HEADQUARTERS CAMP HOTEN
8 September 1945
By Lt. Colonel O.O. WILSON, G-1, II Phl Corps.
a. Early after arrival there in a starved condition and receiving no food other than rice and so called whistle weed soup a group of soldiers (I believe six) went to a near by barrio and were caught trying to get back into camp with a bucket of food for there (sic) comrades. They were beaten horribly and tied in the hot sun bareheaded and were told that they would be left there in that condition without food or water for 96 hours. In the middle of the first afternoon when several of them had collapsed from the heat one man succeeded in slipping his rope, he ran through the camp with a guard after him, was finally captured and that afternoon all six were executed in plain view of the camp for those who wanted to look on.
b. "Escape" squads were now formed, each squad consisting of ten men all to be executed if any of the ten escaped. We were required to mount an inside guard, the guard being informed that should anyone escape the entire guard would be severely punished, which to us, meant execution. On September 21st 1942 two Lt. Cols of the army and one Lt of the Navy attempted to escape and were prevented from doing so by our own guards who of course attempted to keep this attempt from the Nips. The Nips however, heard the commotion and investigation discovered the attempt. These three officers were tortured all night long by being beaten, by being manhandled by a special strong armed Jap squad and the next morning were stripped and tied to posts in plain view of the camp. A typhoon had come up during the night and for two days they stood there in the raging rain and wind, naked, being beaten at random by any Japs who happened to pass and passing Filipinos were stopped and required to beat them. After two days of this they were thrown into a truck, none being able to mount the truck under his own power, hauled a short distance from the camp, there was a volley of shots, and we saw them no more. One of the execution detail told our soldiers that two had been shot and one beheaded by the Jap Lt in charge. Everyone living in the barracks where these officers had been quartered were confined to their barracks for one month.
c. Our inside guards were being constantly called to the fence by the Japanese outside guard, sometimes for conversation, sometimes for the Japanese guard to show his authority over the American. On one occasion the guard was called in this manner and upon arrival at the fence was grabbed by the Jap who started calling for the Japanese main guard. The Japanese accused the American of trying to escape and the American was executed the following day.
d. One American escaped to a nearby barrio where he was caught by the Nips. Our American Camp Commander and some of his staff were called to the Hospital the following day by the Nips to view the body of the man who was killed "Resisting Arrest." One of the Staff Officers told me that the man was not recognizable as a human being. He was a mass of beaten flesh with almost every bone in his body broken.
e. ("The following related to me by an eye witness in whom I have complete confidence.") On a work detail at Calumpit, one man escaped. The company Commander, American, was called in by the Nips and handed a roster of the company. Five men above the man's name and five men below the Man's name were designated by the Nips and the Company Commander was directed to call these men in and notify them they were to be executed. These men were executed that afternoon. These are only some instances, there were others. A full record of them was kept by American Headquarters and I'm sure they are buried someplace and will be available after the war.All officers and men were available to work on the farm, on airfields, roads, fortifications, and various projects. We worked barefooted, we were subjected to daily beatings by the guards. This has also been recorded. Our full period at this camp is a matter of record and I'm sure that these records will be available. I will not deal further with our life there. It became evident in September of 1944 that the Japs would attempt to move us to Japan. A detail of 1,200 men were in Bilibid awaiting ships to move out and on October 10, 1944 they moved 500 (approx.) to Bilibid. These were joined with the other detail all ready there and were put on board ship on October 11, 1944. It has been strongly rumored that this boat was sunk with only 8 or 10 survivors. On October 12, 1944 a mass evacuation of Cabanatuan was started, except for the totally disabled and necessary doctors and medical personnel left to care for them. We were divided into Groups I, II, III, respectively. Group I and II consisting of 500 each, mostly officers [of] U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps with a contingent of medical corpsmen. Group III consisted of over 600 officers of the Navy, enlisted men and civilians. I was a member of Group I and by the end of a week or 10 days all groups had been concentrated in Bilibid and were held there awaiting ships. Our total consisted of approximately 1,650, about 1,200 officers, 30 enlisted men, and the remainder civilians. On October 17th, American dive bombers hit Manila Bay and continued to hit every three or four days for a period of six weeks so that they were unable to move us. Then for 19 days there was no raid and we knew that unless our Air came back we were shortly due for an Ocean trip. During the two months that we spent at Bilibid we were on two meals a day which consisted of two thirds of a canteen cup of boiled rice with an occasional issue of an 8 oz. can of thin soup and twice a week one spoon full of powdered fish. Our average loss of weight per man was 20 lbs; and by December 13th, 1944 we were all in a very weak condition, due to lack of food.
