Michael Blatt: This begins an interview on April 15th with Mr. Everett Reamer. First of all, on behalf of the Rutgers Oral History Project we want to thank you for participating in our project. For the record can you please state your name?
Everett Reamer: Everett D. Reamer.
MB: Thank you, Everett, and this is Michael Blatt. Let's begin by finding out a little bit about you, sir, where were you born, and when was that?
ER: I was born at Elizabethtown, Ohio, January 20, 1925.
MB: How was it that your family was in that area? Were your folks residents there for many years, or had they moved?
ER: My father worked for the New York Central Railroad and our whole family comes from the eastern part of, the southeastern part of Indiana, and borders on Ohio. Elizabethtown is a border town in the southwestern part of Ohio.
MB: Is that where you went to school and were raised?
MB: Tell us about your schooling; did you go through high school there?
ER: I was an average student, and I ended up quitting high school in the sophomore year and joined the service.
MB: So you enlisted. That would be what year?
ER: That was February, 1941.
MB: Okay. Your family had gone through the Depression. What was that like? Do you recall?
ER: Well, my father had a job with the New York Central Railroad but the wages for him was not all that great with nine children, Grandfather, and twelve of us in the family, so it was rather difficult.
MB: When you stopped school as a sophomore you could not have been of age to have volunteered so what happened at that point?
ER: Well, at the age of thirteen I began to drive a car, and my brother had mail contracts that met the train in a little town called Cleaves, Ohio, and we serviced the adjacent post offices at that area. So, consequently, I had access to the train depot in early morning and the station master was a notary. So, of course, early in the morning the train master was not there. I had keys to the facility and I managed to sign my father's name and notarize his signature that I was eighteen years of age.
MB: Did you then present it to the recruiter? Is that what happened next?
ER: I presented [it] to the recruiter at the Cincinnati post office, and, shortly thereafter, I was transported to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and after being there a couple of days my father showed up.
MB: You had not told your family you were leaving?
ER: I had not told my family that I was leaving. I had been gone about a day and they had become worried, and I though after I had gone through the process I would call them and let them know exactly where I was. But my father showed up with a good friend of mine, and so the friend talked my father into signing for me at Fort Thomas to rectify the entire operation.
MB: What were your thoughts about why you wanted to do that? Do you have any idea what you were thinking?
ER: Well, I had older friends that were in the military, and my grandfather had served in the Spanish American War and he was living with us, and so I just had an urge to become a member of the United States armed forces.
MB: Had you been aware of what was happening in Europe at the time, through the late '30s and early '40s?
ER: I was always aware, I was a history buff. I enjoyed history and what had happened to our country in the past, and I just, more or less, wanted to become a part of the future of our country.
MB: So then your father agreed to do that. Hold on for a moment. [TAPE PAUSED] Before the break you were mentioning that your father had signed and he had agreed to do that.
ER: Right ...
MB: Right, so then you preceded to be sent to basic training.
ER: Well, I stayed at Fort Thomas for a few days and was then transported by Pullman car to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, and I stayed there. I arrived there approximately February 12th, 13th, 1941.
MB: What outfit were you with? What did they assign you to?
ER: I was a raw, raw recruit at that time. I had no basic training. I stayed at Fort McDowell on Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay area and on March 31, 1941, I boarded the USAT Republic bound for the Philippines. I still had no basic training, and so we then stopped in Honolulu and then finally at Manila in the Philippines; arriving April 20, 1941.
MB: April 20th, okay, were you with a certain group of guys who had gone through these stops along the way with you?
ER: We were, at that time, among the very first troops to be sent to the Philippines to increase the size of the forces there, and that's why we had not received our basic training prior to leaving ... the US, and we had a group, I don't remember exactly how many. But I was amazed that I was assigned a stateroom along with another individual on this transport and we had a spiral staircase it went down into a fabulous dining area.
RE: We were served on white table clothes by Filipino waiters. I thought this was truly heaven.
MB: You thought this was not a bad decision at that point.
ER: Right, exactly.
MB: Now had you ever left, had you ever been out of Ohio prior to going through this journey?
ER: I had gone, no, not really. Of course, I lived adjacent to Indiana and traveled in Indiana and worked on my cousins' farms in Indiana prior to that.
MB: Okay, so now you are on the transport and how long do you think it took you to get to Honolulu?
ER: Approximately six days.
MB: Okay, and then when you got there what happened, Everett?
ER: Well, we weren't allowed off the ship. But the officers were, and we were a little bit disappointed in that, and, of course, we went along to Manila. When we got to Manila we were put on an inter-island boat and transported to the island of Corregidor.
MB: So you immediately went to Corregidor.
RE: Immediately went to Corregidor.
MB: Okay, what outfit were you with at that point?
ER: At that time we joined with Battery B of the 60th Coast Artillery Antiaircraft for the purpose of basic training. After we received our basic training, half of the Battery B original force integrated with a new battery that was formed, called Battery F, 60th Coast Artillery.
ER: Half of our raw recruits went and joined Battery B, and half of the raw recruits then remained in and assembled for Battery F.
ER: ... Consequently, the ratings were few and far between because the senior people who were there got the ratings.
MB: What were your first impressions of Corregidor?
ER: Well, it was, well, when we first arrived at the docks on Corregidor it was amazing to be greeted by some soldiers that was on the dock, and they started yelling "Suckers, suckers." [laughter] And so I was kind of appalled at that, I couldn't quite figure it out.
MB: Right, how did you find basic training?
ER: Basic training was [during] the hottest part of the year in the Philippines, hot and humid.
MB: Right, because it is now April.
ER: Well, it was the end of April, all of May, and into June. But we managed to go through that without a hitch and we, of course, completed all of that, and, later that summer, we received our new antiaircraft guns for that Battery.
MB: Then trained on that? Was that your job?
ER: We trained on Battery F out in the field. We had a field position where we trained.
MB: Now it is summer of 1941 and you are still ready for what's going to happen next.
ER: Exactly. We are doing maneuvers and pulling guard duty, and raising the flag on topside of Corregidor, occasionally, when we performed that guard duty, and we also, when MacArthur was called back to active duty, he came to Corregidor and reviewed the troops. We paraded for him at topside parade grounds.
MB: You were one of the troops that paraded for him?
MB: What did you think of what was going on there?
ER: Well, it was just a formality I thought, and I realized MacArthur was recalled to active duty.
ER: He had been an advisor, part of that to the Philippine government, in their reorganization of their military, so, I didn't dwell on that too much.
MB: Right. Had you been hearing about how the war was going in Europe? Had information gotten to the troops about the build up.
ER: Well, I always followed the news.
MB: Okay, even as a soldier?
ER: As a soldier, and I wrote home frequently to my friends, and also to my family, and I got news in that manner.
MB: In that way. What do you remember in the Fall of '41.
ER: In the Fall of '41, we continued to, we were scheduled to move to Bataan to set up our Battery position there. In the process of that, I was being trained to be in charge of a truck detail that we were going to need. Trucks, if we were going to move to Bataan, because we were a mobile unit, antiaircraft mobile unit.
ER: And I, of course, had gone for training on the island of Corregidor for that, and all of a sudden, we were told by our then Captain Glassburn, who had graduated West Point in 1932, that our orders had been changed. We were going to remain on the island of Corregidor, at topside, defending the twelve- inch coastal battery named Battery Chaney.
MB: You were pretty young, did the guys know how young you were? Did you continue telling them you were older?
ER: No one ever knew that I was only sixteen. In my position, I was excellent at blindfolded disassembling the Browning Automatic Rifle for instance, and so I automatically, I became a Browning Automatic man.
ER: As an infantryman at that point, although our main job was an artilleryman, I became a fuse range setter on our antiaircraft guns.
MB: So you did not assume that position of overseeing trucks.
ER: I did not. When we did not go to Bataan we had no need for trucks.
MB: Okay, okay.
ER: Because we were in a fixed field position.
MB: At that point, okay, so you then remained at Corregidor.
ER: At Corregidor.
MB: Do you remember when you first heard that Pearl Harbor had been hit?
ER: Well, I, all of a sudden, in the later part of November, one evening, Captain Glassburn came in and said, "We had to move out of our barracks on Middle-side. We are going to move into our field position. The Japanese," he said, "has left port. They are on the high seas with a contingency of battle ships, and so forth, and it's a possibility that they may be headed for the Philippines, so we must take up our field position at Battery Chaney and be prepared."
ER: So the end of November we moved to our field position. We were intense at that time.
MB: Okay, then what do you remember happening?
