Leon Beck: "When I walked outside with him, I said, 'I promised everybody I wouldn’t shoot you, but I’ve got to show my contempt.' And that’s when I spit on him."
I was 19 when World War II broke out. I turned 20 going into Bataan on my birthday, the 12th of December 1941. I was in the antitank company, 31st Infantry, the only American infantry unit in the Philippines. We had between 1800 and 1900 men in the unit when the war started. The whole 31st regiment was called “Manila's Own." and it was formed there in 1916. They'd seen duty in China and Siberia. They were America’s Foreign Legion. They never served in the United States until long after World War II.
"They were taking us from Mariveles up the east coast of Bataan to San Fernando in Pampanga Province. Pampanga’s the next province above Bataan. They held POWs in San Fernando in a cockfight arena."
I enlisted on the 28th of February 1940, but they wouldn’t swear us in the next day since it was a leap year. So they swore us in on the first day of March. I wanted to go to the Philippines because it seemed that if any action was going to start, that would be the most logical place. And then of course, all the old soldiers that had been stationed there did tell you how far your money went in the Philippines. You got two pesos for every dollar, and things were very cheap. I took a short discharge in February of '41 and reenlisted for three years so I could be sent there.
We were stationed right in Manila when I first went there, at Santa Lucia barracks in the old walled city, Intermuros it was called. We went over there on the old USAT Republic. We made about 11 knots and it took 22 days. That was the start of the troop buildup.
Barrio Natividad is where I met Veneranda, my wife. She was 17 at the time. The first day Veneranda saw me, I was so sick I was lying naked on what’s called a papag.
Every month there was other transports that came in behind us up until a week before the war started. Now, the majority of those probably came in 1941. Nearly all of the air corps units, the 192nd, 194th tank, the ordnance company, chemical companies, like that. We weren't well prepared, it just sounds like we were. For example, they had a new weapon in the infantry units, a 60mm mortar. We had scads of 60mm mortars, but we had no ammunition for them.
In April of ‘41, all the military dependents that lived west of the Mississippi River were ordered home. Then the next month all of the dependents on the east side of the Mississippi were shipped out, and civilian personnel were advised that they’d better go back to the States. When the State Department starts ordering dependents to leave, look out. You're going to see combat. It’s just a question of time.
Each time they didn’t have Veneranda there, I said, “No, I’m not getting on that plane)."
Photo by Robert Burroughs
We weren't too worried about it. We were filled with all this malarkey, the slant-eyed little bastards couldn’t see and they couldn’t fly an airplane. The paper was full of that. We were pretty confident we were going to win that war in about three weeks. Everybody’s full of piss and vinegar.
Any Filipino that helped you, if they got caught at it or if they’re exposed, that's their death sentence.
Photo by Robert Burroughs
Eight months later, when the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor, it was Monday, December the 8th, to us in Manila since we were across the dateline. The charge of quarters came into the barracks and said Pearl Harbor has been attacked, and then everybody starts, well, where's Pearl Harbor? Very few people knew enough geography to even know where Pearl Harbor was.
That same day they bombed Aparri, which is the northern end of Luzon Island, and they bombed Iba Field over in Zambales Province, Clark Field, and Camp John Hay Baguio. We could see the aircraft way off in the distance there, and of course, the news was out that they're bombing Clark Field. Our training schedule that morning called for extended order drill, and we had no other orders, so we just followed our training schedule. Then they brought us in around 11:00 or so in the morning, and we were told we were to pack all our personal effects that we wanted shipped home in foot lockers. And of course, they never made it. The foot lockers were stored in a big gymnasium in the Cuartel de Esparia, where the headquarters and 1st Battalion of the 31st were, and they were all looted when the Japanese got in. Never saw any of it again.
My company, about 85 of us, left our barracks and convoyed to Bataan the 12th of December '41, my 20th birthday. That's the only reason I remember the date. We didn't have enough trucks to take all of our equipment, so we commandeered buses from the different bus companies in Manila. I was in one of the rifle squads assigned to provide infantry support for the 37mm guns.
Not a great deal happened once we got to Bataan. We did dig a few defensive positions and establish some lines of defense a little ways in from the beach, but the greater period of the first couple of weeks was taken up playing double-deck pinochle and hunting cigarettes, more than anything. The Japs hadn’t landed yet. They didn’t effect their landing in Lingayen Gulf, I don’t think, until the 22nd of December. So for almost a month you sat there with your thumb in your butt wondering what's going on.
In our first encounter, on the 6th of January, they just kicked our butts with artillery. We had a critique in the afternoon of the 5th, and the company commanders of the whole regiment called their troops out, pointed out the objective. Tomorrow morning when we jump off from here, by nightfall we're going to be on top of that high ground there. That’s our objective.
The Japs come down through Luzon, and this is clear down at the mouth of Bataan, at what’s called Layac Junction, where the road turns west and goes to Olongapo and Subic Bay, and that was our objective over there. Well, the Japs opened up the next morning with this artillery, and by the time that artillery barrage was over, our lines were broken, and that evening after dark we started pulling back.
We never assaulted anything. We were just pinned down all day with artillery.
You learn real quick listening to a round of artillery being fired whether that round’s going to hit in front of you, whether it’s going to go beyond you, or whether it's going to be real close.
You can tell from the sound of that shell coming through the air. So you keep your head down and ass just as low as your head if you can.
When we came off of the Layac Junction line, we retreated back to the plantation at Abucay Hacienda. Then the regiment was involved in some heavy fighting, and we lost quite a number of men in the regiment. But our company was primarily defending the road position for the north-south road going from the end of Bataan to prevent tank attacks coming down this road.
Finally the Japanese pulled back and quit fighting. We were just stalemated. And the Japanese troops were pretty much like our troops. Everybody was sick with malaria and dysentery and beri beri, and we were on starvation rations.
I had been in the hospital with malaria, and the medicine they gave us was liquid quinine. Well, I took a couple of drinks of that, and I decided that I'd rather have malaria than drink that damn stuff, so I left the hospital and went back to my company. I had malaria for years after the war, until about 1953.
I always knew when I was going to have a malarial attack. I'd always feel that if I could just stretch to the full extent it might go away. Then I’d get that insatiable desire for water, and the very first swallow of water I took, I’d go into a chill and fever. And if you had a chill today at 1:00 o’clock, you’re going to have one tomorrow at 1:00 o’clock. And if you miss that second day, then you’d have a chill the third day. You could almost set your watch by what time you were going to have a chill and fever. You lie there and shiver and shake, and then you break into sweats. And the only thing that I could tolerate to pass my lips when I was having a malarial attack was salt and lemon juice.
