| January 14, 1999
I started my tour of duty in the Philippines by volunteering for military service in the Army Signal Corps in late June 1940. I was 19 years old, from Boise, Idaho. I was sworn in at Portland, Oregon, and spent my first night in Washington at Fort Vancouver barracks. I was given a train ticket and spent my basic training (what little there was) in Angel Island at Fort McDowell, California. Maybe two or three weeks later, I boarded the military transport, the USS Grant, sailing under the golden state, arriving in Manila 22 days later in November 1940.
I went through quarantine at the old wall city called Quartel de Espania, stationed with the 31st U.S. Infantry. Peacetime in the tropics was the greatest duty there ever could be. We were on duty only four hours since we were in the tropics. Six months of hot and six months of warm rain and typhoons. We had to learn to cope with heat rash. The rain on metal roofs almost put us to sleep. I did not drink or smoke, so I didn't spend my spare time in the cabarets. I went to a Filipino's for help to increase my speed in my Morse code. He was one of the radio operators who worked at our main station that contacted Honolulu. He was better than the teacher who taught it in the mornings. I fell in love with the Philippine music. The rumba, conga, and samba. I started taking Filipino dancing taught in the evenings. I think I paid something like $5.00 a month for them.
My training started at Message Center in August, I think. We were warned of a possible attack by Japan and went on 24-hour alert - three eight-hour shifts. I was transferred into the Air Warning Service. Since I had typing in high school, I was put in charge of a teletype station in the Bureau of Posts, which was their post office, except it also included their telegraph. The Air Warning Service was part of the Fifth Air Force and later became USAFFE. Anyway, I was on attached service since I was stationed in Manila. I was attached to the Medical Corps located a short distance from the Bureau of Posts. I was dependent on the Medical Corps for food, medical, clothing, (when needed) and quarters. The messages I first received were mock messages used to train Filipinos who were located in different small villages throughout the Philippines. We received messages (probably in November) about Japanese fishing boats off the southern islands off the coast of the Philippines. In fact, one day (perhaps in November 1941) I was sitting at my teletype when all of a sudden there was a crash like breaking glass inside our Bureau of Posts building. It was a Filipino who had run into an inside glass partition in his mad dash to escape danger. Outside a Japanese fishing boat had somehow found its way up the Quason River, which was directly behind the Bureau of Posts building. I don't know how much you know about this part of Manila, but there are two bridges, one on each side of our building. Anyway, after the crash, I got up and went through the door into the telegraph room so I could see what was causing the commotion. A Japanese was lying wounded on the deck of a fishing boat that had made it up the river directly behind our building, between the two bridges. In fact, a Filipino constable had shot him. That was what caused the commotion we heard. Finally, everyone went back to work.
I attended Adamson University inside the wall city for three months before Pearl Harbor. We did not hear that Pearl Harbor was bombed since we had no radios turned on. I found out as soon as I arrived at the Bureau of Posts that morning (December 8, 1941). One Filipino always arrived early and was reading the morning paper. He showed me the headlines: "Pearl Harbor Bombed" in five-inch high headlines. The Filipino was worried about his family, a wife and two kids. I had met them at his home. He was a graduate of either Michigan or Michigan State University. Of course Clark Field was bombed several hours later. Of course we turned no lights on at night, complete blackout. Manila was bombed, or maybe it was Army installations nearby. We held out until Christmas day when we were given just a turkey sandwich instead of turkey with all the trimmings. My outfit (do you realize that was 56 years ago?), the Air Warning Service guys were to stop by on their way to Bataan, issue me a 45 pistol, and take me with them to Bataan. Instead, the Medical Corps which I was attached to for quarters and rations took me with them to Corregidor (after feeding me a turkey sandwich). Corregidor was four levels: monkey point, bottomside, middleside, and topside. I think bottomside is where the Malinta Tunnel was located. Monkey point was where they had set up machine guns, barbed wire around the point. Bottomside was where the hospital was located, where I was located. Middleside had a big parade ground and anti aircraft batteries and a detachment of air warnings with detectors synchronized with AA batteries and AA guns. Topside had one of the longest concrete barracks in the world. I don't remember how long it is. I know how long I stayed with the Medical Corps at bottomside till I checked around to find my outfit, exactly where they were on Bataan. I heard there was an Air Force (USAFFE) captain at topside who had an office in about the middle of that long building there. I hitched a ride on a truck going to topside. I checked several offices in that long building until I found the captain. He told me that the captain of the air warning main outfit on Corregidor was on located on Bataan. I hitched a ride by truck to middleside. As we drove into middleside, there was an air raid. Filipinos were seen heading for shelters. They had just finished their lunch and the cook headed for shelter. I followed them into the wooded area. Before the bombs were dropped I found a trench or foxhole, and since it was almost full of leaves from lack of use, I pushed some out and crawled in. Laying on my back and looking up, I saw a Jap bomber above. One 500 pound bomb dropped on the parade ground just outside the barracks building I slept in that night with the air warning personnel. After the raid, I found the air warning group and their captain who told me how to get to Bataan by going to bottomside to the Malinta Tunnel and get on the waiting list to go to Bataan by barge. Another truck ride to bottomside and they had just sounded to air siren. The truck driver didn't heed the warning and drove to the small village and headed directly toward the entrance to the tunnel. It looked funny watching the dockworkers running at a 45 degree angle (it seemed) to hurry into protection of the tunnel which was buried under about 400 feet of rocky mountain. I was there in the tunnel a week or ten days before finding passage to Bataan. While there, I saw Dugout-Doug (guess who) and family (wife and son) and the President of the Philippines (cave man Quezon and his family) in Malinta Tunnel altogether with probably 7,000 soldiers.