ER: Well, I remember listening to Roosevelt, who gave a speech with concern about the confrontation with Japan, and so forth, and I didn't think a whole lot about it. But I knew that, because of what our company commander had said, and knew what Roosevelt was expounding on, that things could develop, and it was kind of, we were kind of uncertain as to what was going to happen.
MB: Do you actually remember if they had a radio playing?
ER: We had radios, yeah, short-wave radios.
MB: Now bring us to December of '41.
ER: Well, we got up and all of a sudden we hear that Pearl Harbor had been bombed and we were shocked and we, of course, were expecting anything to happen in the Philippines and, shortly after that, some Japanese planes had bombed Cavite, the naval base at Cavite.
ER: And on their return trip they flew up the North Channel and the guys were out with rifles firing and so forth, and they were out of range of our antiaircraft guns so there was no need for us to fire.
ER: But things were kind of hectic and the guys went kind of, a little bit off the deep end, firing rifles at them, which didn't make any sense, really.
MB: And do you remember what your commander said? Did the alerts change, did you get on a higher status?
ER: We were on stand-by constantly, stop constantly. We were on, we were on. When you go on field position you are on constant alert.
MB: You are, okay.
MB: You heard about the bombing of the naval base. Did you hear about Clark Field at that point?
ER: Clark Field and Manila; we could see the smoke.
MB: Oh, you could, from where you were, okay.
ER: Yeah, we could see the smoke in the sky.
MB: Do you remember the first engagement of battle on Corregidor?
ER: Well, the first, they kind of evaded Corregidor, because they knew that we had an excellent antiaircraft defenses, and, of course, we were shocked that our planes were caught on the ground, and so forth.
ER: It was unbelievable, and so, anyway, we were really shocked, but the Japanese continued to evade Corregidor. They didn't fly over Corregidor until about December 28th, I think it was, was the first real bombing that we had.
MB: So if you were still at your stations for antiaircraft, what were you then doing when the invasion was happening? What were you doing during that time?
ER: In between?
ER: Well, we were preparing, digging trenches. We had a communications center that we had to prepare. It was just modifying our overall layout and our positions there, and we were digging permanent underground huts, as it were, to sleep in basically, and unfortunately for us, we never got a chance to use those underground huts. We had to sleep on the guns, in the gun pits with the guns.
MB: Right. You were just mentioning, Everett, what you were doing while Corregidor was being invaded.
MB: Then what happened next, as far as you were concerned?
ER: Well, on the 28th or 29th, I don't remember the exact date, anyway, the sirens blew and the planes started coming in from the China Sea, flying directly over Corregidor. Of course, we ran to the guns and started firing at these planes. The raid started at about 11:00 AM and lasted until about to 2:00 PM in the afternoon. Just constant sweeps back and forth, and they got a direct hit on our number three gun.
MB: They did.
ER: Yeah, killed some guys. Of course, we're on the high ground of Corregidor over-looking the China Sea.
ER: So, we're very vulnerable at that point, and so, we kept firing and, finally, when the cease fire was done, there was complete chaos, and so forth, and we started repairing the damage, and so forth.
MB: Had there been a lot of damage with those strikes?
ER: Well, it knocked one of our guns out, but, other than that, no major damage. So, the result of that damage, the following day, I was in the process of, a truck came, [the raid had] knocked our water supply out and everything, so we were going to get water. In the process, we were taking cables to the maintenance section, which was at topside and we had backed, pulled into drop our cables off in the maintenance section and we started to back away and all of a sudden, it was cloudy and overcast, all of a sudden, without warning, a load of bombs was dropped on top of this maintenance area and here I am, on the back of the truck, and it blew the tires off the truck and the guys that were walking along side, it killed them.
MB: Killed them.
ER: And so, but I stayed on the truck. I didn't get wounded, or anything, but the concussion was horrific, and so, anyway, I ended up walking back to the battery on Chaney Point and as I approached the battery the guys started yelling. They said, "We had heard that you'd been killed," and so forth. So I said, "No, not yet." [laughter] So that was a great relief.
MB: As '42 began, you went through December, this is when they started the air raids.
MB: And were there other ones that followed after that?
ER: We had what we called the G-2, the plane, the spotter for the Japanese, they'd fly around, and, another interesting thing, we had, I think, six P-40s on Bataan at that time.
ER: They would engage the Japanese Zeros, and then when they would run out of fuel they would circle the island of Corregidor for defense, for us to cover their butts. So, that happened quite frequently, until we lost, of course, we lost those.
ER: I think we ended up with one or two that didn't get shot down. And we were strafed occasionally by dive bombers coming in and strafing our position. I never forget this one time they were coming in, and all of a sudden, they start peeling off to strafe us.
ER: And I looked up and this Japanese, I could see him, with his goggles on, looking over the side, you know, of the plane, as he flew over our position.
MB: You can remember that.
ER: Yeah, and another time we shot down one of these planes and the Jap flyer bailed out, landed in the water over near Mariveles.
ER: And so shortly thereafter, here a Zero came in and it was gunning this guy, shooting at their own man in the water. They wanted to kill him.
MB: They didn't want him to get captured.
ER: They didn't want him captured, and I was just, I couldn't quite understand that.
MB: Right, it gave you an idea. Now what did the guys, when you would shoot down a plane, would there be cheers, would you be ...
ER: Well, I'll tell you a story. One evening, it was about dusk and there were two bombers that came from southern Luzon and flew mid-line across the island of Corregidor. Wrong thing for them to do because we had (?) coming from both directions up at them. We shot the wing off of one, and the other spiraled into the bay. We got them both, and you could actually hear, like he was in a big stadium, the cheers from Bataan. You could hear the guys from Bataan cheer us. Just, you know, gives you that gut feeling of real joy.
MB: That made you feel joyful.
ER: Oh, sure.
MB: At that point, your supply line, were you getting less food, were you starting to ...
ER: Well, our food rations were cut to two times a day. We ate in the morning and at night, and we always, our gun crews would have to rotate to eat. We would go up to the twelve-inch coastal battery for chow. You know, we had our cooks up there, so we would rotate one gun crew would go at a time and then come back, and then another crew would go. But we always had our guns manned in that fashion.
MB: So, how many hour shifts did you work then?
ER: We worked around the clock, twenty-four hours.
MB: You personally.
ER: Personally, you just stayed on the gun twenty-four hours a day.
MB: Okay, so continuing then, through '42, it continues to engage and battles would break out and, again, you were staying at Corregidor in your position.
ER: Right, constantly.
MB: Where were you when you first heard that Bataan had fallen?
ER: Well, I had, we had, you know, they tried to break the line on Bataan early on. I believe it was in March.
ER: And so the twelve-inch coastal battery at Chaney was firing to prevent that from happening. They had range to where they could stop that.
ER: Splitting our lines on Bataan. So they fired over us while we took cover. We couldn't stay in our positions because of the damage.
MB: The damage ...
ER: The concussion, and so forth, from those large coastal guns. Of course, they avoided the, you know, invasion by the Japanese fleet in (?). They tried to end the battle for Bataan early by doing that.
ER: But we put a stop to it by the fire power that we had.
ER: So, I remember the night of the 8th, it was just, you could see the fire power on Bataan, the artillery, the barrages, the lights, the flashes, and, just horrendous, and I thought to myself, "How long can they hold out with that?" And I was completely shocked to find out the following morning that they had surrendered. Of course, we tried our best by firing the large coastal batteries, start firing over to Bataan, and so forth.
ER: Some of the guys probably told you about these big shells coming over at them.
ER: As they were being marched out, we killed some of our own people, probably, during that time. But, I was under complete shock because Bataan, if you ever go to Bataan, they're high up, on the mountain.
ER: And we're down here in the bay, at a lower elevation.
ER: So we could envision them setting up their artillery pieces and just bombarding us with artillery.
ER: And unmercifully, and which, of course, happened.
ER: Just constant bombardment, and then bombing from the air, and so forth. So I just, it got so bad I just wanted to, I knew they probably would attempt to invade Corregidor, and so I wanted, foolishly, my aunt had sent me a little canvas New Testament Bible.
ER: She was a missionary and had sent that to me a few months before, and so I knew, eventually, I was going to have to fight a hand-to-hand combat detail, so, what I did was I dug a hole, because things were so, the shrapnel had cut down all the foliage, just leveled the foliage.
ER: And so, anyway, I dug a hole, and with a wooden box and I put a clean uniform in there and put my bible in a shirt pocket, because I wanted, whatever ridiculous reason, I wanted to go into battle with a clean uniform. Can you imagine?
