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Camp O'Donnell

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Camp O' Donnell

This article was prepared by Louie Gallo, intern from West Liberty University , West Liberty, West Virginia

Camp O’Donnell was a pre-war training area turned concentration camp by the Japanese on the island of Luzon, Philippines. The camp was the ending point for most of the American and Filipino prisoners of war who were forced by the Japanese soldiers to make the infamous Bataan Death March in April of 1942. The ones who did survive the horrific Death March witnessed equal atrocities at Camp O’Donnell.

Camp O’Donnell was constructed within a 250-hectare area approximately 65 miles north of the Philippines capital city of Manila in August of 1941. The U.S. Army Engineer of the Philippine Department led the construction of the camp. The camp was originally built to house a portion of the Philippine Army 71st Infantry Division. The construction of the camp was halted when its occupants were sent out to resist the oncoming Japanese forces.

With Japan's surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, it was nearly impossible for the United States to send reinforcements to help defend the Philippines. Without these reinforcements, Japan was able to attack the Philippines constantly until the American and Filipino force were unable to defend themselves; the battle for the Philippines became a war of attrition. On April 9th 1942, the American and Filipino forces laid down their arms to the Japanese and started the march of death. By April 11th, the first group of prisoners, that were lucky enough to survive malnutrition, heat exhaustion, dysentery and malaria, made it to the end of the march at Camp O’Donnell. The group consisted of the Luzon Force Staff, Tank Group and the Air Corps.

The Japanese made sure to set and enforce rules for the prisoners. The Japanese made sure to enforce the rule that anyone disobeying orders or trying to escape would be shot to death. Among other rules, another rule they enforced was that EVERY prisoner was required to salute all officers and soldiers.

Aside from the rules enforced by the Japanese, the prisoners of war had to deal with physical and emotional punishments. The horrors of being in a foreign territory, controlled and harassed by a group of men who have a completely different culture and language, seeing countless number of friends dying and not knowing if they themselves would survive had it effects on the American and Filipino prisoners at Camp O’Donnell. Those brave American and Filipino soldiers had all sense of security ripped away from them by the Japanese soldiers. On top of the emotional distress,  the prisoners had to deal with brutal physical abuse. One problem that the American and Filipino soldiers at Camp O’Donnell faced was lack of food and water. As the days went by water became more and more scarce. The Japanese made it even more difficult for prisoners to get water because they did not give any containers that could carry water. Water shortage was the leading factor in the number of deaths at Camp O’Donnell.  Along with a shortage of water there became a problem of sanitation. Sanitation was a problem until the prisoners installed better water pumps. It was becoming clear that the Japanese were abusing the prisoners of war by forcing them to do physical work. The prisoners were forced to build water pumps, build airfields, and construct the hospital at the camp and any other physical labor that needed to be done.

During the internment at Camp O’Donnell from April 11th, 1942 to January 20th, 1943 almost 1,600 American soldiers and 26,000 Filipino soldiers succumbed to the harsh treatment imposed by the ruthless Japanese. Even though these men died at the hands of a brutal enemy, they gave their lives for the freedom of the world. Camp O’Donnell should not disappear into the pages of history; instead it should be a constant reminder of the importance of patriotism and strength of the United States armed forces. 




 Olson, John E. O'Donnell:Andersonville of the Pacific. 1st. 1995. Print.


camp o'donnell

 (Following the Bataan Death March)

 Once arrived on the area at San Fernando, the prisoners were crowded into boxcars and taken to Camp O'Donnell, located at Capas, in North Central Luzon. Here they were housed in Nips shacks that had formerly been used by the Filipino Army training units. About 1500 American and 22,000 Filipino prisoners of war died at Camp O'Donnell from starvation, disease and the brutal treatment they received at the hands of their captors.

 On June, 6, 1942, the American prisoners at Camp O'Donnell were evacuated in small groups to another camp at Cabanatuan, approximately 8 kilometers west of the town of the same name. Only a few small medical and civilian units were left at Camp O'Donnell. These units - 500 men and 50 officers - were organized into labor battalions of about 100 men each, which were later assigned to camps in adjacent airfields and to road building projects under the direction of the Japanese War Prisoners' Administration. After the Americans were removed from the camp, it was turned into a rehabilitation center for Filipino prisoners of war.


 Many of the Americans who surrendered at Bataan died en route to their final destination at Camp O'Donnell, and the health of those who survived was so undermined that they perished at the rate of 50 a day on a starvation diet in that unsavory place of internment. More than 2000 Americans in all died there of disease and undernourishment before the others were finally moved to Cabanatuan in July 1942.

 Corporal Arthur A Chenowith, an American prisoner of war at Camp O'Donnell, describes conditions there as follows:

 From 10 April 1942, to 5 May 1942, (6 weeks) nearly 1600 Americans and 26,768 Filipinos died from lack of quinine and food, [although] the Japanese Army had plenty of food and medicine on hand.

