Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

Cecil Forinash



Picture of Billy Templeton

Cecil L. Forinash, son of John C. Forinash and Mary M. Taff Forinash, was born in Missouri. During his young childhood, he often spent the weekends and summer months at the Wells family farm, where his second-grade teacher, Fern Freshwater, lived. In the eighth grade, he went out for the high school football team, and during high school he also participated in basketball and track. Due to the Depression, his father moved the family to a living space above a meat market and restaurant, often allowing customers to charge purchases which were never paid back and also always giving food to those in need.

With his brother Duane, Cecil started a newspaper route, distributing the Des Moines Registry Tribune and earning an expense-paid trip to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. There he took his first airplane ride in the Good News II. As a teenager, Forinash worked on farms with the Wells family, then followed his older brother to the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1935. Because the University of Iowa was a land-grant college, he was required to register for the ROTC. He was in the liberal arts school until the second semester of his junior year, when he changed his major to business. After completing three years in the ROTC, he had to accept six weeks of active duty training at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. At that time, he was four hours short of obtaining his degree, but he received a BSC degree in 1946 after his POW experience.

Forinash was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve after completing four years in the ROTC, and he applied for one year of active duty under the Thomason Ace program. He reported to Fort Snelling on July 5, 1939 and was assigned to Company I, Third Infantry Regiment (Old Guard). The academic part of his training was curtailed due to Hitler’s activities in Germany in summer 1939. In the fall, the Third Infantry Regiment was sent to Camp Jackson, South Carolina. The troops were issued new Garand rifles and taught how to strip it and put it back together and fire it. In December 1939, Forinash was reassigned to Company C. He completed maneuvers in Fort Benning, Georgia, and in Louisiana. During the summer of 1940, the First Battalion of the Third Infantry Regiment was ordered to support the National Guard during training at Camp Ripley, Wisconsin. Forinash was to set up and operate a field post exchange in Little Falls, Minnesota. Also during that summer, he was told that he could apply for further extended active duty in either Panama, Hawaii, or the Philippines. His commanding officer, Lieutenant Alspaugh, recommended the latter, and Forinash reported to Fort Mason, California.

After 21 days aboard the USS Grant, Forinash arrived in Manila. He was assigned to the Company B 45th Infantry Regiment of Philippine Scouts at Fort McKinley in August 1940. Weaponry included Springfield rifles, Browning semi-automatic rifles, Browning water-tooled machine guns, and 37 cm. anti-tank guns. With the Company, Forinash went to Subic Bay and later to Lingayen Gulf for beach defense training and to Bataan to establish fields of fire in the jungles for the machine guns.

In February 1941, Forinash was assigned to three months of training with the Second Observation Squadron and reported to Clark Field at Fort Stotsenberg. One day, he accompanied Lieutenant Carpenter to practice firing at towed targets, but the plane suddenly lost altitude and the right wing clipped a tree. The plane caught on fire and crashed among the trees over a mountain stream. Forinash hit his head on the radio and cut his forehead, and he eventually managed to free Lieutenant Carpenter from the pilot seat. They then tried to find their way back to Clark Field, and after walking for some time, two Negritos—one of whom was Tomas, the King of the Negritos—came along and guided them until two Philippine Scouts appeared and they were taken back to base camp and to Fort Stotsenberg Hospital on horse ambulances.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Forinash and Lieutenant Lang flew to Vigan to report what they saw and then went to Clark Field, where some of the P-40 planes had been destroyed on the ground. After delivering a message to Cabanatuan, on the way back to Nichols Field, they noticed Japanese fighter planes and stayed near the ground. The Japanese were raiding both Manila and Nichols Field. Fire on the ground struck the O-52’s engine, stopping it, and Forinash was ordered to jump, which directed the gunfire at him and resulted in his receiving a bullet that circled his rib and exited his back. He landed near a 31st Infantry soldier and was taken to Fort McKinley Hospital to be operated on and later moved to a college building on Taft Avenue.

On Christmas Eve 1941, the Japanese were approaching Manila, so those able to walk—including Forinash—went to a ship at the pier and were taken to Corregidor. Forinash was taken to a field hospital at Limay until he recovered, and he later learned that those who remained behind at the hospital in Manila made it safely to Australia. Forinash reported back to the Second Observation Squadron in late January or early February, but since all of the planes had been lost, Brigadier General Funk, Chief of Staff of the Second Corps on Bataan, told him to join the Philippine Army, so Forinash was transferred to the 31st Division of the Philippine Army and assigned to the Second Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment. Under Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery McKee, the battalion dug in to defend the beach from Orion south to Limay. Colonel McKee then sent Forinash to Sub-sector Headquarters to see about the 31st Infantry Regiment’s other defense position, and Forinash reported back that it was in disarray. That night the battalion retreated to the Olongan River to set up a new defensive position. They received word that General King, the commanding general of all troops on Bataan, was arranging the surrender to the Japanese, and the troops were ordered to surrender.

The soldiers were forced to empty their pockets, and the Japanese took a military ring and a few pesos from Forinash and returned his billfold to him. During the Death March, the surrendered soldiers were on the road for five nights en route to San Fernando, and during rests, the enclosures were not large enough for everyone to lie down. They were not given water and only twice received one rice ball per man. Forinash had a bottle of iodine and used it to kill the bacteria in the water when it was provided. Arriving at San Fernando on the night of April 13th, the men then marched to a railroad station and were crammed into cars and taken to Capas and marched to Camp O’Donnell after spending April 14th in a schoolhouse. At Camp O’Donnell, the men were assigned to barracks and given a space 24-26 inches wide and 8 feet long to live in, with bamboo slats for beds and only one water faucet for 6,000-7,000 prisoners of war. The morning rice was called “Lugao” and was mostly water, and the other two meals consisted of a small amount of rice and watery soup. Slit trenches served as latrines, and there were no showers.

