Fisher (on right)
Edward Fisher (on right)
Oral History of Edward Fisher by Mark Nicola November 1988
When this assignment was issued, I immediately had an idea in mind as to whom I wanted to interview. Mr. Edward Fisher has been a friend of my family for over forty years. I have grown up listening to his stories either from him or someone in my family.
Knowing that he served in the United States Army during World War II, and was held for several years as a prisoner of war by the Japanese, I thought it would be very interesting for me to learn more about Mr. Fisher's life.
I was a bit skeptical at first, not knowing if Mr. Fisher was willing to talk about the ordeals he endured. However after asking his permission to do this Oral History, I was very relieved to find that Mr. Fisher was more than willing to not only help me with this project, but to have his story put on paper as well.
What I learned from these two interviews has changed my entire perspective on war, veterans and life in general. The following is the first interview that I conducted with Mr. Fisher, in which he tells about his life as a prisoner of war during World War II.
My name is Edward Albert Fisher. I'm 80 years old. I'm a World War II veteran. I'm now retired, and I'd like to tell you something about my life. And it's kind of difficult for me to find a place to start. However, my father was a very good man who had trouble making a living although he tried, and he did the best he could.
I did not graduate grammar school. I went to the eighth grade and those were the Depression years, and I had to work. I went to work in the grocery store, well, fruit store up to the time when I was 12 years old. And the pay at that time wasn't the greatest. I worked six and a half days a week for $7.00, and I finally left that job -been there two years so finally left that job and went to work for Marshall Fields as a stock clerk. The pay was a lot better, and I was making $14 a week. That was for a six-day week. And I worked in that trade or I worked in that store, oh; up to the time I joined the army.
I joined the army when I was 16 years old, and I enjoyed the army. And I think the -the nicest thing -the nicest job I had in the army was buying horses for the Calvary although I knew nothing about buying horses. The captain I went along with who bought the horses was a very interesting old guy who was a World War I soldier who stayed in the army long enough to become a captain. And I used to get -I was enthralled by his stories that he would tell me about World War I. 2 And I got so worked up with these stories that he told me that I couldn’t wait for war to come. And when the war came, I couldn’t wait till it was over.
Now, in 1941 I was transferred to the Philippine Islands where I thought I would never see war being so far away from the war in Europe that I thought, well, I would never go to war again and that was my biggest regret. And war did come to the Philippines. Philippines were attacked the same day Pearl Harbor was attacked, except in the Philippines, it was December 8th and in Hawaii, it was December 7th.
Although I was anxious to go to war, I soon regretted ever wanting to go to the war. The thing that happened to the American Armed Forces in the Philippines -we didn’t have any equipment to fight a Guerrilla war. Everything we had was World War I equipment. We had World War I rifles; we had -we soon ran out of medicine; we soon ran out of food. And although we fought with them our fate was sealed.
And after four months at Bataan where they only wanted us to hold on for six weeks -we held on for four months. And course the Philippine army was inducted into the American Army, which was 70,000 Filipinos. And fortunately those Filipinos were able to hold back the Japanese army. Without the Filipino army, which actually, they were an American army which was called the USAFFE which was the United States Armed Forces on the Far East, which later on the American government would deny that they were American Army. But the fact remains that they were common wealth of America. They loved America like any American, and they fought as hard as any American did.
In April around Easter, the Japanese finally broke through our lines and we were forced to surrender. The surrender -if I had to surrender again, I would never surrender. They'd -I would, I would die before I would surrender. Not that I don't mean to give the impression that I was so brave and so courageous, but it's the treatment that we received at the hands of the Japanese after we surrendered.
