Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity
Charles Lewis Picture

Charles Lewis

Excerpt from Lysle Lewis's biography of her husband recounting one of his many survivals

While Chuck was held a prisoner of war by the Japs, he managed to steal some sugar from their supply late one night. His presence was discovered and he literally had to run for his life through the pitch black night with the Jap guards in hot pursuit. He said God's hand must have pushed him as he thrust his chest forward and pulled in his back JUST AT THE PRECISE MOMENT a Jap guard thrust a bayonet at his back. The blade entered his back left shoulder and had he not thrown his body forward AT THAT SECOND, the blade would have penetrated his body into his heart. He made it back to his bunk and here came the Jap guards with flashlights, looking for someone breathing heavily. As they approached his bunk he struggled to get control of his breath so they wouldn't see his heaving breast. He felt the blood trickling down his back and he could hear it dripping through the straw mat. He said he thought his lungs would explode and they would the dripping of his blood before they moved on. But they didn't. He survived once again.


Image of Charles Lewis as POWMore of Charles Lewis story

Chuck was right there when it all began. He tried to put things down and I was able to get a lot of verbatim accounts which I now quote. He dictated the following shortly upon his return home in late 1945 and early 1946. It was a strain for him to recall all these details, but here it is, in his own words:


“July 27, 1941: I was transferred from the U.S.S. Oklahoma to the U.S.S California awaiting transfer to the Asiatic Station. After spending nine days aboard the U.S.S. California I was transferred to the Navy Transport Henderson which took me to the Asiatic Station. We left Honolulu the sixth day of August, 1941—destination Manila, Philippine Islands. After 17 days of rough typhoon weather we finally reached Guam. We laid off at Guam until the 23rd of August,1941 and then proceeded to Manila. Four days off Guam a Jap Task Force was sighted. At this time all Naval vessels in the Asiatic Station were under orders to darken ship from sunset to sunrise. Escorting us to the Asiatic Station were the light cruisers U.S.S. Boise and U.S.S. Louisville. The Jap Task Force followed us for ten days and then left us at San Bernadino Straits.


On September 12, 1941, we sighted the lights of Manila after a hectic voyage from Honolulu. On the morning of the 13th our orders were changed to Tarakan, Borneo, where I went aboard the U.S.S. Canopus, a submarine tender in the Asiatic Station. The skipper of this ship was Lieutenant Commander Sackett. September 17, 1941, U.S.S. Canopus steamed out of Tarakan bound for Shanghai, China. En route to Shanghai we stopped at Burma, Singapore, Java and then on to Shanghai. We arrived October 3, 1941. On the 4thI made my first liberty in Shanghai. The money exchange at this time was 23 mecs for on dollar American money. While on liberty I bought silks, shoes, tailor-made Navy blue uniform, three star sapphires (which cost me about $35 American money. The International Settlement in Shanghai at this time was more or less used as a refuge for the Chinese who would come from Hong Ku, Japanese held territory at this time. The puppet war leader in Hong Ku was Wang Ching Wa, at this time Chiang Kai-shek’s right-hand man.


The Japanese marines, know as the Gendarmes or secret service men in this area, were allowed to patrol in the International Settlement.


The United States Fourth Marine Division, under the command of Colonel Howard were the American Embassy Guards in Shanghai. Their duties were to patrol and prevent any riots occurring along the Wan Po river or inside the International Settlement. All nations at this time had marines in Shanghai except Germany and Russia.


After spending three days in Shanghai we then went to Peiping. We spent one day in Peiping and then proceeded to Tiesien. While in Tiesien we saw Chinese guerrilla actions against the Japanese and also the famous Flying Tiger Squadron in action. After buying a few souvenirs here and there, the ship got under way for Manila. After leaving China we went back to Zambawango. En route Jap Task Force could be sighted all the way. After reaching Zambawango, orders were changed and we proceeded to Manila.

On November 29, 1941, we were ordered to Cavite Navy Yard for three overhaul. All this time anti-aircraft gun crews were standing by their mounts night and day. After three days in Cavite Navy Yard, Captain Sackett asked for a fifteen day extension. This was not granted. On December 2, orders from the C. and C. took us to Pier 7, Manila Bay, for base of operation. On December 6, we heard strong rumors that 84 Japanese transports escorted by four capitol ships, seven cruisers, ten destroyers, and three aircraft carriers were lying off Lingueian Gulf. On December 7th nets were rigged above the Canopus. We all knew this was for camouflage. On December 8th, 4:00 a.m. we got the official report on the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The whole Asiatic Submarine Force was lying in Manila Bay. One by one they came alongside to fuel, get provisions, take ammunition aboard and get torpedoes. The deck crew aboard the Canopus worked night and day getting torpedoes and ammunition ready for the submarines that would come to the states. On December 12, we had our first air raid. Fifty-four Japanese heavy bombers flew over Manila, dropping propaganda leaflets, and then went on. Everything from a .22 to a 3-inch anti-aircraft gun was fired but not successfully.

