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December 27, 2011     The Ortonville Independent
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December 27, 2011

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Gerald Block "Sleep, my sons, your duty done, for Freedom's light has come; sleep in the silent depths of the sea, or in your bed of hallowed sod, until you ihear at dawn the low, clear reveille / of God." the Bataan peninsula to Camp O'Don- nell near the town of Capas, a distance of 60 miles, so the men would have to walk. They were given no food and no medical treatment. They were allowed to drink from stagnant water buffalo wallows if they were near the road. Of the approximately 75,000 cap- became good friends. We ate that pig, believe me/It was the best food we had since before the war. But, one pig for about 200 men doesn't go very far. Everybody got a little piece." Frazier adds, "When we arrived, the damn Japanese commandant, who was nicknamed "The Scarecrow," was a real holding pen for Allied prisoners who would eventually be transported to Japan, Formosa, Okinawa, and China where they would be used as slave la- borers by the Japanese. Alf Larson, de- scribed his stay at Bilibid in these words: "(There was) nothing (to do). We just survived. It was the most boring place you ever saw. There were no fa- cilities and no work because we were going to ship out. They couldn't send us out on details. We weren't restricted to a cell. As soon as we woke up in the morning, the guards mustered us out- side. There was a common bathroom for everyone to use. Most everybody just wandered around the compound, which was one big open courtyard. There were no bunks so we had to sleep on concrete floors. We just sat around the whole time. Time really didn't mean anything. I'm not even sure what time they fed us. I just lived from day to day and didn't project myself any further. If anyone had stayed there very long, they would have gone stark raving nuts!" Letters to and from home were rare in Japanese camps. The soldiers were allowed to check off pre-printed short messages and hand them over to au- thorities who did not follow Geneva Convention roles. The postcards were simply bagged and set aside, never to be sent home. Letters from home were rare. After the American forces over- ran prison camps, they would find bags of mail stored in a hut, never to be given to the men. Packages from home were pilfered by Japanese guards who took the food and cigarettes and some- Photo taken at Camp Pasay. Gerald Gerald Block and Milo Lucas were both from Beardsley. Both of them were in the Army. Both were stationed in the Philippines when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Both were captured when American forces surrendered on April 6, 1941. They had been a part of the American forces defending the Bataan Peninsula. The loss of Naval control in the Pacific sealed the fate of the men in the Philippines. American troops joined with the ill-trained Philip- pine army to fight a prolonged battle. They would receive no outside help. They would fight along with their Fil- ipino comrades until their supplies were exhausted. MacArthur had visited the troops on Bataan only once, very early in the battle. The rest of the time he spent on Corregidor before leaving for Australia. As ammunition and food ran out, and as the weeks passed with none of the promised relief, they made up de- risive songs and jokes about the gen- ,eral. Some men sang a parody to the /" tune of The Battle Hymn of the Repub- lic: Dugout Doug MacArthur lies a- shakin' on the Rock Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock. Dugout Doug is eating of the best food on Bataan And his troops go starving on. The men now sensed that with Macarthur gone, they were expendable. The situation was hopeless, and the men knew it. Their feeling was summed up by a rhyme they would chant during a break in the fighting: We're the battling bastards of Bataan. No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam, No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces, No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces And nobody gives a damn. They were told "fight to the last man" by MacArthur and Gen. Jonathan Wainwright. But the commander of the Luzon Force, Maj. Gen. Edward King, decided surrendering to the Japanese was the only option. Lucas and Block became part of the largest surrender by the U.S. Army in its history. Although the battle was eventually lost, it did prevent the Japanese from establishing a beachhead that would have allowed them to advance their in- terests. Glen Frazier noted in his book, Hell's Best, "If we didn 't surrender, the Japanese said they would kill every- body in two days. That included 65,000 Philippine troops, 20,000 Americans, and another 38,000 old men, women and children". Before surrendering, the Americans destroyed anything the Japanese could use against the Allied forces. They shot up trucks, burned up gasoline, and de- stroyed all rifles and ammunition. "We diverted them and held them out for a total of three months," Frazier said. "That invasion was diverted and, as a result, we stopped them from going to Australia. Americans got to Australia first." Being captured was bad enough, but the worst was yet to come. Both Block and Lucas would suffer and survive the ordeals of what became the cruelest