Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity
Ed Kozer

Sgt. Edward Kozer (biography donated by Mary Rote, relative)

Note: Some family history is included within this biography so that any reader/researcher will be able to understand the letters more fully.

Ed Kozer in the Philippines

Edward Andrew Kozer was born on July 24, 1921 in rented rooms at 813 O'Donovan Street in McKees Rocks. He was the first son of Martin and Anna Fekety Kozer, but the second child born to the couple. Ed had a sister Anna Katrina (aka Kathryn) who was 14 months older and with whom he became very close. When Ed was nearly two, the family moved to their own home 713 Woodward Avenue in the West Park Section of Stowe Township, and it was here that Ed would have recognized as home. Shortly after the family moved, two other siblings were born. Ed would have described his early childhood as happy. Their home was within walking distance of schools and shops, and Ed had plenty of neighborhood children to play with.

Tragedy struck the family on March 19, 1928. Mother Anna went into a protracted and difficult labor and gave birth to John, her fifth child. John was delivered by a midwife who quickly recognized that Anna was in grave danger. Sent to Magee Women's Hospital, Anna died 2 days later of blood poisoning, possibly because the placenta did not fully expel after the childbirth. She was only 30 years old at the time of her death.

After Anna died, Martin was in a dilemma. Who would care for his five children? Anna's older sister Mary was contacted, and agreed to come for a while to care for the family. Mary took a leave of absence from her job at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio, and arrived on March 26. Thirty-three and a half year old Mary was unsuited for the responsibility for raising a family. She was an out-going, opinionated, single woman who enjoyed her job, and had many friends in Akron. Mary knew nothing about being a mother. Mary tried to keep the family together. However the older children, Kathryn, Eddie and Bob resented her presence. They barely knew their Aunt Mary, and resisted her attempts to put the family back on “normal” footing. Irene, at age 2, had no inhibitions, and accepted Mary's attentions willingly. The baby John was a problem. There was not mother's milk for nursing him. During the day, a neighbor who had an infant, cared for John, but at night he came back to the Kozer home and cried and cried. Mary did not know what to do, and did not have any experience in consoling a newborn. Also, the neighbors being superstitious, suggested that John was crying because he wanted to be with his mother! After a few weeks it was agreed that baby John would be place in St. Rosalia's Foundling Home to be cared for. Baby John did not thrive and died in 1930.

Mary had to return to her job at Goodyear by May 7 or lose her position at the company. But how could she leave the other 4 children, who although hostile to her presence, depended on her to cook, do the laundry, and provide stability in their home? After much soul-searching. Mary finally agreed to quit her job and stay with the Kozer family. However, as the months wore on, Mary became increasingly uncomfortable living with Martin and caring for his children.

Since she had been there for over a year, people were beginning to gossip and Mary threatened to leave and return to her life in Akron. Desperate, Martin said that if Mary left, he would be forced to put the four children in an orphanage. If she stayed, Martin promised to marry Mary and allow her to run the household. Somewhat attached to the children and feeling responsible for their well being, Mary agreed to stay and marry Martin. They wed on Mary's 35th birthday, August 28, 1929.

The marriage of Martin and Mary was one of convenience and necessity, and not of love. Once married to his step-sister, Martin became more aloof and started drinking heavily. Financial conditions in the United States also deteriorated around this time, and Martin worried about keeping his job as a laborer on the P&LE Railroad. Without this income, he would not be able to pay the mortgage or provide for his family. Around the fall of 1933, Martin left his job on the railroad for a better paying, more reliable position at Gulf Oil Company on Neville Island. He remained at this job until his retirement in 1959.

As they grew older, Mary had a hard time managing the Kozer children. Kathryn was especially rebellious. She quit school after the eighth grade and by the age of 16 had moved to Crafton to become a domestic for the Breloses, a wealthy family who needed  help with the housekeeping. It was around this time (1935) that Mary's brothers moved from Allport, Cambria County, PA to McKees Rocks. The mines where they had worked closed down, and there were no opportunities for other employment in that area. So Uncles Andy and Steve moved into the attic of 713 Woodward Avenue. These uncles were quite influential in shaping the personalities of the Kozer boys, Ed and Bob.

