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Dr. Paul Ashton
The crew of Nip civilians and Filipinos were friendly, allowing me to eat raw fish and rice, washing it down with whiskey of dubious vintage with them. This was a section of Manila bordering the Pasig River where oil storage tanks were to be found. Always a busy place, it was the site of a working party where some of our men were filling fifty-gallon drums of fuel from larger supply tanks. The Japanese had few tank trucks and no pipelines, so fuels had to be transported in drums. They also liked to disburse the small tanks so that sabotage (or later bomb runs), would take less toll. I was always impressed with the part manual labor played in the Japanese Army. They pulled the largest field guns up the roads of Bataan with long ropes and chains, and as I have said, they made war like ants, or like Alexander probably.
Pasig River flowing through Manila.
We chugged away from the smelly wooden dock, under the direction of a Jap corporal while I inspected the match factory now making munitions for the Nips and watched construction of many wooden ships along the banks. We managed to run down a rowboat full of young Filipino girls and smash a barge on which a family lived--both vessels having gotten in our way--much to the delight and mirth of the corporal. He was hated thoroughly even by the other Japanese on board. We plowed down the broad river amid floating islands of water hyacinths as it curved through the city of Manila, past Malacanan Palace, under the bridges, and entered Manila bay near old Fort Santiago.
The Malacanan Palace
It was a sunny, warm day and the bay was smooth, reminding me of the afternoons I had sailed on it with Burge, O'Donnell and Cal Jackson in my banca. The boat was slow, so we settled down to the thirty-mile trip down the bay to its entrance, past Corregidor, mooring at the bay-side town of Mariveles. The three Japanese stevedores on the jaunty little tug spoke not a word of English, but each of them had some medical problem which he exhibited for my consideration, after I managed to explain my mission on their boat--that I was a "doctoro." I gave a few sulfa tablets to the head man, who had gonorrhea, and some kane-jo to one with "stomach trouble."
We were friends by noon and since I had no food, they gave me some of their catch. I had noticed one of them tending a line he had cast from the stern, and several times he tugged on the line and brought in a fish. There were many jellyfish in the water, but the catch of my host was quite respectable, and I could see that this was the daily ritual on the boat, for the crew to catch their own food. They did not cook it, however, just cut it into several pieces and offered it to me. We ate it raw, without tartar sauce!
In mid-afternoon, we arrived at a dock in Mariveles and I was put ashore. There were barges tied up to the dock, and loaded on them were some G.I. trucks and a tank from the 194th Tank Battalion. There were several trucks in fair repair, loading tires and parts on the barges, the work being done by some of the G.I.'s I had been sent to attend. I also noted a beautiful twin-diesel yacht tied up to the far end of the dock. As I looked around, I could see Corregidor across the north channel with the ruins of Topside. The "Rock" was quiet, lying there in the sea, like a ravaged old lady. The road up to the main bayshore highway from the dock was empty. San Jose barrio on the point of Mariveles Bay was deserted; its inhabitants had not yet returned since the fall of Bataan and Corregidor.
Corregidor "The Rock"
A G.I. saw me sitting on my foot locker and I brought the truck down to the dock. We loaded it on, and since the job was over for that day, others working there also boarded the truck and we drove up the familiar "grapevine," past the macabre Philippine Army General Hospital with its headless patients, where we had chased the mule months before. It seemed somehow pleasant to be back in Bataan among these friendly G.I.'s, and we soon reached the site of #l Hospital and my old surgical pavilion, where still lurked mixed memories.
The men warned me about some of the Japanese leaders of our salvage detail, all of which hardly registered in my brain, except as gossip. It seemed like a friendly, healthy group and I did not miss the atmosphere of the prison. We unloaded my foot locker in front of the little porch at the entrance to the surgery building, and I found that there was a medical corpsman named Dan Weitzner who held forth in the precincts of my former boss sergeant of surgery of #l Hospital. Dan was a good man and even had secured a microscope somewhere, through which he peered frequently. The small room formerly used for surgical supplies was to be our quarters. The remainder of the crew of 125 were quartered in the main surgery, a larger room, where there had been four operating tables and a cast room in our "palmy" days. The walls which had bulged and separated from the floor by the blast effect of a 500-lb. bomb striking nearby had been fairly well repaired. All in all, when filled with the crew and their gear, it no longer radiated the spic-and-span aspect it wore when I last saw it.
