Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

Robert Adams

My initial place of detention was Bilibid Prison in Manila, P.I.  The building that served as the Dysentery Section had no walls, being merely screened in.  In the hospital prison camp at that time, many men were systematically dying of dysentery, malaria and starvation.  The food consisted of a small amount of rice soup, usually made from greens.  The hospital staff was our own Navy Medical Department, which had been captured intact in Manila.  I was in the Dysentery Ward for two months.  I suffered with Pellagra, beriberi, scurvy and general weakness. If I was able to work I did so, but I received no pay from the Japanese.  We were forced to stand in file for hours to be counted by the Japs.  I was beaten and struck by the Japanese guards many times.  The United States Naval medical did what it could at all time.  Witness to the foregoing is Robert Adams, 7153 Thomas Blvd, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

On 25 June 1944 I left Manila on a Japanese ship.  I do not recall the name of the vessel. We remained in the harbor at Manila for ten days after embarkation.   One thousand prisoners of war were placed in one hold of the ship.  Shoes, blankets, and all other personal property were thrown in a lower hold of the ship by order of the Japs.  The size of the hold was 50’ by 90” with 4 deep cubicles around the entire hold where were placed.  Most of the POW’s including myself got very ill from heat and lack of air.  About 5 hours of extreme discomfiture resulted from this.  The Japs then shifted 600 prisoners to another hold of the ship.  I remained in the hold amongst 400 other POWs.  There was no room to lie down and it was extremely hot and stuffy in the hold.  We received one half canteen cup of water twice daily and a mess kit full of rice twice a day.  I had a severe case of diarrhea which was very prevalent among all the POWs.  The Japs allowed only two prisoners on deck at a time and this meant waiting in line for hours to use the latrines which were on the deck.   Two buckets were in the passageway for those who could not stand in line.  There were washing facilities whatever resulting in skin eruptions and numerous sores.  After two weeks out Lt. Col. Vernon, MC AUS, persuaded the Japs to allow 10 POWs on deck at one time and to be washed with salt water from a hose.  We were allowed on the deck about 5 or 6 times during the entire voyage. 

All of our possessions were in the lower hold.  About a week from the end of the trip, the Japs had some POWs enter the lower hold to get some items on deck.  About a week from the end of the trip, the Japs had some POWs enter the lower hold to get some items on deck.  Most of our goods in the hold were ruined by heat, dampness and bilge water.  I did get a pair of shoes and a blanket.  Everything else that I had was lost.  We reached Formosa between the 15th or 18th of July 1944.  We finally reached our destination at Moji, Kyushu, 27 July 1944.  The vessel bore no marks of identification to show that it as a POW ship.  It was part of a large convoy of Japanese tankers, freighters and fighting ships and several ships in the convoy were sunk by American submarines.  Two POW’s died aboard ship and about 12 or more following debarkation.  I was in extremely poor health at the time suffering from diarrhea and lost about 20 pounds on the trip.

 At Cabanatuan I worked at various jobs.  I arrived at Cabanatuan in January of 1943.  I worked at cutting trees, on road, construction, and demolition of buildings, building airports and as a farm laborer.  Most of the time was spent in working on a large farm in the area.  No pay was given us until about April of 1943.  I was then paid 15 centavos for each day’s work.  On Sunday during the dry season (6 months of the year) I worked approximately 2 Sundays on each month with no renumeration.

 We were forced to work barefooted.  The burning sun, rocks and stones in the fields were very hard on the feet.  This caused third degree ples planus which bothers me greatly now.  Another type of work consisted of building of road by carrying large stones by hand to the construction point.

 Our guards were mostly Formosans with Japs as overseers.  I was physically mistreated by the Korean and Jap guards on many occasions.  On one occasion I was beaten with a club because three other prisoners and I were unable to lift a litter of potatoes which weighed 880 pounds.  On another occasion I received a very painful beating.  Prior to the day on which I was beaten, two Americans escaped from Cabanatuan Prison Camp.  The Japanese brought in a number of Jap non-commissioned officers from Manila and those men were all armed with wooden pick-handles with the express purpose of punishing the entire camp of prisoners for the successful escape of the Americans.  I was struck by a Jap non-commissioned officer and a Formosan guard both of whom used pick-handles and I was left with bruises and lacerations all over my head, arms, legs and chest.  Then another Formosan struck me in the face with his fist and knocked me down .  While I was lying on the ground he kicked me in the head and body.  When I returned to the prison camp I was attended by the American M.C. in charge of my sections.  He administered a sedative since I was crying and my nerves in a torn condition.  Witness to the foregoing was Sgt. John J. Allen, 512 C. Street, Brainard, Minn.

