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

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Finally, Bataan fell. Most of the Navy people got across to Corregidor, but the others didn't. Corregidor held out another month. The surrender was a matter of food more than anything else. We were on the verge of not having any food. The only thing that disturbed me was they had a radio operator crying his eyes out over the short-wave radio on the surrender. He must have been just a kid, no control at all, hysterical on the air, right up until they had to destroy the equipment.

Once we were prisoners we were taken out on this one strip of low sand there on Corregidor and left. The area of the ice plant and storage area was pretty badly shot up during the Japanese landing. We had a detail to go up to pick up food from there and carry it back for distribution. We also set up some lister bags for water and put iodine in for purification. We were there for several days.

Finally we were loaded aboard some old freighters. When they built those freighters, there was a beam across the deck on which they took old welding rod and spelled out the name of the ship. The freighter that I got on I recognized as one of the Alaska Steamship freighters that went from Seattle up to Ketchikan, Juneau and that area. It had been sold to the Japanese for scrap iron about three years before the war started.

When we got to Manila, instead of taking us and unloading us at one of the piers, they took us down the beach aways. They took us in small boats until it was knee deep water and then we waded ashore. Then we paraded down Dewey Boulevard, across the bridge into the Tando area and into Bilibid prison. They kept us in Bilibid for close to two months. From there I went to Cabanatuan in June of 1942, then in October or November of 1944 we were transferred back down to Bilibid and in early December we started our journey to Japan, which I'll tell about in a while.

bilibid prison
The infamous Bilibid Prison. Some Coast Surveyors were incarcerated here by the Japanese in WWII.

They took us from Bilibid to Cabanatuan by train. I was in Cabanatuan from early June 1942, in Camp Three. In the fall, we were transferred down to Camp One. Before the war, out west of the city of Cabanatuan in central Luzon, we'd built camps for the Philippine Army, which was a sort of National Guard. The Japanese used those camps for the Prisoners of War, and we stayed in the barracks built for the Philippine Army troops. The barracks were pretty short for Americans. The first level was about two feet off the ground, and the second level about four or five feet above that. You couldn't stand up straight in them; you were always stooped over.

There were three camps at Cabanatuan, Camps One, Two and Three. The people from Bataan had been taken up to O'Donnell, which is more to the east of Cabanatuan. Eventually they had been transferred to Cabanatuan. I don't know whether they'd had any go to Camp number two or not, but the bulk of them had gone into Camp number one, those that had survived the Death March and O'Donnell.

Of the prisoners from Corregidor, the first batch went up to Camp Two. The next batch, of which I was one, went to Camp Three, which was further out from the city, and not far from the woods. It was later in 1942, almost the end of the year, before all the prisoners were all consolidated into Camp One. By that time the majority of those from the Death March had died that were going to die. They had also taken details out and shipped them up to Japan and Korea, and taken out all the Filipinos so that we could all fit into Camp One.

At first, Camp One was divided into three areas. The camp itself was alongside the highway, and divided into three laterals. The one toward town was called the hospital area where the really sick were kept. The middle was for the camp guards and Japanese personnel, and the other was for the rest of the prisoners. In the beginning, that was divided into three further areas. The Navy and Marines were in the one furthest from the road and the Army had the other two areas. As the Japanese took more details out and shipped them to Japan, they finally took the barriers out between the three divisions in the prisoner area.

When we got established down in Camp One, most of the officers wouldn't work. The Japanese told us that it wasn't good to not do something. The mix of prisoners was such that the officers then had to work about half the time that the enlisted people did. Our jolly good camp commander, an American Marine, and his staff got busy and figured out that there were about as many field grade officers as there were company grade officers. Therefore, company grade officers would work every day, and the field grade officers wouldn't have to work, except when they called for extra-ordinary details. So I got to work every day.

But I had the "in" because I started early. I volunteered to go to work from the very first time they asked for volunteers to take a detail out to go get wood. From then on I worked almost every day they had work details. I'd started with the wood detail. Our camp was at the edge of the woods and they'd send a detail out in the morning to cut wood. They'd cut branches and such, about three to six inches in diameter and about six feet long. Then I'd take a detail of about 100 men out twice a day to carry the wood back that had been cut. We went out just before noon and then in the evening. It wasn't much of a job, we didn't have to carry it very far. It was easy work.

On most of the stuff, one of the Japanese, who didn't speak a word of English, would kind of sketch what he wanted, and I knew enough about engineering to know what he wanted. Like digging revetments. Ordinarily, especially toward the end, there were guard stations along the highway at both ends of camp. The Japanese put us to building revetments about three feet high around these guard stations. Some of the men took objection to building revetments, and I said, "Go on, if they get into the revetments when the planes come over, they'll get the whole bunch, rather than having them scattered all over." So we got the revetments built. I had details like that, usually small details. If we had over fifty men, I'd have somebody at the tag end to help keep them in order.

We had a garden area where we grew some food, but I didn't go on too many garden details. I got the specialized details. Like one diverting a stream. There was a stream that went by, and they figured that by running some laterals they could divert some water into a little pond they had by the garden. We grew a plant that looked like cucumber. We'd pick them green and chop them up and put them into stew made with salt and water and we'd have it in our mess every once in a while. Occasionally, we'd see one of these "cucumbers" they'd miss under a leaf and had gotten ripe, and it tasted more like a cantaloupe or musk melon. We'd water those plants during the dry spells, carrying water to them from the pond. One day I took a small detail out, maybe ten men, to clean out a section of this ditch that they had dug.

We didn't have to grow our own food; the Japanese bought it. Rice mostly. But in addition to the "cucumbers," we grew string beans. One day we went out to pick the string beans. We brought them in and turned them over to the Japanese, and that was the last we saw of the string beans. The next day we went out and picked the leaves, and that day we had bean leaves in our mess. I don't know whether the Japs ate the beans, or whether they took them into town and sold them to get rice.

One of the last things we did at Cabanatuan was go just outside of camp in the rice paddies and cut down all the dikes and the ant hills and make an airfield. Now alot of the people objected to doing work like that, but my attitude was that we should work and do enough to satisfy them.

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