The sorry sight which now greeted my eyes I suppose prepared me for my actions of the next few minutes. My surgery of which I had been so proud was now the quarters of the American prisoners and a filthy muddy place it was. Sasaki, the Jap commander, lived in Colonel Duckworth's former quarters, where I also had lived, and the former nurses' quarters and officers mess was the Nip guard quarters. The grounds were littered with dirty trucks, tanks, motorcycles, and their dismembered parts. The former wards were now used to house salvaged vehicles and repair shops. It was almost time to eat, and I found that we had our own food preparation area where we all could sit down to eat the ration issued to the group as a whole. The food was good by Bilibid standards, and this explained the healthy appearance of the men and also, unlike Tayabas, there were only a couple of sick, with malaria and dengue. I remember thinking that this camp commander seemed to be a progressive fellow and I discounted what the Lieutenant had been doing that afternoon, according to Weitzner. Lieutenant Sasaki had a little monkey that he had caught, and made much sport of placing the beast under a helmet and then blazing away at it with his side arm. Some fun! When I got to know Sasaki, I realized that the monkey was not in all that danger, though he did wear thick lenses which corrected only some of his distorted views. But we were soon to meet.
Before the meal, the Sergeant formed the Japanese into two rows and the Americans crowded around, sensing a show about to begin. This all took place beneath the tree just in front of my old surgery building in the flat, sloping down to the main road that ran north and south in front of Hospital #1, where we had surrendered to General Matsuobe. He had driven his tanks into the same flat compound, about seven months before. There were other memories here, to be later retold.
Now at five p.m., before chow, and just after the usual four p.m. prayer time of the Japanese (during which they all turned to the north and said their prayers to their Emperor in unison and bowed with heads uncovered), the showman made his move. Sasaki appeared from his quarters in a small house near the surgery barracks in his kimono, and took a position in front of us all. I was in uniform as Captain Medical Corps, USA., and I took the opportunity to advance toward him, come to attention and salute, stating then that I was "Captain Ashton, Medical Corps, U.S. Army, reporting for duty as Detail Medical Officer," and I handed my orders to the Sergeant.
Dead silence broke out; then Sasaki, with arms crossed, smirking, and not a little annoyed, made a speech in excellent English. The words rather haughtily indicated that I might be a Captain in the U.S. Army, but in his Army, I would be a private in the rear rank. I thought about it a minute, then observed, "Well, so much for Bushido." Before I finished, he unfolded his arms and swung at me, like a cat, but missed. While he was off balance, I let him have it, and down he went. I am still enjoying that moment, even though my life suddenly took a new twist, toward a dead end! Sasaki picked himself off the ground and started screaming in his native tongue. All of his "army" started after me, some holding me and others pounding me, with some oaken tent poles that unfortunately were handy.
He was still incoherent, but after dragging me around, they took me to a tree in front of my surgery and tied me to it. My wrists were bound very tightly behind me, and then I was suspended from a branch in such a manner that I could neither stand up nor sit down. If I tried to sit, I was hanging by my already painful wrists, and if I tried standing in order to take the weight off my wrists, I was unable to straighten my legs and I had to remain on my toes. So, I kept pushing up to allow some blood to get into my hands, and then would hang on my wrists awhile to rest my legs. As I quietly dangled there in the evening rain, ruminating about the boys back in Bilibid (where I had been so comfortable shortly before), I remember thinking, "Why does not the blow fall?"
To make matters worse, I soon discovered that the tree was inhabited by large and curious red ants. They swarmed over me and bit unmercifully whenever I moved, which I had to do frequently to relieve the weight on my swollen wrists. No one ate that night. The Yanks just stood around me. At about 2:00 a.m., Sasaki came from his quarters and told his men to cut me down.
