Rising Sun-CH26

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Chapter 26

Wreath-laying is a year-round affair and a deeply ingrained custom in the Philippines, but the most important and lengthiest speeches that accompany these ceremonies are reserved for April 9, the date of Bataan’s fall. On that day, the President of the Philippines is the one who usually leads a throng of ex-heroes up Mount Samat, site of the fiercest battle in 1942 before the Filipino-American forces capitulated. At the summit stands a great 300-foot cross marking a memorial shrine to the war dead, known as Dambana ng Kagitingan, the Shrine of Valor. The shrine at any time of the year is a popular tourist spot … HS


On April 5, 1980, a group of aging, gray-haired men and women gathered at the San Francisco International Airport and prepared to travel to the Philippine Islands. They were returning to Bataan. I was among them.

We represented all major service branches-army, navy, air force, marines, nurses and more-and we all shared a common experience. We had been prisoners of war, hostages of the Emperor of Japan, during World War II. Some were accompanied by their families. I was with my wife Shirley and my two daughters, Toni and Gina.

The decision to return to Bataan and relive the death march in which so many friends had died did not come easy. When I returned to the States in 1945 I decided that the only way to carry on a normal existence was to shut out my war experiences and concentrate on the present. For thirty-five years, with a few exceptions, I thought I had done so. I had forced from my mind those memories that could have haunted and disturbed me. Whether my experiences had been completely forgotten or whether they were still in my sub consciousness seemed unimportant.

It was curiosity more than anything else that drew me back to the Philippines. I had a deep affection for the Filipinos, and I wanted to visit their country once more and see what changes had taken place since the war’s end.

I also thought the experience would be good for my daughters, who at that time were teenagers. So we joined a tour organized for prisoners of war and their families.

I failed to recognize anyone in the group, but after sharing experiences we discovered that most of us had been in the same camps at about the same time. We could even recall some Japanese guards and many incidents.

The theme of our excursion was “Reunion for Peace” and it was to include a group of Japanese soldiers who had served in the Japanese army during the battle on Mt. Samat, our last battle ground in April of 1942. I had misgivings as to the success of our first meeting with the Japanese, since I feared that some men in our group still held grudges. They had seen too many American soldiers perish from starvation, disease, and brutal treatment in the prison camps.

Although we stayed at the same hotels, there was little fraternization between the Japanese and Americans. On one occasion, at a roadside restaurant, we came upon fifty of the Japanese soldiers already seated. They applauded our group for about five minutes, but some Americans would not enter the restaurant because of their presence. I think “Reunion for Peace” was a great idea, but I also think that it will take a few more years to heal the wounds inflicted by those prison-camp experiences. To some the wound will never heal.

When we arrived at Manila, we did not find the same city we had left the day our army captured Bilibid Prison and set us free. Manila that day was devastated and burning. Today it’s a modern, beautiful city with high rises, gardens and grand vistas. The city has changed, but the Filipinos have not. They were just as warm and receptive as when I knew them before and during the war. What excitement to return!

Veteran groups, women’s auxiliaries, and civic groups were on hand to welcome us. A military band played the Philippine national anthem and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There were a few short welcoming speeches at the airport. Shaking hands with the Filipino soldiers was a very emotional experience for me.

The next morning we visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. William Montgomery, a former officer who fought with the Filipinos on Bataan, placed a wreath at the site. This man’s legs were deformed and he was almost blind as a result of the malnutrition and beriberi he suffered as a prisoner of war. In spite of his condition, he climbed up and down stairs throughout our excursions with a smile on his face.

Our next stop was the Manila Cemetery, situated at Fort Bonifacio. I had been stationed there briefly in 1941 when it was Fort William McKinley. The cemetery is in a dramatic setting. The entrance is located at the far side of a large grass circle. Immediately beyond the entrance is a plaza with a circular fountain. To the right of the fountain is the visitors’ building and, stretching from the plaza to the memorial, is the central mall.

I stood before this beautiful and majestic memorial and my thoughts returned to my internment days in Camp O’Donnell, Cabanatuan, and Bilibid. I visualized the suffering in those dreadful days. I remembered how we made an effort to identify our dead by placing metal name tags in their mouths when we buried them in the common graves, hoping that someday they could have a decent burial. Now, the names of these men of Bataan are inscribed in marble. Thank God, at least here they had not been forgotten.

Tears came to my eyes as I tried to express my gratitude silently to the United States and Philippine governments and to •all those involved in creating this memorial. Thirty-five years seemed like a moment in my life as images raced with lightning speed through my mind and the memories seemed to fade away and I found myself in Manila again at the beginning of World War II.

From Manila we returned to Bataan. The whole nightmare that I thought had been over for thirty-five years was now in front of me.

I watched General Hipps, a member of our party, place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and we then continued our journey over the very same route we had tread on the death march in 1942. Each kilometer was marked with a signpost, and each mark brought back a memory.

That afternoon we arrived at the Kamaya Point Hilltop Hotel at Mariveles. My family and I retired to our rooms and, as we drew the curtain to see the view, the island of Corregidor, scarcely five miles from the hotel, stood framed in our window. A breathtaking view, but what memories it evoked! I could almost see the sky lighted with the red glow of heavy gun fire, and I could smell the smoke. In my mind I was standing next to the truck, with the squat little Japanese soldier behind the wheel; trying to stretch his legs to reach the pedals. I hadn’t remembered him in all those years. And there were other thoughts that came to mind, and other faces from the past that appeared before me. My wife and daughters somehow knew the anguish I was going through, and my wife placed a hand on my shoulder. I could not escape the past, but I could be thankful for what I had now.

The Ninth of April is designated a national holiday in the Philippines. It’s known as Bataan Day and commemorates the anniversary of the surrender on Bataan. Our destination was Mount Samat. On our way to the mountain, we could see a huge cross on its crest. It can easily be seen for thirty kilometers. This magnificent cross is a memorial to those servicemen and women who fought to hold back the Japanese. For generations to come, it will remind others of the battle that took place on these slopes.

As we approached the area near the foot of the cross, we were greeted by people from various veterans’ organizations and quite a gathering of Filipinos. Philippine Army troops stood at attention as a plaque was unveiled honoring the Angels of Bataan, the nurses who had served on Bataan and had been interned at Santo Tomas in Manila.

As I gazed at the memorial, I was again surprised at how clearly I remembered the chaos of those days and the inhuman hardships we endured from the Japanese. And it was at this time that I began thinking about writing my experiences in a book.

The next day, we boarded two banka boats for the trip to Corregidor. They were narrow boats equipped with outriggers to balance and help keep them steady.

Forty-five minutes later we landed on the island, boarded buses and toured the historical army outpost. We visited the Malinta Tunnel and saw General MacArthur’s headquarters, the hospital area, and other areas of interest. I went topside and wandered around the gun emplacements. These huge naval guns had been originally set to fire on any attack from the sea and were unable to fire inland toward Bataan. After looking at the big guns, I had the feeling that we might have been able to defend the Philippines if only they could have given us cover on Bataan. Some men standing by my side talked about their frustrations in defending Corregidor, and they pointed to battle stations where they were involved in firing the guns during the battle of Corregidor.

That evening in Manila we attended a party hosted by General Santos at his residence, and when we returned to our hotel rooms we found our sheets turned back and floral arrangements on our pillows. The gesture deeply moved me. I couldn’t help thinking about Camp O’Donnell!