On December 13, 9:00 a.m. the air raid alarm again sounded. Fighter planes and bombers on Clark Field wee ordered by the high command not to take off. Twenty minutes later Clark Field was in flames. All planes on Clark Field were destroyed except for two bombers and three fighter planes.

On December 14, 6:00 p.m. the air raid alarm again sounded. Planes, both fighters and bombers on Nichols Field were destroyed within 30 minutes after air raid sounded. Orders from the high command were “Not to leave station.” From then on out Japanese air raids were daily right at 12 noon.

On December 12, the 84 transports unloaded their cargo into small landing boats and sent them ashore at Lingueian. Submarine forces lying in Manila Bay were ordered not to move so they stood by. On the 18th submarines were ordered out to patrol the China Sea area and Lingueian. On the 22nd I went aboard the S-34 for a run to Lingueian. While up there a Jap destroyer found us and we had to dive. This was the record dive of any S-boat in the U.S. Navy—307 feet. All day long the Jap destroyer depth-charged us. We were under 16 hours. One battery explosion in the after part of the submarine caused three casualties. Finally after 16 hours the explosion from the depth-charges knocked us loose from the ledge which we were caught on. We then escaped from the destroyer. On December 23 an official report from General Douglas MacArthur stated that the fall of Manila was inevitable.

At 4:00 a.m., on December 23, 1941, the U.S.S. Canopus, U.S.S. Whippoorwill, U.S.S. Finch, U.S.S. Bitter, and P.T. boats proceeded toward Marivailles Harbor. This was the base of operations until April 9, 1942. U.S.S. Canopus took its place in what they called the Secemen Cove. Nets were rigged for the camouflage of the ship during our stay there. Christmas night, cold cuts, baked beans, cherry pie and biscuits were served as Christmas dinner. At this time Corregidor had undergone only a few air raids. On December 27, 54 Japanese large bombers began their attack on Corregidor, Fort Hughes, Fort Drum and the front lines of Bataan. All the Navy men on Bataan helped in the digging of a tunnel which would be used as a sub-Naval headquarters of the Philippines. On December 29, 57 high-flying Japanese bombers spotted on the U.S.S. Canopus. Two bombing runs were made without success, and then a lone high flyer made a direct hit mid-ship. After fires were extinguished, the casualties were seven dead, 34 wounded. A very good friend of mine, Squire Boone Zane, Watertender 1/c, was hit and died 20 minutes later. After the damage was estimated, the main shaft on which the bomb exploded put the ship completely out of commission. We all thought that eventually we would leave the Philippines and leave for Australia. So the work began immediately for new bearings. On January 4, 1942, the ship was well enough repaired to get underway. On January 5, I was transferred to the U.S. Naval Battalion. After receiving special orders from Corregidor, I was transferred to a Marine Anti-aircraft Battery on Bataan. This was known as Battery Cass, located in a valley on a rice paddy. I was stationed on Gun #2, Corporal Dillon in charge.

Day after day everything was quiet until January 19. The attacks began at 7:00 a.m. and lasted until dark. On January 20, 17 Navy men were ordered to the front lines of Bataan for lookouts. I was among the 17. We received our orders from Colonel Howard, U.S. Marines. Equipped with rifles, .45s and bayonets, and 17 Navy men, we left for the front lines at dusk. Sometime that same evening we took up our position as lookouts. On the 21st and 22nd, no action. ON the 23rd the Japs started their attack. At 6:00 p.m. on the 23rd they had driven the Bataan front lines within two kilometers of our lookout station.

Until 9:00 p.m. the battle raged and then all was quiet on Bataan. We reported everything that we had seen and were ordered to keep our position until further notice.

On the morning of the 24th we looked out across the battlefield and saw nothing but the Japs. Five of use decided to go back. Leaving our .30 caliber rifles in the lookout station, disconnecting the telephone, we then began our trek back to Marvailles. After two days of wandering along the China Seacoast we finally ran into some infantrymen.

Hungry and tired, the five of us reported into Naval sub-headquarters. The remaining 12 at the lookout station were never heard from again. This is one time we got a good feed—canned baked ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, chocolate milk, two cartons of cigarette, and were recommended.