I somehow felt that I was quite safe, despite Sasaki's reputation for sophomoric actions. The Americans were still grouped closely around me when Sasaki came, and I remember an unmistakably menacing attitude about them. Later I found that many were armed to the teeth, having previously picked up abandoned weapons and ammunition, which abounded in Bataan. These threatening moments were not lost on the Lieutenant, who suddenly felt outnumbered, and indeed he was. Dan Weitzner later told me that I had caused a real crisis.
In the interval, starting with my being trussed up, the consensus arrived at by small knots of men was to play the situation by ear for awhile. After considering all of the problems that might be encountered by putting into motion the mutinous plan they had chosen, they prepared for action. On the one hand they debated the undoubted reprisals that would be visited on the other camps; on the other hand, many difficulties were foreseen in carrying out the immediate forced flight of the whole group (using the Mary Ann, Marsman's twin-diesel yacht moored at the dock). With all this in mind they also realized their total ignorance of the extent of the Japanese mine fields in the mouth of the bay. The Luther twins set up a refurbished and serviceable machine gun in the dark, and even a salvaged tank was to be used by the Americans to take out the entire Nip garrison if a move was made to execute me. Fortunately for us all, Sasaki sensed the mounting danger and took an alternate path, partly also, I believe, because he needed a doctor. So he ordered me cut down and elbowed his way through the large group of Yanks around me.
I was given some food, then he wanted to talk to me. Ushered to his quarters, I was instructed to bow on his approach and upon leaving. Never to say "Yeah" in answering and always to stand rigidly at attention. He was still seething, but began by asking if I understood what I had done. Did I realize the enormity of my crime? "By striking one of His officers, I had struck the Emperor!" He came back to that point many times in the next months. He should have shot me, etc., etc. and, further more, he had lost face in front of his troops for not doing so. When I explained to him some days later that when I was in uniform with my soldiers ranged around me, I, too, was conscious of representing my nation, its power and force for good, and I also had been placed in a circumstance that absolutely required me to do what I did, even to his Emperor. In fact, if I had worn my side arm, I might have done much worse, since I felt that by doing what I did, my life might well be over anyway!
In the weeks that followed, and when my bruises and painful wrists were healed, I found out several facts with which to work. First, it was apparent that if the Japanese had come to finish me off, the Americans would have prevented it. They were pushed to their limit with this man. Secondly, Sasaki called me to his quarters and we talked it out in time, and even became friends in a limited way. He had a radio and easily picked up American broadcasts, although at that time any Japanese who listened to American radio was suspect. Even to speak English to me was treason able, and should only be done through an interpreter. In a little time, everyone settled down to normal.
Thirdly, and the most exploitable piece of information was the discovery of his advanced gonorrheal infection which would light up on small provocation. He had no medicine for it; treatment thus far had been to no avail. In short Sasaki needed a live doctor, not a dead one! Based upon this finding there was established a rapport, a doctor-patient relationship somewhat like that between the Indian fakir and his cobra. By careful management it became a source of profit to us all. He was kept in bed in Colonel Duckworth�s quarters and medicated sufficiently to demonstrate that I could cure him. From that time on he never struck another American. We arranged deals to get the sick back to Bilibid in exchange for medicine for his disease. The medicine for him was soda tablets, the sulfa being available only to the Americans. The policy of keeping Sasaki just infected to a minimal degree enabled me to keep him sick in quarters much of the time, thus away from the active direction of the salvage work.
It meant that the work was easier and the prisoners were never beaten again as long as the detail lasted. We were even allowed to send men to the dentist in San Fernando on several occasions! Furthermore, the punching episode had a profound effect on all of the Nip guards. They liked us all better for it, and several confided that they enjoyed it greatly, as they all felt that Sasaki was somewhat demented.
The work of the detail went on. The Japanese would find things to salvage in the jungle mostly north of our position, even as far as the slopes of Mount Samat, where the final Japanese break through had taken place. Most of the vehicles had been wrecked and some were burned. Many, including tanks, were badly battered by artillery fire. Practically all were found at the bottom of steep inclines in jungle positions very difficult to salvage. Most of them had to be pulled out with winches and tackle attached to trees, so that traction could be applied by using pulleys and several large trucks at once. Many were only usable for parts. Sometimes trees had to be cut down to get a tank or vehicle out. Most of them were very bulky and could be lifted only in parts onto even the largest trucks we had. They never found any of our prime movers and I was usually proud of the thorough manner in which most of our war machines had been put out of action.