 On several occasions I was forced to work while I was ill.  The Japanese demanded a certain amount of men to work regardless of their health.  I worked with a fever of 102 degrees on three or four occasions.  I also worked with swollen feet, caused by beriberi with boils and sores all over my body and with severe diarrhea caused by Amoebic Dysentery.

 Living conditions were very unsatisfactory and very unsanitary.  Our bamboo sleeping quarters were infested with bed bugs, lice and other vermin.  I was suffering from and acute case of Pellagra, the skin on lips, mouth and hands was very red, sore and tender.  There was no medication available.  I was also suffering with numerous boils and sores over my body.

 About 1 July, 1943, I was working on a road building job.  I was forced to carry rocks for a long distance.  Several Formosan guards were stationed along the way with clubs.  I was beaten several times with clubs for not carrying large enough rocks.  As a direct result of this labor I became very ill with diarrhea.  I turned in a stool specimen to the American laboratory M.D. and it was diagnosed with positive Entamoeba Histolytica.  I was then sent to the hospital area of Cabanatuan Prison and I remained there for two months during which time I received no medical treatment.  In September of 1943, I returned to duty at the prison camp.

 By June of 1944 our food ration was very meager.  We were reduced to so little an amount of rice and grains that we supplemented our diet in various ways.  Between April and June of 1944 at Cabanatuan, I ate dog, cat, snake, boiled Papaya tree, the soft inner part of the banana tree and weeds, which grew along the roadways.

 In June of 1943 our entire area was sent to Manila.  We were told by the Japs that we were leaving the Philippines..  They did not tell us our destination.  Before the leaving the camp we were sprayed only in the outer fringes of the area and were then told we were no longer sufferers of Entamoeba Hystolica and we were in good health.  Witnesses to the above statement are Sgt. Geo. Talmadge, Detachment Patients,Walter Reed General Hospital, Ward 14B, Washington D.C. Robert Adams. 7154 Thomas Blvd, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Tec/Sgt Howard Rodgers, ASN 6820641,

 I arrived alone with 199 other American POWs at Camp No. 23, Fukuoka, Kyushu, on 27 July 1944.  The camp was fenced in and consisted of several buildings.  Each building contained 6 small rooms and 6 men were placed in each room.  The floor consisted of matting where we slept.  There was a boarded over hold latrine at the ends of the buildings.

 All the prisoners were extremely ill and very weak from hardships suffered on the trip from Manila to Japan.  We were poorly fed for the first month.  We were told by the Japs that the reason for the lack of food was that we were not formally working.  The meals consisted of three cereal bowls of soup per day.  The soup was water cooked with some type of green—usually carrot tops.

  The guards were very brutal and we were not allowed to lie down in our quarters except at night.  We had to jump to attention each time a Jap guarded walked through the quarters.  I was struck on the face and body on numerous occasions these first few weeks for failure to come to attention quickly enough or for failure to bow correctly to the Japanese guards.  The first week in September 1944 I went to work in the Japanese coal mine.  I worked underground in the mine 1500 to 2000 meters below the surface of the earth, descending in a cable car.

 The work was very dangerous, the mine having little or no safety devices ordinarily used in the United States.  The Japs were systematically mining the entire area, their only thought to get as much coal as possible out of the mine.  The working shifts were from 7 am to 7pm on the day shift and from 5 pm to 6 am on the night shift.  The shift changed twice monthly.  There were no weeks in the Jap calendar-only months.  We received a day and a half to two days off each month.

 We were marched from our camp to the mines by the Jap soldiers and then were turned over to the mine officials.  Jap and Korean miners were placed in charge of us.  The first few weeks, the Jap miners did not molest us but then they began to strike and beat us if our work was not satisfactory to them.

 I was beaten and slapped on numerous occasions during the year that I worked in and around the coal mine.  On one occasion, the Japanese mine official struck me on the face and arms with a rope whip as punishment for being unable to lift a large piece of lumber.  I was suffering at that time with a severe case of diarrhea and was very weak and ill.  The last name of the Japanese who struck me was “Sito.”  On another occasion I was struck on my face and body and kicked in the groin by a Japanese miner for being unable to carry a piece of lumber about 7 foot long and 19 inches in diameter up a 45 degree slope.  The name of the miner was “Cowista.”  At this time I was very ill with beriberi and my legs were swollen.

 I was reported several times by the mine officials for being a poor worker and each time I was struck and beaten on my face and body by either a Jap guard of a Jap Army interpreter in our camp.

