Adrian Everett Oldham
Bataan Death March and Prisoner of World War II
At 9:00 PM, Aug. 28, 1941, while standing on the deck of the US Liner President Pierce, we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, headed for the Philippine Islands and an unknown future. Our quarters in the ship were not the best as they had no ventilation except canvas wind funnels which were not too successful. As we were permitted to remain on deck most of the time, we did very well.
I enjoyed the trip to Honolulu a great deal. We docked in Honolulu the 4th of September. We went ashore about 8:00 AM, loaded into some Army trucks and made a tour of the island of Oahu. It was a nice trip. I saw many strange and interesting sights. We left that night about 9:00 PM. A few days out of Honolulu we were caught in a 60 mile and hour typhoon. The motors were stopped to prevent possible damage to screws or shafts. The report was that we were driven 200 miles off the course in 8 hours. As the waves were constantly pouring over the deck, the holes in the deck for the makeshift air funnels let in so much water we were forced to move to the sundeck, which was by no means dry but was better than the hold we had been in (which was below the waterline of the ship). Our escorting cruiser, being a much lower ship than ours, would a great deal of the time have one end or the other completely submerged underwater. After four days of this, the sun came out, the wind and waves lost their fury and all was bright again. I believe it was about the 11th when we passed a very small island, which was a Jap island by the name of Agrigan and was the only land we saw between Honolulu and the Philippine Islands.
On the afternoon of the 15th, we hit the San Bernidino Straits. We docked in Manila the morning of the 16th. The Philippines proved to be a very hot but interesting country with strange and interesting people. As I was cooking, we worked one day on and two days off, and we had time to do a little sightseeing, picture-taking and visiting with the Filipinos whom I learned to like.
Around the first of November, I got in touch with Willie Jamieson at Manila. I was in the 200th CAA at Clark Field, Stotsenberg, which is, I believe, about sixty miles north of Manila. We were permitted one pass a month to Manila, so I got a weekend pass Sat. and Sun., the 14th and 15th. I saw and spent the night with Willie Jamieson, Ernest Stanley, and Leo Stancliff. Leo took me in hand to visit friends and then to see some sights of interest there. The time was very short before I must go to my base. Leo told me later that he was concerned about me when he heard that Bataan fell. Because I didn’t seem too robust, he was afraid that I wouldn’t make it. I also met several of the Filipinos and had the privilege of Sun. AM meeting with Ernest and the Filipinos. They had the mtg. in English for my benefit. (Willie and Leo had gone to another home for mtg.) That was the only meeting I was privileged to attend from July 1941 until Oct. 18, 1945 in Oakland, Calif. I didn’t get to see Herman Beaber and Cecil Barrett.
In the early part of December, there were many rumors of trouble with Japan but few believed. There were anti-aircraft guns set up, which we hoped would keep unwanted aircraft out that might come this way. There were war clouds hanging low over us. Most felt Japan wouldn’t dare attack America, but I wasn’t so sure. It at least didn’t look good to me. A general alert was called for all the forces in the Philippines, and most of the men still thought it was a lot of nonsense. The morning of the 8th, we were told Pearl Harbor had been bombed. It was quite a sobering thought. About 12:30 PM, when most were eating dinner, someone reported a flight of planes coming. I looked and saw a perfect formation of 52 planes headed our way. Even then some argued they were American planes. They didn’t argue long; bombs began to crash and planes, barracks, fuel dumps, etc. went up in a burning inferno and wreckage. The heavy bombers were followed by navy dive bombers and strafers to finish the job. The anti-aircraft had been caught offguard but brought down a few planes. Hundreds of men were killed and wounded, mostly Air Corpsmen who were caught in the barracks, PX, and mess hall.
