Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

Paul Reuter



Paul Reuter Picture
Paul Reuter was born Sept 12. 1920 in Shamokin, PA.  He attended high school and enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aug 1, 1939.  He trained in radio operations and was assigned to B-18 and B-17 aircraft.  He moved to the 14th Bomb Squadron to Clark Field in the Philippine Islands in September of 1941.   He was on duty in Mariveles area when General Edward King surrendered, and participated  the Bataan Death March. He was in Camp O'Donnell for a month.   He worked on the Tayabas Road Detail, a detail that proved deadly for many. Paul then  went to Bilibid for seven months,and Cabanatuan for six and a half months.  After that he was taken to Japan and he worked in Hirohito, Japan, at Seitetsi Steel for two years.  After liberation in Sept. 1945, he remained in the U.S. Air Force until October 1960.  He went to Capitol Radio Institute and received and associate degree in Applied Sciences in 1969 and then went to work with NASA. He retired in 1973.

 In June of 1956 he married Nicholena and they had five children, three sons and two daughters.  He also considered his ADBC friends his second family.  He served as the ADBC liaison with the Veterans Administration Administration and with the Department of Veterans Affairs.  He also visited Congress talking to the US Representatives and Senators.  His work served to gain benefits for the veterans who fought in the Philippines and the southwest Pacific.

Paul died on April 16, 2010 in Columbia, MD.

MY BILIBID EXPERIENCE

1 JULY 1942-1 MARCH 1943

PAUL W REUTER, FORMER NATL. ADJUTANT—ADBC

 

Old Bilibid Prison is located in one of the older sections of Manila, about one-quarter mile from the Passig River.  A new prison had been built, at a rural location, before the war began but an excess of clients prevented closing of the old institution.  Real estate wise it occupied about four city blocks.  The prison buildings were set out like spokes of a wheel reaching out from a central building that housed the administration sections with- its guard cupola perched on top. This wheel was divided down the middle with one half used for the POW prison and the Japanese using the other half. In the corners, formed by a high wall enclosing the entire wheel, were ell shaped buildings used to house prisoners. Guard towers were situated on top of the walls at the corners and the walls were topped with a High voltage-low current electric wiring system, set up by prisoners (WO Earl Swiezer, USN), to prevent serious injury if an escape were attempted. Entry to the compound was made from a back street off Quezon Boulevard through an archway under the guards building much like the sally-port in a military casein.  The spoke buildings were about 120 feet long, twenty feet wide with high ceilings perhaps twelve feet high.  The ell shaped corner buildings were about forty feet on the short leg and twice that length on the long leg.  There were metal bars on all windows. The buildings had concrete walls and floors with metal roofs.  In the prison we were subjected to the noises and smells of the bustling city. On the outside of one wall, the City Market was located.

 

I arrived at Bilibid Prison on 1 July 1942 from a jungle road-building detail in Tayabas Province in Southern Luzon.  The prison had been converted into a Hospital of sorts, (there were Doctors, Corpsmen, and wards but woefully short on supplies, medicines and foods).  The Hospital was staffed by the same Medical unit from the Naval Hospital at Cavite that I met in Pasay Schoolhouse on my way down to Tayabas.  This Hospital unit had many casualties to care for after the initial bombing at Cavite and they were either unable to deploy to Bataan or Corregidor, or someone forgot to order them to move when Manila was evacuated, by order of MacArthur, around Christmas 1941.

 

There was a ward housing a significant number of amputees and other disabled men.  These men were wounded before Manila fell but they were unable to make the trip out on the last hospital ship.  Many of the disabled people were from the campaign on Corregidor.  The prisoners captured on Corregidor had passed through Bilibid about a month previously on the way to a new prison camp located near Cabanatuan, Nueva Evija province.

 

I arrived at Bilibid aboard a truck with 10 other patients from the Tayabas detail. We began with 12 patients but one man died on the truck and his body was dumped along the road near Laguna de Bay. On entry to the Hospital I was checked for ailments.  My weight was 112 pounds, down from 208 just seven months earlier.  That is a net loss of 96 pounds in only seven months or almost 15 pounds per month.  Unfortunately, for four of those months, I was engaged in war operations on Bataan and supposedly being fed by the U.S. Army.  My ailments list included Malaria followed by dysentery, pellagra, scurvy, enlarged heart, beri-beri (both wet and dry), scabies and anemia, the result of severe malnutrition.