Our stalemate with the Japs lasted until near the end of March. Several weeks we were in division reserve, and the only thing we did of any consequence was pull what they call sniper patrol around the headquarters and keep Jap snipers from infiltrating through your positions and shooting officers. The officers got where they took their insignias off their shoulders and put them underneath their collar, and they’d come up and talk to you and they'd flip their collar up and let you know what rank they were.
Then about 30 men from my company were detached, and we were sent up to Mount Samat in support of a Philippine army division. That was the main line of resistance across Bataan from east to west. When we got there, a couple of days before the attack started, you could hear the Japs’ heavy equipment rumbling, you could hear the tracks clinking. They were building their strength for this big push to conquer Bataan.
The Japanese were pushing hard. They wanted Bataan real bad because they could fire that two and a half miles across to Corregidor and the other fortified islands. They brought in troops from China, Indochina, everywhere, to give General Homma reinforcements so he could conquer Bataan.
And here again they opened up with artillery, and by the time that barrage on Mount Samat lifted, they had shot up every gun we had, every truck, even the kitchen equipment. The only thing we had left was what we were carrying on our persons. We estimated that 7000 rounds of Jap artillery an hour were saturating an area a mile in width by a mile in depth. They said it was equal to anything fired in World War I on the Western Front.
The Japanese lifted their artillery barrage, and their troops came through on the 3rd day of April 1942. We pulled out; everybody was pulling back. The Japs captured Mount Samat. and they put their artillery up there to fire all the way down Bataan. As we retreated, we were constantly trying to join with other units and try to establish a defensive position. The Japanese would flank us, the order would come to pull back, we’d pull back until we met another contingent of troops trying to form defensive positions and you'd get with them. We were retreating south all the time, back to Mariveles. Everybody in the group was wrung out.
This is mountainous terrain, thick jungles, deep ravines, and sheer rock walls. You can’t believe how hectic things were. We didn’t have communication facilities like they had in later wars. And artillery had tom up any telephone lines that had been strung. The command positions would send out foot runners to pass the word about what they wanted done, and when they got to where they were supposed to be, the units were no longer there. They'd either pulled back or had been cut off or something. It was just mass confusion.
One of our corporals had fallen during the night crossing Samat and injured his hip some way, so we were helping him all the way back for six days. We had to put rifle belts around him and tighten them as tight as we could and help him walk. He was a big man, but we stuck together, I guess, as much for him as we did for ourselves. We didn't have any illusions.
On the retreat from Mount Samat, we came across what had been a quartermaster's food dump that had been blown up and burned. And another kid and I found two gallon cans that were not punctured yet. We carried them several days until we got so hungry we had to open them with a bayonet. One was a gallon can of beets, and the other was a gallon can of ketchup. That’s what 30 men ate for six days. So needless to say it was many years before I ate beets again or cared for ketchup. We had gone on half rations early in the war, and then they kept cutting the daily issue down and down. We had a horse outfit over there, the 26th Cavalry, and we also had mule trains for mountain artillery, and all of the mules and horses were slaughtered and issued out to the companies. When you’re hungry, it tastes good.
They tried to cook it in stew so it would go further that way. And rice was boring to us because Americans weren't rice eaters in those days the way they are now. We didn’t know how to eat it, and we didn't know how to cook it. It don’t take you long to learn, though, when you’re hungry. Rice is filling.
We came to the conclusion that we were up a pretty tough creek without a paddle. I think everyone had already made up their mind that it was a question of time until the inevitable would happen, that everybody was either going to be killed or just going to surrender. It’s heartbreaking to hear the word surrender, but little nits of people would talk about that. I knew I wasn’t going to be a prisoner. If I had to die, J was going to die in the attempt or die free. I wasn't going to jail.
We finally retreated from Mount Samat to Mariveles, down at the southern end of the peninsula. Everybody was being pushed in that direction. They were coming from the north, and we were going south.
We got news of the surrender on April 9 of ’42 by word of mouth. Someone said General King has surrendered and everybody is to surrender to the Japs. We were supposed to destroy our weapons and the forest around Baguio and Mariveles. There were probably 25- to 30,000 civilian Filipinos, and 70,000 to 80,000 troops of Philippine origin, and 12,000 Americans — there’s people everywhere — and the word was passed that we’re going to surrender.
To destroy the weapons, you take the bolt out and you beat the stock against the tree and break the stock off and try to beat the metal. It’s probably the low point in your life, you know. We were quite dejected at that point, starved to death, sick. We’ve been on starvation rations for days.
There were 12 to 15 of us together from antitank, and then there was a lot of other troops in the general vicinity of where our surrender took place at Mariveles. By the time we were captured, we were pretty messed up physically, mentally. We had malaria, dysentery, dengue fever. There are many gaps in my memory of the 13 days I spent as a POW on the Death March.
The first thing they did with the gang I was with was take us out in a bare field, line us up, and have us put all our personal effects on the ground and strip down to our shorts. Then they took everything they wanted from us. They even took our used toothbrushes. And if they caught you with Japanese money on you, that was your death warrant because they figured you’d taken it off one of their dead soldiers.
Colonel Calyer, who was the executive officer of my regiment, tied his West Point class ring around his penis and testicles and let it hang down his shorts. As a result, when he escaped from the Japanese he still had that ring.
Within days of our surrender, the Japanese implanted artillery on Cabcaben Field. They placed it hub to hub and battery behind battery from the road out to the mountain to fire on Corregidor. And the Japs took us POWs and lined us up between their artillery on the road as a shield, thinking Corregidor wouldn't fire back on their own troops. Well, regardless of how accurate you are, there’s always something that can go wrong — a short powder charge, weak powder or old powder, and it don’t go as far as you’d expect and it hits short. And when you hear rounds coming off 12- and 14-inch mortars, they sound like a freight train flying through the air. And I don't think there’s enough guards in the world to hold troops out in the open on a road under your own friendly fire or even under enemy fire. We scattered like quail, we jumped for the bush, but Corregidor did finally quit firing.
When the Japs decided to move us north, they formed us in groups of around 100, and they assigned a certain number of guards, and they started us on the march. On some days, an individual guard would have us fall out on the road early in the morning, and they’d make us stand there at attention until the sun came up and got real hot, then they would start us out in double time, trotting down the road. The column would get strung out and disorganized, and there wasn’t enough guards to sufficiently control them and keep everybody, the sick, lame, and the lazy poked in the ass to close up on the other members, so they’d stop the column and everybody would bunch up.
