to. Most of the time we walked without thinking of where we were going, head down, dejected. "We're real failures," I thought to myself, "but I must go on."
Many of the men on the march were just too weak and had too many sicknesses to continue. If they stopped on the side of the road to defecate, they would be beaten to within an inch of their lives, or killed. Of course, with the small amount of food we were getting, we didn't worry very much about having a bowel movement, except for those who had a bad case of dysentery, for they never knew when they would have to defecate.
On the fourth day of the march I was lucky enough to be walking with two of my tank buddies, Walter Cigoi and Bob Bronge. Cigoi looked like a typical southern Italian. He was over six feet tall, had jet black hair, a heavy beard that always seemed to need shaving, and a full head of wavy hair that made his strong, handsome, elongated face look sinister. His dark brown eyes were sunken a little, almost as if he had just awakened, but those brown eyes seemed to be dancing from left to right, then back to the left again. Wally was very soft-spoken, never raising his voice, even if irritated or angry. From the day of the surrender, he was notably on edge about what was taking place.
Bronge, on the other hand looked like he was from the northern part of Italy. Blond hair, bright blue eyes and a firm, strong wiry body, he had a voice so loud you could hear him a block away. The life of the party, Bronge always had something funny to say and was liked by everyone; he was included in all get-togethers. Bronge stood just short of six feet, and was built like a bear with strong arms and a barrel chest that portrayed power. Everyone in Company "B" liked Bronge and Cigoi, they were known throughout the entire Battalion as the "Meat Ball Twins."
I was walking with Bronge and Cigoi when a Japanese officer came riding by on horseback. He was waving his Samurai sword from side to side, apparently trying to cut off the head of anyone he was able to connect with. I was on the outside of the road when he came by, and although I ducked the main thrust of the sword, I was hit with the end of the blade on my left shoulder, missing my head and neck by inches but leaving a large gash that had to have stitches if I were to continue on this march, and continue living.
As the Japanese officer rode off, Bronge and Cigoi called for a medic to fall back to our position. When the medic arrived he began sewing up the cut with thread (that was all he had with him), and for the next two miles or so my two friends carried me so that I wouldn't have to fall out of line. We all knew that falling out of line meant certain death. Cigoi and Bronge saved my life; I only wish I could have saved theirs. Military records show that Bronge died in Cabanatuan Prison Camp on July 31, 1942 of dysentery, and Cigoi died of the same disease in Formosa November 3, 1942. It was very difficult for me upon coming home and seeing both my friends' families and having to answer questions about how their sons acted as soldiers, and how they died. The emotional meetings with their parents have left an indelible mark on my mind and heart that I'll never be able to erase.
Each day on the march we trudged along like zombies. We walked from six-thirty in the morning till eight or nine at night. Most of the days we would get a few minutes rest when they changed guards, otherwise it was hit and miss regarding a rest period. The guards were always fresh, they only walked for about three miles and then they changed with fresh troops for the next three or four miles. This constant changing of the guards kept us always on edge -- not knowing what the new group would want us to do, or not want us to do. Not only that, but the new guards were always gung-ho about making a mark for themselves with their fellow soldiers and of course, the officers. In addition, they were well-rested and were able to walk at a faster pace than we were. This made for a feeling of fearful apprehension every hour of the march. In addition, I made sure that I never again walked on the outside of the column of marching men.
Due to the poor road condition caused by both the weather and the constant movement of Japanese troops and their vehicles into Bataan, our poor physical condition, the lack of food and water, and our over-all defeatist attitude we were able to walk only about a mile, or two at the most, for every hour on the march. Add to this the constant screaming and the beatings by the Japanese guards, and you can see why we were merely trudging along the road at a snail's pace. I would wonder where they were taking us. If they were going to kill us, why not do it now where we could be buried along the side of the road and no one would ever know the difference. Walking with a destination in mind would have been much easier. If the Japanese had told us "Walk for seventy miles then you rest," or, "We are taking you to prison camp so you can work for us," it would have been better than walking for what appeared to be eternity.
