Bataan Death March Survivor's Testimony
Lt. Harold Goldberg, U.S. Army
When I saw you in Manila, I told you after getting back to the States and settling down, I would give you a resume of what has happened in the past. As you know, I missed my boat from Manila by going to see Harold in Mindora. Yet fortunately, and it was fortunately, the second boat that I caught got to the states five days before my scheduled one. I arrived at Seattle, Washington and then was sent to Madigan General Hospital.
Incidentally, one of the most embarrassing moments occurred on the voyage, about October 1st., half way over the Pacific. I went down to the shower, naturally to take a bath. Directly over the shower were the 20mm guns, of course, the noise made by the shower and my lusty singing drowned out an announcements made over the P.A. system. Just about the time I was rinsing myself off, I heard the clattering of the guns in just about nothing flat, I was on deck with the towel in one hand and nothing else. Imagine my embarrassment to find myself the center of attraction, gazing at me were nurses, officers, and GI's of all rank and description. I had failed to hear the announcement over P.A. system that we had run across a floating mine and that personnel aboard ship were not to be disturbed by the firing of guns as the shipper was going to blow up the mine to prevent a hazard to sea traffic.
From then on every time I appeared in the mess hall a cry came up, "It's alright girls he has his pants on" and glad I was finally arrive in Seattle, Washington.
They started my initial processing there and incidentally, no aoemebic dysentery, Thank God for that. Another unusual incident occurred, my fifth day there I went to the Officer's Club, accompanied by two of my chums, also PW's. We were only having one drink, my first, when the following incident occurred. A Major at the next table was making remarks about nurses overseas, I became slightly aggravated, that is to put it mildly. I walked over to him and asked him if he had ever been a patient in an Army Hospital. He said no, then I asked him if he had ever been overseas, again he said no. I'm afraid Ted, I lost my temper because I hit him. He was out cold for five minutes. I suddenly realized what I had done and I could see a Court Martial staring me right in the eye, but luckily he had had a few drinks and the blow slightly sobered him up, because when he recovered, he said, "Well Lieutenant, I guess I spoke out of turn, and I am sorry." He then offered us a drink, I gladly accepted. This though has been my first and only time that I lost my temper since my release. I think I have myself under control now.
At least I hope so.
After six says at Madigan, I was transferred to Crile General Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio. I received ten days delay enroute, of which I spent a few days home. I stayed at Crile until the 14th. of December, when I obtained ninety days invalid leave. My edema has left me, my face is no longer bloated, my feet are no longer swollen-in fact I am at my pre-war weight, feeling fine. About the only thing I lack right now is a lot of romance and I will be catching up before long, I hope.
Around October 19, 1944 , we moved from Cabanatuan to Bilibid the old Spanish prison in Manila. We figured the Nips to be able to get us off the island as we had been seeing U.S. air Activity since September 22, which was the first day we saw American planes over Luzon.. We stayed in Bilibid until December 13. Air Activity continued except for the week prior December 13. We got scuttle butt rumor of bad weather around South. The last fairly authentic rumor which we received is when we went into Bilibid, of the invasion of Leyte. The Nips announced December 13, early in the morning, a list of names. Those men be prepared to move at five o'clock that evening. The news rather stunned us because we knew it was damn close to suicide for them to get through a boat at this time. 1619 men went aboard the Cricka Maru, it was a beautiful vessel, comparing very favorably with the U.S. President Coolidge. We were put into holds in the hip, crowded so that you sat with your knee touching your chin. They also loaded on the vessel, and we believed it an excellent omen, many civilians, women and children and wounded Jap soldiers. We figured certainly that they must have notified our Government that they were repatriating their civilians, sending soldiers and prisoners of War to Japan. We learned differently later.