On the fourteen of April, we boarded our buses for Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines. On our way we stopped briefly at Clark Field, the American air base, and then proceeded to Camp O’Donnell, the prisoner of war camp where over 1500American men and about 5000 Filipino soldiers had died after coming off the death march. The original buildings were gone, but we visited a death march memorial.

At the picturesque mountain city of Baguio, we were greeted at Sunshine Park by Mayor Bueno. At sixteen years of age, he had fought with guerrillas during World War II. He had also served in Korea and Vietnam and presently held the rank of brigadier general. President Marcos had appointed him mayor of Baguio.

During our three-day stay in Baguio, we visited Camp John Hay, now a rest and recreational area for American Servicemen. This was where General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the tiger of Malaya, signed the surrender papers, ending the war in the Philippines. We also visited the United States ambassador’s residence, toured the Philippine Military Academy at Fort del Pilar and on April seventeenth we left Baguio via Lingayen Gulf where, in 1945, American soldiers stormed ashore with tanks and raced to Manila to free us from Bilibid prison.

The night before we boarded our planes for San Francisco, we were guests of Mayor Ramon Bagatsing of Manila. The highlight of evening was the presentation of the Philippine Defense and Liberation Medals to veterans of Bataan and a special ceremony honoring the nurses.

The next day we were on our way back to San Francisco. My Bataan experience had come full circle, though with a difference. Before it had been necessary to forget, now it was important to remember, to think it through, to write it down.

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Rising Sun-CH25

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Chapter 25

At Letterman Hospital before my discharge I was happy to meet with many of those who had survived with me the Death March and nearly three years of prison. It was great to see old friends again and spend time with them. We watched film of other prisoners of war being released from camps in the Philippines. Many faces I recognized, some that I had worked with, appeared on the screen. One face took me by complete surprise. It was the navy chief, the one with all the tattoos and the two word vocabulary, the man from Cabanatuan who wouldn’t give up. There he was, keeping up with the rest of the men, stepping down the road with his right leg, dragging his left. He had made it back to States!

Another prisoner who had miraculously survived the Death Ward at Camp Cabanatuan and made it back to the States was the man who had requested a pinch of salt. With the salt he had recovered sufficiently to work on the farm, but his first day proved to be too hard for him and they carried him back on a stretcher. He then contracted tuberculosis and they carried him to the T.B. ward. I now learned he had spent the remainder of his internment in the ward from where he was liberated. I don’t know where he is now, but I would be willing to wager he could be found alive somewhere.

One day shortly before I checked out of Letterman, we were told to dress up in our best uniform and put on our finest smiles. General Joseph Stilwell was coming to pay us a visit. We all had a great admiration for General Stilwell, or “old Vinegar Joe,” as his troops called him. He had fought the Japanese in China and Burma throughout the war. He had marched with the remnants of his defeated army across Burma to India, some 140 miles, with the Japanese close behind them. He was a hero to all of us.

I put on my new uniform, now with corporal chevrons, and stepped outside. The surprise came when General Stilwell awarded me the Bronze Star for the work I had done with the sick and disabled prisoners in the camps.

After the war the U.S. Military conducted war crime hearings in Manila. Among the accused was the Japanese commander of the invasion forces in the Philippines, Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu. He was charged with responsibility for the Death March and was tried by a U.S. military commission in Manila in January-February 1946. Convicted of war crimes, he was executed on April 3rd the same year.

Almost a year after the war ended, I was completing my studies in San Francisco when a small parcel arrived at my home. It was from the Philippines. I quickly opened it, trying hard to imagine what might be inside. I undid the final wrapping, and there neatly tied was a small note book. It was my diary, the one I had given to a Filipino man during the death march, a man I had never seen before. His name was Juan Evangelista and he had made the following addition to my diary:

“April 20, 1942. Monday (11:30AM)

“While I was searching for my brother (who has graduate a High School and trained for month Cadre and when the World War II broke out he was commissioned as Sergeant of the USAFFE(PA) 31st Eng Co. C at the age of less than 18 years), When a group of Americans are at rest while I was at a window of a native house. We have served a little of what we have and it happened that Mr. Mario Machi approached me and handed his 2 note books as diaries and photographs he has requested me to keep them. (I was at San Pedro _________ where we meet each other.)”

Tears filled my eyes, and I could remember the very moment I handed him my diaries. How I wanted to see him again, to thank him, to tell him I was alive, but there was no address.

I have kept up over the years with a few friends from camp. John “Red” Bohn, a navy man I first met in Letterman hospital now lives in Santa Rosa, California. We were in different outfits but got together now and then in camp. He appeared often in my diary and was one of the men I had climbed the summit with that October 3, 1941, while we were still at Fort McDowell.

Arthur McBain is another old friend from Bataan. He was a navy corpsman who married a Filipina after the war. He and his wife live in Morgan Hill, California. We occasionally visit one another. Many of the photographs that appear in this book came from his collection.

My story does not end here. There was something I still had to do.

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Rising Sun-CH24

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Chapter 24

The U.S. drive into the Cagayan Valley ended the last offensive on Luzon in June 1945, but enemy pockets of resistance were not cleared out until August 15, when hostilities officially ended. The US. forces had officially reported 40,565 casualties including 7,933 killed in the Philippine campaign. The Japanese lost over 192,000 killed and approximately 9,700 captured. An untold number of Japanese soldiers escaped into the jungles of Mindanao in the south and refused to surrender for years to come … HS


At last we boarded USS Monterey, a converted luxury liner turned troop transport, that would take us home, with a stopover in New Guinea. I found it too good to believe. After all the humiliation, pain, suffering, and death, we were alive. What a relief just to be treated like human beings, and to be with fellow Americans again.

We were assigned our bunks and shown the showers. These simple pleasures were ultimate luxuries to us. A hot shower, without the need to dip water with a canteen cup, and bars of soap. And a regulation ship’s bunk, with mattress and sheets. After showers and clean clothes, we were led to the ship’s mess hall where we were allowed to order anything we wanted to eat. My first order was a steak.

We were permitted to go ashore at Hollandia, General MacArthur’s headquarters. The port had been the staging area for the offensive war against the Japanese. Everywhere we turned there were troops, equipment, and the knowledge that the Japanese were on the run. Morale was high among the troops.

Once the Monterey was back at sea, we headed homeward. The captain pointed the ship’s bow straight for San Francisco. Not one man complained as we sailed past Hawaii without stopping. This time we didn’t grumble about not having shore leave. We were headed home as quickly as our ship. could take us.

We entered the Golden Gate thirteen days after leaving New Guinea. Factory whistles, boat and fog horns, sirens-all announced our arrival and welcomed us home. What a beautiful sight that bridge was, in spite of the fog and drizzle! As the tugs gently pushed Monterey toward the pier, I climbed to the upper deck where I could be by myself. I looked anxiously down at the crowd gathered around on the dock to see if I could recognize some of my family. I then saw them, standing on the dock, waving, calling my name. I couldn’t hold back the flood of tears.

I quote here from an article written by Bonnie Percival. It appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, March 16, 1945, the day after our arrival, under the title “Reunion on the Dock.” It read:

“The Machi family (ten Strong) cried ‘Mario’ as the transport came in.