 

Malaria and its complications proved to be the worst of these ailments.  Medical supplies were in so short supply that a prophylaxis of Quinine, to prevent further attacks of Malaria, was unavailable.  At this time I had recurrent attacks of malaria about four to six days s apart.  While a patient was in the attack- phase Quinine was made available on a limited basis. Dysentery and diarrhea did not trouble me extensively while in Bilibid.  Once the initial condition- was arrested the improved hygienic conditions in Bilibid reduced chances of recurrence.

 

Pellagra and Scurvy were the results of vitamin deficiency. Scurvy by far was the most painful of all these ailments. Sensitive areas of the skin such as mouth, underarm, neck areas and scrotum- were affected.  On- entry to Bilibid effects of Scurvy were so bad that blood oozed through the scrotum so much I had to stand with legs spread so the scrotum would not touch the legs. At times it was almost comical to see grown men sitting with legs spread- fanning the scrotum wit a mess gear cover to get some measure of relief.

 

The enlarged heart, being a hidden affliction did not cause me much mental anguish because I could not see it and there were many visible problems to cause concern.  The Doctor was very concerned about the heart problem, he ordered me to use a duck and bedpan but I staunchly refused to lower myself to that level when I could still walk.  Later on this heart problem became more serious when an element called discompensation developed.

 

Beri-beri is a nutritional disease, or rather an effect or affliction that apparently covers a multiple of body system-malfunctions.  In Bilibid my problem was with the wet type of Beri-beri whose distinguishing mark was a swelling of the tissues beginning with the feet and proceeding up the legs, torso and eventually to the head.  My swelling extended to the stomach area. Dry Beri-beri was characterized by intense burning of the soles of the feet and itching sensation of the skin.  My stint with dry type came later in my imprisonment.

 

Scabies, like their American cousin, the chigger, caused intense itching, subsequent scratching and infection.  The Bilibid method of attacking these pests consisted of complete coverage of the body with a thick Sulphur paste. Although the problem was not life threatening, for me the treatment used-contributed to a dangerous situation I became exposed to weeks later because the skin retained a yellow tone similar to jaundice.  The sulphur material remained on the body for three days, then a wash off and inspection followed.  This treatment was repeated once then the level of Scabies was considered acceptable.

 

After the medical screening I was assigned to Ward 11, one of the ell shaped buildings in the far corner of the walled-compound.  By far I mean it was located most distant from the entry gate.  The building was still standing and in use in 1982.

 

Wooden platforms six inches from the concrete floor were against the walls through the entire perimeter of the building. The platforms extended toward the center of each side leaving about eight feet of area in the center aisle.  The center area between the wooden platforms had cots and metal barracks type beds placed parallel to the outside walls.  The most serious patients, or those who required special care, were assigned these cots.  Patients on the platforms along the walls had straw filled mattresses to lie on at night, but during the day they were to be rolled toward the wall.  There were two doors to the building, one each near the end of each leg.  An inside latrine was located at the end of the longer leg. It consisted of a trough urinal and two elliptical holes in the concrete floor for solid waste.

 

Cots and beds were located at the end of the short leg. These beds were occupied by a group of wealthy civilians, about twenty of them.  There was University professor, an Asiatic area automobile executive (Packards), some oil company executives, and many mining engineers.  One civilian was a black mining engineer who came to the Islands following the Spanish American War in which he fought in the Philippine Campaign. He was an outcast to the other civilians and was treated rather badly.  These civilians were wealthy and had access to funds and outside sources of foodstuffs, which the other patients were denied. Some shared the largess with the GI servant types who hung around them.

 

In the center alignment of beds and adjacent to my platform position there was a young soldier from Corregidor who had a bullet wound through his foot which prevented him from walking, and a similar bullet wound through the palm of his left hand which forced his hand to form a permanent cup.  All persons viewing this soldier pitied the man and the plight he found himself in and invariably donated foodstuffs to him and his brother.  An uninjured brother accompanied and nursed the patient.  One day about two months after my arrival a Captain from Corregidor entered the ward and saw the soldier.  The Captain became enraged at seeing the attention the soldier was receiving and told the soldier he would receive a courts-marshal upon return to American military control.  He then informed the ward- that the soldiers wounds were self inflicted and- made when the soldier was ordered out of the tunnel on Corregidor to help fight the invading Japanese.

