Keever, Joe Whitener
Joe Whitever Keever DiaryRetyped version below
THERE WOULD BE NO SENSATION OF SWEET HAD WE HAD NOT AT SOME TIME TASTED SOMETHING BITTER: SO WE MUST THROUGH OUR VALE OF SORROW IF WE WOULD COME INTO A FULL APPRECIATION OF THE JOY AWAITING US IN SOME TOMORROW.
WHENEVER I HEAR ANYONE COMPLAINING OF THE QUANTITY OR QUALITY OF THE FOOD THEY HAVE TO EAT OR I HAVE FOR ONE MOMENT FORGET HOW THANKFUL I SHOULD BE FOR WHAT I HAVE TO EAT, I WISH I COULD TAKE THEM BACK TO EXPERIENCES WHICH HAVE ACTUALLY HAPPENED. THAT CANNOT BE DONE AND WORDS ARE INADEQUATE TO EXPRESS MY FEELINGS TO THEM, BUT IT CAN REMAIN AS A CONSTANT REMINDER TO ME.
Thousands of dispirited, gaunt, bewhiskered, hulls of me or what remained of them after the surrender of Corregidor and the Bataan Death March and five months at various Filipino PW camps till they were on the “Dysentery Maru” out of Manila to Formosa to ???. Crowded in holds of ships that had been used for cavalry troops and animals; in torrid heat as though we were not humans at all. We drank from a tank of water out of which a pair of messed up shorts had been fished out. Everyone scratching the lice, everyone with running bowels, one even running up the stairs with his finger in his rectum while a stiff one was in the hold, one dying, one playing a guitar, everyone trying to scratch, everyone wallowing in their own sweat and stench while chow was being served. Chow—dried biscuits, hard tack, or whatever you wanted to call it—hard tasteless and bowel loosening; put in water and soaked it would go down in a gooey mess, but how good it tasted whenever a slice of onion could be bummed off a pal or stolen from the jap galley to flavor it up; no salt, pepper, butter, lard, also, no nothing except crackers, onion and water, but the onion set up a feeling like a millionaire. There was a pound of shortening put out to a section of men to eat how they saw fit to take place of butter, oleo, or something, but who saw it after it got there? No afternoon meal smoke unless your were lucky like Ben and I who stole Tiny’s butts out of his butt-holder, or were in the”click” or had managed to goon a detail before leaving the Islands or had money which a few had and held on to. I can have my Christmas, Thanksgiving dinner or my beans, Cornbread, and milk, but it does not taste as good as a little piece of onion or make me feel as good.
On the last day in Nov. we moved to the field. That was not unusual, as we had been looking forward to it for sometime: what was unusual was that the ammunition was broken out. We belted, cleaned, stored and kept it handy-.50m.g. We had heard things might happen, but as soldiers with no war experience as yet or as lots with no actual experience with guns, we felt secure in our little corner of a war-torn world. Come what may we were Americans—we could lick the whole world, yes, even our pitiful few number of men and obsolete equipment. The lowly japs might administer a drubbing to the Chinese Coolie Army, but against white men they didn’t have a chance of the proverbial “snowball in hades.” We were pumped as full of propaganda as the Christmas turkey had stuffings. The japs had nothing, no planes no tanks, their soldiers were nearsighted, couldn’t see you a hundred feet away; they were ignorant in ways of modern warfare—why it was a cinch—come what may we were supreme; they were despicable. What a rude awakening we had after Dec. 8th--------
December 7th—Pat, Yeager and I took on a load of beer at the N.C.O. club and caught the famous “longest free streetcar line in the world” to bottomside. There we were all happy, carefree we, Christmas shopping. I bought a silk kimono and scarf for the girl Claudia; Pat and Yaeger, various articles for their ones back home also. Arriving back at the club, we sat down and ordered a brew—but instead of the soothing taste of San Miguel, we heard rasping words. “You are out of the A.A.” “Yes.” “Report back to your positions.” “Why?” “Unidentified planes have been flying around tonight.” “Well Pat with this load on, I don’t know whether I can find “James” by going by way of the Rifle Range.” “ Well, here I will draw you a map. Think you will be able to find it?” “Sure.” With the aid of the crude map I manage to get back to “James” alone as Pat and Yaeger go to Rifle Range. I came into No. I machine Pit and was on guard. “They say Hawaii has been bombed.” By whom—don’t know—well if japs, let the heathen so and so come on here—yanking the gun around—after yaking awhile, no new news has come, I begin to get sleepy and crawl on the sack.
