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Dr. Paul Ashton

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From the book "Bataan Diary"
Page 11 of 12
This work detail was much better for the men than my previous one at Tayabas. Plenty of hard work carefully seasoned with humiliation and discomfort were the keynotes here, but no one died during my tenure.

Finally in July 1943 the work was finished in Bataan and all of the salvaged materials had been moved by barge and by Chinese junk to the vast assembly and salvage area in Caloocan, a town just north of the great cemetery in Manila. The detail was decreased in size, all but fifty men being sent back to Cabanatuan.

I remained with the group--most of whom were automotive and tank experts. We were housed in a clean Jap G.I. barracks and the living facilities were an improvement over our recent quarters in Little Baguio. We had to remove our shoes before entry and walk about in socks (we had no socks!). There were open alcoves on each side of a central hallway, and each had wooden benches around the sides which served as bunks at night. Upon them were supplied short, felt-like Japanese Army blankets, one of which I still possess! The food, however, was not as good. In Bataan, Sasaki and Heda made a practice of buying food for the prisoners in San Fernando or Manila. It was transported by Jap truck to Balanga and sold to the natives for great profit. The money being divided among the thieves. The prisoners were then allowed (we enjoyed this) to take captured guns and hunt carabao in order that we might get enough to eat. We usually did. At Caloocan, however, we lived near the headquarters of the Jap transportation regiment, I.J.A. The mess was central and we were allotted food, not money. Since Sasaki was physically incapacitated, he was now unable to arrange a means of cutting in on our food. I have no doubt that he was working on it, however. There were several large wooden ware house buildings on a very wide, flat parade ground in our compound, and nearby was an old Spanish church. The last time I ever saw Sasaki was when we looked out of our barracks and there he was, being carried about from his quarters near the church in a wheelbarrow, his only means of locomotion since he had contracted severe arthritis in his knees, probably a complication of his chronic gonorrhea. I believed that he was sent back to Japan as a war casualty, and still thought about him on occasion, wondering if he was able to return to his family and job, and what he might be like away from the license of the battle areas.

Our work here was to salvage parts and rebuild vehicles, especially tanks and halftracks, in the large buildings where there had been assembled an assortment of tools, winches and hoists with which our men set about to reconstruct the trucks and tanks, using craftily planned "repairs" that usually led to quite sudden (though delayed) obsolescence. They made the vehicles all function; then they would turn them over to Japanese soldiers for testing. It was not uncommon to see a light tank being put through its paces at top speed, turning, twisting, and straining every bolt. I wondered how even a tank could stand such a beating. And they didn't, for long. Nor could I. The inevitable had occurred to me as well.

Not long after I arrived there my dysentery again lit up. I tried to treat it with quinine but only succeeded in holding it down to a walk. The Japs became afraid of my infectiousness and one day they quickly sent me back to Bilibid. They were afraid to touch any of my belongings, so here again I was able to get a few things into Bilibid.

At any rate, "because there were no sick there," l was taken back to Bilibid, where I remained until the few of us that held out were rescued by the "Yanks and Tanks" in February, 1945.

Many years later I heard from Dan Weitzner, who had remained on the detail long after I had been returned to Bilibid. It is not curious that his attitude about Sasaki parallels mine in some respects. Dan calls him a self-professed, "second class officer," which was blamed upon a relative, an uncle who was a "high officer," but could not risk a charge of nepotism, thus relegating our Sasaki to perpetual low rank! Dan also recalls the fact that he had "dropped out as a Buddhist Priest." I had not even heard until this recent communication that Sasaki had been hanged long ago by the War Crimes Tribunal for his torture execution of the nine men of Balanga, a grisly tale which is recounted early in this section.

Copyright 1997 Paul Ashton, M.D.
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