Soldier’s Story

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Most of the time we were away from the road. When we did reach it, it was a line of burned-out vehicles and bloated, blackening corpses. In that heat bodies swell and stink. After a few days you can’t tell who they are. Everyone was mixed together.

Our objective was Mariveles. We reached it about a week after the first assault. The town no longer existed. Buildings had been smashed and were burning; the bricks and stones were charred. Men were wandering everywhere. I saw the first live Americans. Some of them didn’t have all their uniforms and were dressed in rags. We didn’t have any orders, and they didn’t know where to go. Civilians and soldiers just milled around.

I had little time to enjoy the peace. Some units were still fighting, and we were sent to find and destroy them. When I returned to Mariveles, the prisoners had gone. I didn’t think of them. Corregidor was not yet conquered.

The infantry stayed out of the way. Day after day artillery units fired at the island. The fire was returned. As much as possible I made certain to stay away from artillery batteries. Besides, I had another problem. I had dysentery and a fever. Most of us were sick. We were in no shape to fight anyone. If the order had come to attack the island, we sure as hell weren’t able.

In early May the guns on the island were being knocked out. Most of us had recovered from the dysentery. The order came to capture the island.

From the mainland to the island is just a few miles. In open steel landing craft we pushed off about midnight and landed around four in the morning. The 61st Regiment from the Osaka-Kyoto area led the attack. They had suffered heavy casualties in Bataan and suffered more at Corregidor. Most of those slow, damned boats never reached the shore. Artillery and mortar shells were hitting them.

My unit followed. We were the reinforcements. We took heavy casualties, but we reached the island. I was able to establish my communications post away from the direct line of fire. Still, nothing was safe on that place. Our men were cut to pieces whenever they tried to advance.

There was a long flight of steps cut into the rock. Time after time men climbed them to be shot off. I imagine about a thousand men died trying to climb those stairs. Finally, by late morning, some reached the top. Then the command to cease fire came. A group of Americans carrying a white flag appeared. I believe that there were ten. They crossed to the mainland. A couple of hours later everyone surrendered. Streams of men with their hands raised marched out.

I wanted to see what we had won. As soon as I could, I went inside. There were three tunnels. Two had collapsed. They led to a large three-story building cut from the heart of the island. I had a chance to learn something about those men.

A few months earlier, when I heard about Pearl Harbor, I believed that we could win a war with the Americans. Inside Corregidor, while we were enjoying our victory, I was convinced that we would be defeated. Our equipment was so poor in comparison. It was then I began to wonder about the future of Japan and how I would die. Of course I kept my thoughts to myself. In the Japanese army you didn’t talk about defeat. You didn’t talk about anything.

After the war, I heard about the Death March. I was not surprised.

I spent six months in Manilla. During that time we talked about the places to find prostitutes and how much to pay.

It was my last six months in the army. I spent those eating American rations. I hated those cans of meat. We had to eat them without rice. It did tell me one thing. I realized that there was someone very powerful behind those guns and canned meats.

After the war I heard about the Death March. I was not surprised, and I am not shocked.

The Americans were prisoners. They had disgraced themselves. No one could give a damn about them. So many of them were sick. Our men were doing them a favor killing them. It was faster than to die from diseases.

One of the things those prisoners did wrong was to walk so slowly. In the Japanese army there is nothing as bad as a man who walks slowly; he’s not behaving as a soldier should.

In the Japanese army you had to expect to be kicked around. When I was first drafted, I quickly learned that the army had one way to do things. You did it that way. To make certain that we learned, the officers beat us. I was beaten so I couldn’t recognize myself. No one questioned the right of the officer to do it.

An officer would use a leather sandal to whip your face. You stood and didn’t complain. If you wore glasses, he allowed you to remove them. He would tell you to clench your teeth. He didn’t want you to bite off your tongue. One man did and choked to death.

Everyone learned the lesson. If we complained, the long-term soldiers would pound your face raw. There was always someone willing to beat you. You shut up. Why be surprised about prisoners?

While I was in China, I had dysentery. We were on a troop train and were jammed into boxcars. There was no toilet, and the train wouldn’t stop. All the officers allowed us to do was to open the door to do it outside. What the prisoners got wasn’t much different.