Well, in Malinta Tunnel there was a large hospital, kitchen, food lockers and barracks for replacement defenders. Later in May 1942 when the Japanese tried and later a few landed. I understand the Japs lost maybe 15,000 troops taking Corregidor. The barge I rode to Bataan was loaded with ammunition. We left at night and the sound of the P.T. boats made it sound like bombers flying overhead. Scary, huh? It was pitch dark on Bataan, probably landing at Cablaben. Then by truck to Little Bagio. It was so dark you could not see far. Shortly after I got off the truck a guard told me to halt who goes there, advance to be recognized. I gave my army serial number and told him who I was and why I was there. He pointed ahead and no sooner had I walked ahead, I recognized some of my buddies from the signal corps in Manila. They had so many radio operators they didn't need me. As customary on Bataan, they set up one week training with a Springfield rifle (a World War I weapon) and then were sent to the front lines including all non-combatants such as signal corps, chemical warfare, engineers, Air Force pilots, and ground crew without assigned planes (we had a squadron of A-26 pilots, bombardiers, ground crews, and no planes). They all received training and then were sent to the front lines. Before I was called for training I received word that I was selected (why I didn't know) to report with a hand-generated powered radio to send and receive messages at Longoskawayan Point where an estimated 500 Japs had landed. This was serious. This meant the Japs were in front of us and behind us. I arrived at the Point with the hand power generated radio. To this day I do not remember sending a message or receiving one in the week or so I was there. However, just being there kept me from the front line (which I was never trained for anyway). 105 mm Howitzers were brought in, and also 155 mm's were brought in to shell the Point. The sad thing was they were hitting our own troops. One night they brought in a Filipino scout who had been hit by our shrapnel. Next, they brought in P-40's and strafed with tracer bullets. It reminded me of the Fourth of July. Finally, they called on Corregidor to lob in 12-inch mortars, reducing the danger of our shrapnel. After a week or so, all 500 Japs had been killed including a colonel (whose name I don't know).
I was sent back to Little Bagio as a stand-by radio operator for the rest of the war. Food supply low. Rations were cut 1/2 and before April 1942 we were receiving 1/3 rations. Once the only rice we could get in camp was some that was moldy. Rather than have nothing to eat, the cooks tried adding bulk chocolate (you know the type supplied to kitchens - about 1 1/2 inches thick) to make it more palatable. We could still taste the mold, but also the milk chocolate. Sometimes they made a salmon loaf using one can for 80 men. A couple of times we had wild boar or pig. One time iguana or a lizard. Some guys ate monkey and small birds. Near the end our rations were cut to 1/3 rations. We all lost a lot of weight from January to April 9th, 1942. I understand the Japanese were not getting much food on Bataan. I remember finding Japanese rations that were air dropped, perhaps to snipers (behind the lines). It was kinda like "C" ration, only Japanese style. One night at our evening meal some of the guys said they swore they saw a Japanese in our chow line on Bataan. It would be almost dark near the end of our meal.
One more thing while on Bataan. One time around dusk we looked over toward Corregidor and we saw Japanese bombers approaching from the China Sea. Little Bagio was higher elevation than Corregidor, so we could look down on it. Anyway, as those bombers approached at a fairly low altitude, we saw the anti-aircraft shells up in the sky, and one of them hit one of the bombers and we saw it go down in the water off Corregidor. You should have heard the shouting. They probably heard it on Corregidor.
As time wore on, after days of fighting went on, snipers, air raids (mostly at Bataan Field and Corregidor the four months on Bataan) word finally came that the Japanese forces were closing in on us. Word came by one of our signal corps captains. So on the night of about April 7th, the signal corps at Little Bagio, except one portable short-wave trailer that kept moving up in northern Luzon to avoid the attacking Japanese forces. (More about this radio station in my next letter and about the surrender.) Anyway, after dark the night of April 7th we were taken by trucks west up toward Bagio up the west coast to Bataan where our 4th Marines (I believe) were there during their front line fighting. As we were far away from Little Bagio our ordinates men blew up all of our ammunition dumps just south of Mt. Bataan. The sky lit up like the Fourth of July when that happened somewhere on the road to Bagio north of Marveles. When we arrived, it was like camping out (for that matter, so was Little Bagio). However, the Marines had left mattresses behind and shoes or boots. I found a pair that fit me, so I swapped. We surrendered the next morning when a Japanese tank came down toward us. We were holding white handkerchiefs as instructed. The scary thing was that the tank was shooting as it approached us. We went back to get our belongings and there were Japanese foot soldiers where our bunk was where we had heard small arms fire surrounding us. Our kitchen crew gave us 4-6 cans of food.
More in the next communication all about the death march. I hope to get another map (in fact a page which has two maps on one page) which will show where I was the 13 months before the war, the death march, and the four months we held off the Jap, and the 2 years and 3 months we were interned in the Philippines.
I am sending maps (actually two on one 81/2" x 11" sheet) that show Manila, Corregidor, and Little Bagio (where I was stationed on Bataan). One map shows Longoskawa Point where I was with the hand-generated radio. One map shows our first prison (I will tell you more later) and Cabanatuan, our second camp, and Marvalis where the death march started.
Cecil W. Parrott
March 5, 1999
As I mentioned in my last correspondence, after showing our white handkerchiefs, we went back to get our canned goods. We were met by armed Japanese guards. If you had a fountain pen visibly sticking out of your pocket, the Japs would take it. If you had a ring or watch visible, the guards took them. If the ring was too tight on your finger, they cut it off, finger and all. We walked from say 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM before arriving in Marnallis when the march started (or assembly point). I was thirsty, so I asked POWs near our arrival where the water hydrant was and offered to take their canteens, too, to fill. All I asked of these POWs was to watch my barracks bag while I went for water. By the way, it was pitch dark by now. I found a water hydrant and filled the six canteens with water, carrying three in each hand. When I got back, my bag was gone. The POWs said a Jap soldier came and took it. Well, so much for food I no longer had.