It was remarkable how nature so quickly covered things; 105-mm. and 155-mm. guns, vehicles, trails, and roads were rendered invisible by the growth of brush and foliage.
Lieutenant Sasaki often invited me to his quarters to listen to his radio, and these meetings usually led to discussion pertaining to the war. He was about thirty, married and the father of two children, though he rarely brought them into our discussions. Full of questions concerning me, he would long consider my answers. Why I had no children as yet mystified him. His work was teaching, and he said that he was a professor of Chinese History at a university in Tokyo. I would point out, however, that he was duped by his nation's propaganda. He shocked me one day by saying his armed forces were in position soon to invade the continental U.S., because they "now hold the Caroline Islands!" When I found a text book of geography in a pile of books there in his quarters which had a map of the Pacific Islands, and pointed out how foreshortened and distorted his propaganda map seemed to be, he began to see some chinks in his own armour.
When Eddie Cantor or some other comedian made unflattering remarks about Roosevelt, he was delighted, since he hated Roosevelt as the cause and architect of the war. Yet he wondered how anyone, much less a comedian, could say such things and keep his head. If anyone said anything "like that" about the Emperor, Tojo, or any other important people, they would never get home from the studio. They would "just disappear." He was greatly impressed with free speech, so much so, that he began to understand that if just anyone could speak the entire truth with impunity, like Cantor, then maybe our newscasts were more reliable than the Japanese. This led to more radio-listening. I asked him why he was for bidden to hear broadcasts from America, when they were full of lies, if the Japanese knew the "real truth." At any rate, I began to realize he was already suspicious of his own propaganda, and a few of my revelations seemed enough to crumble the false facade of his belief. Why could he not be trusted to listen to any foreign radio?
Although he had learned to speak good English in school, the fact that he was forbidden to use it except through an interpreter, a third party, was more evidence of mistrust. He also decried the secret police, whom he said were everywhere, even in his own group of soldiers. They were even rewarded by tattling on other people about radio listening and other petty matters.
I asked him one day why he was only a Second Lieutenant in a guard detail, and his answer was immediate. He had a nice family, a good job, nice home and social position, but could never be a combat commander because of these. When it became necessary to risk his life in battle, he would think of all he had to lose and might hesitate. He believed in me, because I had risked my life without hesitation, and even for very scant reason. Also, he had an uncle who was a very high officer, and in Japan, if he were promoted to high rank it might indicate nepotism, and disgrace his family. He further stated that there were many "very low class" people in Japan without rank, prestige, and also very poor, who were drafted into the services, given food, clothes and position surpassing anything they had ever known. They were also given the opportunity to advance and were paid more money, especially if they proved intrepid and very reliable by reporting on their fellow soldiers, maybe even becoming members of the secret police. This was a path toward dizzying heights. So when the time came to lead a charge and throw themselves on barbed wire, in order that those following could use them as a bridge, they did not hesitate!
So I brain-washed poor Sasaki. It was not long before he volunteered in one of our conversations that "You will win this phase of the conflict," even though the battle of Midway had not yet happened! We were then at the lowest ebb in our conduct of the war. He said also that Pearl Harbor was a disaster for Japan, in that it aroused a sleeping giant and provided it with a single purpose, revenge! He had never been in the U.S., but was certain that we were preparing for war, and they were powerless to interfere. The Nips could only wait for the blow. He even said that, though defeated in Bataan and Corregidor, we had been able to delay the Japanese advance to Australia. "Yes, we have lost this round, but the war will go on maybe a century and Orientals will defeat the Occidentals in the end."
