PRISONERS OF WAR
At this point someone shouted that we had reached Corregidor. We stood up and stared. This was my first daylight view of that much vaunted fortress. It was ghastly. What had once been a verdant hill with large, heavily foliaged trees, was now only a bare mound with blackened stumps scaring its surface. Not only in one place did this desolation reign, but over the whole island as far as the eye could reach. Small wonder, then, that men should surrender, I thought, when the destruction had been so complete that it had stripped the island of its own natural splendors.
We made our way through this grim wreckage of nature, twisting in and out among splinters of timber, strands of barbed wire and occasionally side-stepping a form that had once been a gallant soldier. We passed a field hospital; Japanese soldiers lay side by side on stretchers, some with blood oozing through their recently applied bandages. A few—a very few—were able to crane their necks to have a look at us. I saluted them reverently, and a wan smile crept to their tightened lips. Most of them were suffering from multiple machine-gun wounds, in their, legs, bodies, arms and faces. Brave men these …."human bullets."
We walked on. At one spot a wooden monument had already been erected. On this spot a battalion commander from the first landing party had been killed. Further on we came across herds of Filipino and American prisoners who were being directed in one direction. Guns of all sizes, left behind by surrendering U.S.. troops, littered the ground in all directions. Rifles, pistols, steel helmets—mountains of them. Destroyed automobiles and trucks were also visible, practically everyone of them victims of Japanese bombs or shells.
At one place the burnt out remains of a KZRH sound truck, equipped for a remote control broadcast, lay on its side. It had been brought over from Manila for propaganda purposes. Finally, we came to a tunnel—one of the famous tunnels about which we had heard so much. It was packed with ammunition and food. Outside it several prisoners lingered, awaiting instructions. Nearby were several cots covered with white sheets….the stench and the noisy flies betrayed what lay beneath the coverings.
We hurried away from that dreadful scene and took a winding road which fed to a position that gave us a commanding view of the surrounding area, including Caballo and Friday Islands. We rounded a sharp bend and Corregidor City came into view—that is to say, what used to to be Corregidor City. Now it was nothing but a mass of debris. A long pier jutted out into the blue-green channel—but no ships rode the waters there. Only one hull still remained visible; grounded in the bay was a solitary wreck, the victim of Japanese dive bombers. On a wide, open piece of ground, presumably where provisions had previously been landed, prisoners of war now mingled by the thousand.
I broke away from the group, after explaining to Lieut. Mochizuki that I wanted to talk with some of the prisoners. A few minutes later I came across several sun-burnt, red faces. No smiles greeted me—just tired looks. I asked one of them if he was a Fourth Marine. He saluted me and answered in the negative, explaining that these men were in the army and went on to enquire if he could be of any further help. I asked where I could locate some Marines.
"Hell," the man blurted out, "they're all over this god-damn rock." (Illegible) to a nearby tunnel, he said "You will find some near that tunnel. I just came from there."
I turned and started off in the direction indicated. It seemed as if the whole U.S. armed forces were here. There were men by the thousand, all of them with relieved looks on their faces, mostly unshaven and in uniforms that looked as if they had been in them just a little too long. The weather was as hot as hell and everyone was wiping the sweat off their faces and necks with a dirty towel. Recognizing a couple of Marine badges, I went up to them and demanded: "You fellows Fourth Marines from Shanghai?"
They stared at me in silence for a while. I guess they were surprised at my Yankee English. Finally one of them answered "Yes" in a somewhat meek tone.
"Well, do any of you possess a wife in Shanghai?"
"No," they answered in chorus. Then it suddenly went home to them. "Why, has something happened in Shanghai?"
"Only a few blessed events." I watched their faces closely. "And I have a letter here from Mrs. K."
"Jesus! K—was killed by a shell on May 1, A swell kid, K—used to talk about her. Isn't she going to have a baby soon?"
"Yes, very soon."
"My name is Bob Cr—. Do me a favor? Take her a note from us?"
I agreed to do so. A scrap of paper was produced and a few words were scribbled on it. I read them. "Our deepest sympathies, Corporal K—died in line of duty. We are safe and treated well." The note was passed around and several men signed it. I searched in my pockets and pulled out a messy envelope. "This is for Private K," I said. "It is from his wife."