TRIP TO JAPANWe were loaded on the Oryoku Maru in three holds, forward, amidships and aft. I will deal with only the latter as that is where I was loaded with approximately 900 others. It now seems impossible that this number of men could have been placed in this small compartment. This hold was about 25 to 30 feet from the main deck reached by a steep ladder which one man could descend at a time. Bays in double tiers were build around the hold, these bays being about 7 feet by 9 feet. 20 men jammed into each upper and lower bay. The only way possible of crowding that number into such a small compartment was to have each man sit jammed into the crotch of the man behind him in four rows with five men to a row. When all bays had been filled in this fashion all remaining space in the hold was filled by men in a standing position packed one against the other, cutting off all air for men in the bay and the men standing having no room in which to sit down. The hatch was then closed except for two planks, the guard moved to the deck above and we were left to our own devices. It soon became evident to all that many would die very quickly from heat exhaustion and suffocation. The heat was terrific and the air stifling, men were bathed in sweat immediately and began to pass out from suffocation and dehydration. Appeals to the guard for more air and water brought the reply that unless we quieted down, the hatch would be completely closed cutting off the air all together. We were in total absolute darkness by 6:00 P.M. and the hatch was in pandemonium, the men standing fighting to get into the bay to sit down, men in the bays were fighting to keep their places, many becoming hysterical and panic stricken. A total of 7 died the first night and by day break a majority was effected mentally in varying degrees. All were exhausted by the all night struggle and dehydration and as the day wore on and the heat increased with no food or water more and more went mad. By 2:00 P.M. of the second afternoon the entire hold was a screaming madhouse. Some officers were trying to obtain control and an MP force of the strongest and most able bodied men left were formed and were vainly trying to control the mob. Men had been killed by other mad men. Men were drinking their own urine. The most violent cases had been tied up for the safety of the others. Appeals to the Japs met with no response. Lt. Toshino in charge, refused to leave his state room, Mr. Wada the interpreter threatened again to close the hatch entirely and refused to send water. Mob frenzy was increasing by the minute and no one can tell what could of happened had not our bombers hit us at about this time, temporarily solving the immediate situation. As soon as they realized what we were faced with, the men quieted down, the hysteria ceased. They were told to sit down and be quiet and they obeyed orders, there was no panic or demonstration. The bomber attack lasted about two hours and rendered the ship not seaworthy but no fatalities were suffered from the bombs in the hold. The ship put into Olongapo Bay and during the night all the personnel aboard except the prisoners and the guards were evacuated. However after the attacks were over the condition in the hold rapidly reached and passed the former state. The second night was much worse than the first, we had now been without food and water for over 24 hours and it was evident that none was forth coming. Many men lost their minds and crashed about in the absolute darkness armed with knives, attempting to kill people in order to drink their blood or armed with canteens filled with urine and swinging them in the dark. The hold was so crowded and everyone so interlocked with one another that the only movement possible was over the heads and bodies of the others. The number of men killed that night or who died of suffocation is unknown. Gradually more and more passed out from shear exhaustion and lack of sleep but the place was still a mad house when the bombers hit for the second time the following morning. This time they dropped a bomb right into our hold, knocking all of the super structure down the hatchway, pinning a great number of men under the wreckage and timber and setting fire to the hold. The hold was evacuated by some crawling up the ladder and some climbing out of a hole in the side of the ship. Some stayed attempting to release those pinned under the wreckage until driven out by the fire. We were about 500 yards from shore and the Jap guards in life boats were patrolling the water shooting at anyone not moving toward shore. Life preservers and wreckage from the ship were floating in the sea so that persons too weak or unable to swim were able to reach shore on these. We were moved to a bivouac under some trees some 500 yards from the shore. Many were wounded and battered by falling timbers, all were suffering from no food or water for over 40 hours. Many of us were naked except for a pair of drawers, many barefooted. That afternoon we were moved to a wire enclosed concrete tennis court. There was no shade available and just enough room to contain those remaining (1400) by sitting down in columns of fours. There was not room enough for all of the sick and wounded to lie down. Water was very scarce, the latrine was one straddle trench just outside of the fence to which one or two men were allowed to go at a time. So that it was necessary