Every time we got in a formation, they counted us, and they counted us again every time they changed guards. But if, say, some of the group had been killed or escaped, it didn’t seem to make any difference. Whatever number they turned over to the other guard was all they were responsible for. They had no accountability, to my knowledge, because they were apparently free to do anything they wanted to with prisoners. If you settled down and they felt like sticking you with a bayonet to get you up, they may do that. They may bayonet you completely through and leave you lying, they may shoot you, it just depended.
There was a lot of people that were killed in the Death March. You’d hear the shots go off behind you, and you’d turn and look, and there’s the body lying in the road. You couldn’t go back to check to see who was there.
They were taking us from Mariveles up the east coast of Bataan to San Fernando in Pampanga Province. Pampanga’s the next province above Bataan. They held POWs in San Fernando in a cockfight arena and various other places around there. Some they put in boxcars and transported them 25 miles up to Capas, in Tariac Province, and from Capas, they were walked five or six kilometers into Camp O’Donnell. So the actual Death March portion was up to San Fernando. That was the end of it. That was probably 60 miles, 65 at the most. As many times as I’ve traveled that road on my other tours of duty there. I’ve never really clocked the mileage. It seemed a far distance when you’re walking when you’re sick and hungry.
There wasn’t any food to speak of. Twice on the march they had Filipinos at the side of the road boiling rice in 55-gallon drums. They stirred these with long paddles, and when you’d walk by, you’d hold your hand out, and one Filipino would put a spoon of rice in your hand, and the next one up here would sprinkle salt on it, and you got right back in the group you're marching with, and you ate it out of your hand as you went along.
Water was a big problem. Occasionally, at night they’d string a strand of barbed wire around an open area, and they'd put the prisoners in there. You couldn’t walk without stepping in the feces. Everybody was sick with dysentery. And there’d be these Artesian wells where the water comes out of pipes under natural pressure, and they were like a magnet drawing us. Occasionally, they’d let people go fill canteens. Sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes the prisoners would break and run for that well to get water, and the Japs would indiscriminately fire in there until they'd killed several, and they wouldn’t let you pick ’em up and move 'em. They just left them there as an example: don’t do it.
It seemed to me that the Japanese combat troops weren't too bad. It was the rear echelon troops that were the problem. They’d never had any blood on their bayonet, and they wanted a little bit, you know. They would see a column of prisoners, and they would use their rifle butts or bamboo poles and swing out and knock prisoners down. Occasionally, a truck driver would just run into a column and collect a few on his bumper and get right back on the road, just for fun.
Many Americans were put to work driving for the Japanese, and there was quite a number of prisoners that got trucked all the way from Bataan to Camp O'Donnell to rebuild the fence. I talked to several when their vehicles stopped near enough to us, and they said, "If you don't escape before you get to San Fernando, you lose your chance because there they put you on the train, and they don’t open the door on the boxcar until you get to Capas and you lose your chance." We talked about it openly. Hell, the Japanese couldn't understand us any better than we could understand them.
I begged men from my company and other friends to escape with me. I’m sure that I had tears in my eyes big as horse turds begging my close buddies to escape with me, because misery wants company, you need someone to help you, and if you don’t have a buddy to rely on when you're down and out, why, you're kind of beat anyway. But what I kept hearing from them, was, “Bullshit, the American Army'll be back here within six months and retake us, and we'll be free and gone. We can do six months standing on our head." Well, a lot of them ended up getting killed, and they died in prison camp like flies in Camp O'Donnell, then many died on the prison ships.
I knew the further north I walked, the closer I was getting to the place where I had to make my break. When you get to Guagua, you’re only 14 kilometers, a little over seven miles from the end of the march. We'd been through that area and I knew it. I still wasn't very strong; I think it was just stupid bullheadedness that I wasn’t going to be a prisoner any longer.
I tried to escape when we stopped at Lubao. We were in a warehouse, and I tried to crawl out through everybody's legs and I got caught. Well, the Japs really worked me over, and I guess they knocked me unconscious. My first sergeant saw me lying there in this line of stiffs. The Japs were carrying them across the road and throwing them into a big mass grave. But I came to and saw what was going on, so I crawled away and hid. I had just enough strength to rejoin the march a couple of days later. But since the sergeant had seen me in that line of stiffs and I never showed up at Camp O'Donnell, they decided I had been buried at Lubao, so they reported me dead.
When we marched out of Lubao, I probably had walked 12 kilometers that day, and my buddies around me said they’d watch the guards for me, and then they all said, okay, hit it. I just rolled off the road and got under the first row of bushes. The terrain was perfect to attempt to escape. It wasn’t very far from the coast, about four or five kilometers out to Manila Bay, and so there was a lot of palmetto brush and palms and things growing along the banks of this tide river. Once I got behind the first row of cover, they couldn’t see me.
Then I just lay there till that group of prisoners marched away from me and got up the road, and then I said, dear Lord, don’t let my feet stick in this mud, and I'll keep picking 'em up and putting 'em down, and I swam and waded about 50 feet across that river. And I saw a shack up there at the edge of a rice field, and I went up and crawled under it. There was a lot of lumber stacked up under there, and I just wiggled back in under it and lay down to rest.
Every once in a while I’d hear movement up in the house, and I thought, gee, wouldn’t it be nice if there's another American up there. So I crawled out from under this lumber and climbed up the bamboo ladder, and here sat an old Filipino man weaving straw mats. I said, “Ahem," and he saw me and jumped and startled me, and I fell off that damn ladder.
Using sign language, I got him to understand that I needed tubig. water. So the old man came back after a while with a one-pound coffee can of water and two boiled chicken eggs. Of course, I devoured those eggs and drank that water and immediately got sick and threw it up.
Any Filipino that helped you, if they got caught at it or if they’re exposed, that's their death sentence. I don’t believe if you went there today that you’d get the same support from the Filipinos as an American that we got back in those days.
I don't know what the old man tried to tell me, but he wanted me to stay there. So when he left, my imagination takes over. Is he going to go tell the Japs? Is he going to report me or what? It was getting pretty dusky out then, and the traffic had slowed down, so I got back out on the road. I had to get somewhere where I’d get some food. I was desperate by then. And I walked on in closer to the town of Guagua.
In Guagua nearly all the Filipinos had evacuated and most of the houses were empty. I just arbitrarily picked one and went in, and there lay this American captain who was delirious from sunstroke or dehydration or something. I stayed in that house with him that night. He don't even know how he escaped. He didn't remember going there.
The next morning a Filipino boy came in and told us, “I know where there’s some other Americans." So I wrote a note that said I’m Leon Beck, Antitank Company, 31st Infantry, and I have with me here a very sick American captain named George E. Crane. So quite a while later this kid came back and there was a return note. All the note said was, “Come join us. I have a rifle for you.’ And he signed it Lt. Col. Peter D. Calyer, who was the executive officer of my regiment.
