PRISONERS OF IMPERIAL JAPAN
The Imperial Japanese Army took over 140,000 Allied
prisoners, and one in four died at the hands of their captors.
The Japanese also captured an additional 180,000 Asian prisoners
and thousands died in just their first weeks as prisoners. All
prisoners of the Japanese were beaten, starved and put to work
under deplorable conditions. No medical supplies were ever
provided to help combat the dysentery, malaria, beriberi or any
other of the tropical diseases that the prisoners were exposed
to. In contrast, POWs held by the Germans died at a rate of
1.1%, POWs held by the Japanese died at a rate of 37%.
The Japanese opinion of battle was one of finality. The
Japanese would never allow themselves to be captured, you died
for the emperor and lived forever in glory. Allied prisoners who
allowed themselves to be captured were viewed as despicable,
they deserved to die. The Japanese did not have an organized
plan like Hitler's "Final Solution", but they did
drive their prisoners to mass death.
After the fall of Corregidor, most of the 4th Marines were
grouped together at a location called the 92nd Garage. The 92nd
Garage was a amphibian aircraft ramp that had been paved over
but now it was becoming a shanty town. POWs used scrapes of
lumber and blankets to make shelter against the Philippine heat
that only gets hotter when your living for days on top of
asphalt. Open-air slit trenches were used for toilets and this
unsanitary condition only added to the increasing number of POWs
stricken with diarrhea and dysentery.
Toward the end of May, all able-bodied prisoners were drove
together and dispatched to the docks for transfer to Manila Bay.
Once on the mainland, the POWs were marched in front of the
Filipino people to humiliate and degrade them. The Japanese did
not get the desired effect that they had intended, the Filipino
people cheered the POWs on in a gesture of thanks and support.
Some even rushed forward with food and water only to be beaten
senseless by the Japanese. After the forced march of some 6
miles, they ended up at Bilibid Prison, a prison that had only
recently held the worst of Philippine society. These murders and
rapists were let go by the Japanese in order to accommodate the
new guests of the emperor.
Bilibid Prison was only a temporary stop for the POWs, soon
after arriving at Bilibid, men were marched to Manila Station.
Here they were crammed into boxcars for relocation to Cabanatuan,
one hundred or more packed elbow to elbow in sweltering
conditions. Men who did pass out had no where to fall and every
man stricken with diarrhea had no choice but to soil themselves
in the 100 plus degree temperatures. After this arduous ten hour
journey by rail, another 7 mile forced march to one of the three
designated camps at Cabanatuan.
Later in June and July, the remaining POWs on Corregidor
where scheduled to make their way to Cabanatuan. These remaining
men were the wounded and sick. The Japanese made no concessions
for the injured as men hobbled on crutches, limped onto
hand-carts and staggered to march ahead as the Japanese hollered
and beat them. The first march of 6 miles to Bilibid Prison tore
open any partial healed wounds and exposed the wounds to more
infection. These men where then packed into cattle cars for
their ten hour trip to Cabanatuan. After being unpacked from the
boxcars, the wounded men of the 4th Regiment stumbled the last 7
miles on foot. It was the camps at Cabanatuan that the garrison
of Corregidor was reunited with the defenders of Bataan.
Cabanatuan Prison Camp No. 1 was an old Philippine Army depot
that the Japanese converted into a prison camp. Before its
conversion however, the local Filipinos had looted just about
all of the flooring inside and taken out most of the plumbing.
POWs had the lavish accommodations of straw shacks but some got
to upgrade to wooden shacks. All shacks were extremely crowded
with men miserable with disease of some fashion.
No beds, mattresses, or seats of any kind were ever provided
and if the Japanese ever found any furniture courtesy of
American ingenuity, they would be smashed as well as the POW.