 Captain Mark M Wohfeld has this to say about the maltreatment of American prisoners of war at Camp O'Donnell:

 Lacked water. Cooking water taken from a murky creek two miles away in empty oil drums carried on bamboo poles. For drinking water the prisoners to stand in long lines in front of three spigots in the center of the camp for the greater part of the day.

Third week. Salt, sweet potatoes and squash added to rice diet. Plenty to eat as most of the sick could not force the rice down due to malaria and dysentery. So-called hospital had" patients lying in two rows on the floor, which was saturated with feces, blood, vomit; all of which was covered with flies.

 The G.H.Q. Weekly Summary No. 104 of 29 October 1943, too, carried a summary of a statement made by Major William E Dyess, another American officer who was imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell, concerning the insufferable conditions there. Major Dyess reported:

 Treatment of American and Filipino prisoners was brutal in the extreme. When captured, prisoners were searched and beheaded if found with Japanese money and tokens in their possession. They were marched with no food and little water for several days, made to sit without cover in the boiling sun, continually beaten by Japanese troops, [and] not permitted to lie down at night.

 Prisoners too weak to continue, many of them sick and delirious, were killed if they fell out of line. Three Filipinos and three Americans were buried alive. An American colonel attempting to help some soldiers who had fallen out was severely horsewhipped. Another who asked for food for the prisoners was struck on the head with a can of salmon by a Japanese officer. Continual efforts were made to terrorize and dehumanize the prisoners.  In six days, Maj. Dyess marched 135 kilometers and was fed one mess kit of rice.

 [Major Dyess] was brought to Camp O'Donnell and remained there two months with thousands of other American and Filipinos. The Japanese camp commander made a speech informing them not to expect treatment as prisoners of war but as captives, as they were enemies of Japan. The conditions under which American prisoners lived [Maj. Dyess declares] were well known to high Japanese military and civil authorities, who made frequent visits.

 Principal diet in all camps was rice, with occasionally about a tablespoon of camote, the native sweet potato, often rotten. The Japs issued meat twice in two months, in portions too small to give even a fourth of the men a piece one inch square. [According to Maj. Dyess] abundant food supplies were available in the countryside, and the Japs deliberately held prisoners on a starvation diet.

 Many of the prisoners at O'Donnell had no shelter. The death rate among Americans from malnutrition and disease increased rapidly from 20 daily during the first week to 50 daily after the second week. The death rate among Filipinos was six times greater. Hospital and sanitary facilities did not, in any real sense, exist. Medicines were promised but never supplied. Prisoners lived in filth, and died in large numbers of malaria, by dysentery and beriberi.

 The Japanese nevertheless constantly insisted on work details. By 1 May 1942, only about 20 out of every company of 200 were able to work. [Maj. Dyess states] that 2,200 Americans and 27,000 Filipinos died at O'Donnell prison camp.

About 1 May 1942, all full colonels and generals were moved to Capas, Tariac, and were later sent to Formosa or Japan.

 Corporal William W Duncan, another American prisoner of war at Camp O'Donnell, testifies:

 I was captured by the Japanese at the time of the surrender on Bataan, Luzon, Philippine Islands. After my capture, I was held on Bataan for about one day and was then taken to Camp O'Donnell. During the trip from Bataan to O'Donnell, about the second day of the trip, as we marched along the road near the Barrio of Balanga, Japanese soldiers standing along side of the road beat us with clubs and sticks as we passed. During this trip, we were not given any food except on the last day, at which time the Japanese gave us a small portion of rice, about one handful of cooked rice. The trip took approximately six days and I arrived at O'Donnell about April 15 or 16,1942. I am not certain of the exact date.

 I remained at Camp O'Donnell, Luzon, Philippines Islands from about April 15 or 16, 1942, until about June 1, 1942. At O'Donnell the food was very poor and there was little medicine to treat the sick. During this time I had dysentery. At Camp O'Donnell about 25 men from my company died. I recall the following:

Sergeant William T Woolen died from wet beriberi.

PFC Coleman died probably from malaria.

Sergeant Hackman died probably from malnutrition and malaria.

Lieutenant Brown died probably from malaria.

 Finding a sufficient number of able-bodied men among the prisoners to bury the dead was not the least of the problems with which the camp authorities were confronted. It was not unusual to have several of the burial detail drop dead from exhaustion and overwork in the midst of their duties, and be thrown into the common grave which they were digging for their dead comrades. Not infrequently men who had collapsed from exhaustion were even buried before they were actually dead.