Ed in particular did not like that his uncles drank and smoked. He thought these habits were dirty and as waste of money. He also did not like the way his uncles became sometimes silly and sometimes mean whenever they drank. Ed was certainly not going to be like them! Bob had a different idea about these habits. He secretly stole and smoked their cigarettes, and developed a taste for the beer and whiskey that the uncles sometimes brought home with them. Bob would sneak sips, once the uncles were asleep.

Uncle Andy (Hunkle) was very social and enjoyed going with his step-brother Martin to the various ethnic clubs in the area. And like Martin, Andy enjoyed his liquor. Unfortunately, Andy had a congenital heart problem and should not have been drinking! He worked at several part-time jobs, earning “pocket money” to support his drinking habit. He died in 1941. Uncle Steve (Barney) secured a job at Continental Can Company and dated a girl whose family owned a tavern across the alley from 713 Woodward Avenue. Steve spent some of his free time at Sulzer's Tavern, helping his future wife and father-in-law bartend in the evenings. Steve also developed a drinking problem.

Eddie was an easy-going boy with dreams. He wanted to buy a farm. “Aunt” Mary had friends in Canton, Ohio who owned a working farm. Ed spent several summers with the Grixes, helping them out and learning to love the country life. Industrious, Ed also worked part-time after school at the Economy Market. However money was tight during the Depression, and young men could not secure good jobs that paid well.

Ed learned about the C.M.T.C. (Civilian Military Training Corps) from counselors at Stowe High School. He thought that this program would be useful training, allowing him an advantage to get a steady, decent paying job in the Army with the opportunity for advancement, plus satisfying his curiosity and affording him the chance to travel. After Ed's junior year, he joined the C.M.T.C., and trained for 4 weeks at Ft. Meade, Maryland. Upon graduating from Stowe High School in June 1939, Ed continued training with the C.M.T.C, this time at Ft. Hoyle, MD. Whenever Ed turned 18, he joined the Army Air Force Corps, and signed on for foreign service in the Philippine Islands.

The following narrative about Ed's time in the Army Air Corps has been taken from the many letters that he sent home. Ed was a descriptive writer, and his sendings home were full of details about his stay in the Philippines.

Ed transferred from Fort Hoyle to Fort Meade to await his orders with 23 other new recruits. Ed received an honorable discharge from Fort Hoyle (C.M.T.C.) He also received a Pistol Shot 1st Class pin for markmanship with a .45 pistol. Ed left Ft. Meade in August 1939, taking a fast electric train to New York City. It is from NYC that Ed will ship out to the Philippines. While in New York Ed was stationed at Ft. Slocum. He did a lot of drilling and scrubbing here, but finds time to visit the 1939 New York World's Fair, go to Coney Island, and swim in the Atlantic Ocean.

Ed sails in late September 1939 from NYC to the Philippines aboard the USS Grant transport ship. The trip takes Ed down the East Coast, past Cuba and other smaller islands, into the Panama Canal. Once through the canal, the Grant goes up the coast of Central America, Mexico and Lower California, and stops in San Francisco. While on leave here, Ed visits the San Francisco Exposition. The Grant then made its way Oahu, Hawaii and unto Guam, before docking at Manila on Thursday October 27, 1939 at 9 AM. Upon disembarkment, 64 recruits are sent to Clark Field, and 200 (including Ed) go to Nichols Field.

Pvt. Ed enjoys being in the Philippines. He is happy being on his own, having money to save and spend, being able to seen new sights, and eating three square meals a day. Ed makes approximately $17/ month after paying $2/month for laundry services. Ed claims that he is “living like a king.” While at Nichols, Ed does some sightseeing in Manila, visiting the Guadalupe Ruins and walking along the Pasig River.

By late 1939, Ed contracts a fever and is in the Army Hospital for 10 days. He spends Thanksgiving in the hospital and comments that the food was great and the women Army nurses cute.