“A giant grey one-time luxury liner crept slowly through the drizzle to a crowded pier on the Embarcadero yesterday morning.

“It was raining … Nobody cared .. .It was cold … The crowd ignored it. Instead of shivers, there were cries of excitement, anticipation, and happiness from the waiting families of men and women who were captives no longer.

‘The delirium was infectious. As the ship grew closer, the row of faces along each deck became recognizable, and waiting relatives began to shout for their returning loved ones.

“The Machi family of 540 second Avenue began it. They had arrived ten strong to greet their brother, son, uncle and nephew … Private first class Mario Machi, thirty year-old infantryman. He’d spent three years in Camp Number One and Bilibid. “Mario” shouted his exuberant sister, Catherine Machi. “Mario” echoed another sister, Antonette Machi. “Mario” chorused little Anna Maria and John Papagni, watching for the uncle whose face they could not quite remember.

“The chant for Mario was taken up by the family, by members of British Red Cross, by others of the crowd until a dark lean soldier climbed up on a netted life raft and waved eagerly back.”

I was home again. Thank God I was back. I was alive. Who could ever possibly understand this more than the men who had endured those dreadful three years in prison with me? Yet we could not speak of it, not then.

We were driven by bus to Letterman General Hospital, the site of my enlistment, and the next day the city of San Francisco held a grand parade down Market Street in our honor. That evening it was my father’s turn. He prepared a gala spaghetti dinner at our home, and twenty-one of my buddies from prison camp attended. It was moments like this we had dreamed about for the past three years. And my father was the proudest man in San Francisco.

From Letterman I was transferred as a patient to Dibble General Hospital in Menlo Park, followed by a stay at Mitchell Convalescent Hospital in San Diego. World War II officially came to an end at 9:04 a.m. on September 2, 1945 when the Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and military leaders signed the formal surrender documents on board the battleship USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. A few weeks later on September 15, 1945, I received my honorable discharge at Mitchell. I rode the night train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. A new life was about to begin.

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Rising Sun-CH23

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Chapter 23

The Japanese commander, Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, had a force of some 350,000 men in the Philippines and despite his great numerical superiority (the US. troops numbered only 68,000), he was unable to hold back the US. advance. It was a turn of events from what had happened four years before. By January 20, US. forces had penetrated forty miles inland. Nine days later elements of the US. Eighth Army landed near San Antonio on the west coast, while a third landing was made at Nasugbu on January 31. Manila was entered on February 3rd. Assisted by a parachute company that landed near the prison camp at Bilibid, a special task force liberated the prisoners and then continued to mop up the enemy troops… HS


I was standing in the courtyard at Bilibid Prison, about twenty feet from a window covered with boards, when the wood from the window came crashing into the courtyard. Instantly rifle muzzles poked through the window, ready to fire. I started to yell. Three helmeted soldiers came darting through the opening, and at first I thought they were Japanese. I hadn’t recognized the helmets, or the uniforms. Still, no mistaking them, they were American G.I.s, and there they stood, an American patrol, ready to shoot us. They were the first Americans we had seen since our capture. They also at first thought we were Japanese.

When they saw we were prisoners, they lowered their rifles. They had a look on their faces as though they were watching a horror movie. We hastily gathered around them, inspecting their uniforms, their helmets, their rifles. They didn’t look anything like the soldiers we were when the war broke out, and to them we must have looked pretty pathetic in our tattered rags. We were thin as skeletons, with hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes, our stomachs puffed out, our legs swollen around the knees, and we were riddled with scurvy, beriberi, yellow jaundice and God knows what else. Many of us were so weak it was all we could do to stand. And we jabbered like fools. But we were able to caution them that our Japanese guards were still in the prison. After a few moments they told us to stay put and continued their patrol. We were now more confused than ever. We still didn’t know what to expect next.

Our officers who understood Japanese did their best to reason with the Japanese, to try to make them understand that their situation was hopeless and that it was best for them to surrender. They refused to listen. Instead, they put on their best uniforms and with sabres at ready they marched in formation through the main gate. They were met by a volley of machine gun fire from the tanks lined up in front of the prison, and there they died, for their emperor.

Sporadic fighting continued the rest of the day, and just before dark, an American army unit entered the main gate and took up positions in the courtyard. None of us slept again that night. By daylight the prison was filled with well-armed American G.I.s.

By now, the Japanese army was retreating toward Intramuros, the Walled City in the old Spanish section of Manila that I had come to know before the war. lntramuros was fairly close to Bilibid Prison. House-to-house fighting raged through the streets and we could hear small arms fire. Once inside Intramuros, the Japanese laid down a mortar barrage and their shells began to drop on the prison. The American command decided to move us quickly.

Weak and unable to help ourselves, they loaded us into trucks and took us to the abandoned Marikina shoe factory where we remained all night. The next morning they returned us to Bilibid which was probably safer for us than the shoe factory. At least at Bilibid we had thick walls for protection. Outside those walls the battle continued in full fury. That evening the American artillery positioned itself facing Intramuros. We knew at once the sound of our 240mm Howitzers when they opened up. Never had I heard such a barrage! The ground shook beneath us like jello, and talking was impossible. Even when we shouted we couldn’t be heard. There was no letup. The barrages at Abucay and Mount Samat had been child’s play compared to what was taking place now.

The battle for Manila raged all that day; soon the entire city was on fire. Every building became an inferno. The Japanese were trapped within Intramuros and it was only a matter of time before it was over for them.

During the bombings and artillery barrages on Bataan, I had what I thought was good control of myself, but all this changed during the battle of Manila. For some unknown reason this battle shattered my nerves. I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t even sit still. I was at the end of my rope and feared I had reached the limit of my endurance. I tried again and again to assure myself that everything would be over in a short time, that the Japanese would surrender and we would be safe, but still, the strain was almost unbearable. I found little comfort in the fact that most of my friends felt the same way.

Again, I resolved to keep busy. As the battle raged, our medical officers decided to put what records we had left, those which we had kept on milk can labels, in safe keeping, and I helped them. We filled some empty boxes and loaded them on trucks waiting in the courtyard.

The pressure became too great for one medical officer. I was coming down the stairs with the load of cartons when I saw him staggering around the truck as if he was drunk. It was all we could do to calm him down.

A day or so after the records had been packed and were aboard the trucks, I was standing near the main gate, listening to American artillery fire pounding away at Intramuros, when I glanced toward the gate entrance. I was surprised to see a group of riflemen run into the prison and take up positions around the area. I couldn’t understand it. The prison was already secure. Moments later the riflemen were followed by a dozen or more photographers. Then to my utter surprise, General Douglas MacArthur strode into Bilibid prison followed by his staff. He said in a clear loud voice for all of us to hear, “I have returned.” He spent the next half hour visiting the sick. We all were surprised, and deeply honored by his visit. He kept his promise; he did return.

A young woman, an American Red Cross worker, was with the general’s party and she asked whether her brother who had been interned at Cabanatuan was here in Bilibid. No one seemed to know who he was and she couldn’t find him. I felt so sorry for this woman; she had come such a long way in anticipation of seeing her brother.

On February 4, 1945, all the American prisoners who were in Bilibid, except those unable to travel, boarded transport planes and headed south. It was pleasant just to sit and look down on Bilibid as we flew overhead. What a nightmare the last three years had been! The war had still not been won but our fighter planes seemed to be everywhere, apparently now in complete control of the air. What a change had taken place in our lives in just a few short days.

