Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"

MIKADO NO KYAKU (Guest of the Emperor)

Chapter Four - Bilibid Prison Again - Page 55-58
 
Chapter Four

Bilibid Prison Again

The day I was transferred from Camp 10-C to Manila, there were 39 others in the old Datsun army truck. We were taken to Bilibid prison. I had been there in June of 1942 but now it was changed and alive with activity. The place was full of guys with make-shift prosthetics; wooden legs mostly, all hand made as far as I could see. Most of the patients in this hospital were purple heart veterans, it seemed to me.

Emergency cases had wards of their own. Less serious cases, like my intestinal worms, went into Ward 18-A. That meant that I'd get my wish and, eventually, be sent away from these high gray walls to Cabanatuan and the farm at Camp 1.

Bilibid suffered one severe handicap - lack of food. Breakfast was a fair meal: a cereal of rice, peanuts, coconut, and sugar. But there just wasn't enough of it. And, since after an exam by American doctors, most of us patients were put on a 20 vitamin pills per day diet, our appetites were running wild.

As I improved, I was appointed mess carrier for the ward. Occasionally I'd get a little extra food that way. I confess it was all I could do to keep from wolfing the food I was carrying to the other patients. "Get thou behind me Satan and stop pushing." I'd say to my meaner self.

Being ambulatory with a lot of free time, I visited with old friends and took advantage of a fairly good library. I read a lot of classics I wouldn't have ordinarily been attracted to, such authors as Aristotle and Shakespeare. I had committed some of the latter to memory and can still recite it 45 years later. There was a cover-less copy of My Son, My Son, a popular prewar novel, that was very busy. You had to wait in line to check that one out.

Some of the fellows took their books to the latrine to read, and, absent mindedly they would use a page or two for sanitary reasons. A few guys doing that can ruin a book. On April 14th, 1944, a humane society in Manila persuaded the Japanese to allow them to bring in a motion picture projector and show the patient prisoners a movie. One of the particulars of the agreement was that they show some Japanese propaganda news reels before the feature.

Bilibid is built like a huge, wagon wheel with each spoke like building leading from the perimeter to a guard tower high in the center. A translucent screen was rigged between two of the buildings so that the pictures projected upon it could be viewed from either side. Never mind that the image from opposite the machine was reversed.

I took my blanket to sit on and went to the movie area located in front of the main Japanese guard house and picked my spot. Soon I was surrounded by guys who were missing arms and legs, some with canes and crutches, some with odd, hand-fashioned, artificial limbs. Others were carried in on stretchers and propped up so they could see the screen. The small wedged shaped area was soon packed with people. The pictures were started as soon as it was dark enough . We watched films of a Japanese artillery gun crew in Burma disassemble their cannon, one similar to our old French 75mm, load it on their backs and climb a fair size, steep hill. Once on the crest they put it all together again. In spite of the fact they were the enemy and not on our side, I had to admire their effort. The pictures were impressive but long and laborious.

Movie Time...

The feature was "The Egg and I," a film about a couple struggling to make a success at a farming venture. The scenes were wonderfully homey - nice, neat house with a clean looking, roomy kitchen and a table that seemed to be always set and laden with the most delicious looking food any of us had seen since leaving the United States. There were large pitchers of fresh milk, big loaves of homemade bread and platters piled high with fried chicken. How the audience did hoot and holler at scenes like that! Far louder than scenes of attractive women and girls.

The enjoyment of the crowd was interrupted suddenly by some signal in the Japanese guardhouse. The guards burst out running through the audience area running over those still sitting and prostrate wondering what was taking place. The projector stopped and lights were turned on at the top of the building. Some one was yelling, "Everybody return to your ward! Back to your wards!" The guards were running back and forth seemingly not knowing what to do or where to go but causing the panic to continue. Finally no one was left except those on stretchers who couldn't move themselves. How they escaped being trampled to death was just a miracle. Some men and corpsman soon came back to retrieve the confused and bewildered men who had so suddenly been shaken out of their dreams of home. Which had suddenly turned into a wild night of terror and fright.