At daylight the next day there was what was left of my bag - empty of course, except my toothbrush and other personal items all gone. No food of course. The next morning I was hungry (not having any dinner the night before, and I don't remember having any lunch either). Anyway, I was hungry. I walked past a group of men who had opened a mess hall size can (maybe 12-15 lb.) of corned beef. They sensed I had nothing to eat, or saw me drooling. Anyway, they offered me a handful. By the next day or so, I came across a buddy from my outfit who shared his Canadian bacon. It was good, but salty.
About where we could see Corregidor from Bataan we saw where the Japs were shelling Corregidor from Bataan Airfield, and we could hear their boom and see the dust marks from the shell (I think a 75 mm, either 6" or 8" shell, I believe). Before we came to Bataan Airfield we came to a sugar cane field. Some of the POWs or at least one POW had a bolo knife and was able to cut the sugar stalks (you know, they are like corn stalks) and brought some in where we were camped and shared them. You know, you chew the stalks and swallow the juice. A quick way to get the sugary juices, you swallow the juice and spit out the pulp.
When we returned to Little Bagio, I knew where there was a bag of rice, so I took one sock off and filled it with rice and tied it to the belt loops of my pants. When we approached Bataan airstrip, the Japanese guns were visible. When we heard the guns my thought was for Corregidor not to return fire, but sure enough, as we approached opposite the Jap guns, we heard a "whoom". Then we heard a "swish", and the shell hit Bataan just past the road we were marching on and mostly exploded in a banion tree (a huge tropical tree) which caught most of the shrapnel. One man who was a few feet behind me was hit in the upper leg with the shrapnel. He was taken the rest of the way by truck. I don't suppose you know about artillery battles. Being in the Signal Corps, I didn't either. The first mortar (shell) is always short, the second shell is long, and the third shell is right on the money (target). And it was. It hit the Japanese guns, knocked them out, killed all the Japanese nearby, and destroyed their three guns.
The sign you see near Balanga in map #2 is misleading. Since it wasn't a meal, they should have said food. Also, it was given to us by the Philippine Red Cross, not the Japanese Imperial Army. The rice I brought was hard to cook. In a tin can it was only partly cooked. The Japanese soldiers each cooked their own meals. Their mess kit was a double boiler type. It was better for cooking rice.
You will find Bataan Airfield on map #2. I hope you can read my notes on both maps. I did not see anyone shot or bayoneted on the march. However, I did hear gun shots and heard of people being bayoneted. I did see men being nudged away from water fountains with rifle butts by the fifth day of the march. Fortunately there were about four or five of us altogether. Soon after we were by ourselves, and the marchers were ahead of us and guards were passing us. We saw someone up ahead was waving to us. He waved just as you and I would wave. I knew it wasn't a Filipino because they wave differently from us. Anyway, we didn't worry about it at the time. About the time we covered 100 or 200 yards we approached a bivwack (or fenced-in area and a gate). There was a Japanese soldier (all along) who said, "You come here", in broken English. We stepped closer, and he said, "You hungry"? He opened the gate and motioned to some benches, and he said, "Sit down". He was a cook, left behind by his soldiers (who he had fed earlier) probably out on maneuvers until dark. He fed us the left-over rice he had cooked and cut a fish (mackerel?) in five pieces and served us hot tea that was sweet like a syrup. Of course to us it was like a shot in the arm with energy. We asked where he learned his English. He said in the U.S. while aboard freighters. After we ate (it was like eating at the Waldorf) we stood up at a map table and he asked us if we were married and if we had any children. For those that smoked, he handed them cigarettes. They were not Filipino or American cigarettes; I think they were from Singapore. Anyway, as it started to get dark, he said it was time to go as he walked over to the gate. As we started to go, he said, "I hope you go home soon to your loved ones". Just a short distance ahead was the main body of POWs bedding down for the night. I think this was near Abucay (on map #2). I'm not sure if I would have finished the march. I wish I knew his name.
At San Fernando we boarded Narrow Gage Rail. We were crowded in maybe 40 men per car. The Jap guard for our car allowed the door to be open at each station or depot. The Filipinos had prepared food which was wrapped in banana (better than waxed paper). Inside of the steamed rice was shrimp, pork, beef. Also the Filipinos had lime juice, a good native drink.
As I remember, we walked from Capas to Camp O'Donnell (pronounced Oh Don Nell). In peacetime this camp was used by the Philippine Army training camp. The buildings were bamboo and nepa (a native woven fabric). One difference between the Americans and Filipinos was that in our camp we boiled the water, and the Filipinos did not. I think I showed on map #1 the difference in death rate.
The food was rice and what we called whistler weed soup, a broth that had a light green color with no flavor. We were not used to eating plain white rice. I went from 162 lb. to 97 lb. from Christmas day 1941 to April 20th 1942. I was so weary by the time I left O'Donnell I was too weak to walk, so I was taken to Cabanatuan Camp by steel bed truck. Boy was my bottom sore by then. We were well settled in our new camp when POWs from Corregidor arrived by the middle of June 1942 since they surrendered on May 6th. They brought canned condensed milk and flour with them. Until the kitchen ran out of food we had a small glass of milk diluted with water (it still tasted like milk) and a slice of bread each day. After several months we received mongo beans each day with our rice; later the cooks butchered caribou (a native to our ox rather than our American cow). It wasn't bad. In fact, we ate kidney, heart and other organ meats (even the blood), everything but the hoofs, hide and bellow.
