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.
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
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.
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
about five miles away, its distant sound carrying through the night air.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
became sick with jaundice, beri beri and “couldn't keep anything down.” A lot of the
prisoners were becoming weaker .
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,.
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.
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.
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.
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
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”
The War is Over
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
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.
was 192 lbs. when the war began and was down to 96 lbs. The weight
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.