We bumped down at the airport in Leyte where our American troops were preparing to move north into the Cagayan Valley. We moved around among them freely and talked with everyone we could. They were anxious to hear about our experiences, and we wanted any news we could get, about the war, what was happening back home, who had won the World Series, anything.

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Rising Sun-CH22

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Chapter 22

Manila’s Bilibid had been a civilian prison long before the Japanese invaded the islands. A high concrete wall surrounded the old prison, and the buildings inside were arranged around a square. A few of the buildings had been used as sleeping quarters for the guards, while others provided work places for the prisoners. There were windows but no glass remained; the openings had been nailed shut with boards.

In the middle of the prison was an outdoor courtyard. On one side was a two-story building that appeared to have been used for administration. Guards herded us into the courtyard and assigned us to our quarters. A few prisoners were assigned to individual bunks. I was a lucky one.

A number of U.S. Navy men had been interned in Bilibid since their capture three years before and were still there when we arrived. Many of these seamen were in the Philippines before the war and had experience in dealing with Asians. We called them old Asian hands. I met one chief petty officer who, I was told, knew the ropes and had outwitted many a Japanese soldier. He was a corpsman and he often treated men who had contracted venereal disease.

VD was not a real problem in the American army if treated properly. If a soldier contracted the disease, he was sent to the hospital where he received treatment and was then released. He was not necessarily chastised. By contrast, if a Japanese soldier was caught with the infection, he was beaten unmercifully before he was treated. As a result, Japanese soldiers at Bilibid tried to treat themselves before they were caught. Sulfathiazole was in great demand for the treatment of gonorrhea. The drug came in the form of pills with the letter “W” engraved on each tablet indicating that the manufacturer was the Winthrop Drug Company. The navy chief had become quite proficient in inscribing fake pills with whatever letters were desired. The fake VD pills were made from plaster of Paris and were inscribed with the letter “W”. These were sold to the Japanese who wanted to treat themselves rather than take a beating. The chief and his cronies developed a thriving business, trading their plaster of Paris for privileges and sacks of rice and sugar.

As we stood by waiting for a boat to transfer us to Japan, U.S. Air Force dive bombers pounded the waterfront day after day. From inside the prison we watched the air raids as planes flew above the city, and we could see the anti-aircraft barrages sent up by the Japanese. Frequently we caught glimpses of air battles between American and Japanese fighter planes.

I was working in the kitchen one day when a dogfight took place directly over our heads. We could see that one plane was hit; smoke poured from its fuselage as it began to spin and fall toward earth. We held our breaths. We couldn’t tell if it were American or Japanese. As it neared the ground, the insignia of the Rising Sun became visible to everyone, including the guards. They saw us looking at the falling plane and immediately began hitting us as if we were to blame for what happened. It was one beating we didn’t mind.

The day for our transfer to Japan finally came. A troop ship was brought in under the cover of darkness and waited in the harbor. Both Japanese and American administrative officers and men worked the night through compiling lists of those who would leave. Mostly officers were on the transfer roster, and that included just about every officer in our company. Some 250 men who were too weak to be moved were to be left behind with a skeleton crew of medics to take care of them. I was one of those chosen to remain behind. I was dumbfounded. Why me, I protested, but to no avail. I desperately wanted to go with the rest of the prisoners.

The next morning the officers and men lined up to leave, and I rushed among them, shaking the hands of my friends and wishing them good luck. They looked somber, knowing that American planes flew overhead daily. Many felt that they would never reach Japan. It was a premonition they had.

Just as the men were about to be marched out the gate, guards came down the line, recognized one of the prisoners and pulled him from the line. “He is Swiss,” I heard someone say. The Japanese were acknowledging that Swiss nationals were not involved in the war. It took them three years to find out.

I watched the prisoners leave, nearly 1,800 men, many who were my friends. We had come this far together and now they were gone. I then went back behind the walls to attend to the sick. I had to keep busy.

The next day the tragic news reached us in prison that the ship carrying our men had been sunk by American planes; there were few survivors. This we found hard to believe. We knew that according to international law, a ship carrying prisoners of war in a battle zone was to be clearly marked as a neutral ship. It was reported that the Japanese had failed to mark the vessel as a prisoner of war ship. The Japanese confirmed the fact a few days later. I was sick at heart at the loss of so many of my friends. They had survived more than three years of misery, starvation and torture only to die when victory was so close at hand.

The 250 men left behind in Bilibid were starving and in very bad condition. As ill as they were, their survival depended upon finding whatever food they could to eat. They looked so pathetic scavenging for things to eat. A few men found the location where the kitchen staff threw~ out their garbage, and here they rummaged for scraps. These dreadfully sick men would sit in the middle of the garbage heap, garbage that stunk from rot and decay, and turn over every scrap, stuffing into their mouths everything and anything that appeared to be edible. We knew that much of the garbage was contaminated, but there was little we could do to get the men to stop eating it.

One man, because of the coloration of his skin stood out from all the others. He was very pale and ashen, ‘like a telephone book, and he would not listen to anyone who tried to discourage him from eating garbage. After a few days I saw them carry his body to the graveyard, a victim of food poisoning as well as malnutrition.

After the man’s death, a memorandum was sent to all ward surgeons and building leaders instructing them that patients had been seen eating garbage that had been designated for the pigs, and that the garbage could cause a fatal type of food poisoning. The memorandum further stated that all personnel were forbidden from handling as well as eating garbage at any time. What the memorandum didn’t say was that starving men don’t always hear. Many continued to sit on the garbage heap and eat poisoned food.

To discourage anyone from trying to escape from Bilibid, a high-powered electrical wire had been placed on the top of the high concrete wall that surrounded the prison. At one point the wall ran close to Japanese headquarters where some soldiers lived. Windows with steel bars faced the wall. One night we were awakened to a loud scream, and the next morning we learned the cause. Apparently during the night a Japanese soldier had to urinate and rather than go downstairs to the latrine he decided to relieve himself out the window. As his urine touched the wire, it conducted electricity to his body, killing him instantly. He never knew what hit him. He may have been our enemy but for once we couldn’t help feeling a strange sort of pity. What a way to die!

American planes continued to bomb the waterfront daily. We were thrilled and excited whenever our planes appeared. We spent hours in the open courtyard turning over rumors about how the war was going, and, of course, trying to figure out what the Japanese would eventually do with us. We even considered that the end might come when an American bomb landed in the prison.

One night we were awakened by the sound of trucks entering the compound. They did not sound like Japanese vehicles. We then heard loud voices and a much shouting. The voices were not all Japanese. We heard American voices, men’s voices, and then, unbelievably, we heard American women and the voices of children. These were the first voices of women and children we had heard in three years! We couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, wondering what was going on.

The next morning we learned the voices were those of civilian prisoners who had been brought in from a camp nearby and were now being housed in the two-story administration building. Then we saw them, women and children, standing on the steps. Although we were forbidden to go neat them, it didn’t take us long to get communications started.

One of our men found a piece of board and scribbled a message on it with a hunk of plaster. He held it up so that the new inmates could read it. Our communication system was crude but it worked. While messages were being exchanged, men were positioned around the prison to alert us if guards were in the vicinity. Information about loved ones who had not seen each other for three years was passed back and forth for several days.

