A POW Remembers  

  Manila Bay

     Inside the entrance of Manila Bay, separating the north and south channels, are the islands of Corregidor and Caballo.   Both islands are believed to be the rim of a volcanic caldera, rising above the surrounding waters.  Enclosing the bay from the north is an arm of land, a peninsula called Bataan.

    The gunboat USS Luzon (PG 47) operated in and from this area during the first months of the war. Among those aboard ship was Boatswain's Mate Victor Reynolds of Peoria, Illinois. Not only was he serving in the Navy, but he was also serving the Marines on Corregidor by helping dig gun pits, fox holes and air raid shelters on the island.

     Several months after the outbreak of war, President Roosevelt ordered General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines against his will.    Four PT boats were assigned the task of spiriting him through the Japanese blockade to Mindanao, a southern island of the Philippine group.   It would be a journey fraught with peril.

      MacArthur was aboard PT -41when they departed from the South Dock of Corregidor, on March 11, 1942.   At anchor nearby was the Luzon.  Night had fallen and Reynolds had just gotten off watch.   On the ship they'd been hearing the PT boats revving up--“winding up, “as Reynolds described it.   Beginning their dangerous journey, the PT's passed close to his ship, about 200 yards away.   The PT's were darkened, as they puttered by.   Reynolds was a witness to history underway.

     PT-41 was able to slip out of the harbor, and beyond it, in the China Sea, it accelerated and sped off.   On Reynold's ship they could hear the PT motors kick into gear from about five miles away, its distant sound carrying through the night air.

     After Bataan fell on April 9th, 1942, the Japanese occupied the peninsula, and from there fired upon the ships in the bay. Reynolds remembered water splashing around his ship from the shelling.  Subject to air attack in the north channel, the Luzon and other vessels headed to the south side of Corregidor to get under the shelter of the big guns on that side. They were chased and fired upon by enemy dive bombers.

     That night, Japanese ships out in the China Sea, lying beyond the harbor entrance, played their search lights toward the islands. Because of the anticipated artillery fire upon them the next day and their vulnerability, the crew stripped the ship and disembarked onto land at Caballo during the dark.   The Luzon crew was assigned to the Gillespie gun battery positioned on top of the island and joined the gun crew there, who operated a 14-inch disappearing gun, mounted on a moveable carriage. The Navy would become Army on April 10, 1942.

     During the next few weeks they not only helped man the big gun, but also dug defensive positions on Caballo. Once the Japanese bombed their Gillespie position for several hours, trapping several of the men when a bomb struck the entrance. Fortunately, they were able to dig them out.

      Caballo lay about a quarter of a mile distant from Corregidor, and the Luzon crew could see the fighting on the other island.   Corregidor is shaped like a tadpole, and on the narrower “tail” of the tadpole, the Marines were fighting in hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese at the airfield located there.

      Before dawn on May 6th, their skipper sent four of the crew to scuttle the Luzon to prevent the Japanese from seizing it. They opened all the valves and she sank in fifty feet of water.

                                                     They Were Surrendered

      At about 10 a.m., Reynolds looked over toward Corregidor and saw a large white flag topside; they'd run up a bedsheet over the island. Everyone began to lose color and pale.  It was sad moment.   He said Skinny Wainwright decided to give up the ghost.   The surrender was set for noon but the Japanese still bombed and shelled them that afternoon, and for the 15 minutes before midnight, they bombarded them heavily with artillery fire.

      On Caballo, the surrendered men were ordered to stack their arms.  When the first Japanese soldier came uphill to the Gillespie battery, he had a flame-thrower strapped on, and repeatedly waved it under Reynold's nose.   The Japanese stole any watches or rings they saw on the Americans.   Reynolds had already thrown his ring over the cliff, along with his photo album.  He wasn't letting these fall into their hands.

