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Bolitho- POW #3

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Hayes Bolitho- POW
There was an air of sadness as well as tension as guns and ammunition was placed in designated piles. Trucks were loaded with food and with whatever other necessary supplies were to be taken into camp. When everything and everyone was on board, we began our slow journey toward Malabalay and eventually imprisoment at Camp Casising.

Just south of our destination the Japanese had set up a checkpoint and it was there that we had our initial contact with our captors. With bayoneted rifles they waved us off the trucks and indicated we were to raise our hands over our heads and then they searched each one of us. Since there were over 500 of us, this took some time. They took fountain pens and pencils, watches, rings, cigarette lighters and any packages of unopened cigarettes. Those that were open we could keep. After the search we lowered our hands and the little men with guns motioned us back on the trucks to continue our journey.

Camp Casising was situated on the edge of a great, gently rolling plain, ringed in the far west by a low range of mountains. For the most part days were hot, but not really oppressive, while the nights were cool enough to require a blanket.

The camp itself had been a training camp for the Philippine Constabulary, a sort of military police force, which was a law enforcement agency in the Philippines. The barracks were very crude, with rather poorly defined bays on either side of a somewhat center aisle. The walls rose three or four feet above the floor of the bay, leaving an open space of three feet or less below the roofline. The roofs were either thatched or covered with nipa. The kitchen and dining area was a rather large rectangular building with a metal roof set approximately in the center of the campground. There were several very crude latrines.

Electricity, when we did have it was quite sporadic and inadequate, with only one or two small bulbs per barracks and practically no outside illumination at any time, This made going to the latrine in the middle of the night quite and adventure.

In a matter of a week there were roughly 1100 American troops in the camp and water became a scarce commodity. For that reason each man was limited to one canteen of water per day. This had to suffice for washing, brushing teeth, cold-water shaving, bathing, laundry and of course drinking.

One of the directives by the Japanese had been to bring all our remaining food supplies into camp to be used for our own sustenance. So for a while at least, we had some flour, sugar, coffee, pineapple products and even some powdered milk. All of these were rationed quite sparingly. Even the rice we brought in was a great help to us and to the Japanese since it relieved them of having to provide it immediately. For a while we were able to eat somewhat traditional American fare.

Another element of good fortune was the fact we had reasonably good guards. They were among the same troops who had been fighting against us just a few days before and it seemed to us, even though we had been enemies, there was a certain amount of respect or understanding on their part for the fight or resistance we had given them.

Work details were practically non-existent. Twice a week, along with two guards, we were sent out in a truck to bring in firewood for the Japanese and American kitchens. The rest of our time was spent in trying to repair our barracks. This was an easygoing camp so to speak and was by no means a maximum-security compound. Getting through the fence was not that difficult. It so happened that two of the Filipino prisoners had been caught sneaking into the camp early one morning. Their wives evidently lived close by and these two men would sneak out, spend most of the night with them, and sneak back in towards morning in time for roll call. They were summarily tried by the Japanese and sentenced to death. The accused men had to dig their own graves and the holes for the execution posts to be set in. In the late afternoon we were marched down to the execution site. The Filipino men were already lashed to the posts alongside their respective graves. The firing squad commander gave the order and the first volley was fired into the men causing them to slouch down. Immediately a strong voice from Filipino compound, which was also forced to watch, shouted "You are in the American Army --- die like Americans. Attn-Hut". With that they jerked their heads up in an attempt to come to attention, just as the second volley hit them. There was no more movement. They were cut loose, rolled into the graves and covered with the dirt that comes out of those holes. The firing squad moved out and we were marched back to the compound. The Japanese had made a point; any POW trying to leave the camp, if caught the penalty would be death. The atmosphere in the camp was more subdued after the execution.

Previous to the execution we had our own internal guards, primarily to prevent any pillory of kitchen supplies and other supplies by our own men. This limited guard duty was increased to insure prevention of any actions that might provoke our captures into another drastic gesture.

Our situation for the next few months remained pretty much static. As the first step in dismantling this easygoing camp the Japs sent all American Generals and full Colonels to Manila in mid August and later on to camps in Manchuria, Korea and Formosa.

The first part of October the Japanese asked for men who had technical skills to volunteer for work in Japan. Many claimed to have "skills" as truck drivers or some skill from civilian life that might impress the Japs. There were two hundred who volunteered to go. This turned out to be a ploy to woo a labor force to work at hard labor in factories and various mines. They spent two more winters in the cold and miserable climate of Japan than the POW's who were sent at a later date.

