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On 6 May 2002, a memorial to Major Massello was dedicated at Battery Way.  In attendance were his two daughters and Tom Murphy. 

We are here today to remember Colonel William “Wild Bill” Massello Jr., to dedicate this memorial to him. More than this remembrance are these: the guns of Battery Way , now silent and rusting, that stand in tribute to then-Major Massello and the courageous men of “ Erie Battery , 2nd Battalion, 60th Coast Artillery. But like the other memorials on this island and throughout the Philippines, this also symbolizes the courage, steadfastness and honor of all those who fought, who died in action, or who suffered privation, cruelty, and degradation, pain, starvation and death at the hands of their enemy. These valiant men and women, such as the veterans among us today, knew sacrifice and fear, love of country and dedication, duty and honor. This generation gave its youth and its lives at a time when such virtues were so desperately needed.

Sixty years ago at about this time, the voice of the last big gun on Corregidor had gone still. The men of “ Erie Battery were left in stunned and frustrated silence, looking to their commander, an undaunted and defiant Major Massello, himself seriously wounded. The order to surrender had finally come; the heroic last stand of Battery Way had ended.

 

majmassello.jpg (28630 bytes)Bill Massello was born February 24, 1907 in Boston, Massachusetts. As a boy growing up in Somerville, outside of Boston, he developed an interest in the military.  After graduation from high school, Massello joined the 110th Cavalry of the Massachusetts National Guard,  reasoning that it would aid him in testing for entrance to West Point . Massello’s desire to attend that prestigious institution was fostered by his older brother, Tom, whom he described as “having quite a knowledge of the world that I didn’t have.”  Tom thought Bill’s admission to the Academy would be a good idea. Massello always considered himself “a bit backward, kind of a hothouse flower in some ways,” and he relied on Tom’s advice. He successfully passed the entrance exam and was admitted to the class of 1932.  Life at West Point and in the military was to be a real eye-opener. At the Academy, Bill Massello was neither an “engineer”, a top student nor a “goat,” at the bottom of the class, rather a sturdy, able student who profited a great deal from his education.

 

In his First Class (or senior) biography, the editors of the Point’s Howitzer of 1932, described Bill as,”… never terror-stricken at the thought of losing a file, and he was unable to become excited over the mad scramble for chevrons. Yet there is probably not a man in the class who has gotten more out of the place in the last four years. … He will be contented in the Army, and beyond question the Army will be well satisfied with ‘Bill’ Massello.”  How right they were.

 

Massello finished his First Class year in “E” Company, noted for its “vaunted nonchalance, close-order drill streamer and brilliant ‘intermurder’ [as the class referred to its intramural] record.” Upon graduation in June of 1932, Bill was commissioned a shiny new second lieutenant.

 

Between graduation in 1932 and his first of two tours to the Philippines, Massello found himself a soldier in a peacetime army in the US, a country still gripped in the Great Depression.  Few billets were available. He eventually found himself assigned as a camp mess organizer and investigator, a kind of troubleshooter for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a job at which he was to excel.  He continued in this role, moving from CCC camp to CCC camp fixing problems until the end of 1934 when he was assigned to the 91st Philippine Scouts, Fort Mills, Corregidor, Philippine Islands. This was a marvelous time to be young and single and in a foreign posting. Massello learned his trade as a Coast Artillery officer there and traveled throughout the exotic Orient.  Bill loved it. 

 

Massello returned to the states in 1937. He continued in various assignments in the Coast Artillery for the next two and half years. In July of 1939 he married a “cute little co-ed,” Olga Katherine Neill, whom he met while stationed at Fort MacArthur, California.  For their honeymoon, Bill took Olga to the Philippines where he had just received orders for his second tour. way2.jpg (120512 bytes)

 

By 1941 tensions were increasing in the Pacific. Japan and America were at odds and it seemed to many,  now-Captain Massello among them, that war was inevitable.  In April of 1941 the War Department ordered the evacuation of dependents. Olga and Bill parted, Olga leaving on the liner Republic for the United States and Bill remaining in the Philippines, soon to be swept up in the maelstrom of war. 

 

With his wife of less than two years safely away, Massello launched with a vengeance into preparing his new command for war, “Erie” Battery , 2nd Regiment, 60th Coast Artillery. Most of his men were new recruits recently arrived in the Philippines and badly in need of training. He drove his men relentlessly, training and preparing them physically, knowing that they would have to fend for themselves when hostilities broke out. On December 2, 1941 , following war warnings from the US, Massello and the men of “Erie” Battery were sent to their wartime positions on Bataan . “Erie” Battery remained in action there until April 8, 1942, when the defensive lines to the north collapsed and the Japanese began the rout of Bataan’s defenders. Late on the night of the eighth Massello and his battery were ordered back to Corregidor.

 

Evacuating from the chaos at Mariveles as Bataan fell, to the Rock on April 9th, the now-Major Massello volunteered himself, the men of “Erie” Battery and others who wanted to get into the fight – in all about 100 strong, to return to service the four, twelve-inch M1890 mortars of Battery Way.  His first assignment as that young second lieutenant had been with a similar mortar battery, Battery Clinton at Fort H. G. Wright, Fishers Island, New York, and he was considered an expert with the old mortars.

 

On April 28th 1942 , Way joined the other big guns of Corregidor firing against the Japanese. By May 5th the only remaining undamaged mortar at Way, the last of the concrete artillery still in action on Corregidor, continued to fire, Massello pulling the lanyard on his last serviceable mortar while his men remained safely under cover. Debris from the heavy counter-battery fire lay in piles throughout the mortar pit, including the telephone that Massello had ordered ripped from the wall, so he could not receive the order to surrender.

