Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"

MIKADO NO KYAKU (Guest of the Emperor)

Chapter Three - To the Shade of Mount Penatubo - Page 37-54
Chapter Three

To the Shade of Mount Penatubo

All through the rest of the night and into dawn we traveled. Over the Luzon plain and around Mount Araat, the big, strange single mountain that sits near the center of it, like a big mole on an otherwise unblemished skin. Here and there we stopped for no reason that we could figure and then rolled on again. Finally we jolted to a halt at a small barrio.

"Good Lord! it's Dau!' one man exclaimed. Most of the rest of us wondered what that was and how he seemed to know where we were, but we were glad because maybe he could share it with us and tell us just where in the hell we were.

"So what? One place is as good as another unless it's Camp 1." came a philosophical rejoinder.

"But I was just sent away from here two weeks ago and now I'm back again".

"So what's it like? How's the chow? Several of us asked eagerly. The returnee was too dismayed to answer.

We unhappy men of Cabanatuan - tired, thin, nervous - marched toward the little camp on the edge of Clark Air Field. It was designated Camp 10-C by our hosts.

It looked inviting after riding packed tight in the narrow-gauge box cars for so long. The 100 or so POW's on hand to greet us looked big, healthy and high spirited, although some were recognized as death march survivors who had seen untold horrors. They were mostly recovered now and they had had five months of rations much better than at the Cabanatuan Camps. Except for some mouth soreness from not having enough fresh fruit and vegetables, they had only begun to show the beginnings of deficiency sickness. Everything we ate was boiled because of a fear of contracting dysentery from uncooked things. Boiling destroyed much of the very little vitamin C we were getting so signs of scurvy began to appear among them as well as with us.

Some army sergeant came out and called off all our names. None failed to answer up and the Japanese first sergeant, Sibata, was satisfied and had us assigned to barracks. All of us were weary enough to drop and sleep right where we stood but we didn't.

Released from muster, we ran about looking for friends, asking the whereabouts of others, exchanging news and scuttlebutt, like a lot of kids returning from college after summer vacation.

Gratefully, almost unbelievingly, we heard that this camp was nothing more than a little detail used to cut grass and clean up an army post still known as Fort Stotsenburg, now occupied by the Japanese. We heard we'd have two days a week off besides Sunday unless we were assigned to special duty for the enemy brass or for kitchen detail. That proved not to last very long but we found we'd be given plenty of rice to eat if not much else.

It was like in the Apostles Creed "... He ascended into Heaven ..." And it WAS heaven by comparison when we sat down to eat - in a sort of a mess hall, long, thin structure with a roof and some sides of woven bamboo strips that made it look like a gigantic Easter basket turned upside down. Inside were long rows of wooden tables with bench seats built onto the legs like very large picnic furniture in a roadside rest stop. They were even set with salt shaker dispensers. It was the food served at our first meal that impressed us. Again it was just rice and soup but what soup! Not the thin, watery junk like at the Cabanatuan camps but a vegetable-rich stew of beans and eggplant. There was no meat but there was some oleomargarine, the first we had seen since becoming prisoners seven months before. Amazingly, one could have as much rice as he wanted. The trading market in meals and uneaten portions dropped to almost nothing.

That night some of us slept in iron beds with mattresses; the Japanese told us that we could have lumber and tools to make beds for the luckless few that didn't have any so that they would not have to sleep on the wooden floors of the barracks. There were no blankets but even the floors made a far better place to sleep than the split bamboo slats of Camp 1.

The camp layout consisted of a row of six or seven, 30 by 50 foot barracks, something on the order of double-wide mobile homes only larger. The last building on the end was the mess hall and cook shack. Opposite was what had once been a headquarters building for the 92nd Bomb Group. It was much longer and housed the Japanese guards. An additional specially-designed building on the opposite side of the wash room and latrines housed the few American prisoner officers. The commander, the adjutant and the doctor. One room was set aside for sick call. Another long building faced the row of barracks, turned at a right angle to them. It contained the latrines on one end and the showers and wash racks on the other. There was an ample supply of running water, and all the buildings were wired for electricity. The power, however, was turned on only during the early evening and it was not a very strong current. Each building had three, bare bulb drop lights. The whole camp was enclosed within a simple two-or-three strand barbed wire and wooden fence about 4 foot high. It was intended to merely mark the camp boundaries rather than prevent anyone from going through it. The guards patrolled the perimeter on the inside at predictable intervals and left one soldier to walk a random post on each side of the camp. These conditions were to change later, but at the outset it was a very loosely guarded camp.