We had already gone through all phases of malnutrition, beriberi, pellagra, dysentery, jaundice, rickets, and just plain malnutrition. I ended up in zero ward. Normally, from there to boot hill (this is what we called the cemetery). It seemed every morning someone next to me would be dead. After some time, I noticed that most of these men gave up or had given up. I made up my mind - not me. I was not giving up. After a week or so, they put me in a ward, more like a welfare ward. Every day or so medical people would give me (or us) a banana or a hard-boiled egg or some black beans. These were in addition to the rice! We soon had our appetite back. Later, along with mongo beans and caribou I started to gain weight. I was eventually transferred to ward #6 and soon assigned to the farm detail.
At one time we worked on an airfield for the Japs. One day the Japs brought in a POW who had escaped and been recaptured. He was brought in and shot in front of everyone in the camp as an example of what would happen if we escaped.
Later the Japanese had a problem at Cabanatuan camp. The grass grew to heights of maybe five or six feet surrounding the camp. The bad part for the guards, the American and Filipino gorillas would sneak up through the high grass and chop off the guard's head (which was never seen by other guards). This caused two things to happen: one, they assigned POWs to cut the grass out at least 25 feet away from the fence, and two, the Japs built tall guard towers maybe 25 to 50 feet apart so the guards in the towers could easily spot anyone approaching the guards walking outside the high barbed wire around our
camp (maybe 10 or so feet and sloped in at the top so POWs couldn't climb out the fence).
There was a little humor while this grass-cutting detail was going on. One of our Jap guards who we knew in camp was guarding the POW grass cutters. The crew would tend to goof off while this guard wandered off at times to the farm detail. The guards knew other guards on the farm. Anyway, the grass-cutting crew knew when the guards would leave for an hour or two and would goof off. It was the hot season, and hot cutting grass, the POWs would post a guy to watch for the guard's return. And he would shout, "Air Raid" to alert the crew to start cutting grass like mad. Soon the same guard sensed what was happening (his being gone for a while), and so he snuck out into the tall grass and waited maybe five minutes or so, about 25 to 30 feet away. Where they started there, he walked back maybe 10 feet away in the tall grass, and all of a sudden jumped up so the rest of the crew could see him and hollered "Air Raid" just as loud as he could and laughed at the resting crew.
As medicine was brought in for dysentery, (amoebic dysentery like I and a lot of others had), we started receiving treatment. For me this meant "emitine" shots every few weeks. I think maybe I had 14 shots altogether. I stopped having cramps and diarrhea. This was when I was assigned to farm work detail.
Most of our guards were from Formosa, not Japanese. Some or all of them were nicknamed Air Raid, Web Foot, Benie the Bean Picker, Four Eyes, the One Armed Bandit, Buck Tooth, Big Speedo, just to name a few.
Since we missed American food, we made up recipes. Another pastime was poetry. (I think I mailed two poems I wrote last time.)
During the time I was in the hospital ward I became a barber. I gave haircuts and shaved some of the patients. I inherited the tools (razor, a 1917 mesquite knife, a hone and leather strap, and scissors) from a man who died. Then when I moved out of the ward I passed the tools to some other patient.
Another thing we did was quan. It is a Filipino term for cook. Let me explain. We got tired of mess hall food. We had hand-made ovens. We would take mess hall food, rice and soup (some had meat with vegetables, and some garden-grown garlic, okra, eggplant, etc.) We'd add these and bake (quan) in homemade clay ovens. Again, American ingenuity. The cooks soaked the corn we were about to eat in wood ashes over night. Rinsed it good in plain cold water, and we ate hominy.
We were assigned to a Japanese guard who carried a forked stick. I wondered why. I found out why on that detail. I don't remember the details, but I do remember he had about 50 of us form a semi-circle in a large field. The Jap spotted a cobra snake which was heading for an anthill to get away from us. We closed in on the snake. Finally the Jap guard pinned the snake's head with the forked stick and had one of us grab the tail and elevate it and keep it elevated while he tore the snake's fangs out so he could not poison himself or us. Finally, he killed the snake, skinned it, asking one of us to build a fire. We did. He cut the snake into 3" or 4" pieces which were roasted over the coals and then shared with us. It was very good. Have you ever eaten lugoau? It is a porridge cooked rice, not a bit like steamed rice. Watery is not the correct word either. Anyway, that's what we had in camp for breakfast. We were not given individual American Red Cross parcels like we were supposed to. However, I believe on Thanksgiving and Christmas in 1943 the Japanese gave our cooks in the mess hall a few cans of klim, whole powdered milk. Anyway, it was good cooked with our lugoau with some raisins also from the Red Cross boxes. Yum, it was good.
Another treat I discovered while in the Philippines, maybe even in peacetime, was this. It was at a bon fire. The group was given a coconut in the shell with the husk removed. We removed the eyes (or plugs that hold the coconut juice in) and drained the juice inside. We took a can of sweetened condensed milk (like Eagle Brand) and poured it carefully in the holes. When it was all poured in, we plugged the holes real tight and threw the coconut in the fire. After a short while (before the outer shell burned up) we took it out of the fire, broke off the shell, and ate the caramelized coconut meat. It was delicious.
Another similar treat is to drain the juice from a coconut and save it for later use. Grate the coconut meat very finely and then put it in a cheesecloth bag and dip it in the drained juice until all the juice is gone or soaked up. What you end up with is the pure coconut milk; in fact, it will be a rich milk color. Take the juice in a pan and add a small cup (maybe only several Tbls.) of brown sugar, making a thin syrup, and eat it on waffles or pancakes. Um, good. Enjoy.