December the fourteenth in Cebuc Bay our boat was attacked by American Naval Planes. She was damaged but not sunk at this time and it is rather a strange significance because the hatch covers were off the hold and you could actually see American Planes diving on the boat, cutting loose with their machine guns, spraying the deck, dropping their bombs. The funny part about it is we welcomed the bombing, because conditions were such on that boat that by noon of the following day we had lost approximately 150-200 men from suffocation, thirst, heat prostration, and madness. Some men went so mad with thirst, that they drank their own urine, some slashed their own wrist and drank their blood-others attacked their comrades attempting to cut their throats and drank their blood too. One boy had to be killed because he went insane and was attempting to kill others and the one who killed him was his best friend. It is funny in a situation like this man loses everything that he once held dear, decency, love of fellow man, honor, everything.
There seems to be but one thought, survival of the fittest and you had to be damn fit and a will to live. The Nips pulled the boat off Olonpo, where the Marines had one of their barracks, in fact, it was sort of a station---small base. During the night they evacuated their women and children, wounded soldiers, the only ones remaining on the boat were the gunner's and the guards. About noon of the following day, we were again attacked by American Planes. This time they scored a direct hit on the other end of the vessel, starting it in flames. Then they allowed us to get out of the holds and leave the ship. It was a nice swim ashore, about half way ashore, there were four American Planes in dive, we waved out arms, some men in lifeboats and rafts waved their shirts or whatever they could get their hands on. The lead plane straightened out, it seemed as if he recognized us and flapped his wings. No more strafing, no more bombing.
That water was probably the most delightful experience I could ever recall, it was cool and refreshing, more than, it seemed to give us new life. Those of us who got ashore early gathered up extra life rafts, preservers, and swam out and helped others ashore. The Nips then herded us into a tennis court, about 1400, and the tennis court wasn't any too big, but can Thank God for one thing; it had running water. Because for five days our only food was on the 4th. and 5th. days. 2 ½ tablespoons of raw rice, twice daily. American planes attacked later that afternoon on the Nip gun positions. Yet the only thing that ever touched us in the tennis courts were 3 cases from 50 caliber machine guns. They must have known we were there. Well, we stayed there about six days and those six days were rough. They had us herded in this court, no shade, no food for the first three days anyway.
The first three days we ate on our imagination. The fourth and fifth days the Nips got magnanimous, twice a days they gave us two tablespoons of raw rice-sometimes instead of just getting two, we got two and half. We were going great. When we got that rice we took a grain at a time, put it between your teeth, crush it. You may think ordinary rice is very unappetizing, well maybe it is, but it is surprising how delicious we found that rice, eating it a grain at a time, one grain after the other until it was all gone. The Nips started getting a little jumpy, figuring our boys were coming close, so they moved us by truck to San Fernando La Union, there we were put on box cars, approximately eighty-seven men to a box car. At least there were eighty-seven in our car and those box cars were the narrow gauge type and only one of the doors were allowed open. There was no room for anyone to sit down, in fact, you could barely stand up, a man could have passed out without hitting the floor. On this trip we started a circle in the box car, a little at a time to give every man a chance at the fresh air. There were about twelve box cars in the string. We, also, had a lot of men riding the tops of the cars, and the Nips told us that if American Planes came over, it was all right to wave the flags (white sheets).
From San Fernando La Union we went to San Ferando Pompomaga. Going there we had to cross Clark Field when we were just about half over. Bombers going into screaming dives, AA bursting overhead, white blossoms in the sky…..the rat tat tat of machine guns, a kind of stillness after the raids passed over, you could see burning planes, oil, fuel, you could notice the stench of fresh poured blood. Luckily the trains wasn't hit, so we chugged on through.
We could get a feeling from the Nips around us that they had one mission, their original orders were to take a group of American to Japan. We seemed to get a feeling then that come hell or high water, they were taking us there, and they did, what was left of us. When we got to San Fernando Pompomga, we stayed in a school-yard for one night. From there we marched out to the Bay the following morning. There the Nips herded us into landing crafts, took us out to freighters in the Bay and loaded us on.
