The Japanese attacked the Philippines from the air on December 8, 194 1. The raid came NINE hours after General MacArthur was told about Pearl Harbor. Yet most of the planes of the Far East Air Force were still on the ground at Clark Field - sitting ducks. In a matter of minutes the Japanese destroyed half the bombers and two thirds of the fighters. In those minutes, after the nine hours, on that first day of the war in the Pacific, MacArthur lost control of the air.
On December 22d the Japanese landed at Lingayan on the north coast of Luzon, MacArthur's strategy called for a grand gesture defense at the water's edge. It turned into a second disaster. MacArthur's Filipino battalions did not stand with the Americans and fight, they broke and ran. Among the panicked mass were units of Philippine Scouts, professional soldiers, who fought as any well trained white Americans. But the Scouts were only a small minority of the Filipinos in uniform, thousands only among scores of thousands. The great majority were draftees, not properly trained and disciplined or never properly equipped. Many had not so much as fired their rifles before -they had to face the Japanese.
After his beach strategy blew up in his face it took MacArthur FOURTY HOURS to react to the fact he had been disastrously wrong a second time. Not until December 24, when the Japanese made another landing at Lamon in southern Luzon putting Manila Bay under the sudden threat of a pincher movement, did MacArthur finally give the order to bring into effect War Plan Orange-3 (WPO-3), the old fashioned strategy against a Japanese invasion. Hold and fall back; hold and fall back through the end of December.
When Manila fell MacArthur had to move his headquarters off shore, to Corregidor. Now everything was moved down to the peninsula of Bataan. The peninsula was only a few hundred square miles and packed into it were the better part of eighty thousand men in uniform, about six thousand Filipino civilians and roughly twenty thousand refuges. The sea was on three sides of them and the enemy on the fourth.
All over Bataan there was not enough food anywhere on the peninsula. This was a consequence of the disaster of MacArthur's beach defense program and it was bound to come back and bite every one of his men in the belly. Luzon had food all over the place, in big dumps, but MacArthur never got nearly enough of it where it was supposed to be under WPO-3. The Japanese were too quick and he was too slow.
At Ft. Statsenburg, food was stored by the hundreds of tons. But Statsenburg was abandoned - many have said well before it needed to be - and the food was left behind. Cabanatuan had a rice dump containing millions of pounds, but not American military rice, Philippine civilian rice. The Philippine government had some crazy regulation about not moving rice from one province to another and MacArthur never overrode it. All along the railroads Filipino workers were deserting, there were no crews left to run the trains and the government refused to let American troops take over so trainloads of food never got moved into Bataan. At Tarlac there were businesses owned by Japanese civilians, stores full of canned fish and corned beef - yet permission to confiscate was never issued. In fact when a Colonel was about to do the obvious, logical, useful thing and take the lot, MacArthur's headquarters threatened to have him court-martialed. So it went all over Luzon.
On Bataan WPO-3 called for one-hundred-eighty days of food for forty-three thousand men. Crammed into the peninsula were more than one hundred thousand. This worked out to only thirty days of full rations. MacArthur had to order everyone onto half rations.
Douglas MacArthur was seldom seen in the combat zone. After he moved his headquarters to Corregidor he made only one foray to Bataan early on January 10h. But according to the radio news - short wave from KGEI, San Francisco - MacArthur was everywhere. In the three months from the beginning of the war at Clark Field on into early March, MacArthur issued 142 communiqués - more than one a day - all vividly written and making wonderful reading. In 109 of them the only man in uniform identified by name was MacArthur. Practically never did MacArthur name -even big combat units. It was always MacArthur's men, Macarthur's left flank, MacArthur this and MacArthur that. On Bataan the men choked on the sound of the name. One man at Cabcaben Field used to do an impression of the famous voice of William Winter. KGEI: Ladies and gents KGEI now brings you fifteen minutes of the latest war news from the Pacific; MacArthur, MacArthur, MacArthur, etc. and now to repeat the headline news -MacArthur, MacArthur, MacArthur.
