The Captivity of Carl Nash: His Captivity, the Bataan Death March, His Imprisonment in the Philippines and Japan, and His Liberation in 1945
My name is Carl Nash. I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, December 15, 1918. Enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Louisiana, near Shreveport in October, 1939. I transferred one year later to Savannah, Georgia and one year after that transferred to the Philippine Islands, arriving in Manila on November 22, 1941. The death march took place four months later after we had evacuated Manila going into Bataan. We surrendered on the 9th of April and the death march began the next day. And they searched us before we took off. The Japanese were moving into Bataan as we were marching north on the main highway which was gravel. Their trucks were loaded with celebrating Japanese swinging rifle butts, hitting guys now and then. One guy in particular had his skull cracked; he laid there and they wouldn't let us move him, and all the vehicles that were in around toward Bataan, ran over his body. The next day there were shots being fired in front of us and behind us, and one or two in our group--these were guys that fell out with malaria or dysentery which they were getting a lot of about that time--they were either bayoneted or shot, that is, everybody that fell out. Some guys tried to help others, hold them up and drag them along. That went on day after day it seemed. They fed us once, a mess kit of rice. We stopped at a mule barn to spend the night, and when we took a break we would sit down in the hot sun right where they had us, right where we were marching, and they'd let us do it about noon. After about five or six day of this--it must have been seven or eight hundred murdered along the way, in different ways--one of them we ran across was a little small village. There was a chinning bar with one one of our boys tied by his wrists to the chinning bar, and a Jap was digging out from under his feet. His toes were allowed to touch the ground and that was all. Then the Jap dug out from under him. They let him hang there. I don't know what they did with him. And that's the bad part about the whole thing; no next of kin will ever know some of the circumstances that surrounded the boy's death.
We arrived at camp six or seven days later and guys from the effects of the march began to die. There must have been five or six thousand left out of about ten or twelve that took part in the march. About half of them must have been gone by then. And then the next couple of months, two or three thousand more died from the effects of the march. They contracted dysentery, beriberi and malaria, and if you got a combination of any of those, you were a goner. And so the Japs, later, after two or three months, started breaking the camp up a little bit, and they sent a bunch of us to place called Cabanatuan. Must have been 80 or 90 miles away. Of course we didn't walk that one; we rode little dummy box cars to a town about, well the town itself, Cabanatuan, and in that box car they stacked us so close together. My feet didn't even touch the floor. That was how crowded it was in the box car. And some guys passed out inside the car.
When we got to this town, Cabanatuan, we had to march fifteen miles to this first camp. It was Cabanatuan Camp Number 1,2 and I believe they had a third one, I'm not sure. But we were in Number 1, the group I was with, and they were still dying so we set up, I say we, the camp commander did. We had one appointed, supervised by a Jap of course. They set up a little building and it was named by the American prisoners the "Zero Ward," which meant if you were put in there you were going to die. And I had this friend of mine, one of my good friends was laying in the "Zero Ward" and he was completely naked, and he was trying to eat his rice. They gave him his rice and he was lying down naked, and the rice was cooked like we do oatmeal her, kind of a liquid type. This was the truth: he was eating this rice with a spoon, and it was coming out of his rectum, about two or three bites after had had put them in his mouth. This is true, so help me God. And that boy lived a couple of days. Of course there was no help for him anyway, but he did live a couple of days after that.
Then we had burial details which would go out. The diggers would go out every morning about a quarter of a mile from our camp and dig a hole about fifteen square feet in diameter. You couldn't go about two fee, you'd hit water. And then that afternoon the burial took place. It was that month of June, 1942, it must have been 30 or 40 (American prisoners of war) a day average that we put into those graves. Then you went back the next morning to dig another one, and it had rained that night before, you would see arms and legs sticking up out of the place that you had the day before. Then you'd go ahead and dig another one, put 30 or 40 guys in it. This went on for a couple of more months, then they started breaking the camp up again. In the meantime they were sending little bunches to Japan and different places and they took out about a thousand of us and sent us to Davao Penal Colony which is on the southern tip of Mindanao which is also southern from the main island of Luzon which is where Manila is.