The Japanese unit that was utilizing us for the maintenance work in and around Clark Air Base was some sort of a support battalion organized to maintain a relay stop for combat air squadrons moving between the homeland and the battle zones in the South Pacific. The nature of these troops was somewhat more relaxed than any we had dealt with before. They were a lot more congenial and friendly. On the march to and from work details, they did not resort to harassment and would chat with us. Usually, they would call a short rest period upon reaching the job site and divide up their cigarettes with the smokers. Rest periods were frequent and often ran overtime. Only one or two of the personnel were hostile. We gave them nick names such as: Ed G for Edward G. Robinson, the Irishman (he had blue eyes), Eddie Cantor and others according to who we thought they looked like.

Throughout the months of November '42, I worked on various details, cutting grass one day, moving furniture the next, all easy chores. Especially cutting grass in the Barrio Margot, a small village near the base that, in the peacetime past, had been a housing area for many of the Philippine Scouts and soldiers and their dependents stationed on the Base and the nearby fort. It was occupied by very friendly natives who gave us food and helped transact trades and exchanges for food and other needs which we could at first smuggle easily back into our camp.

Among Japanese prison camps I ever heard about, Clark Field 10-C was certainly one of the most lenient. Maybe it was the only "good" camp in those early days of 1943 in terms of treatment and getting enough to eat, even though it was so nutritionally imbalanced. There were only a couple things wrong with my Heaven. I was there denied my freedom and my feet hurt. Every day they hurt even more severely.

I was not alone, and the groans and moans of those who had the malady must have helped keep the guards awake. It was a helplessly brutal situation. The skin all over the feet from the ankle down burned like they were being held forcefully too close to a hot stove. There was no relief by rubbing or binding them or anything like that. These practices just made them hurt all the more.

By early December, I was an invalid. I went to sick call knowing full well I would be in a long line with others suffering from the same thing and that I would be told, "If you can get hold of some eggs or bananas, mangoes or anything like that, your problem will go away." That's about all Doctor Kearn, our one and only doctor, could prescribe. I'm sure that he ascertained it was the recent draft of new prisoners from Cabanatuan that had begun to suffer the painful malady we called dry beriberi. Earlier arrivals seemed to be getting enough B vitamins to forestall it. Dr. Kearn may well have thought that we who suffered would, in time, recover from it now that we were getting the more substantial rations of this camp.

The doctor did prevail on the Japanese officials of our camp to bring him a patent medicine from pharmacies in Manila called Lydia Pinkhams' Remedy Compound. This was a popular product of that age whose makers claimed would benefit women suffering from painful menstrual cramps. It supposedly contained a high concentration of B vitamins. It's main ingredient was made from rice hulls, bran and polishings. Dr. Kearn also was given some paregoric, an opium derivative, with which he laced the Pinkham compound. Standing there with the bottle in one hand, and a mess kit spoon in the other, he would administer each beriberi sufferer a dose of the dark brown syrupy liquid, rinsing the spoon between each of us in a jar of water.

Surely the doctor didn't hope to cure our disease with this treatment.

Perhaps the issuing of a whole bottle, sans paregoric, each day for a while might have. However it did ease the pain in my feet. Either that or I was so affected by the drug that I didn't care. I remember we laughed a lot for a while after a treatment and got some of our first uninterrupted sleep for many weeks. What would we be laughing about? Probably that we had no menstrual cramps.

It was not a humorous condition. Some of the men knew that such a disease had been prevalent in the Southeastern United States among residents whose diet was limited to corn bread and boiled pork fat. Pellagra and beriberi were very common there in years gone by. Known too was the fact that the vitaminosis, (illness brought on by less than minimum dietary requirements) did not stop at the feet but would eventually creep along until it paralyzed other nerves and damaged the heart. And that meant death.

One advantage of my painful, sleepless nights was to get some free cigarettes from one of the more friendly guards in exchange for my keeping an eye out for his corporal while he got a little rest and a few winks. I could trade the cigarettes for better things or cut them up into little three inch segments to share with my buddies who shared good things with me. I could have easily overpowered the guard but knew better than to attempt it. It would have resulted in too much chaos for the others, and I could have hardly gotten very far. The nearest friendly troops that I knew about was most likely 3000 miles to the south. Strange how the guard trusted me. But I think he felt I was too weak and in no position to attempt a break. If so, I most surely had to agree with him.

