Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release form captivity

Houston Turner

Houston Turner Photo 1945Read Houston's complete autobiography, from which the following was taken.

Houston Turner was born in Binger, OK, but raised in California.  In September of 1940, he graduated from high school.  Knowing he was likely to be drafted with few prospects he went to San Luis Obispo and visited the recruiting office there.  Wanting to go to Alaska he was redirected to go to the Philippines with promise of beautiful women and possible advancement.  On January 8, 1941, along with his friend Henry, he enlisted in the Army at Ft. MacArthur, CA.  Houston sailed on the U.S. Grant from San Francisco, arriving in Manila Feb. 20, 1941.  He was in Company "I" and stationed in Manila. 

As war looked more likely for America, more troops rolled in including tank battalions.  His group went to Caraboa Gates outside of Manila and lived in tents, drilling and marching almost 24 hours a day.  Right before the war he returned  to Manila and served as a bodyguard  to the High Commissioner of the 808 military police.  After the Commissioner was taken off the Island, Houston was stationed down in the port area of Manila close to Fort San Diego to police the streets.  A small detachment made up of  military police and B Company 31st Infantry was trying to keep order in Manila, which had a population of three million at the time. 

Then he was told to head a convoy of 30 vehicles down to Abaca.  He got shot at a lot on the way back.  He also was shot at a lot after going back to Manila and had to shoot others.  As the Japanese Army approached the outskirts of Manila, the Americans set all the barges on fire in the Pasig river.  On Christmas Eve, he  performed a running jump to get on a PT boat to Corregidor.  They then took a PT boat back to Mariveles and he found himself in middle of a bombing raid.  At that time, Houston realized he would soon be going back into the infantry and asked if he could be put in Company "B" as he had worked with them in Manila. 

He helped to defend the Abucay Hacienda Line.  Food became a big concern, and he slept in a foxhole for days without any relief or food.  With poorly trained Filipino troops the going was rough and the battles constant.  When he got called to go into the Battle of Samat, thirty men from his battalion hiked to the front line on Samat.  A mess truck driver tried to bring food to the men, but a sniper killed the cooks and so Houston  had just one cup of coffee before battle.  An ambulance driver came to pick up the cooks and he too was shot.  Turner said that was the closest he came to having a hot meal  on the front line.

As he got close to the front line at Mt. Samat, the Platoon leader told him to spread the men out until they could connect to the left flank.  He could connect to the troops on the left or the right and then a runner came and told them to retreat as they were in a trap. Next mortar rounds killed the First Sergeant and his Assistant, and crippled  the Company Commander.  The runner's legs almost got blown off and his yelling attracted more fire from the Japanese and Houston gave both the wounded a shot of morphine.  They then headed towards a stream. A Japanese soldier shot at Houston, and he could hear the bullet buzz by his head.   He told the runner to make for the brush. He then used his M1 Garand on the Japanese soldier who was trying to reload his gun. The runner had lost so  much blood that he fell asleep.  He had to leave him.  They then made a run for the high country.

His battalion lost ten men trying to get away from their position, but was told to keep defending as they had ships landing at Mariveles soon and needed a beach head to get in.  A couple of Colonels came to talk to the men and asked if anyone knew the area. Houston replied that he did. They asked to be taken across the point to where they would have men try to stop the Japanese from reaching the beach.  The Japanese however got there before Houston and the colonels did. Houston recalls that one Colonel said to the other "I would be very surprised if we never see the sun come up tomorrow."  Seconds later the Japanese fired a round  that killed both colonels.

The commander told Turner to take two men, set up a gun and try to hold the Japanese back.  They had to cross an open field of 200 yards.   A man named Blackly said he would man the machine gun. and for them to make a run for it.  The Japanese ran over Blackly and three or four others were also hit.  Blackly had saved their lives.  After a heavy night of shelling Houston heard that General King was asking the Japanese to accept a surrender. 

Houston decided to head for the hills, instead of going to the surrender point.  He joined up with a Filipino and had more skirmishes with the Japanese, before developing malaria. After realizing his chances were limited, he told the Filipino to go on without him and he joined another group of men he believed were Philippine Scouts who gave him some Atabrine.  Finally, with Japanese in front of him on the trail he put his hands up to surrender.  After being interviewed by the Japanese at a stockade he lied about his battalion because he had heard they had it out for the 31st infantry.  He was then put on the Death March.
Some Filipinos on the road gave him some shrimp that gave him ptomaine (food) poisoning and a doctor told him he would probably die without any help.  Turner was determined he would beat it and asked God for help.  He survived and managed to also make it through the train ride to Capas by getting near a hole in the truck. to get some air. 

At O'Donnell he was taken down to the barracks for the 31st infantry.  He was put on a detail to tear down the barracks at Clark Field and on the workforce his malaria came back.  They took him back to O'Donnell where he was put in Zero Ward. He woke up after being in a coma for three days.  He asked how he could get out of Zero Ward and was told most people didn't make it out, but was told to eat and he ate rice gruel.  He asked if he could put on burial detail, but the American doctor said he would have to talk to the Japanese doctor. The Japanese doctor asked him if he could walk and he said he could.  He let him out and he had to stop three times but made it to where the trucks were leaving to go to Cabanatuan.  At this time Houston weighed about 90 pounds.

He met up with his old buddy Henry who had acquired quinine, which he shared with Houston. After the chills left him, he got a job in the mess hall and was able to gain some weight.  He was then put on a wood detail where they went to out to cut wood for the camp.  It enabled him to acquire a little extra food.  He also worked on the farm breaking up termite nests full of venomous cobras.

Houston Turner left on a ship to Japan on September 20th, 1943 on the Taga Maru, but they nicknamed it the Yossimay Maru, yossimay meaning rest in Japanese.  On the way to Japan  a torpedo from the USS Sargo  almost hit the ship and they also endured three days while a typhoon hit the sea and tore AA guns off the ship as well as everything on the deck.  Several smaller ships in their convoy sunk during the storm.

Once in Japan, the men went on a train to Hirohata, outside of Osaka and he worked in the Sintatsu  Steel Mills and prison camp #12.  At camp he was almost blasted when a furnace blew, but another prisoner warned them right before that the furnace was going to go and he was able to get out.  This left the men with two blast furnaces.  By the time he left the camp there was only one.
Houston worked in both casting and slag detail until he was moved to stevedoring.  On days there were air raids, the Japanese would make the men go swimming in a frozen river.

He was transferred to Nagoya Camp #5 where conditions were better.  They unloaded soybeans from China and he was able to steal some soybeans by putting on two pairs of pants and slipping the soybeans inside the legs.   American B-29 planes were bombing the shipyards.    These planes destroyed almost 87% of Nagoya.  He knew the war was over when the Japanese guards and sailors got a message the war was over.  Like other prisoners in camps they had to learn to respect the drums of food being dropped.  Houston said that  a drum of medical supplies for the sick bay fell through the roof of the sick bay killing the only patient they had in the sick bay.

On his way he stopped in Manila where he had so much fun with old friends  that he kept missing the ships leaving Manila.  In the states, he was in the hospital in California before returning to his home.  He retired from the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power September, 1988.  He married Georgia, and they had two sons.