Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

Herb "Bob" Gordon



Information on Herb "Bob" Gordon provided by his son Herb Gordon

Kawasaki Group Picture


Herb Gordon Social Studies Fair Project Report about his father Herb "Bob" Gordon"


For my project in this Annual Social Studies Fair, I have chosen my father, Herbert R. (Bob) Gordon, who served in the Army during World War II. I have selected him because of the wealth of information that he has stored in his memory and has willingly passed on to me. I shall start with the pre-war years and continue on until after the end of the war. .

 

While at an early age of four weeks, my father was adopted. He spent his early years believing he was his parent’s natural son. When he was old enough to play with other children, they began teasing him by telling him that he was adopted. When asked, his parents denied it and that was when the fighting began with other children.  Everything bad that happened during school, he was accused of doing because of his constant fighting.

 

He finished sixth grade but decided against going back to school the following year. He worked at many different jobs and it was during this period of time that he found out the truth about his adoption. My father learned the identity of his natural mother.

 Handkerchief of eagle kawasaki camp 1943

Shortly afterward, he departed for Cleveland, Ohio, and the meeting with his long lost mother and her third husband. During the time spent in Cleveland, he tried in vain to learn the identity of his natural father. After constant arguments with his mother over this subject, he boarded a bus and departed back to his hometown of Zanesville, Ohio, and the people who cared for him and who had raised him.

 

In 1939, his foster father passed away due to chemicals and bronchial troubles, which had developed during the First World War. At this time he began to think of joining the army. He had admired the medals of his father and the pictures of him in his army uniform all the time he had been growing up and he thought this was the place for him to be (in the army).

 

In 1940 he made a visit to the local Army recruiter and early in 1941 left for California and boot camp on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. Upon completion of basic training, he boarded an army transport to Manila. While in route he was assigned to the 60th coast artillery anti-aircraft on Corregidor, the island fortress guarding the entrance to Manila Bay from the China Sea.

Upon reaching Corregidor, they had a busy routine of being signed to guns, companies, issuance of equipment, destination of barracks, and medical exams. Plans were to be there for two years, but some would spend way over four years.  His body weight would go from 191 pounds down to a mere sixty pounds, he would be racked with disease, and never to be erased mental problems.

 

During the months prior to Pearl Harbor, the routine consisted of up to fifteen miles of hiking while having to carry a 95-pound backpack. Every instruction contained in the "Field Manual" was carried out. When three-day passes were issued in Manila, the men headed for the local bar and the tattoo artists to get a life-enduring identification, "the tattoo". There were no draftees around this period of time, just enlisted men.

 

As the end of the year came closer, the more openly the forecast of war with Japan was predicted. The intensity of the training was doubled and tripled. Strange-boxed equipment began to arrive with one large piece and several smaller pieces and some pieces that never did get there such as radar. Predictions of all new improved equipment were talked about, but likewise never to be seen. Boatload after boatload of civilians began to depart from Manila and daily alarm-clock single airplane flights from Cavite Naval Base preceded their bugle call and dedication to one's job was fully demanded.

 

 Five weeks prior to Pearl Harbor their personal items were collected for safekeeping and they moved to their wartime position at the extreme end of Corregidor into board-floored tents. All practice equipment was replaced with .the "real stuff." Live ammunition, gas masks, no more dress attire, no more comfort. The only companions besides the G.I. situated next to him were mosquitoes, iguana lizards, and monkeys. Mad preparation began amidst the constant threat that attack was for certain. Rations were cut 1/3 and different types of dehydrated food were prepared while water was rationed. Sick calls were based on strict needs while every hour of the day was devoted to simulated air attacks with efficiency stressed on the speed of hand firing heavy projectiles. First order of the day was the wearing of the steel helmet which was to become as loved as a bomb shelter if attack was to happen. His position at a water tower high above McKinley Field (an airport built to receive small types of planes such as Piper Cubs) was stressed as the "hot point" of the island, and true to prediction was the spot where the invasion came.

 

Early one morning everyone was alerted to their gun mounts with intense, serious instructions to be on the alert. Radios carried vivid accounts of the Pearl Harbor attack and this move led him to believe that was why he was there--the Second World War.  He wondered how Pearl Harbor could have been under a sneak attack when they on Corregidor were alerted weeks earlier. Later on they learned that B-17's were denied permission to bomb Formosa while over the Japanese airfields and upon return to Clark Field on Luzon were parked and blown up by the enemy who had flown in from Formosa.  Other foul-ups would develop such as tons of foodstuff being left to rot in Cavite Naval Base northeast of Manila.

 

Many rumors were conjured up to help boost the morale of troops such as new planes, new guns, and new squad regiments, but all proved false. General MacArthur, his wife and son all came and stood upon their ancient sandbags, rendering them useless because of high heel shoes that were worn.

 

Soon fighting became so intense on nearby Bataan that visitors stayed away. After a short bombardment Bataan fell. Shortly after Bataan fell, the Japanese began their bombardment of Corregidor. Huge explosions actually shook the island as high-powered shells found the ammunition storage areas with the l2-inch Seacoast Guns.

