Articles graciously contributed by Mr. Jim Erickson
Page 7 of 14
SEVEN WEEKS IN HELL
POWs Suffer For Six Days in Tennis Court; Finally Moved by Truck Convoy
To San Fernando, Pampanga.
Near Naked POW's Alternately Fry in the Sun by Day, Freeze by Night;
First Food Received on Second Day.
By George Weller
A Correspondent of the Chicago Daily News and Post-Dispatch
Seventh of a Series
It was hot on the concrete tennis court on Olongapo Point, Luzon. There were packed some 1300 American prisoners out of 1600 who had left Manila some three days before on the Jap hell ship Oryoku Maru. Heat, thirst, suffocation, wounds and insanity had taken their toll in the jammed, filthy holds of the ship, but American planes had taken revenge of a sort by first damaging, then sinking the craft.
Now the men were ashore again, but no better off. They had stripped in the fetid holds of the ship and in the rush to escape the battered craft had left their clothes. Now on the open tennis court, the sun showed no more mercy than the Japs.
Illness, Wounds, Thirst.
The men were now at the stage of nutritional diarrhea, when the stomach can hold nothing, even if it is palatable and nutritious. Those who had saved some brown sugar from the wreck found that their bodies could not retain it. There was an unending procession through the court gate to the latrines outside and back again.
There were odd wounds, too. Capt. Harold A. Jimerson, University of Kansas man who was teaching mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona, had a cut from one of the American .50-calibers. Capt. William Miner, a mid-westerner who had commanded infantry in the Visayan group, had his fingers ripped by an American ricochet.
After a full day's exposure to the sun, the prisoners were in desperate condition from thirst. They could easily have absorbed four to five quarts of water per man, but the Japanese denied them any other water than that from a faucet, with an uncertain trickle. They caught the trickle carefully in canteen cups, and served it with spoons. It worked out to four spoonfuls per man, with the single faucet running constantly. Its stream grew thinner and thinner.
Roll Call Attempts.
Maj. Reginald H. (Bull) Ridgely, a Marine so named for his thunderous voice, began with Lt. Col Curtis Beecher to try to take the roll from the referee's platform which had been moved to the center of the court.
It was a long and tedious task, with something particularly aggravating about it to the sunburned, hungry and thirsty men who sat in the court waiting for night to fall. A name would be called. No answer.
"Well, anybody know what happened to him?"
Half the men were not listening, trying in some makeshift way to better their position.
"Well, doesn't anybody know what happened to him?"
A voice would say, "I think he passed out last night. I believe I saw him with the dead on the deck, way down under."
As soon as there was a definite assertion, it would give birth to contradictory ones. "The hell you did! He was in the next bay to me. A bomb fragment got him."
From someone else: "How could a bomb have got him when I saw him swimming away from the ship?"
At that moment the missing man might walk in from the latrine outside, or the questioning might go for minutes longer, establishing something or establishing nothing. (See accompanying list of officers and men accounted dead on this first checkup.)
[There was no list accompanying this copy of the articles. The list would have to be found by searching the December 1945 issues of the Chicago Daily News and Post-Dispatch. They may be secured via inter-library loan from the Harold Washington Main Library in Chicago, IL - Ed.]
'Conserve Your Strength.'
"Take it easy," came the word down from the referee's chair. "Conserve your strength. Don't move around."
As the sun went down the concrete lost its heat and grew cold. Men whom the sun had skinned red, men who had been putting their hands on their burning shoulders, now were skaken by chills and hugged themselves. Less than a third had shoes; many had only shorts or pants; a few were totally naked.
Some of the Formosan sentries had been guards also at Cabanatuan and were known to the prisoners. These Taiwanis threw a couple of shirts over the fence and pushed some Casaba melons through the wire and a few cigarettes.
Some men were simply too weak to sit up in the packed rowers' formation of 52 men in a line devised to fill the court, and fell over. Some lines therefore devised a method of all 52 lying down together on the right side, intertwined, and then all 52, at the word "turn over, boys," changing to the left. Cold, thirsty and hungry and frequently brought to their feet by the prevailing disease, diarrhea, few slept.