So that night when it got dark, they put Crane and me in a banca, an outrigger dugout canoe, and other Filipinos came and helped, and they paddled us up to the shack. It took us more than an hour to get there.
In the shack was Colonel Calyer, Richard Kadel, Roy Tuggle, a Filipino soldier, and three men who eventually died there. The old caretaker of the place could only bring us boiled sweet potatoes, which is all we ate for several days. The Filipino boy went in to Guagua and brought back a clear glass pitcher of ice and a big bottle of ginger ale, so I poured that ginger ale and filled that pitcher. I lay there and watched it, you know how moisture will collect and little droplets run, and God, I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and I turned that up and drank that ginger ale till I ran out of breath, and in just a few minutes I was throwing that up. And I swear to you today I can’t even stand to smell the damn stuff.
The people that died while we were in the shack, we had no way to bury 'em, so Colonel Calyer took all their personal effects and we just put the bodies in the river as the tide was going out and let it carry them away. If anybody had anything to say, they said it to themselves.
While we were there, Colonel Calyer sent his West Point ring to Father Hurley, head of the Jesuit order in Manila. And Roy Tuggle had got some Filipinos to go into Manila to contact friends of his and another friend from Barrio Natividad, in this town of Guagua. So ten days or so later, they all came out and moved us from the fish ponds to a shack in the rice field between Guagua and Santa Rita, a big six-kilometer-wide field of rice. We needed to get where there was more food. And there was no source of fresh water where we were.
They made arrangements to take us into a home in Barrio Natividad. But before we went, one of the men in our group was arguing with Colonel Calyer that I should be left in that shack in the rice field because I was too sick and I wasn't going to live anyway, and my having to be transported jeopardized their safety. So Colonel Calyer stuck up for me. He said, “Hell, he’s an American soldier. When we move, he moves with us. And if he’s too sick to move, we’ll all just stay here until he gets a little better. We're not going to go off and leave him.’ So that endeared Colonel Calyer to me. They didn’t know I could hear this argument.
They carried me to Barrio Natividad in a carabao cart. It’s pulled by one of these water buffalos. We stayed in that house in Natividad and later moved half a block down to a much bigger home where four sisters and a brother lived. They decided we should stay a week in this house and a week over there to kind of throw the local Filipinos off from knowing where we were so if they led Japanese in, why, they might not be able to go to the house we were in and we’d have time to take cover.
We did that during July and August. It was hot. When the Japanese would come, we'd climb into the attic and lie there under a tin roof. It's, like, about 210 degrees up there and you’re afraid the sweat's going to run down and drip on them. These were basically Japanese troops who were out scavenging. They were living off the land a lot themselves too. They did come once looking for us, and they even found a little American flag in a chest of drawers, but one of the sisters was smart enough to show the tag to an officer who could speak a little English. The tag said “Made in Japan.” That’s the only thing that saved her.
By this time, Father Hurley was sending us some quinine injections. He had recognized Calyer’s ring because his name was in it, and the two of them knew each other in Manila, prewar. Father Hurley was very dedicated to the cause, and he got medicines and money and sent them out through the Jap lines 20 miles across Manila Bay with Filipino intermediaries. The Japanese thought they were civilians because they didn’t wear uniforms. Those injections held the malaria down some, but we didn’t have mosquito nets, so periodically we went back into malarial attacks.
Barrio Natividad is where I met Veneranda, my wife. She was 17 at the time. The first day Veneranda saw me, I was so sick I was lying naked on what’s called a papag. a wooden frame that’s laced with little strips of rattan, with just a sheet over me. I was aware there was a young lady there, she spoke English, but I was too sick to carry on a conversation. I wasn’t very interested in anything, really.
Veneranda and her father would come out every Sunday, late in the afternoon, and then go home after dark. She would play the piano for us.
One of the nights after it got dark, we were moving from one home to another, and Veneranda’s dad and some other people were in this group. When we got up to this big acacia tree. I took Veneranda behind there and kissed the poor little old gal. Lord, she was scared to death her dad was going to catch her. This was just verboten in a decent family. A boy couldn’t even come visit unless there was a chaperone. But after that I didn’t see her again until sometime in March or April of ‘44.
While we were in Barrio Natividad, under the direction of Colonel Calyer, we began to organize and enroll people that we could trust into a guerrilla unit. We called it the Luzon Guerrilla Force. It was organized, first of all, to establish security for the barrio people, the women and children, so when Japanese patrols did come through, they would have a system where they could alert everyone so they could take cover and go to the fields and hide out. It was also for our own protection. Regardless of what people tell you. survival is paramount in your mind, so if you can organize the Filipino people to guard themselves, they're also guarding you. It gives you that added security.
We needed to know where all the Jap encampments were and where they were hiding fuel and munitions and where their dumps were. Major bases like Clark Field you knew, but they began to disperse their supplies and string them up and down the road. We'd send our intelligence reports out with Filipinos and give them directions to try to get to the southern Philippine Islands. We knew people down there had radio sets because submarines were supplying the guerrilla forces in Mindanao all during World War II. Not long after the surrender they were able to get submarines in there and make contact.
You never knew whether the messages were getting out or not, but apparently some were, because the families of officer personnel got word about them. I don't know of any enlisted personnel they forwarded information back on. My folks never heard about me. They just carried me as missing in action since there was nothing to indicate I was dead.
On the first day of August ‘42, we were joined by a bird colonel, a full colonel, Gyles Merrill. He had been in another barrio of Guagua, and he came to join us. Because he was ranking to Colonel Calyer, he assumed command of the Luzon Guerrilla Force.
During that time, two Filipino brothers, the Fassoth brothers, were taking care of a group of Americans up in the Zambales Mountains. There was a lot of officers up in these camps, so Colonel Merrill wrote a letter addressed to the ranking officer there. The letter instructed every officer who was physically capable of travel to join our group back in the lowlands and report to him.
They had built a barracks up there with double-deck bunks, and bamboo pipes to bring water in, and a kitchen, a mess hall, rec center. They'd cut lumber and made a table, and they had a thatched roof so it wouldn't show through the trees. These Fassoth brothers saved more American lives than anybody I know of in the Philippines. There were probably close to 100 people in that camp.
Four of us went up to Fassoth camp with some cargadores to assist in carrying any personal effects for these men, because the majority of them weren’t that strong yet.
When the officers arrived down in our camp in Barrio Natividad, Merrill assigned them areas of responsibility. He told them to get off their butts and go start organizing guerrilla forces. Colonel Merrill had a policy; he would order the officers to become active and participate in guerrilla warfare, but an enlisted man had to volunteer to do it. He wouldn't order an enlisted man because he was jeopardizing their safety. If they could survive without getting involved, he wouldn't order him to do so. Percentagewise, it’s unbelievable how many soldiers wouldn’t get involved or carry a weapon. They just wanted to survive the war and figured maybe their chances were better in prison camp than it was on the loose.