MB: That's what you were thinking of at the time, that you would go out with a ...
ER: So, anyway, I did that, and, low and behold, they caved our trenches in, and all tha,t and this one night, the evening of May 5th, the Captain came to me and said, "Everett, if you go down and help clear those trenches, I'll give you a night off. You can come up to Battery Chaney and sleep." Well, that was a reward because I had never been able to do that before.
ER: And get, and be out of danger and be able to sleep soundly. You know, it was really something. So I was in the process of shoveling, and digging, and clearing trenches that had been caved-in by the shell fire. So, lo and behold, about 1:00 AM in the morning the order came that we were to abandon our positions, that the Japanese had landed on the end of the island and things [looked] rather grim. We were to head for a position at middle-side, because they thought the Japanese were going to come up what they called James Ravine, which was, it had a sea area of about one thousand feet, and they thought the Japanese were going to try to come up that ravine and split and cut off the line, which was on the east end of the island. So, anyway, we move out and go down the golden stairs down to middle-side, and the engineering department had dug a tunnel down there. It was real primitive. So we holed up in this tunnel at middle-side, backing up the Marines that was guarding this James Ravine area, and so we're there and I got my BAR and my hand grenades, because a BAR man carries hand grenades as well.
ER: And so, expecting to go into battle, and I could hear all the telephones they had there, "For god's sake guys, send us men. Give us some men on the end of the island, we need more men."
ER: So I thought, "Well, hell, we're going to have to go down there and be a part of that." Well, ... we stayed there until in the morning hours of May 6th, and, finally, the Major come in and said, "Wainwright decided he was going to surrender the island."
MB: General Wainwright said this?
ER: Yes. So, anyway, they ordered us to destroy all of our guns and so forth, and I put my BAR, I broke it up the best I could and put it behind this bridge where they wouldn't find it, and hand grenades, and so forth. So, we waited there that afternoon, and, finally come, nightfall came and we stayed then in the tunnel and the following morning the Japanese came to the area where we were and strip searched us and took watches and whatever valuables we had.
MB: So that was the first time you actually were then ... in captivity.
ER: Were engaged with the Japanese. Then they forced marched us down to Malinta Tunnel, down to the west end of Malinta Tunnel, and we were housed on the side of the hill there, and it wasn't long until General Wainwright was brought out of the tunnel with two Japanese officers.
ER: Wainwright, I was within forty foot of Wainwright, I suppose.
ER: And I looked at Wainwright and he had, kind of had his head hanging down, and I looked and you could see tears on his cheeks.
MB: Everett, what was the reaction of the men to Wainwright's decision? What did they think? What were you thinking?
ER: Well, you know, on May 6th, prior to that, Wainwright went to Bataan and tried to negotiate with Koma and he only wanted to surrender Corregidor, and Koma told him, sent him back to Corregidor and told him to think about it. He wanted all of the Philippines surrendered. He said if he [Wainwright] didn't do that, he [Koma] was going to kill everybody on Corregidor, end up with an all out slaughter on Corregidor. Well, I didn't know all of this at the time. Of course, they didn't tell me what the hell they were doing, you know, or thinking. But, I just felt that, I just felt that, basically, that he realized that he wanted to save us from being slaughtered.
MB: Save the lives of the men that he had.
ER: Save the lives of the men on Corregidor.
ER: So, anyway, after, on this deal with Wainwright, marching, being marched out, then they forced us at the entrance to the west end of the tunnel to pose. They had cameras there rolling, they wanted us to raise our hands in a formal surrender. Well, I didn't raise my hands, and one of the guards came up with a fixed bayonet and he cut my dog tags off and they fell to the ground. There are pictures of me in this PR deal that's in the museums, and all that. You can pick me out, people here have seen them, and I was in, as a result of that, I was in a complete state of shock, because I thought he was going to run a bayonet through me.
ER: Okay, so, anyway, I'm in a state of shock, so I don't know. We start walking then. Evidently, I walk through the tunnel, but I blanked out, I can't remember how I got, but I had to have walked through the tunnel, where the hospital was, because when I got to the east end I remember on the road-way seeing rails embedded into the pavement there and the Japanese tank up against that tank barricade, and then, beyond that, I started seeing bodies. You couldn't look twenty-five foot in any direction without seeing a dead body.
MB: American soldiers?
ER: One guy was holding a Tommy machine gun with half his head blown off.
ER: They were all bloated from, the stench, from May 6th, in the hot sun, and so forth. It was a shocker and it was sickening, and then we were taken down to the 92nd garage area, corralled down there. No food, no provisions for food, or water.
MB: So you started by seeing the sadness on Wainwright's face, and then having your first real face-to-face confrontation with a Japanese soldier who cut your dog tag off.
MB: And then on your first march seeing the dead on the side of the road, that must have been a lot for a seventeen year old.
ER: Right up to the tunnel, I mean those guys fought right to the headquarters.
ER: On the east end. I didn't realize they had come that close.
MB: That close before the surrender. That's an awful lot for a seventeen year old at that point you were. And then where were you brought?
ER: We were taken then down to what they called ninety-second garage area which was an old hangar area for the planes that were flying in, and corralled.
ER: Now, what I couldn't figure out, old Colonel Bunker who had graduated with MacArthur in 1902 at West Point, he was an athlete. I don't know if you heard that story or not. But anyway, MacArthur was a little jealous of old Bunker, because Bunker was a good athlete and, of course, MacArthur was a dud when it came to that sort of thing. So, anyway, I get down there on this concrete slab and here old Colonel Bunker is head to head with me laying on this slab. "What the hell is he doing down here."
ER: You know, you'd think he'd be somewhere else.
MB: Some other status, right.
ER: So anyway, we're laying there, and everybody is bitching about, blaming the officers for our surrender and all this horrible, just chewing fat right and left.
ER: And old Bunker stood up, he said, "Look guys," he said, "If we don't all stick together there won't be one of us to walk out of here alive." That's the way he spoke. So anyway, I don't know what happened to him. A couple days later he left, I don't know if they come and got him, or what. But he never reported to me. [laughter]
MB: Did that quiet the annoyance?
ER: Oh, yeah. They shut right up.
ER: We had one water spigot. You'd stand in line forever to get a drink of water.
ER: No provisions to feed you. Catchers catch can. It was just complete turmoil. I think in any future war, or situation like that, somebody should take charge and see that there is some form of orderliness that would kind of prepare for food or water or what have you.
MB: So where did you and the other guys turn to on the American side for direction or who to follow?
ER: We didn't have any direction.
MB: You didn't have any.
ER: We didn't have any direction at all. It was dog-eat-dog, and that is the best way you can phrase it. And so we stayed there for a period of time, a few days, and then we were taken one morning, lined up on the South Road to, I had no idea what we were doing, but eventually we boarded an old freighter in the south channel and we all met the ship over night and then the following morning they pulled anchor and headed toward Manila.
ER: So when we got to Manila they threw rope nets down over the side and we climbed down these rope nets in to barges.
ER: Then the barges headed for shore. Well before we got to shore they dumped us in the water, and some of the guys were over their head and a few of them drowned, but most of us made it a shore. And so then we marched over to Dewey Boulevard and the streets were lined with Filipinos and the Japanese were on horseback riding up and down checking and going to take care of whoever got out of line.
ER: So we're marching down and I look over to the median and here is old Colonel Bunker all slumped over in the median. And I thought, "Well, he's dead, he's gone." So later I found out from a friend of mine who shared the stateroom with me on the Republic going to the Philippines that Bunker had made it to Formosa and he died in the spring of '43 on Formosa. So he made it to Formosa and died there. But anyway, we ended up spending one night at, I slept on the ground, at Bilibid.
ER: And the following morning we were marched to the, no food, I got no food. Okay.
MB: At that point no food. Right.
ER: And so the next morning we go to the train station there in to a box car and the damn doors close. The heat was horrendous.
MB: Very hot.
ER: Yes, and some of the guys, a couple of the guys died, and suffocation.
ER: And they'd urinated and everything, right, you know, in the car.
MB: Standing up, right.
ER: Just like animals going to market. So then we finally get to Cabanatuan and it's overcast and raining and we're in this barbed wire enclosure deal, and they got a few pots that they're cooking rice on, but again it is complete chaos. No organization.
MB: No organization right.
ER: And who ever got what got it, and the other guys left.
MB: At this point were you separated from your unit was it just?
ER: Oh yeah. It's all mix mash. That's another problem. If you ever do that again, you should stay as a unit together.