Our kitchen was moved to a village south of the airport and set up under some large trees so it could not be seen from the air (we thought). Since war was now on, one of our officers and one of our sergeants decided I would carry arms. I had been standing guard the same as the others but without a gun. It was decided that everyone would stand guard and with a gun. It looked like I was in for some trouble at best until things were settled in a different way. At noon the 12th, when part of the battery was in for dinner, some Jap planes dropped three bombs, one on each side and one in our kitchen area. Seven men were killed and about 12 badly hurt, including the sergeant who thought I should carry arms. Several of the wounded died later. The officer was transferred to another outfit and I wasn’t bothered during the rest of the time. From here, we moved to a Spanish sugar plantation about 5 or 6 miles north of the airfield.
One night I sought out a place to be quiet and alone. I found a shack almost fallen down, but in one end was room to kneel in prayer and seek the face of God who dwells on high. While there I felt the friends and family back home so near. I realized then that miles or ocean, mountains or time, could not keep kindred spirits apart.
While there, I got a letter from Willie Jamieson telling of another friend, Philip Parish of Janesville, Wisconsin, who was in the 192nd Tanks. One morning about 9:00, we saw 3 medium bombers at very low altitude coming our way. The kitchen again seemed to be their objective. They were almost within bombing range and machine gun bullets were peppering the ground within a few feet of us when AA opened up and brought down all three planes. This, no doubt, saved us from another disaster.
Christmas Eve we were ordered to move down into Bataan. It took us all night to get moved and in shape to feed the men again. We had stopped at Hermosa, but on New Year’s Eve we had to move again, this time farther down the peninsula to Limay. While here the kitchen force had our cots set up in the dense jungle. We had shelter halves tied to one side of the cot, and slanting higher tied the other side in trees, to shed off the rain. There is no dusk in the jungle. It’s even dark by day and then when the sun goes down it’s really dark.
One night I was lying on my cot and I heard a noise in the underbrush that kept coming closer. As it got nearer I smelled a terrible odor. It came by my cot, bumping the leg of the cot. I noticed it was going past on one side of me and still coming on the other side. So it must have been one of the Philippines’ huge pythons. Frank Buck had caught one in the area that was 32 feet long, I believe. Other nights I would listen to the monkeys chattering. I couldn’t see them, it was so dark. They would grab my shelter halves ropes and jerk on them.
I also realized there were all sizes of ants in the jungle. They had the warrior ants that made their nests out of tree leaves and would fight to their death to defend it. Some ants were so tiny you could hardly see them, while some were ½ inch long. One afternoon, after cleaning up from serving the men lunch, I was lying on my cot reading my New Testament. I heard a noise at the head of my cot. I looked up and there was a very small mother bird feeding her young about three feet from my head.
Although we changed the location of the kitchen again, we were in this area until toward the end. Many times, bombs fell much too close for comfort but we were not hit. We were set up between an airfield and an ammunition dump with AA guns on all sides. The Japs would bomb the field, dump, or gun batteries almost every day, so between the bombs and guns, it was plenty noisy.
Our rations were cut to one-half soon after reaching Bataan; then to one-fourth, and then to one-eighth, which made the food situation mighty serious. Everyone was weak and many getting sick from malaria and other diseases. The food we did get was not all of the best. Bread was soon a thing of the past, and the rice we got was moldy and hard to eat. Cavalry horses, mules, and water buffaloes were slaughtered to help the situation. The men helped themselves when anything edible could be found. Many lizards, hawks, monkeys, and others went in this way. Wild plants, roots, fruit, and berries were not overlooked, which sometimes resulted in sick men.
The fiery trials of war can weld bonds that men find hard to break. A young soldier had been shot in the head three times. His helmet looked much like a sieve. He was in the hospital. How he could be alive we could not understand. He left the hospital on his own to get back with his buddies, who were still fighting at the front. En route, he stopped at our camp for food. There is hardly a chance that he lived, but we never knew for sure.