to stand in the latrine [line] for hours in order to get out of the gate. We remained here for four and one half days. The Japs would not allow us to move the dead and as they increased, they lay along side of the living with the stench from their bodies, from the defecation of the sick and from the gangrenous wounds increasing hourly. Emergency operations without anesthetics were performed by our doctors. A man's arm was removed in the boiling heat of the sun with nothing to soothe his pain. The Jap officer would not come near us, stating that our people had done the bombing and that it was our responsibility; so among the stench, the heat, the flies and the dead we passed the four and one half days. We were issued no cooked food the entire time. Once a day we were issued one or two table spoons full of raw rice. The suffering, lying naked on the concrete in the blazing sun during the day and the chill at night, among the flies and mosquitoes with the ever present thirst and the stench of the dead and the living, listening to the moans of the wounded and the babbling of the delirious, was beyond description. On the 5th day we moved out in trucks, approximately 50 to a truck. Many had to be carried to the vehicles and if they were too weak to climb in they were assisted by the butts of the rifles of the guard. We were told that we were going to Manila but upon arrival at San Fernando Pampanga we were placed in the city jail there. We remained there until December 24th 1944. We were fed once and sometimes twice daily a meager amount of unsalted rice. A few of the very ill were taken to Bilibid in trucks. We moved out by marching on December 24h, many still clad only in their underwear and barefooted. We had been to all intents without food now for 10 days and consequently in a very weakened condition. We were marched to the railroad station and loaded aboard a train, 187 of us in a small steel boxcar, 160 in the car and 25 on top. Those outside suffering from the blistering sun, those inside from the sweltering heat and crowded condition and no ventilation except one door partially opened. We were unable to sit down due to our crowded condition. Those of us who were lucky enough to have canteens had them filled but many had no canteens so that the water was shared and most of it exhausted before we moved out. We moved north to San Fernando La Union and during the 18 hours of that trip we were given no water or food, although we stopped at many watering places for ample time, the guard refilling their canteens at each place. A deaf ear was turned to our plea for water by Mr. Wada the interpreter. We detrained at San Fernando La Union about 4:00 A.M. Christmas morning. We squatted in a column of fours for two or three hours. We…then moved out by marching about 4 KM to the beach, stumbling along barefooted over the rocky road in the dark. We were bedded down on the beach in the sand for the night, given a rice ball at day break and left there all day. Water was scarce and foul. The sun terribly hot and no shade. Most of us had no head coverage. One officer went completely mad and drank quite a quantity of salt water from the ocean before we could stop him. He died in horrible agony a day or so later having been a raving maniac before he died. Sometime during the second night toward morning we were aroused and marched to a wharf where we dropped about 10 feet into small boats and moved out into the bay. One boat was rammed by a big steamer but no serious results. We were finally loaded on a tremendous all steel steamer completely empty except for this group of prisoners numbering between 1400 and 1300. They opened a hatch cover just large enough for one man to descend the single steel ladder. They sent 1000 of us down that ladder one at a time into the hold which was a large hold about 25 or 30 feet from the first deck. There was another hatch about 15 feet above it. The hold was large enough for the 1000 men to be formed into 10 rows, 100 men to a row but sufficient room was not available for all to lie down, about half could lie while half had to sit up. The remaining 300 or 400 more seriously ill were placed around the side of the hatch above us. Horses had previously occupied our hold and the stench of manure and urine was very strong and the number of flies unbelievable. From the break of day till night fall they covered everything like a blanket. Our main ration was two meager helpings of rice with four to six spoons full of soup daily and about one tenth of a pint of water. Some days we were given one or no rations of either food or water, some days the food and water were sent down after dark and most of it would be lost by crazed prisoners fighting for it in the absolute darkness. We stayed on this ship from December 26th till January 13th, 1945 as the men died and there were several daily. They were piled in the hospital bay cordwood fashion and left there till the Japs decided to remove them. Sometimes two or three days elapsed before they were removed. They lay in plain view covered with flies slowly becoming bloated and discolored adding their touch to the increasingly frightening conditions. The only latrine available were buckets and boxes scattered throughout the hold in insufficient numbers and as the Japs would not allow them to be emptied as needed they constantly overflowed, the space around each becoming horribly foul. Men suffering from dysentery would befoul their sleeping spaces and due to the long period of complete darkness many were unable to find the buckets. All of this combined with the stench of the hold and the dead bodies and the ever increasing blanket of flies made the condition on this boat insufferable. On January 8, 1945 the Nips cleared the bottom hold in order to load sugar there. 