That night, back to anti-aircraft duty. On January 27, the Japanese forces had penetrated the back lines of Bataan. They were first seen going across a new air field which the engineers were building in Marvailles. They were dug in a place called Poocot Hill. On the evening of the 27th the Marines and 27 Navy men were sent to do away with them. They told us that there were only 10 or 15 Japs. On my birthday, January 28, five of my friends and I encountered six Japs in a hand-to-hand battle. After a long hard battle, the Marines finally came to the rescue. Four men died of wounds. All day long firing could be heard now and then. On January 29, I was machine-gunned in the leg. This was treated with sulfa drugs and the slug left in. On the night of the 29th, the Philippino scouts with an American Captain in command, came in to take over. We were all relieved that the scouts had come to take over. After returning to the Marine battery, we had the first good food in two days. The Scouts fought for two days and finally cleaned up what was supposed to be only 15 Japs—they turned out to be three hundred and fifteen, including two German officers posing as Catholic priests.


Day after day the air raids continued and day after day they flew over our positions without spotting us. Then on February 14, 1941 Jap dive bombers came into sight. Everyone in the position seemed to sense the same thing and that was that it was our turn to take what the rest of the anti-aircraft batteries had taken in that area—a terrific bombing and strafing.


The orders were flashed from our altimeter, fuses were set, first shell men stood by for action. Then in the few seconds that passed I guess everyone thought just as I did—home, all your loved ones and your girl. Then all this was gone with the explosion of the first shell.


Corporal Dillon, Gun Captain of our gun, was a fine Marine and a very capable man for this job. After what seemed like hours of firing, the planes finally left—it was only 35 minutes of actual fighting. The first attack was not a fatal one—no casualties were reported. Forty minutes later back they came. Time after time they bombed and their machine guns spit fire like a dragon. After 20 minutes they left—minus three planes this time. This time, too, three of which lost their legs. There were no more attacks for the rest of February. On the first of March, I left with the rest of the Naval battalion for Corregidor to do detached duty with the Fourth Marine Division from Shanghai.


Upon arriving at Corregidor we assigned to the different battalions of the Fourth Marine Division. I was assigned to Baker Company commanded by Captain Brown. Our Command Post Lieutenant was Lieutenant Chronester. I was taken to what they called Hooker Point. This stood out like a sore thumb from the air. In this position there were seven of use—an inadequate amount to defend it.


These men were all strangers to me, but as time went on we became very close friends.

At this position were the following men: Sgt. Zajack, Cpl. Macarovich, PFC Elkins, PFC Maddox, PFC Erwin and SK2/c Wall. These Marines were fine soldiers and they all lived up to the courageous name of U.S. Marine.


The first days on Corregidor were peaceful and no air raids were felt for a week. The first thing we did was to make barbed wire entanglements and clean all underbrush so as to have a good field of fire. All men dug their own fox holes and camouflage it so it could not be seen from the beach or air. One Sunday after church services, Col. Beecher came to Hooker Point and asked for a bombardier. Well, since I was the biggest of the seven men, I got the job as bombardier, I was given a slide made of wood and greased with axle grease. Then I was sent five 30-pound fragmentation bombs which were to be used when the Japs made their landing on Corregidor.


Things were just about the same day after day—an air raid no and then but nothing to excite anyone. On day all was quiet, and then came that fatal day for Bataan. All lines were broken and everyone was getting back to Marvailles the best they could. Many men were shot in the back in their retreat. This was the day that I watched our ship, the Canopus go to the deep six. This hit you just as hard as though someone burned your own home here in the USA. All Navy men were brought to Corregidor; that is, all that could get water transportation. Some swam this four miles, some rowed boats, other paddled native canoes and the rest used logs. I saw most of the men from the 31st Infantry which came aboard Corregidor tired and hungry—sleep what was needed the most. These men were practically starved. Some were already suffering from pellegra, beri-beri, and most of them had malaria. The only possessions they had saved were the clothes they had on their backs and maybe a watch or billfold, but these were few. After these men were clothed and fed, then the stories of Bataan came forth. These stories which I am about to relate are stories which the men of the 31st Infantry told with bitterness and hate in their voices.


“The men of Bataan had very little rest from the start of the invasion of the Philippine Islands. The first big blow came when the 92d tanks lost several tanks when somebody balled up the order to blow up a bridge ahead of the tanks. This resulted in the destruction of some tanks and the capture of the men.


After retreating continually from Linguien to their last stronghold and supposedly impenetrable fortification, the soldiers were weary and tired. Sometimes all they had to eat was a ball or rice and a small can of salmon to go between five or six men. These rations were give to men fighting for their flag and freedom.”


