Simme Pickman, ADBC Commander
ADBC Commander, 1948-49
Simme Pickman was born Oct. 9, 1918. Simme went into the military in 1940 and served until Sept. 1945. He survived the Bataan Death March. He was in Osaka Main Camp Chikko Osaka. He passed away on March 17, 2007 at the age of 88.
He explains the purpose and sentiment of the founding of the ADBC as a united group from his story below.
We survivors have learned the hard way the necessity for teamwork and the fact that men fight a common danger more effectively when they fight together. In the white-hot crucible of our experience, we have seen Americans of every race and creed fight and die beside us.
"Therefore, our organization is banded together as a symbol of the team work that is America. We know well that it is easy to become disillusioned and angered. History has proven that the end product of this leads to the animosity of one group against the other. It is then that the veteran is set apart and might become the deluded follower of some nationalistic group which seeks to glorify him with a separate master status, as a member of a special privilege class. The veteran seeks to find the same teamwork here at home as he found in battle. This is our job! We cannot betray him! Simme Pickman
A STORY of HELL
"Our Endurance of Pain was Legendary"
Introducing a human interest/inspirational first person account from Simme Pickman
I was in Hell, but I was not alone: I had many brothers in comradeship.
Have ever tried living on a diet of monkey meat and finding it most palatable or stoking a furnace in a steel mill whose mouth is so big and hungry that it is seemingly impossible to ever satisfy its mouth or did you ever stop to consider how many shovelfuls of coal a steel furnace requires, being fed by manpower alone, with but the assistance of a six-pound shovel? I had an opportunity to do just this, and if anyone is interested in figures, I think I can give him the expert opinion that it will take 36,000 shovelfuls to feed a single furnace mouth in a 12-hour working day. I can back these figures up, for I did just that for two years and a half as a prisoner-of-war in the toil of the Japanese in Hirohata, Japan.
But let me go back a step and start from the beginning. Having enlisted in the regular Army in the Indian summer of 1940, after thirty days I found myself stationed at Nichols Field in the Philippine Islands. This camp is about eight miles from Manila and a beautiful place in this season. How far from our thoughts were the events that would transpire as the pendulum on the clock of history swung to and fro.
Strange though, the little Filipino: How seemingly different did these people live—different customs, different kind of food, different ways of living, a culture seemingly alien to our own— but time was to erase from cur minds and hearts the false stereotype we had developed as a portrayal of a people separate from our own group. If anyone had ever explained the theory of human existence to we American soldiers at Nichols Field, we would have deemed it a platitude. But events proved that when the going went tough and when unity was the keynote, there was no difference between one group and another's race or religion.
The morning of December 8, 1941, dawned bright and clear. An "incident "' occurred just as we were getting ready to sit down to breakfast: Pearl Harbor had been attacked: Breakfast thoughts were a thing of the past: Orders flew fast and thick. Our mission, in the main, was to move to barn docks, a position on high ground from which we could defend the field. Logistics deem it a slow process, but the accoutrements of war are unwieldy and before we had a chance to establish ourselves in the new position, we became the victims of incessant bombing raids. Our pilots were the best trained in the air force, but all too few in number.
I was assigned to the squadron commanded by the famous Col. "Buzz" Wagner, the first American Ace of World War II and a great guy he was: I shan't forget the last order we received from him. This was the last time I saw him alive. He called our group together and told us that this was a fight for survival that it was up to us to show the enemy that the democratic principles would prevail. It was all for one and one for all and there could be no petty differences among us.
But spirit alone is a feeble opponent for steel and force in numbers, and the dawn of a new year found Manila fallen and our little force withdrawn to a secondary position at Bataan. I don't profess to be a military expert, but I know as much as you do of the general rules of warfare of the Hague Treaty and the Geneva Convention and so, our churches, schools and hospitals were clearly marked, but this was certainly no deterrent to the enemy who indiscriminately dropped their eggs on everything and anything in sight.
I mentioned that we had moved our force to Bataan, a name I'm sure that's familiar to all of you. But do you know what kind of a place it is? It is the most uninhabited section of the island" of Luzon, where disease holds sway and poisonous snakes are prolific. Adequate drinking water existed only in the visions dreamed up in the minds of the soldiers. It's a peninsula too, and because of this, subject to attack from all sides as well as overhead.
The middle of January found us devoid of air support, and we Air Corps personnel, most of whom had never held a rifle, became Infantry men and it was amazing how quickly we developed into expert shots, with live targets to practice on.