 

One by one they were blown apart along with valuable manpower. The island was turned into shambles, the trees turned to mulch, and the wharfs to splinters, the inter-island boats and barges sunk, the accuracy of the artillery were unbelievable. Occasionally there was a little return fire, which was soon silenced by direct hits.

 

The survivors of Corregidor were now concerned more about burial details than K.P. or guard duty. Each survivor was on guard with heads looking toward the sky and ears straining to hear. A few barges of enemy tried to come ashore but were cut to pieces by the defenders. The remains of the tormentors were relished by the sharks.

 

The seige was renewed one afternoon and an unbelievably low flying pair of planes made a wide circle over the China Sea. They made one slow pass square across the long portion of Corregidor. All guns opened up, some ours, his in particular preceded battery command and off came a wing, an engine, and then it crashed about 1/4 mile away into the deepest part of Manila Bay. The plane spiraled downward just as it looks in the movies where it shows a plane going down, engine screaming until it impacts the water. The second plane managed to drift to Mariveles Mountain and crashed. This was the high point of their defense. They had shot down planes before from 14 to 20 thousand feet, but never one that unbe1ievab1y close and under the guilt of preceding command. However, they received congratu1ations from every point, from each defense.

 

In a war, only one side can win, and this battle under siege was their loss. The enemy pounded away; load after load of invaders struggled ashore, backed by gun after gun. General Wainwright sent forth a surrender party even while their area and North Shore elements were resisting. Hundreds of wounded had been carried into Malinta Tunnel and tanks and infi1traters had menaced the Malinta area where hundreds of civilians, non-combatants, and others sought refuge.  These moves hastened his C-N-C to cease resistance and immediately all defenders were herded into an abandoned seaplane base surrounded by guards they had been told would shoot everyone after they had been counted. Many random executions took place; troops regardless of wounds were jammed inside the enclosures. The victors were totally unpredictable. They began collecting all jewelry, and they also assembled work parties to remove their dead and wounded. It was during this time my father began learning the Japanese language and watched every move that was made after an order was given and soon became adept at the language.

 

After a week of this intense treatment with little or no food and the most degraded health conditions, bodies lying everywhere, latrine deposits underfoot, delirious unattended wounded pleading for water and bodies floating in the surf of the China Sea where some had ventured to ease their thirst, they were forced, marched aboard a rusty ship, crammed into the hold and shut in. Only the strong survived these conditions. Hordes of weak G.I. and civilian male employees from Corregidor were marched endlessly up and down the wide streets of Manila, lap after lap for three days and nights representing a body of P.O.W.’s one hundred times their total as an example to the Filipino's of their great victory over the Americans.

 

Finally a left turn late at night of the last days parade brought them to Bi1ibid Prison in the city of Manila.  There they were sorted, assigned numbers, appointed to buildings and interrogated. They were trying to find out who blew the two planes up since they were full of high-ranking Japanese officers and news reporters.  They were introduced to the menu that was called Lugou-Lewgow, a cup full twice a day.

 

While others had jobs such as loading ships, digging or carrying this or that, Dad became a motorcycle driver (with a sidecar) hauling the meanest looking Japanese man he had ever seen back and forth to San Tomas University in Manila and the prison. In October 1942, they boarded on a dilapidated old vessel on which they would spend 44 days on a trip that should have taken 8 days. On this voyage he was mixed in with radar troops by accident. They docked at Takao Harbor in Taiwan, and were medically inspected. During midwinter they docked at Moji Harbor, Japan's western seaport. There they boarded a coal train and headed for Tokyo with blinds drawn. They were fed a tennis ball sized ball of rice once each day. Dysentery began to reduce the number of captives.

 

They arrived at Tokyo rai1yard and displayed the prisoners publicly. Then they were marched to a Rokyo suburb and herded into an office building. There were 2378 prisoners at that time. There were various jobs awaiting them such as steel mill workers, brick workers, factory workers, and copper factory workers, etc. with severe beatings administered to amuse the population. This was contrary to Geneva regulations but they paid no attention to this.  Under such brutal treatment many prisoners died while Dad weighed 68 pounds.  Some of the P.O.W.'s contributed to deaths of the guards though. One way they had to kill the guards was to nudge them off a catwalk into a huge vat of molten metal where all was fire consumed.

 

The lack of food caused the prisoners who were handling the freight to drop packages, some scraps could be picked up to eat, even if only a dry fish. A salty tasting chemical poisoned about 50 P.O.W.'s before stoppage of this theft was accomplished. The industry sites were equipped with first aid, dental, barbershops, cafeterias, all for the Japanese civilians. Housing was usually provided for by the factory especially for the Korean conscripts who hated the Japanese.  An English propaganda paper was printed for them and better rations provided. Thefts were continual for the Korean side, and they provided most of the cleverness the prisoners adopted. Their toothache problems netted them precious hours off, but the Japanese P.O.W. officers claimed no such services could be arranged for the American prisoners and eating rice stolen from busted bags along the streets that had concealed rocks in it, had broken the prisoners teeth exposing nerves that called for extraction. Dad slipped away on the brick detail and arranged for an impression for a broken tooth that didn't pain him and the following week had it installed on the sly.