One more thing before I sign off and leave for Japan. We had an area that was used for an outdoor theater. Remember we had no written sheet music. The Filipinos donated a small piano. The POWs made a drum by stretching a caribou hide over a barrel. A group of musicians (POWs) composed and wrote their own music. Every Saturday night we had entertainment. They made up a hit parade of popular songs. We had stage plays with men dressed up as women, movies. The funny thing was we had a large attendance of Japanese whose camp adjoined the American camp.
Perhaps you noticed the maps I sent. One shows Cabanatuan. Altogether I was there from November 1940 until sometime in July 1944, and again after Japan sometime in September 1945 in a rest camp south of Manila until October 1945. At this camp we were told that if we got hungry (day or night) to go to the mess hall and fix our own food. We were also given a shot before traveling back to the U.S.A.
One other experience I had in camp was a dream I had that I was in a grocery store some place and my eyes kept traveling down the shelves until they came to plain evaporated milk (Carnation or Sego). My dream was so real that when I awakened to go to the restroom facility (a straddle trench), my pillow was wet where my mouth had been.
Also, at the rest camp I received a letter from my mother that my father had died in July 1945, about a month before I was liberated in Japan.
September 15, 1998
I received your name and address from the ex-POW bulletin.
Thank you for sending the maps and answering my letter promptly. Normally Japanese names were harder to remember than nicknames. I think we called our camp commander of Camp 17 Little Napoleon, but I believe it was Fukuhara.
Why don't I start telling you how I ended up in Japan, docking at Moji early in September 1944. I don't know the Japanese name of the boat I went on, but we called it the Mati Mati Maru. It was a ship taken from the Canadians in Hong Kong when they surrendered around Christmas 1941, a few days after Pearl Harbor. We or I had embarked from Cabanatuan early in July 1944. I think the ship was the Canadian Wanderer. We wondered if we'd ever get to Japan. Not long after we boarded and started up the coast of Luzon a boiler blew out, and we ended up back in Manila harbor. While in the harbor we were not allowed on deck. The lower deck smelled musty. I believe the Canadians had used their vessel for hauling horses. First of all, there were no bunks. We slept on the floor or deck in 6-foot square frames like 6X6 timbers. (I think the Canadians tied horses to these.) You can just picture these cubicles with about a 3-foot aisle all around them. We sat in Manila while the boiler was repaired. I can imagine how long it took to get to Formosan (around 200 miles?) port of Takao. We sat there a week while the Chinese Coolies loaded salt in the forward hold of the ship. Then we went north to Taipei where we sat for another week while the Coolies loaded dried fish in the aft hold. By that time it was nearly August.
As we (also the ship next to us at the dock in Taipei) the gunboat that came with us started dropping death charges. The boat the Japanese soldiers were in veered left (west) toward China while we went on with the gunboat toward Japan. That night (I think) the ship dropped anchor near some island until about 9 am in the morning. We went on to Japan and docked at Moji early in September, about 62 days later. I forgot to tell you that while at Taipei we were off the ship to take a fresh water bath. At Moji I went by train to Omuta, (Fukuoka) Camp 17. There were 25 camps on Kyushu alone.
Would you like a map of all POW camps in Japan? How about one of our POW packets entitled "The Japanese Story" history of POWs in Japan and after-effects? I am sending an article written about 1992 marking 50 years after the fall of Bataan which will answer for now your question about how do I feel about the Japanese now. Perhaps you should ask how I feel about some of the Japanese that I met during my 41 months as a POW. The other enclosure (the one written in the Japanese language, nippongo) is an article which appeared in the paper at Omuta.
After I find a map of Kyushu perhaps I can show you where I was held in Japan, and I will write about the year I spent in Japan. Later (after I finish a map I have) I will write about my 4 years in the Philippines including the death march.
I will explain the two articles stapled together more fully. I gave a copy of an article written in English to a young Japanese girl that used to attend the church we attend. She asked where I lived in Japan, and I told her Omuta. Her eyes lit up, so I asked her what was the matter. She said she was born in Omuta a little over 20 years ago. She sent a copy of the article I gave her to her grandparents and told them that I lived in Omuta. Some time later she gave me a copy that had appeared in the Omuta paper. She said the picture was her grandfather who still lived in Omuta.
I am looking forward to your next letter.
October 22, 1998
My year spent in Japan began early in September, 1944. We were given quite the welcome by Mr. F. Our first meal was a bowl of tasty soup, a large roll or bun that was different in as much as it resembled whole wheat, but was probably soy flour.
The first two or three weeks were spent top-side down at the coal mine. We walked three miles there each morning and three miles back each afternoon after class. We learned our prison camp number in Japanese and we were hit over the head if we did not answer when they called that number. We also learned the names of the Japanese tools that we would be asking for at the tool crib in the coal mine. One word was "saw" which we used to cut the timbers (logs) which we would carry on our shoulder maybe a mile or more to the place where they were used. We learned the names of the timbers and the smaller branches (the smaller ones seen overhead going perpendicular to the larger ones seen in the picture you sent). We learned how to cut the vertical timbers and also the large horizontal timbers. I think they were called "wakahati's" (or something like that). The smaller ones in the picture were called "maruges" (or a similar sounding name). I should mention that after our training we were sent to work down in the mine. Every shift before going down into the mine we had to enter a special building we called the Shinto building where on command we had to take off or remove our hats and bow (in the shrine) and the leader said something like "chuck-a-bosh" while we removed our hats and each man bowed.
Omuta was a slope mine, meaning the ginshaw (train or trolley) angled at about a 5 degree slope and I believe it went about 5 miles down and under the bay. In fact, I think in accordance with the picture you sent that the Omuta mine would not have been open had it not been for cheap (or slave) labor. Before I forget, let me tell you two stories.