Upon his hospital discharge, Ed is assigned to work in the library, which he deems “a lousy job.” Ed doesn't drink, attends church regularly, and claims that being in the Army is great. He had a dentist fill 6 of his teeth, gets regular medical check-ups. Ed swims in the pool, plays pool, goes to the movies regularly, and has taken up horseback riding (which will be a useful skill once he buys his farm). The sunsets on Manila Bay are gorgeous with the palm and bamboo trees. It is like being in paradise!!!!
Although Ed misses Aunt Mary's chicken soup, he is glad that he joined the Army for that consistent paycheck.

By April 1940, Ed is studying at Clark Field School of Mechanics to be an air mechanic. He will take his first exam in June. He is now working on #50 airplane, and has been in the air twice on #56. He has made Private First Class rank and now receives $30/month.

Ed scored a 95% on his June air mechanics exam and was pleased. Although he does not play on the team, Ed went with the Clark baseball team to Manila. They were playing the 31st Infantry in Manila's Rizal Stadium. Ed also traveled with the bowling team (as a spectator) to Nichols Field for a meet. He relates that on the way back to Clark the Dodge ton truck (part of the convoy) went over a 15-foot embarkment into a swamp. This occurred about 15 miles from Clark. Ed was riding in an air-cooled 1925 Franklin (in good shape, except for the brakes). Since it was pitch black, no one saw the Dodge go into the swamp, but only heard the guys hollering. The Franklin stopped and backed up, but it was too went over the embankment! Everyone got out safely, but were soaking wet. The alarm boxes or fire trucks around, the guys just watched the truck burn. Fortunately, a small reconnaisance truck was with the convoy, and it was able to safely return to
Clark to get help.

In early April 1940 Ed and a group of fellows took a hiking trip up Mt. Pinatuba. Ed took many photos of the scenery, and received a certificate, “Balugas of Pinatubo,” for reaching the summit. He sent this certificate home with instructions as to where to place it in his room. He was quite proud of this feat.

Ed was changed to another bomber by mid-June 1940. Supposedly 3 of the 4 gas tanks are leaking an need replaced. Ed claims that this is very time consuming as there about 400 screws to take out for the replacement. One also must disconnect the gas line, etc.

Ed hoped that the US does not get into the war, or else he would be in the Philippines until it was over. “One good thing is that the war won't be in the Philippines and I'll be safe and sound.” How wrong he was with this statement! He does say that guard duty has increased from 4 to 14 men, and he will need to pull this duty every week, rather than every 2 weeks.

By September 1940, Ed is complaining about being awakened at 5:25 AM for exercises. He also feels sorry for his new crew chief who, according to Ed, does not know much about airplane engines. Ed had traveled to Dau on a train that is run by an international gasoline engine (regular truck engine). He went to Dau to pick up an 8.00 P (Philippine peso) pair of shoes that were made for him by a Chinese man.

By October, Ed is on permanent guard duty for 30 days. All privates and privates first class are required to pull this duty. He is on guard over a concrete bomb magazine #163, right out into the jungle. He rotates on duty 4 hours and off 8 hours, and every 4th day he is relieved and can come back to the barracks. Ed doesn't like the night shift because there is always something moving around in the grass; it might be caribou or pythons. Also on almost every night the Office of the Day comes around to check if you are sleeping! If you were, you'd be put in the guardhouse. When the Officer comes, the soldiers must challenge him and make him get out of his car to sure it is the OD. The guards carry a shotgun that shoots 00 buck and a Colt .45 pistol. Ed often sees wild chickens, pigeons and dove, but the guards are forbidden to shoot unnecessarily.

In November 1940,  Ed is back in the hangers working on replacing a plane engine. He mentions congenial Father Duffey, and participating in evening devotions to the Blessed Virgin, Ed claims that Thanksgiving dinner was grand: turkey, cranberry sauce sweet potatoes, stuffed olives, black olives, peas, sweet pickles, radishes, lemonade, mixed nuts, apples, bananas, chocolate cake, mince meat pie, pumpkin pie, and other dishes that he cannot remember. The 2nd Observation Squadron from Nichols is now at Clark, although sleeping in tents.