When our Congress enacted legislation to merge the Armed Forces, it was very interesting to me to follow this subject in the papers - especially when we were told that this the first time in the United States that a merger had ever been effected. We veterans of Bataan, however, know that this is historically incorrect, for in January of 1942, I submit, the first merger of the Armed Forces took place right there on Bataan, where branch of service, Army, Navy, Marines, meant nothing, where Americans and Filipino scouts all fought together as the American Army.
It was natural that with our limited ammunition and training and with the constant bombardment, we had to retreat gradually, pushing back to the head of the Peninsula, now with the added difficulty of snipers in our line.
A supply problem did not concern us though, for in our position there just was nothing in the way of supplies. Our food and medicine stores were being rapidly depleted and we went on a two-meal-a-day ration, consisting of a small portion of rice each morning and evening. Funny thing about this word "rice"! Little did we know that this word was to become a symbol of life for many of us, but more about that later.
Malaria and dysentery began to take their toll, for there was not sufficient medicine for all of us.
I understand that there was a meat shortage in the States as the War progressed. We were a little more fortunate than the people at home, for we were able to kill off a few monkeys, which we barbecued, roasted and ate. It was a new experience for me and a little hard to take at first, but if I knew then how often in the months to come my mind would hark back to those luscious monkey steaks, I'm sure I would have enjoyed them with a greater relish.
In spite of our hardships, spirits were high, for wasn't a convoy due to arrive the next day? Spotters daily scanned the horizon and at night, each blinking star raised cur hopes—urged on by the Voice of Freedom which brought the last American broadcasting unit in that area to us from Corregidor—we held the line. We were the targets, too, for the psychological warfare, broadcast from Manila by Tokyo Rose, constantly playing a song in our honor dedicated to us entitled, "Waiting for Ships that Never Come In." Thirteen weeks this handful of men staunchly held out against the enemy until, with the first of April and word that MacArthur and Quezon had left, came the realization that the ever-expected convoy was never to arrive and that our cause was hopeless! Immediately came orders from General Wainwright and we prepared ourselves to surrender, destroying our arms and ammunition and leaving nothing that might prove of value to the enemy. With bitter hearts, broken spirits and tired bodies, we assembled at Marberlus, where the terms were completed.
It was there that I became a part politic of the infamous Death March As sinister as is the implication in the title, how futilely does it describe a scattered, staggering line of half-crazed, starved and feverish bodies. It is incorrect to term them "men", for we were but poor specimens of such a nomenclature. The March route took us 120 miles, and for three days and two nights, without food or rest, we struggled on. Remember, too, that we were now in the summer season and sun beat down upon us mercilessly during the daytime, and at night we were drenched by tropical rains. For the most part, we were barefoot, and the stones cut into our feet. To the wayside dropped over a third-sick, unconscious or insane. Falling, one was either shot on the spot or bayoneted by the Japs. Our route took us past many brooks of clear drinking water. The agony of those moments, knowing that to pause to drink meant certain death! In desperation, as we trudged along, we scooped, if we could, muddy, filthy water into our canteens and drank it. It was but a temporary relief for shortly thereafter, this polluted water made many violently sick. My salvation I attribute to a tiny bottle of iodine, which, before breaking camp, I had managed to obtain, and I had poured a few drops into the bottom of my canteen. We were constantly flogged as we struggled forward. Valuables, watches, wallets, cigarettes, eyeglasses and yes, even clothing were taken from us and destroyed. I had a close call on the third night when, in a stupor, I fell by the wayside. It was raining torrents, in spite of which I fell asleep in some brush. To this day I will never know why I was not spotted. Came morning and I awoke, quickly falling back into position in line. That day, passing a sugar cane field, as if on signal, the line broke and like a cloud of locusts we swarmed over the field, pulling, sucking on the much-needed sugar. How many dead or maimed we left on that sugar field I will never know.
Four days and nights after leaving the point of departure, we arrived at our first prison camp, O'Donnell; a dirty, muddy, disease-infested Hellhole where we were still not permitted to rest. Herded together into a small area under the torrid sun, we were ordered to await the arrival of the Jap commander; during which time the last items of any value were taken from us by our searchers. With the arrival of the commander, our first prison talk from him advised us that the Americans were responsible for the war and, therefore, could not expect any mercy at his hands, that as far as he was concerned, it mattered little how or whether we existed.