From his headquarters underground at Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor, MacArthur was forever telling the troops on Bataan that help was on the way; thousands of reinforcements with millions of rounds of ammunition, hundreds of planes with tons of bombs and shiploads of food but nothing materialized. The only reliable report about reinforcements was that one of the army nurses was pregnant.
So MacArthur disappeared from the Philippines; ordered to Australia and the United States government decorated him with a Medal of Honor for his accomplishments on the island of Luzon and the peninsula of Bataan. For MacArthur's seventy-eight thousand troops there was no way out. There were not enough ships in the ocean and even if there had been, MacArthur sent orders from Australia that his forces must stay and fight to the death. If the troops on Bataan were to be wiped out, MacArthur told Washington from Australia, let it be in the actual field of battle, taking full toll of the enemy.
He announced in the MacArthur imperial first-person singular: "I shall return". On Bataan the way they said it "I'm going to the latrine, but I shall return".
On the morning of April 9, 1942, unit commanders on Bataan were supposed to report their percentage of effectives, an effective being defined as a man who could walk a hundred yards, carrying his weapon without stopping to rest and still shoot. Some commanders had no units left to report on; their troops had scattered and vanished. Among groups that could still be described, however loosely as units, effectives were estimated at fifteen per cent. They were starved, bone weary, exhausted to a man. All they could do by the tens of thousands was drag themselves away from the Japanese on foot. They drained the oil from the trucks and cars in the motor pools and set the engines running. They lit their cigarettes with their last fifty-dollar bills. They buried their family letters and photos and fled. The Japanese kept bombing and shelling; shrapnel and phosphorus, the smell of burned human flesh in the air, bits of bodies stuck in the scrub and pasted on trees. On the jungle trails the litter bearers were carrying the wounded men but the wounded were too many; they had to be left behind by the hundreds. At night the Japanese pushed closer and closer and the noise of butchery was frightful in the dark. They were bayoneting the dying, hacking at the corpses with their swords. The screams and moans were terrible.
General Jonathan Wainwright was still under MacArthur's orders to fight to the death. If the food gives out, MacArthur told Wainwright to counterattack. On Corregidor he issued the counterattack order. On Bataan the command sounded crazy. Major General Edward P. King Jr. Commander of the remnants of Luzon Forces, human rags and tatters only, could see the Japanese pushing to the south end of the peninsula. For -the life of him he could not imagine that anything the Luzon Forces could do would delay them a minute, so King made the dreadful decision - and made it alone - to surrender Bataan. American and Filipinos became unconditional prisoners of the Japanese.
General Hidek ToJo's orders to officers in charge of prison camps were strict: They must supervise their charges rigidly, taking care not to become obsessed with mistaken ideas of humanitarianism or swayed by personal feelings toward prisoners that might grow over long incarceration. Area commanders and local commanders had the say over what happened to prisoners. And in the camps day by day, it was the commandant who decided what life was going to be like. Anything in the regulations was the commandants' to interpret. Anything not in the regulations was his to allow or disallow. He could have blankets issued, then take them away again. He could make sure that food got into the camp in quantity or make sure it did not. He could have the water turned on, then turned off. He could withhold medicine. He could keep his guards on something of a tight rein or let them loose with their boots and bayonets and rifle butts. The commandants and guards had the prisoners in their hand; they had the power of life or death.
The Japanese were quick to torture and kill men caught trying to escape. They made an example of them in front of the other prisoners, tying them to a stake and bayoneting them or hanging them from a wire and beating them to death. They said that for every man who escaped they would shoot ten prisoners. There were times when they did, then times when they didn't, but very few times either way because there were very few escape attempts.
Increasingly as the war turned against Japan, POW's were shipped to the home Islands for
slave labor, on transports that were objectively measured by the numbers of bodies crammed into airless holds steaming with disease. They were as bad as slave ships from Africa in the eighteenth century. These transports came to be known as HELLSHIPS, and it is the right name. Thousands of prisoners died at sea, sick, starved, suffocating or killed when the transports, sailing unmarked as carrying POWs by decision of the Japanese, were torpedoed or bombed by the Allies.