Although the Japs bombed daily and at times day and night, Bataan was such a jungle and everything so well concealed, they made few important hits for the number of bombs dropped. We had our own way of keeping check of the front lines by listening to the artillery. If it was quiet, we knew all was well, but sometimes the rumble of the cannons was almost continuous and we knew the Japs were making a drive. Sometimes our artillery was closer than at other times and we knew the Japs had broken through or driven our troops back. When the artillery was back to normal distance, we knew the Japs would have to try again. Due to the Jap airplanes bombing our guns, if located during the day, our forces shelled mostly at night and our guns having the greater range could locate the Jap guns at night by their flashes. The Japs shelled mostly during the day.
Knowing the condition of both the Americans and Filipinos, I often wondered how much longer they could hold out under the pounding they were taking. In the first part of April, we knew by the Jap planes and hearing the artillery that the lines were falling back. On the 7th when we saw men who were on beach defense or had been sent behind the lines to get a little rest, heading for the front, we knew anything could be happening. That night we were ordered to move to another post, more to the interior. It took us most of the night as going was slow. The roads were jammed with traffic moving both ways. We got about 2 hours sleep before starting the new day which was mostly spent digging foxholes.
About sundown our Battery Commander called us to his Command Post and said we had been cut off from everyone else and had no information from anyone so we would try to cross the mountain and reach Mariveles. We started from there with what we could find at hand. We started with a few cans of food, blankets which happened to be in reach and anything we thought we might use. I started with none of my personal belongings except watch, fountain pen, pencil, billfold and a New Testament which I always carried in my pocket. I managed to keep it and still have it. We traveled in single file down the trail we were taking. One man, who had been over part of the trail, took the lead. We had not gone far until it was so dark the lead man had to use a flashlight and the rest had to follow by contact (keep his hand on the man in front). There was no moon and it was such a jungle, it was total darkness. We did not see the man we had our hands on. It was a dangerous trail and each man had to depend on the one in front to warn him of holes, fallen trees, roots, vines, low limbs, bluffs, etc., which was whispered back from the lead man to the last, about 100 men. The trail was steadily getting worse; about 2:00 AM the lead man decided it was just too dangerous to go any further. We layed down to get what rest we could before daybreak. Just as it was getting light enough to see and we were preparing to move on, three Filipino scouts came toward us and motioned us to be quiet. When they were within speaking distance we were told the Japs were on the other side of the ridge from us.
In a few moments, we could hear them talking among themselves. This gave us much encouragement to get on the move again. Later in the morning, the earthquake (that Japan boasts was going on when her troops captured Bataan) was felt. The quake caused a person to realize that power of man was as nothing by comparison. We climbed up and down the mountain trail all day and seemingly made little progress. The officers decided we should open a few cans and divide among ourselves. We had part of a can each at night, for three nights, and nothing during the day. We now only traveled while it was light enough to see and slept at night. Due to the sick and weakest, we were forced to rest more and more often to enable them to keep up. Some were forced to discard all surplus ammunition and later, rifles were abandoned that they might keep going.
Sometimes, we were along a stream; then climb or follow a steep slope hanging onto roots, vines or anything we could get hold of to keep from falling. Sometimes we were on ridges or rims overlooking uncertain depths below. One place was estimated to be 800 feet of perpendicular bluff and not over 5 or 6 feet of standing space. After three days, we still had quite a way to go and no food. We learned from the Filipinos, who had taken to the mountains to escape the Japs, that the Japs had reached Mariveles shortly after we had left camp. As there was no food in that part of the mountains and everyone was weaker after our trip, the officers decided to go down and surrender. All arms were discarded and anything else we felt that Japs might not approve of, even our helmets, which we later regretted. We started down, not knowing what we were going into. Some Filipinos said they were taking Americans prisoners and others said they were shooting them as fast as they tried to surrender.
We went down, expecting anything. I believe every man in the group went down with the feeling that they might be walking into certain death, yet I know of only two men who didn’t come down and surrender. The officers took the unenviable position of carrying white flags at the head of the line of men marching single file down the trail toward the Japanese positions. There was little talking; there seemed to be nothing to say. Each was absorbed in his own thought. I’ll never forget the first Japs I had ever seen as we turned ourselves in that day. The commanding Jap was a fat, round-faced, beady-eyed Nip that I thought at the time looked awful mean and probably was.
