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From Ms. Bruun's family history documents


32 Months As a Jap Prisoner


(The following article presents excerpts from a report written by COMMANDER WALTER H. BICKNELL, SC USN, who survived the bombing of Cavite, escaped to Mindanao, was held prisoner by the Japs for 32 months and finally was liberated when American troops freed the captives at Bilibid Prison in Manila).

About 1250 on 10 December 1941, Captain (now Rear Admiral) E. G. Morsell, SC USN, Lt. Comdr. Williams and myself had just completed lunch and were listening to the daily broadcast of Don Bell, Manila commentator, when the air raid warning sounded. The Japanese attack by air on the Naval Station, Cavite, P.I., followed almost immediately.

That day and the succeeding four days were spent in checking up damage, salvaging stores in the undamaged area of the yard, and formulating plans. The fuel dock was cleared immediately to receive boats and barges alongside. Some 20 to 30 Supply Department employees who had returned, aided by a group of stevedores, loaded submarine spare parts and ordinance material onto barges for movement to Corregidor.


Provision salvaged from the main provisions storehouse were moved to storge at Canacao. Special credit is due to Lieutenant Jensen and Ensigns Carson and McGiboney who not only were supervising laborers, but manhandling stores and driving trucks in the absence of a truck driver.

On 15 December the salvage work was turned over to Lt. Jensen. In compliance with orders of Captain Morsell, I proceeded to Manila to set up a Navy Purchasing office. On 24 December, Manila was declared an open city, and our week-old Purchasing Office was closed at 1600 that day. I departed from Manila with Captain Morsell in his car about 2030, arriving at the naval base at Mariveles about 0800 Christmas morning.

A couple of days later Captain Morsell proceeded across to Corregidor and I remained at Mariveles as his representative, supervising supply activities, primarily bulk provision, until the middle of February 1942. At that time it was decided to move to Corregidor all provisions at Mariveles in excess of rations required for the base complement for 30 days. Upon completion of this move I was transferred to Corregidor, 14 February 1942.


I had been on Corregidor only a week when I was assigned to duty as a member of the U.S. Naval Unit, southern Philippine Islands, under the command of Captain J.H.S. Dessez. We sailed from Corregidor 22 February 1942, on the inter-island steamer LEGASPI. Proceeding by night, we stopped in a Luzon cove the first day, at Romblon the second and disembarked at Capiz, Panay, the third. (The LEGASPI was bombed and sunk on her return trip). We proceeded to Iloilo by bus, thence by boat to Bacolod, Negros, via trucks from Bacolod to San Carlos, via boat to Toledo, Cebu, and by bus across Cebu to the city of Cebu, arriving there at 0630 25 February.

During the period following our arrival in Cebu until actual invasion by the Japanese on 10 April 1942, we expected an attack and on three occasions Japanese warships appeared off the harbor, twice shelling the city for short periods. In late February and early March the enemy had sunk practically all water transportation. The only movement of stores north to Corregidor was made in submarines.


About 5 April Captain Dessez was confined to his bed, stricken with an ailment that paralyzed him from his waist down. About the same time a 45-foot sloop, which Captain McGuigan had purchased and outfitted at Iloilo, arrived. When, on 10 April, news of an approaching Japanese convoy was received and it was certain that a landing soon would be made, it was decided to evacuate aboard the sloop. A party consisting of Captain Dessez (now a litter patient), Lt. Cohen (MC), Lt. Faires (SC), Chief Pay Clerk Bruun, Pharmacist's Mate J.H. Luther and myself boarded the sloop at Carmen. We cleared the harbor about daylight on 11 April.

We made our way via the Camotes Island and Leyte to Pintuyan (on the island of Panoan off the southern tip of Leyte), and just across the straits from Surigao, Mindanao. In the company with Chief Pay Clerk Bruun, I proceeded via a constabulary launch to Surigao, Mindanao, and made arrangement to accommodate the entire party at Mindanao Mother Lode Mine. On 19 April all our party except the crew of the sloop moved to the mine.


Due to communication difficulties and lack of orders, I proceeded to Del Monte, Mindanao, on 21 April, there receiving General Sharp's verbal instructions that Captain Dessez, Lt. Cohen, PhM Luther and myself were to proceed to Dansalan, Lake Lanao, as soon as possible. Leaving Surigao on 23 April, Captain Dessez and party arrived at Dansalan late the following afternoon. A day or two later orders were received that Captain Dessez, Lt. Cohen and I were to proceed via PBY plane to Australia.

On 30 April the Captain and doctor embarked on PBY #2 and I on PBY #1. Although PBY #2 took off successfully and reached its destination, PBY #1 was so badly damaged on a submerged rock when hauling out from the beach for take off that we all had to disembark. I reported back to General Fort at Dansalan. Due to delay of transportation on my return to the seaplane take-off area, I was about 6 kilometers away when I heard PBY#1 Take off. I knew that I was left high and dry.