Once again, we hadn't had a taste of food in days, and we were nearly going out of our minds from thirst. We were all slowly becoming completely dehydrated, and we realized what this would lead to. The Japanese, we were told, planned on feeding us once we arrived in the town of Balanga, but this was thirty-five miles from where we were taken prisoner. Under normal conditions, and with a well-rested, properly trained and adequately fed army, a march of this distance could be made in about nineteen hours. But we were not in the condition necessary for a march of this type, or any type. First, it was a "forced" march, second, we had been on a 800-calorie starvation diet the past two months, and third, we had been fiercely fighting for four months against overwhelming odds. We were tired, worn out and in need of prolonged rest and medical attention. And lastly, the heat of the day seemed to suck any energy we had left.
As we at last entered the town of Balanga, where Filipino civilians were standing along the sides of the road, throwing various food items to us. Rice cakes, animal sugar cakes, small pieces of fried chicken and pieces of sugar cane. At that moment, the sugar cane was more important to us than any other item being thrown. By peeling the bark off with our teeth, and chewing the pulp, we were able to obtain enough liquid to satisfy our need for water, while at the same time receiving the energy and nourishment found in the natural sugar of the cane. This lifted our sunken spirits to a new high.
But then we heard shots ring out from what appeared to be right in the middle of our marching group. Within seconds, the people along the side of the road scattered in all directions, for the Japanese soldiers were shooting at them for offering food to the prisoners. Two of the Filipinos started to run across the field, heading for a water hole. Three of the guards turned, aimed at the running Filipinos, and fired round after round in the general direction of the running men. The Japanese guards weren't very good marksman, so they just continued firing until the two men fell to the ground. The guards then ran over to the fallen men and began hollering and kicking them, first in their backs, then directly in their heads. Suddenly the Japanese guards fired several shots at point-blank range into the men's prostrate bodies, further confirmation of the fact that these soldiers were nothing more than barbarians.
The guards watching over our marching group, made us stop and watch the proceedings that I just described. Watching this made me feel woozy, I almost started to vomit, but there was nothing in my stomach to come up, so I just stood there with my eyes fixed in the direction of the slaughter. Then I tried to wipe away the scene from my mind as fast as I could. I knew what was happening, I didn't have to watch it any longer. It was another indelible memory that would stay with me forever. Once again, a blink of the eye, and more innocent people were slain by the conquering Japanese.
While the shooting and hollering was going on the Filipino civilians were running to get as far away as possible. Many of the Filipino prisoners who were on the march with us broke away and ran with their countrymen. Their goal was to enter their own barrio, change clothes, and become just another civilian. Because it was starting to get dark, the escapees had a good chance of succeeding.
We continued marching into the center of town, and when nighttime finally came we were herded into a large warehouse-type building. About 75 feet wide by about 160 feet long, the building was used for storing grain, rice, sugar and all other types of agricultural products. Those who could not find room inside the building were herded back outside into a large open area. I ended up inside the building. When the inside of the warehouse was filled to capacity, the guards pushed and shoved another couple of hundred men inside. We were so tightly packed together that many of us sprawled on each other. When one of us had to urinate, he just did it in his pants, knowing that the following day the heat from the sun would dry them out. Those who had to defecate found their way back to one of the corners of the building and did it there. The human waste covering the floor that night, from those who had dysentery, was the cause of many others contracting this killing disease.
The stench, the sounds of dying men, the whines and groans of those too sick to make the move to the back of the building, became so unbearable that I put small pieces of cloth into my ears in a feeble attempt to drown out some of the sounds. Nothing could be done about the smell. The air inside became putrid from the odors that accompanied the abnormal body functions associated with dysentery and the urine-soaked clothes the men were wearing. The Japanese guards, also unable to deal with the horrible smell, closed the doors to the warehouse, put a padlock on them, and kept guard from outside.
Getting accustomed after a few hours to both the noise and the smell, I allowed my mind to drift away from this nightmare and back home to Laura. I started to think, was she aware of what was happening? How was she standing up to the news of our capture? Or did she think I was killed? Did she think I was a coward? Did she still love me and want me as much as I wanted her?