There were no shelving of any kind and any meager possessions
were kept in a small bag or just kept in a pile next to the
wall. No lighting was ever present and moonless nights had men
bumping and stepping over each other to get to the latrine, an
occurrence of about ten to twenty trips a night for the 10,000
Sanitation was not an amenity provided by the emperor,
latrines were open trenches placed as far away as possible. Not
far enough as the smell carried throughout the camp. With every
POW suffering from diarrhea and dysentery, latrines were being
filled as fast as the work detail could dig the trenches. Black
clouds of flies filled the air as conditions continued to
worsen. With only one water spigot for every 1,500 POWs, a
shower consisted of standing under the eaves during heavy rains.
The men were fed twice daily, breakfast was a watery rice
stew and in the evening a cup full of rice with maggots and
vegetable tops. Maggots were the protein provided but on very
few occasions, pieces of meat were divided by thousands of men.
Living on less than 1,000 calories quickly took its toll as
scurvy, beriberi (wet and dry) and pellagra became rampant
throughout the camp.
Most POWs were put to work in hand tilling a large farm,
twelve hours a day, six days a week. The guards on the work
detail would take great pleasure in beating anyone who failed to
work for the emperor. Ninety nine percent of the onions, beans,
sweet potatoes, and tomatoes went to the Japanese and the last
percent went to the POWs. Hungry men on the work detail had to
be quick and clever if they intended on smuggling food back to
camp. Shakedowns by the guards happened everyday after work and
the penalty ranged from beatings to rations cut to having your
head whacked off. The guards held complete control over who
would die quickly and who would be worked to death slowly.
The Japanese for the most part stayed outside the camp but
they would storm in at anytime just looking for any infraction
of the rules. When punishment was administered, it was always
severe and always in front of the other POWs. Men were forced to
watch their fellow POWs being beat, tortured, and decapitated.
The Japanese were constantly trying to break the spirit of every
man, the ones who gave up usually died the next day. Escape was
unheard because of many factors, nobody had enough energy to
make a mad dash away from a work detail. If you did manage to
sneak away, a bounty would be paid to the local Filipino people
for information leading to your capture or the Japanese would
massacre the entire village just for suspicion of aiding a POW.
The biggest factor to discourage escape was that the Japanese
put POWs into groups of ten. The rule was that if one person in
your group escaped, the other nine would be executed.
"We watched executions. One kid was asleep during roll
call and they thought he went over the wall, over the fence,
so they executed him. You know, they said, well, he came back.
We watched that. We watched a brother watch his brother get
executed. But then one of their pet things was to tie them up
as you come into the camp, tie them to a post for about three
or four days. No food, no water, and every time one Japanese
would come by, they'd just beat him. Then after the three or
four day period was over with, then they'd execute him and
that would be it.
It was rough when you get on a work detail because they
have a roving patrol, which they had, it wasn't quite as big
as a baseball bat but like the bottom section of a bat where
you'd hold the bat. If they catch you bending over -- you'd
bend over and you would cut furrows and make furrows and you'd
plant stuff that they wanted you to plant. They'd try to catch
you in the kidney, hit you in the kidney and would rupture
your kidney. I'd watch. I'd see it coming. When I finally had
to work on the farm but I would see it coming and kind of turn
just enough where I'd catch it on the hip." - Pete George
The conditions in the hospital area were even worse than the
main camp. Here, doctors had relatively no medicine to treat the
sick and could do absolutely nothing for the dying. The hospital
itself was divided into one section for those who could recover
and another section known to the POWs as the "zero
ward". The filth these men endured in the hospital was
indescribable, and very little care could be given to the sick.
Thousands of POWs could have been saved with just meager medical
supplies but the Japanese did not believe a captured solider
deserved any compassion. The more that died, the less the
emperor had to feed. The Red Cross tried to bring in supplies
but the Japanese flatly refused to let them assist the POWs in
any way, shape or form. The hospital was not really a hospital
so most POWs treated themselves and each other in the main camp.
The end of the line for many brave men came in the zero ward,
these men just had to wait to die. Unattended and laying in
there own filth, too weak to care, and too full of tropical
diseases that ravaged their bodies. The burial detail started
everyday around 4 o'clock. They were piled 15 to 20 per grave
and the POWs on the work detail were so weak that less than a
foot of soil covered the deceased. A hard rain would expose the
thin layer of dirt and the dead would have to be buried again.