When we went down there by ship, it was no better. I mean unless you went out on a work detail you could steal some fruit, a banana or a coconut or something like that, but that was about it. You had a hard time bringing it into camp because you didn't have enough clothes on to hide it. We worked in rice fields and once in a while we played sick, but that didn't work too good because we had an American doctor and a Jap--I guess he was supposed to be a doctor--an officer anyway. He would supervise the sick call list of people, and if you had a belly ache or something like that, well he might light a cigarette and burn your arm in two or three places--the Jap so-called doctor--and you forgot about your belly ache. You worried about the burned places. So you had to go to work.
In the meantime there was a ten-man group planning to escape and this Captain Wohfeld, a friend of mine, Mark Wohfeld. I was still mad at him for years because he didn't include me in the group that went out. But the way it turned out, I guess it wasn't too bad, because they had a mess trying to do away with some Japs, which they didn't. One of the guys got killed. Then we had another group escape before they did, a ten-man group, and they all got away but some of those in the other group were recaptured. Two or three of them were brought back in, and we didn't see them anymore. I don't know what they did with them.
But anyway, as time went on the Americans were moving up from Australia; they were taking island after island. This got around to about 1943, or 44, 43 I guess it was. They took 750 men out, and built an airstrip for the Japs to come in with their planes to probably support the southern islands a little bit. They built the airstrip, and about six weeks or a month later the Americans were getting closer and closer, they boarded these 750 POWs on a boat, and they got around on the eastern side, and an American submarine sunk it about a mile off the coast. The Japs when they hauled prisoners or anything, they would hug the coast lines all the way. And they sunk this one. A little submarine, I never will forget the name of it. It was named the U.S.S. Paddle. The hospital ship later, was named Rescue which some of us got lucky enough to get on.
There were escapees. We didn't know about it, but we suffered for it, the whole camp did because the Japanese really believed in mass punishment. They didn't need much of a reason. We had to go on one ration kit for three days. One mess kit of rice and a canteen cup of seaweed soup or maybe they brought in one of the cariboas (caraboas), which we call water buffalo over here. It wasn't enough to even notice. Maybe a little gravy and that's about it.
We had an old dog in the camp. We couldn't get enough to eat for the dog. It was an old bitch dog, and she gave birth to three still-born puppies. And we had a veterinary! We had something of everything, like a doctor, a dentist, surgeons, corps men, navy personnel, Australians. Anyway a veterinarian checked the dog after the delivery. We had destroyed the dog of course. He checked the liver, and said the dog would be good enough to eat, and it was eaten [but] the stillborn pups had been buried. In the meantime a Russian lieutenant [who] had been commissioned after the war started as a civilian in Manila. [He was] there on some kind of business I suppose. Anyway, he dug up the puppies and cooked them. So you can see, we ate snake, monkey, and you didn't see a dog or a cat, [but] just that one time. That's the only time we saw one, because they didn't have a chance to not be eaten.
Of the ten or twelve thousand Americans that took part in the death march, I don't know who gave it that name, but they sure knew what they [the Japanese] were doing. I didn't see any Hispanics, or even any Blacks. I didn't see the first Black or any Hispanics, but there were some Hispanics. We didn't have any Blacks, I'm sure, because I never saw one. We had some Mexican boys, a few from New Mexico and around San Antone [Antonio, Texas]. They were Spanish, and that was about it as far as ethnic groups went.
We got a Red Cross package about the middle of 1943 I guess, and of course the Japs took everything out of it that they couldn't identify. We were allowed to write a couple of postcards that didn't arrive here in the States until maybe a year and a half or so later, and I did receive a personal package from my brother which contained jelly beans which melted onto a tin of Lucky Strike cigarettes and also a cellophane bag of pecans and halves shelled. They had weevils in them. But us guys [went] at them anyway; it didn't make any difference.
When you're hungry, you'll eat anything. You know, you'll get so hungry, you'll get into a stage where it seems like you need a second wind, and then you're not hungry anymore. That's when you're starving to death. You're not hungry anymore after you haven't had anything to eat for days maybe, and that happened to a lot of guys. Those that had cigarettes--the Japs did give us three cigarettes a week if you smoked--and some guys traded their food. They wanted a cigarette so bad they traded their food to a guy who didn't smoke for his cigarettes. That went on a lot. Of course a lot of those boys died too.