Upon our surrender, we marched from from Marivales to Bataan. There were 15,000 Americans and 70,000 Filipinos that marched. We didn't march together. The Filipinos were in one group, and the Americans were in the other group. I never expected that any civilized nation or any civilized country could commit the atrocities that were rained down on us
We started off at Marivales, and I wasn't marching for five minutes when I saw six Americans beheaded for no reason at all. In fact, I don't know what they did, and the Filipinos suffered the same fate. Although the Bataan Death March was only 60 miles, we thought it was well, it may have been 70. It may have been 70 miles, but not over 70. But of course, being on that march you would -you thought it was 10,000 miles. We were given no food. We were given no water. We were sick. We were wounded. In my case, I was wounded when the surrender came, and I think that if I wasn't wounded, I would have -I may not have surrendered. Of course, that's all -only what I think. The length of the death march was between 70 -60 and miles from Marivales to a place -San Fernando where the death march ended.
However, I wanted to --before I tell you the rest of what happened is after San Fernando, I want to tell you this: That we had no food. I didn't eat. I didn't have anything to eat in eight days until the march was over. There would be no water. We were marching in a hundred and two degree heat. Most of us were sick and wounded. And if you fell by the way side, you were murdered by the Japanese. You were either bayoneted or you were shot.
Although there was plenty of water along the side at artesian wells that were constantly
flowing and the sun was so great that you would break ranks and run to these artesian wells and, of course, if you were caught or if you were seen, you were shot or bayoneted. But the thirst was so, so overwhelming, so great that you didn't care. As a matter of fact, after about the fifth day, 1 didn't care if they did kill me. It didn't make any difference.
Now, we got to San Fernando, and they put us on these, steel boxcars. Very small boxcars about half the size of a bargain size box car. And when we closed the doors to the boxcars there's absolutely no air. We were crammed like sardines in the boxcars. In my particular boxcar, -when we road about 25 kilometers to Camp O 'Donnell which was in Capas, and when you opened up the boxcars, my boxcar, there was 20 people dead. And I imagine it was about the ratio of the dead in all the boxcars. And for us, we thought maybe the march was over, but it wasn't. We walked another seven miles to Camp O’Donnell, which was an interment camp.
Now, when you get to Camp O'Donnell, there was very little shelter. It was--at one time a training camp for the Philippine army. There just wasn't any shade. There weren’t any trees. There was nothing, and I think the reason for that was that the Japanese wanted to be sure they could keep an eye on us; so we wouldn't escape. However, escape was almost impossible because we were in such bad condition.
The first week we were there --the Americans were there -they had maybe 25 Americans dying a day. The Filipinos' deaths were even higher. The Americans were -the-total time the Americans were at Camp O’Donnell, which was just a temporary camp there was. 1900 Americans that died. And when the Filipinos left Camp O'Donnell, they stayed a little longer-than we did. 29,000 Filipinos died. There was actually nothing you could do at Camp except lay in the sun. There was one spigot of water that you would wait all day long to fill up your canteen. And usually you took several canteens that you'd fill up for your comrades at that spigot.
And they did have work details, which we were happy to get. On the work details, you go into town and the Filipinos would throw us food and money and clothing. Of course, they risked their lives when they did this. I didn't see any Filipino killed, but if it weren’t for the Filipinos, our death rate would have been much greater.
Finally, I was in that camp for about ten days, and they formed a detail that would take us
to Tayabas Province and we were to build a road through the jungle. And there were 300 men on that detail, and in less than a month, 225 men died from malaria and dysentery. And we got so bad that the Japanese had to take the rest of us out. Otherwise, we would have all been dead.
When I got to the Philippines, I told my CO I'm never going back to the states. This is where I'm going to stay, and when I got to O'Donnell, I ran into my commanding officer, and I had some sardines which I shared with him and he reminded me of what I said when I first got into the Philippines, and he said maybe, maybe you're going to get your wish. Maybe you won't: get back. Maybe you will stay here forever. So we did laugh about that although I wasn't: so sure I would ever get back.
But any ways, when we left Tayabas detail, myself, I was seriously sick for about two months. And we couldn't do any work for the Japanese, which they knew they had to make us well or else we were useless to them. And they did their best at that time to bring us back to fairly, fairly, fair health. Not because they were--they were kind to us, but because being sick you couldn't work. So they did their utmost. They brought us in food and the second month, or before the second month, I lost my eyesight. And many in the camp lost their eyesight. Now, this-it wasn't: a permanent thing. But, the way we regained our eyesight, they gave us cod liver oil and that brought our eyesight back to us.
