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CDR George Edward "Ted" Morris, Jr. Retired Coast and Geodetic Survey

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Some people objected to my working on these details, saying we shouldn't help the Japanese. But really, we weren't helping them a bit, and we had the chance to help ourselves. Like when we'd go out on the farm detail, planting sweet potatoes. We'd have a detail to go out ahead of time to make the rows, and then we'd go out and do the planting. They'd get the vines and we'd push them into the ground and they'd grow sweet potatoes. But you had to push them into the ground so the leaves were facing up. If you pushed them into the ground with the leaves pointing down, then the vine would grow, but they wouldn't make any sweet potatoes. Some of the men would purposely push the vines in upside down. I'd tell them not to do that. It wasn't helping the Japanese war effort any to plant sweet potatoes, and we might get some. Probably not, but we might. And they'd say, "Oh, we're not going to help them," but my philosophy was do what they ask you to do, just enough to satisfy them and stay out of trouble. But some of the men would get into trouble, and they'd get hit.

artist rendition of cabanatuan barracks
Home Sweet Home at Cabanatuan
A typical scene of the barracks, and baracks life of a Prisoner of War in Cabanatuan. (This pencil drawing was found under the cat-walk of one of the barracks at Cabanatuan, by one of the Rangers who went in to release the Prisoners of War there in early 1945. Artist Unknown.

 

One punishment they'd give was make two people to stand up to each other and slap each other. If they didn't slap hard enough, the guard would take one of them and say whatever he would say to him in Japanese, and them slap him hard enough to almost take him off his feet. On the detail where we were cleaning out the ditch leading to the pond, a couple of our men got to goofing off, and the guards made them stand up and slap each other.

In the early days, three men tried to escape. I don't know how far they got, but the Japanese brought them back, set them up all day long in the sun with a rope around their neck, and at sundown they beheaded them. They didn't execute them in our sight, but they executed them. As for escape, there really was no place to go.

We were always low on food, and there were periods when the Japs were pretty low on food, too. As I said, their quarters were in between the hospital group and our group. Usually you'd see a bunch of G.I.s lined up along the fence waiting to clean the Japanese cooking pots. They'd wash the pots so they could get the scrapings. But once in a while it would be the other way around. The Japanese would be lined up to clean the American pots because we had more scrapings than they did.

Clothing was in short supply, too. Basically, we had what we were captured with. For the work details I cut the legs off of some trousers and had the tailor make me a G-string out of the legs. That's what I wore all day long. I had one pair of shoes the whole war. I made others out of two by fours with a strap across the instep.

We didn't have many problems with bugs in camp. There weren't too many mosquitoes around, though the bed bugs were pretty bad at times. We'd get boiling water from the galley and pour it on their hiding places.

For my sleeping arrangements, I got a couple two by fours and a half a pup tent and made myself a bunk. I got a hold of an Army raincoat, which was pretty stiff, and I elevated my bunk up a couple feet off the deck, and I had a mosquito net. It was in the winter, and getting a little chilly. It was getting uncomfortable, but I hated to get out of my bunk and get something to put over me. Finally I decided I'd get out and get that raincoat, and it wasn't too long before I started to warm up and felt comfortable. Well, come morning and time to get up, I looked and my raincoat was still hanging on the nail! Psychological I guess.

In the beginning, there were Regular Japanese troops guarding us. One of them had this American flag he got and one day, he washed it and hung it on the barbed wire fence outside their compound to dry. So I had the detail coming back with the wood, and I called them to attention and "Eyes Left." Nothing was ever said to me or anybody, but the flag never showed up again.

Now, in Japan and sometimes in Korea, the camp commandant would form up the prisoners and make a speech, but not very often in the Philippines.

Later, our guards were not Japanese. They were Taiwanese or Koreans or from some other place the Japanese had taken over and recruited them from the home guards and things like that. But the supervisors were all Japanese. I got to know the guards pretty well, and would talk with some of them who were trying to learn English. They could speak a few words. They were just G.I.s doing their jobs. They wanted to go home as much as we did. After I got to know the guards, I got to do a lot of things that in the beginning you'd get slapped around for.

I don't know how long they'd been doing it, but they had an experiment going on, trying to cross Brahma bulls with the local water buffaloes, the carabaos. They were trying to produce a better beef producing animal. We had about twenty of those bulls in camp, and the veterinarians were assigned to take care of them. Now, at threshing time we go gather up the rice straw and bring it back to feed the bulls. Well, they'd call out everybody, even some of the Lieutenant Colonels had to go out on the detail. Everybody except the sick. Well, rank had its privileges, so one of the Lieutenant Colonels, or a Major at least, would be in charge of the detail.

When we got to the rice paddies, we got to rest. We were supposed sit there braiding grass into a rope to tie up our bundle of straw. The guards were sitting around with us, and I was sitting with some of the guards I'd been out with on details for years. I knew them quite well.

We started talking about the Enfield rifle that they were using for arms. They complained about them. The Enfields were captured from the Philippine Army, which had been equipped with them. You cocked the Enfield when you closed the bolt, and they couldn't do it with the rifle at their shoulder. The rifles were too long for the guards and their short arms. They had to take the rifle down off their shoulder in order to be able to cock it. They could eject it alright, but they said they preferred the Springfield because it cocked when you ejected the shell.

The guards kept saying what terrible rifles the Enfields were, and I was talking them up, saying they were good rifles. No, it's a terrible rifle they kept saying. So I said, "If its such a terrible rifle, why don't you sell it to me." So this one guard says, "O.K., how much?" and I said "One peso." I took out a peso and he said O.K. I gave him the peso and he gave me the rifle.

There were half a dozen guards around there, and they almost had hissies. They were afraid one of their officers would see this. They kept telling him "Get that rifle back! Get that rifle back!" So I said, "Well, this is a pretty good rifle, you know, but I'll sell it to you. For two pesos." He said, "But I don't have two pesos!" This went on for a little while, and I finally said, "Well, you're a good friend of mine, so I'll sell it to you for one peso."

There was one Japanese guard we called Little Speedo. When they wanted you to hurry up, that was their favorite word, "Speedo! Speedo!" Well, Big Speedo was a great big tall Japanese, he was a Sergeant. He wasn't too bad. But this little one, you could tell by his eyes that he was crazy. We were out planting sweet potatoes, and I was going up and down the path watching these guys plant potatoes, making sure they stuck the things in the ground the right way. With the hoes that we had, the blade pointed down, and a loop going around, and the stick went through that loop. We'd make two by twos out of a two by four and round them off and try to make handles for the things. Not like the hoes we get in the hardware store! Little Speedo carried one of those handles around. Well, he came along and I caught him out of the corner of my eye and saw him raising his hoe handle. So I got my arm up and caught the blow on my arm; he was aiming for my short ribs. I had a sore arm there for a couple of weeks. My guards asked after he left, "What did he do that for?" I told them I had no idea.




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