It was kind of obvious that if you were caught running around on the loose and you’d been there any period of time, you were probably involved in some type of guerrilla activity and the Japs are going to have your head. So a lot of escaped soldiers made arrangements with the Filipinos to contact the Japanese and go in and surrender themselves. One of them just wrote a book. He’s the only one I’ve found that’s completely forthright and says, 'I would not carry a gun. I would not participate in guerrilla warfare. I was going to survive.”
On the first of September of ‘42, we moved our camp from Natividad to Zambales Province, on the west coast of Luzon. We had a real good organization over there, and we probably had close to 250 weapons.
We also had people working in Manila and Pampanga, northern Zambales Province, and in Dinalupihan, in the mouth of Bataan. They all came under the command of Colonel Merrill. Filipinos are very rank conscious. You know, if you were a colonel, by God, you were next to Jesus Christ in their eyes. This bird colonel commanded a lot of respect.
We were organizing the Filipinos and trying to set up communication lines and runners to take messages here and there. We weren’t looking for trouble at the time. We were trying to organize the people for intelligence purposes to prepare for when our army did come back. That was the prime objective. We fought when we had to, and we ambushed one Jap patrol that was running around through the mountains one time. We used a lot of the little pygmy people up there who were armed basically with British Enfield rifles. They did slow the Japs down coming through that part of the mountain for a long time.
Most of the time I carried a Garand rifle, but for a while I was carrying two Astro Patent .38s in goatskin holsters. A Filipino leathersmith tanned the goat hide and cut a pattern and sewed them together to make a holster for me. Astro Patent .38s are a Spanish-made pistol that's a copy of a Colt .38, and it says right on there “Astro Patent.”
The Japanese would put on these periodic raids all across the country trying to break up the guerrilla factions. We weren’t a big military threat to them to retake the island, but we were a real thorn in their side. And the American Army, in the meantime, is coming back through the Pacific.
So Japanese agents had gotten wind that we were operating in that area, and on the second day of April ‘43 they sent a big patrol from three different directions to find us, from Subic and Olongapo, from San Marcelino, and Pampanga. And the trails all junctured right outside this barrio of Bohawan. Arturo and Vincente Bemia and about 15 Filipinos were in a bamboo shack right at that junction. The Japanese converged on them early in the morning. Now, we were probably less than half a mile from there — Roy Tuggle and I were together. Colonel Calyer and Colonel Merrill were in another shack, and Kadel and Crain were in another one, and some Filipinos under the command of Rodriguez and Piga were in another one. And the Japanese just kicked the shit out of everybody at the junction.
They captured Arturo Bernia and took him down to the airstrip later and beheaded him. And they killed Vincente in a firefight in the shack. Then they put a cordon around these barrios and gave them a certain amount of time to surrender or they'd execute everybody. So Rodriguez and Piga surrendered not only all of the weapons of the men they had under their command but submitted rosters of their names. And it took a couple or three carabao carts to haul these weapons in and turn them in to the Japs.
It took us a day to disengage. The best count that we could establish, there was probably 80 killed in that firefight, most of them Filipinos. We don’t know how many Japs were killed. They always carried their dead off with them and cremated them.
When the raid hit, I was in a shack with a family by the name of Ramos that had a whole lot of little stairstep children. And we’d been joined by two more Americans, Cahill and Loveless. Earlier we’d heard they were up in the mountains, and I’d gone up there to bring them down with us. I’d known Loveless at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1940.
So when the Japs attacked and we begin to pull out and get away, we were trying to get the whole family out with us. Cahill, who was a real big guy, he sat down on the trail and cried like a baby. “You’re making a pack mule out of me. I’m not going to carry these kids." I said, "You have a choice. The day that baby was born, a few hours later that lady pounded rice so you’d have something to eat. You’re either going to help carry that kid, or I’m going to shoot you and leave you lying on the trail." So he helped the children across the mountain.
Once we got up into the hills above Florida Blanca, Cahill was the only one that had a mosquito net, and he and Loveless were under it. I said, “Bullshit, we’ll sleep sidewise in that thing, and everybody will get a little protection. You’re not going to just hog this thing for yourself."
During the night Cahill and Loveless left that shack we were in and went down to Florida Blanca and surrendered to the Japanese, and the next day another patrol hit us real early in the morning. We just picked up the weapons and jumped out the window and got away. The Filipinos told us there was two Americans leading that Jap patrol. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even have known we were there. So I figured it had to be Cahill and Loveless.
After the war, in ’46, I went looking for Cahill. When I got to his house in Virginia, a little old woman with snow-white hair came to the door. I asked for Cahill, and she said she didn’t know where he was. In my heart I knew that son of a bitch was in that house, but I didn’t have what it takes to run over that little old lady and abuse her to get to her son. Years later somebody told me that it came out in the paper that Cahill had gone crazy and murdered his entire family and was sentenced to prison for life without parole.
And would you believe, in 1984 I located Loveless in Texas. He lived in a little hollow block house, built just like a cracker box. And it’s unbelievable the filth that he lived in. He had a chrome table piled so high with garbage that there wasn’t room to put a plate. And he said, “Oh. Leon," he said, "I know you saved my life in Zambales. I’ve always thought of you as a brother.’ And I said, “You son of a bitch, the two of you were together. You both surrendered. And two Americans led the patrol. How do you answer for that?" And he said, “Oh, no, Cahill was the traitor."
When I walked outside with him, I said, “I promised everybody I wouldn’t shoot you, but I’ve got to show my contempt." And that’s when I spit on him.
When the war first broke out, the Filipinos had formed a clandestine group of civilian volunteer guerrillas called the Hukbalahap. They were actually a Communist organization. Luis Taruk, the head of it, has always told me that he was not Communist, he was a Socialist. But they had lots of squadrons and were pretty well organized. They had what they called political organizers, execution squads, and squadrons that operated normally. They weren’t part of the Philippine army, but they were the biggest force in the northern area of Bataan and were the best armed. These squadrons would periodically set ambushes along a highway to discourage Jap traffic, but none of them was strong enough to fight against artillery or planes.
At this time, in early ‘44, I was kind of operating on my own, and I would tie up with a Hukbalahap squadron for a while. I didn’t have a formal job with them. I wasn’t even in touch with Merrill. I was just freelancing then.
When one of the Huk squadron commanders would write correspondence to Merrill and Calyer, I’d take it across the mountains to them and then take any correspondence back and join the Hukbalahaps again. I was with different squadrons for about seven months.