There must have been about 1,000 on one boat and 450 with us, we were on a freighter that was probably old as Metheusela. We had no place to clean ourselves-we had no latrines, etc., so when a man felt the call of nature he went in a corner . After two or three days the stench didn't mean a thing. It probably smelled as bad as the worse latrine man could think of. The boys began to die, we got little or no food, sometimes a ration of rice could be measured out by a tablespoon. The water supply, well a third of a canteen cup a day was a goodly amount. In the morning the Nips would yell "Any men dead", and they would lower a rope and pull them out of the hold. If anybody had energy enough they would say a prayer and the bodies would be thrown overboard.
We had a man named Kleivhko, he was a Russian Jew, and a simple man, but there was never any sense of pretence about him. He could speak probably about a dozen languages and he took the part of the Rabbi for us in camp. He had memorized the songs, chants, prayers, and on holidays he was our Cantor. Every Friday evening you could hear his chanting for a long way off. He held the lowly job of a Caribou herded, he had a long flowing beard and in his tattered clothes you would look at him and you would think that our ancestors wandering through Palestine must have looked something like him, only instead of tending sheep he was tending caribou.
About the sixth night out he died, no complaint, no recrimination. He just said, "Sorry I caused you so much trouble", and died from exposure, lack of food, lack of water, the lack of that which provides the vitality for caring on life.
We finally arrived in Formosa, the Nips doled out the food, called it Twaiwan. There they combined us on one boat again, we stayed in the harbor for about six days. About January 5, 1945, one of the men on deck said he saw an American observer. That night we held our usual critic, rehashing over the situation and trying to figure out what tomorrow might bring. A lot of us felt, but few had the courage to say: "Well boys, say your prayers". An American Plane took pictures today, tomorrow the boys will pay us a visit.
Some of the boys prayed, some cursed. Father O'Brien who died later, I will remember his voice through eternity. Every evening just before we went to sleep, he would raise his voice and say a prayer, told us to have courage and if we must die, let us die like men and each night he spoke his voice grew weaker and weaker. One night we waited, we just waited, then no word, we weren't told but everybody felt it. We talked about it later and we all felt it. We knew that we would never hear his words again unless we heard it in our minds. He died that night.
January sixth no American Planes. That evening we talked about it again "well the boys didn't come over today, but they will be here tomorrow". Tomorrow came and tomorrow went. Then came January ninth, just about twelve o'clock, it is strange when you have death as your companion, you actually treat him as your companion,with the rights and privileges of a friend. He has the right to a jest and if he nudges your elbow and if he calls O.K., but you get so used to him that you don't mind him anymore.
It was just about the time we drew out water supply. We were divided into ten equal men with squads. We got so little to eat that the food had to be divided down to the last grain. So the whole group divided into twenty groups and then into lesser groups, until finally each group had ten men and there was the final eating scout. We drew food and water even if it had to be measured out with an eye-dropper, it was my turn to draw water but Tony (Lt. Glevis, Eng.) insisted on drawing the water. He said, "I will probably get a malarial chill and won't fill like doing it later". I told him that it made no difference, I would just as soon do it as not. But he said no, Well, you don't argue, you haven't the energy or inclination, when a man feels strong about something you let him have his way. It was just at the time he was drawing the water we were hit by American bombs. We had no previous warning as we had on the first bombing but the Nip AA opened up fire of machine guns. This time no warning. The Yanks really pulled a surprise one.
They dropped a bomb that blew a hole in the front part side of the ship, blew a hole big enough to walk through. That bomb killed outright about 350 or about 500 men in the forward hold. In our hold it killed about 50 outright. Tony had a bomb fragment about twice the size of a rivet through his guts. He lived about eighteen hours and how he lived those eighteen hours, I don't know. I called the doctor over to see him, the doc said there wasn't any use trying to do anything, he would be lucky to live an hour. Tony lived, I hovered around him with morphine and gave it to him but I didn't have quite enough. I had hoped to have enough that would put him out, well he suffered, not too much, the morphine at least killed most of the pain. He told me to see his girl back home and his family, I promised and he died in my arms.