In early November 1941, Ed is promoted to crew chief on a B-18. He was finally promoted to corporal in October. Hurrah! Ed took a plane ride to Legazpi and they flew over the volcano Mayon, the only volcano on the island of Luzon. Unfortunately Ed couldn't see the top of the volcano due to clouds. On October 27, Ed marked his 2 year anniversary in the Philippines. If his service hadn't been extended, he would be on a ship home! Ed would like to write about a lot of things, but “since everything is like it is, we soldiers aren't allowed to write anything about the airplanes and other military matters: He says if they do, they will end up in the guardhouse. Ed wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

The family received a telegram from Ed on March 6, 1942. He says he is fine and not to worry. On March 18, 1942 sends his sister Kathryn a letter. It is censored, and as far as can be determined, this is the last communication from Ed.

According to Edward Jackfert, who was in the 28th Bombardment Squadron with Ed Kozer, the squadron evacuated from Clark. On December 29, 1941 the 28th received orders to travel to the port of Marveles and boarded an inter-island ship, the S.S. Mayon After two days the ship docked at Bugo, Mindinao, the soldiers were given Enfield rifles, and taken to Carmen Ferry on the Pulangi River. Their orders were to patrol the river and guard the ferry. The men slept in tents and had canned rations to support them. On May 10, 1942, the 28th, along with other American soldiers in the Philippines, were ordered to surrender. This group was taken by U.S. Army truck to Maramag, and then to a POW camp at Malaybaly, Mindinao, Camp Casisang.

It is known that Ed was at Camp Caisang (Malaybaly) until late September 1942. According to Al Young’s documents, Ed is listed on the 28th Squadron Organizational Days, Menu of Second Company, Prisoner of War Camp, Camp Casisang for Sunday 20 September 1942. It is thought that Ed left Camp Casisang in late September, and moved to a POW camp at Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) in the southern part of Mindanao.It was here that he died from malaria and malnutrition on January 19, 1943.

Kozer family learned of Eddie’s death on July 11, 1943. Ed’s youngest sister Irene, a recent graduate from Stowe High recalls that she and her boyfriend (and future husband) Jake Stifarofsky were sitting on the porch around 10:30 PM, when a car went by shining a light at the houses, looking for the street numbers. The car stopped on the street by her home (713 Woodward Avenue) and a telegraph deliveryman came into the porch and asked Irene to get her father. The telegram stated that Ed Kozer, a Japanese POW, had died on July 1, 1943 in the Philippines. Irene recalls that her dad Martin cried upon reading the message. Ed was only 21 years old at the time of his death. It was not until 1946 that the corrected date of Ed’s death was recorded.

Around March 1946 the family received a small package from the War Department containing Eddie’s personal effects. Official War Department documents indicate that American POWs at Davao buried Ed. His body was identified by carved markings on a cross (no dog tags were discovered). Ed’s remains were later moved to the American Military Cemetery in Manila.

Ed's Letters

Ed wrote many letters home while he was in the service:

Letter 1, August 6, 1938

Letter 2, August 6, 1939

Letter 3, August 16, 1939

Letter 4, August 19, 1939

Letter 5, September 28, 1939

Letter 6, October 6, 1939

Letter 7, October 29, 1939

Letter 8, January 2, 1940

Letter 9, February 29, 1940

Letter 10, April 23, 1940

Letter 11, May 4, 1940

Letter 12, June 1, 1940

Letter 13, June 12, 1940

Letter 14, June 14, 1940

Letter 15, July 16, 1940

Letter 16, September 1, 1940

Letter 18, October 2, 1940

Letter 22, December 31, 1940

Letter 23, March 21, 1941

Letter 24, April 1, 1941

Letter 25, April 24, 1941

Letter 26, April 29, 1941

Letter 27, May 3, 1941

Letter 28, June 19, 1941

Letter 29, July 31, 1941

Letter 30, September 23, 1941

Letter 31, October 3, 1941

Letter 32, October 4, 1941

Letter 33, October 7, 1941

Letter 34, November 1, 1941

Letter 35, March 13, 1942

Read a typed version of all of the above letters