Having an American in their group accomplished a lot of things. First of all, it gave the local Filipino people the knowledge that they were not on their own, and someday our army was going to come back and things would get better. And it also gave the squadrons prestige.
They called me Malati. It means “little." We all had nicknames in case some spy for the Japs or some Filipino they didn’t want to know who was there, they could call you by your nickname.
While I was with a Hukbalahap group west of Guagua, a firefight broke out one afternoon. The leader of our squadron was a guy we called Big Boy. And he passed the word, “Don’t fire at the Japs. Fire over their head." His theory was that if we killed a bunch of those Japs, they
would then cordon off that barrio and kill Filipinos in retaliation, which they often did, you know. They’d take all the men out, and one informant would have a sack with eyeholes over his head, and he’d point out who he said were the guerrilla sympathizers, and they’d be executed. The informants would say, I know they’re guerrillas. Well, they were all dead as soon as he pointed at them.
And so Big Boy says, “Fire over their heads so we don't kill any Japs, and then they'll leave the barrio alone." So I decided that if that's the way the fight was going to be conducted, I was going to go somewheres else, and I left. I got to where I’d just take off on my own. I knew the topography and lay of the land. I never did go back and operate with the Hukbalahap other than just to take messages. I made several trips back and forth across the Zambales Mountains. It was like playing hide-and-go-seek with the Japanese. But if you get caught, you don’t have a chance to be it.
While I was still running with the Hukbalahap, in March or April of ‘44, I ended up back in Santa Rita, near Guagua, and I sent a Filipino that drove a horse-drawn calesa over to Veneranda’s house, about six kilometers away, with a note to tell her where I was and to ask if she could come visit. So the driver would bring her back to Santa Rita with her girlfriend as a chaperone. But I’ll say her friend was a good one. She’d sit and look out the window and leave us alone so that we could get over there in the comer and smooch a little bit, letting me sweet talk her.
Veneranda’s parents didn’t know she was coming to visit me. Finally one night I took some armed guards and went over to her folks' house to ask for permission to marry her. I told them that we'd discussed it and that I’d told Veneranda I had absolutely nothing to offer — that I was barefooted, sick, and starved and didn’t know whether I'd ever survive that war, but if she was willing to take a chance on getting married, I was. I made her a promise that if we both did survive the war, someday things would be better.
Lord, her parents were scared right out of their minds. They tried to talk her out of it. They naturally were afraid if any talk got out and the Japanese caught them, they'd be dead, what with a daughter married to an American. But they finally said okay, if you're willing to risk it, go ahead. So we finally sneaked into Santa Rita to a justice of the peace on the 15th of August '44 and got married.
After this we lived together only on very few occasions. We’d stay right on the main road between Guagua and Santa Rita, in a building owned by a doctor, with a pharmacy downstairs and living quarters above. Right next door was a building that the Japanese had designated as a collection point for all the local farmers' produce. They’d bring it in every day, and the Japs would send a truck to take it to their troops.
One morning I sent Veneranda downstairs to get a newspaper, and she started down the steps together with Liling, and Liling came running back saying, *Hapon! Hapon!" That’s the Philippine word for “Japanese." It turned out that this Jap officer had heard Veneranda playing the piano when he passed through one time, and he wanted to stop and play this piano himself.
I just got in the closet and sat until he got through playing. He was six feet away from me, at the most. There was a wall between us, but it was open at the top. It seemed to me like he played for three weeks. I’m sure it was only 30 minutes or so. Finally the troops got the produce truck loaded and they left, but they never knew I was there.
Finally on 21 September of ‘44, we got our first American air raid on Luzon Island. That day our Navy sank a Jap ship loaded with British and Dutch prisoners. Our guerrilla unit picked up 12 of them, 9 British and 3 Dutch, and we looked after 'em until liberation.
The only officer with them was a British captain named James Gibson. He gave Colonel Merrill fair notice the day the Filipinos brought him into our camp that he was an officer in Her Majesty's service, and he expected tea for his men at ten and two every day. So Merrill told him, “Phooey, you take what you get. If you're going to stay with us, you’re going to live like we live or we re not going to get along."
Gibson decided he was going to become a big guerrilla hero. The best opportunity to get in big fights would be in Pampanga Province, so I took him over to Pampanga. Well, the trip across the mountains wasn't to his liking; he didn't like the food, he got sick. So I waited with him over on the Pampanga side and finally took him back to camp, several days' walk each way.
When we got back to Zambales, there were two American pilots in camp, Roccaforte and Nalon. They had been shot down in the raid on 21 September and bailed out over land, and the guerrillas picked them up and brought them to us. But when I got Gibson back to our camp, he could never say the word “American" in any form that he didn’t say “bastard American." And this big pilot Roccaforte got tired of Gibson saying ‘bastard American," so he physically picked him up, shook him real hard, and said, “Captain, if you ever say ’bastard’ and ’American’ in the same paragraph, I’m going to break your neck.” And he threw Gibson down with such force that he knocked the bamboo wall loose from the shack and he fell on the ground. So Gibson asked if he could leave on the next PT boat.
In ‘84 or ‘85, I got in touch with FEPOW, Far Eastern POW organization, and they sent me a newspaper article about Captain Gibson of the Royal Artillery being presented to the King of England. Gibson claimed that he had organized all of the guerrilla forces in Zambales Province and was given a big military decoration.
MacArthur landed in Lingayen Gulf the ninth day of January 1945. But by the early part of December, we had started getting air drops of munitions from Leyte. They dropped us M-1 carbines, Browning automatic rifles. Thompsons, and something we called grease guns, cheap clip-fed submachine guns with short barrels. Now. the carbines and grease guns we'd never seen before. They were new since we were captured. And in each carton of carbines, there was ten old Gl-green undershirts, ten pairs of shorts, ten pocket knives, ten boxes of waterproof matches, and ten pocketbooks.
They would also drop quart bottles of quinine tablets and sulfa ointment, which we needed desperately for infections and leech bites. You walk through the wet cogin grass, and next thing you know you look down and you'll have a hundred leeches hanging on you.
For some reason or other, they dropped us more dynamite than anyone could have ever used. We had enough dynamite to blow Bataan off of the map. It got so bad that we were building little shacks up on the hillside and putting grass-thatched roofs over them just to keep the water off the dynamite. They wanted all the bridges and communications lines blown and the airfields cleared, if possible. But of course, our main purpose was still intelligence on Jap movement and where their strong points were.
But they never dropped a bite of food to us. I guess they figured we had lived that long, we could live a little longer without it.