Christmas in Camp...

Christmas was our salvation. It brought us Red Cross packages and cartons of canned food. What wonderful presents! Packages filled with rich, nutritious corned beef, beans and beef, and peas and beef from South Africa. Ours was a very generous share of the food brought in by the Swedish exchange ship, the SS Gripsholm. Each prisoner got four cartons each that first issue. The food came in parcels weighing about eleven pounds. Two packages were issued to each prisoner. Each package contained: a pound can of dry milk (Klim brand - milk spelled backwards); a half pound bar of processed cheese; a large can of salmon or, in some cases, mackerel; three two ounce cans of soft butter; a small container of dehydrated coffee; a can of Spam (I was surprised to learn most Gl's hated Spam, but it was most welcome here); packages of crackers much like HiHo's; candy bars; and about eight packages of American cigarettes; a tin of pipe tobacco; and tea, real fine black tea and white, refined sugar to sweeten it. We were flabbergasted at our immediate and sudden, bountiful good fortune.

It would be hard for anyone to imagine the joy such simple gifts as these brought to us. Something like receiving a boxcar full of Cadillacs I expect. As soon as each person had consumed some of his goodies along with the added novelty of having something more delicious to eat than plain rice and soup, it satisfied our immediate hunger. Later, I learned that the distribution of Red Cross relief supplies at Clark Field, particularly food, was quite generous in comparison to other camps. Some poor devils never received any. In many camps the Japanese guards made off with everything in them that they wanted and left precious little for the poor, starving prisoners. If thievery and pilfering happened in our camp, it escaped my notice.

I belonged to a group of four men in my barracks called a clique. There were all kinds, sizes and types of cliques. These groups banded together to pool resources, talents and abilities. Individuals could fare better in such groups than going it alone. Whatever a member of a clique managed to acquire on work details or in trading deals, he was expected to share with the others in the group. While some members were gone from the barracks, those remaining would look after the other's property. The forces of survival and the desire for just a little comfort can bring out the worst in some people. It was not good to turn your back on stuff another might covet. Stealing among the prisoners was a serious offense. But it could happen and if reported to the Japanese in any convincing way, it would exact a terrible punishment on the perpetrator. No plea bargaining in prison camp justice.

My clique members were Privates First Class Lyle J Brown from Boulder, Colorado; William Luther, from Cairo, Illinois; Thornton Hamby of Lubbock, Texas; and myself. Brown and Luther had more or less permanent work details which brought them in contact with Japanese troops, who would deal, and also with native citizens in the area. Anything of the slightest use was brought into the camp. They brought me a Simmons bedspring for my bed. I expect they thought it would help me sleep better because I was having such a hard time with beriberi. Because I was sick a lot, I did most of the cooking of extra food to augment our regular rations. Our captors allowed us to make small fires in one designated area where we could cook beans, make tea and roast a kind of sweet potato called a comote. We called this practice 'quaning' from a word "quan" in the Luzon dialect that I understood to mean something miscellaneous. The use of the word became generic to our vocabulary. Both Brown and Luther were natural entertainers, especially Brown who was a master story teller. His yarns about his experience as a truck driver in Nebraska and growing up on his grandfather's farm in Eastern Colorado were hilarious. The folks had a very young daughter not much older than her nephew, Lyle. Their escapades on the farm, tantalizing the hired help were some of the best entertainment we had at Clark. Luther was a bright young man with a great personality and a fine sense of humor. He did much of the planning and figured out all the details of our operations, such as costs, values and advantages. He had a great knack for knowing a good deal. He could make something good out of nothing, or so it seemed. He collected many tools and kept them stashed around hidden from the guards. Some of them were not "legal", such as bolo knives, axes and hammers. Occasionally the Japs would hold a shakedown, but Bill was always fortunate to keep them out of the way. He could make just about anything from wood, rubber and scrap aluminum.

My friend William Luther also made me a pair of shoes. Go-aheads we called them. He carved them from pieces of firewood, the hard, dark centers of chunks cut to cook our rice They fit the bottom of my feet perfectly. Some stiff, rubber-like straps from an old truck tire were tacked across the toes, like shower shoes are made. They lasted me a long time.