The POW's, who suffered so much on land, suffered again at sea. They were killed by bombs, torpedoes aimed by their allies, their countrymen. The Japanese killed them in the water, or they drowned or they died on the rafts. Some men struggled to stay alive; they fought against their own failing strength or fought others trying to get out of the holds. Some did not fight death, but let themselves die. Some decided to commit suicide and just slide into the water. In sailing between the Philippines Islands and Japan, thousands of men died horrible deaths.
Of all the white prisoners, something approaching one in three died in captivity at the hands of the Japanese; starved to death, worked to death, beaten to death, dead of loathsome epidemic diseases that the Japanese would not treat. From the very beginning what the Japanese did to their prisoners, body and soul, was humanely appalling. Even so the prisoners stayed and took it. For them the stakes were: try to escape, -with the chances of suffering and dying almost a hundred per-cent, or stay, with what turned out to be a two-to-one chance of surviving. The final score was; died trying to escape, next to none; died as prisoners, tens of thousands.
ToJo's policy as of late 1944 was "to prevent prisoners of war from falling into the enemy's hands". That policy was tested in the Philippines. On Palawan, in the southern Islands, the Japanese herded one hundred-fifty American POW's into air raid shelters, poured gasoline on them and lit it and when the prisoners came rushing out in flames they machine gunned them and went after them with clubs and bayonets. Only six Americans managed to escape alive.
The horrors surfaced in XPOW' dreams. Even after forty or fifty years it did not take much to bring on a nightmare; a phone call from a friend who had been out of touch, reading a book about the war, even something as trivial as a particular sound or smell. There were men who had bad dreams every night for the first year after they came home and then off and on. Over time most were able to bring their nightmares down to one a month. They were lucky men, able to sleep well the rest of their lives. But there were others who suffered a nightmare or two a month and a few condemned to bad dreams every night - a life sentence for being a POW of the Japanese. We can forgive, but we can't forget. To be prisoner of the Japanese was like being caught in a twentieth century version of the Black Plague - a Yellow Death.
Our first reunion was held in Springfield Missouri, September 5th to 9th, 1994, to commemorate the 50ffi anniversary of our escape from the Japanese on September 7, 1944. There were twenty-two "swimmers", as we call ourselves, along with our wives attending this function. We are comprised of individuals from different military organizations and branches of the service as well as rank. Each of us lost many good friends in the sinking of the Shinyo Maru and the fact that we shared common friends and traumatic stress bonded us like a family. At this reunion we knew that nineteen of our group of eighty-two had died, since our return; we also knew that twenty-eight were still alive but the remaining thirty- five we were unable to contact.
Two years later, September 5h to 8t", 1996, our reunion was held in Atlanta, Georgia. There were eighteen swimmers and their wives attending along with several of their children. We were able to find the status of fifteen of the missing thirty-five; several of who were ill and unable to attend the reunion and several were deceased. Unfortunately the death toll had climbed to thirty-eight. At this meeting it was also decided to have one more reunion.
San Antonio was selected as the sight of our reunion on September 4t" to 9"', 1998. Twenty swimmers, their wives and several of their children attended. It was noted that only five swimmers were not accounted for and there were now thirty-one known alive, some in poor health and of course unable to travel. The death toll had reached forty-six. We had such a great time that it was suggested we have one more reunion - in September of the year 2000
This final reunion was held in Jacksonville, Florida, fifty-six years after our escape from the Japanese and their HELLSHIP. There are still three men unaccounted for, twenty-four known alive, sixteen attended our reunion and fifty-five of our comrades have died. The children of the swimmers have said this was not the final reunion and are planning one for September 2002 in Fort Worth, Texas.
We are a very close-knit group of men from a variety of backgrounds who care a great deal about each other. We are the ones who survived and those who died will remain in our hearts forever.
Hayes Bolitho passed away in 2009.
God Bless America! WC
|< Prev||Next >|