After I pondered all these questions I began day-dreaming about our life together. Oh I thought, when would this nightmare come to an end? Then sometime in the middle of the night, I shook my head, got rid of the cobwebs, and began facing reality.
The following morning when the guards unlocked the doors, we staggered to the door of the warehouse totally dazed by the events of the past hours. We exited the dark and dreary warehouse with the quickness of ascared animals. We had to get away from the smell of death that permeated the air around us. That morning, at least twenty-five men did not come out under their own power; they were carried out and thrown in the field behind the building. I was mesmerized by what I had seen, all I could do was cry, and say to myself, "Oh God, please have mercy on their poor souls," I felt they deserved more than being left to the elements. Would it have been so hard to have allowed some of us to bury those poor men who died so miserably during the night?
In the courtyard of the warehouse we saw a group of Japanese guards milling around. Within minutes we were herded to where the guards were standing. There, to our surprise, in the center of all this activity we found three large kitchen pots, each containing rice. Those without a mess kit received one ball of rice, about three inches in diameter. Those with a mess kit were given one large scoop of rice, equivalent to the ball of rice given the other men. At the far end of the field another group of guards were rationing out hot tea. A man who had no container would borrow a friend's canteen or cup just long enough to obtain his ration of this most welcome liquid.
The food, although sparse, was welcome after the hunger of these last four days, and we were told how lucky we were that the Japanese provided so much food and tea for us. As soon as we received our ration, we were ordered back on the road leading out of Balanga. The Japanese guards began laughing at us, and their grins and acknowledging nods made it obvious that they were having fun taking advantage of us. We were pushed back into a marching column heading north. The march, it was obvious, was going to continue. But where to, and when would it end?
On many nights the Japanese guards would just stop the marchers and yell for them to sleep right on the road -- rocky, dirty, dusty, strewn with items discarded by the marchers, and of course reeking with human waste. However after the ordeal in the warehouse, I would take the outside as my first choice even though on those nights the guards would roam around at all hours and prod some, kick some and generally would not allow more than a few minutes of uninterrupted rest.
During the first four days of the march not only did we have to contend with the physical abuse but we had to endure the constant psychological torture that was always sapping our strength. And of course the lack of food and water didn't make things any better. There were times during this ordeal that we suffered the pangs of loneliness.
When I was ten years old I was sent off to camp, and that first night I cried myself to sleep because I was so lonely, and had lost the sense of security I had while at home. Now, many years later and 10,000 miles from home, I was feeling the same pangs of loneliness I had as a child. During the grueling, lonely hours of marching down that long road, my thoughts often turned to my past happy home life, and to Laura. For what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only four days, I kept saying, "This is a bad dream, it can't be for real." When my spirits were low, I would think of Laura being there to comfort me and to tell me everything would be all right. My family gave me hope, my friends showed me compassion, and my loved ones gave me the warmth and understanding I needed.
We were always ready for a good rumor, like "When we reach Balanga we will be taken by ship to Manila and then traded for Japanese prisoners. We'll be home soon," or "We'll be fed as soon as we get to the next barrio." We lived on these rumors for the entire twelve days of the march, in spite of the persistent evidence to the contrary.
On the fifth day of the march, I witnessed one of the most sadistic and inhuman incidents on the entire march, and I did witness some of the worst. We had just stopped for a brief rest while waiting for another group to catch up with us. When the other group finally arrived the guard ordered us up and we were told to start walking. One of the men had a very bad case of malaria, he had just barely made it to the rest area. He was burning up with fever, and severely disoriented. When ordered to stand up he couldn't. Without a minute's hesitation the guard hit him over the head with the butt of his gun, knocked him down to the ground, and then called for two near-by prisoners to start digging a hole to bury the fallen prisoner. The two men started digging, and when the hole was about a foot deep the guard ordered the two men to place the sick man in the hole and bury him alive. The two men shook their heads, they couldn't do that.