and pitiless atrocity committed upon Amer- ican troops in the Pacific Theater. They were among the soldiers who endured what is now known as The Bataan ] Death March. l The Japanese had not provided for I transportation from the southern tip of Page 10 Block is in the first row, third from the left. tured, some 16,000 failed to make it. Many were killed or fell dead from fa- tigue, illness, or injury. One description of the horrors and brutality that the prisoners experienced on the march was given this way by Glen Frazier, who was in the 75th Ord- nance Company with Gerald Block: "They were beaten, and they were starved as they marched. Those who fell were bayoneted. Some of those who fell were beheaded by Japanese officers who were practicing with their samurai swords from horseback. The Japanese culture at that time reflected the view that any warrior who surrendered had no honor; thus was not to be treated like a human being. Thus they were not committing crimes against human be- ings.(...) The Japanese soldiers at that time (...)felt they were dealing with subhumans and animals." Prisoners were attacked for assisting others who fell due to weakness or for no reason at all. Many were buried alive in holes found along the road. Some were tied to trees and used for bayonet practice. While marching, prisoners were plowed over by Japanese trucks or had their heads cut off by rifle bayonets as Japanese trucks drove by. Cleanup crews put to death those too weak to continue. Marchers were harassed with random bayonet stabs and beatings. "If anyone had to go to the bath- room, they went right in their drawers as they walked. If you stopped or got off to the side, you would have been bayo- neted or shot. I didn't go to the bath- room because I had nothing to pass. Body fluid came out in sweat. " After 40 miles of marching they ar- rived in San Femando. The captors put the prisoners on a train that would take them to Capas. The train consisted of World War I era boxcars, known as forty-by-eights. They were called that because the standard load for that box- car was 40 men or 8 mules. A survivor tells the story of the train ride: They packed us in the cars like sar- dines, so tight you couldn't sit down. Then they shut the door. If you passed out, you couldn't fall down. If someone had to go to the toilet, you went right there where you were. It was close to summer and the weather was hot and humid, hotter than Billy blazes! We were on the train from early morning until late afternoon without getting out. People died in the railroad cars. I don't know why, but the train stopped at a lit- tle town outside Clark Field. They opened the boxcar doors and the Fil- ipinos tried to feed us. The Japanese beat them off with clubs and shut the boxcar doors. The Filipinos tried to throw the food since they couldn't get close to the train. We never got the food. After about an hour, the train started up. Later on, we arrived at the small town of Capas. "We went to Clark Field by truck. When we got to the camp, we realized where we were. The cook detail had been sent there ahead of us to set up kitchen service. The Japanese had given them a pig. It was rancid! You could smell that pig almost from Clark Field to Camp O'Donnell, I'll swear. Whew! It was ripe and full of maggots! They were boiling the pig in this big vat filled with water and the maggots were floating on top. We were all wondering, 'What are they going to do with this?'" "'Eat it,' everyone said. An Ameri- can by the name of Sergeant Shadoan, was the head cook. He was cooking the pig. I didn't know him before, but we SOB. He made us stand in the hot sun for two hours. They had built a platform by the camp gates just for him so he could be above everyone else. He would stand on that thing and give a long harangue to all arriving POWs. He would say we were not recognized as prisoners of war. We were nothing! The Japanese were going to fight this war for a thousand years. Of course, that was all we needed to hear! Camp O'Donnell had been Filipino army troops" camp before the war and was only partially finished. It was our first prison camp. I was there about ten days. What a miserable place. Because of the conditions, American prisoners died like flies!" Even after arriving at Camp O'Don- nell, the survivors of the march contin- ued to die at a rate of 30-50 per day, leading to thousands more deaths. Most of the dead were buried in mass graves that the Japanese dug out with bulldoz- ers on the outside of the barbed wire times gave what remained to the sol- diers. As Allied forces closed in, the Japanese began transferring POWs by sea on Japanese cargo ships which later became known, world-wide, as 'Hell ships'. Similar to conditions on the Bataan Death March, prisoners were often crammed into cargo holds with little air, food, or water for journeys that would last weeks. Many died due to as- phyxia, starvation, or dysentery. Some surrounding the compound. Frazier worked on a burial detail. He knew that one day those soldiers' bodies would be recovered and buried properly, so he decided to throw one of his two sets of dog tags into a mass grave in hopes that if he died somewhere in the Philippine jungle his parents would have some idea of what happened to him. Sometime in June, 1944, Gerald Block was transferred to Bilibid Prison Camp in Manila. Bilibid was a former civilian prison