Our group was on good terms with other groups with which we sometimes would join to eat a big meal together when there was something special available or for a special occasion. A clique across the aisle from us was not one of them. Its members had once worked in the kitchen but got kicked out for taking too much advantage of their opportunities. It was a tight group determined to survive at the expense of everyone else, if necessary. They were not hostile but did nothing to earn much trust. We watched them closely. During my most severe beriberi illness, I did manage to cook the mongo or mung beans purchased with Red Cross package cigarettes, mostly. I would try to have them ready when the other fellows returned from working outside the camp The tiny lentil like beans that we called mongo beans, were one of the few sources of local protein. This bean is used most often to make bean sprouts for Chinese cuisine. Mixed with our regular rice it slid down a little easier.

Private Thornton E. Hamby remembers we successfully cooked beans electrically. In a recent letter he recalls:" ... we made a pot to cook mongo beans. We used a gallon can, put a wood lid on it with two spikes (large nails) and tied electric wires with a plug in the electric socket." My recollection is the same and except that the beans got a little discolored, they were still delicious. Cooking time also varied with the amount of salt added. I expect this method added some amount of minerals and iron to our crazy diet.

Hamby was one of the hard productive workers of our clique. He and his work buddy spent some time attempting to repair a Diesel engine out in the hills near Clark Air Base. A task that gave them some special opportunities to scrounge and wheel and deal, I'm sure.

After the Red Cross packages came, I made tea, gallons of it, two pots at a time. Sometimes we would cut the cards to see who would make the next pot. My feet still hurt a lot even for a time after the food came in. My actions were like that of an aged person, I walked gingerly and shakily over everything. Slowly I recovered; by June I was almost restored, the pains were gone and I could see better. I could focus on things and read print again, no more double vision.

All the good food was gone by then or out of reach to deal for. Some men held on to things in order that the value of them would appreciate and command a better trade. When Red Cross food items were plentiful, a can of Spam would hardly bring a canteen cup of brown sugar. Now the owner of one can would ask for as much as 50 pounds for it. Our Nipponese hosts made some yeast available, and each week they issued us one can of bully beef and one can of meat and vegetable stew per man for twelve weeks. I believe this did the most to stop the suffering from our lack of vitamins. My sore and aching feet stopped hurting to an almost unnoticeable level. I began to go on work details, digging in the sand to produce building materials, cutting into the sides of hills to make revetments for the Japanese to put their airplanes It was a violation of the International agreement for the treatment of prisoners of war to force such labor, but somehow it gave us heart to know that they thought they would be needing them. It meant the Yanks and tanks must be drawing closer.

After that I began to suffer from a great many skin ulcers. Just the slightest bruise would result in a large, ugly, festered sore. Healing up was very difficult and may have been impossible if not for some of the sulfa drugs sent to us by the Red Cross. My problem was complicated because of being a light-skinned red head. The bright sun at that latitude was sometimes a great enemy; with so little clothing available I was at its mercy outside.

Prison Camp-Style Extraction...

The candy and sweets in our Red Cross parcels brought about a few new problems like toothache, for one. Some of us had gotten a Japanese army issue toothbrush or two and had managed to hold on to at least one from the beginning. There was a tooth powder of Japanese make that came in little paper bags and had a strong peppermint flavor. It was sold in the little "post exchange" or ship's store that was sometimes operated in the camp. It proved to be a fairly good dentifrice, but most fellows used the ashes from cigarettes and tobacco. It seemed to work just as good, and the tooth powder was used to flavor rice or a rarely produced cake I got my first toothache at Clark Field which I recall was pretty severe. All my teeth had become loose but this one in the back of my upper jaw gave me a bad time. I went to sick call to see if Dr. Kearn had any thing for it. A small amount of the Red Cross medical stuff had come in from Billibid. The doctor said upon examining the hurting tooth, "All I can do is try to pull it but I don't have anything to give you for the pain."

"Okay, Sir. Whatever has to be done", I replied "Come back at 2 PM and I'll try it," he ordered.

I suffered through the morning and went back to the doctor's office when, whatever means of telling time in camp indicated, it was two PM. Some internal camp staffs had a man ring bells navy style to keep track of time. None but the Japanese had watches, but all sorts of sundial time keeping was done. In the doctors office was just a straight, wooden chair and a small table covered with a little towel, one pair of forceps and a small scalpel, the entire instrumentation of the dental operation. The corpsman logged me in and the doctor entered soon after:

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"Yes Sir" I replied nervously, still in a lot of throbbing pain.