So, once again without warning -- without any effort to settle the problem any other way -- the guard shot the bigger of the two, and then pulled two more men from the line and ordered them to dig another hole to bury the second fallen man. The Japanese guard got his point across. Two holes were dug and the two bodies placed in the holes and dirt thrown over them. The first man, still alive, started screaming as the dirt was thrown on him. A group of about five or six of us witnessed this slaughter of innocent, unarmed men. As for me, I turned away and hid my face in my hands so that the Japanese wouldn't see me throw up. It was one of many experiences I'll never forget, one that made me sick for days. I asked myself over and over again, "Is this what I'm staying alive for? To be executed tomorrow or the next day, or the next? How will I be able to continue to endure these cruelties?" The strength of my resolve was once again going to be challenged. After wiping away the tears and the aftermath of vomit, with my eyes focused along the winding road in front of us, I began seeking another landmark to use as my objective. I had to have a goal; I had to go on.
The Japanese soldiers were well disciplined and they obeyed orders from their officers without question. Wouldn't you think the officers would have known the Japanese Army Regulations as they pertained to the handling of prisoners of war? These regulations can be found in Japanese Army Instruction Number 22, issued in February 1904. Chapter 1, Article 2 states:
"Prisoners of war shall be treated with a spirit of goodwill and shall never be subjected to cruelties or humiliation."
The Japanese guards in the Philippines did not adhere in any way to those written instructions of their Emperor. In fact, the Japanese interpreters told us on more than one occasion, "You are lower than dogs -- you will eat only when we choose to feed you, you will rest only when we want you to rest, we will beat you any time a guard feels the need to teach you a lesson."
These Japanese Army Regulations were not adhered to at any time; not on the march, nor in any of our prison camps, nor on any of the work details. Obviously these regulations were just words, not intended to be taken seriously, only intended to influence world support and to show that the Japanese were "humane and caring" people. We found out the hard way that the Japanese guards were inhumane and non-caring people. They seemed to revel in watching men being tortured, on the mistaken belief that they were superior and could do anything they wanted.
Immediately after witnessing the execution-style burial, my mind turned to the positive side for survival. What, I wondered, must I do to overcome the negative feeling I got when I was forced to witness these brutalities? Or for that matter, the very march itself. What can I do to better prepare myself for survival?
I realized that the first thing I had to do was become determined, to have a conviction of what I can do. Secondly, I had to have a positive attitude, I had to realize that I could do anything they wanted me to do. Then, I quickly understood the importance of having the "smarts," knowing when to do, or not do, certain things, such as when to walk faster and to become a part of another column of men. When to walk with determination, head high, shoulders back, chest out. This posture would give me a feeling of righteousness, and the guards didn't harass or belittle the men who looked healthy and in control of themselves.
We walked for several more days and often right into the night as well. Only twice were we offered food and water, and then very little of each. The four or five mile march from the town of Lubao became another nightmare. We didn't know why we were being hurried the way we were -- the guards yelled more, and louder, than ever before. We prisoners were subjected to constant hitting, pushing and prodding every few minutes by a different guard.
At one point on this section of the march, we were ordered to "double time," run, and try to keep up with a fresh group of guards. As we passed a group of Japanese soldiers, our guards ordered us to stop. When we looked over to where the group of soldiers were, we saw an American soldier, kneeling in front of a Japanese officer. The officer had his Samurai sword out of the scabbard, and he was prancing around the other soldiers, showing off his skills in moving around the kneeling American, swinging his sword in every direction. Up went the blade, then with great artistry, and a loud "Banzai," the officer brought the blade down. The sound of a dull thud, and the American was decapitated. The officer then kicked the body of the American soldier over into the field, and all of the Japanese soldiers laughed merrily and walked away. I witnessed this tragedy, and as the sword came down, my body twitched, my hands were clasped in front of me, as if in prayer. I couldn't believe this was happening, killing just for the pure joy of killing. I could hardly breath. I have relived this scene hundreds of times since that day--I'll never be able to get that picture out of my mind. But at the time, despite my horror, I determined again that I must go on, I must survive this ordeal in order to let the world know what had happened.