December 8th—Yes, the Japs bombed P.H. We are in the war naturally. Why aren’t bombing or shelling us—nothing is taking place. That day we get to test fire our guns—at jap planes returning down North Channel after bombing (Cavite) range of 22,000 feet—well at least it got some of the jitters out of our system and found No. I gun buffer closed—gave the 3” A.A. men practice which of whom some had never seen guns fired before—air raids every day, but not attacking the Rock.
December 29th—First raid on the Rock—unknown number of HBs and 13 DBs—How many HBs shot down-one to No. 1 gun of James. From then on raids at same time of day; day in, day out—Me lying in the pit spotting planes, chewing tobacco, unconcerned and Minnis and Aprai down there on a visit—Thank goodness Ramsay wasn’t there—the timid soul in person. Mona-seaplane, airplane, M and C sea-jap shooting at own floating pilot-nine dog fights “Blue Goose.” Made sgt. Wheeler No. 3 was hit—wanted volunteers for crew to take it over—yes, I would—Yaeger, Knisley, Mason, McKinney, Jaks, Jaegers, Parks, me-Parks, the only one of the original crew, and McGovern. The place was wrecked—Tyko, Judgill, and Kelly dead—everyone else hurt or scratched up or frightened to death. Lots of work but finally everything in shape—short on water but Battery Wheeler feeds fair-better than cracked wheat-rice and Vienna sausage are delicious. What is the matter with Marviles? The dry dock is gone—there goes the ammunition ship—Three PTs going out the harbor—The damn japs must have sneaked in and sunk them (the drydock and ammo ship.) Looking through the glasses at the ammo ship when she went up—one big blast and absolutely nothing else—a few smoking embers on the shore and a little oil burning in places where she was—the air blast trying to hit them (our own boats leaving but returned without orders.) Why don’t we fire on the long streams of trucks and men going up the roads behind Mariveles? Why? Why? Why?—Bataan has fallen-boats coming around from tip of Cochina firing at them—God they must be soldiers trying to escape from Bataan to the Rock—No identification of them—We can’t take any chances—boat landing at Mona—three soldiers and a Pino escaped from Bataan—answer to Why? Why? Why? U.S. PWs in with the japs so can’t—terrific artillery from Bataan—constant air raids—plenty of action—Geary blows up—pieces as big as flat cars in the air-barrels of 12” mortars on the golf course. Thank God only 12 men killed—actually prayed due to very close bombs—only three planes—watched them—pits-ammo-water down back-ground quivering-dust fumes—McKinney and I caught in barrage and bombing going to James after watching 155s firing—two rounds a gunout—literally smothered by the counterfire coming in—tough game but so far so good—took a few seconds rest in a hole where excavating a dud bomb taking place—what a place to do so--.50 ammo hit—salvage and test fire .50s, 30s, BARS, rifles, pistols, everything for beach defense. O.K. except pits don’t allow enough depression—remedied—Photo Joe—sausage balloon—heavy artillery barrage on Rock on April 29th—26,000 rounds—took shelter in OP—over everything blown up—how no one got hurt, thank God, 24 240 mm and dozens of smaller shell holes within 25 feet of pits—Jacks starts to run. “Take another step and I will shoot you, you s.o.b.” (Would I really have shot him, I don’t know, but believe I would have if he hadn’t stopped.) Shrapnel in pants—cigarettes stolen—pin holes—Jacks—he refuses to fight—naval boats—wheeler firing—boats leave—relocated in B battery’s old HFD station—has been hit several times already—set up that night—fired next day—heavy bombing and artillery fire-barrage runs up to about 50 ft. of us, then skipped—started at shore and advanced up toward us—hole in side made by previous hit on shack lets debris drift to floor everytime a shell hits near or Wheeler fires—hope it doesn’t come in on us—Wheeler has had to vacate one ammo room—Japs have fired a live, a dud; a live, a dud; till they finally bored through the concrete—Yaeger wakes me—heard mg. Fire—heard japs are landing—says Wheeler on beach defense—CP says heard nothing—called again and said we know it is so, CP. “Stay where you are—have heard nothing—planes before dawn—(“No”-Cp.) “Yes”-we. CP—“Wait until daylight.” Into action—plenty of it-6000 rounds fired—have to help belting ammo—barrels hot—ordered to break guns and equipment—gun bolts—axe to barrel—dynamite—be at Hearn by 11 a.m—expected beach infantry fighting-