 

Now, after firing over ninety rounds of the heavy projectiles at Japanese forces on Bataan and Corregidor , Massello, broom in hand and completely exposed, rushed to clear a path in the rubble for the loading cart. Shell fragments from the terrific counter-battery fire quickly struck him, causing several leg wounds and a nearly severed right arm.

“If they ever [got] me, what a hell of a way for a soldier to go, with a goddamn broom in my hand!” he later recalled.

The remaining men of his battery rushed to his aid, dragging him to the safety of the magazine and quick medical care. Massello, as full of fight as ever, yelled at his men to get “back out there and fire that gun!” As they returned to load the last mortar, they found that it had cooled from the constant firing and the breechblock was frozen, rendering the gun useless.

 

 “The old mortar had finally quit on us,” Massello recalled, “but it lasted long enough to be the last big gun on Corregidor to fire on the enemy.”

 

Massello had kept the battery in action for eleven straight hours while under constant, heavy fire, fire he describes as “terrific,” suffering well over seventy percent casualties, and his own severe wounds.

 

Corregidor surrendered to the Japanese at noon, May 6, 1942 . Major Massello and the remains of his command were forced into captivity. The survivors of these bloody battles were to suffer three and a half years of inhumane, brutal and at times savage treatment as prisoners of war.

 

Battery Way.jpg (47144 bytes) (Photo: By Artillery custom, the guns of Btty Way are numbered 1-4 from right front to rear left)

 

After being allowed only two weeks to recuperate from his wounds in the Malinta Tunnel hospital, the Japanese barged a still-crippled Massello and many other POWs to Manila and forced them on a propaganda march from the docks through the streets of Manila to Bilibid Prison. Moved from Bilibid the next day, Massello spent the next few months in Japanese POW Camp Number One at Cabanatuan.  In November of 1942 Massello was loaded, along with far too many of his fellow captives, onto what was to become known as a “hell ship,” the Nagata Maru.  Transported to Japan under horrendous conditions, Massello served the remainder of the war at Umeda Bunsho, Osaka,  Zentsuji, and finally Rokuroshi prisoner of war camps, providing slave labor at rail yards, docks and as a field laborer. He was liberated by American occupation troops at Rokuroshi POW camp in September of 1945.

 

Bill Massello told of his “hell ship” journey and its arrival at Osaka. During the voyage he had been helping care for the critically ill. When the time came to debark from the ship, none of the Japanese would move the sick men. While suffering from the wounds in his arm and leg and with a still paralyzed right hand, he carried the sick to the dock. Time and again he re-boarded the ship, suffering severe beatings by the guards, to move one man at a time until all were off the ship. way46.jpg (71158 bytes)

 

Massello and his men have been described in many accounts as 'Fighting Fools,' men who ignored the counter-battery fire to service their last remaining weapon, and Massello, himself, as “a fighting man, a real Coast Artillery officer.”

 

For his actions, a grateful nation awarded Major Massello the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, two Presidential Unit Citations, four Purple Hearts and numerous campaign and theater ribbons.

 

Col. William Massello Jr. passed away February 3, 1997 just days short of his 90th birthday. He is buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery, Texas.

 

Bill Massello was and is a credit to himself, his family, his men, the Philippines, and the United States. He is a hero deserving of our remembrance. It is with deep humility that I dedicate this memorial to him.

 

 

MORE READING: INTERVIEW WITH COLONEL MASSELLO

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Murphy has been an amateur historian for many years and Corregidor is a special place for him, for Major William “Wild Bill” Massello is his uncle.  Tom recalls..."It was his stories, very few...didn’t want to talk much about it, and family stories which really set off my interest. Last year I had the opportunity to visit Corregidor and the rest of the Harbor Defenses of Manila and Subic Bay forts with the CDSG. Anticipating the visit to Battery Way, I prepared a personal tribute to my uncle. I was going to place it on the last mortar, take photos and leave it. Well,  the CFI got wind of it . " The rest, as they say, is history. 

 

 

 

 
 

ON CORREGIDOR 
 

At the whiles I sit and think

Of times there were before,

Listening for the running feet

And sounds of coming war.

I have trod the steps of those

Who ‘mid the battle's spoil

In defiant ruins stood,

Their guns in full recoil.

 

I have touched these symbols,

The mighty arms they bore

And felt in them the power

Of a country now at war.

Soldiers ran to man their posts

And bravely joined the fight;

Fear and panic, hope and grief,

With help nowhere in sight.

 

Still they stood and took the blow

That freedom might remain.

Holding back the enemy,

At least to slow his gain.

Though valiant to the end they stood

At last the order came,

With shoulders stooped, exhausted men

Surrendered, though still game.

 

They had withstood the onslaught,

Their sacrifice unknown.

Years of horrors lay ahead,

Prisoners, forgotten and alone.

Marched to fetid stinking camps,

Suffering beatings and starvation.

This the enemy's handiwork:

Cruelty, humiliation.

 

For what each endured, eyes tear and blink,

Remembering all they've given.

These monuments still stand today,

Reminding of lives riven.

Many are no longer with us;

Each year they fewer grow.

But through [the] work of those who care

Ensuring still the world will know.

 

                                - Thomas N Murphy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 EXTERNAL LINK - TO ROGER MANSELL'S  ROKUROSHI CAMP ROSTER

  2002 Thomas N. Murphy

 
   

 

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