Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

William Montgomery
William Montgomery
Read Montgomery's complete account called "I Hired Out to Fight"  which he wrote to explain things to his son.  His story includes good accounts of Clark Field and Davao Penal Colony descriptions.


William Montgomery was born in Los Angeles, California on April 18, 1907.  William Montgomery graduated from Glendale high School.  He served two years as an apprentice welder and metal smith for a civilian firm in Pasadena California before his induction in the Army Air Corps in 1927.  He began at March field, where he was assigned to hangar duty to help work on the planes.  He then transferred to the 70th Service Squadron to weld.  Some of the pilots took him on their flights..  In 1929, Bill received orders to go to Chanute Field at Rantoul, Illinois to to Army Air Corps Technical School taking General Machine Shop and welding classes.  He became a technical sergeant.


He managed the basketball team and baseball team.  He also married in 1934.  He became supervisor to 25 welders.  By 1941, Colonel Hackett asked him to go to Albuquerque to open up a new air force base--Kirtland.  Again he organized a baseball team.  Some of his alliances he made with fellow ball players served him well when he became a prisoner.  He was part of the 19th Bombardment Group.  In September, Montgomery was asked to prepare for overseas "tropical" duty.


William Montgomery left Kirtland Air Force Base to go to San Francisco.  He then shipped out on U.S.S. Holcomb.  In  October 1941 he served as Superintendent of Aircraft repair shops at Clark Air Base, at Pampanga, on the Philippine Islands.   Bill recalls when the Japanese  Clark Air Force base when the Japanese bombs shelled Clark Air Force base.


"The drone of high flying aircraft reached my ears.  I looked up, almost unconsciously.  There they were, 54 bombers in perfect formation, the sun glistening on their wings.  I guessed the altitude at about 12,000 feet.  I know from the unfamiliar wing outlines, the tight battle formation and the heading that these were Japanese bombers.  I knew, too, that they wee only minutes away from the bomb release point.  My slow gait became a dead run as I flung myself across the grass and to the area where my men worked."  He yelled for the men to get into the foxholes. 


He said, "The heavy dull explosions were coming faster and closer.  The bombs were walking right down the line of hangars.  Ours was the last one.  Standing on the edge of the big hole where most of my men had jumped, I sWilliam Montgomery in Army Uniform Showing It Still Fits Him as an Older Manaw the first bomber almost directly overhead.  Then I heard a slight rasping sound, a sort of swizzle as something passed through the air at high speed as I leaped into the hole.  Without even thinking, I knew it was a bomb, the first I had ever heard from the ground.  The explosion that occurred a few seconds later was almost an anti-climax.  That swizzle had scared me more than anything else ever had.  They had missed our hangar with their bombs but they had gotten a direct hit on almost every other building on the line.  The bombers trailed off in the puffs of smoke of the anti-aircraft fire...The crackling flames and continuing explosions filled the air with a crescendo of vibration.  My eyes followed the road to a machine gun pit, much like the one we had been using.  All at once I saw it erupt in a mushrooming billow of sand, flame and men's bodies.  Then I saw the plane.  It was slow, diving--a fighter with long wings.  The small bombs it carried in wing racks had made a direct hit on the gun.  It was already pulling out of its dive, spitting fire from its forward machine guns.  I dived back into the hole."


Shortly, he got in his place, a radioman came and took a hit from a bullet, and instantly died.  After that came a number of fighter planes, setting gasoline tank trucks on fire.  They targeted the planes on the ground.  Sergeant Tony Holub staved off some of the attackers.  The attack lasted about 45 minutes and then the fire sirens, ambulances, men shouting, and cries of the wound filled the air.


On December 24,William  went to Bataan and from December 25 until January 5, 1942, he was stationed at the Bataan Air Strip, Cabcabin as Duty Superintendent of aircraft repair.  On February 2, he earned a commission as Second Lt. of the US Army.  The next day he transferred to the front lines with the 41st Division, Philippine Army, Sector D at the base of Mt. Samat, acted as Advisor to three companies of The Philippine Infantry of 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, 41st Division.