No medical supplies were available, and the fever that Forinash developed on the day of the surrender developed into malaria. A friend managed to get some quinine, and that stopped Forinash’s chills and fever for a while. On June 1, 1942, the American POWs had to walk to Capas to board a train to Cabanatuan, where they joined the prisoners of war taken from Corregidor and were divided into groups of ten called Blood Brothers to prevent escape attempts. Forinash was assigned to a small office building in Group Two. On several occasions, Forinash witnessed the Japanese soldiers carrying Philippine heads tied to bamboo poles by the hair and remarked, “I wish I had a camera to record this.”

Due to sun treatments—in which the prisoners were forced to stay out in the sun for no apparent reason—Forinash again developed chills and fever and eventually had to go to the hospital, where a friend brought him some quinine tablets that made him well enough to leave the hospital. For a short time, Forinash was a mess officer of the kitchen and ensured that the distribution of food was even. He was then placed on one of the early lists to go to Japan because of the malaria, and on or around November 1, 1942, he was among the 1500 American POWs placed in three separate, stifling holds aboard the hellship Nagata Maru for the twenty-day journey to Moji, Japan, after a short stopover at Formosa. They took a train to Osaka, and Forinash was sent to a factory called Yodogawa Bunsho, where he was assigned to lead the Meki Han detail, galvanizing sheet metal. Forinash helped workers with problems and tended to the furnace used to heat the galvanized material. With another soldier, he would bring a bucket of coal at a time down a ramp to the furnace and haul away the ash, which was difficult given the highly-insufficient rations. Forinash tried to stop the men from trading food for cigarettes, but was unsuccessful. One day, the men had to kneel on cinders until two men confessed to stealing shoes and were subsequently tied with their arms behind their backs and standing on their tiptoes. On December 25, 1942, they received one Red Cross box for every three POWs.

Forinash left Yodogawa for Zentsuji on June 1, 1943. There a kitchen was attached to the bath, and occasionally the prisoners would get to take a hot bath, and the food was somewhat better for the first two or three months. Men who worked on the docks in Takamatsu had access to a Japanese newspaper that was translated by a naval officer. During the two years that Forinash spent in Zentsuji, each POW received eleven Red Cross boxes. One night after muster, Forinash and his friend Carl Wall decided to try to go to the bakery, but they were unable to get past the guard, although they avoided detection in the failed attempt.

On June 1, 1945, the prisoners were taken by ferry and train from Zentsuji to Roku Roshi, where they had to clear a rock-filled field to plant a garden. After the second atomic bomb was dropped, at Nagasaki, the prisoners no longer had to work, and on August 22, 1945, they were told: “The Emperor has brought peace to the world.” On September 2, 1945, three B-29 planes dropped parachutes with fifty-gallon drums of food, and on September 8, a troop from the 1st Cavalry Division came to Roku Roshi with medical specialists, and the former prisoners were taken to a train for transportation to Yokohama, where General MacArthur welcomed them with tears in his eyes.

Forinash went to Manila aboard the U.S. Navy vessel Storm King, and the kitchens were kept open at all times. Forinash returned to the U.S. on a Navy ship and arrived in San Francisco and was taken to Letterman General Hospital. From there, he was assigned to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa, and his family met him when he got off the train. He was later taken to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. to have a noncancerous spot on his lip and finger removed. He was placed on ninety days rest and recuperation and allowed to go home. He spent two weeks in Miami Beach and met his future wife, Mary, who was in charge of the Red Cross operation serving former Japanese POWs for the Air Corps.

Back in Iowa, Forinash met up with Carl Wall, and they went to Detroit, Michigan, to visit Forinash’s aunt and uncle, then on to Miami Beach. Forinash proposed to Mary and bought a 1940 Chrysler convertible to drive to Knoxville, Tennessee, but the tires failed because they were marked as rejected during the war. Forinash and Mary were married on June 22, 1946, and Forinash had to report for duty at Randolph Field, Texas on July 1. Forinash was over the age permitted for pilot training, although he passed the Air Corps physical for student officer pilot training, so he was transferred to San Marcos and assigned as club officer.

Returning to the infantry, Forinash went back to Knoxville and enrolled in the University of Tennessee Law School, passing the state bar exam after his second year. Upon completing law school, Forinash applied for regular Army commission and was assigned Army Judge Advocate General Corps officer to the Military Affairs Division in the Office of the Judge Advocate General and then as an assistant to the Board of Review and finally to the Military Justice Division. For the next two decades, he worked in the military courts, first in Fort Monmouth, then at Patch Barracks, Vaihingen “Stuttgart” Germany in 1951. His son David was born on July 6, 1953 in the U.S. Army Hospital at Badd Cannstatt while he was in the 7th Army. He was also promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and in 1954 he returned to the United States and was assigned to the General Branch Litigation Division Office of the Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon. His daughter Pattie was born on November 8, 1954, and underwent an eye operation by the foremost children’s eye specialist in D.C. Forinash later served as post staff judge advocate in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and in 1960 he was assigned to Korea. He became Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Carson, Colorado, in 1961, and his next tour of duty was as a Staff Judge Advocate of the 7th Corps in Germany. He completed 30 years of service for retirement and accepted an assignment to Fort Bragg, from where he retired on November 1, 1969. He joined a small firm of attorneys in Knoxville for a while, then took on a job as a prosecutor for General Sessions Court activities. His reputation was “Fair but Firm,” and he retired as an Assistant Attorney General in 1983. In 2004, Forinash attended a special reception with Senator Bob Dole upon the dedication of the National World War II Memorial.

Written by Sarah Snider 

Sources:  My Military LIfe: by Cecil Forinash