By the time my head had cleared, I noticed that numerous prisoners had collected around me. I recognized one of the Marines to whom I had spoken on the previous day. As I staggered to my feet, they stood to attention and several raised their hands in a salute. I began to wonder what was in the air. They obviously had something on their minds.
"They're assembling all prisoners and taking us away. What's to become of us?" the Marine inquired, while his comrades silently waited for me to answer. I purposely hesitated before giving my reply and looked down the road to where Filipino and American prisoners were walking in single file, each one of them loaded with provisions, whatever he could carry.
"Couldn't you tell us?" put in another young soldier. There was a hidden fear in his voice and expression. What did these men expect? Somehow I could not help but ask.
"What do you suppose we are going to do with you?" I tried to act in a hard-boiled manner. "What have you done with Japanese prisoners? Many of the Japanese are missing, ones that you took from Manila, from among the civilian internees.
"We haven't heard anything about it," one of them put in excitedly.
"All I remember is that a Japanese was washed ashore the morning following the initial attack. He was in a weak condition and wounded. Some of the Filipino scouts took the poor wretch up the hill and—after torturing him—shot him. I could not do anything about it because the Filipinos are that way and there weren't enough Americans to stop them." The speaker was obviously a Marine judging from tattoo marks all over his chest and arms. On one arm a heart pierced by an arrow was tattooed and under it was written San Francisco, Honolulu, Guam, Manila, Shanghai, Tientsin and Peking.
"I know that Filipinos killed a whole group of Japanese soldiers in Bataan," added another.
"The Filipinos are savages. They will kill just for the fun of it," still another commented. It was only too obvious that these men were just "passing the buck" on. If I kept quiet they would probably blame the whole war on the Filipinos. I decided to put a stop to it.
"But these Filipinos, they are members of the U.S. Army and they are fighting for you and your cause. Whatever they do, you are responsible for it—aren't you?" A sudden hush fell over the group.
"Yes, in a way. But the Filipinos hate us." The very tone of this Marine's voice carried complete contempt for the whole island race.
"Why?" I asked.
"I dunno," was the laconic answer.
"It's a racial problem," a lanky soldier explained. "There's been discrimination in our army regarding the Filipino and American soldiers and officers. I don't blame them for hating us."
"Yes," a plump, shirtless soldier joined the discussion. In Manila, we weren't allowed to go to certain cabarets because the goddamn Filipinos would have knifed us in the back. Yeah, these Filipinos are not worth a damn. I never could understand just why the United States had to keep the Philippines. We should have given it back to the savages a long time ago. Now look at what a mess it has got us into." The men nodded their heads in approval.
A group of Filipino soldiers was passing us, guarded by some Japanese. The American group disgustedly turned away from the Filipinos. What a bloody problem for us, I thought, if the American and Filipino prisoners ever got out of hand here. Yes, there was no doubt that this was a racial question.
"You still haven't said where they're taking us," the Marine insisted. I didn't know myself but in an effort to comfort them, I told them that they would probably be assembled, divided into groups and eventually returned to the mainland to work on the reconstruction of roads, bridges and cities. That seemed to relieve them. What they were probably afraid of was that they would be led away somewhere to be shot. . . a wholesale massacre of prisoners. But work, oh, that would be alright. With a broad smile they thanked me and dispersed.
By this time the ache and the smell of the hospital were out of my head. I decided to go back. The corridors were isolated now that the soldiers were being assembled outside. Heaps of guns, pistols, bullets, bayonets and steel helmets lent an atmosphere of complete disorder and disorganization. At one place there were three barber's chairs—it was the Fort Mills barbershop for soldiers. Nearby were stacks of discarded letters and stationery. I noticed many photographs of girls....
I entered the room which had previously been occupied by Captain Hoeffel, thinking that no one would be around. To my surprise, the Captain and his staff were still there. "Well," I ejaculated. "What are you doing here? Everybody had been called out of the tunnels."
"When we started to go, a Japanese soldier ordered us to remain here," Captain Hoeffel explained. "I am ready to go any time now, got everything packed. If there is anything in this room that you would like to have, I would be very pleased to have you take it."