Surrender—I don’t believe it, God—le me know it is not true, what is wrong? I never felt I would be killed and I never thought I would be a prisoner of war—God, please say that flag is staying up—the answer—a white flag on top side—the world must be at an end. No, the hell was yet to come. Where were the ships, men, planes, everything we had been told were on the way? My faith in America has gone slightly down hill, but she will still win. Bible, money, pictures, bank deposit receipt, all things of value given to Pinos—hope they can find a use for them—march to Smith—no arms—japs still bombing and shelling—no return fire to them—Gosh, what a night—Minnis, Aprai and I looking over the place for Shultz, Van and others—rise early down to bottomside, first jap face to face, guiding us down—Heavens did such a pint-sized, apeish, sloven-looking soldier beat us—yes—
300,000 to 75, 000 poorly equipped, ill fed men ill fed-yes, why? I don’t know. Boat after boat I helped load for the Japs of salmon, rice, beans, ham, pineapple, pepper, salt, tomatoes, sugar, apricots, peaches, flashlight batteries, ammo, you name it; it was there—yet during the fighting it wasn’t to be had—some QMC officer should be hung for such a deal. I firmly believe we could have beaten them off, but they would have just sat in the hills and shelled us and bombed us to oblivion—hope the higher ups know what they were doing—march to Malinta—officers clean, watches, rings, cigarettes, voice of freedom, see the flag go at Topside—night on rock gravel; Flag at Fort Terminal, searchlights go to guide B-17s, load of marine chow, wine at No. 3 trading rice for salty raisins to Pinos, blackjack, Matthews, watch no have, topside and Middleside wrecked first dead at topsides, alert—no raid; no alert raid while at the latrine, boasting of jap nco. McKinney and shelling in road volunteer for the P.A. spotter—detail too late—Bunnell killed—PT boat machine gunner wounded—blink lights for identification—bombing of destroyers—minesweepers firing, bombing of rock, PT fight in China Sea, Hearn at PT boat, Mona firing, Photo Joe; Balloon.
92nd garage-civilians lighting cigarettes with $20 bills—live and stay anywhere or place you can—no food except scavenged chow—one water faucet—walk to Malinta for water—carry it coolie fashion—two cans on a pole—boiling sun—feces everywhere—5 hours at a time sweat out line for one canteen of water-scavenged for chow—jap shot at us; whether to hit or not, don’t know—no more that way—Jim Matthews and I took some type of “C” and cigarettes off dead bloated Marines—they won’t need them—japs laid out for funeral pyre—layer of wood, layer of japs, layer of wood, layer of japs-gas-light. First deaths of dysentery in camp—Ben and three others lined up and marched as if on work detail to James. Plenty of grub. Massey and others from Hughes here-glad to see him-stench, filth, hunger, thirst and thievery-Ben got bayoneted for not moving fast enough-jap kudahed a prisoner for trying to go somewhere—hit him with butt of rifle—PW broke his jaw-jap killed PW. Bathe and wash clothes in the ocean—no soap-prisoners selling Lucky Strikes for $20 a carton for a pint of rice—who has any rice?
Orders now—“no more food will be brought in from work parties”-smuggled can of salmon in after eating all I could hold. Our few, Johnson, Yeager, me doing pretty well on our eating now by our system of swiping part of that being loaded on docks—accidentally on purpose dropping cases of food and letting them break open-gorging. Rain like hell-everything soaked. Load on boats for Manila—spent all night on boat—Manila-wading through water to shore—paraded up Dewey Boulevard and around to Bilibid Prison—the proud arrogant looks of our “superior captors” jap parade with the white boxes of ashes of dead-“the sorrowful and uneasy smile one would get from some civilians when no one was looking—no jeering from them-our loss was their loss-one brought us some water, one tried to give us cigarettes-no luck-Col. Bunker passes out—others also—through the streets to let the Pinos look at their former friends in arms-
Manila looks very deserted but little wreckage-merely stripped-that old lady is crying in her handkerchief-now she is giving us a thin smile-we can’t smile; we know we failed-look at her glance around-no one notices her-a banana is thrust in Johnson’s hand. Bilibid—two days and nights with only rice and water-panchitas-up at three for train-90 or 100 to a small boxcar-no ventilation except open door—oppressively hot-many have dysentery-asses sticking out of door-many pass out-grumbling and growling., hungry and thirsty.