     Now captive, the Americans were taken to a gymnasium farther down.  They were humiliated by being made to bow as they passed a guard at the doorway. The next day, on May 8th, they were given a tablespoon of lard and a tablespoon of peas.   On the 9th they let them have water, but it was the water they used for washing clothes before their surrender several days before.  The doctors added two drops of iodine to every canteen.

     The next day they moved about 300 of them in a barge over to Corregidor and marched them from the dock to the 92nd garage.  A Jap NCO wanted ten husky men for a work detail, and Reynolds volunteered for it, figuring maybe they would have to feed them.  They did and fed them from the rations of the American garrison.   The detail worked to remove radio facilities from the island. While working the tunnels, Reynolds could see all the food stored in them.  What the Japanese found could have fed them three meals a day instead of two or even the one they had.  It upset him that this had been the case.

      They would get up at one or two o'clock in the morning, to stand in line to get water to drink that day.  Imprisonment was taking its toll, in blisters and dysentery.

      From Corregidor they were taken by ship across the bay to Manila, transferred to landing barges, and then made to jump in the water twenty feet from the shore.   They were marched through the street to a prison.  Along the way, Filipinos threw them food and gave them the V-for-Victory sign.   Two days later they were moved again, and put in hot boxcars, a hundred to a car under Japanese guard.  After they reached their destination, and staying overnight on the grounds of a school, they were marched again for six hours to Camp III.   Again, the Filipinos threw them food, and this time sang "God Bless America."

    At Camp III several man had gin smuggled in for them, drank it and walked out the gate.  An NCO stopped them and they beat him up.   They, in turn, were beaten all night, and the next day, tied outside, in the sun beating down.  Reynolds and several others were given picks and shovel to dig holes, at the far side of the camp.  When it dawned on him what the holes were for, it made him sick.   They trimmed the holes as best they could as it was the last thing they could do for the men.

    Shortly before sunset the Japanese marched the men to their graves, and required the other prisoners to watch.  The condemned men stood by the holes, their hands tied behind them, facing the firing squad of twelve soldiers.   They were felled by a volley of bullets.    Reynolds said they were “four of the bravest to ever face a firing squad.”

     He said said during the following days, there was tension in the camp and the food was “rotten.”   Buckets of rice in the galley had large green blowflies on it, laying eggs.   They wouldn't let them scrape the thick crust off but chopped it up in the bucket.  There was more dysentery.

     Reynolds became sick with jaundice, beri beri and “couldn't keep anything down.”  A lot of the prisoners were becoming weaker .

                                                                  At Palawan

 They were taken to Manila, where 332 of them were put in a transport, and after about a week, they arrived at Palawan, a long island in the southwestern part of the Philippine archipelago.  They were put to work building an airfield, clearing jungle for runway.   Six prisoners escaped and the others were nervous, because before they left Manila, they were put in shooting squads of ten men each.   They were told that if one escaped, the other nine would be shot.   This was more than decimation, the execution every tenth in a group!  It was decimation ten times over!

      However the Japanese didn't carry carry out the threat.  And for another month they cut through banana, coconut and papaya groves.   One day in late September 1942, when the the guards took count, they discovered two men missing.  The CO threatened them that if they “continued to disobey his orders, he would throw a blitz at us that would make Pearl Harbor look like a picnic.” He gave them three options: stay in the barracks with less food for three days; work with a ball-and-chain; or obey and work harder. They chose the latter, and could pretend they were working harder.

       One of the problems the prisoners had was getting “dynamite fever,” blasting trees. They would take the wrappers off the sticks while sweating, and when they wiped their brows, the dynamite would get on them with their pores, open from the heat. Then they'd black out.  Reynolds was one of the few who didn't get the fever, but most did.

      Early in 1943 the conditions were worsening.  Not only was it hard work but the men were working without shoes and their feet developed thick callouses.  