 Following is an extract of the official history of General Hospital #1, United States Armed Forces in the Far East at Camp Limay, Bataan, Little Baguio, Bataan and Camp O'Donnell, Tarlac, Philippines Islands; from 23 December 1941, to 30 June 1943, prepared by Colonel James W Duckworth, Medical Corps, United States Army:

 After the capitulation, Col. Duckworth assumed command of all Medical Department personnel in Bataan, by order of the Japanese Commander. All equipment, supplies and foodstuffs as well as medical personnel remained at the hospital. The remainder of the month was spent in rebuilding the hospital to its former standard of fitness.

 On 10 May 1942, 431 patients from General Hospital #2 were admitted to this hospital and the Medical Department personnel of that hospital was bivouacked in the former Ordnance Department Area just north of the hospital to await transportation to Cabanatuan Prisoner of War enclosure, where they were to start another hospital.

 On 19 June 1942, 8 MC and 32 MC-DMD, were assigned and joined this hospital from the former General Hospital #2, the remainder leaving that same day for Cabanatuan. On this same day orders were received from Maj. Fukuyori, the Luzon Commissarist for the Japanese Army, that General Hospital #1 was to move, complete with equipment and personnel, to the prisoner of war enclosure at Camp O'Donnell, Tariac, PI, where a hospital was badly needed. The following morning, 499 patients with one MC and 19 EM-DMD in attendance, were sent to Bilibid Hospital in Manila (including 38 Medical Department personnel) with 7 MC, 1 DC and 9 EM-DMD in attendance. On 29 June 1942, Col. Duckworth, Capt. Commissariat, Maj, Fukuybri. During the absence of Col. Duckworth, Col. John J Schock, DC, was left in command, until the Colonel's return to Camp O'Donnell on 19 July 1942.

 On 19 June 1942, 8 MC and 7 EM-DMD with one-third of the equipment left for Camp O'Donnell. By 5 July, all the equipment had left Little Baguio and arrived at Camp O'Donnell.

 On 6 July 1942, all the American Personnel who were in the prisoner of war enclosure previous to the hospital's arrival left for Cabanatuan, with the exception of 156 seriously ill patients, 43 officers and men. This same day General Hospital #1 officially opened at Camp O'Donnell and the work of unpacking and setting up another hospital began.

 It should be stated at this time that the camp was in an appalling condition. Epidemics of malaria and dysentery were rampant throughout the camp; all members of the camp were suffering from some sort of malnutrition as well. There were no medicines other than a few aspirin tablets, a little tape and a few bandages. It was even reported that medicine in the form of quinine or sulfathiazole was selling at the rate of $5.00 a tablet. The sanitary conditions of the camp, if they can be called such, were of the crudest form and fashion and more harmful than sanitary. In fact, conditions were so bad that, between the period of 15 April 1942, and 10 July 1942, there were 21,684 Filipino deaths, a mean average of 249 + per day, and 1,488 American deaths, a mean average of 17 + per day. On 27 May 1942, an all-time high for the period was reached when there were 471 Filipino deaths and 77 American deaths. The strength of this camp on 6 July 1942, was 249 Americans and about 35,000 Filipinos, not counting the American medical personnel of General Hospital #1.

 The hospital was divided into sections, Sections I, II, III, IV & V of General Hospital #1, and each section was located in the best available site within the camp to serve as many as possible. By 17 July 1942, all sections of the hospital were as completely equipped as possible and there were over 5,000 patients under treatment, both medicinally and surgically. The hospital had its own medicines, which were supplemented with more by the Japanese Army.

 On 19 July, Col. Duckworth, Captains Lemire and Keltz, and 52 enlisted men, some of whom were formerly at Little Baguio and Corregidor, arrived, thus bringing the hospital personnel nearer to its proper strength.

 By this time sanitary methods were functioning properly. Old latrines and urine soakage pits were covered over and new ones dug. They were burned out daily or sprinkled with lime, to kill flies and mosquitoes. Stagnant pools of water were drained. The tall grass, which grows in abundance in this part of the country was cut and burned to help stamp out the mosquitoes. Barracks were repaired and cleaned up. All water for drinking purposes was boiled if possible or chlorinated. Refuse piles and garbage were burned or buried, and a general daily policing of the camp was started.

 A definite sign of improvement was noticed throughout the camp, and finally by 20 July, patients were returning to duty to their respective subgroups for the first time. The death rate took a noticeable drop. By 21 July 1942, the daily death rate was below 100. Dispensaries of the small but efficient manner were started in every subgroup, where immediate treatment could be given to all localized cases. Patients returning from the hospitals were given their daily prophylactic dose of quinine. New patients were being admitted to the hospital sections as fast as a vacancy occurred. It now became evident that to increase the already very high efficiency of the various sections they should be made into General Hospitals, thereby bringing to the minimum all administrative problems and to a maximum the professional and sanitary care of each hospital and subgroup. August 1, 1942, was the date set for the change from sections of General Hospital #1 into general hospitals within the hospital center of Camp O'Donnell. On July 31, therefore, General Hospital #1 ceased to be the parent organization in command, and became a part of the new hospital center.