MB: Now Everett, you stayed one night at Bilibid then went to Cabanatuan ...
ER: Raining, it was raining, we were soaking wet in this like an enclosure, a barbed wire enclosure out in the open. I got no rice again.
MB: And where were you assigned in terms of Cabanatuan, One or Two?
ER: No, I ended up the following morning, we started marching again.
MB: Oh, okay.
ER: And we went down this gravel road, we went past where One was, I didn't even know One existed, but I went on down to Three. Now, I had no water and the caribou hoofs from the rain and from the soft mud and muck had made indentations along the road, but what are you going to do? I reached down and, of course, got some water, out of that damn muddy crap. And, of course, it saved me. But, of course today I'm suffering from Kidney problems, but.
MB: Right, from the water. Did you have any trouble with, at that point, were your shoes okay?
ER: I had shoes on.
MB: You had shoes on.
ER: I had one, the only thing I had was the clothes on my back. Nothing, no baggage at all.
MB: Okay. Then where did you march to?
ER: We marched to Camp Three which is about twenty kilometers past Camp One, down that gravel road. It was a gravel road back in those days. Then this was an old Philippine Army camp that had been built out of bamboo, hutched roofs, and so forth. The sleeping quarters were bamboo that had been slit in half and that's how the bays were. Of course, again, the rice was cooked, we got something to eat there. But it was mushy rice, very little, and I had jaundice, I had night blindness, a whole, your body goes through a whole transition when you're starving. My mouth was watering and just ...
MB: At that point Everett how much weight had you lost. What were you down to?
ER: I don't really know, but I lost weight. I never really got a chance to check. But there of course, we waited there, not much doing. Some of the guys went out on detail but I never went out on a detail.
MB: You didn't want to, or they didn't select you?
ER: They never did ask me to go, and I didn't volunteer.
ER: So they asked what profession you did in civilian life.
ER: So I thought to myself, I put down cook, I might get next to some food, so I put down cook. So anyway, of course I didn't get the job, didn't get near the food.
MB: Right. It was good thinking though.
ER: Yeah. So anyway, we stayed there until horrible guys dying right and left, you know, from starvation. Burial details every day.
MB: Sure. What did you do during the day-time, since you weren't on any work details?
ER: Just socialize.
ER: Just try to interact with other people, walk within the camp compound, and that sort of thing.
MB: At that point had the illnesses you had before, the jaundice, did that start to go away?
ER: No, no. It never left, and I had wounds, from the battle, that I had received earlier on, too. I had been wounded twice. Couldn't get my back to heal. My back was infected from these wounds.
ER: But I just was miserable, and another thing, the guys who would try to escape, or try to buy food from the Filipinos for instance, they would get those guys and torture them. I had to witness that. They made them dig their own graves and then we had to watch them be shot.
MB: You saw that?
ER: I saw that.
MB: Did that influence you as far as your thoughts of escape?
ER: Well, when they came out with, well, they put us in what they called "bloodhound groups," in tens. If one guy escaped out of the ten they would shoot, they threatened to shoot the other nine, or what have you, and that happened on some of the work details. But I never knew that happening in Camp Three. In early September, of course, I had no idea, they called your name, or whatever, and we lined up, again, and were marched back to Cabanatuan. This was in early October now, of 1942, and we were marched back to Cabanatuan and put on a train and traveled back then to Pier Seven in Manila.
ER: We were there overnight, and the following day, it was actually October the 8th. The Japanese were all lined up with the remains; they had a ribbon around their neck with a little box, here, with the remains of deceased Japanese soldiers that had been cremated.
ER: So they board this ship, that we're about to get on, ahead of us and they go mid-ship.
ER: Some Japanese soldiers. So I get on board and I'm up front, on the front part of the ship.
ER: I can't think of the name, I have a mental block here.
MB: That's okay.
ER: I stayed pretty much on top side, because down in the hold you couldn't lay down, they were like sardines. We had two thousand guys. Two thousand guys on the ship. The Totori Maru.
MB: Totori Maru.
MB: What did you think when you were leaving Cabanatuan? Did you think this is going to get better, or this is going to get worse? Did you have any idea what was going to happen?
ER: I was just, then, I was a zombie, basically. I had no idea. I didn't know whether they were going to take us out and kill us, or whether we were going to do this, or do that. They never told you what you were going to do. I just was following the crowd. So we get on this ship, and we head out, and about a day's run out of Manila the guys started screaming, you know, "Look," and you look out and you can see the waves and these damn torpedoes coming at the ship. We were the last ship in the convoy, on the tail end.
ER: ... So, anyway, one of the torpedoes went aft and one went, I understand, under the ship. Then the Japanese destroyers that were there started circling and dropping depth charges, and so forth. Then we ended up going on to Taipei, Formosa. We get off the ship there on the dock and they hose us down with fire hoses.
ER: Then, after a while, we get back on the ship. Then the ship leaves and goes up into a cove about a day's run out of Taipei.
ER: We lay up there for about a week, colder than the dickens.
MB: Staying on the ship.
ER: Staying on the ship. Guys dying.
MB: You're still on top side.
ER: Still top side. I went down the hold a couple times, but I walked down there and they were so close, just like cattle at market.
ER: Some guy crapped all over me, okay, just couldn't hold it, I guess, and I made up my mind I wanted no more of that. I went back up top side and stayed up there, but it just. We got up there and, one day, we went back to Taipei, one day's run back to Taipei, and then, all of a sudden, after going there they headed out to sea, and we ended up in Pusan, Korea.
MB: You went to Korea, okay.
ER: Yeah, so sixteen hundred guys got off in Pusan, Korea, and my ears was infected, my back wounds had not healed.
ER: I was just feeling miserable. I started feeling sorry for myself about that time, and one of guys out of my outfit, I was saying, "If I had used better judgment I wouldn't be in this position," you know that sort of thing.
MB: You started to think about what could ...
ER: You think about it, and he said, "Look, Everett," I was red-headed then, he said, "Look, Red"
MB: That was your nickname?
ER: Yeah. He said, "You're here, let's just make the best of it." So, I shut up, and I never complained after that. So, anyway, we ended up then, the sixteen hundred got off and four hundred of us stayed on board ship. There was a colonel who remained on ship, but very few officers ever went to Japan, early on.
ER: So he got up, after we left Pusan, Korea, cold, miserable, and he said, "Look, I know you have been lied to, you've been cheated, you have been promised this, you have been promised that, but, I tell you, if you stick with me I will see that everything is made right. Just follow me."
MB: Okay, he assumed leadership, and somebody to look at.
ER: Well, he made the statement; he never followed through. So, anyway, we ended up pulling into Osaka harbor on November 11, 1942. We were the first ones to leave the Philippines for Japan, for slave labor, from the Philippines.
ER: The guys from Guam and Wake were already there.
ER: So, anyway, we could get off the ship, it was on the dock there. I didn't realize it but three hundred of them went to the Camp Kawasaki out of our group, and about a hundred of us, or so, ended up in Osaka Camp One, which was called the Headquarters Camp, on the waterfront area of Osaka.
MB: Do you know how these decisions were made? Did you wonder?
ER: I have no idea. I just followed the crowd.
MB: You ended up in Osaka One.
ER: Osaka One, Headquarters Camp, and about fifty, or so, ended up going to Yokahoma in the shipyards. I didn't know all these details until later years, you know.
ER: So we get to this camp that had just been built, Osaka Camp One. Now, this also was the camp that held about five hundred British, but they were in an old camp and we were put in this new section and then, later, they closed the old section and brought the Brits, they increased the size of the camp we were in, and brought the Brits over with us.
MB: They became part of your area.
ER: Yeah. We worked together, work details, and everything, together all the time. Then we unloaded ships and the conditions were somewhat better. We had rooms. We had seventy-two men to a room. There was three wooden shelves. If you walked in, there's a center area, there were shelves on the left and shelves on the right, and they were three tiers high.
MB: How were you treated by the guards there?
ER: Cruel, never ever communicated in a cordial way. It was always harsh, bam-bashing, and that sort of thing. A few of these guys say they had different experiences, but I never saw it.
MB: The work details there were unloading ships.
ER: Unloading ships and the barges. Then, the barges would come to the dock area, unloading from barges into warehouses.
ER: Then, occasionally, we would work other details rarely, well, we would unload, while we would work in the steel mill, occasionally, very rarely, and, occasionally, work on an army lumberyard detail, and that was a harsh detail.
MB: That was harder.