On April 4, Willilam withdrew with unit along the Pantingan corridor under orders.  On April 5, 1942, he returned along Pantingan Corridor and counter attacked previously held position.  The same day he to the Aid Station for treatment of dysentery and a leg wound.  He spent twenty days at the Base Hospital at Little Baguio, Bataan.  He then went to Camp O'Donnell via Balanga, Lubao, San Fernando and Capas.  On June 1 he transferred to Cabanatuan Camp #1 where he stayed until October 5.  He acted as Sub Group leader of 65 officers.  Next the Japanese shipped him to Davao Penal Colony on Mindanao  Island. 


He arrived at Davao on November 8, 1942 and his imprisonment there lasted until June 4, 1944. Montgomery describes his experiences at Davao Penal Colony and talks how condition improved for him at this new camp.  "Davao had many advantages over the other prison camps  we had been in.  There were trees--lots of trees. The campsite was developed by the Philippine Commonwealth for its long term prisoners.  The barrack-like housing consisted of ten long thatched buildings.  Extending away from the center aisle of each barracks was a sort of raised deck about 18 inches higher than the floor.  This was separated into compartments.  There was room for eight men in a compartment.  Each man had a space seven feet long by eighteen inches wide.  That eighteen inches was a board and a half as we called it--twelve inch boards being used for the planking.


But it was not the housing, the trees, the isolation or the food that made Davao a distinctive prison camp.  These things contributed probably and they certainly made the atmosphere more bearable.  The one outstanding feature of Davao was that there men had quit dying.  In every other camp we had been in, men died at the rate from 35 to 50 a day...Men who had not smiled for a long time had learned to laugh again at Dapeco...We had felt the pangs of separation from our families, the pangs of hunger and the pain of disease.  There were the regular attacks of malaria, the disfiguring scars of cellulitis, a skin disease that lasted some eight months.  The rice was scanty at best and it always had a weevil or two in every serving...They (the Japanese) denied us the fruits and vegetables that grew outside the prison wire...our men were able to smuggle bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, and some greens into camp from the work details...We had come into that camp starved, beaten, and sick.  We had come from camps where water was scarce, violence the rule of the day, and death a constant companion.  At Dapeco, we had found a measure of stability.  We had water, dry quarters, green trees, and competent leadership.  We established a routine for our lives.  For the first time since our capture some nine months before, we were able to build a social group.  It was this unity of purpose, the semblance of regularity and the ability to keep clean that turned Dapeco into more than just a prison camp."


 In June, Montgomery  went to Bilibid Prison in Manila where he was under Japanese captivity until Feb. 4, 1945.  The U.S. then took control and he went to the Evacuation Hospital, and then Quezon hospital.  On Feb 19th the Army flew him to Base Hospital, Tacloban, Leyte, and then sent him to Base Hospital, Biac Island via Pale Lou.  On April 5, he returned to the U.S.  arriving in San Francisco.  He was in three hospitals in California and in Feb. 1946 he was transferred to Bushnell General Hospital, Brigham City, Utah.  After six months he went to Madigan General Hospital.  By the following November he retired from service due to the disabilities he suffered from his illnesses.  When he was finally let out of the hospital he still needed canes to walk and suffered with vision problems that were almost to the point of blindness. 


During his imprisonment he suffered from dysentery, wet beriberi, malaria, scurvy, pellagra, vision and hearing problems.  He also developed dengue fever.  With all his disabilities, Bill Montgomery did not feel sorry for himself about his handicaps, but decided to use his time to help the communities he lived in.  He started by joining in organizations connected to his kids activities.


 Bill Montgomery believed in public service and also in keeping busy..  In the 1960s he served as president of the Escondido Union School District Board of Trustees in California.  After getting overbooked with too many activities in California, he moved out of Escondido to Tillamook, Oregon to lead a less busy life.  However, he soon started volunteering for the Red Cross, then got involved in the VFW.   He then worked on putting together an auction to help the Grange Hall.  His many activities were featured in the Tillamook Rural Life publication in June of 1977.


While in the service, he learned to make yarn dolls as therapy for his hands, and he taught his wife to also make the dolls.  He made as much as 200 dolls a year to help churches and other organizations make money.  He kept bags in his car of dolls in case he saw an opportunity to give one away.


Bill would also work with his hands to make things, and because of his welding skills and past aircraft repair in the army,  he always tried to build things that would have permanence.  He worked on a birdhouse and built a greenhouse.  Like many of his generation, he would buy parts for very little money from items others were going to discard.


Bill passed away on January 31, 1991 in McMinville, Oregon.