"We will have to extract your tooth without any Novocain because none has been sent up from Manila yet. Do you think you can stand it?

"Yes sir, I'll do my best."

"It won't be easy because it's an upper. If it were a lower you would naturally help more by pulling away from me. Since it is on top you will have to try to hold your head back as best you can."

I nodded agreement and he began. It was difficult and it was brutal, but my threshold of unbearable pain must have been advanced many levels above norm. First, he cut the tissue around the tooth, then he gripped it with the forceps. He twisted and tugged for seemingly a long time. I tried to help him get it over with. I began to bleed profusely
and he stopped to rest. He was perspiring even though the room was not excessively hot. He said something about the forceps not being the right type for the job and that it was a hard job, and after a couple more tries he was successful; he seemed exhausted and drained by the process. He pressed a clean wad of cotton into the now empty socket and gave me some instructions about not rinsing and spitting. I walked out of the office under my own power. I was still hurting but it was a different hurt and I knew that it would stop soon. The bad tooth would never hurt again. We may not have had an ordained dentist in our camp, but we had one heck of a doctor. Months later Dr. Kearn would again figure in the course of my life and, in effect, save it as will be related ina few pages to follow.

Infallible Fallagan...

One of our fun makers was a young man named Fallagan, "Infallible Fallagan", from Orlando, Florida. A dark haired, bronze skinned descendent of stout Irish folk. He was a Signal Corps soldier who had a marvelous talent for writing and making comicbook like colored drawings. He was to effect the greatest change in our camp of anyone to be confined there. He did this by successfully escaping!

It was the night of April Fool, 1943. The Japanese non-coms allowed us to have an entertainment in the space between the end of our mess hall and their quarters. A couple of lights were strung up and bench seats were arranged in front of an unraised stage. Anyone with talent or not was encouraged to get up and perform recitations, tell jokes or sing a song. Prizes were given to those who made the effort. In preparation I learned the words to a song, an old British ballad called, "On the Road To Mandalay."

"On the road to Mandalay where the flying fishes play. Where the dawn comes up like thunder.

In China across the way .... "

The program went off without a hitch. Most of the Japanese guards not on duty were there and the honcho, First Sergeant Sibata, had invited some of his officer superiors who were seated in comfortable chairs in the front row. Most of the prisoners were there. Some hilarious routines were performed; then it was my turn to sing. And I sang, not very well but as loud as I could. That was an old nonsensical rule of thumb in our 4th Marines band: "..if you can't play good, play loud." I moved around a little during my rendition and everybody could see that the seat of my old khaki cutoffs were worn out in the seat and most of my buns exposed. Either the Japs were impressed with my singing or my need for new pants. I was awarded a pair for my effort. The extent of our captor's compassion sometimes confounded me unmeasureably.

This was the last night of our reasonably "happy home - away from home". While we were enjoying ourselves, one man flew the coop, stepped over the wire in the dark and went over the "hill". No one missed him until "tenko" ( muster) the next morning. All prisoners were assembled in groups according to barracks each morning in the large area between prisoner headquarters and the wash room. Each barracks had an assigned leader who was responsible to count his group and report to the Japanese sergeant. Barracks 4 was one man short. Four times the count was repeated. Each time short. The missing man was infallible Fallagan!

We all waited, standing in long tiresome lines, while our conquerors searched for their missing guest, inside the camp, outside, in the neighborhood. It seemed no one could believe that one prisoner was gone not even the Japanese.

The senior prisoner commander, army captain Flemming, the barracks leader, and all the Jap noncoms went to search the barracks. There was a lot of slapping going on and yelling of both Japanese and broken English phrases, but there was no Fallagan. He left most of his stuff, including his writings and drawings, among which were some colorful cartoon panels of a superhuman character he called "The Black Spider". His fictional hero was shown shooting down Japanese fighter and bomber planes. A handwritten narrative detailed an elaborate and fanciful escape story. Fallagan had involved a number of prisoners including camp commander Flemming.

"Bet they won't let us have any breakfast," someone muttered. We stood there in the sun for several hours while the Japs ran around trying to figure out what to do. They wouldn't let us go for any reason. Only those who had thoughtfully strapped on their belts with canteens had any water. The sun rose swiftly and very hot. Most had not even bothered to take any kind of head gear to tenko. Just after 9 AM we were released to eat our lugao (rice cooked soft and mushy, like oatmeal). Apparently, someone persuaded our hosts to let us have it since it was already cooked. We ate heartily and in a hurry to get back and secure a supply of water before it was shut off for punishment. Also there was great concern that the next few meals might not be forthcoming.

