Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

Harold Bergbower

Harold Bergbower Military Picture
Past National Commander


 Oral Interview at Rutgers

Harold Bergbower was born on May 11, 1920 in Newton, Illinois.  He joined the Army Air Corps on May 12, 1939.  He went to school at Chanute Field (Illinois) and became an air mechanic.

He arrived in the Philippines on July 20, 1940.  His initial time on the Philippines was pleasant, but then on Dec. 8th, 1941 bombs were dropped on Clark Field.  Harold watched the bombs fall and then was hit by one.  He passed out and when he awoke he found himself in the morgue at Fort Stotsenburg.  He crawled out and went back to his squadron.  

He fought with the Filipino Scouts on horseback because he was never picked up by an Army truck that was supposed to pick him up Clark Field after he went up to get his paycheck.  He accompanied the Scouts to Pulangi river where he reunited with with his squadron.  He was on patrol duty when the surrender of Bataan took place.  He then was sent to a prison camp called Malaybalay, which was in the northern part of Mindanao.  He stayed there for several months and then got transferred to the Davao Penal Colony.  It was in the jungle, and they farmed the area, using caribou to plow rice fields.  They also planted different vegetables such as cabbage and okra.  Mr. Bergbower remembers the good rice being sent to the Japanese troops and the bad wormy rice was used for the prisoners.  

He was there until May or June and then took a trip on a hell ship and landed in Moiji, Japan.  Mr. Bergbower does not remember his hellship voyage and only learned details of some of the events related to that time when he went back to visit the Philippines in 2002.  At that time he found that his ship  had been bombed and that they stopped in Leyte for repairs and that he was in Bilibid Prison and Cabanuatuan, and then back to Bilibid for another hellship  It was the Noto Maru that went on to Japan.

From there Harold went to Tayoma where he worked in a steel mill where they scooped ore into an open hearth furnace.
It would be bitter cold in the winter time and he was so cold his clothes would be frozen.  They would warm up when they went to work where there was heat.  The walk to the steel mill was between one half to three quarters of a mile 

He said that one of the ways he survived the internment was to create another  world in his mind so he dreamed of being on a farm.  It took his mind off the reality of his life.  His reality was disease and starvation.  He was down to 78 pounds when he was at Davao and was about 107 when he got liberated.  He would also keep the memory of his childhood and the food he had enjoyed at home.  He remembered his mother's cherry and rhubarb pies and wanted them when he got back to the states.  He had to get rations of sugar as his mother didn't have any.

Harold learned of the end of the war from a Red Cross worker.  After that food was dropped to the prisoners in fifty-gallon drums.  He recalled it was the best food he had tasted in years and years.  He was in the Tokyo Harbor when the surrender with the Japanese was signed.  He said he was a hundred yards from the battleship.

After the end of the war he was put on a ship Rescue, and received food and medical treatment and new clothes.  In October , 1945 he returned to the United States and went to Letterman General Hospital where he was able to see his parents.  Unfortunately his mother had received a telegram in September of 1945 saying that he passed away.

Harold retired from the Air Force and worked at a golf course after his retirement.  He gave a talk to Arizona State University and 300 people came to hear him talk.  He returned to the Philippines in 2002 with his daughter.  He was able to fill in some of the gaps of his experience.    He said that at Camp O'Donnell they planted 31,000 trees at Camp O'Donnell, one for each of the men (American and Filipinos) who died at Camp O'Donnell.

He has been to the White house twice for breakfast where he met General Myers, Admiral Norman Clark, General Micheal MdGee and Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfield. He also had his picture taken with President George W. Bush and his wife Laura.