Defenders of the Philippines

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Joseph Vater

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Joseph Vater

ADBC Commander 1953-1955

Joseph Vater Presenstation at ADBC Museum 2012

Joseph Vater Picture
Joe Vater was ADBC Commander from 1953-55, but also served as editor of the Quan for over fifty  years, giving up the position in 2007.

Camera Acquired in Mukden
View Photos from Joe's Camera

Art work by Mr. Vater

Interview with Joseph Vater, Rutgers Oral History Archives

Not Your Average Joe--Book about Joe, see excerpt below.  Front Cover of "Not Your Average Joe"

From the Quan by George Wallace--Joe worked in the painting trade when he was drafted on June 21,1941.  He went to Fort Belvoir for indoctrination and engineering training.  He arrived in Manila on the 23rd and on Clark Field on the 24th.  From there, he went to the base at O'Donnell where his unit, the 803rd Aviation Engineers was charged with building the airfield, roads and other infrastructure.

The 803rd was organized into four companies and continued to work at rebuilding roads as bombing by the Japanese became a regular event.  When the Japanese landed and began their invasion  Joe was with a group of some 45 men who were equipped with one machine gun and a few rifles. 

"We were trained as infantryman and hardly even knew how to work the machine gun," he said.  By then it was late January 1942.

As the Japanese approached, the group was pulled back and sent to Corregidor where they were to rebuild and extend the runway.  

They worked at that while being bombed regularly and finally on May 3, they were told to destroy anything on the which might be of use to the Japanese in their war effort.

At this time everything was confused; there were few officers or leaders around.  It was all a mishmash of confusion." Joe said as he recalled the time. As they came under heavy fire from the Japanese infantry, a young Marine Lieutenant tried to set up a machine gun emplacement to mount a defense.  That's when Joe was wounded by shrapnel from a hand grenade."

In fear of being overrun, the small band was pulled back to an area known as Monkey Point and from there they were surrendered.

They were taken initially back to the Philippines where they formed details to collect anything that could be recycled by the Japanese for the war effort.

Initially, those who "didn't give them headaches" were generally left alone, he said and not seriously abused. 

On May 24 they were taken to Bilibid; then four days later to Cabanatuan, then to O'Donnell which had become a prison camp.  After several months of being shifted back and forth, Joe was taken on October 9th to the hellship, the Tottori Maru.  It was aboard this ship than an American sub barely missed torpedoing them.

Many Americans died at the hands of their own countrymen as ships were not marked as "POW" and were fair game for the Allied forces.

For a month the group was shuffled around the sea from GoGo Island and Formosa and back again before joining a convoy of November 8 heading for Pusan, Korea.  They were taken by train to Mukden, the prison built during the 1812- Japanese-Russian War.

By this time the treatment was getting worse and they found themselves in 30 degree below zero weather.
Despite an issue of heavier clothing there was little warmth and comfort for those being imprisoned there.
Joe's slavery was in a machine tool plant constructed by Ford Motor Company prior to the war and it produced war machinery for the Japanese.

Joe concedes that one could accuse the GI's of doing rather imperfect work knowing it was going to build war equipment and machinery for the enemy.

During the time Joe was enslaved there he fell from his 225 pounds down to 84 pounds.  At six foot two inches, he was little more than a skeleton.

By August 1944, the allies were bombing the area and on December 7, friendly fire killed 19 GIs when the unmarked POW camp was hit by bombs.

By August of 1945, the Russians arrived to liberate the prisoners.  Many had died while in captivity and nearly all were sick and emaciated.  The liberated prisoners were taken to the USS Relief Hospital ship and given much needed medical treatment and nourishment.

On October 2, they boarded the USS Bolivar and brought home.

During a 104 day furlough, Joe found he didn't enjoy too much idle time and he went to work at  his painting trade before returning to duty and finally discharge.

With his $1800 back pay Joe brought a new Buick.

Much more can be found in the book about Joe Vater.

From  Book About Joe Vater--" Not Your  Average Joe"

In mid-December of 1942, Joe began working at the Factory M.K.K. along with 250 other men. More and more men were sent to the factory as time passed. There were six buildings on the site and about 75 of the men were from the 803rd. The POWs had about a five mile walk each way to and from the factory.
In a cruel twist of fate, prior to the war the factory was being built by the Ford Motor co. All the tools, machines, gauges, cars and trucks were all American made products. The larger machines were not set so they had to prepare the foundation for the larger equipment.
The worst part about the work was how cold it was there. Many times the temperature would drop down as low as 40 below zero. For six months the men had to walk from the barracks to the factory and back to the barracks each day. On June 27, 1943 they moved to barracks only a mile from the factory. At that same time their warm clothes were taken away. This was a problem since the weather never really warmed up.
Joe and the rest of the POWs lived in these abject conditions and had no contact with home until January, 1944. At that time, Joe received six letters and at the end of the month received his first package. This was a nice respite but the days continued to go by the same as the last. They ate mush, maize, some soy beans and every once in a while some greens while being forced to work every day except for once a month. Their bath time was scheduled once a week.
Joe said, "Some men never adjusted to the conditions and most of them died quickly. Those who did adjust needed the strongest of wills to survive until the end of the war."