 On several occasions I reported the beatings I had taken to the American officers who were in charge of our camp.  They, in turn, reported the matter to the Japanese Army Commanding Officer in charge, but nothing was ever done to alleviate the beatings that I and the other men received.

 My normal weight was 190 pounds/ but when I arrived in Japan in July of 1944 my weight was 120 pounds.  By January 1945 my weight was 105 pounds.  I suffered with wet beriberi, pellagra, boils and scabies.  The entire year that I was in Japan I suffered with severe diarrhea, many times having as many as 20 bowel movements per day.

 The Medical department was run by the Japanese Army Enlisted Personnel with a Japanese doctor being present occasionally.  The American Doctor with us (Major Hagen, MC, USA) was only a figurehead.  He had no voice in the final decision, if a prisoner was sick enough to be excused form working in the coal mines.

 If the Japanese Army Medical Corpsmen decided that a POW was too ill to work in the mine, he would be transferred to work on the topside of the mine.  The work there consisted of moving heavy pieces of lumber and shoveling silt from the mine into train cars.  Only if a POW was seriously ill was he permitted to remain in the camp.  A few very seriously ill men were in the hospital in camp.

 About two thirds of the year that I was in Japan as a POW.  I worked underground.  The remainder of the time I was judged by the Japanese Medical Corpsmen to be ill enough to work out of the mines.  There was little or not medicine to be had.  When I was cut or bruised in the mine, I was given a bandage dressing.  I had to wash the bandage each day and re-use it on my wounds.

 On May 1, 1945, I fell unconscious while washing in camp after work at the mine.  I was suffering from beriberi, my feet were swollen and my rubber Japanese shoes were hardly able to fit my feet.  My weight was 100 pounds at this time.  I was placed in a camp hospital where I remained for one month and where I was administered about 50 multi-vitamin pills.  In June 1945 I returned to work underground at the mine.  I was very weak after 15 days in the mine, I was shifted to out of the mine work where I remained until the end of the war on 15 August 1945.

 At the close of the war, the Japanese had in our camp 200 American Red Cross Prisoner of War packages.  Before the war’s end, they told us that they were saving these packages for us in the event of an “emergency.”

 On 17 August 1945—two days after the end of the war—the Japanese guards brought into our camp three large chests (about 4’ by 2’ by 1 and a half feet).  These chests contained American Red Cross medicine that had been sent to our camp.  The Japs had buried the chests in the hills beyond our camp.  The chests contained a tremendous amount of medical supplies and medicines of all kinds.

 During my internment in Japan I was issued very little soap, usually one piece every month.  I was unable to keep clean and suffered with sores and boils and scabies infections all over my body.  My sleeping quarters were infested with bugs lice and vermin of all sorts.

 On one occasion, when I was eating in the mess in our camp, I dropped and broke the cereal type bowl from which I was eating.  The Jap Army guard in charge of the kitchen forced me to hold the pieces of the bowl with my arms rigidly outstretched.  Each time that I relaxed he struck me in the face and kicked me on the body.  This treatment lasted for about two hours.

 On another occasion, the Japanese Army interpreter forced me to assume “push-ups” position on the ground.  Each time that I relaxed, he kicked me in the body.  This was punishment for not being a good and able coalminer.  This form of punishment lasted over one half hour and then the guard struck me in the face with his fist several times.

 When I was unable to work, the amount of rice I received was cut approximately 20% per day.  During the year that I was in Japan all my thoughts were of FOOD.

  I was paid 15 sen (15/100 of a yen) for each days work.  For any Japanese cigarettes we received (approx. one and a half per day) a certain amount was deducted from my wages.  On rare occasions I received a tangerine or an orange and a certain amount of pay was deducted for these items of food.

 During the year that I was a prisoner in Japan we had 6 deaths in our camp.  These men all died from malnutrition.  On an 15th August when we were told that the war was over, we were all suffering, from malnutrition, infections and weakness.

 I was hospitalized at Moore General Hospital, Swannoa, N. C. from November 1945 to August 1946 and was treated for Schistonomiasis Intestinal; Hook Worm; Strongyloids Intestinal; Tuchocephalus infection; dysentery; amoeba hystolytica; third degree ples planus; epidermophytosis both feet; gun shot wound in the abdomen, asthenia, secondary caused by intestinal infections and deficiency diseases.  Hospitalized at Valley Forge General Hospital in March 1946 for Chronic sinusitis infection; recurrence of dysentery, amoeba histolytica and treated in April of 1948.

  Original document sent in to ADBC