500 men were put on the deck for the day and the remainder sent to the hospital bay above. This crowded the hospital so that the sick were no longer able to lie down but crouched, lay across each other in any and all positions possible in their attempt to get rest and relief. They placed the 500 that were on deck into a forward hold but we were told that on the following day the 500 would be moved into the all ready overcrowded hospital hold. No attention was paid to the American protests that to do this was impossible. Before they could be moved however we were hit on January 9th by American dive bombers, one bomb going into the forward hatch killing over 250 and wounding many others. A near hit of the hospital hatch buried many men under falling hatch covers and timber killing about 40. Both holds suffered terrific strafing. When the wreckage was cleared away approximately 300 were dead in the forward hold and 50 in the hospital hold, and many wounded. There were several with both legs or arms broken, compound and simple fractures. Loss of eyes by fragments and many other injuries. No medical aid except emergency first aid given by our doctors was given for 3 days. No medical equipment was given to relieve the suffering of the wounded. In fact the Japanese Lt. in charge did not come near us. The only ones that we saw were the guards above and the deck hands who looked curiously down upon us but paid no attention to our requests to summon the interpreter or the Lt. in charge. Our ration of water was not increased nor was our food and the suffering of the wounded, many lying with bones protruding from their flesh was intense. The dead lay in the forward hatch as they fell and the wounded were totally untended there. Only one issue of food and water daily was sent to them. After three days the dead were hauled out of both hatches and sent to a crematorium in Takao. The wounded were left in the forward hatch while those unwounded were moved back into the hospital hold and a group of Jap medical corp men accompanied by one doctor arrived in the hospital hold and administered medical aid there. This consisted mainly of painting the wound with iodine. No bones were set no splints were made available. They remained in the hospital hold about one hour and a half and did not enter the forward hold at all. During this entire time, 24 hours daily, two winches were constantly unloading from the hold just beneath us, through our hold, and this coupled with the hammering incident to the plugging the holes in the side of the steel ship made a din so terrific that one could not possibly sleep or rest but nearly went mad from the unbearable noise. On January 13, 1945 we received orders to prepare to evacuate ship. Those able to crawl were sent up the ladder, those unable to move due to fractures, wounds and other illness were dragged up to a rope which was lashed about them and they were hauled hand over hand to the deck above. They were laid out in rows and later moved to a loading platform and swung out by winch to a barge below. It had turned cold and with their scanty clothing the suffering during this operation was intense. We were moved across the bay to a third ship and reloaded. Here no loading platform was available and the wounded were manhandled up a narrow gang plank into the hold ten feet below deck for the last leg of our journey to Japan. We were not so crowded here for our numbers had decreased from 1650 to approximately 1100. There was space enough for all to lie down but the weather was getting colder and we lay on steel decks in a little straw with no pads or covering. Some had picked up mats of straw but not all. The ship was terribly lice infested and we were very soon covered with these. (It was three and a half months later that we were finally deloused and for that period of time we were completely covered with these persistent constant companions.) We sailed on January 14th, 1945 and we landed in Moji on January 19th, 1945. Our ration through the entire trip was one canteen cup of rice loosely packed for four to six men twice daily and four to eight spoons full of water once daily. This was a maximum, several days food was issued only once and no water at all. We started this trip with between 1100 or 1200 men and we arrived in Japan 15 days later with approximately 400 living skeletons surviving. Our ration never changed although as men died certainly more food was available. We went from a tropical climate to the dead of a Japanese winter with no heat in the hold and no clothing or cover issued. The deaths from starvation, thirst, exposure, dysentery, and other illness climbed steadily to 50 daily in the last days. Had the trip lasted four days longer I am convinced that none would have survived except a few who were obtaining extra food and water from the Nips. The dead lay stacked in piles on the now vacant hatch, all persons originally there having died. They were removed every one or two days on the Japanese orders, it becoming