      One day they were pushing mining cars loaded with dirt across a runway they were leveling, to an incline.   The car that Reynolds was moving with a couple of other prisoners, had about 1,500 lbs. in it.  It jumped the track, and as they were trying to get it back on the rails, another mining car came down the incline, slamming into Reynolds, who was caught between the cars.   It broke his thigh bone right in two.   The accident knocked the breath out of him, and when it came back, it came in uncontrolled jerks. Becoming aware of his injury, he couldn't see his knee as his leg was twisted back under him.   He was shocked from the sight and let out a piercing scream.   Men came running to help.

     A doctor happened to be nearby.   They splinted his leg with a pick handle and a limb cut from a tree.   He felt numb.   The doctor asked the Japanese for a truck to take him back to camp. They had no bunks so he was laid on the wooden floor, and lay there for six days, not eating for three. The doctor couldn't set his leg because the femur had jumped.  He'll never forget the men who attended him, sharing their rations and sponge bathing him.

                                                                    Back on Luzon

       On April 21st the Japanese sent him by an inter-island steamer back to Manila, to Bilibid Prison, where at its dispensary a Navy doctor examined him.   Measuring his legs, they found the left leg was 2 ˝ inches shorter than the right. A couple of orthopedic surgeons, Navy doctors named Wade and Nelson, inserted a pin through his knee, so they could pull the femur out, and one of the doctors set the leg as well as he could and put a brace on it.   As he lay in bed, he was bothered by bedbugs and mosquitoes.   A bad infection developed around the pin, and maggots were getting into it.  Reynolds would take a straw to try to push out the larva.   When Dr. Nelson saw the problem, he removed the brace, cut the pin shorter, put iodine on it, pulled it out, and put Reynolds in tape-traction.

`      Late in July, Reynold's leg felt better and they removed the traction.   They gave him crutches, but told him not to walk on it for a couple days.   Later, he went on crutches to read some poetry to the doctor from the Luzon who was partly blind.   It began to rain, and a crutch slipped on the porch steps. He fell on his left leg, snapping the bone and went black.   His leg dangled, and he was back in bed for a couple months.

       On December 19th, 1943, he was transferred from Bilibid Prison to Camp I at Cabanataum,north from Manila, where he saw most of his shipmates who were alive.   From then, until July 1944, Reynolds worked various jobs, back and forth from Manila, including working on a farm, on an airfield, and washing barrels.

   Shipped to Japan

       On July 17th he was put aboard ship to be sent to Japan in a convoy.  More than 1500 men were crammed into a hold, so crowded that they couldn't even sit down.  Their air was from a fifteen-foot square hatch above them.   The men in the corners were passing out.   It was suffocating.  After three hours, they let 900 go to a forward hold, but they were still crowded.

        They had to stand in shifts so a man could lie down for a while.  Their “latrines” were 5-gallon cans. The stench of urine and defecation was so bad it was described as gagging.  Underway, the ship would pitch and roll and sometimes the cans would tip over, flooding the floor.   Some men were too weak to move.   The conditions were terrible.

       Early the morning of July 27th, they heard the sound of depth charges so they knew they were under submarine attack.  The sky suddenly lit up like daylight. A 10,000 ton tanker had been torpedoed. Their guards closed the overhead hatch, sealing the hold.  One man went for the ladder and a riot broke out.   The enemy would've shot anyone coming up the ladder.   Panic set in.

       Reynolds said an army chaplain jumped to his feet, and called for quiet.  He remembered him as a Catholic priest named Father Riley.  He said, “Men this is Father Riley talking. I just want to say few words to you.” He said he knew they were scared, but to think of the brave sailors in the submarines being depth charged by the destroyers.  He continued, “Let's all say the Rosary, and include the submarine sailors in our prayers.”   Reynolds said that all you heard in the hold, apart from men crying, was the roar of a burning ship and the Rosary being prayed.   The men who were Catholic were responding to the chaplain praying, saying the second part of the prayers.   Father Riley had gotten the men calmed down, but still the men were shaking.   Reynolds says today, that that chaplain deserved a medal.