One day I was carrying a small timber (some were one man and some were two man). It was long, maybe 18 feet long and maybe 5 inches in diameter (not heavy, but awkward to carry). I wavered slightly and the front of the pole went up a little (almost off-balance) and hit an overhead timber (as shown in your picture). It veered off my shoulder and knocked or derailed a coal car loaded with coal, making what I presumed was Chinese angrier at me for derailing the car full of coal, as if I derailed it on purpose. I thought they were going to kill me right there, although they didn't swarm all over me. I was plenty scared, until some other P.O.W. came up behind me carrying another pole. I picked up the timber I had been carrying, and we got away from them before anything else happened. WHEW!
Let me tell you what happened to my ankle. Some time in November another man (I don't remember who he was) and I were carrying a timber about 12 inches through the butt and 12 feet or so long. Ideally both men place the heavy timber on their right shoulder. While walking down along the shoulder and to the side of the track I stumbled and I let the pole roll off my shoulder. Perhaps I pushed it off to get it away from me. By the time the other man got the timber off his shoulder, my end of the timber came back and clobbered my right ankle with a crushing force. It tore all the ligaments loose and chipped a bone in my ankle. I walked club footed to ease the pain. The Japanese gave me no pain killers or take me to a hospital. That night I could hardly sleep, let alone ease the pain in my foot. I tried every way I knew of. I tried elevating it with a pillow or anything to keep it up in the air for a few minutes. Maybe I got to sleep that night.
Incidentally, the prison number assigned to me when I entered camp was 1246. I don't remember what my number was at Fukuoka Camp or camp one. Most of the men I met were civilian P.O.W.s from Wake or Guam. I do not remember the others there or what work details they were on.
It turned cold at Fukuoka Camp 1. We were located about 5 miles (I do not know what direction) from Fukuoka. I don't know what kind of work the other men did (see articles I sent for better detail). I do remember about things that happened at Camp 1.
1. The temperature was 14 degrees above zero for a week or so. I met a civilian (originally from California) and we would sit at the foot of our bunk with our feet in each other's crotch to benefit from each other's body heat. We were not allowed to go to bed and cover up with our blankets unless we were bed patients. And at night, we would place 6 (six) of our blankets (only cotton) on the bottom and 4 (four) blankets on top and put our heads under the covers for 5 or 10 minutes (we never timed it) using the benefit of our body heat. Forget the rule of one man per blanket (after we were P.O.W.s).
2. One time while it was still winter (perhaps early November or early December) 1944, it snowed after Christmas and I made ice cream. Maybe you will want to keep this recipe. Fresh snow, 1 cup of klim, a whole powdered milk (notice milk spelled backward, klim) from the American Red Cross packages, and also a couple of tablespoons of strawberry preserves (also from same) mixed thoroughly and eaten heartily.
3. In my memory, the barracks building at Kashi was a long, high building and had double doors in the end and double doors on both sides in the center. Dirt floor. The bunk was raised about 16 inches or so from the floor, and the walls were bark with about 6 feet of straw tied to the walls. One day a guard which we named "the maniac" entered the building at the far end. As he entered, someone at the other end of the barracks shouted, "Attention!" in Japanese, and everyone saluted, including myself. He slowly walked toward our end of the building and some American in our end hollered "Attention!" again and again we saluted. His eyes were glaring as he came near me. He asked me in Japanese why I didn't salute. Rather than argue, I admitted I was bad in Japanese. He grabbed me and pulled me by my coat collar to the center clearing and tried Judo on me. I fell, and rather than get up too quickly or stay down too long and be kicked with his boots, I slowly stood up. He was mad, and grabbing me by the collar pulled me over near the barrack's sergeant's bunk. He drew back and hit me in the face, drawing blood to my lip. He stopped immediately, stepped back, turning almost white, and let me get up from the bunk. The barrack's sergeant groused because my lip dripped a little blood on his bunk. I started to walk out of the back doorway, but the maniac beat me to the door and raised his hand to stop me. He wanted to see (he said, "mirru-mirru). I pulled down my lower lip and thought, no, not any more. He dropped his hand and let me go out. I went straight to the infirmary. The American medic looked at my turned down lip and almost laughed and said, "You will not need stitches. It will only be sore a few days."
4. Back to when I first came to Camp 1. The Australian doctor said unless I wanted to walk club footed, he recommended that I soak my ankle in hot water so hot it made me almost cry and flex it a couple of times a day for a month. I went back to Camp 17 two months later.
5. During that cool weather there was so much frost bite that we walked around the camp compound in our woolen overcoats (mine was Australian). They would not let us put our hands in our pockets, so the knuckles cracked and bled. On the train back to Omuta I saw men who just arrived from Manila on the last (hell) ship (an unmarked ship, name unknown). I arrived back some time in January 1945 and was given a new number of 1642 (same digits, just a different sequence from my old number which had been 1246). I am still surprised I came back from Fukuoka Camp 1 to Fukuoka Camp 17 with a new camp prison number, especially the same digits (1246 to 1642). Anyway, my first day back I was assigned to camp duty under a Sgt. Bennett (who I knew from Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines as a go-between there). To some, he was very ornery or mean. To give you an idea: the first day on his crew, he told us we were never to be there late or tardy (or else). Well, as luck will have it, another guy and I were about five minutes late. He told us to wait until he assigned the others, then came back to deal with us. He said we were to report to the Japanese guard, stand in front of the guards, and slap each other hard in the face. If we didn't hit each other hard enough, the guards would show us how.