increasingly difficult to find men strong enough to carry these emaciated bodies, four men to a corpse up the ten feet to the deck. No burial service was allowed. The bodies were stacked on deck, all Americans were sent below and the hatch cover closed. A brief interval elapsed and the hatch was opened and the bodies were gone. The elapsed time was available only for the wholesale dumping the bodies into the sea. We arrived in Moji harbor on January 28th. On that day all persons able to move were herded on deck in their semi-naked condition, in a strong freezing wind with sleet and snow and icy water from the decks running over our bare ankles and given a rod test. The next morning in identical weather conditions we were again herded on deck, required to strip totally naked and were issued clothing. The first 100 got one suit of cotton outer clothing, one pair of drawers and a flannel undershirt, one pair of shoes and no socks. The remaining 300 did not fare so well, the amount of clothing not being sufficient to go around and some received no issue at all. We were on the deck naked till we drew our clothes and put them on. Our hands and bodies became so numb that we experienced the greatest difficulty in putting on our clothes. Guards armed with sticks beat those who were slow in dressing. Average time on deck was one half hour. We were then herded back into our hold where the lice immediately took over our new clothing. We eventually disembarked and marched to a large empty unheated and drafty building across the street. Here we were formed into our original groups as we had left Bilibid - that is Groups I, II and III. The hospital group, consisting of men who had to be carried over [with] some dying in the process, was an added unit. Of the original 1600, in group I, 100 were left, of Group II, less than 200 and of Group III less than 100. I do not know how many remained in the hospital group. We formed in these groups in a column of fours and were required to remove our shoes and sit down in formation. It was bitterly cold in this building but we stayed there most of the day. We were finally turned over to the Japanese contingent of the guard by the Taiwan contingent who had brought us over. The four groups were sent to four different places and I shall now deal with Group I of which I was senior member that went to Fukoka Camp #3. We moved out by marching for about a KM and a half. We made a sorry sight walking down the street, half of us being supported by the remaining stronger half, unbelievably filthy with 50 day growth of beard on our faces and an average weight 100 lbs per man. We were escorted by the usual crowd of laughing Japanese children but we were long past caring. We arrived at Fukuoka Camp #3 after dark. This was a work camp of some 1100, approximately 600 Americans, the rest mixed British, Dutch and etc. At the sight of an American officer in command and an American Medical Officer we got our first ray of light in a long bitter night. The Japanese commandant, one Major Y. Rikatake spoke to us through an interpreter assuring us that he knew our condition and that all possible would be done for our comfort. We were sent into a barracks heated by two stoves, each sleeping space had seven blankets and our own Americans of the detail there served us with hot coffee, sugar and milk and helped us get settled. A steaming hot bath was available to those able to get to it. The Major remained in our barracks constantly assuring us that now "We were safe," our own men continued to bring us hot food and to do everything possible for our comfort. Some of our group was so overcome by this unexpected reception that they were sobbing, but so great was the morale factor of this greeting that we had no deaths for 5 days and by our former average on the boat we should have lost our entire group by this time. I'm sure that I speak for all the men when I say that I believe Major Rikatake did all in his power to assist us. He fed us more food than he was allowed by Japanese regulations. We were allowed extra privileges, we stayed in bed as we desired, we had reveille two hours later than the rest of the camp. We were allowed three time the coal allowance for our stoves as the rest of the camp and he visited our barracks many times daily and in many ways adopted a humane attitude toward us. We were told by the other men of the camp that prior to Major Rikatake assuming command that this camp had been famous for the torturing of prisoners but that since his arrival all of this had stopped. He was universally liked by the prisoners in the camp. The guards and other enlisted men of his staff had much the same attitude as all the guards that we had known previously but kept this well hidden from him. We lost 24 officers by death there, but I am convinced that but for this Japanese officer's treatment of us, and had we been continued in the same treatment ordinarily experienced, that over 50 percent of us would have died. We remained there until April 25th. The treatment by Major Rikatake never varied. He is the one Japanese that I would like to protect if given the opportunity. We left that camp on April 25th, 1945, and came to Camp Hoten, Mukden, Manchuria. Our treatment en route and since our arrival has been the best treatment that we have received as Prisoners of War.
Lt. CoL. U.S.A.
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