On the Bataan Death March
I lost my mother at the age of six and became an orphan when my father also died when I was 16. I enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to the Philippines in April of 1941. I was near Nichols Field on December 8, 1941 when Japanese bombers attacked the filed wiping out most of the U.S. planes there. I then fought for the defense of Bataan, but surrendered on April 11, 1942, following General King's order. On that day, I joined what came to be known as the Bataan Death March.
Approximately 2,000 American prisoners formed a long column with four abreast along the dusty road out of Mariveles. We had not eaten anything for about three days at this point and the Jap Commander announced that if we would walk to Balanga we would be fed. I was hungry and this sounded pretty good to me and I was ready to hit the road. We walked on the side of the road, and the middle of the road was taken up by constantly moving Japanese troops, cavalry, artillery, and tanks. I wore my steel helmet with a hole in it for the entire march. This was because passing troops, especially horse-mounted cavalry were inclined to reach over and bash us on the head with a rifle butt or the back of a sword.
When dark came we were herded in groups of 50 off the road into an adjacent rice paddy and required to sit down in ranks. We had to relieve ourselves just like that in ranks in a sitting position. We had to try to sleep in the same position until morning. We still had nothing to eat, and after a couple of days of this, we finally arrived at Balanga. They had promised us food here but we got nothing. This same format went on for several days.
At last, we came to the town of Lubao, and were herded into a barbed wire enclosure... Many hundreds of prisoners were inside the enclosure and there was still no food. This Lubao holding pen was easily the worst place on the entire march. I was stuck there for three days because the Japanese would allow only a certain number to go out and join the march each day.
One incident at Lubao shook me up. I spent all my time during the day standing in line for the one water hydrant to fill my canteen. I was almost up to the hydrant when a Japanese officer came up, looked us over, and selected a rather tall, good-looking soldier, who was just in front of me, out of the line. The officer, for no apparent reason, tuned over this man to a group of soldiers who took him across the road, tied to a tree and used him for bayonet practice. From my place in line, I saw the whole thing. After he was dead they took his body and threw it into a large bamboo clump. Then, just as I got to the hydrant, the Japanese soldiers pushed me aside and washed the blood off of their bayonets.
Camp O'Donnell and Camp Cabanatuan
Soon after arriving at Camp O'Donnell, I celebrated my 22nd birthday with a mess kit half full of Lugao. Not long after arrival there I noticed that people were dropping like flies. Bodies were stacked in a shed to the ceiling waiting for burial details. Large green blow flies were in abundance. A couple of times, guys that I knew well, developed a headache about 2 o'clock or so in the afternoon and by 10 o'clock that night they were dead ...Soon, practically everyone I knew was dead. The 31st Infantry Regiment began the war with approx. 2500 men including officers. I learned later that 819 members of the 31st died at Camp O'Donnell in the first six weeks. I decided that if I stayed there, I was going to die also. After Corregidor fell on May 6, the Japanese began calling for volunteers for work details. I volunteered, since nothing could be worse than O'Donnell.
I was wrong. Our relatively small work detail loaded on trucks and headed out. We went back down into Bataan and my heart sank. I hated that place ...It turned out that our job was to salvage artillery shell dumps. We loaded the shells on a truck and several of us rode the truck up the coast road to Olongapo.
I came down with hepatitis which was called yellow jaundice in those days. I had already contracted malaria on this trip and was having chills and fever every other day or so. Now I was so weak, and was in a daze, and could not climb up on a truck without help. So many of us were incapacitated in this way that the Japanese decided to terminate the detail and return us to a prison camp.
In the meantime, Camp O'Donnell had been turned over entirely to Filipino prisoners, and the Americans were moved to a new camp at Cabanatuan. When we arrived there, we discovered that the prisoners from Corregidor were there. That was our first contact with them. Corregidor prisoners were never at O'Donnell, and the Death March had been completely over for a couple of weeks when the troops on Corregidor were surrendered ...The Corregidor people had not suffered the same privations that the Bataan troops had to put up with during the combat period and seemed to be in better health.