ER: Harsh. One time I was feeling rather blue, in the spring of '44, I wasn't feeling good and it was spring and this little Japanese honcho was along side of me, and there were some Japanese planes, overhead flying, doing maneuvers.
ER: He points up and he's telling me how great these planes were, and I said to him, "It won't be long, the Americans will be over here and they'll shoot every damn one of them out of the sky." Well, he picked up a two-by-four and he floored me. Boy, he hit me across the back, nearly broke my back, and that was the last time I ever made such a comment. There was another detail that we had, oh, we always tried to sabotage whatever we could sabotage, of course, try to do it on the sly.
ER: Another time we were ordered to load some field artillery pieces onto a barge. It was a group of about twenty of us on this detail, and we all said, "Hell, no, we're not going to load any damn guns onto a barge that's going to kill our own people." So we flat out refused to load up these guns onto that barge.
MB: Looking back at that, and realizing that defiance could have meant death, what do you think that was about? Do you think that was your way of contributing to the war?
ER: That was a way of us getting satisfaction, and giving us another day. They beat the hell out of us. They beat us, you might not believe it, but they beat us all day long. "You do this," they do it in their own language. They kept threatening us. They beat the hell out of us. Finally, we went back into camp about an hour later than we normally would go that evening. We didn't load the damn guns.
MB: Kept your ground. Now, Everett, did you learn the language?
ER: I learned what I had to.
MB: What you had to, okay, and tell me more about the sabotage, were there other times that you were defiant?
ER: Well, another time, I'll tell you, we were unloading the ship of pig iron. We made up our mind, when they dump this pig iron in, with a magnet it goes like so, if you can picture that, in the hold of the ship. They've got four nets. So we made up our mind that we were going to undermine this whole stack of pig iron. Somehow break this damn steam wrench, which is almost impossible to do it.
MB: Did you talk together, to each other?
ER: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. You don't do it on your own.
ER: So we got together and we decided when we got enough pig iron out of this hold, this net would pull up against this stack, that we would by-pass this one net and just keep piling pig iron on, and pig iron on, and so we would send these other three nets up and keep this other one down. Finally, this winch operator decided, this Japanese was giving the signals up on top side, decided he, come hell or high water, he was going to pull that net up out of there. Of course, it was impossible for him to do it, because he was pulling against that whole stack. [Editors note: pig iron is raw iron, the immediate product of smelting iron ore with coke and limestone in a blast furnace.]
MB: Oh, you're right.
ER: He finally ended up with the damn mast of the ship just breaking down, just toppled right over. But we ended up about, I don't know, a month later, the ship appeared out in the harbor again, we had to finish unloading it, but at least we delayed it for about a month.
MB: But there was a lot of satisfaction.
ER: Oh, yeah, we got a big kick out of it.
MB: Is it your view that the Japanese didn't, or couldn't figure the Americans out? That they would somehow not want to sabotage or do those things?
ER: Well, I used to get a kick out of telling them, "How in the world do you expect to win the war with these antiquated motors that you use? These techniques?" I said, I'd always kid them, "In America this is all done with automation." Yeah, that's how you get at them. You could do that without making them mad, you see.
MB: That was the secret; it's a great skill, and were they, in fact, telling you propaganda about how the war was going? You'll eventually be in there.
ER: Oh, yeah, they always did that. They always tell you, "We're going to kill Roosevelt."
ER: So, anyway, this went on and, like I said, we had problems. One guy, who was in the navy on this lumber detail, he had, I don't know if you have ever seen a big spread-eagle tattoo with an American flag, have you ever seen one of those?
MB: Yeah, sure.
ER: Well, this guy's name was, named (Lenheart?), and he had one of those. So this lumber detail was run by the army. Lenheart, it was warm weather and he decided to take his shirt off, and he had this big tattoo, this big spread-eagle, you know. This Japanese sergeant that was out there in control, saw that and he became infuriated, and he put his head down and he rammed old Lenheart, knocked him to the ground. Then he would run back and he would make another charge at him and knock him to the ground. Finally Lenheart ran and put his shirt on. [laughter] But that's some of the funny, we laughed over that, that was so damned funny.
MB: At that point, you had been captive for a while, you don't know how things are going, there are times when you had dark moments of wondering whether or not you could survive. How did you find yourself able to get up the next day and do it again?
ER: Well, you just kept hoping for a brighter tomorrow. I think we all felt that, eventually, we kept saying to ourselves, "Golden Gate, for sure in '44" okay.
ER: And that past, oh, man, "Golden Gate in '48." [laughter]
MB: Anything to look forward to.
ER: Anything to look and advance yourself. We had all sorts of fun. In this camp we were in, they had merchant seamen, that the Germans had sunk, that would be brought there and be turned in. We didn't have very many of them, I'd say probably thirty merchant seamen. But one guy in particular, he was on a tanker from Louisiana, he got hit by a piece of shrapnel when they sunk his ship. Hit him right here, flattened his nose, put out one eye. He looked horrible. I don't know how in the world he ever survived that. But he'd get down and play Submachine Gun Kelly [machine gun sounds]. You know, we'd get all kinds of laughs, laugh about that, and we always had nicknames for people. A guy flew a plane, he was a "P-40." If a guy was well educated, we called him "school-boy."
MB: School-boy, right.
ER: And, of course, me, with red hair, "Red," and we had nicknames for everybody.
MB: Did the guys try, even though you were competing for some resources, did you also try to look after each other, and take care of each other, or was it still every man for himself?
ER: No, every man for himself, and people would die right in the barracks.
ER: We had two marines in the barracks. I never will forget, a big tall guy, he must have been six-two, six-three, six-four, and he come down with pneumonia, and he was hallucinating, and this would have been in the spring of '44, and he was hallucinating, and he says, he was talking to his mother, he said, "Mom, the war is over, I'm going to be home soon," and so forth. He died the next day, right in his spot. Other guys just swelled up for no apparent reason and died, from malnutrition.
MB: Sure. Did some folks actually lose the will to live, and kill themselves, or just give up?
ER: Well, in combat I had my buddy kill himself, and this was before we became POWs. Other guys, I hate to kind of digress from the story.
ER: But a guy by the name of Harold Rosen, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, was a real staunch Catholic. We were getting ready to go to chow, along this relief system for gun pits.
ER: I heard this shot fired, and he was in the machine guns, between the two gun pits, and I started yelling at him, you know, giving him hell, because I thought he was cleaning his gun and accidentally fired a round. So I run up there and look and here he held a .45 up against his heart and killed himself. This was after Bataan fell, and another guy from my gun ended up, when the planes started coming in, he could not take it anymore. He was from Georgia, he started running on top of the ground, just running for no apparent reason, and this sergeant of ours, in charge of our gun, he pulled out a .45 and was going to shoot him in the back, and we grabbed him and wouldn't let him shoot him. But then he came back and we talked to him and reasoned with him and he was okay after that.
ER: Then another guy, running for cover, run over the big gun pit and killed himself. You know, we had different situations.
MB: There were moments of camaraderie though, I assume, talking ...
ER: We didn't knife one another, you know what I mean, and we didn't steal from one another.
ER: Because that was a no-no.
ER: But when we were in this camp with, my back was infected, I couldn't get the damn thing to heal, and this guy, Lenheart, I told you about with the spread-eagle, he said, he's dead now, but, a few years ago, he said to me, "Everett, I don't know how in the hell you survived, I thought for sure you were going to die with that back."
MB: So you were getting no medicine?
ER: No medicine, no medical attention. But the sad part of it was, I'd take my shirt off and it would be that puss [coming] out of my wounds, in my clothes and the damn rats would come and eat my clothes up. See, that's what irritated me more than anything.
MB: Did you ever try to catch any of those rats for food?
ER: No, some of the guys did, yeah, but I never had that urge. We did eat snakes on this lumber detail I was telling you about. We'd catch snakes, and there were gardens out from this lumberyard and when we could, we always had guards, we would sneak through there and get some of these vegetables, too.
MB: Hide it where back?
ER: Hide it back, on our person, and try to get back in camp.
MB: So, how long did you remain in this camp for?
ER: Well, I wanted to get to a point. Ours was a headquarters camp.
ER: And in this headquarters camp the Red Cross food parcels were coming into this camp and they had a storeroom.
ER: Okay. In the storeroom, our room was here and the storeroom was here, and in back of the storeroom was the benjo, the toilets, and here was the fence for the camp, and so a group of eight of us. The Japanese were helping themselves to the Red Cross food parcels and not giving them to us. You've heard this story before I'm sure. They utilized our supplies. So a group of eight of us got together and decided we were going to get what was rightfully ours.