      The ship transporting them, the Nissyo Maru, was on the outside of the convoy.   A few of the prisoners were on work details topside and witnessed what was happening up there.   On the ship, the torpedo was seen coming through the water toward them.   They sounded the alarms.   The Japanese quickly stopped the ship's forward momentum, with a full reverse of the engines. The torpedo passed in front of the ship, missing it and went on to hit the tanker inside the convoy, in a more-protected position.

     The next day they were allowed in groups of ten out on the deck to get a washing from a salt-water hose held by another prisoner as the others ringed around him. Even a small amount of the water made them feel better.

     Reynolds said they were having less and less to drink.   A couple had watches and traded them with the guards for water.   For days Reynolds was not able to swallow even a little rice because of his dry throat.

     After 18 days aboard the Nissyo Maru , on the 3rd of August, 1944, they arrived at the Japanese port of Moji, present-day Kitakyushu, on the island of Kyushu.  The next day they were moved ashore and each was given a Japanese service card with personal data entered on it. They were marched to a hall and allowed to lie down. They could fully stretch out, the first time since they embarked in mid-July. Reynolds slept 12 hrs. They were able to fill their canteens from spigots and were being fed two times a day.

     On the 5th of August, they were taken by ferry across the channel separating Kyushu from the largest island Honshu. On Honshu they were put aboard a train for Nagoya, a city farther to the north. Still tired from their trip up from the Philippines, some of them crawled under the seats to sleep around 10 p. m. About the time they'd fallen asleep, the guards came through the cars raising heck, telling them to shut up, and pulling window shades down. They saw searchlights in the sky and figured there was an air raid. When they arrived at the Nagoya, situated south and west of Tokyo, a tram took them to the village of Narumi and a short march to their camp.                

                                                              At Nagoya, Japan

      At Nagoya their new work place was in the rail yards. The guards were seeking a person to splice wire lines and Reynolds and Boatswains Mate Rawlins volunteered and were put on a two-man detail for that job. Reynolds said Rawlins was a Chief Boatswains Mate and had been in the Navy 28 years, and knew about splicing, more than he knew. It was six-strand one or two inch wire cable used to hook to cars to drag them out of the way.

       For lunch would muster the men at a metal shed and the prisoners would have a ration of tea and 4 oz. of bread. This was the routine through August, September and October, and on occasion there was an air raid.

      Raids became more frequent in November, with bombs exploding like thunder.   In December, bombs hit the rail yards and also did a lot of damage to industry.   During the daylight raids, the Japanese would lock the prisoners in the metal shed, which served as their mess hall, and get themselves into foxholes.  Yet, through it all, not a bomb fell on the shed.

     They would devise ways to get something more to eat.   One way was taking feed from a horse.  They used horses for transport in the rail yards, and when the Japanese put a nosebag on a horse, the prisoners would await an opportunity to empty the feed out of the bag and put the bag back on the horse. They then would secretly take the contents back to the camp, remove the straw, and cook the grain over a charcoal fire in their barracks. The horse never told on them,.

      In January, 1945, the Japanese shot down a B-29 over the Nagoya camp; it exploded and scattered pieces fell onto the camp. From the printing on the bomb fragments they could tell what kind of bombs they were. Several B-29 crew survived, parachuting out. They were taken prisoner, incarcerated at the Nagoya camp, but held in solitary confinement. As Reynolds remembers, the Japanese called the B-29, “Bee-nee joo-koo.”

       Sometimes during a raid, they would send the prisoners from the rail yards back to their camp. One day they were close to being back, when they saw a group of about 27 planes “going to make a run on our prison compound.” Reynolds had just gotten to his bunk, when they dropped their bombs.   They heard the whoosh of the bombs and the explosions. Reynolds said, “the whole end of their barracks was blown out.” The compound took nine direct hits.   It left holes all over and a roof that leaked, but the not one British or American prisoner was injured. The end of their barracks was never repaired.