During our stay at Cabanatuan, the Japanese had steadfastly refused our medical staff permission to perform autopsies on our dead soldiers.

At Bilibid, however, they finally relented. Shortly after permission was granted, I was assigned as the clean• up man in the autopsy room. Several autopsies involving amoebic dysentery were performed exposing perforated intestines. On one occasion, shortly after the body of a prisoner had been opened and examined, the remains were placed in a sack for burial. As the Japanese detail came to bury him, the soldier in charge, to my amazement, commanded the other soldiers to come to attention. They then saluted the dead man. I knew at that moment that something was up. This was totally out of character for Japanese soldiers. And I had been right. We learned that same day that the American army had landed at Lingayen Gulf and was on its way to Manila. Obviously, the Japanese soldier in charge of the burial detail was suddenly concerned about his own future. Not all Japanese soldiers were prepared to die for their emperor.

Rumors were flying everywhere and we were certain an invasion was imminent, but when, and where? We didn’t know what to expect. All we could do was listen to the rumors, and wait.

One evening just before dark, we were in the courtyard when we were startled by the roar of motor vehicles. A machine gun opened fire and guns from the street returned fire. Although we were protected by a high concrete wall, we still ran for cover. We were unable to determine what was what was going on, but the firing continued all night long.

We had very little sleep that night and everyone was up early the next morning, and greatly excited. We could see from the cracks between the boards in our windows that American tanks had surrounded the prison during the night and were continuing to press the battle that morning.

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Rising Sun-CH21

Previous – RS21 – Next

Chapter 21

The struggle to recapture the Philippines, vital to General MacArthur’s war plans, began on the morning of October 20, 1944, when four divisions of the U.S. Sixth Army under Lt. Gen.Walter Krueger landed on Leyte’s east coast between Tacloban and Dulag. General Douglas MacArthur was with them and went ashore with the first landing party, thus fulfilling his pledge to return … HS


It must have been about ten o’clock in the morning when I was aroused by a roaring noise in the sky. For a moment I thought I was back in Shelter Cove, and the roaring was the sound of engines of fishing boats leaving the harbor. But when I opened my eyes I wasn’t in Shelter Cove; I was still in Camp Cabanatuan.

The roar grew louder. Fully awake now, I jumped out of my bunk and dashed outside as fast as_ I could. Standing there in front of the all the barracks were the prisoners, looking up at the sky. I squinted against the sharp glare of the morning light, and there, flying in tight formation, was a squadron of about a hundred dive bombers with fighter planes circling counterclockwise around them. They appeared to be headed toward Clark Airfield. It was impossible to see what insignias they carried on their wings, but we surmised they were U.S. aircraft. One thing certain, they were not Japanese.

As soon as the planes had passed over and beyond the camp, the rumors started buzzing. Every man, down to those who were even too weak to leave their bunks, talked excitedly about the appearance of the planes, but everyone did so with restraint. Without anyone telling us, we knew we had to show self-control. We were aware that anyone who demonstrated emotion over the arrival of the planes would be dealt with severely by the Japanese. We had to keep mum. But how difficult that was to do.

Some prisoners believed the planes might be English; others thought they were American; while there were those who weren’t sure what they were. “If they are not British and not American, then who are they?” the skeptics asked.. The arguments started. The arguments were finally settled when a half hour later another flight of a hundred or more planes came into view and flew over the camp. This time there was no question about them. We could plainly see the stars. They were American planes.

It took all the effort we had to restrain our excitement now. We had questions; we wanted to make remarks; but we continued to play mum. We all wanted to jump, shout for joy, go crazy, but the fear of retaliation by the Japanese held us back. Some men simply smiled through their tears. We didn’t need words. I was weak with emotion, and ever so proud of my country. No one will ever know what the sight of those planes meant to us. Those poor thousands of prisoners who died, who were starved, who were tortured to death, if they could only have held out. Strange, but now I felt my deepest compassion for them, now when they could have been saved. Thank the lord I helped many stay alive for this moment.

Two days later the guards lined us up in the open area of the camp. We had no idea what they intended to do at this point. It was not beyond them to execute us as a final gesture to the emperor. Or perhaps they planned to hold us as hostages, as a bargaining chip for later.

As guards were holding roll call and counting us, another flight of planes flew over the camp, but this time at a much higher altitude. We were now fearful that at the height they were flying the American pilots might think we were Japanese and drop down to strafe us. But they didn’t,_ and we were contented now that they knew where our prison camp was located. Help was sure to arrive.

But no one came to rescue us. Instead Japanese headquarters issued orders that we were to be moved to Bilibid Prison in Manila and, from there, placed on a transport for Japan. We were right after all. They were going to hold us as hostages. Guards with fixed bayonets jammed us into trucks and, after traveling all day, we arrived at the prison. We had left behind over 1,800 men in the graveyard at Camp Cabanatuan.

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Rising Sun-CH20

Previous – RS20 – Next

Chapter 20

Filipino agencies repeatedly attempted to bring food to our camp but were unsuccessful. We frequently saw trucks loaded with supplies turned away from our gates. No Red Cross or international representatives were allowed to enter the camp. We figured the Japanese did not want to be embarrassed by their inability to account for the condition of the prisoners and the many thousands of people who had died of disease and starvation. This attitude continued until shortly before Christmas, 1943, when they allowed the first Red Cross food packages into camp.

This was our first sign of hope. One cannot adequately describe the impact it had on our lives. The boxes contained cans of corned beef and cheese, bars of chocolate, packages of dried fruits, packs of vitamins• everything we needed so badly and which we had been without for so long. We didn’t immediately tear everything open as one might suspect, but instead we held the items in our hands, turning them over and over, tears streaming down our cheeks.

Aside from food and vitamins, some boxes contained much needed hospital and medical supplies. Packed in Red Cross boxes were Atabrine, quinine and sulfa drugs. We now had the tools to help fight tropical diseases. Within a few weeks we could see the difference; the death toll was reduced dramatically, almost overnight.

We carefully rationed the food and placed a supply of drugs on shelves in each building. One morning we found three men lying unconscious on the ground outside their barracks. They had taken a drug overdose. For three days they were left to lay there, and almost everyone in camp filed by to take a look. The drugs were quickly removed from the buildings and placed in the hospital ward under guard.

A few months after the arrival of the Red Cross packages we received our first packages from home. Prisoners cried openly as they opened boxes addressed to them. Our first thoughts were that our families must have known all along that we were still alive. Most of us tried to find places where we could be alone with our boxes, knowing that they had been packed by members of our family or by our girlfriends.

For those few brief moments it were as though our families and loved ones were with us. I found a secluded spot and slowly opened my box. I had to smile, for obviously my family wanted me to be the best dressed man in camp. They hadn’t realized that my greatest need was for food. Inside the box, neatly folded, was a pair of pants, a shirt, some underwear, a tooth brush, a tube of toothpaste and a container of vitamins, but no food.

Naturally, men who worked in the kitchen had more access to food, so I asked for and got a job on the breakfast shift. Our crew had to get up at two o’clock in the morning to start the fires and boil the rice. We stirred the rice with large paddles until it became a soupy mixture which we called lugao, the Filipino name for porridge. It was moldy in taste and loaded with weevils and grubs. After the lugao was served early each morning, I usually went back to the barracks and tried to get some sleep.