Two weeks later Camp Casising was closed and all remaining Americans moved out on open flat bed trucks for Bugo. The outside men were roped together by loops around their waists. Those on the inside had to hang on to the roped men to keep them from falling off the trucks and pulling others with them. Our Japanese guards thought this was really funny and kept pointing, laughing and I'm sure hoping that one of us would fall off the truck. Fortunately the ride was a relatively short one, 45 to 50 miles, and thankfully was uneventful. Almost nine months since we disembarked from the Philippine motor ship, Legaspe, we embarked on the Japanese Troop Ship #760. Our trip around the northern and eastern sides of Mindanao was rather pleasant, considering the circumstances. This early in the war there was very little submarine activity so the Japanese rotated groups of men allowing us to spend some time on deck. Our twice-daily meals of mostly rice were barely adequate, but we kept thinking it could only get better. Two days later, on October 20, 1942, we arrived in Davao harbor. At high noon we disembarked and found ourselves faced with new guards. They were occupation troops composed of Japanese and Formosans, quite young and mean. They lined us up four abreast and we began to walk through the hot streets of Davao and on up the road to Davao Penal Colony, 20 miles or so in the hot sun. By 2:00 p.m. we were drenched with sweat and some were beginning to weaken. This dehydration had caused us to use what little water we had in our canteens. About an hour later we came to a place where there was a slow-running spigot of water. The Japanese gave us less than ten minutes to fill our canteens. Considering the slowness of the water flow and the size of the group (about 1000 men) this was not nearly enough time. Some were lucky and got water. I was about ten or 15 men away from having a turn at the spigot when the guards ordered us to continue our march. I had a swallow or two left in my canteen and rationed this as best I could. As the afternoon wore on the tropical sun began to take its toll. Some men passed out as they walked. Others began reeling, would catch themselves, and continue on for a distance and then just plop over. Some went as far as they could and then just sat down but were unable to get up again. Fortunately there were two trucks to pick up stragglers but when space became limited some men were forced to throw their packs or whatever they were using to carry their belongings by the side of the road in order to continue. In the late afternoon a chow truck caught up with us. We got a fifteen-minute break, a small amount of nice and for the first ones in line, a little tea. By now we were entering quite thick jungle country and the guards, using bayonets and rifle butts, stepped up the pace of the march. Suddenly we walked into a clearing and marched through the gates to the prison compound. There was a water spigot just inside the gate and I didn't go another step until I had satisfied my thirst and filled my canteen. There was no particular organization that night; each of us simply found a spot and collapsed.

Davao Penal Colony (Dapecal) occupied thousands of acres set in a very dense, almost impenetrable jungle of the most malaria infested area in the Philippines. It had been a maximum-security prison for some of the most hardened Filipino criminals, most of who had been moved out to other locals. The colony itself had been designed to be self-sustaining. There were several large plantations consisting of coffee, avocado, lemons and limes, bananas and vegetables. There were extensive rice fields on the extreme eastern edge of the Colony, known as Mactan, accessible by a narrow gage railroad running through the Colony from east to west. There was also a chicken farm and a pig farm and close by was a pasture area for the Brahma steers used in plowing and cultivating the vegetable plantation.
Set just about in the center of this huge complex was the main compound, which was triple-fenced with barbwire, the strands being less than six inches apart and roughly seven feet high. A Company Street ran from east to west, lined on one side by the kitchen and eight barracks. About twenty feet back of the barracks were three 20-holer latrines. The building that housed the kitchen sat twenty feet or so from the first barrack and was the same size as other buildings. Its sides were open and contained two long rows of huge iron quallies (they looked like very over sized soup bowls) in which the cooks prepared our rice, soup and tea. Each quallie was heated by firewood. One detail, the firewood detail, did nothing but bring in firewood from the jungle daily. To the east of the kitchen was the hospital area consisting of the main building, several other buildings including the isolation ward, which we named the Zero Ward.