The first thing they did was to search everyone and take what they wanted. My watch was the first thing they took and then my fountain pen. I never knew why they didn’t take my billfold and money. After we were stripped of anything that could be used as a weapon and the things they wanted for themselves, we were started out on the march to San Fernando, which a Jap officer said would be our march to the death, which proved to be all too true for so many
The guards we started with gave us reason to think things might not be as bad as we expected. One told us by signs that we would be given something to eat a little farther down the road. We started out in the boiling tropical sun with no hats and little or no water. We hadn’t gone far until some began to fall out from exhaustion and the almost unbearable heat. There was one guard in the bunch who proved to be an exception. He did all he could for any who couldn’t keep going; he gave them water from his canteen and rice from his lunchbox. He also would halt the group until they had rested enough to go a ways further. This didn’t last long; our guards were changed and so was our treatment. We soon learned that anyone who went down was lucky if he lived to get to his feet again. We were also told again we would be given something to eat a little farther up the road. Every hill, curve, and village gave hopes of nearing the place of food and rest, but we always marched on with more and more men falling out from weakness, or heat, or both. Guards were changed often and we were kept marching to the pace of fresh guards.
The first water we were permitted to drink was in a stream of still water that was the last word in filthy polluted water. Hundreds of civilian or supposed to be civilian Filipinos were camping here and living as natives would live under such conditions. There were also bodies of dead soldiers lying in the water, but we had no choice in the matter. It was this water or none, and we had to have water. I drank all I dared to drink and filled my canteen. Later, I got a little chlorine and iodine that one of the medics had gotten through with. I put some in my canteen and mixed a strong portion in my canteen cup and drank that, hoping it would mix with what I had already drunk.
When we stopped that night, we were lined up in about six ranks deep, very close together and told to lie down for the night. We did, with most lying under or on someone else. In the lineup, I had wound up in the front rank, so I fared better than the most. Guards with machine guns and rifles were placed about us to be sure we didn’t lose our newly obtained freedom from the beastly Americans. The next morning we were gotten up early and moved about 4 or 5 miles farther up the road and stopped again. We were told to sit down facing the sun. We stayed there about two or three hours facing the sun. Many were fainting from the heat, which was almost unbearable. After putting the officers (most of them) in a group by themselves, we were started down the road again. As we passed through one village a Jap soldier stood along the curb where we passed by and, having a shoe by the toe, he gave each of us on that side a wham on the head with the heel of the shoe. It didn’t take but one such experience to teach me to try to stay on the inside of the column. We also wished for our helmets.
We seldom halted for rest or water. As we marched, we passed on artesian well of water that bountifully flowed. If only we could have a drink, but the guards wouldn’t allow it. We must keep on moving down the road, hungry and thirsty. Some were driven quite madly from heat and thirst and took steps to reach the water, not heeding warnings against drinking. Rifles fired and the men fell before they could reach the water. Men tried to help each other. There were three together, one on each side trying to help one too weak to go on. This didn’t last long because they would have to leave the one or all three would go down.
We walked and walked; sometimes were trotted or even run, always having fresh guards. They changed every little ways, but we were kept moving. It seemed we couldn’t take another step but somehow we kept going hour after hour. Once in awhile, some Japs would get so hot the sweat would just run off them and they would stop under a shady spot for a few moments, and of course we got to stop too. The Filipinos would have given us food if they could have. Many were badly beaten and some killed for trying to slip food to the Americans.
