Then we were loaded aboard freighters. There were
three freighters, I forget the names now. They had brought horses
down in the one we had, and the hold was just filled with flies. But
we had room to stretch out and there were some two by fours, and we
laid them out across the ship to demark bays so we could lie down.
I don't remember just how long it was before we upped anchor and went
up to a harbor on the South end of the Island of Formosa.
Our ship tied up alongside another ship. I found
out later it was about a 5,000 ton oil tanker. We were getting the
water ration the second day or so when they sounded the air alarm.
People were scurrying all around. I had the water bucket and I told
them to calm down, that I didn't want to spill the water. I was holding
the bucket up against my chest. It was full, I'd just drawn the water
and hadn't distributed it yet. Well, a bomb went off...
We found out afterward that the planes had instructions
just to hit the airfield, but one slap-happy pilot dropped a stick
of bombs on the two ships tied together. One of the bombs hit the
oil tanker right opposite our hold. It split our freighter's hull
from the deck right up to the upper deck that was in places six or
seven inches wide. A jagged hole all the way. We had metal flying
all over that hold.
They had opened the holds so there wasn't any flooring
over the holds, but the center I-beam was there, and the concussion
dropped that I-beam on about fifteen of our men and killed them. The
ones over by the side where the bomb had hit, it killed practically
all of them. Lieutenant j.g. Stirni was one of them.
A slug about the size of a silver dollar hit my bucket
of water and put a hole in it about an inch from the bottom of the
can. I looked down there, and I didn't have a drop of water in the
bucket. That was my first thought, "I've lost all that water!" My
whole thoughts were that I had lost all that water. I had a black
and blue spot on the front of me that lasted well after we were up
in Japan. But if I hadn't had that bucket of water, that slug would
have gone right through me. All over my arms were little gouges where
hot metal had hit me. One took a big chunk out, and it took years
before it filled up. I didn't bleed any, but the joke afterwards was
that that must have been a mean smallpox vaccination.
The ship we were on didn't sink, but it was damaged,
so the next day they moved us over to another ship. Some other prisoners
had loaded aboard that ship in Lingayan and they consolidated us all
in that ship. One of the men on that ship was an Infantry Lieutenant
I had met down in Zamboanga. We were basing out of there the last
year before the war, and Kay had come down to Zamboanga, and we'd
met in that social life among the military and some civilians who
were on rubber plantations in the area. So we knew each other. He
was with some of the others who had gotten down into the lower hold
of the ship, where they were carrying raw sugar. Some of the more
enterprising ones who'd been on that ship had gotten some of that
raw sugar. Of course they had no containers to put it in.
when we got on the ship, we weren't organized or anything, and I had
put my gear down with some of the others on a hatch cover. The Japanese
called for a detail to go back on the ship we'd just come from for
a burial detail to take the bodies out to this Chinese cemetery for
cremation. The Lieutenant had been picked along with some others,
and when he saw me, he said, "Take care of my gear." Well, the first
thing you know, I had gear from about six or seven people to look
after. Then the Japanese
wanted to take that hatch cover off and take the sugar out of the
hold. The guards started yelling to get that gear out of the way,
and I started picking it up. Out of one of these bundles of gear fell
a dirty handkerchief with about two tablespoons of raw sugar in it.
Now, I had a Navy Warrant Officer with me who was helping me move
the gear. Well, the next thing you know, this Navy Warrant Officer
and I were up on deck accused of stealing sugar.
The interpreter kept asking me, "Why did you do this?
Why did you do this?" I said I didn't do it. They asked who did, and
I said, "I don't know." We were there for hours. Finally I convinced
them the Warrant Officer was just helping me move the gear, and they
let the Warrant eat the sugar and go down below! But they still held
me up there. Finally I asked, "How could I have stolen the sugar when
I just came aboard the ship?" Of course they knew the sugar had been
stolen before that. But they kept asking, "But why did you steal the
sugar?" I'd been standing the whole time. Finally the interpreter
stood up and slapped me a couple times, not too hard, and told me
I saw this incident written up in somebody's story
years later, and I'm sure it was the same incident, because I know
there weren't two of them. The story went that some Navy Lieutenant
had taken the blame for stealing the sugar to get the rest of them
off the hook. But I wasn't as noble as the story gives me credit for.
I was insisting that I couldn't have stolen the sugar because I wasn't
You know, that little bit of raw sugar meant a lot.
Its been my experience that you don't mind a little dirt when you're
hungry, and there's very few people who have really been hungry. We
were. When the war started I weighed about 150 pounds. When we landed
in Mojii, we were put in a bodega along the pier there, and there
was a scale there and I weighed 96 pounds.
The trip from Manila to Mojii was pretty uncomfortable.
It was hot in the daytime, and then it started to cool down when we
got to Taiwan. Now I kept track, because we still had the 20-man ration
system. On the trip from Formosa to Japan, on some days we didn't
get water, and on some days we didn't get rice, and we never got both
on the same day. I kept track of the water because I dished it out,
and it measured out to six ounces a day per man, when we got it. And
the rice, well, if you were to put the rice in a coffee cup and not
pack it down, it would come up about two inches. That was it.
Like I said, over 1,600 of us got on the ORYOKU MARU
in Manila. Fewer than 500 of us got out of that last ship at Mojii.
We stayed in Japan until April, 1945. We were scheduled
to go to Korea. When we arrived in Mojii, the guards to take us to
Korea were there waiting for us, and when they saw us, they wouldn't
accept us because we were in such bad physical shape. So they put
us in a camp in Japan. We just laid around.
The trouble with the camp in Japan was the way the
barracks were constructed. They dug into the ground about two or three
feet, and put mat flooring over it. There was an aisle down the middle,
and the roof was pitched so that a man could just walk down the aisle
standing up. In the winter time the ground was cold, it hadn't thawed
issued us overcoats on the way to Japan. They had three kinds of overcoats,
all captured, of course. They had Australian coats, American coats
and Dutch. If you were lucky you got an Australian coat, if you were
not so lucky, you got an American coat. If you had no luck at all,
you got a Dutch one. That was because of the cut and the wool content.
The American coat was cut nice, but wasn't anywhere up to the standards
of the Australian coat for warmth. I, got an American coat. On the
23rd of March, the first day of spring, with snow on the ground, we
had to turn in our overcoats! "First day of spring, turn in your overcoats!"
We didn't have any blankets or anything,
and the only other thing we had was what we brought with us from the
Philippines. By that time that meant pretty much just the clothes
on your back. We had gotten some clothing in the Philippines, but
essentially I was wearing what I had when I was captured.
I didn't see any of the bombing raids in Japan. In
Korea we had big pits, like you'd dig for the basement of a house,
with matting over the top, and at the first sign of a raid, we'd go
into those pits.