Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

Mark Heisey,
July 11, 1919-

Mark Heisey Photograph

 Mark Heisey was born July 11, 1919 in Annville, PA.  After dreaming of joining the service in his youth, he joined the Citizens Military Training Camp after graduating from high school in 1937.  In December 1937, he went to the Harrisburg Recruitment Center and enlisted in the Army Air Corps.  He did well on his tests and he was sent to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.  After serving for three years, he went back home and then after about forty days as a civilian he reenlisted and was sent to Ft. Monmouth, NJ where he became part of the Signal Corps.  After working on the Signal Corps Receiving Set he was then sent to the Philippines on the USS President Coolidge arriving in Manila on August 1941.  After his initial stay at Fort McKinley his unit was trucked up near to Appari, in northern Luzon.  His sergeant got sick and asked Mark to drive, even though he did not now how.  He soon learned how with a little instruction.  After the Pearl Harbor bombing his group  lost contact with Manila, so they moved the radio equipment into the interior region of Luzon in an abandoned manganese mine and then headed toward camp John Hay.  On the way he joined the 121st Philippine Rifle Company, a guerilla unit.  With his Browning automatic rifle he helped blow up bridges and roads and ambushed convoys traveling on the National highway between Vagin and Manila.  Mr. Heisey has provided some pictures of the emergency money printed for American Guerilla Forces, Mt. Province, PI 1942.  The Japanese captured Heisey near Bontoc and they had him to march to Bontoc.  After being there for a few days they trucked him to Baguio where they cleaned up the American officers club to be used for the Japanese headquarters.  


After being packed into railroad boxcars, they arrived at Cabanatuan where Heisey served on burial duty almost every day.   At first, he was horrified by the proceedings, but then volunteered as much as he could.  He writes about his first burial.


“(We ) Were at the burial site and because of seepage from previous graves in the area the guards for fear of contamination will not allow us to descend into he grave to place the bodies. They want us to tip the boards and let the dead slide off the board into the hole, but we wouldn’t agree to this.


These men deserved to be gently lifted down into the large hole and be placed in rows. Naturally this resulted in us getting beaten by the guards, when we were finished, but that didn’t matter. After this day I made up my mind I  would volunteer for the burial detail as many times as I could. Not because I’m morbid or such, but because its the least I can do for the dead men, who will never again see the light of day, their families and loved ones and never again feel the embrace of a loved one.”


 He was sent on a Pier 7 Detail, where he was able to steal some food to supplement his diet.  On July 17, 1944, he was forced onto the Nissyo Maru hellship to Kobi, Japan along with about 1500 men.  They were allowed to take the clothes they had on their backs, a canteen cup and their canteen bottle, and a mess kit. Once they were in their hold, the men had nothing but steel deck under the men and it was too crowded for all the men to lie down to sleep.  They tried sitting down with a man between their bent knees, but even that did not allow for all the men to sleep at once.  The stench in the ship became overpowering.  After hearing a terrible explosion of a submarine attack, the men started panicking.  Then Mark heard s a chaplain praying the Rosary.  It had a calming effect on the men, and Mark Heisey was so affected by the experience that he later became a Catholic, always holding a special reverence for the Rosary.


He went on to work at the camp near Oeyama (Oyama), where the prisoners would dig the ore for the furnaces.  Their quota was 100 tons a day, and rock doesn’t count.  The men did a good job and were given the further task of creating landslides of the mountain.  After the long days in the mines the men slept in drafty cold barracks.  They tried to seal up the cracks by making a paste of rice and paper.  As 1945 begins the men hear air bombings, but the men are not familiar with the B-29 planes and aren’t aware of the progress of the war.  After the surrender, the men did not have to report to work and realized their long imprisonment.   The long wait was over and Mark Heisey wrote about the experience of being delivered an American flag to the camp along with other supplies.


“The day is finally here that we have waited so long for. We are so overjoyed it’s unbelievable. From the stuff dropped to us is an American Flag.  It’s run up on a pole in the camp and I mean can you just imagine the feeling, the sensation that that flag gave us when we hadn’t seen it for over 3 and a half years. It’s indescribable. We all stand transfixed and then salute. Freedom is ours again. Right then and there I promise myself that I’ll do all in my power to assure that America remains strong so something like we just experienced in all these long years as POWs can never happen again.”


Frank Heisey stayed in the service, volunteering for the Berlin Airlift, assigned to Rhine Main AFB, Germany.  He married Lisa Blaschke of Czechoslovakia and they had a son and a daughter.  He retired from the USAF in 1967, and then worked for the US Army as a logistician.




 Read Mark Heisey's Personal Account

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