The morning brought a few warming minutes that were neither chill night nor torrid day.
Again there began the tedious calling of the roll, a rite always done centrally from the referee's chair, which took nearly two hours. About six more men had died during the night. A burial detail was named; the bodies were stripped of clothing; they were taken out the gate. Later the Japanese gave permission for them to be buried in an improvised cemetery down by the seawall.
First Food on Second Day.
The second day in the tennis court the prisoners received their first meal---two tablespoonfuls of rice, raw.
They asked Mr. Wada, the Jap interpreter, why they could not have more food and water. There was plenty of rice in the Jap barracks nearby and water in the several buildings nearby. The hunchbacked interpreter would not give them permission to go for the water. As for the rice, he said that he could not get that for jurisdictional reasons. It seemed that while the prisoners were aboard the ship they were in the care of the Japanese Navy, but now that they were ashore they were under the Japanese Army again. No matter if all 1300 starved to death, the navy could not be asked to provide food for army prisoners.
This explanation seemed to please Mr. Wada. He and Lt. Toshino, who was in charge of the prisoners, were comfortable and were eating well.
Fried and Frozen.
The naked men tried to adapt themselves to the new situation of being fried on concrete by day, frozen by night. Chief Boatswain Jesse E. Lee of San Diego, like many others, tore off the bottoms of his trousers to make caps for his friends, giving one leg to Gunner's Mate H. M. Farrell of Houston---who was still to lose an eye before he reached Japan---and the other to a machinist named Judy.
Permission was obtained to move the worst wounded from the surface of the court to some shade trees outside.
Lt. Commander John S. Littig, and intelligence officer who was known simply as coming from a socially prominent Eastern family, died of wounds and weakness.
The days went by. On the fourth day from Bilibid in Manila they got their first food ashore. On the fifth, as though to off balance such generosity, there was no food morning or noon, and a light supper of two tablespoons of raw rice. Eventually some clothing came out from Manila. There was enough to tantalize, not enough to cover.
A man without cap, shoes or socks got a pair of straw sandals, his head and legs remained uncovered. A man without shirt, cap or socks got the socks. A totally naked man got a pair of shorts.
Loaded on Trucks.
The sixth day on the open tennis court, Dec. 21, a convoy of 19 trucks arrived and about half the men were loaded aboard. A second convoy appeared the next day. Both convoys took the prisoners to San Fernando Pampanga, stopping often under trees whenever airplanes were heard. The first convoy unloaded at the prison, which had been filled with Filipinos; the second unloaded at the theater.
The prisoners were in good spirits. They had lost strength but they had gained eight days' delay from the Japanese, and Gen. MacArthur was still on the way.
The prison yard at Pampanga is about 70 feet by 60 feet, and a lemon tree grew in the center. The lemons lasted about 15 seconds after the first prisoners entered. In five minutes most of the leaves were eaten as well.
There were two cell blocks in a single story building. The elderly officers and the sick were housed in them. The other prisoners lay down as they had on the tennis court, in the sun. There had once been toilets but they were long since broken. The open culvert 6 inches deep, which ran around the yard became the latrine.
"The flies," says one officer, "came from all over Luzon."
About 800 were jammed into the prison, and the other 500 into the dilapidated theater. The Marine whose arm had been amputated, Cpl. Specht, died almost on arrival in the theater. Still the prisoners' hearts were light. For the first time they had hot food. It was only rice and it was brought in on two pieces of corrugated iron roofing, but it was hot and filling. They had water, too---all they could drink. What if they had to fill their canteens at the toilet intakes? It was water, and it brought back life to their beady, shrunken stomachs.
TOMORROW: American survivors of the cruise of death ship, Oryoku Maru, moved in boxcars to Lingayen, the wounded on top of the cars to wave off possible air attacks; at Lingayen they are put aboard two freighters for Japan.
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