Death March


Corporal Robert Wolfersberger:

I could see some artillery pieces by the side of the road and some Japs taking a break in the shade. Some of them had tied a big pole onto a tree so that it could swing back and forth. With this they were taking turns raking it through the column of men. It was a big game to them, seeing how many of us they could knock down with one swoosh of this pile driver across the road. Some guys would duck or fall down, and the guy behind would stumble. It created a lot of confusion.

Of course we had a grapevine that worked like a telephone. Word traveled pretty fast. If there was trouble up ahead the word would come back down the column, and those who could, would walk more lightly. When we saw the trucks carrying infantry, we learned to get as far off the road as we could. The Jap troops would carry bamboo sticks—rifle butts were heavy—and they’d lean out and swat you as they went by. If they didn’t have sticks, they had stones or knotted ropes. They’d just swing whatever they had and see if they could hit you.

Second Lieutenant Kermit Lay:

There was a big tin warehouse or granary somewhere along the March that they packed us into one night. You could sit or lay down, but there was no water and it was very hot. And it stank! The next morning across the road the Japs had dug a hole and had some Filipino soldiers burying some dead men, except not everyone was dead. One poor soul kept trying to claw his way out of the hole. The Jap guards really started giving these Filipinos a hard time, trying to get them to cover this man up faster. Finally a Jap came over, took a shovel and beat him on the head with it. Then he had the Filipinos cover him up.

Private First Class Blair Robinett:

One morning they moved us out into what I imagine was a camote , or sweet potato field. We were crowded up against one another, column after column moved in. Side by side we sat with our arms folded, heads bowed with the sun beating down on the back of our necks. I sat there three or four hours. The heat tore into the middle of the field. … What I remember next is a guard poking me with his bayonet trying to get me on my feet. I looked up at him and said, “Go ahead, you sonovabitch, do it. ” An American Air Force sergeant was standing alongside me, I don’t know who he was, but he reached down and grabbed me and pulled me to my feet and into the line. He and somebody else held me between them when we began to walk. I couldn’t manage to stand up. I told them they should leave me. “Oh, no,” he said, “couldn’t do that. You need something inside you.” He had his blouse tucked into his pants and there was a bulge around his waist. He reached into his shirt and came out with a raw sweet potato. After I’d eaten one or two of them, I was back in business again.

Corporal Hubert Cater:

Late in the day my group had been herded into a field surrounded by three strands of barbed wire. It could have been the town square or close to it. There were a number of Filipino and American soldiers already there. We were so tired, hungry, thirsty, and many so sick or wounded, that we didn’t at first notice the condition of those that were there. We would never forget it by the time we left the next day. Fortunately, it was close to dark and we didn’t have to sit under the tropical sun. It had been another long, hot day without food and very little water. …

Sometime after dark the Japs brought some cans of rice to the enclosure gate. A five-gallon can for each hundred men. These cans were not full. Who cared? Those close to the gate were fed. There was not enough to go around. There was no crowding or pushing. A friend helped a friend. Many didn’t care. Besides being tired, many were at the last stage of malaria. Just to be left alone in the grass or dirt to rest, sleep, or die. To have at least one close friend, a buddy to hold you in his arms and comfort you as you died, was enough. The few that still had faith and courage would have lost it if they could have foreseen the future. …

Later I talked to men at Camp O’Donnell who were behind us and arrived at San Fernando a day or two later. The dead had not been buried. The same terrible odor had doubled, and the sick and dying almost filled the area.

Sergeant Charles Cook:

The last night outside of San Fernando I walked all night. They changed guards from flatbed trucks. They wouldn’t let us stop. All night long. … Around dawn I began to feel that my shoes were full of sand. Somewhere we got a short break and I took my shoes off. They weren’t full of sand, my feet were just burned up. I had about ten thousand teeny blisters, no bigger than a pin, on the bottom of my feet.

I must have been in one of the first groups that got into the boxcars, because I don’t remember hearing a rumor about them. To know that we were there at the railroad station meant riding instead of walking. That was a good feeling, but it turned out worse than the March.

Corporal Hubert Cater:

Shortly after noon all that could walk were lined up outside the barbed wire and marched a few blocks to the railroad.

In the months ahead we would realize that each time we left the sick, they would never be seen again.