Sometimes instead of sleeping I tried to picture Shelter Cove. The best thoughts were of those summers with the old gang in which we had such fun. I relived those moments over and over.

Many stockholders in the San Francisco International Fish company sent their sons to help with the fishing during the summer. The Italians were well represented, and like the permanent staff at the cove I could remember every one of their names laying in my bunk-Peter Tarantino, Frank and Peter Alioto, Tom and Frank Balestrieri, Andrew Machi, and my brother Babe. All us were about the same age. As the summer wore on, we developed a playful competition between us boys and the adults. The adults were just as mischievous as the boys, if not worse. They slipped garter snakes into our beds, and we threw eggs at them and put burlap sacks in their chimneys to make them smoke. It was all in good fun with each trying to outdo the other’s pranks. The furthest thought from our minds was war in the Pacific.

At the end of that season, as we were getting ready to go back to school, a crowd gathered on the dock to say farewell to us. We felt so proud as we began to board the boat, and then the eggs started to fly. The crew who were still on shore had decided to give us an egg bath as we boarded. Not to be outdone, the captain ran into the galley and gathered up all his eggs and began flinging them at the crew on shore. The battle didn’t stop until the boat pulled away from the dock.

I remembered how sad it was when the season came to an end. Departing fishing boats each gave three blasts of their whistles, meaning “Good-bye,” “Good Luck” and “God Bless You.” What happy memories: days of growing up, working, and enjoying the company good friends. I longed for those days again; I longed for Shelter Cove; I felt that no other place in the world could provide as beautiful a setting and atmosphere for a group of city boys as Shelter Cove. Certainly Cabanatuan could not. Such wonderful thoughts were all I needed.

I was having these pleasant thoughts one morning when I went to my bunk after finishing kitchen duty and laid down. I don’t remember the exact day it was, but I do remember the month and the year. Until my dying day I shall never forget that moment.

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Rising Sun-CH19

Previous – RS19 – Next

Chapter 19

In spite of severe punishment meted out by the Japanese to prisoners involved in black market activities, there were those who would not give up. They not only bought and sold items to other prisoners but they were also brazen enough to sell to the Japanese.

While I was in isolation with dysentery, I was able to watch the black market action take place within the camp. I could easily understand the motives of those who dealt in the black market. Prisoners had a difficult time improving their conditions in camp, but dealing in the market was one way out. If others could do it, why couldn’t I? After reassuring myself that I was just as bright as any of those involved, and that my standard of living could be better, I decided to take the chance and go into business.

I borrowed ten pesos from a friend, five of which was spent to buy empty corned beef cans. My next move was to visit the black marketeer of rice. Seeing that I had five pesos to spend, he lifted the false top on his table and sold me a canteen cup of rice. I then rolled the rice into flour, borrowed some sourdough starter, added water to the starter and allowed it to set overnight. Early the next morning, I put the batter in my corned beef cans and baked it in the quan stove oven.

I doubt that even a hungry, starving dog in the alleys back home would have eaten my biscuits, but they tasted good to me and they were easy to sell.

I had limited my efforts to the amoebic dysentery area the first day, but business was so brisk I decided to expand into the duty area. I had a friend in the duty area and we decided to become partners. We conducted business matters while talking through the barbed wire fence that separated the duty from the dysentery area. I would be responsible for keeping the tins and money while my partner would bake the biscuits in the quan stove and sell them in his area. We would split the profits equally.

. Meanwhile, a detail of American prisoners was sent to a warehouse in town every morning to pick up the day’s ration of rice that had come from Manila for the whole camp. It was in these rice sacks that friends of the black market profiteers were smuggling Japanese paper money into our area of the camp. All would have gone well except that a couple of profiteers had unwisely begun to use this money to buy items from the truck that visited the camp once a week.

The Japanese became suspicious when they discovered that the amount of money they were receiving from the truck sales far exceeded the amount they paid us for farm work. Secretly they investigated and uncovered the smuggling ring. Patiently they awaited their moment to strike. How lucky can one get. At dawn the day before my partner and I were to expand the biscuit business, a squad of enemy soldiers rushed through the ‘main gate and ran to designated locations around the duty area. They grabbed about twenty alleged profiteers and marched them away. We never saw them again, nor did we ever hear what happened to them. We assumed they were beheaded as this was the penalty for black marketeers. I immediately lost interest in the biscuit business and that was the last time I entertained thoughts of carrying on an illegal business in prison.

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Rising Sun-CH18

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Chapter 18

Life continued, but barely, in Camp Cabanatuan. It would be difficult to say if things got better or worse; we only knew that to preserve life we had to learn to tolerate conditions as they were. We did the best we could with what we had, and we waited. Even time lost its meaning. A week was the same as a month. Months became years. They all blended into one impression.

We learned from necessity to make what clothing we needed. We fashioned wooden shoes from 2x4s and leather straps. We had no razors so shaving was impossible; but we did have barbers and everyone kept his hair short and trimmed. Our skin from the tropical sun had turned dark, the color of mahogany.

The Japanese command did permit us to have our own entertainment once a week. We organized a band. I have no idea where the musical instruments for our band came from, but we did somehow manage to put together a five-piece band that we considered outstanding. We were very proud of our band.

Aside from band music we acted out short skits. Some of these theatrical performances depicted various situations in camp that were intended to be funny, and others depicted personalities. We could at least laugh at ourselves. Some skits portrayed life back in the States.

There was a black man who brought down the house one night. He was from an artillery outfit, and the only black prisoner of war I had seen in camp. That might he danced what he called “Beriberi Shuffle” and imitated the men who had sore feet. His imitation was so close to reality that we laughed until we were almost sick.

Occasionally the Japanese had their own special brand of entertainment for their soldiers which we would watch from a distance. They like to hold contests, both group and individual contests. Some of their games were more funny than our skits, although it wasn’t intended to be that way. We were highly amused as we watched them play the kids’ game “Drop the Handkerchief.” We used to play the same game in primary grades. This always brought snickers from the prisoners and it was all we could do to keep from bursting out laughing. Here was our enemy, running around in circles dropping handkerchiefs. But we dared not laugh aloud. The Japanese took their games very seriously.

Early in 1943, the Japanese command decided to replace the Cabanatuan guards with new Japanese recruits from Formosa. We guessed the move was to provide more troops for the battle fields. Perhaps the war was going badly for the Japanese, but it was only a guess.

Camp Cabanatuan by this time had been divided into two areas, one designated as the hospital and other as the duty or farm area. Between these two areas was a grassy open field which the Japanese used to train these new recruits. The training sessions often reminded me of the Mack Sennett comedies, popular during the twenties. The poor recruits, their biggest difficulty was mastering the Japanese rifle. The Japanese rifle was of very poor quality and the bolt often stuck. It was amusing to watch as the sergeant-in-charge shouted the command for the recruits to slide open the bolts, followed by an immediate command to snap them shut. Almost without fail, at least one or two soldiers would be left struggling to snap the bolts shut, without success. This failure to close the bolts always angered the sergeant-in-charge. He would then walk up to the recruit, slap him across the face and sometimes kick him at the same time. The recruit would hastily try to correct his error. If he was unable to shut the bolt, amid more blows and screams, the sergeant would snatch the rifle away and attempt to demonstrate the correct procedure for handling a rifle inspection. But sometimes the sergeant-in-charge couldn’t close the bolt either, and if he too failed, he would go in to a rage. We were always amused by these maneuvers and we were hardly able to contain our laughter, at least until we got back to the barracks. Then we would crack up. We knew what the consequences would be if we laughed at Japanese soldiers in their presence.