While we waited for something to happen, the Japanese continued to hunt the fugitive. We sat around and talked about it. One story was that the daring young man had outside help to guide him through the area to known guerrilla bands operating in the nearby Zambales mountains. Supposedly, his girl friend was then living in Bario Margot and may have made all the outside arrangements for his escape. It would have been very difficult to have made it successfully without them. I have never caught up with a verified account of Fallagan's farewell to Camp 10-C. It is the consensus of all my inquiries that he did survive to return to the U. S. after the war.

Several weeks later, after the weird strains of a Japanese bugle call, the equivalent of our "Taps", the still of the night was violently interrupted by small arms fire coming from the general direction of old Fort Stotsenburg. The shooting grew in intensity until the whole camp was aroused. The Japanese broke out their entire guard detachment, posted extra soldiers at the gate and on patrol around the camp perimeter. I rose up in my bunk as did all around me. Most had not yet gotten to sleep because of our sore and aching feet; others jumped up to try and see what was going on.

"Stay inside!" barked someone in the darkness.

Going outside would have been dangerous had the guards assumed the prisoners were involved in the shooting. But the action was some distance away. A large fire loomed up and colored the sky to the west of us a bright orange-red. It could be seen easily through the open shutter windows on the end of our barracks. The shooting finally tapered off and was replaced by a lot of shouting that died away with the fire.

The next day a working party was taken to the location of the fire. A cluster of buildings much like our barracks had been burned. They had been used to store bags of cement, thousands of them brought in for planned airstrip construction. The returning workers reported that now the cement was without shelter and might be ruined if it should rain. They had been put to work to move and cover the stacks and stacks of still dry powder. In doing so, they found and returned with a portion of a cement bag that had some hastily written messages on it about the war in the South Pacific, even with a map showing MacArthur's progress with his promise to return. The scrawled message was signed with just a fast sketch of a spider and the words "The Spider" I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. Was it Falligan? It could hardly have been anyone else.

Falligan's handwritten stories made it go very hard on people he picked from among his friends and acquaintances and used as characters for his narratives. The enemy assumed they were real escape plots. Everyone he knew or associated with was brutally grilled to the third degree. Captain Flemming was beaten in front of everyone then tied to a post in front of the Japanese guard barracks. Nobody was allowed to go near him and he suffered terribly. He was "court martialed" by a Japanese panel and taken to the dungeon in Old Fort Santiago at Manila's walled city. We supposed he perished there, but he survived and was living as late as 1991. Hamby reported to me that he had correspondence with him then. He remembers Flemming as being a very young officer and one who stood up to our captor officials with his efforts to maintain and improve camp conditions. "T.E.", as we always called Hamby, felt great gratitude to the young captain for keeping J. W. Hough and himself from being shot. What little transgression they had committed to warrant such a corporal punishment, I don't know. I just know it didn't take much to get a death sentence during those terrible days of anxiety.

A Japanese officer came toward evening, met with our officers, then made a short speech. Anyone else who tried to escape would be shot. Only those who remained in camp would get to return home again after the war was over. He said that Falligan had been recaptured. We didn't believe it then nor several times later when the same word was passed along again. Had they done so, he would have most likely been returned for the rest of us to see, then he would have been tortured and, undoubtedly, executed before our eyes - the usual penalty for attempted escape. I had seen it before and it would not have been surprising to see such a sickening spectacle again.

We were all warned that any further escape attempts would mean that prisoners would die. Ten for each one who tried it! The camp commander and the barracks leader would also be executed. We were to be organized into "shooting squads". A list of ten men, any one of whom might try to escape, would cause the others to be summarily shot as well. The lists were made the next day. The entire population was broken out a day or so later and positioned all around the perimeter of the Japanese guard barracks. The posts attaching it to the concrete piers were unbolted and on command the building was lifted up and carried to a new position north of the camp enclosure. Three hundred men must have had to lift about 100 pounds or more each and then carry it about 50 yards, a little more than half the length of a football field.