Each of the eight barracks would accommodate approximately 250 men. On either side of a three-foot walk, down the center of the building was a raised platform extending to the outer walls. Both sides were divided into bays, which accommodated eight to ten, men. Each building had one low-wattage light bulb that provided minimum illumination that was of little concern since each comer of the main compound were guard towers, manned by armed guards twenty-four hours a day. The entire area was floodlit during all periods of darkness. There was the matter of beds. We slept shoulder to shoulder on nothing but boards. Adding to this discomfort were the ever-present bed bugs and lice. They just kept coming out of the cracks in the wood. To help solve this problem we caught little eight-inch lizards and put them inside the mosquito bars with us. We would subconsciously be aware of them scampering over our blanketed bodies or across our face in the night. It got to be commonplace but never uncomfortable and it kept the bugs down.

Late on the night of November 14, 1942 we were awakened by the arrival of 1000 POW's who had departed form Cabanatuan, Luzon seven days earlier. These men had fought on Baton and Corregidor and suffered with starvation and dietary diseases. They were walking skeletons. These men were given two days off to get settled and on the third day all able-bodied men were put to work.

The normal day began with rising at 5:30 a.m., breakfast at 6:00, tenko or roll call at 6:30 (we counted off in Japanese) and fall out for work at 7:00. There would usually be a forenoon and afternoon yasume, or rest periods of fifteen minutes each and sometimes as much as an hour off for lunch. This period would include time needed to and from the work place that sometimes could be a considerable distance. Work details normally returned to Camp at 5:00p.m, tenko, supper at 6:00, evening tenko at 7:00 and lights out at 9:00.

The standard ration of food at Dapecol was rice, Kang Kong soup and tea, morning, noon and night. Kang Kong was a tuberous plant, somewhat similar to a water lily that grew wild in ditches and in the jungle. It was simply boiled and served as soup, usually with nothing added. On very rare occasions a water buffalo went jurmantadu (crazy from the heat). The Japanese would then shoot it, butcher it and take the good cuts of meat and we'd get the NRA (nose, ribs and a-hole). It had a meat smell and taste but divided among 2000 men you were lucky to get even a sliver of meat. The Japanese guards had fish several times a week. We had fish heads about three times a year. Then we'd count the eyes to see who got the most and then mix them with the rice and savor every mouth full. Other extras were comotes (a type of sweet potatoes) half to three quarters of, which were spoiled and very strong, but we ate them. The standard rice ration at Dapecal was 600 gains per man per day for heavy duty, 500 grams per day for light duty and 350 grams for non-workers that included men in the hospital.

We soon learned which guards were mean and which were reasonable so when we left the compound in the morning we had an inkling of what we faced for the day. The guards soon learned the sound of profanity aimed at them so we had to be careful what we said. We tried our best not to make eye contact, that seemed to irritate them and called for a rifle butt to the back or head. If we didn't stand at attention or salute to their satisfaction we were subjected to slaps as well as blows from the rifle butt and hob-nailed shoes. If they knocked us down then they kicked us in the head and other parts of the body, trying to do as much physical damage as possible.

Our barracks leaders rotated work details. For instance, if your scurvy became too bad they'd put you on the orchard plantation detail. Here you had a chance to steal a lime or lemon and in a couple days the scurvy disappeared. This held true for several of the dietary diseases that we suffered with.

The hardest detail was at Mactan. After tenko 500 to 600 men would march to the little train and at the "OK7 by the guards, dash to the 20 flat cars to get to sit down. Most of the mornings going though the jungle were beautiful. Mactan and the rice field operation was the largest and most important crop of any in Dapecal and cultivating it was by far the hardest, dirtiest and most disagreeable work of any in the Colony. We were involved in all phases of the operation. Plowing and harrowing were done with caribou, the local beasts of burden. They were in the water buffalo family and are among the most ornery animals in the world. Other types of work at Mactan were planting, weeding and harvesting the rice. The natives knew how to plant but the guards were not happy with the way we did it so we had a man on each side of the paddy with a rope. We planted along this rope which gave us pretty straight rows. We were in filthy, muddy water halfway between our knees and our hips. Each man was given a small bundle of seedlings to plant his part of the row. The second operation was the weeding that was done after the seedlings were well started. Seldom did the Japanese foreman have sufficient water in the paddy to make weeding easy. If the water was regulated properly we could push the weeds under, but usually the paddy was too dry and we had to scratch the weeds out with our fingers. A guard watched each paddy we could not get by without cleaning out the weeds thoroughly. At a later date came the harvesting - now the paddies needed to be dry, but our captors apparently didn't understand this either. The paddies were often wet which made the rice heads have high moisture content. We carried a curved serrated knife to cut the heads and then loaded them into baskets. Carrying the large heavy basket (4 ft. in diameter and 2 ft. deep) on slick footing was not only hard by dangerous. With a guard urging you on with a fixed bayonet we kept going. The loaded baskets were taken to a large open building where a separator would process the rice heads. As Christmas of 1942 approached I had an attack of malaria. I checked into the hospital and in about a week my temperature dropped and I reported back to my barracks and work details. Those men who "goldbricked" or for other reasons dodged details wound up in the Zero Ward and did not last too long. The food rations for those who didn't work were inadequate for one to exist, While on a work detail you not only received a larger ration, but also had the opportunity to steal more. Christmas morning I was awakened by Christmas carols being sung by a group of POW's led by Major Larry Pritchard, who had been a glee club director at West Point. These singers became known as the Dapecal Glee Club. What a lift they gave us Christmas morning.