We became a little more aggressive once we started getting these supplies. We began to look for trouble then. I was back now with Merrill and Calyer in Zambales Province. In January of '45, the Japanese had reinforced the town of San Narcisco. And Colonel Merrill wrote a letter to Ramon Magsaysay, who was then an Army captain who used the nom de guerre “Chow." Later he became military governor of Zambales and then the president of the Philippines. And in the letter Merrill said he wanted that Jap garrison wiped out, to the man. He didn't want to hear from Magsaysay what he could do. He wanted to know what had been done, so that garrison was wiped out.
The Japanese felt the pressure; they were giving up Iba air field and pulling back toward Olongapo and Subic Bay. They had dug holes, boobytraps in the airstrip and put clusters of bombs in them. We had no ordnance people with us. so we set tripods with a pulley over these clusters of bombs. We would dig around them, tie a rope, hoist them up. swing them, put them on a load of straw in a carabao cart, and take them down to the end of the runway and roll them off the bank down toward the river.
Once we had cleared the airfield, we put rocks in the holes, put in dirt, wet it. and packed it down. And that afternoon, the 29th day of January ‘45, there were American planes landing on that runway.
The night of the 28th of January. Captain Crane and some other men had been working down on the Zambales coast. We had a system worked out where PT boats or submarines could come up and exchange light signals to make contact with us. We'd lash two bancas together and build a dirt platform between the two and stack firewood on it. Then we’d sail it off the coast somewhere and light a fire, and the PT boat or submarine would come up and investigate.
That night they picked up Captain Crane and took him to the flagship of the fleet. Crane convinced 'em to send a landing party ashore with him to see that there were no Japs in the area. They had been getting ready to bombard that coast, the whole fleet was going to turn loose on it. Well, they'd have killed hundreds of Filipinos needlessly. So when they found out there was no Japs, why, then the troops just came ashore.
This 11th Corps that landed in our sector had the objective of taking Olongapo and Subic and cut the road so the Japanese forces couldn't retreat into Bataan. They thought that the Japanese might come through the central plains and head into Bataan and hold out like we did. And they had some hellacious fights across that zigzag trail to get the Japs out.
The day they landed. I finally got some rations, called ten-in-ones, a package that fed ten men. I'd never seen them before. It was wrapped in heavy wax paper, and they had dessert and cigarettes. The combat troops had been eating them for so long that they hated them.
But the ten-in-one was the best thing I'd seen in a long time. They thought I was literally out of my mind.
Then I came down with another malaria attack, and after it subsided a little bit, they presented me with this set of orders to get on an LST and leave Luzon. I went to Colonel Calyer and Colonel Mernll, and I said, "Now. goddammit, I lived here almost three years. Japs couldn't catch me. and I know damn well the American troops can’t catch me. so I'll go AWOL rather than go without Veneranda." I knew if I got down to Leyte Island, I’d have a hell of a time getting her with me. She was in Pampanga Province at the time.
To get back to Pampanga Province, I would have had to walk across them mountains again, and I said. "I've walked those mountains my last time. I’m not going to walk them again." And the road south to Pampanga was where the 11th Corps was fighting the Japs, and they were also fighting to the north.
So Merrill and Calyer said, “We have no problems with that." We went up to General Hall, and he called some colonel in, and they made arrangements with the Navy to transport me.
They put me on a PBY and flew me from San Narcisco to Batangas Province, which is clear around past Manila. And down there, this group of pilots made arrangements with another group, and they put me on another PBY and flew me to Lingayen Gulf, where MacArthur's headquarters was established. The building he was in had been pretty well destroyed, and this colonel who was in charge of coordinating all the guerrilla activities, he had a desk that was setting on the dirt. So he told me. ‘Soldier, you’ve been here so long, you can do anything you want to do." He said, “You just get out of here, and when you're ready to leave, you come back and see me and we ll make arrangements."
In the meantime the Americans had pushed down past Clark and into Pampanga. So military trucks were running that way, and I just thumbed a ride to Guagua. I stayed there several days, and Veneranda and I went around and said goodbye to all the people I felt real indebted to, and we got back on a truck and left.
You cannot believe the dust and dirt on that trip. Tanks had torn the roads all up, and it was the dry season, it's dusty as hell, and the convoy's traveling 10 to 15 miles an hour in that dust. You tie handkerchiefs across your face, and you still couldn’t breathe.
We went back to Lingayen, and they put us up in the mayor’s house that night. The next morning they took us down to the airfield and put us on a C-54 and flew us to Leyte. When we got to Leyte, they separated us.
Veneranda went to nurses’ quarters in Tacloban, and they put me in the hospital and got my malaria back under control and dewormed me. I'd have to get passes out of there and then hitch to Tacloban just to visit her.
They were going to furnish us air transportation, and twice they took me down to the strip at Palo, but each time they didn’t have Veneranda there, and I said, “No, I’m not getting on that plane)." One day they finally brought her down, picked me up, took us out to the beach, and put us on a landing craft and took us out to a Navy ship, and we came home by boat.
The ship I came home on went to San Francisco, where Colonel Calyer was living. I guess the newspapers published the names of people coming in, that's the only way he could have found out about me.
So one day the Red Cross came to Letterman General Hospital in a car and picked me up and took me to the Mark Hopkins Hotel. I had instructions that Colonel Calyer was at the Top of the Mark, and I went up there to see him. He was in the full uniform of a bird colonel, and Christ, these officers sitting around there couldn’t believe it. Here’s the colonel making over me, a corporal, like I’m a long-lost son.
Just like the Filipinos, Calyer had mastered what we called a dobie squat. They could squat on their feet, and their butt will be right down on the back of their heels, and they could sit there for hours on end and get up and walk off. So we were up in the Top of the Mark sitting at this cocktail table, and he had both feet up in his chair. When it dawned on him what he was doing, it embarrassed the crap out of him. He'd been doing it so long, it just came natural to him.
Later, in ‘46, I was sitting in the barracks at Fort Sill playing poker, and a knock came on the door. And who was standing there but Major Crane, Major George E. Crane. He said, “I want to take you up to the officers’ club. You’re a guest of mine." Well, we get up there at the officers’ club, they tell the major, "I'm sorry, you can’t bring an enlisted man in here," and old George Crane gave him a good cussing out. So I said, “Let's go down to the NCO club. They’ll let you in there. I guess." So that’s where we went.
We felt pretty close, I guess. When you sit down and eat with your hands off of a banana leaf and you root hog or die and eat wormy meat, you live together in a shack, and there's not room to turn over in there without disturbing everybody else, you get pretty close.