A large crew of Filipino workman came with lumber, posts and barbed wire and began a new double apron fence around camp. A large gate was established in front of the Japanese quarters. The guard patrols walked outside the fence and the detachment guarding us must have suffered a great loss of face for allowing an escape to occur. Things were never quite the same again. The only friendliness seen much after that was occasionally on a work detail. But no prisoner attempted another escape at Clark Field during the 18 months I spent there.

By Christmas though, things had improved to the extent that we were given some more Red Cross boxes. Not as many as before but we got some. Most of the cigarettes had been dealt off for mongo beans, dark brown sugar and whatever else they would buy on the local market. The little commissary operated from time to time and the Japanese passed out a little of their occupation currency, "Mickey Mouse" money for our labor. The commissary never had much stock to see but, if one had the money, a limited amount of native brown "doby" sugar, mongo beans, and strange tasting condiments were available. On rare occasions, it would have a few, small bananas and maybe a most delicious mango. It was possible by trading off things to raise funny money and because of it the money supply became abundant. Supplies were however very limited. Customers had to place orders in advance of a possible delivery. Orders were entered in a priority book. The book became excessively plastered by people who had enough money to deposit thus ensuring they would get what they wanted. If a man wanted a new toothbrush, he would best place orders for several in order to just get one. If a person got more than wanted, the extra could be sold at a profit. Ordering only one most likely would result in a nothing. That's the way the system worked As money became even more abundant than goods, the priority system almost collapsed from it's own weight. The camp economics seemed a lot like that in a few places in the world I've since learned about, and none of them work much better.

"Monte Carlo"...

With the camp money market glutted the next thing that happened was gambling. One barracks was turned into a place we called "Monte Carlo". It was unique in any prison camps I ever saw or heard of. There were roulette wheels, crude though they were, they worked; chuck-a luck cages; crap tables, and 21 games. The invention and ingenuity demonstrated in fashioning the equipment and fixtures were truly remarkable. From out of nowhere things were found and smuggled in. The building was rewired and bright lights were hung up over the tables. The other barracks had three low wattage lamps but Monte Carlo had a lot. The current must have overheated the small power generating unit still running in a nearby village, where the power came from. All lights were supposed to be turned out by 8:30 PM. Monte Carlo got away with it for a time. At first the Japanese were just amazed but didn't shut it down. Some even came to watch; it was the best show in town. One Japanese corporal brought his money which he promptly lost. He took his loss with only a grumble as he left the building muttering, in his own tongue, "I don't understand, I don't understand"; not at all an unusual reaction after playing a losing game of chance. My best recollection is that the practice dried up when the novelty wore off and the prisoners who won all the money found they couldn't use it for much of anything and the losers didn't care anymore.

Thoughts began to return to food again. There was less talk about big boobs, big cars and booze. The more scarce food becomes, the more it's talked about. The more outlandish and fantastic the recipes become. The rice ration remained about the same, but the meat and vegetables fell off. A few hams of Chinese origin were brought in. They were more bone than meat, shriveled, small and tasted of formaldehyde. We called them embalmed hams. But it was protein - precious protein - our lives depended on getting at least a little of it. There were too few of them and all we saw of them on the dinner table were a few red flecks of meat in the rice. A truckload of little, green limes came in once or twice and were most welcome and helpful because of their vitamin content. They came from Baguio, a city in the highlands of northern Luzon. The climate there was favorable to the growing of things Americans were more familiar with.

Occasionally, our cooks would be issued a live pig. In one instance, one of the porkers died in the truck enroute back to the camp from the market. The cooks gallantly tried to dress and save the precious meat but for some reason it had such a disagreeable taste and, when some of it was cooked with the rice it ruined the batch. No one could eat it and it was thrown out. Some said it was because the animal was an unaltered male; some said had it not been, there would have been no problem with it. That we even tried to save it points out the desperate need for fresh meat.
Mikado No Kyaku: (guest of the Emperor), the Recollections of Marine Corporal Donald L. Versaw as a Japanese Prisoner of War during World War II
Japanese Occupation Money ("Mickey Mouse" Money)
Money came into the camp mostly from the dealings with people on the outside. More "Mickey Mouse" money, a term that for years afterwards would apply to any irregular or foreign currency. It is strange to look back at it now when real Mickey Mouse money is issued, dollar for dollar at all the Disneyland parks. If our generous and benevolent hosts remunerated us for our hard labor, I don't remember going to paycall. The grand plan of the Japanese High Command was: You work, you eat. That's your pay. You don't eat so much, if at all. Some of the prisoners had friends on the outside who sent in money, although it was never enough to cause the trouble it did at Cabanatuan about the same time. Funds from profits of the commissary and the Japanese may have paid officers a small amount for our "services", but it seems unlikely. Wherever it came from, the Japanese allowed us to purchase a young carabao steer for our Christmas dinner. It was a strong healthy looking animal, almost coal black. I remember it being led into the camp and to the kitchen for slaughter. A deep pit was dug in the clean rocky sands near the kitchen on Christmas Eve. The larger rocks, about the size of basketballs and footballs were returned to the bottom of the pit. An extra detail of volunteers gathered up scrap wood, tree limbs and other burnable trash and threw it all in the pit on top of the rocks. Set afire and kept burning until the rocks were very hot and in a wash of burning charcoal. Using long bamboo poles, the packages of seasoned meat wrapped in wet, green, banana plant leaves, were lowered into the pit and set upon the rocks. The pit was then refilled with sand and the meat was allowed to cook until the next day.