First thoughts of what had happened was that guerrillas or maybe even commando troops had raided the place at some point or another. No sooner was that discounted when word was passed that one of the guards had accidentally touched one of the high-voltage wires that topped all the exterior walls and, inadvertently, set off the alarm.

The truth was there had been an escape. Actually an escape and attempted escape. Corporal James Carrington, all 110 pounds of him had slipped under the hot wire and over the wall to a friendly outsider who hid him in a cart and whisked him to a guerrilla unit in East Central Luzon many miles away.

Corporal Ray D. Parker, Carrington's partner in the escape plan, was not so lucky and touched some of the six wires they had to pass under and was badly injured. He survived until August 18, 1944 when it is assumed he was executed by the Japanese as he is listed as killed in action on the roster.

The two men had plotted their escape for a time and prepared for it by making cheese from soured, canned, condensed milk. They persuaded a guard during a working party to let them have it.

Jim Carrington of New Orleans, LA went through "boot" camp in my same 55th platoon at San Diego in 1939. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his gallant efforts with the guerrillas in the Philippines, following his escape. After our recruit training, I knew nothing of the "Cajun" as he was known to his friends until his daring escape from Bilibid.

The Japanese were apparently reluctant to recognize that an escape had been made. Although they had apprehended an unconscious attemptee they may not have known that Carrington was successful ahead of Parker and assumed he was the only one. The prison suffered a tightening down and loss of privileges. There certainly were no more movies during my short stay on this occasion and I doubt there ever was. Thirty men in our ward were put in military confinement for three days and nights. The Japanese general order that ten prisoners would be executed for each one who escaped, was not exercised. The patients had not been "organized" into "shooting squads", a plan that predetermined which ten men would be shot if any one of them should escape - the nine remaining plus the group leader.

That shooting squads were not organized had not always made any difference in at least one instance. On a remote labor detail, after a prisoner had escaped, ten men were selected by lots. Little cloth numbers were pinned on each prisoner. Ten numbers were drawn by the Japanese and the luckless men whose numbers were called were taken out shot and buried in a common grave they had been forced to dig before hand. One of my roommates, First Sgt. John Coe, at Futasi City Japan missed being called by one number only and still had the little two inch square cloth number and safety pin for a souvenir.

There was no such drastic punishment at Bilibid. If they knew of Carrington getting away - and they must surely have because of their meticulous records - they played it down. Bilibid was supposed to be escape proof, like the fictional Stalag 13 of TV fame, the Japanese did not wish to suffer loss of face about it. As far as I have been able to find out, Carrington was the only one who ever pulled it off. He still lives in Louisiana as of this writing.

One of my sad recollections of Bilibid was that in wandering around inside the walls I came upon a line of graves. There were about a dozen or so, and the first little shingle marking one was labeled Donald C. Scott. I was shocked to see it. Donald had been a bass horn (sousaphone ) player in the 4th Marines Band when I first came to Shanghai. He was a slight built-man of average height, extremely neat and squared away at all times. The friendly and personable young man, was only a couple years older than myself. He had been dead for almost two years. He was one of the first of our old China Band members to die. In talking to others who knew him, I learned that he had been on a very strenuous work detail at Nichols Field, where the food was far below a level to sustain life, he had been returned to Bilibid, where little help was available much too late, during those summer months of 1942.

 
Next: Chapter 5 - Full Text of MIKADO NO KYAKU (Guest of the Emperor) Please Click Below for:
1. Introduction to Slavery Page 1
2. Our New Home in Bongabon Page 15
3. To the Shade of Mount Penatubo Page 37
4. Bilibid Prison Again Page 55
5. Cabanatuan "Revisited" 1944 Page 59
6. The Nissyo Maru. A True Trip of Terror Page 67
7. Where the Birds Don't Sing and Flowers Don't Smell Page 82
8. The Setting of the Rising Sun Page 99
Epilogue Page 117
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