It took two more days to reach the barrio of Orani, a distance of about fifteen miles. During these two days we once again had to go without food or drinking water. Along the route we witnessed more of the same kind of treatment we had seen the first four days. The Japanese were trying very hard to humiliate the Americans any way they could in front of the Filipinos. Each time they killed or tortured an American they would seek out some of the Filipinos on the sides of the road and force them to watch. Men, women and children, there were no exceptions, they all had to do whatever they were commanded by the guards. The Filipino people watched in stunned silence at many of the atrocities. They did what they had to do, they watched with tears in their eyes and a prayer on their lips.
While marching through the town of Orani, we came to a group of Japanese standing on the side of the road. They would scream at us, "Hayaku, hayaku," faster, faster. It didn't take long before we were just about running, then as we passed the guards, the Filipinos standing on the edge of the road threw us balls of rice. If we caught one, we ate it on the run. If it dropped on the ground, then that meal was gone forever. Luckily most of us were willing to share with those less fortunate, so no man went without some of the tidings thrown towards us by our Filipino friends during the days on the march. Unfortunately, once we arrived at our first camp, this spirit of comradeship deteriorated. Those who had escaped death during the march, wanted to make sure they would live to see another day. Therefore, it became a dog-eat-dog existence--sort of, "Watch out for yourself, for if you don't, no one else will."
Finally, exhausted and barely able to stand, we were forced to continue the double-time march until we entered the city of San Fernando, about two kilometers away. What now, we wondered? Which one of us would be next? How much more of this can our bodies endure?
Upon our arrival in San Fernando, the largest town on the march, we found a bustling little city scarcely touched by the soldiers and equipment associated with war. We Americans, on the withdrawal to Bataan, hadn't stopped in San Fernando for long. The Japanese who were chasing us were in a hurry to locate and annihilate us, so very few scars of the war were visible in the town. There was a large Filipino population, and some fairly large factories located in this capital city of the province known as Pampanga. We noticed many Japanese soldiers milling around town in groups of four or five, all of them armed, and all having a good time at the expense of the Filipinos.
We were marched to the local railroad station, where we were told to rest. In the distance we could just see a group of boxcars being pulled by an old engine. We sat for about an hour along the railroad tracks before the train finally chugged its way into the little station. We were going to Manila, we thought, to be traded for Japanese prisoners. We would be home soon, we reasoned. We found out soon enough that these were all rumors, just rumors.
We were herded onto small railway boxcars. Cars that would normally hold ten animals, or perhaps twenty-five or thirty people, were jammed with eighty to one hundred men. We were unable to sit down for the entire trip, we had to take turns, as there just wasn't enough room for all of us at the same time. Our feet sticking out didn't leave enough room for the rest of the men. Some of the men were unable to breath, they were so tightly packed in the middle of the car they suffocated while trying to get a breath of fresh air. The lucky ones were those who were able to get to the outside door, and breath some of the air that seeped in. We all stood shoulder-to-shoulder for most of the five-hour ride to Capus, the town near the POW camp that was to be our final destination.
I was one of the lucky ones, I got a place at the door, and I was able to sit down with my legs dangling out. Fresh air with a little breeze, rest without a bayonet at my back, what a relief. But then along came one of the guards, swinging a large cane-like piece of bamboo. He began swinging the bamboo towards my feet, and hit me just above the kneecap. I was taken by surprise, and I yelled out in pain -- exactly what I said I don't remember, but it was not very complimentary towards the Japanese guard who hit me. Then, without warning, he grabbed the handle of the sliding boxcar door and slammed it shut, once again striking my legs that were still hanging out. My pain proved not in vain, however. In fact it was a good thing for all of us in the boxcar that my legs stopped the door from closing all the way. Because of this small opening we were able to get a little fresh air, and while the train was moving, a significant breeze flowed into the boxcar.
As the train slowly rolled along with its cargo of thousands of diseased and dying soldiers the Filipino people stood along the track and threw rice balls wrapped in banana leaves, rice cakes made with sugar and spices, and pieces of cooked chicken, to the men in the boxcars. When I saw the Filipinos throwing food towards us, I shoved the door open another couple of feet, this allowed us to retrieve much of the food. Little did they know at the time, but their actions and generosity saved many of us from death by starvation. This show of concern by the Filipino people helped us through another stage of this living hell.