Someone interrupted, "He's been promoted to corporal." C. pocketed the letter and a deep silence enveloped the group.
By this time a large group had gathered around us. I did not want to create a commotion, so, staring around me, I yelled roughly: "Break it up, boys!" They all saluted, some with an "Aye, aye, sir," and dispersed. Suddenly a hairy arm reached out from behind me and tapped my shoulder. I turned. An elderly man with a golden beard and soft light colored hair came up to me and asked if I was from Shanghai. I told him I was.
"Are you going back?" he asked humbly. I nodded my head.
"I wonder, I wonder, if—" he stammered, "you will take a note that I am alive and alright to my wife?"
"Sure," I said encouragingly.
He searched frantically in his pocket for a piece of paper. He already had a stub of pencil in his hand and someone else supplied the paper which he, so unhappily, could not find. With trembling hands, he scribbled a few lines and handed me the note.
"You see," he
explained, slowly, painstakingly, in disjointed, troubled phrases, "she is
Chinese... lives out Avenue Road - and I have lived in China sixteen years we
have been married eight years.... we've a little daughter, Anne." His words came
out in short, jerky spasms. He slug into the pocket over his heart, and drew out
a soiled, crumpled photograph. He showed it to me. "This is them," he jerked
out. "They're worried about me, I know….we were so
happy together, the three of us.…"
"This is a hell of a place for you to be in. Whatever brought you here?" I asked.
He looked embarrassed. The crowd by this time had gathered again. Again I ordered them to "Keep moving."
"Well," he started to explain, "I was in the service before, but I quit and tried my hand at some odd jobs. You see, I wanted to stay in Shanghai ....I liked it there….then I got married to Ruby….we were very happy together….then came our baby ..." he paused and there was a soft, far away look in his eyes. I could see he loved his child. He pulled himself together and went on. "My jobs began to be few and far between. The U.S. dollar began to go up. So I rejoined the service and supported my family on U.S. gold, the exchange being very favorable.... then I was ordered to Manila last September.. the war came, and here I am…."
There were sobs in those last few pathetic words. I tried to comfort him as best I could; I told him not to worry, that I would see to it that Ruby would get his message safely.
"Oh, thank you very much, Captain," he cried. He put his hand into his pocket again and this time brought out a Chinese cigaret case which he held out to me. "Please," he mumbled, "Please accept this.... it was given to me by my wife as a birthday gift years ago."
I refused to touch it. I couldn't accept this token. It obviously meant so much to him I told him I did not smoke cigarets anyway. But he insisted. I took it and opened it —engraved inside was; "To J.S.P.—With a Happy Birthday from Ruby." A birthday gift from his wife. I held the case in my hand and said as gently as I could, "Alright, I'll take it ... and I will give it to your wife together with your message. Then she will know the note is genuine." The elderly Marine wandered off, covering his eyes with his arm. He was muttering to himself, "I love my Ruby- .. I love my baby." It was just another of those little tragedies that go to make up the whole dreadful mosaic of the ghastly business which is called war.
From the distance several Marines had been watching this heart-rending little scene. A few stepped up. "How about taking some letters for us, Captain?" they asked.
"Sure," I said. "Go right ahead. Have them ready in ten minutes, I am going to look around." And I left them. The prisoners were in groups—odd little segments of humanity, segregated physically but unified mentally in a common weal. Here, they were taking turns at shaving one another. There, they were playing poker. Others were sitting on the cliff, aimlessly tossing rocks into the sea below. But one little detail stuck out, one fact was glaringly noticeable—the Americans and the Filipinos did not mix.
I returned and gathered the notes they had written….to Dottie, Olga, Tamara, Billie, Nichevo and Maria. I ,.ould have known that these. boys were Fourth Marines if only from the addresses, which ranged from Avenue Joffre to Bubbling Well Road and Kiangse Road. So much for that. I asked if Col. S. Howard could be found. "Yes," they replied, "inside this tunnel in the Quartermaster's Room."