Cabanatuan City—rice, rain, wet, sick at heart-managed mango, bathed in rain, Lord how good-no sleep as soaked bones and cold wind blowing-dawn-off to Cabanatuan No. 3 PW Camp-20 kms away-hot, thirsty, hunger, tired, feet hurt, more pass out-some picked up in jap truck-some not-pickled egg-Lord was I glad to see the camp-shook down-barracks No. 5 me underneath hqs on ground-rice-no money-details go to “clique”-who goes out and buys and resells to ones who have money for then to one hundred times the price-three try to escape-caught-grotesque position tied on fence-no water-Pinos forced to hit them, jap guard shift also-dig own graves-knocks farewell cigarette and water away-look happy and die like true Americans-firing squad-one row kneeling, one row standing, mercy shot by Jap officer-saw from latrine-all PWS cleaned from area-a little beyond and to the left of the barracks on a little hill-give me strength to be as brave as they if my time comes. Groups of ten—if one escapes, other nine to be shot. Wood cutting details—hungry degenerated into sweating out the jap left-overs from the jap kitchen across the fence-men searching the garbage pits-God how we have lost our pride-a hungry stomach knows no pride-muddy river for baths and washing clothes.
Kitchen detail-horribly burned. Four months on stomach-first, second, and third degree burns-no medicine except G.I. soap and tweezers to pick the scabs off and gauze—thank God for friends who keep my shirt washed for me-lost 38 pounds already-stink horribly-blackouts-force a little rice down-a friend manages a few cigars and gives them to me—chew them-Tyko’s mosquito net a godsend-keep the flies off my stinking running burnt back—Yeager made tea from some leaves-it was delicious-a few medicines-passed out three times going to latrine-never got there-am better-Doc said he thought I never had a chance-never did I think it would kill me.
Moved to barracks No. 9-borrowed 40 pesos from Finney-Jim got a can of salmon-made patties at kitchen-three of us ate them-gosh they are heavenly-ate them after dark-too many hungry men around-you have to look after yourself and friends for it is survival of the fittest-Meese, Lathan, and I had a cigarette and smoke it under Meese’s barracks-sure was good-bought a pack from japs-all had some good times, but hoarded them like gold which they were. Our officers are doing all right for themselves. Major McNair took over our group and made the officers rake up some butter and milk which we should have had, but suppose the officers needed them worse than the enlisted men. Got some salt from Hayes—it is delicious.
Rain, rain, rain-Alexander kept us out in it-Jim got malaria-slept beside me-out of head-three days later died-my best friend gone-the 56th at camp-Germany surrenders-we will be traded for $10,000,000 and fifty planes (rumors)-helped dig Jim’s grave, carry him, bury him, naked, a few words from the chaplain and gone, but not forgotten-had 1/5 messkit of tobacco of his-split it four ways-kept his buns-kept his razor and brush (sent them to his parents after the war). He was a swell egg.
Rice, camote, root broth, hard flooring to sleep on, no clothing or bedding by japs. Okayed for leaving on boat detail to somewhere-Japan? Issued us ½ blanket and a pair of Pino fatigue clothes-saw first louse on blanket received by Tiny Ervin (tiny, yet 6’3” 208 pounds). Japs amazed at chewing tobacco-rice brought by bullock, in hats, raincoats, gas cans, pieces of tin, cocoanut halves, butt guns, conchitas, saw dust, sugarblocks, fake money, trading for mangoes. PWs essential equipment is a canteen or bottle for water/ a spoon or fork/ a messkit or messkit lid or piece of tin or cocoanut shell or something to eat out of. These are carried every place a person goes-visiting, latrine, details, fly catching-who knows, maybe there will be some chow somewhere.
October 7th--left at 12 o’clock-issued rice ball, banana, egg-hiked to Cabanatuan City-arrived about daybreak-crowded on train to Manila, arrived about daybreak-crowded on train to Manila, arrived at dark-spent night there-had a good bath on dock—had fish heads and rice-next day loaded on boat, but didn’t leave. Hot, miserable, crowded, thirsty, absolutely not enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time. Rigged a bunk out of my blanket out of the way-issued crackers for meal-bread for 3 meals “Dysentery Maru.” Left harbor-to Formosa-torpedoes-one in front, one behind, one broached-we still have some friends out here-eating, sleeping, finger in rectum, dead, dying, singing, sewing, picking lice, playing banjo, no births-but deaths-attempted suicides.