converted to a POW camp, hospital and transit camp for POWS. Almost every man captured on Corregidor passed through this camp at one time or another. Bilibid was nothing more than a POWs in the heat, humidity, lack of oxygen, food, and water became deliri- ous and unresponsive to their environ- ment. Unlike weapons transports, which were sometimes marked as Red Cross ships, these prisoner transports were unmarked and were targeted by Allied submarines and aircraft. tlOn Oct. 11, 1944, Gerald Block, ong with 1,780 other American Ws were put in holds below the risan Maru's deck. The Arisan's des- tination was Takao, Formosa. The pris- oners were scheduled to do forced labor there, building defensive positions for the anticipated invasion by Allied Forces. The ship first sailed south to the vicinity of Palawan Island and lay over H. SSLEN CONSTRUCTION OR'I . NVII..LE, MN 320 839 2529 until Oct. 18 One reason advanced for the move south and ihe layover was to avoid US air and naval action. The Arisan returned to Manila on the 19th, took on supplies on the 20th and left in a convoy around midnight headed north for Formosa. The Arisan Maru was part of a convoy of ships, but it and the Kimikawa Maru were the slowest of the pack. Unable to keep up with the rest of the ships in the convoy, the Arisan and Kimikawa were soon left behind, alone and unprotected. The conditions on the ship were ab- ~lorable. Each prisoner was INDEPENDENT fed one rice ball twice daily and given a canteen full of dirty water once a day. Sanitary facilities consisted of four five-gallon buckets, whioh were ~n'ossly inadequate. The heat was stifling, the stench unbearable. Hundreds lost their minds. The hold Gerald was held in was about 1,000 square feet and rectangular in shape. Their captors sent water down once a day in a big bucket. If you were lucky, you got some. If not, too bad. The men wore whatever they had on when they were captured almost three years before. No medical treatment whatsoever was given to the sick. There wasn't enough room for anyone to stretch out. There wasn't any room to sit. The men either stood or squatted. They slept standing or hunkered down. The latrine was a big tub about six feet across and about three feet deep, It was located directly below the opening above on deck. To get there you had to crawl over everyone. The Japanese were not too careful when they raised the tub and some of the contents would spill down on some of the prisoners. It reeked and it was hot. There was very little ventilation. The men could do nothing but just sit in the dark, smelly, hot hold. No- body could lie down. They would sit there with their knees up to their chin, leaning on the other guy's legs behind them. There was no perception of time. The sick stayed in the very front of the hold where the 'Benjo Bucket' was. They could lie down there. The rest of the men either stood or squatted and tried to be comfortable. Two days out, the Arisan Maru en- tered the Bashi Straits between Luzon and Taiwan. The area is characterized by windy storms during the rainy pe- riod, June to December. Soon the Arisan Maru was in heavy seas as it was battered by a typhoon. The tem- perature below deck had soared to over 100 degrees F. The lack of fresh air caused many to go mad as the holds be- came fouled by the stench of sweating bodies, urine, and human excrement. As the ship sailed into a typhoon, the odor of vomit from the hundreds of sea- sick prisoners added to the wretched conditions. Some men who had lost their minds crawled about in the ab- solute darkness armed with knives, at- tempting to kill people in order to drink their blood. Some, armed with canteens filled with urine, would club their com- rades in the dark. The hold was so crowded and everyone so interlocked with one another that the only move- ment possible was over the heads and bodies of others. What happened in the late aftemoon of Oct. 24 is described by survivor Sgt. Calvin Graef. Graef had been assigned cook's duty and was on deck preparing the evening rice allotment for the pris- oners held below. The Japanese guards began running excitedly to the rear of the ship, then returned forward as the first of three torpedoes exploded in the aft hold of the ship. There were no pris- oners in that hold. The explosion was soon followed by two others as torpe- does struck forward and midship, miraculously missing the compartment holding the American prisoners. At this point, the captors hustled all prisoners back into the forward hold, cut the rope ladder descending into it, and slammed the hatches down, then went over the side, into the water to be picked up by friendly destroyers that had rushed to the scene. Some of the prisoners from another hold had gotten out by this time and they tied the rope ladder back together. Men scrambled out of the last hold up onto the deck. About 35 prisoners jumped into the water and swam to- wards the Japanese destroyer that had picked up crewmembers who had made their way from the Arisan Maru. When the prisoners got to the destroyer, they were beaten back with clubs and long poles and they drifted away in the choppy sea. About this time, the stem of the Arisan Maru separated and slipped below the sea. The forward two-thirds remained afloat, the American prison- ers sitting and waiting for the in- evitable. Some jumped into the sea and swam for floating