Our Christmas dinner in the year 1943 was the most remarkable of the three that I spent in captivity. No matter that some of the fresh meat and probably some of the cooked was siphoned off by enterprising galley personnel and others who had the connections and the influence. Everybody got a substantial share of meat on his platter. Many of us had large chinaware serving platters "liberated" from old Fort Stotsenberg mess halls. One of them could have held the rations for a squad or so of men in most camps; they were handy for our Christmas dinner.

Camp Gardening...

Many prisoners cultivated little pepper plants under the eaves of our barracks, near their bunks where they could tend and watch them. The green things were really red hot and, when steeped in a bottle of salty water, made a zesty condiment for seasoning rice. A few more enterprising "farmers" grew some tomatoes and planted papaya trees with mixed success. Those with producing minigardens were able to spice up their Christmas dinner with a special flavor. It was not needed, however; just the taste of barbecued Philippine water buffalo was delicious. Something exceptionally memorable under conditions that were also, very exceptional.

In the early winter of 1943, the enemy stepped up his effort to improve Clark Field. More prisoners were brought in from Cabanatuan and huge drafts of civilian workers could be seen working near the old, grass runways. The projects began as rock digging details. A young captain was in charge in our area. He was harsh but sensible; he understood that men doing such heavy work as shoveling rock and sand into the grading screens had to be substantially fed. Our rations were increased to include a variety of things; a few more mongo beans, squash sprinkled with native brown sugar and an occasional touch of meat or fish. There was even a few small watermelons, issued but to so many men, it was more like a food sample in a supermarket.

A work quota system was established. Produce so many rocks of a certain grade size, and the crew was through for the day. With good old American ingenuity, we quickly ironed out the flaws in our digging system and sometimes filled our quota by the noon hour. Then, carrying flags with numbers showing our days work was done, we marched back to the camp for the improved chow and a book in the barracks. We rationalized the obvious use of our slave labor for a military project as one which our forces would benefit from once they returned to the Philippines. The enemy's objective was to construct concrete runways. We always feared our hosts would raise the quota but they never did, in my time.

Many of us believed that the use of prisoners of war to construct military works was a violation of the Geneva Conference rules, which we believed the Japanese had signed. It is not likely that it would have made any difference to them one way or the other. To the Japanese, prisoners of war were just so many non-people, dead, written off; who would really care very much?

Clark Field was a military target and would be well within range of Allied strike forces soon. It seemed to me that preparations for that time had been speeded up considerably. I took some comfort in thinking the rocks we dug up and separated would be handy for our Yanks' use when they retook Luzon.

Most of the prisoners at Clark Field seemed to be inventors in one way or another. The junk in the Japanese-wrecked airplane dump next to our camp, was a source of supply for many, fine things - chairs, tables, equipment for kitchens, repairs for shoes from rubber tires. Necessity became the mother again, via the hundreds of pieces retrieved from the junk pile. Every night, as the big detail returning from work passed the junk, several men would break rank to gather up loose pieces, or to shake and pound a piece loose before the guard decided the process was irregular and shooed them back into line. Sometimes, as we were being counted, the guards would blow their tops about the haul. Other times, they wouldn't say a word but take large items such as airplane wheels with tires (the magnesium in wheels made good fuel) and oil drums. But we never gave up. During the time I was at old Camp 10C, the junk yard moved slowly but steadily toward the camp.
Next: Chapter 4 - 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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