Another time Japanese recruits were going through a training exercise that involved simulating an attack on a machine gun position, which, in this case, was located on an anthill at the top of the training field. The sergeant-in-charge wielded a big club as he ran about shouting out orders. There were about forty men in this group, lying on the ground pretending to fire their guns at the imaginary enemy. The sergeant gave the order for the left flank to advance about fifty paces. He then ordered the right flank to move up, and finally the men in the center. The maneuver was repeated several times until the sergeant seemed satisfied. They were now ready to make the final charge at the anthill on top the hill. The sergeant’s command rang out to fix bayonets, whereby his men reached around to their scabbards, withdrew their bayonets and locked them in place on their rifles. All except one man. This poor unfortunate fellow’s bayonet would not snap into place. The sergeant-in-charge saw that the soldier was having trouble and went charging at him across the field, waving his club over his head as he ran.

At this moment someone gave the order to charge. The whole group, including the man in trouble, began charging toward the anthill, shouting “banzai!” As they ran up the hill, it was apparent the unfortunate recruit knew the sergeant with the club was close behind him. Wild-eyed, he put on a burst of speed and disappeared over the top of the anthill, still struggling with his bayonet. We could only guess at what happened when the sergeant met up with the recruit on the other side of the mound.

All prisoners, regardless who we were, officer or enlisted man, were required to either salute or bow as we passed a Japanese soldier in camp. Nor were we permitted to keep our hands in our pockets. We learned to live with this ritual, although, as prisoners of war, we had become pretty informal about differences within our own ranks. The Japanese, on the other hand, considered it military courtesy and demanded respect, even among themselves.

There was one guard post on the main road that led through the middle of camp where we had to be especially careful. We used this road only occasionally, but when we passed the post, we made sure that we came to attention and either bowed or saluted the guards.

I was standing near the post one day when I saw a prisoner coming down the road. He walked past the post without bowing or saluting. Although there was nothing in his appearance that distinguished him from any other prisoner, I recognized him at once as one of our chaplains.

I knew he was in for serious trouble. A guard immediately jumped down, ran up to the chaplain and slapped him in the face. He didn’t stop there. He delivered a dozen more blows, finally knocking the chaplain down and began kicking him. While the chaplain lay in the dust in agony, the guard returned to his station.

I talked to the chaplain after the incident. I explained that Japanese military courtesy required that a prisoner regardless of whom he might be must turn toward the guard post and salute, and that he must not have a hand in his pocket. The chaplain had been guilty of these two infractions of their rules. He didn’t admit it but I had the feeling that as a chaplain he felt he was beyond such regulations. The Japanese thought differently.

That night after the incident, as I lay on the floor in the barracks trying to fall asleep, I thought how easily it would have been for the guard to bayonet or even shoot the chaplain. He could easily have done so.

Maybe it was the thought of the guard using his gun that prompted my mind to wander to another incident involving a gun. I was a young boy in San Francisco.

In my mind I could see so clearly the three flats in our building, each crowded with people, and each containing a Machi family. In our family, counting our grandfather Nonna and grandmother Nonna, my mother and father and all my brothers and sisters, there were twelve of us who lived on the lower floor. Then Aunt Mary, Uncle Tom and their six children lived in the middle flat. On the top floor lived Aunt Rose and Uncle Mike and their four children. Years may have passed but I could see them all so clearly, twenty-six Machis in our three families. I could even count them-two grandparents, six parents, and eighteen children!

Squabbles among the children and among the adult members were a daily occurrence, due, no doubt, to our crowded conditions. But as serious as arguments may have seemed at the time were quickly forgotten. The one that stuck out most vividly in my mind, however, nearly had serious consequences.

It happened one day when I was returning home from school. I came around the corner and was surprised to see a small crowd gathered in front of our house. I edged my way through the crowd to where I could see what was happening. At first it appeared to be just another family squabble. Hanging out the windows upstairs were Mama, Aunt Mary, Aunt Rose and some older children. They were jabbering and shouting all at once, waving their arms and pointing fingers in all directions. It was difficult to tell what was happening, but it was obvious that the spectators on the sidewalk had already chosen sides. Some were shouting back while others encouraged them on.

Suddenly Uncle Mike burst out of his flat and appeared on the landing in front, waving a six-shooter. Spectators instantly ducked for cover and windows slammed shut. I couldn’t for the world imagine who Uncle Mike was going to shoot, but I did know this was really serious.

Now it was the women’s turn to act. Mama, Aunt Mary and Aunt Rose appeared in the next instant and struggled with Uncle Mike on the staircase until they took the gun away from him. They led him upstairs, spectators came out of hiding and peace reigned again on our street. It was just another day in the Machi family.

Besides working on the farm I was assigned to assist in the medical laboratory when needed. Amoebic dysentery was playing havoc with the prisoners, and also affecting the Japanese. Our American doctors convinced the Japanese authorities that we had to isolate those with amoebic dysentery. The doctors were granted their request that a separate area be set aside for such prisoners. We established a makeshift laboratory for the purpose of collecting and studying our stool specimens. As long as the dysentery bug was dormant, it did not create a problem. It was during its active stages that it became dangerous, and it was better to place the men in isolation than to take chances on the disease spreading.

Being close to the disease, we who worked in the lab had to be periodically checked, and one morning I discovered my stool was contaminated. I was ordered to pack my belongings and move to the amoebic dysentery area. My isolation, however, did not exclude me from working on the farm. I was in the farm crew lineup every morning.

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Rising Sun-CH17B

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Chapter 17B
Learning to Survive

As the months passed, we learned ways to improve our diet. For instance, we began getting carabao soup once a week. We were rationed one carabao for the camp, for 50,000 men. We learned, however, that when the animal was slaughtered, the blood was discarded. What a waste! We then come up with the bright idea that the blood could be used. The next time a carabao was slaughtered, we collected the blood in our trusty five-gallon cans and then boiled it on the quan until it coagulated. We had no spices, nothing to mix with it, but we found when we spread it over our rice, it helped kill the sickening mildew flavor. And there’s no doubt, it had to be somewhat nourishing. After that first experiment, not one drop of the carabao blood was wasted.

Another important breakthrough for us was the development of hominy from corn. The little corn that we received for our labor was of such poor quality, and so hard to digest, that it usually gave us the runs. One prisoner from Alabama remembered his mother making hominy. He did his best to recall how she did it. The results weren’t the best southern hominy grits in the world, but it did improve the taste. And after we learned to make hominy, our diet improved tremendously. We no longer minded that the Japanese took the better grade of corn. Food value wise it made no difference.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Nowhere did it apply better than in prison camp. We threw nothing away, not even the corncobs after we removed the corn. The Japanese allowance of three or four squares of toilet paper per week was far from adequate, especially for a man suffering from dysentery. The corncobs, although rough and uncomfortable, supplemented the rationed toilet paper.

