Robert D. Rosendahl was born in Thief River Falls, Minnesota in April 1921. He joined the Army Air Force directly after graduating high school, in July 1939, and did his basic training in the 3rd Division, 4th Infantry, at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota. He then went to Fort Crook, Nebraska, which was part of the Offutt Air Force Base, before being stationed at Nichols Field in the Philippine Islands.
Rosendahl heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor at 3:30 a.m. on December 8, 1941. As the line chief of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron (sergeant, air craft mechanics first class), he then helped to prepare twelve P-40-B planes (which could fly no higher than twelve thousand feet) at Iba air base. The planes were sent out but made no contact, and when they returned from their second run, low on fuel, the Japanese had begun to attack the airfield with fifty-one Betty bombers. The P-40s were able to prevent the strafing that had destroyed Clark Field hours before, but the bombing still took its toll. Rosendahl jumped into a foxhole for protection, but it was part of a sandbar, and a bomb landed nearby, temporarily burying him. He was wounded with shrapnel from the bomb in his left side and arm.
Nevertheless, Rosendahl assisted in taking men to the hospital in Manila, from which they were sent to the pier and placed aboard the USS Mactan for transport to Australia. Some formed what would become the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, while the rest were sent back to the United States. Meanwhile, Bataan surrendered, and Rosendahl and the others were taken prisoners of war and were forced to make the Death March. Arriving in Camp O'Donnell, Rosendahl joined a work detail that was building bridges.
Rosendahl was then taken to Manila in October 1942 and put aboard the hellship Tottori Maru after being hosed down and given a Japanese uniform to wear. Beginning on November 11, 1942, he was interned at Mukden POW Camp in Manchuria--now known as Shenyang--where he and the other prisoners were forced to work in a Japanese machine tool factory. When the Japanese guards went to lunch, the prisoners sabotaged their war efforts by dumping tools into the wet concrete.
According to Rosendahl, some prisoners were taken into town and became the subject of medical experiments. The Japanese would destroy the nerves along their spinal cords, rendering them without sensation in their lower bodies. Also, Rosendahl and other prisoners were given shots, from which some of them died. It was also reported that the Japanese held feathers under the noses of prisoners while they were sleeping, thereby spreading bacteria. Despite this, however, there were some who treated the prisoners kindly.Yoshio Kai, for instance, was the Japanese translator at the factory, and he secretly gave the prisoners blankets and food and did not report the sabotage although he was aware of its occurrence. Rosendahl himself survived Zero War during the winter of 1942-1943.
Work in Mukden continued until August 15, when mysteriously the men were not forced to go to the factory. They later saw red parachutes landing at the nearby airport, and Harold Leith entered the camp to ensure the safety of the prisoners and to secure their ultimate release. Rosendahl left Manchuria on the USS Colbert (APA-145), which briefly docked at Okinawa. Then it put to sea to avoid a typhoon, but it struck a floating mine, resulting in three fatalities and rather extensive damage to the ship itself. It was thus towed back to Okinawa on September 18, 1945 and later to Guam, Pearl Harbor, and San Francisco. It arrived on the west coast of the U.S. on January 30, 1946.
Rosendahl re-enlisted in the Army and served as first sergeant of an infantry company during the Korean War, spending nine months in combat. He then joined the family business of building houses, and he spent the last twenty years before retirement working as a masonry foreman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In September 2003, Rosendahl and his fellow ex-POW Oliver Allen, as well as their wives and their liberator, Harold Leith, and a delegation of Chinese-American activists from the Truth Council for World War II in Asia, revisited what is now Shenyang.