        In February and March of 1945, the enemy was bringing in “whole rail convoys of bombed out trains.” The prisoners had to clean off the burned and charred wood so they could be rebuilt.   The Americans were ruining them faster than the Japanese could fix them.

        In early March an earthquake struck, tumbling large smoke stacks and knocking power out. The tram to and from the POW work site couldn't run. They told the prisoners they'd have to march the twelve miles back to camp.  About 6 o'clock in the evening they stopped to rest by a flooded rice paddy and saw frogs jumping everywhere.  Reynolds figured it had to be a frog farm with thousands of frogs. Two hundred men waded into the paddy to catch frogs.  There were deeper parts where bombs had struck.  Reynolds caught four frogs, skinned them and ate their legs raw. He said they tasted good.

      Air raids became more frequent. Sometimes they saw “formations coming in from the sea.” Sometimes the planes were so low at night, they could see the lights inside the plane through the bomb bay doors.

     July 1945 was a hot month. The planes were coming to bomb day and night, burning everything they saw.  During this time, 72% of Nagoya was destroyed.  Around the beginning of August they could see gunfire from the Navy at night.  The planes were starting to strafe, once strafing them and the Japanese.

     Their old guard, who wasn't armed with a gun but had a sword-like stick, was a man of perhaps 60 to 65 years of age.   He was a veteran who had served in China.   They called him “Pops.”   On the 7th of August, Pops told Reynolds and Rawlings that the Americans had dropped a “heat bomb” on Hiroshima, killing “takson”people meaning many.    Pops also told them about Nagasaki being hit with a “heat bomb,” and that “takson” were killed.

                                                                     The War is Over

      Around 10:30 on the morning of August 15, the guards marched them back to the tram, to go back to the camp. The Japanese that they could see were bowing to the west, and as they were marched though the village of Narumi, people were outside their homes, bowing toward a voice on the radio. Inside the compound, guards were at attention, bowing toward the voice of the Emperor from the loud speaker, telling them “the war was lost and Japan was going to accept the terms laid down by the allied commanders” at noon that day.   Someone told the interpreter they wanted the B-29 flyers held in solitary, released.   They'd been held since being shot down in February.

       After the Emperor was done speaking the Commander and the guards “just bailed out.”  On the 17th and the 18th planes dropped leaflets telling people not to touch the prisoners.   The next morning they heard a low-flying plane approach.  They saw the star and bar and word Navy on it. The pilot and crew were waving.   Down on the ground they yelled and cried.  It was a beautiful sight for Reynolds to see.

     Up in the plane the radio operator signaled a message with a blinker light: Did they need medical attention right away?   Two signalmen among the POW's rigged a flashing light, to flash a message back, telling them thank you, that they were okay for now but they needed food.  The plane signaled that they would be back.  They banked, then swooped over the compound as the prisoners cheered, and cried.   The plane wagged its wings as it left.

      Reynolds was 192 lbs. when the war began and was down to 96 lbs. The weight difference would soon start to narrow.

     About three hours later a whole squadron of torpedo bombers came flying in single file, passing low, dropping packages covered in canvas and rubber. The first three drops bounced thirty feet into the air, but not one bottle of three cases of rum was broken. The other planes dropped shoes, uniforms, rations, and reading material.

     The prisoners signaled, asking for an American flag, and the next day carrier planes brought the flag for them.   They felt better with the star-spangled banner flying over the compound.

     Around the 22nd of August, B-29's came flying over with their bomb bay doors open.   They dropped pallets containing four fifty-five gallon drums, with parachutes attached.  The chutes, however , collapsed from the weight.  And the barrels were falling straight down, more dangerous, Reynolds said, than bombs.   One crashed through the galley roof, spilling peaches all over.