There was a secret black market operating in camp between prisoners with money and Japanese guards. Money was exchanged mainly for rice and other foodstuffs. One man I knew had made a deal with a Japanese guard who periodically dumped a sack of rice over the fence. The man then hid the rice in a container concealed within a table with a false bottom. The table at a glance appeared to be like all the other rustic tables around camp. It was an ingenuous contraption that took much skill to construct. The top was hinged and when it was raised there was the rice, sometimes a couple of kilos. So cleverly was it fashioned that the Japanese inspection parties that walked past noticed nothing unusual. The risk this man took was considerable but the rice he obtained-which was the same rice the Japanese kept for themselves-was clean, free of grubs and far superior to the rice they gave us.

Those who had money could purchase a canteen cup of rice from the owner. Most of the money went back to the Japanese supplier.

In time we also discovered that making rice flour was a simple matter. We soaked the rice in the water and then dried it in the sun. Once rice is dry, it becomes soft, and we could then roll it with a bottle to make flour. By mixing rice flour again with water, we could make hotcake batter which we cooked on the quan stove. No Log Cabin syrup, of course.

Sometime in 1943, the Japanese command began paying us for working on the farm. Our salary was about six centavos a month. After we began receiving pay for our work, the Japanese allowed a truck every now and then to enter the camp loaded with coconuts and bananas, and a little tobacco. Most of us could only afford to purchase a coconut or a banana or two but the opportunity to buy something extra was perhaps more psychologically beneficial than the little nourishment we received from whatever we bought.

Among prisoners’ most valuable possessions were empty sterile bandage cans. We called them our “butt cans,” and in these small containers each of us stored every shred of discarded cigarettes that we could find. Generally, every cigarette was totally smoked, down to the last grain of tobacco, making it almost impossible to find butts anywhere on the ground. But occasionally someone did toss away some remnants of a butt, especially passing Japanese officers, and these we searched for constantly. We walked around with our eyes glued to the ground. To get the most from the tobacco I found, I made a rough looking pipe from local hardwood. I smoked it occasionally, very occasionally, for tobacco was scarce and expensive to buy, even from friends.

Then came my sensational discovery!

It happened that the Japanese decided to let our officers play softball once a week in an adjoining field not used by the prisoners. One day, while talking to some friends and watching the softball game out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that several ball players were smoking as they played. I immediately thought about the butts. I gradually moved away from my friends, and at the same time continued to watch the game. A batter took a swing and sent the ball flying to the outfield where an outfielder, seeing it coming, flipped his almost whole cigarette to the ground and ran to catch the ball. I couldn’t believe it! I had discovered an area untouched by cigarette butt hunters.

The next day I did not work on the farm, and when the chance came, I casually strolled over to the playing field, by myself, and conducted a thorough search. There were no cigarette butts at home plate since the batter and catcher had been too busy to smoke, but behind the plate there were several butts. I went to check each base in the infield, and sure enough there were a few butts at each base. But it was the outfield that proved to be a bonanza. There were cigarette butts scattered everywhere.

I went back to the barracks with my butt can overflowing and one pocket almost filled. I made up my mind to keep my discovery a secret. For reasons no one could understand, I suddenly became vitally interested in ball games, nor could anyone understand why my butt can was never empty. I now had plenty of pipe tobacco.

Cabanatuan was located in the middle of a plain. The land was flat and extended as far as the eye could see. During the rainy season, violent storms struck our area with wind velocities of well over sixty miles per hour. As storms approached, we could look out across the plain and see a solid black wall of rain clouds rapidly advancing toward us.

If we were outside, we barely had enough time to snatch our belongings and make it to the barracks. The barracks were open on both ends and without doors or windows. An open space under our sleeping areas created an ideal wind tunnel. Gusts of wind accompanied by heavy rain tore through the building from end to end leaving everything soaked in its path. Lightning flashed and the thunder boomed like cannons. There is nothing that will equal a thunder storm in the tropics.

One night during such a violent storm, a prisoner got up and went to the doorway to view the lightning. I could see him standing there, the flashes of lightening silhouetting him in the door frame. Suddenly a bolt of lightning struck the doorway, and the man was electrocuted as he stood there. The next morning everyone went to silently examine the charred and burned doorway. Even Mother Nature was working against us.

We had a special area set aside in Cabanatuan that was really deplorable, but at the same time necessary. It was for unstable and insecure soldiers, those who might become violent or take their own lives. These men were stripped of all their clothes and kept in a guarded enclosed area in full view of everyone. Three or four times a day they were led to the latrines, tied together-with ropes around their waists, like dogs on a leash. Their antics were often abnormal and there was always the fear that they might commit suicide.

On one occasion, a man came to me and blurted out that he didn’t see why anyone should have to live under these conditions. As he spoke, he placed his forearm before my eyes and I observed a cut exposing an artery on his wrist. He was at the end of his line. To save his life I had no choice other than to recommend that he be put with the others. Another man in my barracks frequently fell into spells of laughter for no reason. He too had to be led away to join the unstable group.

One prisoner in my barracks had a Latin sounding name and when I questioned him about it, he told me he was Italian. He had been on Corregidor during the siege, and one day, after I befriended him, he waved me into a corner, and looking around suspiciously, said, ”You must swear you will tell no one.” Not knowing what else to say, I agreed. He then told me a tale that sent shivers up my spine.

It appeared that just before the surrender, an officer had commanded him to help bury a burlap sack, which, in due course, he discovered contained two heavy bars of gold. He surmised that the officer was killed and only he knew where the gold was buried. After the war he was going to be a very rich man. I had no idea why he was telling me this, unless he wished me to have the gold if something happened to him. Whatever it was, he was very disturbed and as a result had trouble sleeping at night. Day and night he planned how he would recover the gold. He never left the barracks; he just sat there and brooded about his secret.

One day when I returned from the farm my Italian friend was gone. I inquired what had happened to him, only to learn that he had been taken away. My first thought was that the Japanese had somehow discovered his secret. I then learned he had been relocated; he had been placed with the other misfits. He had never been on Corregidor as he claimed.

I had gained some experience in the physiotherapy clinic during my short stay at Sternberg General Hospital while in Manila. Based on this brief experience, I was now assigned to cover the wards and manipulate the arms and legs of patients who were bedridden. I walked around with a bottle of mineral oil from one bed to another. This work, the physical contact, the helping of others, the exercise, had much to do with my own well-being and perhaps even my own survival.

Through my work in the hospital I met endless people, each with his own problem. Some had strange things happen to them. There was a Navy chief who had contracted syphilis just before the surrender. The disease was in an advanced stage and had paralyzed his legs and affected his vocal chords. We had no medicine and there was nothing we could do for him, except comfort him. He spoke only two words, and these he used vociferously whenever he became frustrated or angry. They were “goddam” and “sonofabitch.”

The chief was a real career Navy man, with tattoos all over his body. Across his back was tattooed a dragon that extended from his shoulders to his waist. On his chest was a big cross with clouds in the background. His arms and legs were marked with various signs and figures.

When we first started to work with the chief, he was bed ridden and could only move his arms. With our help, he improved rapidly and soon we had him in a sitting position. His attitude was good and he had a great deal of courage. He made desperate attempts to walk, but he always fell over, and when he did the whole ward heard him as he called out, “Goddam, sonofabitch.” .

Through his persistence we had him walking within a few weeks, but he could not manipulate his left leg. He stepped with his right and dragged his left. We made a cane for him and he was doing very well. I lost track of him not long after that. It was so strange, how someone could be around one minute and the next they were gone, and you never knew what happened to them.

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