I glanced round the room but there was nothing in particular that appealed to me. The Captain opened his suitcase and brought out a carton of Chesterfields. "I would like to give these to you," he said. I pointed out that I never smoked cigarets and added that he had better keep them for himself because what few he had would not last forever. He put them in his case and drew out something else. It was a shiny silver cigaret case. "Even if you don't smoke, please accept this as a token of my appreciation. It has my name on it and may serve as a souvenir of Corregidor."
His evident sincerity and the appeal in his voice caused me to accept the token, which I examined very carefully. It was sterling silver. On the outside of the lid his name was engraved in a small rectangle: Kenneth M. Hoeffel. Inside there were two Camel cigarets which covered some engraving. Pushing them to one side I read: "In appreciation of your work and leadership", and below it: "Northwestern Naval Unit 1535". I pocketed the token in silence.
Though there were six of us in the little room, scarcely a word had passed between us. Somehow, I could not help but feel that these men were worried about what the next few hours held in store for them. After all, this room was air-conditioned and it had all the comforts that a home could offer—except, possibly, a family. Outside it would be terribly hot; the march to the assembly would be long and dusty and the Captain and his staff of officers would be prisoners of war just like the rest of them.
I asked for a glass of water. A refrigerator was opened and I was supplied with an ice-cold drink. Taking out my handkerchief, I sprinkled some water on it and wiped my dirty forehead. The Captain noticed this and walked over to his dressing cabinet, from which he drew out a large bath towel with the inscription "U.S. Navy" woven across it. "Take this," he said, "it night come in handy. It will only be left here for the soldiers to take." I thanked him for his kindness and slipped it under my belt. To keep the conversation going, I remarked on what a wonderful setup they had there.
"I was here when this fortress was being built. You know, originally this was supposed to have been a stone quarry.It might have been better if we carried out that original plan," Hoeffel laughed drily.
"By the way," he continued, "your soldiers took away the man in charge of the deisel engine which operates the water and electricity plant here. If you don't get someone to replace him, you will have no water or light here tomorrow."
I left the room and started out in search of the party that had taken away the technician in question. Half an hour later, I found his substitute—a civilian who had been employed by the U.S. Navy to look after the water and light plant.
Returning to the Captain's room, I told him everything was fixed up now so that everyone on the island would have water. It affected the prisoners as much as anyone else, for their water also came from the pump inside the tunnel.
We all went outside and Hoeffel immediately raised his hands in the air and bent down and touched his toes. "I have not breathed fresh air for days," he said and continued with his exercise.
A Japanese soldier came up to take them away.
"Where will you be taking them," I asked.
"Senior officers will be taken to a separate camp and be treated with respect and dignity, depending on their rank and office," was the reply.
I explained to the soldier that this was Captain Hoeffel, Acting Commander of the U.S. Navy in the Philippines, together with his staff, and cautioned him that their treatment should be honorable.
After few pictures had been taken and words of appreciation exchanged, the group disappeared into the tunnel accompanied by the Japanese soldier. They had gone to collect their belongings, what little of them they could take with them.
I watched them disappear and then turned round to see an almost endless column of war prisoners straggling along in the direction of the Corregidor airfield. I decided to follow them; I really did not know exactly what was going to happen these poor unfortunates and I was curious.
Walking alone, I joined in the march. It was an awful experience. The tropic sun beat down with merciless fury on that naked island, stripped as is was of its trees and foliage, houses and buildings. No better example of the horrible aftermath of war than the scene in front of me could be imagined. The men—what was left of them—went straggling along the rough, dusty road. They had loaded themselves with everything they could get hold of—with every conceivable object that they imagined might come in useful later on.
Naturally, the vast bulk of the stuff they carried was food—canned goods they had been able to salvage front the ruins or had managed to sneak out of the tunnels. One little group, more ambitious than the rest, was heaving along a five gallon tin filled with drinking water. The road was down grade and as they carried their cumbersome burden, it would rig out every now and then and some water would splash out. "Goddamit, be careful! This stuff is going to be mighty precious," one of them would shout out every time a few drops .shed out of the tin.