With beriberi, there's two kinds. There was a dry beriberi; that's what I had. It gets into your joints and hurts like a toothache. Then there's wet beriberi which makes you swell up, your feet, your face, your hands. This is the truth; we had slit trenches for a bathroom. Of course there was a lot of dysentery, and this one boy with beriberi--the wet kind, you could see him walking from the barracks out toward the slit trench--and his scrotum--this is the honest to God's truth--was as big as a basketball. So help me that's the truth. And a couple of guys were so week they fell into the slit trenches.
Along about September or October of 1944, Uncle Sam was coming up in to the south and getting closer and closer. They moved us out, put us on a ship, went around the island to the harbor in a little town named Zango Wanga [Zamboanga]? where there's a song out, I think, "We Ain't Got No Tails There." ["The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga"] Anyway, this captain, [well, he was a colonel, actually a lieutenant colonel, he made later, now he's a retired brigadier general, still lives in San Anotone, Texas,] aboard ship with us was the one that escaped. He had been a commander of some Philippine scouts stationed on the southern tip down in near Zamboanga. I don't know whether they were expecting him to jump ship or not, but he filled a barracks bag full of junk, and it was just about the time it was getting dark and the three guards were topside. He went up topside and went to the bathroom. and he threw the junk over one side of the ship and dove off the other. He made it . The Filipino in a little skiff boat or whatever you called him, picked him up. [I heard from him about three months ago I talked to him over the phone down in San Antone, Texas. He was really a nice guy too.]
So we got to Japan. It took them [the Japanese] about sixty days aboard ship. I don't know how we got there, because we could leave a port, and in about 5 or 6 days we'd come back to the same port. They claimed they had a submarine scare, something like that. There was ship ahead of us [which had about 1500 guys on it [that] parked, not parked, [then] docked in Formosa. [I think it's called Taiwan now.] I think it was a B-17 or a B-29 [that] came over and unloaded its bombs right into the ship, and I think about 6 or 7 of them escaped that sinking, killing or whatever you call it.
We got to Japan [to] a place called Moji and went inland to a place called Yokachi. I think that 's a little town across the bay from Nagoya, if you've ever heard of it. Anyway about 10 years ago in this little town called Yokachi, Nancy Lopez won a golf tournament there for the LPGA. Isn't that amazing? We was in a camp there suffering pneumonia, dying. That was in November of '44. Then someone comes along and wins a golf tournament which is nice.
I hope there's not too many English guys if you let anybody listen to this thing in the school there. They may let me hear from them about my bad English or something. So don't let no English guys in on it. Just joking. Gotta say something.
Along about August of '45 the war ended. In the meantime there was a couple of punishments and some [prisoners who suffered from] pneumonia that died. We would end up with about 400 or 500 out of about 900 that went into this camp. They split us up; we had about 1500 aboard ship, and half of them went to a camp not too far from where we were. We went to this place called Yokachi and some of the other guys went to Koyama. The punishments they had there, oh they were humdingers, too. They allowed us to have a fire, but wouldn't let us bring in any wood. They didn't have any decent drinking water; it was not any good. We hadn't seen any snow. It snowed in November, and we hadn't seen any in three years down in the tropics. [As a result] we had pneumonias. We had one punishment which took place there, well more than that really. The kind I never though anybody would think of. The Jap guards had this boy stripped. I don't know what he did, but he was being punished for something. They would, if they lost the battles, find somebody to beat up that was a POW. In fact when they got beat at Tarawa, Uncle Sam took it back, took back Iwo Jima, every time that they'd lose a battle like that, maybe a ship, some of them would beat up on POWs. But this boy, whatever he did, anyway, they stripped him from the waist up, gave him a two-gallon wooden bucket filled half-full with water and rocks, made him trot up and down in front of their little shack, guard house until he dropped. I'm not sure, but I think he died about a week later.
We had the navy. Our navy was getting in closer. They had moved either a aircraft carrier or an island in close, because some little fighters--I think they called them Gremlins--about 15 of them cam over, and there was a Jap airfield about 10 miles away. They really worked it over. When they got back into formation to leave, the last one that was fixing to join the group, he dove on our camp because he saw some blankets hanging out on the line where you put them out for the sun to do something with the lice, and we all had lice, like a dog or a chicken, whatever.