We bantered back and forth. He had fought in the Chinese campaign, and when I asked him which of the national troops he had encountered were the best and most resourceful, he unhesitatingly said "the Chinese." He stated that the Japanese chased the Chinese for long distances. They had no equipment or vehicles but depended on capturing their guns and ammunition, and whatever else they needed, from the Japanese. He said they never fought a pitched battle all the time he was in China. They constantly struck at the Japanese from every quarter, and disappeared. Whenever the Chinese were captured, they were impossible to hold. The standard Japanese POW holding area was a large hole in the ground covered with wire and with machine guns frequently fired in two directions. "Even then they got away!" he said.
Of course, Bushido, the Samurai code, decried surrender and he said that the forty-six Japanese prisoners I had in my care at #l Hospital, even though captured unconscious, should have committed hari-kiri when they became able to do so. They could never go home. No family could stand the disgrace. Now, forty years later, I doubt if these rigid standards persist in Japan.
Sasaki himself was said to be a fierce and uncompromising soldier. All of his vehicles were armed with machine guns and his soldiers sped along the coast road ready to shoot anyone he encountered. It is reported that when he first came to Bataan, he had a motorcycle upon which he tore up the rutted road to Abucay or Balanga, even to San Fernando. Some lady there gave him gonorrhea. Also, the few times he went there, he was shot at from the woods on each side of the road, he said. He was never hit, however, but he detested Filipinos. When I came to the detail, I had to induce him to give up the cycle, except when he was well. Each time he used it, the gonorrhea became acute again, further souring his attitude toward Filipinos in general.
One day toward the end of the salvage period in Bataan, the water supply at the camp was put out of business by Filipinos who deliberately smashed our water pump. The original supply for Hospital #1, consisted of a pump and reservoir up on a hill behind the hospital compound. The system was connected to a gasoline generator that also sup plied the lights. It was easy for the jungle men to sneak up and sabotage the pump and go undetected, and it was not the first time.
Reprisal was swift and terrible, but was planned as an afternoon off work, a picnic in the woods on a sunny Friday. The Lieutenant was like a kid going to a party, and this festive feeling was shared by his troops, as well as the four Yanks who went along. A skeleton crew was left at camp with the Americans. The trucks, with machine guns mounted on the cabs, were loaded with his men, all armed with rifles and some with swords that dangled awkwardly, and they sped off after loading beer and food for the occasion. Those who participated were under some coercion, even the Americans. This was a military exercise and if invited, it was wise to accept, and to adopt the festive attitudes set by Sasaki for the event.
Down the road they went with an occasional burst of machine gun fire to clear the guns. Most of the inhabitants of Bataan had been driven out or up into the mountains, and there were few who had returned. The nearest town with enough inhabitants was probably Balanga. If they had known his trucks were coming, they would have hidden, but he came with much speed into the town, where the trucks were stopped. Sasaki�s armed soldiers grabbed the first ten men they encountered, though one escaped. The victims had no idea of what was happening, or why. They were loaded into a truck and the party drove off into the woods west of town. The accounts by the four Americans forced to participate were related to us that evening on returning to camp. They were frightful. All of us had seen men tortured to death during the capture period by Japanese, but it was punishment for some crime, usually escaping, and the victim knew the reason and the risk.
The Japanese however, had a nasty way of venting their rage on anyone, not even near the scene of the crime, killing and injuring innocent people, who never knew why. Their torture methods seemed to be highly developed and to vary according to the time allotted, as well as to the audience they hoped to impress. Sometimes they undertook the process in a righteous rage; at others, they treated it as a necessary disciplinary routine, even engaging in it as though it were fun and games! The manner in which they go about these acts reveals a certain stereo-typification that comes only with experience and long practice. There are even occasional aficionados who innovate, as by driving wood slivers beneath the nails of a helpless waiting victim, while deriving the utmost in screams out of the one with whom they are engaged.
In the case of those who had been recaptured at Cabanatuan after a period of escape, the victims were used to create fear in prospective escapees, so that they were beaten severely immediately on recapture, but not so badly that they could not walk in full view of their comrades, both their fellow participants, and also as many in the camp as could be attracted by the screams and groans to witness the coming spectacle. They were struck and kicked as they shuffled along in full view of the other prisoners, and this same treatment continued during any hearing they might have had, so that they were half dead by the time the already decided death penalty ruling was made. With this formality over, the sentence might be carried out quickly, except when they felt it necessary to use them to make an example.
