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Captain Johnson*

After the fall of Corregidor on May 7, we lined up in Queen's Tunnel and prepared to meet our captors. They were not long in arriving and pulled up to the front of the tunnel with a couple of tanks and several captured reconnaisance wagons. We were in ranks along the sides of the tunnel with the senior officers towards the mouth opening and as the Japanese came in there were some salute exchanges, then the Japanese began to come along the lines, sullenly glaring at each one of us in turn --the mere fact that Corregidor and Bataan had held out longer than any other Allied bastion in the Far East had not improved their dispositions one whit.

It was here that I learned the true meaning of the command "Kiotsuke!", which, freely translated, means  "Attention, shut up, keep quiet, don't even breathe, hurry up and wait."

One of the Nipponese officers queried an officer attached to the staff of the now defunct 16th Naval District - as luck would have it, he was one of the most voluble and verbose individuals that we had on the Rock. After listening to his yack for several minutes, the Japanese officer disgustedly yelled, "Burr", which is the equivalent to "Bull" to the uninitiated. Even in that sad situation, I nearly laughed.

We were allowed to gather up such of our gear as we could carry and then were moved out of our former residence in Queen's Tunnel and marched down to the old sea-plane hangar area known locally as "Ninety-Second Garage". The Japanese newsreelmen were making shots of us as we were herded down the dusty, corpse-strewn road to show the minions back home how the white supremacy was being laid low in the mud.

I imagine it was just about like Andersonville in its balmiest days, complete with stink and flies. I managed to link up with a Marine major by the name of Mathiesen and between us we erected a quite respectable "bayhay" with some of the junk lying around the hangar flat and which had been blown from the old building. With some judicious weaving of nipa, palay-grass, and bohuca, we made it fairly water tight in view of the torrential rains which were almost upon us with the arrival of the monsoon season. A distinct problem was water, the only source for about 11,000 men being an old Spanish well near the hangar. The water was brackish and covered with scum, but we relished it. The Japanese posted armed guards on it and only let us get to it about three hours a day. This necessitated the prisoners lining up for hours, many falling down in their tracks from thirst and heat exhaustion. A couple of our people tried to get water out of that well out-of-hours and the guards shot them both, leaving the bodies there for two days as an object lesson. Some of the prisoners who were quartered near the beach went balmy from drinking sea water.

Then death began to rear its ugly, fleshless head amongst us. Many were in poor physical shape due to the months of short rations and they were the first to go under these conditions. There was no place to bury them except up on the sides of the bowl like valley encompassing our bivouack area and that was where we placed them. The only trouble with this was the rain. It came in such pulley washer torrents that it flooded the dead out of their area and washed them down amongst all of us living along with the effluvia of the latrines also. Death was everywhere since many of the fallen had not been cleaned up after the last assaults on the Rock and they were making their presence known, too. We were on burial detail every day. I found several of my old CANOPUS shipmates and put them in the mass graves with a heavy heart, thinking of the old carefree days on the Asiatic Station. The conditions were so bad that in order to get any work done, we had to urinate in our hand-kerchiefs and tie them over our noses to try and combat that foul smell.


Finally, upon the pleading and recommendation of General Wainwright we were moved up to bottomside, where we were assigned sleeping space in the old Barrio Market-place building. This was a corrugated iron-roofed structure which had been built many years before as a spot where the Philipinos (sic) employed on Corregidor could conduct a market with the merchants who came out from Manila. We repaired the shell holes in the roof and dug latrines in the former parking area, It was still going to be used for "parking" but of a different type. It was from the effluvia of these latrine pits that the building received its sobriquet "Maggot Acres".

 Several of the prisoners, weak from dysentery, fainted and fell into these latrines, during night visits thereto, and were drowned. We found their legs sticking up out of the mire the next day, and pulled them out, making an attempt to clean them up before we sent them out with the burial details. This was one detail that always had plenty of work to keep it busy.

It was here in "Maggot Acres" that we established a common cook house, after a fashion, which was inestimably better than the individual efforts that were in vogue down in the old "Ninety-Second Garage". Anyway, the feeding improved, but the weather didn't. Even with our repair efforts, the roof leaked prodigiously, and lucky were those who had managed to cart a rubber poncho away with them. I had one I pulled from a dead Marine up on Watertank Hill, knowing full well that he wouldn't miss it. I only hope that he would know, in some small way, how I enjoyed having it and how I blessed him for it. I was at least dry in most spots during the night downpours.

I managed to find some moldy white flour in a bombed-out warehouse during my stay at "Maggot Acres", so I bummed some peanut oil from our jailers and made a batch of doughnuts - wow! They were like case-hardened Kenter Shackles and made the most lethal weapons when thrown at someone in the dark -but their extreme durability interfered with proper digestion.



* The submarine tender USS Canopus (AS-9) received severe damage when hit by heavy bombers on December 29, 1941. She lost six of her crew in the attack, with another six wounded. She was later scuttled off Manila Bay rather than face capture by the enemy.  Her crew was used in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor.  A large number of her crew died in the Philippine Islands, during transport to POW camps in Japan, or in the camps themselves. The author of this extract was not the Commanding officer of  the Canopus at the time. Upon his return to the U.S., Captain E. L. Sackett, who was onboard USS Spearfish (SS-190) as part of the last group to evacuate Corregidor, wrote a lengthy history of the Canopus, and mailed it to the families of the men.

Those who want to read more of the extraordinary story of the  USS Canopus and its crew members after their surrender on Corregidor would do well to start at Larry Smith's  "UNEXPECTED HEROES."

The Cruise Book of Bos'n Glenn Roy Landis and the Memoir of Earl Anderson are particularly recommended.



"Dress Ship"

   On the bow, Canopus flies a “homeward bound pennant." The use of this pennant is traditional in that a ship which has been on duty in foreign waters outside the continental limits of the United States continuously for a period of one year or more flies the “homeward bound” pennant upon getting underway to proceed to a port in the United States. The pennant is blue next to the hoist, and the remainder is red and white. In the blue portion is placed one white star for the first year in foreign waters, and an additional star for each additional six months. The overall length of the pennant is one foot for each officer and man on the ship who has been outside the continental limits in excess of one year. Upon arrival in the US, the pennant is divided equally among all officers and men of the ship’s company. 

This article was published in the March 1969 copy of THE HELMSMAN, published monthly on board USS CANOPUS (AS 34)










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