I entered Tunnel Five, a huge hole dug into solid rock. A diesel engine was running some kind of motor at the entrance. From the torrid, tropical heat outside, I entered a somewhat moist, smelly, semi-circular tunnel, which was about 20 yards across and about 14 yards from floor to ceiling. In other words, it was a very roomy affair, except for the fact that every variety of equipment and provisions were strewn along its entire length as far as the eye could see. From this main artery there were several off-shoots—smaller tunnels which looked like store-rooms, hospitals, and quarters for senior officers. A tall, bulky American soldier wearing a blue and white arm-band with the letters "M.P.", came up, .saluted, and asked. "Can I be of any service, sir?"
I looked him over carefully. He was an Army M.P. and wore a badge which read: "Military Police 293 Fort :Scott."
"Where can I find Col. Howard of the Fourth Marines?"
"This way, sir." And he led me down the main tunnel, branched off into a corridor, opened a door and announced:
"Col. Howard, a Japanese Officer to see you, sir." I peeked in. The light, which was of the new daylight variety, blinded me momentarily. Inside I distinguished a figure standing in a militant posture—khaki uniform, smiling face, silvery hair. It was Col. Samuel Howard, lately of Shanghai. I stepped in and extended my hand.
"How do you do, Col. Howard." I spoke carefully, not caring to use the rough slang that the Marines outside were speaking. "Of course you don't know me, but I am from Shanghai. I am under Lieut.-Col. Akiyama, Chief of the Japanese Army Press Bureau, and I know many officers whose names must be familiar to you."
"Glad to meet you. Yes, I know Capt. Kamada, Gen. Kinoshita, Col. Utsunomiya and Col. Otani. How are they?"
I told him they were all fine and that Col. Utsunomiya was in Brazil. 'Then I asked him what he was doing and how the Japanese were treating him.
He said he was waiting for the Japanese to get established and had not as yet received any, instructions. What men he had had contact with, however, had been courteous and orderly. He then introduced me to Lieut.-Col. Curtiss, who also went out of his way to congratulate us Japanese on our overwhelming success in the War of Greater East Asia. "Concerning Corregidor," Lieut.-Col. Curtiss continued; "had it not been for the consistent bombardment by the big guns at Bataan, the American forces would have held out much longer. But it was too much for us and we suffered heavy casualties," he concluded.
I asked Col. Howard what he thought the casualties among the Marines had been. "Plenty," he answered, "particularly in the last few days. However, we have lost only two senior officers."
I enquired if there was anything I could do as I was going back to Shanghai. He at once asked if it would be possible to get word to the United States. I told him that might be possible and I would try to arrange it if he had a message to send—subject, of course, to censorship. He thanked me and sat down to write a letter to his wife, while I extended the same courtesy to Major Hamilton, who had also joined the group.
The Marine colonel wrote two notes. One, addressed to Consul-General Lockhart in Shanghai, reported the deaths of Maj. Harry C. Lang and Capt. Noel O. Castle, while the other, With was to his wife in Coronado, California, read: "I and (illegible)members of my staff are well." Major Hamilton's letter was addressed to several women at the French Club in Shanghai. There was a humorous twist to his note which was signed "The Duke".
Next door, I discovered, was the large U.S. Navy wireless room. An intricate variety of complicated looking instruments lined the walls inside and the litter of smashed glass indicated that the men had resorted to sabotage before surrendering. There was a Japanese technician already examining the variegated array of instruments and equipment. He assured me, however, that most of it could he salvaged and shortly put back to use. There was a stack of records near one of the instruments, indicating that this room had been the Corregidor radio station which had occasionally broadcast programs in English and Tagalog to the Philippine people. Moreover, this was the self-same room from which Gen. Wainwright had been in direct communication with Gen. MacArthur in Australia. They had both failed miserably in their futile endeavor to keep the war in the Philippines.... the war was over as far as the Philippines were concerned.
Behind this room there was another engine—the main diesel motor which generated the electricity and ran the enormous cooling system, together with the pump which operated the water. I was told by an engineer that the engine was in perfect condition and that there was enough deiscl oil to keep things running for at least three months. All the water mains and pumping was controlled from this room, as also was the electricity. All in all, to say the least, this was an elaborate set-up.
Adjoining the radio station was another small office and bed-room. Col. Howard knocked and the door was opened by a naval officer to whom I was introduced. He was Capt. Hoeffel, C-in-C of the U.S. Navy (what was left of it in the Philippines). His desk was littered with pictures of his wife and daughter and he was packing what belongings he could for possible evacuation elsewhere. I asked him about Admiral Glassford. "He's in Washington by now" was the laconic answer.