Formosa-tubes for dysentery-fire hose for bath on dock in front of hundreds of jap girls looking out of office windows-indifferent. Left part of japs here-left part of our dying and worst cases.-Off we shove to an island-anchor. Cold as dickens at island-turn around to Formosa hot as hades-back to island, back to Formosa, back to island-off at last to somewhere-latrine lines are 24 hours a day long-shiver and shit-a pair of messed up drawers in drinking water tank-Hankins and his darlings at Formosa buy grub-Ben and I swiping Tiny’s butts-piece of onion and cracker and water was better than chicken pie-manage some salt also-then it was a dessert. Japs bargaining with prisoners for anything-West Point ring worth a pack of cigarettes and if lucky, a little rice also. Boat rolls and Ben has blanket, rolls my way and I have a blanket. Rice and soup-many sick, so get all I can hold, but leaves me in the latrine very soon and often.
November 7th—arrive at Fusan-unload on the 8th-a
month of travel which ordinarily could be made in a week of
jap winter clothes on pier-strip and change on pier in icy cold-march
town-board train and leave at 4 p.m.-the train seemed like heaven after
trip. Box lunches
given us for rations,
delicious with tea, Knip and Don singing-jap pays off with
on ground-cotton stalks pulled, but not picked, lake, geese, ducks,
railroad stations, Knip writing in Chink on dust on dust on window “I
American” Chinks smiled-picked up Limeys at Cajan (two)-Chinese
terrible-lice crawling and falling off baggage racks like wheat grain,
Ben, Cooke and Me in the same seat—Knip, Kochman and (?) in another
Knip in that seat later die in prison.)
March 21, 1944 (marked 26th Birthday on side of paper)—Traded for 3 extra buns, bought 3, McLeod fried them in oil, Meese gave me his soup, Hoffman maize patty, McLeod 3 patties, messkit of rice (they worked in the galley)-boy, oh, boy, the most chow. Riot at factory? Many relieved-nit me then-next month I was a nuisance to the factory and was relieved-delaying campaign-drilling-farm detail-cigarettes 1 yen per fag, one pack of American went for 80 yen-privates get paid 10 sen a day, but japs keep part of it except for a little-good deal Brill-maize-beans-mush-no meat. First mail was from Claudia in January 1944.
Christmas 1943, apple, Yorkshire pudding-beans-sweet corn bread-a patty-bun-gravy (we had saved up for weeks to manage it.) Strip and snow and cold for shakedown inspections-soap burn behind knee on smuggler—40 below zero-Kudel and Chisholm standing in the cold-moonlight and snow-Brewster killed-Bull of the woods and his own saber-Mac and Pat to Japan?-It was Korea. Semler and I to textile mill-canvas mill-Red Cross Chow-construction gang-warp room-weave-room-plans ideas-main-Inado-Slane cut chow-no shoes-no shirts-overtime-no cigs-one day a month off now instead of one day every two weeks-air raids-17 PWs killed-watch planes from benje-reading on guard-caught-Leanor and Joe Louis slugged me-outside at attention all night, work next day-mad men, crazy me-dirty-charcoal burners-siren-Harpie, Chinks smuggling, B29 pictures in Mill-siren-Harpie, Chinks smuggling, B29 pictures in mill-trading-rules tighten, guards increase-heavier production schedule-more bangos-more tens on-Inado at radio-burning papers-filling splinter proof-Wolf taking flour to ? beans, blankets, etc. in attic before an inspection—inspection of towels, toilet paper, soap, toothbrushes, etc. No work-return to main camp-O.S.S. man-Parker’s speech-Russians come in-B29s dropping food clothing, medicine-town-brewery-dead on streets-great wall-tommy gunning ceiling-vodka-samshu-house-blue sapphire, gold peacock-Russian show-shots-waiting-train-Darien-Old Glory waves again-first sight of her in 29 months. Hospital ship “Relief”-sprayed-everyone wonderful to us. Okinawa-first coke in nearly four years. Fly to Manial-29th replacement depot-boat to Seattle-arrive October 28th-Madigan General Hospital. Conley and I to Tacoma and Seattle-hospital train to Asheville-Moore General Hospital Nov. 4th. Called Dot (from Seattle) Rachel, Hershel, Helen, and Bill saw on the 5th.
Scurvy, malnutrition, Itchoysis-severe-aggravated by military service. Several nodular infiltration in the upper lobe below the clavicle. The largest of this is over 1 cm. in diameter. These findings are highly suggestive of a TB process and could be considered active until proven otherwise.
The above is taken from the diary of Joe Whitener Keever kept during his years as Prisoner of War during World War II.
Note: The entry for Christmas 1943 may be meant to be Christmas 1944.