For my part, I was very sick, and shortly after arriving there, I ran into a guy from my Company. He said that he and several others sneaked out under the barbed wire fence at night, went down the hill to a small barrio where they were able to obtain food, and cigarettes, etc. He invited me to join them and normally I would have probably gone with them, but I was just too sick to go. That very night they were caught by the Japanese who tied them to posts just outside the camp, left them there for a few days, and then shot them. After that, the alphabetical roster of all men in the prison camp (several thousand by this time) was divided into groups of ten. These were called "shooting squads". If one man in the group escaped, the other nine were rounded up and shot. No one had any way of knowing who in the squad with him, so they could not conspire to escape together.
In October 1944, I was transported to Japan, first in the hold of Hokusen Maru and later that of Melbourne Maru. After arriving in Moji in January 1945, I was sent to Sendai Camp # 3, Mitsubishi Hosokura mine.
Working for Mitsubishi in Northern Japan
Finally on January 27, 1945 we arrived in a large town well North of Tokyo where we got off of the train. The snow appeared to be about two feet deep and hard packed. Here we stood around, freezing, for several hours and then got on a narrow gauge mountain climbing train that went a little Northwest into the mountains, finally arriving at a small town where we could see a smelter in operation. It was night and the ground was covered with ice. We had to march on a trail up a large hill where, to our surprise, an entire new prison camp had been built out a new lumber. There was a high board fence with guard towers, and inside were a couple of double-decker wooden barracks for the slave laborers to live in.
It turned out that we were to work for the Mitsubishi Company in an underground mine in a nearby mountain. In the camp, our Commandant was a Japanese Lieutenant, and all the guards and other people were Imperial Japanese Army personnel. When we started work in the mine, however, all supervisory people were civilian employees of Mitsubishi.
From the entrance of the mine, we walked an estimated ¾ mile to the main office. This was all well lighted. The tracks went there and then by switches branched out to other tunnels. The ore cars that rolled on the tracks held one cubic meter of ore. I then had to proceed up one of the branch tunnels about a half mile to a vertical shaft where had to climb up 13 flights of rotten, slippery ladders where I inherited a small horizontal tunnel all by myself. This tunnel was literally in the heart of the mountain. It had a track with an ore car which ran from the ore face to a hole in the floor. What I had to do was scoop up ore with a tool that looked somewhat like an auto hubcap, fill the one cubic meter ore car, push it down the track to the hole in the floor, lift one end and dump the contents into the hole. This hole fed a chute that went far below and came out in a tunnel where the ore fell into another car for further disposal. Now the Japanese could count the loads that came down the chutes from various ore faces, and everyone had a quota. My quota was 20 cubic meters per day. I never was a very good slave laborer, especially without constant supervision, so I never got close to making my quota. The Japanese were not happy about this but never did much about it except whack me over the back with a stick now and then.
As times went on, we were all getting skinner and weaker, but at least the weather was a lot better, although I was convinced that I could not survive another winter at this place. I weighed only 95 pounds.
Every night, there was a total blackout in the camp and in the town and
smelter nearby. We could hear huge formations of airplanes flying over
in the direction of Tokyo every night. About this time, the Japanese commander
informed us that all prisoners of war would be executed if the Americans
invaded the mainland of Japan. He said it appeared imminent and so they
had set a date of August 29 for the general execution of all prisoners.
Then they brought in a platoon or so of tough looking soldiers who proceeded
to set up machine guns around the compound. The deadline was still about
a month away at this point but our morale was not held by this information
and the sight of troops with machine guns.