In January 1943 we received our first shipment of Red Cross packages. We were given two packages of food per man, plus some medical supplies. In the evening we could now supplement our meager camp ration with Red Cross goodies. Four of us pooled our packages - we would open one and split it four ways making the packages-last longer.

Within a day or two, a system of barter developed out of a need to exchange items according to the individual likes or desires - cigarettes for food, food for cigarettes, Spam for jam and jam for Spam. Cigarettes became the standard value used in consummating deals. It went something like this - Spam and corn beef went for 5 packs of cigarettes per can; butter and jelly went for 3 packs per tin and so forth. Red Cross packages had come at the right time to help sustain us as we labored in the rice paddies and on other work details. Moral was high, spirits were up and deaths were down. But, as so often happens, we created problems for ourselves by asking for details to go out without guards. Permission was granted for work in the vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. But one evening, on our return to the compound, another Japanese officer of higher rank than the one who had given permission to go out without guards demanded a shakedown at the gate. Fruit and vegetables came from everywhere. The assortment as well as the quantity was amazing. We had all become thieves. Hence the shakedown became routine and only food "eaten on the job" was permitted.

Another work detail was in the Ramie fields. Ramie is a fibrous plant in the nettle family that grows to a height of nearly five feet and is seeded so that the individual plants are only a few inches apart. It is used in making a very nice fabric for clothing. A field of ramie is a beautiful sight of tall, even, sturdy stalks that are almost impenetrable, at least visually. Harvesting is done with hand held sickles similar to the ones used to harvest the rice. After it is cut the Ramie is laid in bundles or sheaves that are picked up later for further processing.

One hot day working in the Ramie field the Japanese didn't give us much time to look around - it was "speedo, speedo". Suddenly there was a shout that was part scream. One of the POWs who had been a medical corpsman ran full blast to the man, who had shouted, forced him to the ground and began working feverishly over him. A six-foot cobra had bitten the man. The corpsman, acting quickly, had property sliced the wound
crosswise and sucked out the poison. The man suffered some shock, had a sore leg for a while, but he lived to tell about it.

Cobras are too plentiful in that part of the world and are often from four to six feet long. They don't rattle or give any warning. When they strike they have only one-third of their length on the ground, thereby using two-thirds of their body length to reach out and strike their victim. They are lightning quick in their moves. It was not the first or the last cobra strike in the Ramie fields, nor in the rice fields. We never lost a man to cobra bites but the cobras lost to their potential victims. Dead snakes provided more than one good meal to those who had a chance to smuggle some in.Working on the Davao road detail often entailed hauling gravel in buckets, suspended from poles, carried on our shoulders. It was grueling work. We had to be especially watchful going back and forth into the jungle to get gravel from streambeds. Pythons, lying on branches overhead, might be waiting to seize some prey. Possibly the largest snake in the world, they kill their prey by squeezing it to death. One time a python started to cross the road just as our truck approached. Unable to stop, the truck rolled over it just as the tail was emerging from the jungle on one side and the head was entering on the other - a distance of close to twenty feet. It was about seven inches in diameter. We debated if we should go after it or not, but all we had for weapons were squared off, dull shovels and we realized the odds were in favor of the snake. What a meal it would have made.

Early in the month of April, on a Sunday, Col. Ed Dyess, seven other officers and two enlisted men along with two Filipino convicts escaped from Dapecal. Neither the Japanese or anyone else in camp knew the men had left and the escapees already had a twelve hour start by tenko time. The guards went through the barracks to locate anyone hiding and to try and figure out how many were missing. A detail of guards was immediately sent out to recapture the escapees, but apparently ran into some guerrillas and several Japanese were killed.