On the trip, which was about 100 miles, we were given two spoons of rice; one with salt and one without. About the evening of the third day after trotting and running a great deal of the afternoon, men had gone the limit and were no longer able to keep to their feet. Things were also going black with me, but it happened at this instant that we were about to cross a bridge when a troop of Jap soldiers cut in ahead of us and crossed the bridge first. This held us up just long enough for me to come to enough to go on. One man, not over ten feet from me, was stabbed because he had gone down and couldn’t get up. We went about a fourth of a mile farther and spent the night. The next morning I was able to go again. That night we reached San Fernando. Filipinos (Red Cross) brought medicine, food and clothing for us but the Japanese refused to let any of it be brought in. One Filipino attempted to bring us food and the Japs ordered him away. He was determined to leave the food he brought and refused to leave until he did. A Jap clubbed him to death with his rifle. The food lay there where he fell.
The morning of the fourth day we were taken to the railroad yards and crowded into some all-steel freight cars. There wasn’t room for many to sit down; nearly all stood up and there was very little air; none except what came in the doors and they were sometimes shut. The heat was terrible; there wasn’t a dry thread on anyone, I don’t believe; the floor was wet from perspiration and many fainted from the heat. We were unloaded at a little place called Campus, and walked from there to Camp O’Donnel. It was quite a relief to reach camp! It was what we had been looking forward to. We felt sure that at last we would get rest and food. It didn’t turn out as expected; there was very little food and water and also work to be done, which we were not able for. After two or three days, the death toll began to mount. Many who had just barely made the march were unable to gain any strength on the little rice and vegetable soup we were getting and began to die in great numbers. There wasn’t enough room in the few buildings in the camp for everyone, so many had to sleep outside on the ground. My first bed there was outside of the barracks on the ground. I found a burlap bag which I folded up and put under my bony hips. I didn’t dare lose it so I kept it with me all the time.
Filipinos would have helped if they would have been permitted to do so. Many trucks, loaded with food and clothing, were turned away. Diseases began to spread and the death rate went higher and higher. There was no medicine to help combat them. Malaria and dysentery were the most fatal, along with out-and-out starvation. Long pits were dug and men were buried side by side and sometimes in layers as there wasn’t time to dig graves and no one was able for the job – that was a had-to job. The dead were carried out by the hundreds every day. The record day was claimed to be 549.
All along the death march various groups of American military prisoners were forced into the march – constantly feeding into the maelstrom of prisoners being marched to their deaths. Some marched fewer miles as they were captured nearer the middle and the end of the march. There is no way one could know how many were captured, how many died on the march, and how many died after they reached camp. Even the “authorities” disagree on these numbers.
It was while in this camp that I met up with Philip Parish, the only other of the friends in the Army in the Philippines as far as we know. He was in a barracks across the road from where I was. He was only in the camp a few days when he was taken to a different camp.
I believe it was the 2nd of June, most of us Americans were marched back to Campus, put in the freight cars again and rode all day to another camp called Cabanatuan. Things were no better there when we arrived, except there was room for everyone inside the barracks. Water was a problem, or rather lack of water was. We had to line up for water and sometimes it would be nearly all day before a person could get a little water to drink. Another boy and myself took turns. I stood in line with both containers for a while, and then he took them for a while. There was often someone waiting for water 24 hours a day. The food was scarce; it consisted of rice that had plenty of worms in it and greens that had so many worms that they floated around on the water the leaves were cooked in, besides being mixed in the few greens we got with our cup of soup.
Things were very little better in food and living conditions until around Christmas of 1942, when the Japs let a little Red Cross food and medicine come into the camp. Then was also the first time we were allowed a razor to shave with and we were beginning to need one. There weren’t as many men in this camp as Camp O’Donnel, so the death rate hadn’t gotten as high. It was around 175 for December, 80 for January, 35 for February and a few months later there were only a few; all due to a little Red Cross food and medicine that had been permitted to come in the camp. During most of my stay at Cabanatuan, I was working in one of the kitchens and fared better than most of the men in the camp. Sometimes, someone would try to escape from camp so the Japanese put the men in groups of ten. If anyone escaped from any of these groups, the other nine would be taken out and shot. Even under these conditions, men would escape to leave the others to pay the penalty. Other camps had them grouped in 50 to 100 men to a group who would be shot for one who escaped.