6. Another American that I reported to before the war crimes was Lt. (junior grade) Little who finagled a job as head of the mess hall. He spoke fluent Japanese and he was mean. I saw a prisoner (I think his name was Knight) who was too weary to work and therefore had his rations cut. He was so emitted that he would get up for the 4 am breakfast (early cool mine shift) and hoped someone would drop him food to scoop up and eat. He was skin and bones. Very little food was dropped from the mess hall, so he stole food from the warehouse. Lt. Little caught him stealing, and that night while we were lined up to be counted for the midnight shift, Lt. Little brought Knight out and called him a thief. Lt. Little told the guards that he was always stealing food, and instead of putting him on K.P. (like you and I would do), Lt. Little spoke Japanese and a guard grabbed a fire bucket (with ice on the top) and threw it on Knight and beat him with a stick. Knight died about a week later. (You and I know how.) Later on in September when we left Nagasaki to be brought home, Bennett and Little were picked up by the American M.P., later tried in California, and acquitted. If the authorities would have left them to us, I would have probably not made it back to San Francisco. Nature knows how to deal with people.
Back around July 1945 the B-29s pulled day and night raids. The Shinto building experienced a daytime raid just before our day's shift ended. The day raid knocked the power off in the coal mine and we had to walk out (up the slope) of the coal mine. We were told in a conference as we walked out what had happened topside. We were not allowed to laugh or tell jokes while going up, so they wouldn't think we were laughing about the bombing instead of our possible jokes. One night our camp (17) was bombed and we were rushed to our air raid shelter (with the hungry flees). We had just left the mess hall with our food on our plate, stumbling along in the dark. Some time later we were sent out along the road to our camp because about 1/3 of the barracks burned down were American barracks. We had to stay and sleep in the mess hall until construction of the new buildings was completed.
I should tell you about the first overman I was assigned to in the coal mine. We called him the Yasimay King. He was about 50 years old. He had a habit of bringing little tidbits (like roasted soy beans) to share with us. He would work with us building our support wall (see my diagram of the wall we built). With his help we would always finish early and he would take us to an isolated area in the coal mine and rest (yasimay) until the train would come to take us topside. At the end of our shift, he would post someone to guard so we wouldn't miss the train. Maybe you can see why I couldn't hate all Japanese.
Another kind Japanese was one in their military who was in charge of light duty detail at a farm. We were building a dike. The dirt we had to shovel was heavy, and the further we had to throw it, the more difficult it became. He was patient with us and showed us how to make it easier for us by showing us how to put our own body weight behind our throw. Later in September when we were getting ready to leave Omuta and return to the United States he came down to the train to see us leave. He started crying. Someone asked him why he was crying and he said he was so glad that we could go home to our loved ones. You know, I wonder if he lost his loved ones in the war.
During our short stay in the new barracks after the bombing, my roommate and I had a guard who spent all of his guard shift in front of our room. (We had rooms with plastered walls and some kind of woven mats for the floor. The sliding door was elevated from the narrow hall in front of our room. We had mattresses to sleep with comforters to cover our bed.)
In July and August the guard came and told us about a lot of American planes (skogies) in the Philippines. A little later he mentioned there were a lot of American (Hati) soldiers in the Philippines. They coincided with MacArthur's landing at Leyte. Soon the Japanese told us that they could no longer warn us about American aircraft warnings. But instead of the B-29 raids, Navy planes were coming from aircraft carriers from Okinawa. We knew the war was about over. However, we became worried when the Japanese installed machine guns around camp.
Why don't I end this letter here, and in the next letter I will write about the last day before the surrender. After that I will write about the fall of Bataan and the nearly three weeks that they stayed in Japan while General MacArthur's occupation forces arrived in Japan.
November 30, 1998
As I mentioned in my last correspondence, we noticed increased air raids, B-29's
(B-nejuku's) particularly Navy planes in daytime.
Before I go on, let me explain the ingenuity of American POWs. I do not know if it was the original 500 or the group I came with in 1944, but anyway, one thing Japan had to import was salt. One group of Yanks asked the Japanese for several things: empty 50 gallon drums, torches to cut the barrels in half, remove one end, and maybe weld three tanks together in a row. They arranged maybe three rows terrace style near the bay or sea and with a pump, pumped the sea water up to the top barrels and in turn they would overflow and go back in the sea leaving pure white salt in the barrels. After a while they would turn the pump off, let the sun dry the salt, and sometime later we had beautiful white table salt.
Back to the war, or really to August 15, 1945, the official surrender of the Japanese. We were not told that the war had ended. Instead, the Japanese brought all POW work details back to camp by 3:00 PM in the afternoon and announced that Japan was declaring a three-day holiday starting on the 16th. Well, that fact started a lot of rumors that Japan had surrendered. I could not sleep that night. I knew the war was over. I had a vision, and I could see my whole family in this vision, except my father. I did not worry because I did not know what happened to him. I had received very little word from my family. The Japanese also told us that in the morning we would be issued 1/3 of an American Red Cross parcel. Now really, these Red Cross parcels were supposed to be given to us regularly all along, not just on special occasions. This was August 16th. That night they said we would not be required to salute the guards anymore. This was weird. We had been required to salute to them for 41 months, and now we were not required to. The night of August 17, 1945 we were told that American planes would fly over our camp, but they would not drop bombs. All we saw in the sky the next day was a silver speck about 40,000 feet up in the sky. Everybody shouted. I bet they could hear us in Manila! They warned us not to get too excited. Them telling us about U.S. planes surprised me.
I don't remember anything happening on August 19th, but on August 20th, a war correspondent or some American assembled all POWs (but me) on the parade ground and announced that the war was over, and in fact had been since August 15th. However, we POWs would not be leaving Omuta for about three weeks while McArthur's occupation troops arrived in Japan and were ready to take over. In the meantime, some of us formed the first occupation forces in Japan. I think they rounded up POWs who had been M.P.s in the Philippines to be military police, only this time they would join the Japanese military police and the Japanese civilian police to maintain law and order.