Then they were removed to a prominent place in the camp where various tortures were applied in part, according to the imagination of the particular group of guards. This process called for death the third day, so they must be kept alive that long. The wounds to be applied must be painful enough so that they would scream and moan all night for the camp to hear.
The first act was to stake them out on the ground, spread-eagle, so that by kicking them, ribs and jaws were fractured. Blows to the genitals and face brought out the screams and gained the attention of the camp. The arms and legs were fractured, using Judo and other modalities while tying them to the stakes. Later kicks to the already broken ribs and other fractures reinforced the screams and insured night-long moaning.
The next day they were, of course, given no food or water, until later. Staked out in the hot sun meant severe and blistering sunburn after a few hours, and every time a guard went by he kicked them vigorously to produce greater volume in their moans. This day, when they screamed for water in the boiling sun, it was given in large doses, called the "water cure." There were several variations. One being applied by pouring a constant stream of water from five-gallon cans over the mouth and nose in such volume that the victim could not get his breath and would almost drown, until he was exhausted and unable to scream. The other way was to insert a hose or funnel deep into his throat and pour gallons of water into him until he was enormously distended, then jump on his belly with both feet, forcing it out to some extent. By the end of this long day, the victims were more dead than alive, and their moans less audible. Occasionally, one would be dead by the third day. Depending upon how viable the survivors were, this day's kicking or water cures were less vigorous and were limited to trying to force the water out of the rectum.
The torturers preferred to use the big sword on a man well tied in a kneeling position of prayer, which these men were no longer able to assume, so they used them for bayonet practice, ending each miserable existence by disemboweling.
When however, the process was required to be done in two or three hours, as in the present cases at Balanga, an entirely different menu is used. Of course they must all be tied securely to prevent their constant valiant attempts to escape, as they soon realize what is in store for them.
While some absorb the entire attention of such a group as Sasaki's, others have to await their turn, so immobilization by cutting the hamstring tendons in the back of the legs, or by fracture at the knees is necessary. Two or three are hung by the wrists to the limbs of trees. During the process they are kicked, fracturing ribs and face, while arms are broken like twigs for a fire. The torturers always gleefully expose and remove the genitals of those swinging from the branches. Immobilized waiting victims, bleeding from leg wounds (and severed hands in some cases), are made to lie still while spiral mosquito punks burn on the bare skin of their bodies in several areas. The water treatments are not used where water supplies are not plentiful. So after eating their lunches, liberally chased with beer, the Nips became bored. They finished off the hanging ones with bayonets and left them to swing. Several clumsy attempts were made to behead men too weak and shocked to kneel; they were just hacked to death, and all were left in the woods, some still moaning. The revelers then piled into the trucks and drove back to camp, dismissing the scene from their minds. So what else is new?
For this, Sasaki was tried by the War Crimes Tribunal several years later and executed. The remainder of the participants must still be stained by this memory, which can only be blurred by drink or dotage!!
What good there is in recounting, secondhand, what occurred that day, especially in the festive spirit in which it was done, is beyond me, except to document the fact that such monsters really do exist. I could never convince my own mother that anyone could perform such acts. The obvious inability of the Oriental, at least our guards, to put themselves in the place of the victims for even a minute was demonstrated. I believe that if a vote had been taken, it probably would have come out thirty to one, Sasaki being the only one who would have initiated such an orgy. The others had to follow.
He was an enigma, a monster. I decided to have him try his motorcycle again, and in that way I abrogated my Hippocratic oath another time, to keep his disease active, partly in order to get him out of circulation and thus possibly prevent more killings. Furthermore, I resolved to use his illness in order to get to Bilibid where I might secure a more plentiful supply of medications, for him, but more for the men of the salvage party. It worked out that way, and I was able to take several trips to Bilibid, one of which stands out in my memory to this day.