I again reported my return to General Fort and was assigned duty as liaison officer in connection with the evacuation of civilians, including an orphanage mission, from the Dansalan area to a rendezvous area in the mountains across the lake. At this time the Japs were already fighting their way towards Dansalan. Most of the civilians already had moved on to Soloman, on the road to the rendezvous. Father Abbott, in general charge of refugees, and I left Dansalan about noon 2 May with a last load of provisions, arriving at Soloman that afternoon.

It turned out that the district in which we intended to locate was practically overrun by Moros who were nothing but outlaws [and pirates…Ed.] After several incidents with the Moros (in one of which 20 carriers ran off with much of our equipment and supplies) it was decided the best move would be to return to Soloman. The entire party returned to Soloman and remained there until word was received from General Fort directing all military to turn in on 27 May 1942.

On our return trip to Dansalan to surrender, our Moro cargodores not only charged us ten times what they ordinarily received, but also disappeared with a considerable amount of our remaining baggage, At Tamparin, one of the Moros stabbed and killed Captain Lane.


We arrived at Dansalan in the afternoon of 27 May 1942, surrendering to the Japanese officials and guards at about 1600.

Our prison camp at Camp Keithley was at first quite good, with ample sanitary facilities and a fair kitchen and mess room. We were permitted to purchase fruit, vegetables and additional meat to augment the Japanese ration issue. We were, however, shaken down several times. On one occasion we passed through a line and had our persons searched.

In early June 1942, four of the American enlisted men made their escape, and in consequence, on 3 July, the troop commander, Lt. Colonel Veasey, a Captain Price and company Staff Sergeant Campbell were taken to headquarters, then marched to the rear of the camp and there, no doubt, executed. They were not seen again and one of the interpreters stated they had been killed.


The next day Camp Keithley was abandoned as a prison camp. At 0700 all Americans were wired together in groups of four and five, and following the Filipino troops, were marched 41 kilometers to Illigan. It was an extremely hot day and two Americans---a Captain Navin and a Private Childers ---and several Filipinos collapsed on the march. They were hauled off to the side of the road and shot by the Japanese guard.

I believe that on this march I came as near to the end of my days as I ever will and still be among the living. As a result of the bruising my feet had taken, I lost seven of my toenails.

We were retained at Illigan for two days. Then we were loaded into the hold of a sugar freighter and transported to Cagayan, then by truck to the prison camp at Malaybalay in the interior of Mindanao, arriving the evening of 11 July 1942.


Life at the prison camp at Malaybalay was very easy. We were not molested by guards and practically ran the camp with our selected officers. When Lt. Colonel Nelson took charge and moved to the general's house in headquarters district, he invited me to share those quarters. We had a cottage facing the Japanese headquarters office, and with an orderly to attend to cleaning, laundry, etc., we had quite a place. My time was spent in gardening about the house.

There is not the least doubt that the prison camp at Malaybalay was the best in the Philippines. It was indeed a sad day for the American prisoners of war when the Japs decided to move all Americans to the Davao penal colony called "Dapecol." We arrived off Davao in the holds of a small Japanese transport on 21 October 1942, and were disembarked the next day and marched from the dock at Lasang some 25 kilometers to the penal colony. It was evident from time of arrival at the dock that things were to be entirely different from those at Malaybalay. Slapping of officers and men in the face, kicking and hitting with riding crops or sticks or rifles became more or less common occurrences.

About 1 November 1942, a draft of about 1,000 officers and men arrived at Dapecol from the prison camp at Cabanatuan, Luzon. Among these were Lt. (jg) Ken Wheeler, Elliott and Lightfoot of the Supply Corps. The conditions of this draft was very bad, showing evidence of starvation, malaria, dysentery and many skin diseases.

By 10 November working details were being sent out of the compound. No distinction was made between officers and men. All were assigned manual labor, digging ditches, hauling gravel, cutting wood, and all kinds of farm labor. I was one of the comparatively few placed on light duty and was not required to go out of the compound being assigned to policing, grass cutting, etc.


On 14 February 1943, a Red Cross shipment that had arrived in January was distributed. I am sure that the receipt of this food saved the lives of many in the camp. From February until April conditions were improving but on 4 April, when ten prisoners made their escape, conditions certainly changed. All privileges were taken away. The entire camp was put on a rice and salt ration. Two month later all details leaving the compound were required to go in their bare feet and with no clothing except shirt and pants or G-strings. The guards became very oppressive.

In June 1943, I was assigned to duty in the camp PX rolling cigars and assisting in the receipt and sale of leaf tobacco. The PX served the camp as a bank and distributing agency for the small number of items we could get, the most important of which was leaf tobacco. When the camp was paid in the Jap occupation currency nearly every person would deposit his cash with the Exchange and, as items were made available for sale, would make purchases against his deposit. Profits of the PX were used to make free issues to those men not receiving any pay. All officers also contributed for that purpose.