I talked to men who had been on demolition squads that took care of blowing up important ammunition dumps, etc. From these men came the story that make me feel that officers are sometimes the same as a picture hanging on the wall and getting in the way. From the lips of these men came such remarks as “Good God, why didn’t they feed us that chow that was blown up—ton after ton of good canned chow.”


* * * * * * *

This is as far as his personal narrative got—it was most exhausting and taxing for him to recall all of this and we would take breaks and finally got so involved in our lives and raising our family that we did not get back to his personal narrative, but fortunately I kept what we did get down on paper.

* * * * * *

Chuck carried many scars from the war. Some you could see—they were quite visible on his leg, on each side of his face, across his nose, his blindness. And there were others—many others that were not so visible—they were inside and kept inside and about which I learned through his continual nightmares.


The scars on the sides of his face are related in the chapter on POW experiences. Here is how some of the others appeared.


Under attack in the Philippines, the Canopus, a sub-tender, was hooked to a submarine for fueling. There was a direct hit on the Canopus and everyone was frantically working to free the sub. A sailor was unable to move the huge bolt locking the submarine to the Canopus. Chuck took over the enormous wrench and with superhuman strength (“My adrenaline was really pumping!” he told me) he loosened the bolt. At that exact moment the concussion of another bomb jarred the ship and the giant wrench jolted loose and with Chuck’s full strength and force on it, it flew up hitting him across the bridge of his nose. He carried that scar all his life. “I didn’t know there could be so many stars!” was his only comment.


Another scar he carried for life was from a machine gun bullet that hit him in the leg during battle on January 29, the day after his 20th birthday, 194. A medical corpsman gave Chuck some sulfa pills to crush and put in the wound saying the bullet would just have to stay in there. The would healed and no bullet was in there, thank God. Chuck thought it probably pretty well spent by the time it hit him (typically playing down things that had happened to him). I learned of this only because I noticed the scar on his leg shortly after our marriage and asked how he got it.


My niece, Penny Kief, came to visit me in July, 1984, and in her reminiscences of her Uncle Chuck she told me she vividly recall hearing of his narrow escape when he was bayoneted by the Japs. With a shudder and rubbing her arms to calm the “goose bumps,” she told the story and I realized this was one I had forgotten to relate., so am adding it here. While Chuck was held a prisoner of war by the Japs, he managed to steal some sugar from their supply late one night. His presence was discovered and he literally had to run for his life through the pitch black night with the Jap guards in hot pursuit. He said God's hand must have pushed him as he thrust his chest forward and pulled in his back JUST AT THE PRECISE MOMENT a Jap guard thrust a bayonet at his back. The blade entered his back left shoulder and had he not thrown his body forward AT THAT SECOND, the blade would  have penetrated his body into his heart. He made it back to his bunk and here came the Jap guards with flashlights, looking for someone breathing heavily. As they approached his bunk he struggled to get control of his breath so they wouldn't see his heaving breast. He felt the blood trickling down his back and he could hear it dripping through the straw mat. He said he thought his lungs would explode and they would the dripping of his blood before they moved on. But they didn't. He survived once again. Only after we were married and a very startled young bride asked, “How did you get that scar and hole in your back?” did he tell me. “Oh, that's just a bayonet scar,” was his matter-of-fact answer. It took a lot of gentle questions to get the whole story.


******

With ammunition running out and no supplies at all coming in, the men on Corregidor had to improvise ways to fight, as is stated in his personal narrative I cited about the chute on Hooker Point that they greased in order to launch shells against the Japs. They slid them down the chute. When you stop to consider that these brave men with this kind of jerryrigging and determination, fought off the Japs and held Corregidor for FIVE MONTHS!!! it staggers the mind.


As the last submarine left Corregidor before the surrender to the Japs, it took messages from the men. Chuck's letter to me was on that sub. I still have it. Perhaps I'll share it with you here.


Written in pencil on a scrap of paper, the envelope marked “Sailors mail-no stamps available,: he wrote:


February 4. 1942

My dearest Lysle,


It has been so long since I heard from you and so long since I have seen

you. This is just to let you know that I think of you all the time. Keep

your chin up, darling, and the colors flying and I hope to be seeing you

soon. Bye bye now and give my love to Mom, Pop, and Kobby. I will

always love you. Tell all the guys and girls hello also.


Yours forever,

Chuck


********

The war was in full swing!


I would not hear from my darling Chuck again until a telegram arrived dated September 14, 1945, saying,


“Darling, see you soon. Love, Chuck—Red Cross Message.”