Finally the train stopped, and for the next ten minutes we stayed where we were. No one said a word, the quiet of the day was broken only by the moans of those men within the car who were dying. At this point, we still didn't know what was going to happen to us. Were we going to be executed and placed in a mass grave out here in the country where no one could see what was going on? We were all afraid of the quiet. Even the Japanese guards said nothing. A whispered prayer from within the box car could barely be heard. "Oh God," I thought, "please give us a chance, don't let us die like animals in this remote section of the Philippines where we would never be found."
Only the living got off this train, the dead, we were instructed, were to remain inside the box cars. Those who were able jumped out of the cars, the others slowly sat down at the edge of the door, and slide off. I slowly jumped out of the boxcar, and as I tried to get up to start walking, I fell on the side of the tracks. I realized that my cramped legs wouldn't cooperate with my brain. I didn't get up as fast as one of the guards thought I should, so he started beating me with the butt of his rifle, on my back, legs and neck. At one point, he made a thrusting movement toward me with his bayonet, a threat indicating death if I didn't move faster. I got the message, and I made my feet get into better rhythm with my brain.
We started to march again, not knowing where or for how long. All we knew was that we were being herded like cattle into a slaughtering bin. I noticed my body burning up when I got out of the boxcar. After walking about two miles I started to feel faint; I began wobbling back and forth across the column of marching men and it didn't take long before I dropped to my knees from sheer exhaustion and fever. But luck was with me, once again I found myself being carried by my two friends, Cigoi and Bronge. They carried me for about a mile before I got my strength back and was able to make it on my own. How often in one person's lifetime will he be saved by the same people, twice within only a few days?
The columns of haggard, half-dead men, their bodies drained of almost all fluids, their clothes tattered and torn, dirty and unshaven, continued along the road. This narrow unfinished road was lined with the beauty of tall, full mango trees and other rich green foliage common to the area. Then, every so often, reality would set in--you would see the body of a fellow American sprawled near the side of the road. The rich green foliage near his body would be splattered with dark brown blood.
In his book, "Dawn of the Philippines," Mobuhiko Jimbo, a former Japanese soldier who served in the Philippines during the time of the Philippine campaign, states that on the day Bataan surrendered, all of the Japanese troops were told that at least seventy thousand prisoners were in the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army,
The following Japanese order, issued in Manila explains in detail the reasons for many of the atrocities suffered by the prisoners who were forced to march out of Bataan.
"Every troop which fought against our Army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area 200 meters off the highway."
This may be the justification used by the guards during the march to kill any American who dropped out of the marching line, for any reason. Once General Homma accepted the surrender of Bataan, his only interest was in the final capitulation of all fighting forces in the Philippines. That meant that all energy and supplies would be directed toward Corregidor.
The research done for this book has proven to me, without a shadow of doubt, that the slaughter of our surrendering troops was premeditated and authorized by someone with considerable authority, someone in the high military command in the Philippines
What ended up as the last day on the march, nearly ended my life as well. My feet had swollen to about twice their normal size, and I had trouble keeping up with the column I was assigned to. This I found out later was a problem that plagued many of the men.
We had just been turned over to a group of well-rested Japanese guards,
who got a kick out of yelling, pushing and clubbing those of us who could
hardly continue walking. It seemed that the weak were their chosen prey.
One of my walking buddies, seeing my swollen feet, suggested that I cut
the sides of my boots. This seemed like a good idea, so not only did I cut
the sides of my boots, but I also removed the shoe strings to allow for
the possibility of continued swelling. By this time I was so weak, hot and
tired, that I seriously doubted whether my fever would permit me to continue
any further. But as my health problems threatened to overwhelm me, I quickly
realized that I had to continue, that I was going to make it to wherever
they were taking me. Then, like a miracle, my fever seemed to disappear.
After what seemed a lifetime, and was in reality an excruciating eight miles,
we finally saw the faint outline of barbed wire and typical Philippine huts
in the distance. I felt as if the end of this forced march might at last
be in sight.
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