Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

Samuel Lawrence Heisinger

Picture of Samuel Lawrence Heisinger

 Samuel Lawrence Heisinger was born in September 1902 in Selma, California to Samuel and Lena Heisinger. He graduated from Selma Union High School in 1921 and enrolled in Pomona College in Claremont, California with the assistance of an ROTC scholarship. However, he was forced to leave at the end of his first year so that he could help support his family by working in a lumber camp in the Sierras during the summer of 1922. That fall he went to Fresno State College, graduating in 1923. Heisinger then joined the California National Guard and left as a sergeant in the 159th Infantry four years later, at which time he was accepted to the University of California Hastings College of The Law. He graduated in 1927 with an LL.B. degree, and he married Grace Elizabeth Culley on November 20, 1929. They had three sons--Duane, Douglas, and Gary.

Heisinger was a thirty-eight-year-old Assistant District Attorney in Fresno, California in April 1941 when he decided to resign in order to pursue a military opportunity. He had been commissioned an Army Captain in  the California National Guard in 1937, and he now volunteered again for service. The Army offered him a chance to go to the Philippines for a year, and he accepted, entering into active duty on April 14. Little did he realize that just a few months later the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor and the United States would enter World War II.

Heisinger was one of eight Army Judge Advocate Generals assigned to the Philippine Department in Manila, under supervision of General Douglas MacArthur. By December 1941, he had been called upon to assist other USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East) units at Fort Santiago. With the ensuing Japanese attacks, it became apparent that the plan to defend the beaches was impossible, and after Lt. Gen. Homma's December 22-23 assaults on areas of both Lingayen Gulf and Luzon, MacArthur gave orders to withdraw all forces from Manila to Bataan, where the men received only half rations. Furthermore, it became apparent even before Christmas that the staff at Manila would need to move to Corregidor. 

On December 22, Heisinger was among the USAFFE staff members who boarded the Don Esteban at Pier 1, arriving in Corregidor around midnight. MacArthur also traveled to Corregidor. On December 28, Heisinger volunteered to aid the Signal Corps at Topside, and the next day Corregidor faced heavy bombing. The Headquarters building was destroyed, and the staff moved to the Malinta Tunnel. Heisinger reportedly went on detail with the Ordnance Corps from the end of December until January 15, during which time he went to Lubao with a convoy to retrieve as much ammunition as possible. He remained with the Philippine Department as a Judge Advocate General, working with military courts-martial cases, until returning to Corregidor around March 15.

Back in Corregidor, Heisinger, along with two other men, was made a member of the first Judge Advocate General Board of Review outside of Washington and assigned as Chief of the Military Affairs section to handle court-martials.

Corregidor surrendered approximately one month after Bataan, on May 6, 1942. Although the exact date is unknown, Heisinger was sent from the Malinta Tunnel to the 92nd Garage area on Corregidor. The American men were loaded onto two transport ships--the Filipinos on another--and taken to an unfamiliar part of Manila, where they were forced to march three miles past the High Commissioner's quarters to Bilibid Prison. From there, they were sent to one of three Cabanatuan camps, although these eventually dwindled down to one camp. It is believed that Heisinger was in the first camp.

In October 1942, Heisinger was part of a selection headed to Mindanao. On October 26, five hundred of the thousand men selected were marched to the town of Cabanatuan, then packed into boxcars and taken to Manila. From there they marched to Bilibid and the Erie Maru, where they met the other half of the detail. The ship sailed to Ilo Ilo City at Panay, and then to Cebu City, where other prisoners were brought on board. On November 7, 1942, the Erie Maru docked at the Lasang lumber mill, north of Davao City. The men were then marched to Davao Penal Colony and joined by prisoners from Mindanao and Malaybalay.

Heisinger did mostly light work at the colony due to his age, although he initially did some work in the rice fields. He is believed to have been in Barracks #8, which, along with barracks 5-7, was combined into a special compound after several prisoners escaped. During his imprisonment, Heisinger suffered from malaria and beriberi, and due to nutritional deficiencies his eyesight declined.

