Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

John Oliver, ADBC Commander



ADBC Commander, 2003-2004

John Oliver PictureJohn Oliver was born November 26, 1922.  He joined  the army and was in the Army Air Corps.  He was 19 when he was captured on Mindanao.  He went to Malabalay then went on a ship to Bilibid and was there for about a week.  He was taken by ship to the Kawasaki Camp (Tokyo Branch Camp No. 2) to work for Mitsui Company in November, 1942.  John Oliver  worked for their vast warehouse and rail shipping complex.  He remember the loading docks where he lifted such items as cement, rice and chrome ore that weighed about 200 pounds.  Many men developed back problems from the heavy lifting.  The mines were staffed by civilians with some help from military guards.

John said his work days were around 10-11 hours long with short rest breaks. For the first six months they did not have a day off except for Christmas. The food was minimal and a doctor in his division said that the men could not survive a year on the rations they were getting.  They sometimes stole to get extra food.  Their meals were a mixture of barley, maize and rice with daikon (long white radish that grows in Japan) mixed with water and they ate this for every meal.  If the men didn't go to work, their rations were cut in half.   They began work at daylight, standing by their beds for counts "tenko" and they lined up outside to be counted again before going to work.  They marched a half mile to a mile to work.  If the prisoners voiced safety concerns, they were ignored.

At night, they slept on wooden shelves and had a thin blanket.  Winter would be cold and snow would go through his shoes.  At first he had a pair of boots he had from the Philippines, but they wore out after 18 months. He and others wore the clothes they brought with them and had little sewing kits to patch the clothes.  They got some clothes when the Japanese captured British soldiers and they were issued some of their clothing.  However, they were told they could only use it for special occassions.

John kept a small diary in captivity, but he had to be careful in wording.  When he wrote GOOD DAY in his book it meant he did not get a beating that day.  He also considered a good day when they got a little extra food.

John was determined to be a carrier of diptheria so in Feb. of 1943 the Japanese transferred  him to Shinagawa POW hospital.  There was only one medicine dispensed for any ailment  was and he remembered it as some kind of potassium pill.  He stayed at the facility for ninety days and then he went back to Kawasaki.  He also suffered from beriberi, respiratory problems from the coal dust and diarrhea.  When Mr. Oliver arrived at this camp there was no doctor to help them and then Dr. Curtin arrived.

He was at Hitachi before liberation, in a detail cleaning up from air raid.  The American planes dropped leather pouches giving information to the men, but John didn't believe the information was not definitive enough and John was still leery.  One B-29 still flew over, but he guessed it was for reconnaissance purposes. He and his friends were told to march to a port, but they did not bring food, so they ran out and went to Yokohama to get food.