"I imagine you have been very busy here," I enquired innocently. Startled, he looked up.
"No—as a matter of fact, we Navy men have had hardly anything to do," he stressed. "Our ships were practically all destroyed by your Air Force. What few submarines were left, transported the women and children from Corregidor to Australia. Our men here have had little to do. A couple of civilian technicians took care of the deisel plant. The Army and the Marines handled most of the fighting. However, I will say this much for your boys . . . We do not regret surrendering to the Japanese Army. No army in the world, not even our well-trained troops, could have withstood the stamina and courage of your men. They really are `human bullets'."
I invited him to write a letter home and promised him I would see that his family got his note. He seized the opportunity with alacrity and lost no time in penning a few lines. The envelope was addressed to his wife in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I also secured a letter for the wife of Corporal K—which recognized her as the legal wife of the Fourth Marine n.c.o.
Leaving the little group, I strolled through the tunnels. They were on the dark side but were air-cooled—which is saying a lot on Corregidor. There were prisoners by the hundred, cluttering up the space inside. As they saw me coming, the men would take off their hats: occasionally a non-commissioned officer would bellow "A-ten-shun!" I felt like George Washington reviewing his troops at Valley Forge, or Napoleon at Austerlitz. Once I paused and asked a few of them if they thought this war was going to last long.
"I hope not," a short, Irish-looking, red-faced fellow spoke up.
"I'm afraid so," added another, who looked like a Marine. He was tattooed all over his hairy chest and arms. "Yeah," criled someone else, "judging by the way we have been kidded along here. Say, which general was it, Yamashita or Homma, who committed 'hatokaira' or whatever you call it, in Bataan?"
I could not help but laugh. "Gen. Yamashita is now in Singapore and Gen. Homna is in Manila," I replied. "Let me tell you they are both in perfect health and the best of spirits .. and it's 'hara-kiri'."
"Yes, it's that kind of rumour which does us no good," the tattooed Marine continued. "And we were also told that Tokyo was virtually destroyed in a mass air attack by our planes. Is that, too, a false report?"
I laughed again—probably very rudely—for the expression on their faces was one of injured pride.
"Well, boys," I said in the manner of a school master explaining to children, "if such reports were true, do you think we would be thousands of miles from hone and allowing the enemy to destroy it? If Tokyo was destroyed and our families wiped out by your bombers, do you think you would be.alive today to question the authenticity of such propaganda?"
A couple of them scratched their heads. "By God, I Jess we have been fooled," they muttered in chorus.
"Well, you will have a long time in which to think these .sings over. Maybe you will be in a position to tell your politicians a few things when you get back." I began to walk away.
"'Wait, till we get back, yes—we'll tell them—and how!" they shouted.
Yes, those boys were bitter, and rightfully so. Ten thousand miles from hone, making a desperate stand against a mighty foe on the strength of promises of immediate aid, which never came and which never was intended to come. Now, in tens of thousands, they were prisoners of war and as yet there was no hope of peace. Bitter was a mild term. Their grudge against the imperialistic politicians back home was not altogether unfounded, nor was it uncalled for. Those boys were still in the prime of life.
While wandering dreamily through the tunnel, a thought occurred to me. I tried to brush it aside but it just would not leave me. I sought the nearest exit and chanced upon a group of American soldiers. They stood erect and slipped off their hats. ""Never mind," I said as I approached them.
"Aye, aye, sir."
Here was a chance to relieve my mind.
"Say," I called to them.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"You all belong to the U.S. Army?"
"Yes, sir. The majority on this rock do, sir."
"What have you men been fighting for? What is this war all about?" I fired at them.
They stared at me and then at each other awkwardly. They seemed to be at a loss as to what to say. I waited with a smile, wondering if they had any idea at all as to the real issue.
"Because war had been declared," answered the youngest in the group—he looked not more than twenty. "To protect the Philippines from Japanese invasion," replied another.
"Did you think this to be a war of conquest, and that Japan is out to conquer your possessions?" I put it to them.