There were several sergeants in Sasaki's group of guards. One of them was Heda Gocho, who, though the middle in rank, was far and away the leader of the group. Heda Gocho was also said to have among his relatives a high military officer, and therefore the rule that made him unsuited for high military rank applied here also. He seemed to be undisputed in knowledge and leadership. Even the ranking sergeant deferred to him, and Sasaki was afraid of him. He was said to be able to speak seven languages, and was thought to be a member of the secret police, though why such a superior being should have been wasted on an obscure guard group was mysterious. He never spoke English to me except on the trip to Manila and then it was heavily flavored with Japanese accent. It was a fun trip.
Heda and another Japanese sergeant borrowed a truck and used me as an excuse to go to Bilibid and have a day in Manila. The weather was fine and it was great to drive up the coast road, through the little towns of Bataan, still ruined by the fighting a year before. We passed through Cabcaben, where we had one of our positions and where General Wainwright had surrendered us. Then on to Abucay, where we had a collecting station in the old Spanish church on the square, through Orani, where the 12th Medical Battalion had its first position in Bataan, and where the full brunt of the war first came to us. On up to San Fernando we went. It was a large town and boasted several theaters.
The truck stopped at one of the Filipino show houses and I realized that my Japanese friends had known of this afternoon performance and had planned this whole expedition around it. We entered the unlighted theatre and it was pitch dark, though the movie was in progress. I had no idea of what to expect. As my eyes became accustomed, I surveyed the situation. It was a large room with rows of fixed wooden seats, very close together, as in most Filipino show houses and there was no space for my knees. We sat down after finding seats in the crowded rows.
The Filipinos peered curiously at us--obviously. Two Japanese soldiers and an American were the last people they might have expected here. The movie brought me back to my childhood in a flash, entirely away from this mad, incongruous theatre-party. I had not seen one of these "serials" since I was ten. The kind that was shown only every Saturday afternoon, the half-hour episode of a continued show. The hero always finds himself in some impossibly dangerous situation; the parachute did not open after rescuing the winsome damsel and then--"Continued Next Saturday." You were left hanging! This one, however, was what we had all waited for. After the first episode, the 2nd quickly followed, and one after another appeared, until all eight or ten were finished, punctuated each half hour by a flash of empty frames, leaving the hero each time in a new and more precarious state. The Filipinos were engrossed like children in every more frightening problem encountered by our tireless hero, each worse than the last. Then flashed, "Continued Next Saturday" until they were gradually built up, along with the Japanese, to an exceedingly high level of excitement.
They could not understand the English quite well enough and were constantly digging me in the ribs to tell them quickly if this one or that one was a "gooda boy" or a "bada man." This went on for hours, "him very gooda boy?" We all had a great time; then the show was over and we came back to reality and left the theatre. They had a few questions on the way to Manila regarding the show and giggled like kids at the answers, which I explained with proper dignity. They stopped at a store in Manila and we all had a hallo-hallo (fruit and beans in crushed ice with syrup over the top, the Filipino equivalent of an ice cream soda). Before long we came to the gate of Bilibid, where they let me off. I met my friends, got some sulfa and plasma, and waited outside the guardhouse at the entrance to the prison, for the Japanese to return.
Heda Gocho and the sergeant drove up, and I boarded the truck in back, in full view of the Bilibid guards whom I felt disapproved of me being left unguarded. After leaving the prison, the Japanese had some errand to do nearby, so they parked the truck at the intersection of two streets and went off again, leaving me alone.
I looked around, thinking how easy it would be to escape, and idly watching across the street where there was a grammar school. The small children, all Japanese, were leaving for the day. Their mothers or sisters had come to escort them home, dressed mostly in soldier and sailor suits. They all had to cross the street, just opposite from where I waited. I began to notice that these little kids were like all others, running about and shouting, but with a difference. Whether they were alone, or with mama-san, or playing ball with some other warrior, as they came to the middle of the street, they stopped whatever they were doing, came to attention, took off their caps, turned toward the north and bowed to the Emperor. Then, on with the caps and back to playing as before. Not one of them skipped it or looked to see if anyone, especially grown-ups, was looking. They all did it, all ages. It occurred to me that here was exhibited a powerful, age old force. I felt that we do not have a blind, magnetic belief built in to us as strong as the Emperor-God of the Japanese, that even impels them to die with ease. I had seen it in many forms since my contact with the Nips, and was uncomfortable about this unfathomable weapon. Before I could consider further, the sergeants had returned and we were off down the road to Little Baguio, and "home."