Very soon after (I think on August 22nd), a lone B-29 flew low over our camp and dropped a special issue of Life Magazine filled with pictures of B-29s on Wake Island and other morale-building materials.
On August 24th, all Japanese guards and Mr. F left Camp 17, Omuta. An American medical officer took the place of a colonel who had been an American camp commander. For some reason all U.S. combat officers (including the colonel, whose name I don't remember). What I didn't know before, there were some apartments directly behind our buildings and a 12 foot high board fence directly behind filled with coal mining camp overman (Japanese) (2 stripers and 3 stripers). After the guards left, the 440 volt wire was deactivated and part of the fence torn down (by the Japanese overman). They knew we had just been issued new clothing and fresh cigarettes. They wanted to trade sake for the cigarettes and clothes.
On August 26th or 27th, a flight of B-29s came back and dropped food, clothing, and medical supplies in our crowded camp. Some parcels hit power lines, forcing us to dodge live power lines. One man was hit in the lower leg, laying the flesh wide open. He died a few days later. That was the only casualty in our camp. The heavy packages of food swinging in the air would break loose from the parachutes and come down like a bomb.
Two or three days later, the B29s made their drop just outside of camp. Well, this would have been great, except the Japanese overman and civilians were hungry, too, and came out with wheel barrels and kid's wagons to pick up food. Of course we didn't really need it. One day our cooks had a hereford (at least it looked like one) brought in. You should have heard the cheering. Besides, about this time, the Chinese who also worked in the coal mine some of them there since 1937 (the Japanese in China). Anyway, one of the first days after the surrender, an American POW met a Chinese POW and was invited to the Chinese camp nearby and offered American food in their camp (like scrambled eggs and ham out of a large can). When we heard about that, they welcomed American POWs visiting their camp. Their camp was right next to a brewery, and they served beer with our food.
Soon after the camp gate was opened, we would walk to town (Omuta), and I think the first day I went I met a Japanese civilian man (about 50 years old) who invited me to his home nearby and served me tea and snacks. He was very friendly.
I used to visit a small store in Omuta and just browse. I had no money to buy anything. One day late in August I met a young Japanese lady (maybe 22 or so) in this same store. She invited me to have lunch with her, and she told me her mother or aunt lived in the back of the store. She said if I came there the next day she would have lunch for me or with me. I arrived about 1:00 PM the next day, knocked, and she let me in. As I remember, we sat at a low table (tami, I believe). She had prepared seems like a chicken casserole - hot and good. She fanned me while I ate. (Is that the custom?)
We had no fear of boarding a train and seeing a part of Japan. In fact, one day a British soldier (from another camp) wanted to take a short trip on a train. Most British looked down on Americans, but he was different. We took a train ride one day to Kumamoto, which was about 17 miles mostly south and maybe a little east of Omuta. (By the way, did I send you a copy of a map of Fukuoka?) Anyway, we went in a theater near the train depot. I looked through the aisle curtain and saw a young Japanese lady (maybe 22 and perhaps an off-duty nurse). I told the Limey to go to the aisle curtain, and I told him we would go to the same row the Japanese lady was in and we would sit on each side of her since there was no one in that row except her. She soon stopped looking at the movie and spoke to us, asking if we were Americans. I think she even asked us to have lunch the next day. We had to refuse because by then it was nearly September 1945 and we did not want to miss our call to leave Japan.
Early in September we boarded a train at Omuta and departed for Nagasaki. We went by British carrier to Okinawa, and from Okinawa on a B47 (I think) to Manila. We spent two weeks south of Manila recuperating and getting shots. I received a letter from my mother that my dad had died in July 1945. I did not arrive in the states until November (five years from the time I had arrived in Manila in November 1940). I'll tell you about my assignment (tour) in the Philippines next.
Wes, before I sign off, I should tell three things related to this communication. Right after I graduated from high school in 1939, I took a civil service exam to be a rural or railway mail sorter. I was second highest. I did not get the job opening which I applied for, but that experience followed me from then on. Just because I volunteered I attended a vocational school to learn carpentry. However, the school went through my records and found I had passed the civil service exam, so they wanted me to work in the postal substation sorting mail. So I did. Well, this was mainly a morning job, so I went to the carpentry shop in the afternoon and the instructor (a young man about your age - not over 27) took me under his wing and taught me how to use the wood lathe, table saw, and jig saw. He got me repairing drawers in the dormitories (both women and men). In fact that's where I met a girl who I later married after the war in 1947. Anyway, this young man saw how interested I was in woodworking and set me up teaching or coaching kind of a hobby class at night where students made magazine racks, etc. The school was operated by the government (National Youth Administration) when I joined the Army signal corps (later my future wife went in the U.S. Navy). Anyway, the postal thing followed in the service where I pulled no guard duty and only one K.P. They put me to work in the postal sub-station at Fort McDowell in California. Our biggest job was not sorting mail, but most of the 8 am to 5 pm job was transferring mail either to an overseas depot or to some Army camp or depot here in the U.S.
The second thing is this. On the train ride down from Omuta to Nagasaki we had been given gum, life savers, and different tidbits from McArthur's occupation forces who relieved us so we could go home. I told you about the Japanese soldier who came down to see us off and cried, etc. We loaded him with canned lima beans. I don't know how they ended up with snack food, but anyway, we loaded his arms down with these cans of beans. He loved beans and said "mumijoto".
The third thing is this. When I arrived in Okinawa, I met a POW I had not seen since Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines. We hit it off so well. He had been in Okinawa about a week waiting for a flight to Manila. I had just arrived that day. Through a fluke we caught a flight to Manila later that night in a C47 I think.
Cecil W. Parrott
P.S. There were no buildings standing in Nagasaki when we rode through to get to the ship we sailed to Okinawa.