                                                               Coming Home

     On August 30, they marched to the tram, and hurrahing, left the POW camp for the last time, were mustered at the waterfront, and taken to a hospital ship. When Reynolds boarded, he stopped, turned aft and saluted the flag.  He said, “I then turned to the OD, saluted him and then cried like a baby. I asked him for permission to come aboard his ship. He saluted me and said permission granted.   I knew that I was home.”

     They were sent to the top deck to a delousing station, were sprayed, given uniforms and were sent for a shower. The mess hall was open to them and Reynolds had bacon and eggs, juice, and his first cup of coffee in years. One gunner's mate overdid it by taking a loaf of bread, hollowed it some, and stuffed it with a pound of butter. He then proceeded to eat it.

     They were put aboard a DE, a destroyer escort ,to go to Yokohama. When Reynolds went through that ship's chow line, he passed up all the other food and had the mess cook fill his tray with strawberry ice cream. He ate the whole thing.

     At Yokohama, they were transferred to the USS Ozark, an LST bound for Guam on the 2nd day of September.   Eight days later, they reached Guam and were taken to the naval hospital for physical exams.   The base commander gave them a steak fry on the ball field, and Reynolds had a large steak.

      On the September 12 they re-boarded the Ozark and headed for Pearl Harbor where they were given RAMP identity cards, the letters standing for Repatriated Allied Military Personnel.  There was liberty, but a 6 o'clock curfew was in effect and they well overstayed their liberty.   Something after 1 o'clock the next morning, they bought three or four dozen doughnuts at a bakery and sat on the curb, eating and singing.   An MP jeep with a couple sergeants showed up and started giving them a hard time.    Reynolds pulled out his RAMP card and showed it to them.   One of the MP's said, “Okay fellahs, there's a park down the street about three blocks.   Go down there, find a park bench and go to sleep.   I'll have an MP jeep come for you at 0600 and take you back to the Ozark.” And at 0600 two MP jeeps came and took them back to the dock.

      The LST continued on to San Francisco, and when they came to the Golden Gate, they were all on deck. They received a real welcome home, with fire boats shooting streams of water, bells, whistles, boats racing around them and boats with music. They pulled up to the pier and it was “loaded with people, yelling and screaming.”

      There was a little ceremony prepared for them.  When Reynold's turn came, the loud speaker announced, “Victor C. Reynolds, Bos'n Mate Second Class, United States Navy, Peoria, Illinois.” Reynolds saluted the Officer of the Deck , turned aft to salute the flag, and then came down the gangplank to a roped-off area about two feet wide.  As they walked the narrow, roped way to the bus, thousands of people were cheering and crying.   They reached out to shake their hands and pat them on the back.  Women reached out to hug them.   It was a very emotional moment.

      He'd left the States on December 1, 1940, and was coming back after 4 years and 10 months.  So many of the  intervening days were lived in the ordeal of a prisoner, and by the calendar, these days were then over and gone, but the memories of that ordeal were not.   They linger yet in memory.   Like raindrops from a cloud, sometimes the tears come forth in remembrances from the time when a cloud cast a shadow over his life and the lives of many others.

Had Victor Reynolds, United States Navy, still been on Palawan at the close of the war, he would have been executed in a mass killing of the prisoners, by burning or gunfire if they tried to escape the flames.  141 were massacred.  None survived.  For Victor, the joy of coming home might never have been.
--John Riedell


       America, a country known for freedom and promise, is now experiencing a decline from the actions of some of its leaders, their policy and many who vote them into office. We would do well to look back to the America that was, and to men like Reynolds who suffered and sacrificed for it.

      During World War II and in wars since, many served their country. Some gave their lives for it; some were wounded for it; and some suffered as prisoners of war, thinking of survival and hoping for the time they could come home.   One these was Victor Reynolds who fought for America, yet sadly was surrendered to the foe, and lived through awful, even inhuman conditions.

      Through his story we see how much he and others captured with him, appreciated the flag of America.   For a time they knew what it was to live under foreign domination, without it.   --JR












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