The camp was divided into two main groups. One side was called the hospital area and the other the working mens’ area. Philip was in the hospital area for a while. I got over to see him about once a week when my working hours permitted and I could get permission to go. At first, all gatherings were strictly forbidden but later, church services were permitted and some kind of entertainment once a month. Groups of men often were taken from camp to some other work area or to Japan, Manchuria, or some other place.
I never wanted to be on any of these details and wasn’t called until March of 1944 when I was called in a group of 300 to go to Japan. I didn’t mind this time, as it seemed it was time to go. Philip was called later. We left Cabanatuan March 14th, took another oven-like ride to Manila. We were put in Bilibide Prison (which had been a federal penitentiary). We were given one blanket and a place on the concrete floor to sleep on. It was here while waiting for the boat that I received a letter from my mother and a box they had sent. The only other mail I had received was a V-Mail letter from Kathleen Dawson. I received that the first of 1943.
On the morning of the 24th, we were loaded on a freighter – 300 of us in one hold. We left Manila Bay but had a submarine scare and came back. We took off again and made a zigzag course to Formosa and arrived there the 27th. The weather was perfect thus far, but could notice the change of temperature. We were in the Harbor of Takow for two or three days, taking on coal (which was dumped on the deck and carried into the ship by baskets). Also, they loaded logs into part of the ship. While we were there a very large troop transport loaded with troops pulled aside our ship for a few hours. I would guess the troops to be Manchurians. They didn’t seem to be Japanese. I have often wondered what happened to them.
We had hardly left Formosa (now Taiwan) when we were hit by a storm that lasted all the way to Japan. We seldom had food that was cooked done, as the only means of cooking was on deck in big pots with a wood fire that wouldn’t burn. Sometimes we had nothing at all as it was impossible for anyone to stay on deck. The center portion of the hold leaked so badly no one was able to use that part so we had to take turns sleeping and non-sleepers spent the time standing up. There were only two small holes for air to get in and out of; that, with plenty of cigarette smoke mixed with already bad air, made it plenty bad.
There were six ships in the convoy but after one night that was exceptionally rough, two were missing. Whether they were capsized in the storm, submarines got them, or just what happened to them, we never knew. Something hit our ship that night. We often wondered if it were a torpedo. If so, it was a dud. One night our ship met one coming from another direction head-on. By swinging both ships, they passed with little to spare.
Our first stop after reaching Japan was Nagasaki. The stop was only for a short time. We didn’t know then that it would one day be a target for an atomic bomb. Our next stop was Osaka. We arrived there the 9th of April. We spent the first night onboard the ship. The next day we were on display. After one bunch of Japs had given us the once-over, they were shooed away so some more could see what their soldiers had captured. That night we were boarded on a train with two or three seats for every four men. So we had to take turns at sitting down. We were on the train all night; the next morning we passed through Tokyo. We changed to a small electric train and were taken to a small mining camp near Hitachi. This was the 11th of April and there was snow in the mountains and ice on the ground. It seemed awfully cold by comparison to the Philippines.
We started to work in the copper mines the 20th. The camp we were in was on the north side of the mountain where it got very little sun. It was also quite a ways up the side, probably a half mile and the trail was steep all the way up. Often when we came out of the mines after working all day we would have to carry a log apiece up to camp, which we could hardly do. We were not in too good of shape to start with, but rapidly lost what little strength we did have. Our diet was mostly a little barley or maize with a little vegetable of some kind; not often any meat and very little when we did get any. Also in the Philippines, we had heat, bedbugs, and lice. And now in Japan we had fleas, bedbugs, and ice.