There was blood all over the boat, we could see the forward hold through the torn bulkhead. I will never forget my first sight, I looked through the hole and for a while my eyes didn't focus. It was like looking at a movie shot that was spinning and finally it sat still, and it looked like something that was thrown through a doll house. The doors scrambled and pushed in from one end to the other--------------smashed in. And the screen came into focus, you started to notice things. The bodies were grotesque and real. You didn't think human form could take such shape or rather, human bodies take such form. There inner-mingled mass of arms and legs, bodies with no heads, there was blood and guts strewn all over. As if a mad man had taken a paint brush and the paint brush was read and had done a job. Well those boys that still lived started to separate the living from the dead. There was no place to put them, no place to take them the only thing we could do was to section off part of the hold and pile the bodies up like board wood in the hold of the ship, 350 bodies make a neat little stack and especially after being in the hold for three days the Nips didn't take them out, they gave us no medicine, nothing, until the third day. You get used to a lot of it.
We still got our meager ration and in fact, ironiously enough, some of the boys said for the first time they had enough to eat, they gave us ration for 500, and only had about 50 that could eat. The boys joked and said well, it is a good thing that at least they had something to fill their bellies and you became hardened. Imagine to use a cadaver for food store, a bench and a tray to hold your mess kit. On the third day they let us take the bodies out.
A few medical men of the Japenese Imperial Government came in to the hold. They brought with them a little iodine, meroechrome, and a little bandage and damn little. After the first few men treated by the Nips, our own doctor took over, most of the work took the equipment that the Nips had and did what little they could. They couldn't do much-they didn't have much to do with. Well, the Nips of the next day put us on another boat and the Emperor's will was being done. Our original orders were to leave Bilibid and go to Japan. As far as they were concerned we would get there, they many not give us food, water, air, but by God, they said if there was any of us alive and they didn't particularly care if we were dead or alive, we would have to go to Japan if we were dead, they could go to Japan without being bothered guarding somebody. So if they felt like it we ate, if they felt like it we had water we had no clothes, blankets, we had to cuddle up to one another for warmth. Well we were lucky on a few accounts, the hold underneath us contained a shipment of sugar and we ate it. Can you imagine making a meal out of a canteen cup of plain sugar? But it provided energy and when it got real cold we didn't give a damn, went down in the sugar hold, poured the sugar out and took the sacks to cover overselves. We might as well get shot as saboteurs as die of exposure.
We started out in our Bay of 22 men. The closer we got to the Japan the less there were. We finally got there, only 4 of us left. Every morning they would call out-------------bring out your dead. Wee would take the clothes off the bodies, shove them out in the aisle way, they would grab the bodies by the heels, drag them up to the deck and throw them overboard, and generally a prayer was said.
We used to amuse ourselves when we would get our small portion of rice. Well what shall we have for supper for tonight, the men would make a fantasy of describing the most fantastic meals a man could ever imagine. We described food as eaten by an Italian, French, Russian, Chinese, American Greek, as long as there was food. We talked about a thousand and one different methods of preparing dishes of salads and sauces. Well, that was one way to amuse yourself-you had a grain of rice to eat, and you would imagine having roast chicken dinner or roast beef.
We finally got to Japan, a little more than a thousand less than when we started out with and they were still dying, we arrived January twenty-ninth approximately forty-five days after leaving Bilibid, on the island of Honchu and the city was Fuiquicka. We stayed there for two months I left the islands weighing 145-150. I arrived weighing between 85 and 90 pounds. We left with 1619 men and arrived with about 500. We had left on one boat but it took four to get there. We had left with the invasion of Leyte, we arrived with the invasion of the Phillipines.