Sneaking up behind small rocks, tiny lizzards stared at that strange procession in motionless wonder. A butterfly fluttered from weed to weed, searching in vain for one fragrant flower. A sickening stench and the angry buzzing of flies indicated what once had been a man, lying some fifty feet from the road.
The men quickened their pace. There was less shouting. Only one consolation remained for these war-weary fragments of humanity: this was the road to home. All the hell that had lain around them so recently was now a part of the irrevocable past.
Somehow, when I joined that clanking procession, I was thinking along the same lines as all those ahead and those that followed me…at least, I imagined our thoughts were the same. Just as I rounded a bend I came upon, a couple of Filipino and American soldiers in argument. They were on the verge of getting mixed up in a fist fight, while a group gathered round them. As I came into view, they forgot their differences and stood to attention.
"What the hell is going on here?" I demanded roughly.
They stared at me. No doubt they were overcome by my Yankee expression. The American quickly recovered from his surprise.
"This Filipino stole a wallet from a pal of mine who was killed day before yesterday," lie declared. "There wasn't any money in it, but he had pictures of his family and wife in San Diego, also his home address."
"I haven't got it!" retorted the swarthy Filipino with the sweat oozing down his dusty check.
"You son of a——I seen you take it!" the American replied, his clenched fist trembling at his side.
"I threw it away," the Filipino muttered.
I took hold of the dirty trembling wretch by the front of his shirt and demanded, "Where is it?"
The American stepped closer, probably waiting for a chance to lay his hands on the Filipino.
"Over on Malinta Hill." The man was scared stiff. The Yankee took a swing at him, but he ducked just in time and only got a jar on the shoulder. I ordered the men to line up again and the procession proceeded. Meanwhile, I told the American to go and look for the wallet if he had a chance. He muttered something which sounded like, "I doubt if I can find it now."
Further down the line, I noticed several old bearded men. They wore khaki clothes like the others and were civilian employees of the U.S. Army—probably retired men holding down jobs as watchmen or something like that. I felt sorry for them.... near sixty or seventy years old .... prisoners of `war at their age and as like as not, not a soul in the world to care about them.
Soon I was standing at a point on the island overlooking the airfield which was the assembling place for the prisoners. Between the point on which I stood and the two hangars on the airfield, was a steep hill with rows of barbed wire entanglements, behind which were pill-boxes and trenches. Brand new machine-guns, mounted on sandbags, still remained in position, reminding me that this was once the notorious island fortress —pride of the United States Army and Navy—comparable to Gibraltar and Singapore.
To the right was a path which was lined by thousands of prisoners reporting to the assembly. At the bottom, they had gathered in a single, vast swarm, awaiting instructions. To my surprise, on the beach there were further groups of naked captives taking a much needed bath and swim….it did one good just to hear then, laughing; shouting and enjoying themselves with carefree abandon—their troubles entirely forgotten for the moment. I took a short cut to the beach through the barbed wire entanglements, dodging machine-gun nests and abandoned trenches, pausing here and there to take pictures. Some of the men saw me and began to wave their hands. One of them shouted: "We're in the movies now!" and another cried: "It's a great life if you don't weaken." Obviously they thought that I did not understand English.
Getting out of this place, I went back to the beach and found a group of prisoners resting under a high wooden affair that looked like an observation tower. I climbed up a few stairs and looked out toward the sea. The water was blue and calm. Callabo Island bobbed out of the haze in the distance and still further on, against the gray horizon, I picked out Cavite. I knew that somewhere within that distance was Manila—so near and yet so far for these boys.
In my immediate vicinity the sound of laughter and the joyous splashing of water took me back to Catalina Island in .the summer ...only the girls with their high-pitched screams were lacking to make the picture complete. After taking a photo, I climbed down again and was met by some twelve soldiers standing at attention.
I invited them to gather around and sit down. Pointing to each individual I asked them where they were from. Most of these boys came from the East Coast. After cracking a few jokes with them and gaining their confidence, I popped the question: "What do you think of this war?"