I worked about 600 feet below the valley level where we went back into the mountain. Most of the time my job was either pushing or loading ore cars, although I did several others for short times. While working there I had an infected carbuncle on my knee that was swollen twice the normal size. The doctor got me off work for a week to let it heal. The tunnel where I would have been working, had my knee not been so bad, caved in. The roof collapsed and was so badly damaged they didn’t try to open it up again. Sometimes our light afflictions are a blessing in disguise.
One evening when I got off work and started up in the elevator lift to go to the top or entrance, you could tell there was something wrong. The lift would go up about three feet and drop a foot, all the way to the top. Just after we got off on solid earth, something broke and the lift fell all the way to the bottom, which was twelve hundred feet. One morning, the dynamite shack blew up in the valley below us while we were still in cap. Even at that distance, windows were broken out and walls pulled out of our barracks. It was lucky no Americans were near when it exploded or they would be probably blamed. The result would more than likely have been mass punishment of some kind if no one was killed.
We were in this camp until the 11th of August, 1944. We were then sent to another camp called Ashio. Sometime after November of 1944, while here I received a letter from my sister in New Mexico. She told me of the birth of her daughter, Lynda. Our letters to and from the States were heavily censored. Therefore, I decided to address a letter to Miss Lynda Carroll. I knew this would alert them that I had received their letter.
There were mines and a smelter here. We started work again the 14th. I was sent to a smelter. While here, I helped feed the furnace more than anything else. Cars were filled at various chutes and dumped into the furnace from the sides, near the top. Food and treatment was little different here. The work probably wasn’t quite as hard, but gas was bad and it was hard to breathe even with the respirators on. We got three or four Red Cross boxes a year which wasn’t much but would give us a lift and enable me to gain a little strength. Our hours were changed from what was supposed to be eight hours a day to twelve hours a day. We were three miles from work, and often had to walk to and from work. We had to leave early to get there on time, walk home after quitting time. The days sometimes were 15 to 18 hours with the walk home after quitting time. More than half were often in camp unable to go. We couldn’t have lasted much longer. Food was down to little besides a little maize and what weeds were gathered around camp, which wasn’t many.
On the 14th of August 1945, work ceased. I was working the night shift at the time. The end of work came very unexpected. Things had gone as usual for so long. I was in the hospital area visiting one of the New Mexico boys, who was very exhausted and sick, before I was to leave for work that day. We weren’t saying much. I was so weak and weary too, I didn’t see how I could go to work. I knew I would, as there was no way out of going. I heard a commotion outside and looked up to see that the day crew had been brought home form work early. That had never happened before. The relief crew always had to be there to go to work before the others were relieved. We were then told we wouldn’t be going to work that night, which was the best news we could have received at that time. This was the first indication that a definite change had taken place. We had heard the officers talking of rumors of the war coming to an end – now we knew something important had transpired. It turned out to be the end of working at the smelter. We had worked there one year to the day.
Our present guards disappeared, and in a few hours they were replaced by new guards. The reason, likely being, the old guards didn’t want to be left with the prisoners they had mistreated. The American officers didn’t tell us the war was over, because some of the prisoners had such hatred for the Japs they might have gotten some of the other prisoners in trouble or made trouble themselves. The officers assured us periodically that, “We are negotiating.”
We were still in camp for two weeks or so, doing nothing but resting and eating. The food drops worked out for our good. The first were by American Navy planes which dropped by parachute a mixture of food, magazines, tobacco, etc. Just what seemed to come to hand. We got only a little food at a time to start with, so we didn’t make ourselves sick by overeating. By the time the big planes made parachute drops and the Japs brought in more than the usual, our bodies could take it pretty well. The Japs fed us more now that they were under American rule. The Army also dropped some food from B-29 and C-54 planes. The last time I had been weighed, some months before, I weighed 110 pounds. At the time the work ceased, I weighed less. Three weeks after the work ceased, I weighed 130 pounds. We were still too weak to carry all that weight around.