On June 5, 1944, trucks arrived at Davao to begin transporting the prisoners. The Japanese feared that an American attack on the camp was on the horizon, and the men were given all the food at their disposal before being loaded onto the trucks and taken to Lasang, where they were boarded onto a Japanese ship to Cebu. The men were then marched to San Pedro Fort, where they remained for four days before being marched to the docks and loaded onto a freighter headed for Manila. They were finally unloaded on June 26 and taken back to Bilibid Prison. Four days later, Heisinger was among those sent to Cabanatuan.

Although food was always an issue, there were times when the men received more rations. For instance, Samuel's son Duane Heisinger relates an interesting anecdote in Father Found: "But, even now, more food was available for those who participated in a Japanese film. Two hundred Americans were involved with the film, a reenactment of the Philippine campaign, titled, 'Down with the Stars and Stripes.' The prisoners were also given much needed clothing, which they were allowed to keep, were fed three times a day and had quite decent treatment during the filming. It was a change in routine and almost any change was welcome. But, the propaganda idea backfired. The Americans [actually prisoners] dressed in American uniforms, and in American tanks, were rumbling over a bridge when some Filipinos saw them and thought that our forces had returned! The word spread and Filipinos appeared on all sides waving heretofore, well-hidden American flags and were cheering wildly. This sent the Japanese into a state of complete confusion and there was a good deal of rushing around." 

Only a few months later, on October 12, 1944, Heisinger was part of a draft sent again to Bilibid. Then, on December 13, he was part of the first group to be selected for transport to Japan aboard the Oryoku Maru, and he was placed in the aft hold, where ventilation was scarce or non-existent. The next morning, December 14, the Oryoku was struck by three rockets on the port side aft and by a five-hundred-pound bomb on the port bow, both blows coming from American aircraft unaware of the presence of POWs on the unmarked ship. Throughout the rest of the day, more air strikes caused further damage to the hellship. The Japanese passengers were taken off of the ship, which was then anchored off the Navy Olongapo Base.

On December 15, preparations were made to take the prisoners ashore, but these plans were interrupted by the return of the Navy fighter planes, incurring further damage to the Oryoku and ultimately causing it to sink. Finally, the men were told to swim to shore, albeit with merely an undershirt and shorts and their shoes tied around their necks. Some men were shot while swimming to shore. However, Heisinger did survive, and for the next five days, the prisoners were held on tennis courts, where cramped conditions and lack of sufficient food and water again prevailed. Each man was generally given approximately three tablespoons of dry rice per day.

The prisoners were next taken for a brief respite to San Fernando Prison before being transported in boxcars to San Fernando, La Union. They walked to a trade school and on December 27, 1944 the prisoners were taken to the nearby beach at Poro Point, where they jumped onto barges which took them to either the Enoura Maru or the Brazil Maru. Heisinger was on the former, in the lower hold, although he was moved to the upper hold due to illness. On December 31, both ships arrived in Takao, Formosa, and on January 6, 1945, the men who had come from San Fernando on the Brazil Maru were transferred to the Enoura.

In a bizarre stroke of fate, the same Navy aircraft which had bombed the Oryoku Maru again unknowingly struck the prisoners, now aboard the Enoura in Takao. One bomb, perhaps more, buffeted the forward hold, No. 1, of the Enoura on January 9, 1945. More bombs subsequently collided with the ship, wreaking havoc and resulting in many deaths and injuries. Although Heisinger did not suffer apparent injuries from the bombings, he did have colitis, a form of dysentery, and he also struggled with recurring bouts of malaria. He went into a coma and died from these ailments around the 12th of January, 1945. His body was reportedly taken ashore at Takao and cremated. His remains were ultimately removed to Honolulu, Hawaii on June 13, 1949, to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Although Heisinger was posthumously recommended for the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in the Philippines by Colonel Emil Rawitser, this award was downgraded to the Bronze Star.  

For Samuel Lawrence Heisinger's entire story, read Father Found by Duane Heisinger.