The varied answers I received were interesting and in many cases most amusing. In every instance, however, their honesty and sincerity was typically American. They certainly did not mince their words when they spoke to me of their inner feelings. In general, I sympathized with them. My one helpless thought was..."If only these boys could go home and .speak as they are speaking to me now.... what a pity.”
Giving full vent to their feelings, the American prisoners spoke to me with complete frankness. I had told them previously that I had been in America, was educated in Utah and knew their country as well as they did themselves—a factor which seemed to have the effect of loosening their tongues.
"If I ever live through this war," said one of them, "I am going home and I am going to start a revolution right in my home town. People back there have no idea what their sons are fighting for, any more than we have the slightest idea as to why we are fighting Japan." The speaker was a tall fellow, with broad shoulders built like a professional wrestler. His wavy black hair and his sharp facial features, however, gave ,him a certain similarity to Robert Taylor. "Even if a fellow is willing to sacrifice his life for his country," he continued, "he has a right to know what it's all about."
"The way you Japanese wiped out our entire Air Corps during the first three days of the war is what got us into this pretty mess," a Marine with tattooed chest and arms added to the discussion. "It must have been fun for your aviators just flying over our airfields and dropping bombs on some of the best fighting planes in the world. Actually, I think you destroyed thirty-two flying fortresses alone on Clarks Field on December 9. The damage done on that day was so complete that the repair of planes, hangars and runways was absolutely impossible. Flying fortresses are impractical since they require at least four thousand feet of runway before they can take off."
"And I will never forget those days in Bataan," added another half naked prisoner with a body bronzed by the tropical sun. "Every time we heard the sound of airplanes, my heart skipped a beat, thinking and hoping against hope that our great air force had come to rescue us at last. . . A few minutes later, I would be crouching below the nearest tree as Japanese bombs rained all around me. Hell, I never realized that you had so many planes. They used to come over in groups almost every other day."
"Yeah, our politicians back home are the loudest mouthed bluffers in the world," retorted another prisoner.
"They ought to be castrated in public," added still another, and a roar of laughter broke out.
"Just let me get my hands on that Senator Pepper. Guys like him do all the talking and we get all the hell."
A small chap with a shaven head had joined the group .and he now elbowed his way to the front. Evidently he did not like the idea of these fellows squawking. Looking at the last speaker he said, "I wouldn't blame it on the politicians much; after all we didn't have to be here. You didn't have anything to say until Gen. Wainwright surrendered."
All the prisoners eyed the newcomer. Personally, I admired his guts but I kept quiet and let the conversation continue along its own lines.
"I joined the Navy to see the Orient," observed another .tatooed prisoner. He was an obvious gob.
"It's guys like you that are losing this war for us," a marine remarked and I intercepted a dirty look that was exchanged between the two of them. The speaker continued in daunting voice: "And when you enlisted you swore that you would be faithful and discharge your duty to the best of your ability. You pledged it on the Bible, remember?"
"But that was just routine stuff—nobody took it serious‑ came the reply. I expected to see a fight. The shorter of the two, whom I judged to be a Marine from this tattoo mark which read "Semper Fidelis," fixed his eye on the sailor and spoke excitedly. "You bastards ain't got nothing to crab about," he shouted. "After your ships were sunk by the Japanese you came to Bataan to hide. And when Mariveles was captured, you ran for your lives to this rock. Who was that stayed behind and covered your retreat for you? We Fourth Marines! Maybe you are one of those guys that were monkeying around the tunnels with the nurses while we were getting it on the chin from the Japanese. Goddam, when I home I am personally going to see to it that in the next war there will be no yellow bastards like you in our services. "This was fast talking and it called for action but I was disappointed. The Navy man just fumbled around his pocket for a cigaret and pushed a distorted Camel between his tightly closed lips. Everyone was quiet... I imagined that if I had not been present a miniature riot would have broken out, followed by the massacre of a U.S. sailor. I suppose that most of the fellows were ashamed to regard this discussion as anything serious. To break up the tension, I asked if anyone in the group knew how to handle a Leica.