ER: So, anyway, we drew straws and I drew the short straw, which meant I was the guy who had to take the greatest risk, okay, and in this camp, we were in this heavily militarized zone, they required us to stand guard in each room every night from about 7:00 PM until the work detail the following morning.
ER: Nobody was allowed out of the room, only one man at a time.
ER: So we had a guy that, I don't remember which guy made the key, but one guy was able to make a key for that lock on that storeroom. So this one night I ended up, it was in the summer of 1944, in August. This guy stood guard that had the key. I replaced him as guard. He went around unlocked the storeroom door and then came back, and, then I went around and got in the storeroom. I got two food parcels, little parcels, and got them in the toilets. I no sooner did that and I heard these damn shoes that the Japanese wore and you could hear them coming for a mile.
MB: You could hear them coming, sure.
ER: They come, on the run, and they're out between the storeroom and me and the benjo, the toilet. I said, "What do I do now? They're going to kill me for sure. They're gonna shoot me, you know, on the spot." So while they were, there was five of them, together.
MB: Five guards.
ER: Yeah, and they were chattering and so forth. While they were chattering, I just eased myself out and down the walkway, between the fence and the building, and managed to get near the end and I could hear them coming after me.
MB: Coming after you.
ER: Coming after me. They realized that somebody had made a move. So I get back to the room and get to my place where I was laying down. They came to the room, they knew what room I came in.
ER: And they came there and they wanted the guy who was standing guard to tell them who came in. They beat him to a pulp. of course he wouldn't tell them.
MB: He wouldn't tell them.
ER: They just beat him. He was bleeding and black eyes, just unmerciful beating. So, anyway, the following morning they cut all the food off to my group. So this went on for about three days. These guys weren't getting fed. Imagine, going three days without food and having to work.
MB: Were you worried about being turned in? They knew who it was.
ER: Oh, no. We didn't operate that way. But I felt terrible about it. I thought, "I got to get these guys fed." So, this chief boatswain's mate, who was captured on Guam, was sharing, he never went on work details. He was kind of working in cahoots, to a certain extent, with these Japanese. He was trying to play both angles, and he was sharing these supplies on the Q.T. with the Japanese, okay, so he was making out like a bandit. So anyway, I go to him and I said, "Look, it's me." I knew if I engaged the guy who was on the watch, who got the penalty out of it, and me that the chances of them killing both of us was less than just one guy.
ER: So I said to him, "Do whatever you have to do, but these guys have to get fed. But for God's sake don't turn us over to the Japanese."
ER: So the following morning we go to fall out for work detail and he fingers both of us in the line. Of course, the Japs take us in and start working us over, beat hell out of us. We were made to hold an office chair by its hind legs over our heads and beat us every time we lowered it. Then, finally, they put us, tied us down to a bench and pumped water in our lungs. You know, that water torture that you heard of. Then they started forcing us to stand at attention in front of the main gate where these guards were.
MB: Were they doing it for punishment or did they want information out of you?
ER: Well, they kept asking questions, but we didn't have anything to tell them. I don't know what the reason was, but I feel it was an attempt to steal food, we didn't get away with it, so, you know. But, anyway, this went on. I started standing at attention on Tuesday morning and I finally, I can remember the Japanese camp commander would walk through this guard post in the main gate, where there was usually four or five guards, okay, always.
ER: So he was coming through for the evening muster and I can remember the guards being called to attention but I was a zombie. No food or no water from Tuesday morning until Sunday night and I was just barely making it, okay.
ER: So I passed out, and when I passed out, I don't know what happened, but I ended up among the British soldiers. Two British soldiers had rushed in and picked me up and carried me back to their quarters. They defied the Japanese. They would not turn me back over to the Japanese. But, the following morning, they came back and said, "We're going to get him."
ER: So, with the Brits, made them promise they would start feeding me and giving me some water, so they agreed to that. So, they started giving me a little bit of water and a little bit of rice, and then we started standing at attention from just before the work details would leave in the morning until they would return at night, in front of this main gate guard detail. It went on for a total of, from the time it started to the end, it was twenty-eight days.
MB: Twenty-eight days.
ER: Yeah, and then one morning they decided, they came and they tied our hands behind our back, like so, and two guards with rifles started marching us. We didn't know where we were going but we started marching and we ended up across town at a Japanese headquarters in Osaka, Japan. The building is still standing, because I was back there last January.
MB: So you and the watch guy were both marched there.
ER: We were both marched there. So there, we got there and we went before three Japanese judges. We had an interrupter and I told the reason for doing this was because the Japanese were helping themselves to supplies that were actually sent for us.
MB: From the Red Cross.
ER: Right. I explained all that to them. But, anyway, they kept on questioning me, and so forth, but they could care less. It didn't mean anything. The one guy always directed his question at me. "Well, who do you think who's going to win the war?" And I said, I felt like saying, "You bastards aren't," you know, but I didn't dare. That would have been death.
ER: So I said, "Well, I'm an American and it's only natural for me, being an American, to think the Americans are going to win." That's how I responded. It went over okay.
ER: From there, they then put handcuffs, actual handcuffs, on us and put those, you've seen those straw blinders that they put on guys? I thought, "Oh shit, they're going to kill us." Because that was the sign of death.
MB: That's what you thought was coming next.
ER: Oh, yeah, so anyway, they put that on us and we started being marched and walking, didn't know where we were going, we were being led, and, finally, ended up on what appeared to be a train. Still in doubt as to what was going to happen to us. So we end up, the train stops, and we ended up, when the hood was removed, inside an administrative section of a prison, Osaka Sakai Prison.
MB: A prison, okay.
ER: We were put in individual solitary cells, and this was on September 18, 1944, and we stayed there. You know, the cell had no running water, solid walls, the front door of the cell was solid wood, about two inches, three inches thick, with a screen flap, like so, with a bunch of perforated holes, they could look in, see what you were doing in the cell. They had the little trap door over on one side where they would, with a snap deal on it, they could shove through whatever, water, whatever they wanted to give you and a little wooden pail for a toilet, and a concrete floor. One real thin blanket, no shoes, but like a pajama set that was red with a tie waist band. No underclothing, no socks. Nothing like that.
MB: How long were you in solitary confinement for?
ER: Well, the winter. I wanted to explain to you, it was colder than hell there. No heat, or anything like this. My hands froze and my feet froze in '45, January '45.
MB: You said you went in October.
ER: Well, I went there on September 18th, but in January it got real cold, my hands froze and my feet froze. I nearly lost my arm. ... We weren't allowed to exercise in the cells. You had to sit. There were no chairs, no beds, nothing, other than the floor.
MB: They never let you out? You were in there ...
ER: Now, they did let us out about once a month. So what happened was with this infection was, I knew I was going to die if I didn't get help. So I started lying down so when they opened the cell door, and they would kick me and tell me I was crazy, and so forth and so on. I said, "You know I didn't do anything." So finally, this one day, a guy spoke through the screen, I couldn't see him, in perfect English. He said, "What is your problem?" I said, "My hands are frozen and my feet are frozen. If I don't get help I'm going to die." So he called them, in Japanese, to the control center, to come up and unlock my cell, so when he saw me, the condition that I was in, he was the prison warden, okay.
ER: ... He ordered them to take me over to the first aid station. Now, there was snow on the ground, I'm barefoot.
MB: You're barefoot and you feet are already frozen.
ER: Already frozen. So I walked through the damn snow about a half a city block to get to this first aid station. Get over there and there is an old Japanese doctor about ninety years old.
ER: Ever see those old leather sofas with the (?)? Well, that's what he had, and they laid me back, like so, with my hands, like so, and two prisoners, Japanese prisoners, held me down while this old man cut open this hand, here, and scraped it and got the infection out. I squealed like a pig. Ma,n it was painful. So then they packed it with gauze and so forth, and I pointed to my feet because the skin was off my toes. So they dipped a swab and run across, like you'd run across on a piano piece, on my toes.
ER: So, I walked back through the snow.
MB: Now was your back still infected?
ER: My back had healed up, I think, had healed up.
MB: From September 18th to January, how did you pass the time if you weren't able to communicate, was that difficult?
ER: No, no reading material, nothing. I just kind of daydreamed, basically, and every morning I made it a practice, every morning I made it a practice to say the twenty-third psalm. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He preparest a table for me in the presence of my enemies. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, and they comfort me, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
MB: Okay, and that ritual gave you both comfort and the will to continue.
MB: Some would argue that solitary confinement was one of the harshest punishment that somebody can endure, along with everything else that you went through, so that was something you did every morning.