"Well, we are not politicians or experts on world politics," began a tall, lanky fellow who looked like a Californian, "but you have taken Hongkong, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, Rangoon and now the Philippines. . . and if that ain't conquest, I don't know what it is."
I laughed helplessly. I got the boys to sit down on the hillside—there must have been about twenty of them by now and I tried to explain.
"Alright, just suppose we didn't blow the hell out of your fleet in Pearl Harbor . . . suppose we were defeated in Hong Kong, that our navy didn't sink the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, that our landing at Vigan and Lingayen had failed, .. and that your combined British and American forces had .defeated Japan ... suppose that the British and American flags .were now flying over Tokyo ... you would have conquered Japan. In other words, once war has broken out, it can only end in conquest one way or another. Am I right?"
They all looked at me blankly and nodded their heads in silence.
"Well, then," I continued, "you have yet to answer my question. What have you been fighting for?”
A big fellow, whom I recognized as a top sergeant by his insignia, spoke up. "A war to wipe out Nazism and dictatorship."
I laughed mockingly, knowing that I was rude and mean."And to make the world safe for democracy, eh?" I finished the cliche for him. "We in Japan have no Nazism nor any other form of dictatorship. Your President is more powerful than our Premier.
"Sure, Roosevelt is a dictator," put in a buck private. "In times of war it is only right that the nation should follow one mun with absolute power. Trouble is — Roosevelt hasn't enough power like Hitler and Mussolini."
"But the people of the United States did not vote on the subject of war. They didn't want to go to any war," argued another soldier.
"Then that leaves us to ask the Captain just why Japan attacked us," still another private put in.
They all looked at me as if they had got me in a trap. I rested my elbows on the hard ground, stared up into the cloudless sky and began to talk, choosing my words carefully.
"There are two important factors involved," I began. "The first is the moral element; and the second is the economic question. Your statesmen required strict adherence to the Monroe Doctrine imposed in the Western Hemisphere, while at the same time they demanded the Open Door in China. The Occidental could flock to the Orient, but the Oriental was denied the opportunity of immigration to the Occident. You will, no doubt, justify Occidental seizures of Egypt, India, the N.E.I., the Philippines and Mongolia, and yet you fail to recognize Manchukuo. You have a double standard of morals and justice—one for yourselves and one for the Orientals. Your greedy and rapacious capitalists denied Japan trade privileges except at their own dominating dictation.
"Through her trade, Japan built up a huge merchant marine which carried the Flag of the Rising Sun over the Seven Seas. Japan bought as much as she sold.
"America, for instance, is Japan's best customer for silk and manufactured goods. On the other hand, Japan was America's best customer in the fields of cotton, machinery and scrap iron. Politicians—cat's-paws for capitalists—forced your government to discriminate against Japan with boycotts, embargoes, freezing acts, and blocked trade restrictions—not only in the United States but wherever she held influence.
"Take the case of the Philippines as a particular instance. By virtue of limitations imposed upon the exportation of sugar to the U.S., the sugar industry was doomed, cotton and gutta percha, two of the chief raw materials produced in the Philippimes, were limited for exportation. Both these products are needed in Japan. Reciprocal preference in Japan for these raw materials and in the Philippines for Japanese manufactured goods could have been established by means of commercial treaties and agreements.
"In such a manner, a preferential market for Filipino :.w materials could have been assured and a supply of manufactured necessities from Japan could have been guaranteed under mutually profitable conditions. But no. In the eyes of Occidental justice and morals, such an arrangement is both out of the question and unprofitable. To sum up, the greatest mistake made by your people was the adoption of a Janus, two-faced attitude of superiority. If wars, such as this one, are to be avoided, you on your part must be consistent with the high-sounding principles voiced by great Americans, such as Lincoln's credo 'that all men are created equal'."
When I had finished there was a lull. Everyone seemed be lost in profound meditation.
"I guess you're right," someone ventured.
I stood up. "Just think it over. Someday, maybe, you'll agree."
Introduction | Author's Note | On to the Front | Gen. Wainwright Surrenders | Prisoners of War | Fort Mills Hospital | Racial Discrimination | Goodbye Corregidor | Lieut.-Comm. F. H. Callahan | Gen. Wainwright's Appeal | Official Communiqués | Santo Tomas Internment Camp |
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