 

There were two doctors to serve Ward 11, both Navy Doctors from Canacoa Naval Hospital at Cavite Naval Base, which was located on Manila bay about fifteen miles from Manila.  The oldest doctor, Lt/Gmdr Robert Hogshire, was very competent in his job and did not hesitate to inform his patients exactly as to their medical status.  The younger doctor, Lt. Greenman, handled the most serious cases.  He was very interested in the unusual physical ailments the patients were exposed to, Lt. Greenman always carried a record book in which he kept meticulous daily records of the most interesting cases.  Had Dr. Greenman lived through prison camp his writings would have been of great value to prisoners appealing disability claims. My doctor was Lt/Cmdr Hogshire aided by a Navy Corpsman named Windham.

 

There were plenty of patients assigned to the ward.  It was always full.  Many patients were from, the Tayabas detail, especially in the early days, then patients began coming in to Bilibid from the local working details like Nichols Field where a runway was being built by prisoners, and from nearby Neilson Field.  John Poole, my longtime friend from  Hickam Field, had a bed about twelve feet from me.  He was in such poor condition upon arrival from  Tayabas that he was given a bed rather than the floor platform.  John did not volunteer for the road building detail as I had, but signed up just to accompany and care for me. He was sent to Bilibid on the first group because he was unable to work on the road.  His health deteriorated rapidly after I arrived in Bilibid and the last two weeks before he died (8/31/42) he was in and out of coma status.  I tried to feed him constantly but in his delerium he would not chew or swallow. The flies in Bilibid were terribly aggressive and I spent most of my time nursing John and keeping flies from entering body openings to lay their eggs.  When John died the corpsman and I carried him to the graveyard and buried him. He did not weigh more than 65 pounds.

 

In the corner where the ell turned, a young GI lay on a bed elevated on about a fifteen degree incline for some reason.  He was so swollen from Beri-beri that his throat muscles were constrained and he could not speak.  Just before he died the skin on his neck split, reducing the swelling in his head, and I recognized him- as a fellow radio-man- named John Wells from Hq, Sqdn. 19th Bomb Group.  We had worked a radio station at Little Bagio on Bataan in January/February, 1942.  He recognized me as I passed his position on my way to the latrine because his eyes followed me all the way.  I did not recognize him until the fluid-drained from his head. He did not regain consciousness and died the next morning.  His condition, with all that excess fluid build-up, scared me so much that for the next eight months I did not lay flat on my back in fear that the excess fluid in legs and abdomen would drain to my head as in John Wells case.  There was a fellow who yelled at night, "Burwell wants Lugoa".  He was badly 'teched in the head' as they usually say.  At the door near the Latrine, a Filipino Scout sat on the floor every day playing a four string Mandolin and singing, "I'll be seeing you in Apple Blossom Time".

 

The washstand was located outside along the wall.  Here clothes were washed, if you had any, and the necessary personal cleaning was accomplished there.  Food was prepared in a central mess about 200 feet from the ward and carried in buckets to the various buildings.  For the first meal of the day, Lugao was served, Lugao, a specialty of Bilibid, was rice cooked mushy to a consistency of oatmeal.  When there was salt available it was barely palatable.  For our other meal, the rice was steamed in large vats.  Each patient received a mess kit of each concoction. Occasionally some side dish was available, such as soup, water cress, diacon, etc.  The rice was of the highly polished variety, which is traditional in the Far East, and very wormy. The rice was added to boiling water in large cast iron bowl shaped cooking vessels, brought back to boil again, then covered tightly and steamed as the fire was allowed to go out.  After a suitable period the cover was removed, the rice removed and the vessel scraped.  The charred rice scraped from the vessel was fed to patients suffering from Diarrhea type disorders.  The rice as mentioned before was very wormy, which bothered many of the eaters.  Some people took hours picking through the mess kit of rice to remove every worm, which, being white and- about one-half inch long were difficult to spot except for the two beady black spots on the front of the worm.  For a few days I tried picking out the worms, them I adopted a new policy for worms. I scanned the top of the mess kit and flicked off all worms, them I ate the rest of the rice without looking for any worms.  Hordes of flies tried to join in the meal and were a constant shoo-off. The men from the 14th Bomb Sw., who came through Bilibid, from Mindanao, in October of 1942 would not eat the Lugao and some turned down plain steamed rice, for they had been receiving better rations in Mindanao.  I picked up many double rations for a couple of days. This diet did not contain fruits, fresh vegetables or greens, therefore it was equal to our diet on Bataan.

