FIVE - The Battle is Over
The Japanese made their landing on the opposite end of the island from us. We were held in place to repel what was expected to be the main enemy thrust at our western sector. It proved to be unnecessary because of the success of their landing forces on the eastern shores. Once those had advanced on the fort’s nerve center, Malinta tunnel near the center of the island, it was soon over. On May the 6th, 1942, the order came down from higher headquarters to destroy all things of value. Everything but food.
Because President Franklin Roosevelt’s promise of reinforcements did not materialize, any hope of holding out longer was gone. Corregidor would be surrendered. The commander, Lieutenant General Johnathan Wainwright, fearing for the lives of the wounded in the underground hospitals and the thousands of refugees elsewhere, went forward under a flag of truce and negotiated a cease fire. Victory would come. I don’t know anyone who didn’t believe that, but it would not be soon enough and many would never see it. The strain of nearly constant artillery and aerial bombardment of the fortress had become almost unbearable. When it stopped it was a kind of relief. The feeling of being able to walk around outside a hole without shells or bombs raining down and hitting the crests up above was very strange. The immediate fulmination seemed passed.
Had we known more of what ordeals were yet to come, the danger and terror of being prisoners of war, we might have elected to choose more bombs and shells instead.
Our Company commander Major James S. Bradley had the company formed along the road and made a little speech. He said we need not be ashamed that we had done our duty as asked and could hold up our heads. He said the battle was over but the war was not and that America would win in time. Now we would become prisoners of war and not to expect anything more than a bare existence. Anything more would be velvet. And, then he led us, with a guidon carrying a white flag, in a column of four marching down South Shore Road toward the center of the island. There we were met by some Japanese soldiers who went up and down our lines taking our watches, rings and anything they wanted or didn’t want us to have. We all had little left after that and it was the very end of the Third Platoon, Second Battalion, Company E, 4th Marines the last China Band before World War II and the 4th Marines.
For a long time now we had been on reduced rations. In January they had been cut in half. Two meals a day that became smaller and smaller as the weeks passed. A morning meal was either thin oatmeal canned milk, and coffee, or two small pancakes and a bit of white syrup. If there was bread we might get one piece of it fried. The mess sergeant called it “french toast”. It was only that in name, for there were no eggs. Bread was usually for the evening meal, served with dried beef gravy, a few canned vegetables, and occasionally, a dab of peanut butter and jelly, with a canned peach half for desert. Most of us got very thin. The chubby guys got their weight down and looked in good shape, but malnutrition had already had it’s effect on all of us. Our immune systems had already begun to fail. While the cold storage plant still operated we got a piece of meat a couple times a week but after it was destroyed there was none. Not until bombs hit the stables and killed some army mules. The fort butchers dressed them and for the first time in many weeks we had fresh meat. Roast mule. Don’t look for recipes for it in any CI cook books. I doubt that any are there and wouldn’t recommend them even if there were. The gravy wasn’t too bad but when I tried to eat my small, dark, course grained piece it stuck in my throat.
Back home on farms in Nebraska I had followed a few mules around the fields weeding corn. The animals I knew were gentle, friendly, and compliant, mostly. I never abused them so we got along fine. But eating the flesh of one was something I never thought I would have to do. Now, as hungry as we were, it was even a little repulsive and I had to force myself to swallow some bites and fight off the first revulsion. I could see the great long ears of old Ginnys back home, rotating fore and aft as they trudged along between the green corn rows. It took a lot of effort to put that scene out of my mind and finish my small ration. Knowing that my body needed the nourishment was the compelling force. It would not be enough. The effects of malnutrition had already begun and the devastations of it were not far in the future.
A few of us would go through the ordeal of prison camp side by side for the next three and a half years. Most would never meet again after that fateful day. At the beginning we used to say when anything was lost or damaged that it was expendable. Now we, ourselves had been expended by our Nation’s unpreparedness. Someone once wrote a book, “They Were Expendable” about the Bataan POWs. Most of our band would survive and endure the suffering, the hardships, and the misery of prison; slave labor details, hunger and harassment, and the terrorizing voyages on hell ships. We too, had been expendable.
Some of the bandsman entertained their fellow POWs in various camps by forming and playing in small groups, our captors would sometimes allow. George Francis was taken to
Niigata, Japan. There he was allowed to form a small band with new instruments he bought on a shopping excursion with one of the guards.
Earlier, Franklin Boyer and Kenneth Marshall performed with a band at Cabanatuan Prison, the largest of all in the Philippines.
There was even a little group in the notorious prison on Palawan Island organized by Lou Curtis but, very fortunately, he was returned to Luzon and thus saved from the holocaust massacre the
Japs perpetrated on the remaining prisoners in December of 1943. The rest of the little group perished there along with bass horn player, PFC George Walker and trumpeter, PFC William Fryer, veterans of both the North China and Shanghai Marine bands.
Many others used their talent and ability to entertain and help everyone ease the minds and suffering during the almost 40 months of internment even while being forced to work in the enemy’s mines, shops and factories. At times, even our captors seemed interested and pleased by the efforts of our musicians and entertainers. But then, there were other times when it seemed nothing could calm the savage beasts among them.
After the war many of us, now having invested many years in our military careers remained in the service and continued to play in other bands. A few returned to civilian life. Sadly, some of our band troops did not make it through and it is to their memory and those who have gone since that this little piece is dedicated. It was one of my great gifts in life to have had the privilege of being a member of the 4th Marines Band. Many of them earned and deserved my admiration and I shall always wish to remember the 4th Marines band.
The following is a roster of the musicians and former musicians who put their instruments aside to perform the fundamental duties of every Marine: to defend our country and the honor of our Corps.