ER: Yeah, every morning, and it got me through, and when Roosevelt died they made the announcement over the sound system to all the prison, "Roosevelt sendai," which means Roosevelt's dead.
MB: Dead. Okay.
ER: And all I heard was, "Bonsai, bonsai, bonsai." They thought the war was over.
MB: You had no other contact with other prisoners.
ER: No, I didn't get into that with you, yet. We were permitted to exercise.
MB: Right, once a month.
ER: ... Once a month. There were five American POWs. There were two British and one Dutch. In addition to that, there were eight civilians that were in the import-export business in Japan.
ER: There were two Russians, two Germans, two Dutch, one Frenchman, and one guy who I could never figure out what country he was from, but these guys could all speak, fluent, about five or six different languages.
ER: They were brilliant. But they would be permitted to exercise when we were allowed to exercise. Now these guys were all in solitary, too.
MB: As well.
ER: Yeah, and so we would walk out in this prison yard, in a circle, and if we got caught talking they would shove us right back into the cells. But we always managed, because we only had one guard and he couldn't watch us all at the same time, and so they would communicate and we got updates on how the war was going through these guys.
MB: Being able to see someone must have been ...
ER: Oh, it was rewarding. Yeah, yeah, even though we were barefooted.
MB: Yes, and it was still winter.
ER: It was still winter, cold, and so it was real rewarding and the bathing was. They had three fifty-gallon drums, and, I think, I had, maybe got three baths all the time I was in there, but what they would do, now, you would strip off. You had these dirty clothes that you had worn forever.
ER: You would strip off and go bare-assed naked, walk down the cellblock to this place where they had fire pits. This is how crude it was. They had fire pits underneath each fifty-gallon drums, and the first drum you would actually climb in the drum. Now they had all these prisoners doing this. Lord only knows what you can catch from all this.
ER: Climb in that first drum, then you get soaked, then you would get out. Then they had a little wooden pail and you take the wooden pail and fill it with water and then you would splash and rub, and splash and rub.
ER: No soap, no towels, nothing. Then the final drum you would climb in for the final rinse. Then you would march back. Now that, I have pictures of all of this by the way.
ER: Yeah, the intelligence people collected in January of '46, when they investigated all of this. But it was amazing. Then you go back to your cell dripping wet and put the dirty clothes back on.
MB: Do you think that doing all that was a way to make you feel worse, or humiliate you, or they just didn't want to do much more then that?
ER: Well, they didn't want to do anymore than that. But it was a relief to get rinsed off.
MB: Sure, it felt good to do that.
ER: And it was hot, so, especially in the winter-time, it was rewarding.
MB: Now going back to the news that Roosevelt died and the Japanese people saying, "Bonsai, bonsai," but what were you thinking? Did that turn your thoughts towards it looking worse?
ER: It depressed me.
ER: Because, you know, going back and listening to his "fireside chats" I was always fascinated by this stuff, and, I always, he was a great orator in my book.
ER: ... So I enjoyed his talks, and I felt he was sincere and he was pulling us out of the Depression, with the help of Herbert Hoover I might add.
ER: Because Hoover had been some help in, later, he called him, he had sense enough to call upon Hoover to help him.
MB: How long did you remain, at that point, continuing in solitary confinement at this prison?
ER: Well I ended up there. All the way through. Oh, I might tell you, when they started bombing.
ER: Okay, this is going to bother you. When they started bombing, they would come and open my cell up. They would handcuff my hands behind my back, now, for what ever reason, that was the most helpless feeling I ever had.
ER: Because, imagine, if bombs hit your building and to be handcuffed and have the handcuffs behind your back.
MB: Right, feeling vulnerable.
MB: So you are handcuffed, there's bombing, and at this point, you've been feeling worse about things.
ER: And I saw these fighter planes, you know, in the back there, there was a small window, a barred window, about, oh, two foot by eighteen inches, okay.
ER: It was high up, open, I could look up to the sky, basically, and I saw these planes come over and they had the star with the slits. "Shit," I said, "That must be Russia." I never realized we had changed our insignia. [laughter]
MB: You didn't know what to think.
ER: Yeah, yeah, so that fascinated me after I found out the truth about all that.
MB: Right, right.
ER: And I just always amazed by that, and another time, oh, you'll get a kick out of this. They had a roll cart that they would roll down past these different cells when they would give you your food. They had the food ration from number one through seven. One being the largest and seven being the smallest. Well, I got a number five, which was not much, about where you see that water there. [Editor's note: Mr. Reamer points to a cup of water].
ER: That's it, twice a day.
MB: About four inches, three inches.
ER: And I was losing weight, like, I was nothing but bone.
MB: At that point.
ER: At that point, and so, anyway, this one day they failed to push that little trap door closed. I looked out and I saw all these other prisoners getting more food than what I was getting.
ER: So I went bonkers. I went mad. I got mad and I started pounding on that cell door. I was pounding on that cell door.
ER: The guards come rushing, and before they got there I threw what little bit of rice I had back through that trap door and it went on the walkway outside.
ER: So they come running and unlock my cell and threatened them. This probably would be in May of '45. I said, "You're starving me to death, and if you don't give me more food to where I can live, when the Americans come, they're going to, you're going to have to answer to them." That's what I told them.
MB: Pretty bold.
ER: Yeah, so anyway, he pulls me out of the damn cell, like that, grabs me. The guy had a sword, one of those short swords, not one of the big, long ones.
ER: He tapped me on the head with that damn thing. He made several passes over my head, like he was going to cut my head off.
MB: Right. You had been defiant and angry because other guards had given other prisoners more rice and you were upset. You were telling the story about them saying, "Not to worry," when you said, "The Americans will have to address you as to what their injustices were" and they said, "Don't worry, you're not going to live that long."
ER: Right, they said, "You won't live, we'll kill you first," and so they then shoved me back in the cell, just like you pushed me, back in the cell, and then slammed the door shut, and that was the last time I pulled that stunt. [laughter]
MB: Well, certainly, you can understand how, at some poin,t everybody would lose their judgment and get so angry that they would have to protest the injustice of what was going on.
ER: Sure, but this went on, of course, and I could hear the bombing, and that, but they never did bomb actually inside this prison.
ER: So, on August 22, 1945, I received the largest portion of rice, a huge amount of rice, and I was in the process of eating this rice when my cell door was unlocked and opened and the guard motioned for me to come out.
ER: I ignored him because I was hungry and I wanted to eat all of this rice.
MB: You finally had a good portion.
ER: Right, and so, finally, he came in and he pulled me out of my cell. By the way, I was in cell number thirteen.
ER: So when he pulled me out of the cell, I saw the other four Americans, I saw the two Brits, and the one Dutchman lined up, and I said to myself, "This is it, they are finally gonna kill us."
ER: They're going to kill us. So then we were marched up in front of the control center for the cell block and, behind the podium that was there, there was a Japanese flag in a framed picture-type situation and it had been turned with the face of the flag to the wall with the back of this frame structure outward, and I got a real good feeling that, something told me automatically that things were going to work out.
ER: Then we were taken up to a room where we met two high ranking Japanese officers with an interpreter, and all they said was, "The war is now over. We are now friends," and so, at that point, we were taken then back to the administration building in our dirty clothes, and that, and we were weighed and I weighed ninety-two pounds at that point.
ER: Then we got an old Japanese uniform and a pair of shoes. We were put on a truck with benches along side the bed of the truck and there was also a short bench with, up next to the cab of the truck.
ER: The four of us was on each side of the truck and the two Japanese officers were seated with their back to the cab of the truck overlooking the tailgate.
ER: I was on the backend, by the tailgate.
ER: So, Bradshaw, who was with me on this venture, was seated next to me and as we left the prison and driving down through the outskirts of Osaka, there were a few dead bodies along the road that had not been recovered. And there was maybe a piece of tent pulled over them and so forth and Bradshaw started pointing to these dead bodies and he kept yelling, "You bastards got what you deserved. You bastards got what you deserved." I'm, I was shocked, so I take my elbow and I jab at him real gently in his side and I kind of reached over and I said, "Look, Brad, we made it this far, don't screw it up now." They could have killed us. These guys were armed. They had their little pistols. So anyway, he finally shut up. Years later, well, we went back to the camp from where we had come, but our camp had been bombed and burned to the ground in March of 1945, so there were no Americans there, nobody there.
MB: Nobody there, right.
ER: So, anyway, we end up then trying, we're just on our own, freewheeling it, the two of us.