Oh, speaking of chickens, them Japs, they had about a dozen hens. Well, they don't lay very well, and the Japs, they wouldn't feed them as punishment for two or three days until they started laying again.
Anyway, this last joker who was getting into formation dove on the camp and took one boy's leg off. [He] just cut one loose, [and] had 50 calibers explosives in the machine guns which were in these little fighters, and he cut his leg off just below the knee and killed another one. [Then] he got back into formation. That must all that he had left, a couple of bursts. So he kept going. Nobody bothered him. Then they'd send up a Jap plane from some place. He'd fly over the area there, let the people know that they were still around, but that airfield took a beatin'. So we knew that it wouldn't be too long after that. This must have been July, June or July of 1945. In August , a Swiss legation came in here about the 13th or 14th. When the Japs found out they all took off. All the guards were gone, and we never did see them anymore. Some civilians brought in a pig, some extra rice. We just had a ball after that for a couple of days. A couple of B-29s came over and dropped food on us. and we were still there for two or three more days before we got out.
We boarded this train across the bay there and rode to the coast line landing of some navy personnel, and [there was] a big hospital ship sitting out in the bay which we knew we were going to get on. But in the meantime we had load up all that chow that the B-29s had dropped on our camp. We wasn't going to waster anything. We had corned beef, canned butter, but we called it a mussette bag. I don't know if y'all ever hear of that or not. We put it in and lugged it to this depot all they way to where this navy bunch had landed. They put us aboard a landing craft, took us out to the hospital ship. As we got on the ship the corpsmen stripped us all off and sprayed us with DDT I guess. We put a towel over our eyes.. It killed the lice. In the meantime, some personnel were dumping all this stuff, all this food, they were dumping it over the side into the bay. But I didn't care.
Back when we were in the camp every once in a while a plane, we called it ? Joe, would flu over and they used to drop firecrackers to scatter, and they would drop leaflets. Oh, they were humdingers. [They] would have a picture of a naked girl on it and some writing on the sides, "Come home and sleep with me!" and all that junk. That's the kind of propaganda they dropped and when Gen. Doolitle raided Tokyo with the B-25s off of an aircraft carrier. They called it "Jimmy Did Nothing." but I think he wrecked part of Tokyo. They also had some more propaganda that they gave to the civilians. They come out with this one, that the Americans had landed in Okinawa which wasn't too far from the island of Honshu. That's where these fighters came from, I think. But anyway they told their people that the Japanese had taken Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Now that's ridiculous propaganda if you heard any, but that's what they would tell you. Can you imagine the Americans with Okinawa and the Japs with Hawaii? Ridiculous.
Back in the camp there was a little entertainment now and then. Of course there wasn't no instruments to use. We had one boy, "Goat" Yeager we called him, [who] lived in Los Angeles. He could sing real good. We'd have some groups get together and sing some sad songs. On Bataan old Tokyo Rose would play Bing Crosby a lot, some of his ballads, and to everybody at that time, Bing Crosby was the one.
We had some good civilian bosses. The Jap military would turn us over [to civilians]. In this factory they would turn us over to a civilian guard which was only allowed to carry half of a drum stick. We called them "stick guards," and some of those guys would beat up on you if they didn't like your looks, or whatever. They didn't really need a reason.
Some of the Japs were pretty good. We were talking about the Japs turning us over to civilians at this acid factory near Nagoya. Some of these guys, we had given nicknames to, since we couldn't pronounce the names they had. For instance, Mickey Mouse, the Phantom, Stuttering Sam, different names like that. After being there as long as we were, they got to where they would answer by those Yankee names. Anyway, after we had worked in these factories for nearly a year, the war ended. A Swiss legation came in and told us the war was over. This was about the 14th of August, somewhere around there. An atomic bomb had ended the war, and we didn't even know about it. We were about 90 miles from Hiroshima.
I guess it's about time to come to the end of this thing. I know three and a half years and getting liberated back into this country was like being born again. I think guys like us, and some more that were in the same situation in other wars, don't know what freedom really means until they have lost it. Once you've lost it you might as well go on and get yourself buried.
So I'm going to knock this off Bob. Oh, I wanted to say something: Mr. Paterno is the best college football coach in the country in my opinion.
Bye for now.
Recorded in November, 1990 by Carl Nash. Transcribed by Lois Seitz and Robert C. Doyle in May, 1991.