debris, knowing their effort would be futile in the end, even if they did find something to hang on to. Most of the men stayed on the ship. They went to the galley and gorged themselves on food and water. They found cigarettes and returned to the main deck. They sat there for two hours, smoking the cigarettes and awaiting their fate. They also sang many rounds of God Bless America. Near sunset the Arisan Maru slipped beneath the waves, leaving the sur- vivors at the mercy of the sea. Those who could not swim either went down with the ship or were briefly rescued by those who could. The men called to one another throughout the night. The sea was still high as it was on the back- side of the passing typhoon; the sur- vivors bobbed in the water under a full moon. The chaplains ministered to the men as best they could in the rolling sea. As the night passed, the calls be- came fewer and fewer. The men were in such a debilitated state from their im- prisonment, they simply wore out and drowned. Gerald Block had survived the Bataan Death March and almost three years under bmtal conditions in Japanese prison camps. He did not sur- vive the ordeal that he faced the night of Oct. 24, 1944. Who were these men of the Arisan Maru whose lives would end in such an inauspicious manner? They were Chap- lains and doctors, farm boys, poets and roustabouts, young soldiers and old, fa- thers, brothers and sons. They were the product of boom times and Depression. Five miraculously survived the sinking and made their way to China, there to be rescued by peasants. The story of the Arisan Maru's final hours and the Americans on board was told by these men. For many years, family members never knew exactly what had happened to their loved ones on that terrible voy- age. The Board of Review was reluc- tant to reveal what had actually happened. In June, 1945, Gerald's mother, Bessie, was informed by letter that her son, Gerald, was aboard a ship that was sunk, and, in all probability, had not survived. No mention was made that an American submarine had engaged Gerald's ship. A year later, in 1946, Bessie received a letter informing her that, as the beneficiary of Gerald's will, she was entitled to $5000 which would be paid in monthly installments of $25.20. Bessie wanted to know more about her son's fate and wrote to the War De- partment for details. In June 1950, she received a letter, which again stated that Gerald had been on a ship that was sunk. Again, no mention was made of how the Japanese ship was sunk. ****** The Arisan Maru was torpedoed by an American Submarine - either the U.S.S Shark H or the U.S.S Snook. The determination of which sub fired the torpedoes that sunk the Arisan cannot be made because both subs were sunk by Japanese destroyers during the en- gagement. The Japanese did not mark their cargo ships indicating that POWs were aboard; there was no way for American forces to know what was held in the Japanese ships they sunk. The sinking of the Arisan Maru and the loss of 1,780 soldiers represents the largest maritime loss in American his- tory. Through the efforts of his niece, Susan Johnson, of Jamestown, ND, Gerald was awarded medals he had earned during WWII. The presentation was made at the local VFW Club in Jamestown on September 16, 2011, by Senator Kent Conrad. Medals deliv- ered that day were: Asian Pacific Cam- paign Medal with Bronze Star, WWII Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and Honorable Service Lapel Button. Milo Lucas, the other Beardsley boy who was captured and survived the Bataan Death March, was not trans- ferred to Formosa. He survived the war, and returned to his home in Beardsley. He remained there until his passing in 2009. Veteran Service News By Dan Meyer Big Stone Co. Veteran Service Officer The office hours for the Big Stone County Veterans Service Office is 7 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday. My Of- flce phone num- ber is (320) 839-6398. VA Publishes Final Regulation on Clothing Al- lowance Eligi- bility. This Final Regulation in the Federal Reg- ister on clothing allowance expands the eligibility criteria for veterans with multiple prosthetic and orthopedic de- vices or skin conditions caused by pre- scribed medications. The new regulation provides the cri- teria for more than one annual clothing allowance in situations where distinct garments are affected, and ensures vet- erans are adequately compensated for any damage to clothing. Veterans, who because of a service- connected disability, wear or use a prosthetic or orthopedic appliance that tends to wear out or tear clothing are el- igible for payment of an annual cloth- ing allowance. Examples of appliances include an artificial limb, rigid extremity brace, rigid spinal or cervical brace, wheel- chair, crutches or other devices pre- scribed for the veteran's service-connected disability. Veterans, who because of a service- connected skin condition use a medica- tion that caused irreparable damage or stains to outer garments, are also eligi- ble for payment of annual clothing al- lowance. The application period for an annual clothing allowance is Aug. 1 through July 31 of each calendar year. Payment of more than one clothing allowance to qualifying veterans will occur in calen- dar year 2012. Until next week, take care and "Fair Winds & Following Seas!" Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011