After regaining some of my health, I was transferred to a work detail at Nielson Airforce
Base, which was an American base. And the work was hard. We were building a room, but the work was hard, and it was a 12-hour day. And again, many men came down with illness. However, it wasn't severe as it was at Tayabas. At Tayabas we had mosquitoes that carried malaria and every day we'd look to the.sky and we'd be searching for American airplanes, which did not come. And all we had to live on was rumors and recipes, food recipes. We'd cook some unreal dishes at camp. We'd cook them and one fella cooked a 12-layer chocolate cake.
But, the rumors all panned out. They weren't true, and one day we looked up and that was 1944, and we were prisoners for almost three years. No, not quite three years, maybe, maybe two years. And we looked up in the sky, and we heard the airplanes, and we knew they weren't Japanese airplanes because American airplanes -Japanese airplanes make two different or have two different sounds. And we looked up and here were these little planes, and we saw them shoot down the transport. We saw the transport coming down in flames, and we looked-we looked up, and we saw the American insignia. And everyone cheered, and we thought --we believed this was the -this was the beginning of the end.
However, it wasn't. We quit working in the field and we were there for about three days, and we were taken to a boat or a ship and put in the ship and we started out for Japan. Now, this was in October of 1944. And we didn't have any clothes. 1 didn't have any shoes, and I had -I was dressed in a -we had the g-string that we wore in the Philippines because they gave us no clothes. And of course the Philippines being warm, you didn't need anything. You didn't need any clothes. You'd be very comfortable in a g-string.
I don't know how many ships made it, but we got to Hong Kong again. And from Hong
Kong we left the Coppo. We started out by ourselves, and we got close to China until we got to Japan. Now I think the only reason that our boat was not sunk was because it was so small, and the other boats in the convoy were large boats. And I don't think they wanted to waste a torpedo on a small ship.
So we made it into Japan in February so for October, not counting the month, we stayed in Formosa. You could see how long it took us to get to Japan. Of course when we go there it was February. And it was freezing. And we had no clothes. We had nothing. We walked in that g-string bare footed through Tokyo, down the subway, and I don’t know where we went, where we got off. But the shades were drawn and from there we were put on a train, and we were taken north to Sendai.
And again, they had to build us up before we could go to work. So February we got there. I think it was the second of February, and no one went to work until maybe the tenth of March. And after March we did work in this mine. Food got no better, but the Japanese had no food themselves. I think we ate as well as the Japanese ate at that point. And again we worked in the mines for 12 hours. I don’t think the Japanese knew what an 8-hour day was. And we just hoped that we would make it.
Most of us didn’t think we could make it. And I was probably as pessimistic as anyone. I didn’t weigh much when I was in the army. I weighed about a hundred and 30 pounds in the army, but I was a little fellow. I wasn’t big. And I believe I was about 90 pounds when I got to Japan. And the Japanese started to tell us about, “Well maybe you go home soon.” Because I think they—those that knew anything—knew that they were losing a war.
Well, I believe it was the latter part of August; I’m not sure. It had to be the latter part of August when the—now I’m getting a little ahead. We had people in our camp, pursers that could understand-speak Japanese. So we knew what was happening. And one day we didn’t march out to work and we had to stand at attention and turn away from the radio, and we heard the broadcast of the Emperor telling the Japanese that the war was over.
And the Japanese were to bathe the American asaries (?) when they came in, and we were so stunned. In fact, I thought we’d shouting for joy, but none of use showed any joy, any joy. None of us jumped for joy. None of us shouted, and two days later the B-29s came over and instead of bombing us, they dropped food to us. And we stayed in that camp instead of going to Yokohama where we would have caught a ship going back to the states. First, they had to build the railroad so they could get us out of there. We were in the most northern part of Japan, and they say on a clear day you could see Akeyo. However, they did fix the railroads, and the war was over for me and for the other prisoners. And that’s my experience in the war.