ER: So then we walk and find the train station and we heard that there were more Americans over in Kobe, Japan. So then we walked to this train station. As we entered the train station and got ready to get on the train, the Japanese civilians just split, like this, and stand back and start bowing to us as we enter onto the train. So we walk onto this train.
MB: How did that make you feel?
ER: Well, I felt good, but I wasn't over enthusiastic, because anything could happen at that point. You could get a fanatic in that group and he could have killed us, you know?
ER: So you're kind of reserved about what you do. So we get over to Kobe and join a group of guys from, other Americans were in old burned-out school building over there in Kobe.
ER: We were there a day or two and this Frenchman that was in solitary came up, knew we were there, picked me and Brad up, and took us down to his hacienda, down on the beach, and he was married to a Japanese and she cooked for us, and so forth, and so on.
MB: Oh, really?
ER: Yeah, and when the Americans came in, he knew that they came in, he had short wave radio and everything, he took us back to where we could be picked up by our people, and so on September the 6th, 1945, a small contingency came in and screened us, and so forth.
MB: So you were there for awhile, there, over a week?
ER: Yeah, right, exactly, and so, the guy, I never knew what country he was from, came and gave me a whole handful of yen. I still got some of the bills today. Five hundred yen notes, and so forth.
ER: So, anyway, they came in and screened us and, I guess they thought I was in bad shape, but, anyway, I ended up going to the hospital ship Marigold in Okahama Harbor.
ER: Stayed there for brief period of time and then I was put in an ambulance and driven to Asuki airbase, and put on a C-54 hospital plane and flown to Saipan.
ER: Then to Hickam Field and then from Hickam Field to Letterman General in San Francisco, and then from there I went to a hospital in Ohio, (?) General.
ER: Then I ended up in Battle Creek, Michigan with Percy Jones for a period of time.
MB: For convalescing.
ER: Yeah. I was there and took my terminal leave, and all of that, and ended up, finally, being discharged November 11, 1946.
MB: Now just a few more moments, if you wouldn't mind going back to when you first realized the war was over and you may be able to go home, do you remember what your thoughts were, when it first sank in that you could be free?
ER: Well it was great relief. I was enthused. When I flew, if you can appreciate this, when I left the States, I was in a stateroom, luxury style, going down toward the Golden Gate Bridge, now I'm flying back over, first class as it were. We had nurses, we had people taking care of me.
ER: I look out as I fly directly over the Golden Gate Bridge and I look over on the hillside, I look out the window of the plane, and I see on the hillside in white rock, "Welcome Home."
MB: You knew you had really come home.
ER: I knew that I had really made it, and my prayers all during that time was, "God, please don't leave me in this Godforsaken country."
ER: "If you see fit for me to die, make it be when I reach US soil."
MB: So landing was very special for you.
ER: Very special.
MB: Do you remember the first time you communicated with your family that you were safe?
ER: Well, I was permitted one phone call and I was thrilled about that, to talk to them, and I also had an Aunt that was a missionary in San Francisco. She was then in Ventura, California.
ER: They had a mission home in San Francisco, it was like a nun's home.
ER: Okay, for Catholics. She came up and she came and got me out of the hospital and said, "I want to cook you a good home-cooked meal." So she cooked me a good meal at this home that she was staying at.
ER: By the way, her husband was killed while building the Golden Gate Bridge.
MB: Okay, she was the one who gave you the bible.
ER: And she was the one who gave me the bible. Her name is Ida Hall Adenbury.
ER: She is buried in Ventura, California, in a cemetery there.
MB: So you are staying while you convalesce and then get discharged in December of '46.
ER: November 11th.
MB: November 11th, I'm sorry.
ER: November 11, 1946. It's odd that November 11th, I arrived in Japan and November 11th I get discharged, which is unusual.
MB: Or flying over the Golden gate Bridge, again, and not traveling under it. Then what did you do with your life?
ER: Well, I ended up getting married.
ER: I ended up, my first job was, of course, was just a normal job with National Steel. Later, I became a fabricator inspector for Strand Steel that built the quansom huts, and then after National Steel sold that division, I became a maintenance supervisor for National Steel, working in the open-hearth furnace area, the cold roll department, the blast furnace division, and that, and I worked that for a number of years, and then, I went to work for General Motors as a production supervisor. I, basically, was a troubleshooter for them. I'd go into different sections and departments, if they were having problems with manpower, and figure out what the problems were, correct them, and then I would be moved on to another section. I hated that job, because often I would be required to go on the second shift, production shift.
ER: To perform it. I was called on, like for instance, plant manager one time told me, called me into his office and said, "Everett, I have been threatened to be fired because our absentee problem is over, is over done," and he said, "If we were running like fifteen percent absenteeism in a plant with eight thousand employees," and they were only equipped to handle a ten percent factor. So anyway, I set up an absentee control program for him and then I monitored it, with the various supervisors in the plant to see if they were doing their jobs.
ER: And then I put them in the box if they weren't, so within two months I had everything down to about three percent.
ER: Everybody was happy and nobody got fired.
MB: Going back to the moment, to November 11th, when you get discharged you are a few months short of your twenty-second birthday, you're a relatively young man, how long did it take to get your body back to where you were not in any pain, or compromised?
ER: Oh, I had a lot of pain.
ER: I had liver problems from malnutrition.
ER: I had night blindness, couldn't see to drive. I shouldn't have been driving after dark. I nearly killed my family, later, on a couple of times from that, and I was carrying the amebic dysentary bug.
ER: For a couple of years, they didn't realize I was still carrying it. I had to go back. I will explain to you, I had to go back to Fort Sheridan, Illinois to pick up my discharge because I had a lot of terminal leave accumulated. I had not been on leave from the military from February of 1941 through this, through the summer of 1946, okay. So I had a lot of leave accumulated. So anyway, I just, I had to go to Fort Sheridan to pick up my discharge and, of course, you get a complete medical when you do this. So I wasn't concerned about medals, I wasn't concerned about disability, I knew nothing. I was just happy to be alive. I knew of no benefits that I was entitled to.
MB: Nor were you told any.
ER: Right, right. So this doctor who examined me, literally, took me by the hand over to a guy who was seated behind a desk and all he said to this man was, "This guy has been through hell. I want you to take care of him." I looked at him, "What are you talking about?" I had no idea of what he was talking about. So, anyway, about three months later I was called down to the VA and evaluated, and they found a number of things wrong. I didn't complain about anything.
ER: Of course, they awarded me eighty percent disability.
MB: Right then.
ER: Right then, so I got that, the day after my discharge it started, my disability, eighty percent. So I've have problems. I've had dreams, but in recent years I found that to alleviate a lot of these feelings that I've had, I need to lecture. So I have done umpteen lectures at schools. For instance, I have gone to the Cincinnati Police Academy and lectured to that group and I do it for church groups. Do it at Walton, Nevada, they have a history situation there that they want volunteers. So I have done that over the years. In fact, I have two scheduled after we leave here.
MB: So you find that therapeutic.
ER: It is therapeutic. We talk.
ER: ... I feel that our story needs to be told and the young people who listen are enthusiastic about hearing it.
MB: Absolutely. Now, some men, when they got back, actually wanted to continue in the service. Were your thoughts immediately to get out and get to be part of civilian life?
ER: I doubt that I could have with my disability.
MB: With your disability, at that point.
ER: But I had, I didn't think about it at the time and I wanted really to basically, to get on with my life in a normal fashion.
MB: Absolutely. How do you think, looking back, that this experience shaped the rest of your life?
ER: Well, I think it had made me a more understanding person, about life in general, the pitfalls of life, and to be a giving person rather than a taker.
MB: Okay. You have given us a lot today and we appreciate that. Is there anything else you would like to add before we close?
ER: Well, I'm real proud of our country, and I'm real proud of the people that came throughout the Pacific to rescue us. Because without their determination for victory, and I'm especially proud of Harry Truman for making the decision to drop the atomic bomb which concluded World War II with the lesser loss of life than would have occurred had there been an invasion.
ER: Had there been an invasion, none of us would be here to talk to you today.
MB: We've heard that. While you were captive you had not heard of the bomb, you had not got word of that? That was all later?
ER: No, that was all later. That was all later.
MB: Thank you, again, for, in your voice, telling your story.
ER: Thank you for taking the time listen to us.
MB: Absolutely. This concludes the interview with Mr. Everett Reamer on April 15, 2007.
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Reviewed by Elaine Blatt 8/22/2007
Reviewed by Sandra Stewart Holyoak 9/9/2007
Reviewed by Everett Reamer 10/22/2007