I got no response, so I picked out an intelligent looking fellow and asked him to take our pictures. I gave him a few words of advice on how to take a picture with the German contraption and earned a smile when I told him that my face had never yet broken a camera.
The men were pushing each other around and generally acting like high school scrubs out on a beach party. Finally we got down to taking the picture.
While they were all still in a talkative mood, I sprang another question on them. "What, in your opinion, has been the factor behind Japan's numerous victories?"
"Unquestionably, it is the spirit of your men. They fight to die. Damn it, you can't stop them unless you kill them." The speaker in his rough way seemed to have hit the nail on the head. No one spoke for a moment, but the silence was short-lived.
"There aren't no Jews in Japan. Our "Jewsvelt" administration is what is wrecking our country. American Jews are turning the United States back to the British Jews. We are nominally still a British colony." It was a tall, tough looking American soldier who said this. I looked at him bewildered, almost imagining for a minute that it was a Nazi speaking.
The tattooed Marine broke in disgustedly with "It ain't no use trying to pass the buck around now. Our politicians got us into this mess and they ain't going to get us out of it. I am glad that I for one have come out of this show. . . alive. It's just too bad that the country is sending more men to Europe. Poor devils, they don't know what they are in for." The manner in which he spoke and the tone of his voice informed me that he was speaking from the bottom of his heart. I swallowed a hard lump as my eyes wandered out towards the orange and gold horizon. As I looked back at the faces of these unfortunate boys, the strains of a song drift to my cars. Someone was singing "Where the Blue of the Night, Meets the Gold of the Day". . . .I looked around me searchingly, but my eyes were watery for I was strangely affected.
There were about two hundred prisoners bathing on the beach, with the Filipinos in one group and the Americans in another. A third group remained at a distance and watched. These latter were the officers of the Army, Navy and Marines. In the distance against the yellow background of the hillside, a long line of prisoners were still marching down to the place of assembly. These men represented the full total of American forces captured on Corregidor—I had no idea how many there were in all.
While gazing around I heard a voice . . . a voice that I would never have expected to hear on that island. Turning, I caught sight of a small boy of about seven years of age.
"Say, what are you doing here?" I asked.
The little fellow was carrying a model battleship under his arm—a battleship so big that he had to hug it in order to .keep it from dropping. For a moment he just stood there, looking at me. I could not figure out whether he was scared was just undecided about talking to me or not.
"What a nice ship you have," I persisted.
He hugged the model tighter, looked at it himself, then stared blankly at my face again. He was not pure American, I thought; his plump face was slightly dark and his eyes were olive and deep.
"What's your name, son?" I demanded.
This time he took a step nearer. "Robert Ardoin." That was all he said. One of the prisoners, however, who was watching the little scene, chipped in at this point. "The kid's been with us since the fall of Bataan," he said. "His old man and a big brother are also on the rock."
"Yeah, how come?" I asked.
"I dunno," came the laconic answer.
I knelt down and fingered the toy battleship. It was slightly broken.. A few of the big guns had fallen off and the masts hung forlornly, dangling at the end of the string which passed for the aerial. The boy, meanwhile, was still studying me in utter silence.
"Where's your daddy?" I queried.
He turned round and his eyes searched the countless men behind him. Suddenly he came to life. He pointed somewhere into the mass. "That's my father."
"Will you go get him for me?" I pleaded with him gently. He nodded his head and I tried to take his ship. It was obviously a very heavy burden for the little fellow, but no, he wasn't going to trust me with it. He held it tightly against his tiny chest, like a girl hugging a doll to which she was very dearly attached, and toddled off towards his father somewhere in the crowd.
A few minutes later the kid returned with a tall, lanky, unshaven Filipino and another boy. The tall man looked nervous.
"Is this your boy?" I demanded.
"Yes....he is Robert. He has a big brother Hilary, also here."
"What are you doing with these young kids on this island? It's a helluva place to bring them."