That’s the first interview I conducted with Mr. Fisher. In the second interview, I asked him several questions that I had thought of us between interview dates. These questions include, “How were you treated physically? What kept you alive? How were you welcomed back to the United States following your release? How do you feel about the Philippines today? What kinds of awards have you received? All of these are a part of the second session with Mr. Fisher.
Well there’s two ways you could break down “physically.” One is not having enough food, not having medicine, not having clothes, and not being treated like a human being. And all three of these things or four of these things were—that was part of the Japanese treatment of the prisoner of war. And the main thing, which you always have to careful on—any infringement of the rules were punishable by death or whatever they decided the punishment would be.
For instance, in my case where I escaped from prison—well prior to that anyone who escaped from prison camp that was recaptured was executed. In my case, when I escaped, I was out for about six months. And to my surprise, they didn’t execute me, but the punishment and the torture that I went through for two weeks I wish that they would have executed me. Just the torture that I had to suffer like being beaten by baseball bats several times a day or knocking out all my teeth with the with I don’t know if it was a baseball bat, but it resembled a baseball bat. And that was…I’m trying to get my thoughts together. It’s very difficult for me to try to put my thoughts together. However, at the evening thereafter—I was tortured all day long—in the evening I was tied to a stake in the compound. And I stood all night and if I slept, I slept standing up. Well, this went on for two weeks. And after the two weeks time, I was very fortunate that Americans landed in Leyte and the Japanese were a little concerned about how they treated the prisoners and in my case they took me to a boat and they shipped me to Japan and that was the end of the way they treated me for escaping. However, when I got to Japan, we worked in the mines. I never knew what I was digging. I knew it was for some kind of ore and some Americans worked in coal mines, but in my case I worked in the—in an open pit mine which they mined some kind of ore which I never knew what kind it was. And of course here again we had no clothes, no food, and no medicine. But we knew the war was coming to an end.
Well, your spirits went up and down according to the rumors you heard or how hungry you were or how sick you were. And in my case, I always thought of my parents, and I always thought of my brothers and sisters and of course being young was another reason for surviving. And although it was hard—many of these prisoners that were healthy, were supposedly healthy, they died. But I think just the thought of going home and seeing my mother again and seeing my father and seeing my brothers—if they survived the war. My two brothers were in the war and that time I didn’t know but I suspected they would join the Armed Forces and go to war, which I wasn’t disappointed. That’s exactly what they did.
Well, you know, I always thought I’d jump for joy when we knew the war was over, and we were told that the war was over by the Japanese, I didn’t see anyone jump for joy or anyone celebrate. I think we were just –it was just something that we expected. We expected to be free. There was no celebration.
Well, freedom—well, it was great when I got back. The people were very kind to use, very good to us. And there’s one incident that I always remember. It’s kind of a funny thing. I came to the—they took me to Letterman Hospital here in San Francisco. And when we got there they took our clothes away, and we had no clothes. What we had was our hospital pajamas and a bathrobe. And a fella I knew or a friend of mine, Stoney Ross, was a native of San Francisco. And he had no relatives. And he kept insisting that we should leave the hospital. It was easy to leave Letterman Hospital because everyone was in robes and bathrobes, and we just walked out. We walked to Lombard Street and there was a bar at Lombard Street, and we walked into this bar and everyone looked at us and the bartender looked at us, and he knew we were from Letterman Hospital. And he asked us if we escaped the loony bin, and we said, “No. No, we’re just looking—seeing what’s happening. We have no clothes because they took our clothes, and they wouldn’t issue us any and we have no money because we were prisoners of war for three and a half years.” And he asked us where we were incarcerated or where we fought and Stoney Ross said we were on Bataan and prisoners of war with the Japs. Well, when that happened, everything was silent in that bar, and the bar was jammed full. And he made two of his customers get up and give us a seat. To make this story shorter, when I got back to Letterman Hospital, I left without any money, and came back with $50. So we were treated pretty well.