About 3000 men died at Cabanatuan before the end of 1942.
As Japan began to lose the war, as early as 1942, POWs were
put on ships bound for slave labor in Japan. The journeys aboard
these "hellships" were just about the worst conditions
the POWs ever experienced. Cramped in dark, tight holds for days
upon days, the POWs were treated like cargo. They were put in
the bottom of transport ships and had to withstand the heat of
the tropics and then freeze in winter temperatures when they
arrived in mainland Japan. Experiences varied from ship to ship,
but only with regard to the degree of agony suffered. Some ships
allowed the men a break once a day while others only open the
hatches to remove the bodies of the men that did not make it
through the night. Doctors made up sick bays within the tight
confines but again without the proper medicines, men died from
disease as well as going out of their minds.
The odds of making it to Japan alive were slim because
American submarines ruled the shipping lanes of the Pacific.
American submarines sank approximately 1,300 vessels throughout
the war and Japan never identified their ships as carrying POWs,
a direct order from the highest levels of the Japanese command.
The Libson Maru was torpedoed and out of 1,800 British POWs,
almost 850 were lost. The Shin'yo Maru, loaded with 800 American
prisoners, was attacked and only 81 made it to the shores. The
Rakuyo Maru and Kachidoki Maru were traveling together with over
2,200-plus POWs when they were torpedoed. Only 112 twelve
survivors were picked up by the patrolling subs but 1,500 men
were lost. Perhaps the worst might be the Arisan Maru, only 8
out of 1,800 prisoners survived. Thousands more died at sea as
Japan continued to gamble and lose to the American submarines.
Japanese records showed that out of 50,000 POWs shipped,
10,800 died at sea. Allied figures show more Americans dying in
the sinking of the Arisan Maru than died in the weeks of the
Bataan Death march, or the months following at Camp O'Donnell.
If luck was with you and you made it to Japan, POWs again were
put to work as slaves for the emperor.
Now the POWs were put to work in copper mines, coal mines, or
any other capacity to facilitate the emperor's war effort. This
new job duty gave the POWs an opportunity to do their part to
hurt Japan in the only way they could, sabotage. If you worked
in the mines, you would damage the ore carts. If they put you to
work in the shipyards, you would only tighten every other bolt
or drive the rivet in crooked. Mix cement with too much sand as
well as throwing small machine parts into the mix. A group of
prisoners would all bear down on heavy grinders, breaking the
belt. These small "Hogan's Heroes" efforts gave the
POWs tremendous satisfaction, they were just doing their part in
the Allied effort to put an end to the Japanese Killing Machine.
In Japan the climate was cold, extremely cold and the
Japanese were not about to start caring about the POWs living
conditions. All over northern Asia, the winter of 1944-1945 was
the coldest in forty years. POWs froze in the morning as they
walked to their work detail as Japanese children spit at them
and took to throwing rocks as well. They froze in the evening
after work, falling asleep they could see the cold breathes from
the man next to them.
"In the wintertime there, when it got cold, they'd
issue you like maybe 10 or 15 pieces of coke, which is like a
coal, and you had a little fire. A little pit in the middle of
this thing. You'd fire that up and for about an hour you had a
little heat. You froze for the rest of the time because
Hitachi was real, real cold. That temperature was down below
zero. Hitachi was way up north, so it was pretty cold pretty
much of the year. Of course, we had no -- not anything heavy,
not a heavy blanket of any kind. You had just a little old
light blanket. But then you couldn't have the thing over you
because the fleas in that mat would just eat you alive. You'd
bundle those fleas up like that, you can't sleep at night.
Everybody was sick too with diarrhea and you'd be going to the
bathroom at least 20 times a night. It was just up and down
and try to sleep and then you have to go again. You just get
by." - Pete George _^_