Before I left Bilibid for this detail, the Japanese, in an effort to stop the growing number of escapes from the various camps and working parties, decided on a new strategem. They allowed us to form into groups of ten prisoners, and we could choose our own members. Their dictum further stated that if anyone of the ten escaped or tried to escape, they would execute the other nine. The idea, of course was to create an incentive to persuade a possible escapee to reconsider.
In the past two weeks, I have talked with a friend, Jack Garcia, of Santa Maria, California, who was on a thirty-man work detail, repairing a bridge with his brother. Despite the guards, one man got away. All day they waited, but he did not return by five p.m. The officer in charge lined them up, and each party of three dug a grave, nine in all. After waiting as long as they could, they were told to fall in line and each third man commanded to step forward. My friend's brother was one who did so. The guards shot each into his grave. It happened at other places also and caused people to be careful in choosing partners, because escape was really quite impossible in a country of brown people.
Of course, members of the Medical Corps did not escape or even try. Our mission was with our patients, for better or worse. One of the life saving procedures we found quite necessary, however, was the planning of escapes as a group. We could think of situations in which escape might be necessary, as in the event of the exodus of ten men. The Japanese said they would then execute 100. So if death was inevitable, it would be better to organize carefully and even resist it.
The plan of escape from Sasaki's detail was elaborate and reached such perfection that it became very tempting for us to try. Ever since, I have thought of it as a wonderful plan to carry through and even write a book about. One of the elements of our scenario was to divide us into groups small enough to meet and discuss without suspicion. First, a group was organized to gather and refurbish an arsenal from the equipment still lying all over Bataan; another unit, to find and load the diesel fuel on the trucks; another to use the weapons to liquidate the camp guards as well as the unit on the dock, who were in contact with the headquarters of the Japanese. All this on a given signal. We planned to use Mr. Marsman's beautiful twin-diesel yacht aboard which lived some of the guards.
Fortunately, many of our 125 members wished to travel in small pre-organized groups and not with the main body. Some wanted to stay on Luzon, some on the island of Mindoro, fifty miles directly south. This was our first night's goal, to sail all night, and hide the boat during the day. We planned to drop some men on Mindanao, and then go on down to Palawan and Borneo by easy stages. Our group included diesel engine experts and others with special talents. It was mostly an engrossing plan to contemplate, in the sometimes boring months of captivity. A leader committee was chosen to give the order to go and to oversee all of the groups, each of which had a leader member. Each group was composed of our best talent in the particular field of endeavor assigned to it. We did not use the plan since we were never again threatened. Our situation in Bataan, away from Japanese headquarters, gave us a twenty four-hour start, while the diesel yacht and the technicians we had all contributed to more probable success.
There were times later when I had occasion to wish that we had taken the chance. The enthusiastic planning groups enjoyed their work so much, and put their hearts and heads into it so fully that it created a sense of elation and cohesive friendship not often seen in a prison camp.
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.
For years I would occasionally think back to these times and speculate as to how I might be affected were I to encounter him somewhere, especially when I was in Japan later on a visit.
In another letter from Dan, received only recently, I learned that my departure from Sasaki's salvage group had been arranged and hastened by a couple of Americans on the detail, one a former third-rate boxer, the other a Chicano of rather doubtful reputation. My feeling that they were informers was inferred by my discovery of their fear of having me on the detail, but it was entirely unsubstantiated until I posed the question in a recent letter.
Dan had also found out about their turncoat activities, as had others in the working party. The boxer had run afoul of another friend of mine in the group, who had been one of my helpers on the carabao-hunting parties I had organized out of Hospital #1. My friend, whom I shall not name, also on Sasaki's working party, was apparently familiar with his falsely informing about me, and this cause for animosity had arisen between them.
Strange to relate, my friend was loading a Nip ship on the docks, using a winch to hoist fifty gallon drums, when the brake "slipped." A drum of oil was dropped "accidentally," and whom do you suppose just happened to be under it? Sure was a sad moment for the boxer!