On 22 March 1944, a draft of 650 officers and men was sent from the camp to the air field at Lasang. This detail never returned. It was learned later that when being evacuated north in September, their transport was bombed, sunk and that only a very few survived.

Six days after this draft left camp, we were again in a turmoil due to the escape of seven men. This was not a planned escape as the detail was in G-strings and barefooted, or very scantily clad. The break was due to difficulty with the guard, resulting in his being struck down. Only one of the seven, a gunner's mate who was shot, was ever caught.


On 21 May an Army major, driven to near insanity by a reduction in our rations that forbode gradual starvation for the whole camp, knocked a guard over the head, grabbed the guard's rifle and ran toward the compound. He was overcome by the guards, and bayoneted in the back. His cries from the guardhouse indicated he was being tortured. The following morning the Jap Commanding Officer informed our camp commander that the tortured major had died of wounds inflicted in this struggle.

At about this time the camp was visited by several Jap Generals with their staffs. It appeared from their inspections the camp site was desired for other purposes. On 2 June it was definitely known we were to be moved, and on 6 June 1944, we were on our way to Manila.

Trucks were lined up on the athletic field about 0001. We were assigned to trucks, about 40 to each vehicle, and directed to remove our shoes One by one we boarded the trucks and were securely tied in a standing position in rows from the driver's seat aft. We were blind-folded and told to place our hands on the shoulders of the man directly ahead. Two or three guards were in the rear armed with long sticks, and when one dropped his hands he was reminded by a crack over the head. We were hauled in this condition some 40 kilometers over the roughest kinds of roads.

We then were embarked in the holds of a small Japanese transport and soon were on our way, following the coastline via Zamboanga to Cebu. After four days on Cebu we were embarked on another dirty Jap freighter.


Conditions on this boat were far worse than any so far experienced. We were literally jammed into the hold. As we reached the deck under the hatchway, Japanese guards armed with long poles were overhead and beat the prisoners back into the dark cargo space and half deck that had been built in. A five gallon can was provided in the hold for sanitary purposes. There was a constant fear in the minds of all of running into foul weather, a condition that would require closing the hatchway which would mean suffocation for all below.

On arrival in Manila Bay, the entire draft was taken to the old prison Bilibid in the city of Manila on 26 June. Bilibid was used as prisoner of war hospital and assembly point for drafts being transferred to Japan. I was sent to the sick officers quarters on account of threatened pneumonia and heart trouble and remained in that barracks until released by our U.S. forces in February 1945.


To the best of my recollection reduction of food issues at Bilibid by our captors commenced in July 1944. Additionally, the prices charged (in Japanese invasion currency) the post exchange for items of food increased so rapidly that by August and September very little could be bought.

In October 1944, the ration was again cut, and from then until January 1945, was gradually cut until we were receiving about 250 grams of rice, cornmeal and ground casaba per man per day, augmented by a soup made of kang-kong or camote tops.

All hands were losing weight daily and sickness increased. In January I weighed a scant 120 pounds as against 183 when war started. We had heard that our forces were on their way and our only hope was that they would arrive before we starved to death.


Day by day we anxiously awaited the air raid alarms and scanned the skies to get a glimpse of our planes. With the increasing air activity we had hope that a large draft assembled at Bilibid for transfer to Japan could not be taken out, but on 13 December 1944, they marched out some 1,900 prisoners, leaving 1,200 who were considered unfit for further duty, and a few administrative assistants.

It was a most unbelievable feeling of relief when we received a message from the Japanese commanding officer on 4 February 1945, stating that all American prisoners of war were released, with the warning not to go outside the compound due to the danger of snipers in Manila. On the morning of 5 February 1945 I bade Bilibid goodbye and was taken to the Quezon hospital on the outskirts of Manila for further evacuating and in due course of good food and rest was considered ready to proceed through the line of evacuation. On 24 February I was flown over Manila on my way to the evacuation base in Leyte and on 27 February was on my way home via air route to Guam, Kwajalein, Johnston Island, Honolulu, arriving at Fairfield, California about 1700 2 March 1945.

Inflation at Bilibid
Commodity Price Before War
PI Curr.
June-Aug '44
Jap Curr.
Sept-Dec '44
Jap Curr.
Beans (kilo) 5 cents 10 pesos 40-50 pesos
Salt (sack) 1 - 2 pesos 10 pesos 120 pesos
Meat (kilo) 10-50 cents 50-60 pesos None
Eggs (each) 2 - 5 cents 1 - 5 pesos None
Coconuts (each) 5 cents 1 - 5 pesos 5-35 pesos
Coffee (kilo) 50 cents 20-60 pesos None
Cigarettes (pkg) 10-15 centss 1 - 4 pesos 2 - 5 pesos

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