Shortly before we were loaded on the train on September 5th, we were told by the officers that the war had ended. This was the first official news we had received that they war was over. This time there were more than enough seats to go around on the train. There was quite a change in the treatment given to us now. Also there was quite a change in the attitude of many of the prisoners who were so full of hatred for the Japs. When we passed through villages with children standing alongside the railroad, some of these same prisoners would toss them food, candy, etc. I was glad to see that.
We passed through Tokyo; it was wrecked. In most of the city there was little left standing. We were taken to Yokohama and turned over to the Americans who greeted us with a band, food, clothing, and kindness. When we were turned over to the Americans, after getting off the truck, the American prisoners were so anxious to get news from home and just talk to their fellow soldiers. So they began questioning them while they were standing at attention. A lieutenant said, “These men can’t talk to the soldiers who are at attention.” Another voice nearby spoke up and said, “Oh yes they can.” He was a general. The lieutenant then commanded, “At ease.” So everyone was free to talk. There was no fault on the lieutenant’s part. He was only doing his job. That was regulations, but the general could override it.
We were given a brief checkup, new clothes, supper, and then spent the night on a British hospital ship. The beds were so soft and even had sheets, so that it was a long time before I could go to sleep. We were turned loose in Red Cross PXs and could take whatever we wanted of candy, nuts, etc. I don’t doubt we overdid it in some things. Can’t eat much sweets even today.
That night, I, with some others, were loaded into a C-54 airplane, a four-motored airliner, and flown to Okinawa. After two days there, we were put on another plane (C-46) and flown to Nichols Field near Manila. I tried to get in touch with Willie Jamieson, by writing to a prewar address and by Red Cross. I was notified he had left the Philippines in March of 1945. Philip came in while I was there. It was good to see him again. My papers were lost for a time. They searched and searched and called me back another day and wanted to know what plane I came on, what day, number of the plane, etc. They searched some more. Finally, I was told, “You just haven’t arrived yet.”
I didn’t leave Manila until the 25th of Sept. I left on the boat, the Joseph Dickman. I stopped about a day at Pearl Harbor. We docked there and none of the ex-prisoners could get off the ship. Officers and military men and women could come on the ship. I was standing alone watching them and feeling kinda blue. I was feeling mentally and physically down and we were years behind in everything. One of the WACs (Women’s Auxiliary Corps) standing on the dock looked up at me, smiled, and waved, and that made the whole world look better.
I landed in San Francisco on Oct. 16th. While walking down the dock, I was thinking, “So this is San Francisco, the place we have been dreaming of returning to all these years.” I then heard my name called. It was my sister, Mrs. Shearon (Ellen) Carroll and Mrs. W.G. (Rachel) Price. She had learned through the Red Cross that I was due in on this ship. Their husbands were stationed in the Oakland area. I visited briefly Ellen and Shearon and son Jim*, and met my niece, Lynda for the first time.
I was in meeting at Oakland on the night of the 18th, the first since Nov. 16, 1941 in Manila. I left San Francisco the 19th by hospital train. I reached the hospital in Santa Fe the morning of the 21st, was given a leave so I got a bus. I wasn’t used to the wartime scramble of getting on buses, so I stood back, politely, and everyone else got on and the door closed. It was full. But the driver saw me standing there and opened the door and gave me standing room.
I arrived home to Clayton, New Mexico, the morning of the 22nd, October 1945. When I got there, my mother and father were waiting, along with my brother Aubrey and wife Dollie, and my brothers Lawrence and David. It seemed a long time since I had seen them.
Through these years of internment, “Oh! For the Peace” [now hymn 278], was the living prayer of my life; it helped to sustain me.
Adrian E. Oldham
Adrian went into the work right after being discharged from the Army in 1946. He labored in Texas and New Mexico for 15 years but his health was never really restored. He married an ex-worker, Sherlene Wisdom from California, in 1962, and they lived in Denver until 1984 when they moved to Oceanside, CA, where they lived until he passed away.
Adrian Everett Oldham -- Born Dec. 19, 1915, Died Mar. 16, 1997