 

Much to his surprise it was silver. He had requested white tooth like material so when he returned to camp he was thrashed completely and submerged in a sewer hole up to his chin. This continued for two nights with the usual work during the day. Of notice to him during the beatings was their neglect to knock the tooth out or even come near the installed cap; therefore once punishment was completed he was hosed off to de-stink him partially and stood before the camp commander and asked to explain his reason for the tooth. His reply was to prove that dental service could be obtained free, thereafter P.O.W.'s were rotated to that detail and endured the short pain to extract the exposed teeth.  How these teeth were broken by eating the rice with the rocks in it were never revealed.

 

The dull, drab routine of work, short sleep, more work, cut rations, and misery of being a P.O.W. continued. About once a year a Red Cross parcel was issued. Almost every day the Japanese ate one. Propaganda post cards were instituted. They were very formally: censored, but clever, his read, "I am fine, almost as big as Coaly"'. Coaly was his dog at home, 40 pounds at most.

 

Abruptly when American carrier planes and B29's started dropping bombs on Tokyo, Kawasaki, and other cities, the worst phase of their ill treatment began. Rations were recut, beatings were intensified, and fire drilling was introduced for the P.O.W.'s. In case no bombs hit their compound they were scheduled to be marched into sections of the city to stamp out fires. Dad noticed a decline in Japanese numbers during air raids. They became "hole rats" and sure as could be the P.O.W.'s were fire bombed. Smoke poured from the roof and up they went, bayonet prodded for effect and sand and water was passed up to extinguish the blazes. One would be extinguished and two would be set. This continued until the Japanese fire department arrived who relieved them and properly did the job. The P.O.W.'s fully expected to be killed. At any rate, many prisoners became "non walkers" and never recovered. Their will to live had left them. Their dwindling totals were augmented by Dutch half-castes from Java. This fact created more problems and was not solved until heavy bombings from B29's, not fire bomb types fell upon them one night and reduced the total to less than 100. Thirteen Americans was the new total. The office building was reduced to match box size chunks and thereafter consolidation was in effect. They moved closer to the waterfront and near to Yokohama, forced marched but to a more lucrative target. Since anything not burned during a firebomb raid was HE bombed quickly thereafter the silo complex they occupied was a real attraction, adjacent to a power plant. They received double doses each bombing day. They applauded these bombings, the "hole rats” weren't attentive enough to spot their raids on the cookhouse for a few precious bites of food. The prisoners divided these morsels equa1ly and no doubt extended life each time. Escape; nothing farther could happen. They were as conspicuous in the land of Japan as a rotten apple among a yellow delicious display and water surrounded the reclaimed areas they were housed in.

 

News was scarce. Occasionally a Korean would drop a hint, and then military types were replaced sparingly by civilian ex-military. They were somewhat more brave and related news tidbits. Any newssheet found lacked pictures, but war situation maps were front page. All print in these were in Katagana and easy to read for it was phonetic pertaining to Okinawa, Tarawa, Luzon, Manila, etc., therefore they knew something was being done. Just as the B29's had surprised them as to size and bomb load they figured the Japanese were catching it hot and heavy.  Brags of conquest were dropped from their speech and worried frowns appeared. Transfers of Japanese camp staff became significant to the observer, but the P.O.W.'s were caught unprepared when all former Japanese military vanished just during the night after an extra heavy carrier raid. Raw troops took over, a different pair of officers and the food got about 3 ounces greater. At this time the P.O.W.'s requested permission to butcher 2 pigs the former Japanese guards had been feeding up on their rations. The new guards were ignorant and consented. The P.O.W.'s ate so much improperly processed pork that everyone became sick. Then the newly arrived guards left.

 

The P.O.W.'s experienced two weeks of limited freedom until Harold Stassen, later a presidential aspirant, came from a destroyer that had been attracted by a huge sign the P.O.W.'s had painted on the building facing the bay. A mixture of water and fallen powdered plaster produced white wash thus the sign. "Three cheers Army & Navy 'come after us". They did, the P.O.W.'s witnessed the signing on the Missouri and were debriefed by Harold Stassen. They flew to Atusigi airport for Okinawa and then a few days later to Manila. All the bad guards the prisoners swore to kill because of the bad treatment eluded their threats.  Some were caught and even appealed for the P.O.W.'s help in their defense. Dad's short word on the Japanese type of treatment; anything you ever read is actually hardly close to the harshness of their savagery. Multiply what you have heard and read by 100 to get the full honest picture.

 

I would like to start my summary by first saying that I learned much through the research I have done. I have learned much about the atmosphere, which many of our American military-men endured during World War II. Ever since I was small, I have been enthralled by the events which occurred during the Second World War. Particularly Corregidor since my father took part in its defense.

 

My visual display contains a Japanese skull, sword, Purple Heart, handkerchief, pictures, and tape recorder containing the last message from

Corregidor, license plate (P.O.W.), Japanese rifle, and was made from plywood, pegboard, strips of wood, and painted white. My brother and I worked on this together.

 

I hope you have enjoyed reading my report and looking at my display as much as I have enjoyed being a, part of this (hopefully) annual event.