 

The Navy Medical Staff performed in an outstanding manner considering the circumstances under which they functioned. Medical supplies were almost nil.  The ailments, diseases and complications of these ailments were common to those medical people trained and living in the Far East but were only textbook elements for American- trained medical personnel.  Few doctors were familiar with the advanced effects of prolonged Malaria or the effects of uncontrolled Scurvy and Pellagra, amoebic and bacillary dysentery, and all asked, "What the hell is Beri-beri". The staff did excellent work adjusting treatments between multiple combinations of unfamiliar ailments with the limited selection and meager quantity of drugs available through the Japanese.

 

Dr Robert Hogshire L/Cmdr USN and his Corpsman Windy made rounds each day around midmorning.  If the condition warranted, usually every day, he would return in the afternoon to check some patients. On morning rounds early in my stay I could tell he was concerned mostly about my enlarged heart, but my main concern was the edema, or swelling, in my legs and body.  This swelling extended to the navel upon entry to Bilibid and continued to increase.  I would gauge the severity of the swelling by lightly pressing a finger into the leg above the knee for a few seconds then estimate how much time passed before the indentation popped out. Usually it took more than an hour for the dimple to flatten out. Upon the death of Wells, my radio operator shift man from, Little Bagio on Bataan, when I saw the result of the swelling continuing to the upper body area, I became so concerned that I would not lay down to sleep, always sitting upright and sleeping in a propped up position.  This swelling condition was, to me, probably brought on mostly from ignorance of the root cause of the problem.  The medical people were not familiar with it either.  I visualized blood vessels, tissue, ligaments etc., all floating around in the edema fluid and upon return to normality these floating elements would reestablish themselves in some helter-skelter manner that would cause many problems.  Most of my clothing had long ago been lost or disposed of.  All that remained were a uniform shirt and a cut off pair of pants, a beat up pair of shoes and two pairs of socks.  Because of the swelling these clothes could not be worn, instead I wore a loincloth, which is the Japanese underwear.  It consisted of a strip of cloth about sixty inches long and twelve inches wide with strings attached at one end.  It was worn by placing the end of the cloth with the string end at the back and then tying the string around the waist at the front, then passing the cloth between the legs and looping it over the tied string.  At least the pressure on the swelling was decreased by wearing the loincloth.  There was no medicine to treat this condition.  I suppose a better diet would be the best treatment but food was our chronic shortage, both in volume and in nutritional value.  I was troubled with the edema for about three months before beginning the return to a more normal condition.

 

The men from the 14th Bomb Sw. stayed only a few days leaving about the middle of October for Kawasaki, Honshu, Japan. My health continued to deteriorate and about one week after they left the doctor began sending the corpsman back to draw blood. He suspected anemia to be the problem and was monitoring the red blood count, which, over, a four-day period, dropped to a perilous level. On October 23rd the doctor returned to the ward after the blood count to tell me that the count was very low, that he could not do anything with medication available, that the only treatment remaining was for a blood- transfusion. He asked my permission to proceed and I asked, "Who in this prison, under these conditions, could afford to give blood." The doctor and corpsman took me to the surgery ward where I lay on one table and the donor lay on another table with a tube connecting us and I received 355 cc's of blood. The donor was Earl Swiezer, WO, USN and I credit him with saving my life.

 

Following the blood transfusion there occurred a subtle change in diet. The Japanese, as with most Orientals and their diet, used polished rice with the coverings removed to make the rice sticky, enabling the balling of rice when using chopsticks. The supply of wormy white rice was becoming scarce for the Japanese so the prisoners were forced to use "red" rice instead of white rice. The red rice was hulled only once, giving the rusty coloring, and leaving the nutritional values of the rice grin intact. The vitamins available with the rusty rice, along with the new blood provided- enough nutrients to contain the anemia problem- and begin a slow recovery from some of my ailments.

 

By the end of the year my recovery allowed me to participate in light work details around the compound. About mid January 1943 I was able to go on details outside Bilibid prison. These were mainly cleanup details at Santo Tomas University and Japanese headquarter buildings. On March 11 was sent to Cabanatuan prison camp in Nueva Evicea Province to continue forced labor for the Japanese Emperor.