We slept in filthy bamboo barracks, our ration a handful of rice for each meal with a cup of water, called soup. This vitamin deficiency caused a breakout of beri-beri and other diseases. No medicine was issued nor could the Philippine Red Cross, in spite of their pleas, bring in food and medicine. We were prisoners without mercy!
Our mortality rate was forty to fifty dying daily, and the stench of death surrounded us. Each day, a procession would leave camp, carrying the corpses to the nearest graveyard, three miles away. The method of burial consisted of dumping the bodies into a large community trench. There were no Crosses or Stars of David. There was no discrimination as to race, creed or color. We were all Americans and received the same burial ceremony. As each of us silently prayed for his perished comrade according to the dictates of his own belief, none thought of his comrade as being different in any way, shape or manner. We were united in a common spirit. This was the rainy season, causing the burial trench to fill with water faster than the earth could be pushed back in, and the bloated bodies floated to the top, making it difficult to identify the once healthy, jovial, wise-cracking Yankees. Our camp became the picnic ground for every neighborhood dog who provided for as a constant reminder that death itself brought no peace, as they scampered by with a human limb in their mouths.
The human spirit is a strange thing. It was only the will to live that urged us on to many perilous schemes- to obtain food and medicine. We endeavored to get assigned to a work detail outside the camp where sometimes it was possible to obtain a morsel of food or medicine from the Filipinos. If you had money, you might be able to buy it. I had a little folding money, which I had, seemingly over a decade ago, made into a flat package and placed, on my chest, covering the whole with a bandage. I was able to get away with it, for each time I "was searched, I told them that this was a very contagious sore, arid as these were most prevalent and the Japs didn't intend to provide me with any medical treatment for it anyway, they never bothered to examine it.
I'm sure you're all familiar with the connotation of the term "forty and eight.” But a month later, for me at least, the formula was changed to fifty. For I was herded with that number of men into a small boxcar and transferred to another camp. Our trip lasted only twelve hours, so our "guardians" didn't think it necessary to provide us with food or water. Arriving at Cabanatuan in the terrific heat, the live inhabitants numbered forty-two.
Here we were delegated into squads of ten men each and were told that if one tried to escape, the other nine were to be executed, and believe me, this was no idle threat, as this edict was carried out many times during the long months of internment.
I would like to pause to tell you a little bit about the makeup of my own squad. We truly represented a cross section of America, for in our group belonged Catholic American, Protestant American, Jewish American, Italian American, Greek American, Irish American, Mexican American, and, significantly, even an American Indian. Here was a lesson of American unity. For a period of one year, our lives, our hopes, our frustrations, our plans, were woven one with the other. The selfish interest of one, we knew, would bring beatings or death to the next one. "We worked together, lived together, planned together, hoped together and prayed together, all of us just Americans.
Our squad worked on a detail on a truck farm. We had been promised that our labor would be rewarded by a share of the crop at maturity. We worked ourselves to the vitals in anticipation of the much-needed food, but when harvest arrived, we were jeered at as the enemy removed the crop to their personal warehouse. How many, at this stage of the game were driven to insanity, I will never know, and loss of mind brought loss of life, for the victim was beaten to death.
We tried to steal and a few times a squad member would be caught, whereupon the rest of us were beaten and deprived of our small ration. But if our forays were successful, we knew that our squad member would share his stock with the rest of the squad and so each of in turn took the risk and tried to increase our ration. Our spirits wereIn no way helped by the news releases that were provided to us that the Axis armies were everywhere victorious and that soon the war would be over.
September 11, 1943, my captors decided to give me a travel cruise for my health. With 850 men, I was crowded into the hold of a small ship and rumor rightfully had it that we were headed for Japan. That it was dirty, hot and lacked ventilation was insignificant in light of our past experience. For our trip was truly luxurious. Each day we were given a canteen of fresh water and a twenty-minute turn on deck in the brisk, clear air. Our trip, too, fortunately, lasted only eight days. I later learned that other men were en-route from two to three months, detouring to avoid American-subs and planes and were never allowed on deck, suffering far more than we did.
Funny thing about soldiers I It seems there's always something to gripe about! Heretofore, our complaint was the heat and stench of the tropics and now, in October in Japan — in a climate similar to ours in New England, we were griping about the cold and the drizzling rain.
Of course the fact that we were not issued any additional clothing might have given justice to our gripe. All night long we stood in the rain, waiting the arrival of transportation to our encampment. For many of us, the colds we caught that night lingered all winter and for some still linger. Death again appeared on the scene by way of pneumonia, which added to our toll.