I fought with the Filipinos, and without the Filipinos, there would have been no Bataan. There would have been—we would have surrendered in less than a week. 12, 000 men on Bataan couldn’t have held back 300,000 Japanese soldiers. The 70,000 Filipinos that were on Bataan, they did the major fighting of all. You know you read American history and it’s pretty hard to find where Filipino was even in the army. Whatever the American soldier would receive, the Filipino would receive the same. And also, you gotta keep in mind that the Philippines was not a nation but a colony of the United States of America. The Philippines was a commonwealth of the United States. And they didn’t get their independence until 1946. However, the promises made to the Filipinos were many promises: that they’d be able to go to the VA hospital, that they would get bonuses—if the native-born American would have got a bonus, the Filipino would have got a bonus. Well, all these promises were disregarded—were just like they were never made. Now years ago my father—I came home and I just forgot what incident happened, but I was supposed to do something I promised someone something. And my father heard me make that promise, and he said—he came home he said,” Why aren’t you at this place.” I remember what it was. I was going to help build a tree house, and when he came home, and he saw me reading the Funnies, he asked me—he said, “Eddie, I thought you were supposed to be building a tree house.” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to do it. I don’t feel like it.” And my father said one thing that I always lived by. And he told me-he said, “Son,” he said, “Always remember a promise made is a promise kept.” And we gave the Filipinos this promise, and we gave a debt to the Filipinos, which we have never lived by. So today, like I have for almost 50 years, I worked for the rights of the Filipinos. Fortunately, in 1990 after 45 years, the Filipinos did get their citizenship. And today I go to Washington. I write to Congress, and I talk to anyone who is in position to do something. I tell them about this promise that was made to the Filipinos that we never kept. And um see, you could tell the average American and he’ll sympathize with you. He’ll say, “We should have kept our promise.” But our politicians made laws that the Filipino was not an American soldier, and that’s where the trouble begins. And we’re--I doubt very seriously if we’ll ever get anything more than the citizenship that we’ve already gotten for the Filipinos. And I think our country ought to be ashamed of themselves—the way it’s treated the Filipinos.
I know I am the highest enlisted man that the Philippine government—well let me put it this way: I have nine decorations from the Philippines, and I have—I have maybe, let’s see, I have the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and I have that from the American government. I’m probably the highest decorated American soldier that—what I meant to say—there is no one who has won more medals from the Philippine government than I have.
The thing that troubles me today about this history is after 50 years or longer-probably 55 years or 56 years—revisionists have taken our writing the history of America—I don’t mean politically, I mean militarily—and probably they have—there may be something politically that they have—the thing I hear the most how cruel it was for the Americans to drop the atom bomb on Japan. Now dropping the atom bomb was a more humane way of dying than the treatment that the Japan fostered on the countries it conquered. For instance on Nanking they killed—the rape of Nanking , which is famous for the atrocities that Japan fostered on these people, in Nanking alone a million people died. The most horrible deaths that mankind could figure out. In the Philippines a million people were killed and in Singapore and Hong Kong and wherever the Japanese landed or wherever they conquered—whoever they conquered, the treatment that was netted out to the people there was, was unbearable. So for the people that are so concerned and condemn our country especially the Americans, that we killed a hundred thousand in Hiroshima, and we killed 80,000—I think—I guess it was Nagasaki. I’m not sure now, I think so. Just compare that with the millions and millions of people that the Japanese slaughtered in that war.
After I completed the second part of my Oral History with Mr. Edward Fisher, I was a completely changed human being. Never in my life, have I ever heard or imagined that one human could commit such atrocities on another human being. As much as I loved and respected Mr. Fisher before, the way I look at him now is different. In my eyes and in many others, he is a hero. A noble man who risked his life day in and day out to fight for his country. It’s very hard for me to put into words what he means to me and to the United States.
The Oral History Project is one that I will never forget. I have done hundreds of school related projects over the years, but I never have felt such fulfillment after completing this assignment. The grade I receive seems almost irrelevant to me, because of what I have learned about Mr. Fisher. Doing this project, although at times strenuous, was very rewarding and compelling.
I hope that those that read this Oral History will realize just how much the men and women of our Armed Forces mean to us. In my opinion, people like Mr. Fisher should be looked at as pillars of our community.