One day we went to work in the mine early in the morning and about noon, the Japanese got us all together and had a roll call. They then proceeded to march us out of the mine. This was totally unheard of. We were afraid that they had moved up the execution date which was still two weeks away. As we marched through the town, we noticed that women office workers were standing around crying. It turned out that they had just gotten through listening to the Emperor's speech on the radio in regard to Japan's surrender. As we marched through the town, little kids began to chase after us, pulling on our ragged clothing. They chanted, "senso owari ..." This meant "the war was over". Well, now after three and a half years as a prisoner, we didn't believe that for a minute. We simply had trouble believing that the war was over. Of course, none of us had any knowledge whatsoever about the atomic bomb or its consequences. The Japanese knew about it but they were not talking. Anyway, we made it back to the camp but the Japanese still had not told us anything. We noticed, however, that the lights were back on in the town at night and the bomber formations that flew over each night had disappeared. We began to hope. After a day or two of this, all of the Japanese troops, guards, and the Commander had left. Mitsubishi civilian flunkies were all that was left, and they officially announced that the war was over. The next thing they did was get up on top of the barracks with buckets of yellow paint and painted huge PW signs on top.
In October, 1945, I came home on board the navy hospital ship, the U.S.S. Rescue. The trip back took a couple of weeks with a day in Guam and a day at Pearl Harbor. Finally we sailed under the Golden Gate bridge which I had last seen four and a half years earlier. I was pretty overcome with emotion by that sight. (Excerpted from NO BUGLES NO PARADES, By Louis B. Read.)
Letter from a Japanese person to Mr. Read and his reply
Dear Mr. Read,
Growing up in a prefecture in Northern Japan, Miyagi-ken, I always knew that our prefecture had a very famous thousand-year-old mine, the Mitsubishi Hosokura Mine, whose production of lead and zinc was one of the largest in Japan. But all those years, I did not know that there had been more than two hundred American POWs forced to work in this mine during World War II.
Recently, I visited the Mitsubishi Hosokura Mine. It had long been closed. As I walked through the dark tunnels, I thought about young American soldiers who found themselves in this remote mine in the enemy country, being forced to work without knowing if they would ever go home alive. Then I wondered if I could find someone who survived the wartime slave labor here.
You can imagine my surprise and excitement when you contacted me through the website where the photos that I took at the Hosokura mine were posted. Let me first say that I am so sorry for what you had to endure as a POW. I am also sorry that I did not know that wartime POW slave labor took place near my hometown until very recently. When I visited the mine, there was nothing to remind visitors of you and your fellow POWs having been there. Therefore, it was so important for me to find someone who had been forced to walk the tunnels 60 years before I walked them.
Thank you very much for sending me your beautiful memoir. I was saddened to learn about your lonely childhood, which makes your POW experience even more tragic. You had already had more than your share of sad experiences before becoming a POW of the Japanese.
I find it so admirable that, after having gone through so many tragic
events, you decided to pursue higher education after the war and became
a successful businessperson in later years. Thank you for sharing pictures
of your beautiful family, especially grandchildren. I am also happy to
learn that you have been very active in various veteran's organizations.
Thank you for your letter.
I regret that I didn't have more time to meet and talk with more Japanese civilians. I did meet with a few civilians in Tokyo in 1945 and found them to be very friendly. Children that I encountered were always friendly. In Morioka, we could occasionally come across Japanese children who bowed and scraped and invariably presented each of us with a fresh apple from a nearby orchard.
Actually, most of my bad experiences as a prisoner during the war were at the hands of the Japanese Army in the Philippines and on the first prison ship from Manila to Formosa. After arriving in Japan, I never had any really bad experiences, although I did have a problem with hunger and some diseases. I felt like the Japanese civilians were not much better off than we were in terms of food.
I do think the POWs of the Japanese are entitled to a sincere apology for the actions of the Military and for not marking the prison ships en route to Japan.
Personally, I am not particularly interested in any monetary reward for slave labor. One positive aspect of my term of imprisonment was that I learned to be patient, and learned a lot of self-discipline.
Mr. Read in a recent photo
Posted November, 2004
* Mr. Louis B. Read passed away on March 31, 2011.