Subsequently, we arrived at Camp Hiro-Hata, which is about twenty miles from Osaka, and in wooden barracks with bedding of bamboo slats and with even shorter rations than in the Philippines and still without additional clothing, we commenced our Japanese internment.
It was here that I was assigned to detail as a stoker in a steel mill, where I worked at the end of a shovel from twelve to fourteen hours a day'. It was here too that my little experimental survey I indicated earlier made me an expert in determining how many thousands of shovelfuls a day are necessary to feed a furnace. Remember too that these figures represent only one shift in the working day. Additional consisted of carrying heavy bags of cement and lime, and so for this they increased our rations from three handfuls of rice a day to three bowls of rice a day.
Our position became desperately acute and it was to no lengths that we would not go in an effort to get sustenance. Once I broke into a storeroom and appropriated as many cans of fish as- I could hide under my belt, but just as I was leaving, the Japanese guard chanced upon me. He was about to turn me in and it seemed that my attempt to bribe him would avail me nothing when, in a flash, it struck me that there was a rumor prevalent regarding the shortage of sugar. I offered to tell him where he could locate a large amount of sugar on the ship. My gamble worked. He got the sugar and I kept the fish and from then on, we formed a team, he advising where the stores were located and acting as a cover man, until I lost a good partner when he was arrested by the military police for black market activities. As the months went on, however, even this last slim hope became nonexistent, for now the Japanese civilians themselves began to seriously feel the pinch of diminished food supplies. Finally, I was down to 98 pounds. I was suffering from chronic malaria, malnutrition and its complications. I looked like a skeleton. The American doctor was able to have me placed in what, for lack of a better word; we called the "hospital". It was a miserable place where the only medication available was an infrequent dose of aspirin, but it had one decided advantage. For it meant you were taken off the work detail and toward this end men deliberately broke their arms or legs to get themselves in the hospital.
I'd like to spend a moment to tell you about that American doctor. He was a Major Sidney Seid, a young Jewish doctor from New York. He was the only officer imprisoned with us and, to my mind, no greater hero came out of the war. He won no medals nor has he been glamorized in print, but to every one of us imprisoned with him, his valorous deeds, I know, will remain with us as a shining beacon of hope for the rest of our days. As I have already told you, physical beatings were a daily occurrence arid it was Major Seid's wont when one of our men, broken in health and spirits, was unable to carry on and would fall by the wayside to be set upon by the Jap guard, that Major Seid would intervene in an effort to have the guard turn the club or gun butt on his own body, thus distracting his attention from the victim saving him from the beating. As a result of these almost daily encounters, Seid left the service broken in body and died several years ago as a result of tuberculosis contracted therefrom.
I know all of, at some time or other have felt the effects of hunger. I would like to describe some of the hunger feelings I went through. You dream of your favorite food, you conjure up visions of steaks and sweets. Then these photo-images become unimportant and replaced by the image of the plainer things: bread, milk and cereal. Your body somehow fails to respond to the mental message. You are constantly fatigued, you cannot sleep. Your skin becomes so dry that it covers your bones like a drumhead and you dread striking any part of your frame, lest the skin crack wide open. Your complexion changes, boils appear on your person, you lose your hair, your teeth become loose. You lose all sense of values. You are constantly nervous and all this while that longing for food increases until it is the foremost thought in your mind. Then would come the dole of our ration. It was like a mental option. The ration, we knew, would never satisfy our, desires, for hadn't we dreamed of sitting down to partake of food and not leaving the table until our bellies were full? It was not unusual to go four or five days without food, loaning your share out to your comrade so that on the next day you could sit down to the accumulated meal of a half-dozen rations. For many, however, this proved folly for in the interim their stomachs had shrunk and they could not hold the food. Others would swallow their small portion in one greedy gulp, but I derived a greater pleasure from making of each meal a ritual, a long drawn out procedure, cuddling each morsel on my tongue before I swallowed it.
The Jap and hunger were not our only enemies. Cold was out oppressor too. Our barracks were unheated except for a tiny pot-burner stove that was lit for less than an hour each evening. What a scramble there was for a place around the stove as we returned from our daily working detail. But the pleasure of the stove was not ours for long for we were forced to fall out for roll-call just as the sun was going down and, flanked by the Japs in their ranks, we were forced to face the sun and bow to their Emperor. This practice, however, came to an abrupt halt when they found that what we were muttering as we bowed was "Hail Roosevelt."