When I came home, I was classified as a POW. Project J they called us, for Japan. They had German prisoners, Project G, and Project I, Italian. They kind of bent over backwards for us. For example, in the hospital each ward had a kitchen in it, and they had big refrigerators in there, and they were stocked with everything you’d want to eat. There was ham and steak. When I first started eating American food, it was hard to get used to. If I ate anything very rich. I’d upchuck on me, particularly the first few days.
I don’t think I really missed the action at all once I was back. After I’d been in the States just a short while and I’d hear the news over the radio or I’d read a news account of a battle. I found it hard to relate to. It’s hard to put yourself back in there, and I think the basic reason is you’re not into the filth, you can’t smell it — there are smells of putrefying bodies, there’s crap and gunpowder. I’ve always said, you'll never get a war movie authentic until you put smell with it.
I’m not sure if I ever really killed any Japanese soldiers. Death is not anything to brag about. It’s necessary in combat to kill. I dream about it to this day, the terror. You know, the military is nothing in the world but boredom or abject terror in combat. But you learn to control your emotions. Seeing a friend get killed will take some of the terror away from you, but it just turns to pure anger, that’s all. Get even with that SOB.
Once I got back to the States. I was owed all my back pay for the time since the surrender on Bataan. That was part of '41, all of '42, ‘43, ‘44, and 8 months of *45 — three years and 11 months. They paid me $1036 and a few cents. I didn’t say anything; I just accepted it.
It turns out they had been taking $22 from my $50-a-month pay from June of ‘42 until August of ‘45 and sending it to my mother. During World War II, they passed some kind of family-assistance bill that the oldest member of a family that was in the service would have $22 of his pay taken, regardless of rank, and the government would kick in $28, and the parent would be sent $50 a month.
When I found out about it, I went down to Fort Sam Houston and talked to a legal officer and a finance officer.
I told them that my mother had remarried, my stepdad was a very well-to-do man with a beautiful job and lots of property and a cabin on the lake and speedboats and the whole bit. I told them I wanted my $22 a month back. I had a wife and kid to support and I needed the money. They said, “Soldier, if I were you, I'd just keep my mouth closed and go on about my business. If you make a fuss about it, the government is likely to make you pay that $22 a month back."
So I didn’t say any more about it until 1948, when a bill was passed to award every American service person who had been a prisoner of war one dollar a day for the time they were confined. They sent me about a six- or eight-page form to fill out, and where they asked when I was taken prisoner and when I was freed. I put down from 9 April 1942 to about 22 April 1942, 13 days. I considered I was free when I escaped from that Death March. When the claims were paid, they sent me $1027, payment for the days from 9 April ‘42 to 31 January ‘45. They later said this was a mistake.
Finally, after the cutoff date for applications, they still had money in the fund, so they passed another bill in 1950 or ‘51 to award every liberated prisoner an additional $1.50 a day, and I filed for that.
I never heard from them until 1953, when I was stationed in England. The War Claims Commission said they had made a mistake, that legally I was only entitled to $14 on my first claim and $21 on the second. Just for the 13 days I was an actual prisoner. As a result, I was indebted to the government for a $992 overpayment on that $1027 check.
I demanded a hearing to appeal the decision and came back to Washington at my own expense. They said what I had done was commendable, but I didn't meet the prerequisites of the law to collect the full $1027.
But I felt for purposes of equal pay, their decision was wrong. In the Army, particularly the infantry, you have classes that teach you that if you are ever captured by an enemy, you have a moral, legal, and ethical responsibility to attempt to escape. If that escape attempt is successful, you are to continue to resist your enemy until such time as you can rejoin friendly forces, and that’s just the way it was given to us — till you can rejoin friendly forces. And doing the very thing we re trained to do unjustly penalizes those of us who became guerrilla fighters.
Now I figured that for every man sitting in a POW camp, $2.50 a day is very little to compensate. But by the same token, a person who’s making an attempt and trying to escape should be compensated. We suffered the same illnesses, we were harassed constantly by the Japs, we faced danger.
When I got back to England, I put in a letter through administrative channels of the Air Force to go to the finance department. Under the Pay Readjustment Act of 1942, it is very clear; it says that each enlisted man not furnished separate rations and quarters will be paid an amount to be prescribed by the President, not to exceed $5 a day, so I asked for the $5 a day. I never asked just for myself. All my correspondence was for every man who was in the same boat I was. the 300 to 400 U.S. Army soldiers who escaped the Death March and continued fighting the Japanese. And I know there were others who filed for that same money.
My request came back denied. They said since I couldn't produce special orders signed by competent authority to authorize me to rations separate and apart from my unit, they wouldn’t pay it.
I countered with an appeal. I pointed out that everyone on Bataan including General King had been surrendered to the Japanese. And the Japanese would have frowned very highly had General King sat down and typed up an order authorizing us to rations separate and apart, which would in effect have authorized us to escape. But the appeals board couldn’t see the forest for the trees. My compensation would have been $5135, and I've been trying to collect it since 1954.
After that appeal, the government got after me. They kept sending me letters demanding that I repay this $992 they had mistakenly given me. In 1964 I got a letter from a judge in Northern California saying that if I didn’t pay the debt in 30 days, they would attach any assets I had and any I might acquire in the future. Well, I called ex*Senator Knowland, who owned the Oakland Tribune, and I told him the story. A reporter took my story and printed it. and it was picked up by AP and UPI. So one day I read in the paper that the General Accounting Office has relieved me of the $992 debt.
Actually, that was the last thing I wanted them to do. That was my lever to use with the government to get the $5 a day. I’d been working with Congressman Don Edwards, and he knew I didn’t want to be relieved of the indebtedness. So I called him and chewed him out for not having even the courtesy of following my request. Needless to say, that was the last I ever heard from Don Edwards.
There have been several bills in Congress to award us equal pay with POWs or the $5 a day. Duncan Hunter says he’s going to support it. but I get a lot of lip service and not much action. In January of 1990, I flew from Honolulu to Washington to testify before the chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee. I took all the correspondence, the bills that have been proposed, including the bill that was being proposed by the Congresswoman from Hawaii, and everything. They said they'd get the bill out of committee and they didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t pass. But it never came to a vote that I know of.
I can’t see any justice in the way they’ve treated me. Had I deserted to the enemy, I could see being treated this way. But I was a first-class soldier. I followed orders. I never commanded a guerrilla unit because I was just a good private. Privates don’t command much in the Army. I was a good soldier. All of my correspondence proves that. I retired on August 9, 1961, after 21 years, 5 months, 9 days with the rank of Master Sergeant. It appears to me and other personnel who participated in guerrilla warfare that our Defense Department, Veterans Administration, and legislators have written us off. Our service should grant us at least equal recognition as that granted to our ex-prisoners of war, including pay and medical benefits.