April 10, 1942 - Beginning of 80 mile Bataan Death March.

June, 1942 - Burma Thai Death Railway project begins. This work detail would claim the lives of 116,000 slave laborers from Asia, UK, Australia, USA and Holland.

June 7, 1942 - United States Navy inflicts decisive blow to Japanese Navy in a major three-day battle over a remote US naval and air base at Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean.

August 7, 1942 - First offensive by US land forces begin 6 month battle for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

February 2, 1943 - German 6th Army surrender at the port of Stalingrad, Russia. 90,000 Germans taken prisoner and 250,000 Germans die in the offensive.

April 18, 1943 - Admiral Yamamoto, Japan's greatest naval strategist, was killed in Operation Vengeance. Naval intelligence, code-named "Magic", intercepted reports of his pre-planned flight over the Solomon Islands.

September 3, 1943 - Allied troops invade mainland Italy. Italy's surrender announced five days later.

November 20, 1943 - 3 day Battle of Tarawa Atoll begins. Only 146 of 4,800 Japanese forces would survive. USMC losses total 800 killed in action.

December 1, 1943 - Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin met together in Iran for the first time and make declaration of unity.

May 19, 1944 - Wake Island is secured after two day battle.

June 6, 1944 - Invasion of France. In one day, a total of 156,115 Allied men are landed at beaches in Normandy.

August 25, 1944 - After four years of occupation, Paris is liberated.

September 7, 1944 - Japanese freighter Shinyo Maru torpedoed by USS Paddle. 750 American POWs aboard, 668 die.

October 23, 1944 - Battle of Leyte Gulf begins. Japan lose four carriers, three battleships, six heavy and four light cruisers, 11 destroyers, one submarine and some 500 planes, with 10,000 sailors killed.

October 24, 1944 - Japanese freighter Arisan Maru torpedoed by US sub.
1800 Allied POWs aboard, 1795 die.


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 malnourished POWs.

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 


return to top  ^