We did get paid in prison camp, by the Japanese.
I was paid what a Captain in the Japanese Army would get. They paid
us in occupation script, and I always got more money than I could
spend. When we were in the Philippines we could buy things. The Filipino
merchants would come to the gate, and our camp quartermaster corps
would get what they could. The merchants operated as fair a deal as
was possible. The quartermaster corps had a representative from each
barracks take orders on things we needed. You had to put the cash
down with the order. Suppose you wanted half a dozen eggs, you'd pay
for half a dozen eggs. But there wasn't that much to buy, so when
your order came in you might only get one, or maybe two eggs, but
you did get your money back.
I always had more money than I could spend, so I'd
find a G.I. who wasn't getting much money and pay him to do my laundry.
That gave him a chance to get more than he could buy with the little
money he was getting, which was what a Japanese private was making.
I also learned to shave with a straight razor. We
had a fellow who was a barber and he set up a barber shop. You could
pay him to shave you or get a hair cut, but he also had a razor you
could use without paying. When we got to Japan and Korea, I used a
razor blade to shave with. Once every other week, we got a pair of
clippers to cut each others hair. We didn't have to shave our heads,
but we had to keep it short.
Once we got established in Japan, there wasn't much
to buy. You couldn't buy anything to eat. I think I bought a couple
of razor blades and a pencil, but I wasn't allowed to keep a knife
to sharpen the pencil. In Korea there was nothing to buy at all. The
Japanese came out and said, "There's nothing for sale, so we'll hold
your money for you." The first thing the Japanese paymaster did when
the war ended was pay us that back pay, of course it was worthless
We had some entertainment in camp. We had a group
of prisoners who put on theatrical presentations. Some of those plays
they had gotten themselves, or they were ones the Japanese had picked
up from the theaters. The prisoners practiced all week and then on
Friday or Saturday night they'd put on the play. We had a few musical
instruments, too. They got to be pretty good.
We did get Red Cross packages occasionally. The first
Christmas, 1942, when we were in Camp One, we got a Red Cross package
apiece. We still had a bunch of the sick from the Death March the
previous April, and were having burial details every day. I don't
know whether it was Christmas or New Year's Day, but that was the
first day we didn't have a burial. But on that Christmas, we had half
a dozen men who sat down and ate their whole Red Cross package, and
A Red Cross package contained a pound or fifteen
ounces of raisins or prunes. It had either a twelve ounce can of corned
beef or salmon. It had a chocolate bar and two packages of cigarettes.
And it had something that was put out by a tile company that was an
oatmeal concoction that you could eat like a cracker or mix up with
water and have a dish of oatmeal. It was about the size of a four-ounce
tuna fish can. That was about it. It wasn't a whole lot to kill somebody,
but we hadn't had much food, and when you're in that condition, you
can't stuff yourself too much.
We knew we weren't going to get the Red Cross packages
very often. When we got to Japan and Korea we got one package for
every two men every two weeks or so. In Korea we had to turn in the
empty cans to prevent stockpiling food for an escape.
Cabanatuan in October or November 1944. About a month before we left
we started seeing planes off in the distance. Since I worked almost
every day, I saw the planes often. Some of the guards would ask, "American?"
and I would say, "Oh, we,don't have any planes, they must be Japanese
planes." There were so many planes, but they were so thick at the
distance we just couldn't identify them. We'd be out on these details
in several trucks. We were packed in tightly, pretty much standing
up in the trucks. Nobody could fall down. Every time we'd see planes
off in the distance, we'd stop under the nearest tree.
We'd pass by the cemetery at Del Norte on these details.
Halloween at cemetery Del Norte was quite a sight. That was when the
Filipinos would decorate all the mausoleums and light them up like
Christmas trees. But when we'd go by in the daytime, we could see
the drums of aviation gasoline stacked around all the mausoleums in
the cemetery. This was where the Japanese were hiding their gas.
In 1944 they moved us by truck down from Cabanatuan
to Bilibid in Manila, in preparation for transport to Japan. Finally
one night we were told we were going to move out in the morning, and
about four in the morning we all lined up four abreast. About seven
o'clock they issued us rice balls of cooked rice about the size of
a softball. Then along about nine or so they marched us down to Pier
Seven. Fortunately there were water spigots on the pier and we could
have all the water we wanted to drink. As I stood on the pier, I counted
about twenty ships that had been sunk in the harbor.
The ship for us was there at the pier, the ORYOKU
MARU, a Japanese passenger ship. It had three cargo holds, fore and
aft and one amidships. Along about four in the afternoon they started
loading us aboard the ship. The group I was in went into the forward
hold. There were 1,619 people loaded aboard that ship.
They had double decked the holds so we had a space
about three feet high. From the skin of the ship to the partitions
was also about three feet, and we sat as close together as we could.
I was about four or five from the end of the isle in, with my back
to the outer skin of the ship. They got water down to us just before
During the night we left. We found out later we were
in a convoy with four freighters. It was kind of hard to tell what
time it was, but it was daylight the next morning when we were bombed.
I think it was by dive bombers, and they sank the four freighters.
The planes strafed the ORYOKU MARU. There was a quadrapod over the
front hold, and they had a machine gun on top of that. I guess it
was an anti-aircraft mount. Anyway, the blood from the gunners up
there was dripping down into the hold. The planes would shoot one
off, and another would take his place. They took what Doctors we had
up there to take care of the injured. They had loaded a lot of sailors
and civilians aboard to take back to Japan, and they were up in the
cabins. In the strafing a lot were wounded. So they took our medical
personnel up to take care of them.
During the night the ship ran into Subic Bay, and
they took all the Japanese off during the night. The next morning
three planes came over and they dropped bombs on the ship. One bomb
hit in the amidships hold, and one bomb hit in the aft hold. Then
the Japanese guards told us to swim ashore. When we got out of the
hold, the first thing I did was look around for something to eat.
There were pantries there, but there wasn't any food.
ship was settling in the water, and I decided it was about time to
get to shore. I took a couple of planks, tied them together with my
belt and paddled to shore. We came ashore near where the Marine Barracks
were at Subic Bay. There were a lot of people ashore already, when
another flight of three planes came over and started their bombing
run. Everybody on the beach, and even those in the water, were waving
their hands, you know, and I guess the lead pilot realized what was
going on and he wagged his wings and they didn't drop their bombs.
They went off and went away, and we got ashore.