The man's head dropped. As he tried to explain, his voice registered a tone of complete defeat, while his hands ruffled the boy's hair.
"We had a home in Lingayan. We were very happy there on our farm. There was Rosa, my wife, Hilary, Torres, my daughter, and little Robert. When the war broke out, we ran away from our home. My wife and daughter were both killed by a bomb when we were trapped between fire. I took my two sons and fled with the Americans from Lingayan to Tarmac, Lingay, Balanga, Bataan and now here we are. . . .the three of us are lucky to be alive."
I could not exactly agree with them about "lucky to be alive"—this was no place for kids, even with their father a prisoner of war.
"You in the U.S. Army?" I asked him.
"No, I got a job," he answered quickly. "I am a civilian worker. Did work in exchange for food for the kids." "How old are they?" I wanted to know.
"Hilary, the bigger boy, is just twelve, while Robert is going on eight," the father answered.
"Are the kids alright and in good health? I mean, all this war and bombing and shooting has not affected them at all?"
"Oh, the kids, sure. They're fine. Maybe they enjoyed it." "What do you intend doing with them now?" The man rubbed his unshaven jaw and shook his head dolefully.
"I don't know," he muttered. "That's what I'm worried about."
"Well, whatever happens, you tell the Japanese soldiers the truth about your boys and don't let them get separated from you. Being a civilian, they will give you special treatment, I am certain." The man smiled wanly and the little boy went on staring at me blankly.
The tattooed Marine who had been near me throughout the afternoon, interrupted the conversation with: "The Japanese like children. They will take good care of them."
I was pleasantly surprised at this interruption. Just out of curiosity I asked the Marine, "What makes you think so?"
"That's one thing I do know about your people. I read some kind of book put out by the Japanese Tourist Bureau entitled 'Japan, Country for Children'. Knew a Japanese family in Monterey—that's in California—and they sure knew how to look after their own kids."
I asked the Filipino if I could take a picture of the two boys. Obligingly he agreed. Taking his two sons, he placed his long hands on their bony shoulders and they stood there, thus posed for me. It was a little incident that stuck in the memory, particularly when the circumstances and the surrounding atmosphere were taken into consideration.
I thanked the father—told him I was sorry I hadn't any candy or sweets to give to his boys.
The Filipino took the children by the hand and walked away, with the smaller one still clinging to his battleship, the bow of which was almost dragging along the ground. "We men can take this war business on the chin, but the women and children go through hell, don't they?" I commented to the Marine, my silent observer.
"Yep, they're taking a helluva beating," he agreed.
On reaching the beach, I noticed there were two distinct groups, one Filipino and the other American. There was about fifty feet of beach between them. Several of the prisoners came up to me and asked whether they were permitted to swim from the beach. I told them to go ahead so long as the Japanese guard didn't interfere. Throwing their underwear into the air, they dashed into the water, splashing the faces of their friends. Yes, they reminded me of the good old days when I used to go swimming at Brighton Beach, near San Pedro, California. Indeed, war or no war, soldiers or no soldiers, they were having great fun.
It was an amusing situation. Stark naked figures would salute me as I passed by and when I turned round would modestly pose for a picture, taking no trouble to hide their manly figures. I guess they were too happy to care a damn about anything except that cool, refreshing swim. The war was over for them and nothing else mattered.
Opposite the beach' the officers, endeavouring to maintain their dignity by ignoring the swim, were setting up make-shift shacks or tents by putting up book racks and other articles and spreading sheers of papers over them, as a protection from the heat. I could not help but marvel at the fact that all those prisoners were all so orderly. Among these thousands of men, there were only fifteen or twenty Japanese soldiers on guard.
Walking back to the air-field, I came to the hangars and found that one was filled with Filipinos and the other with Americans. Some sort of registration was being carried out. Most of the men, tired and weary, were sprawled out on the concrete floors. In one or two places men were playing cards on an overturned desk. I tried to catch some of the conversation going on but there was such a mixed babble of sound that I could not get any one particular drift. Once or twice, however, I heard the inevitable question . . . . "Wonder what they're going to do with us?"
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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