Soap was a mystical commodity, ourselves and our clothes being rinsed in cold water with a smattering of Japanese tooth paste for suds. Bi-monthly we were allowed the luxury of luxuries, consisting of a hot bath, wherein 350 men were herded into the same big vat. What a relief this was to our lice-infested bodies.
Despite our inhuman treatment, each of us sought within himself to keep from breaking in front of the enemy and each of us within our own little squad groups did all in our power to keep up the morale of the next fellow. There was no distinction as to race, creed or color. He who had however little shared with his buddy in need. One of my dearest treasures is a birthday card presented to me by my buddy, Johnnie Cosgrove, and each man in the squad gave me some little article, which he, for a long time, had treasured and held dear.
Our enemy sought to break our spirit and devised novel tortures in an effort to do so. One cute trick of theirs was the water treatment in which they stuck a hose into a man's mouth and filled him with water. Then his stomach became bloated, they threw him to the ground and stamped upon him. Another was the ice treatment. Down in the mill, if they felt you weren't working fast enough, you were made to chop a hole in the ice, jump in the water and stand around for hours until your clothes clung to you like a suit of mail.
We knew the Red Cross were sending in many packages, intended for us. Within the four years I was in prison, I received only two. That we should have received more was confirmed by the fact that we saw captors smoking American cigarettes and eating American food. I shan't forget a tiny package of powdered milk I hastily dragged from my package and put into my mouth dry that it would last longer. I vowed then that if I ever returned home, I would always keep a pantry full of powdered milk on hand. Though I have searched, somehow I haven't been able to find that same delicious brand.
My family has since told me that they wrote hundreds of letters to me, but I received only two cards and they, from me, but one. Although monthly cards were issued to us on which we were told we could send messages to our families, we learned that the cards wound up in the wastebasket in the offices of the Ccmmandant. When we learned this, we cared little about sending a message. The one card my family received stated, "I am well. I work every day but Sunday,"—In all the time I was in Japan, we had but one Sunday off and that was our day of liberation. A buddy from Brookline, Mass., continued however, to write home faithfully every month and once he addressed a card to Shirley Temple. Returning home, he learned that the only message that got through to his mother was a message she received from Shirley Temple, advising her that she had heard from her son and that he was well. Through some quirk of fate, of the hundreds of messages he sent that was the only - one that got through.
Our first visual evidence that we were not in the legion of the forgotten came about five months before V-J Day, when we received our first American air raids. Our camp was located two miles from the steel mill where we worked, and when we were alerted for a raid, we were made to run back to the camp but by the time we got there, we were ordered to run back to the mill. Our "guardians" of course, rode on bicycles! In spite of the fact that our physical stamina was strained to the point of utter exhaustion, this little item of torture was one that all enjoyed for we knew then that we might get out of this thing alive. On August 9, 1945, our captors advised us that the mill was closed. It was then we knew that, for them, the end had come. What a rapid conversion to religion! Each Jap sought to cultivate our individual favor. Out of nowhere came food, clothing and medicine and without waiting for official word, we took over the camp. Just then, an American plane flew over and dropped food to us. For some reason, I disregarded the food and stuffed myself with thirteen delicious, gooey, sticky candy bars. I was sick for three days thereafter, but oh so delightfully sick! We remained awake nights so as to eat more ravenously.
A few days later I found myself on an American hospital ship and thence to Manila. A funny thing, that trip! Though I was 26 years of age, I lived through my own rebirth. To speak without the threat of a club, to sleep in a clean bed, to eat good, clean American food how significant and important was each common, everyday event! The switch of a light, the burning of water faucet arid clean water cut of a tap and no more hunger and no more cold!
There were 38,000 of us captured on Bataan, yet only 3800 survived. We have formed an organization known as the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, whose chief aim is to fight for peace so that our buddies who gave their lives and our bitter suffering shall not have been in vain.
We survivors have learned the hard way the necessity for teamwork and the fact that men fight a common danger more effectively when they fight together. In the white-hot crucible of our experience, we have seen Americans of every race and creed fight and die beside us.
"Therefore, our organization is banded together as a symbol of the team work that is America. We know well that it is easy to become disillusioned and angered. History has proven that the end product of this leads to the animosity of one group against the other. It is then that the veteran is set apart and might become the deluded follower of some nationalistic group which seeks to glorify him with a separate master status, as a member of a special privilege class. The veteran seeks to find the same teamwork here at home as he found in battle. This is our job! We cannot betray him!