While some were happy for those who had escaped, the remainder of us in camp had mixed feeling, even fear, about what would happen next. We had already been put in "death squads" of ten, but none of us knew who the other nine in their group were. If one in your group escaped the other nine would be executed. For several days all work details were stopped. Our meager rations were drastically reduced and salt was taken away and many privileges denied. Shakedowns of personal belongings took place and beatings increased in frequency and severity.

On Wednesday we were told by the Japanese that all men, living in the same barracks as the men who had escaped, were to be put into a disciplinary compound. An order was also put out from Japanese Headquarter that there would be no meetings of any kind. Four barracks out of a total of eight were involved in the discipline. We were lined up, counted and marched off to another somewhat isolated and less well-built compound a few kilometers away. This compound had a triple barbed wire fence around it; eight guard towers and a strong Iron Gate at the entrance. At first this seemed like a mice vacation from work. But we were slowly starving to death on the small amount of rice they were giving us.

For several weeks those of us under discipline did nothing but talk, read the few books that were available, played chess and bridge and just walked around the inside perimeter of our compound. Then one day the Japanese Commanding Officer, Major Maede and Lt. Yuki, in charge of American prisoners, called an assembly. The interpreter was Mr. Onada, an excitable little civilian who always seemed to be on the run that we called "Running Wada" (water). Major Maede made certain threats, and then told us Lt. Col. Nelson, our Commanding Officer, and all barrack leaders were relieved of their duties. After he left the compound with Running Wada, Lt. Yuki addressed us in his broken English. He said he had trusted us to go out on work details without guards, we had broken this trust but he would forgive us. He was sorry the escape had happened - made a few other remarks and left. I was flabbergasted! There was no bitterness in what he said, in fact he also remarked, "You have lived under difficult conditions and I understand." He said all this knowing we knew he had just lost his command. Finally we returned to the main compound. I had another attack of malaria but high temperature or not I didn't miss a meal. Food had improved - we were given a lot of dried fish with our rice. We would never think of eating it under normal circumstances but we were under anything but normal and we needed the protein.

The next couple of months were spent working on light details, one of which was the chicken farm. All that was required was to clean the cages, rake up old hay and replace it with fresh. Normally all the chickens would be out in a large fenced enclosure. One pen had a chicken enclosed with a note on the door in Japanese and English, "No feed - no lay eggs".

We were soon assigned to the rice detail to again plant the seedlings. At noon we received a health helping of rice, fish and two radishes. Things were looking up - then in the late afternoon the rains came. It was not a downpour but a steady cold rain with a slight cool breeze. Our only covering was a G-string and a woven hat and we were chilled almost immediately. We headed back to the assembly area in time to board the 5:00 p.m. train but it was late. Mechanical problems had developed and it was dark when the train arrived. Surprisingly there was no grumbling - we didn't have anything special to look forward to back at the compound. We were hungry but we had become used to that. The problem was with the guards who were trying to watch everyone. They were edgy and mean.

The return to the compound was a gradual uphill grade and because of the rain the wheels on the locomotive were slipping. Progress was practically nil so the guards began kicking us off the car to push. They were shouting and swearing at us, but we could have cared less. Walking barefooted on slippery wood railroad ties or alongside in the weeds and brush was miserable. We were no longer riding but certainly not pushing very much, so we weren't getting home very fast. It really became comical - the guards were screaming their heads off but beyond that they didn't know what to do. Over an hour passed and we were still at least two miles from camp. Someone started singing "God Bless America". It soon caught on and became louder and louder. It completely drowned out the screaming guards. The train was moving slowly, but with practically no help from us. By the time we were probably a mile from camp, men in their barracks could hear singing. Bear in mind that life in a prison camp was anything but boisterous. There were no radios, no record players, etc. so the sound of our "choir" was coming through loud and clear. As we finally approached the entrance gate all able-bodied men were standing and cheering wildly. The guards were horrified as we filed into the cheering group.Word quickly spread to gather near the assembly area. Completely hidden and surrounded by men, two of fellows were holding a rolled up GI blanket. As it suddenly unfolded there sewn to the blanket was our American Flag. There was dead silence, tears streamed down everyone cheeks and then in choked voices we softly sang "GOD BLESS AMERICA".
Part 4 continues in next Gazette.


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