Adrian Everett Oldham
At 9:00 PM, Aug. 28, 1941, while standing on the deck of the US Liner President Pierce, we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, headed for the Philippine Islands and an unknown future. Our quarters in the ship were not the best as they had no ventilation except canvas wind funnels which were not too successful. As we were permitted to remain on deck most of the time, we did very well.
I enjoyed the trip to Honolulu a great deal. We docked in Honolulu the 4th of September. We went ashore about 8:00 AM, loaded into some Army trucks and made a tour of the island of Oahu. It was a nice trip. I saw many strange and interesting sights. We left that night about 9:00 PM. A few days out of Honolulu we were caught in a 60 mile and hour typhoon. The motors were stopped to prevent possible damage to screws or shafts. The report was that we were driven 200 miles off the course in 8 hours. As the waves were constantly pouring over the deck, the holes in the deck for the makeshift air funnels let in so much water we were forced to move to the sundeck, which was by no means dry but was better than the hold we had been in (which was below the waterline of the ship). Our escorting cruiser, being a much lower ship than ours, would a great deal of the time have one end or the other completely submerged underwater. After four days of this, the sun came out, the wind and waves lost their fury and all was bright again. I believe it was about the 11th when we passed a very small island, which was a Jap island by the name of Agrigan and was the only land we saw between Honolulu and the Philippine Islands.
On the afternoon of the 15th, we hit the San Bernidino Straits. We docked in Manila the morning of the 16th. The Philippines proved to be a very hot but interesting country with strange and interesting people. As I was cooking, we worked one day on and two days off, and we had time to do a little sightseeing, picture-taking and visiting with the Filipinos whom I learned to like.
Around the first of November, I got in touch with Willie Jamieson at Manila. I was in the 200th CAA at Clark Field, Stotsenberg, which is, I believe, about sixty miles north of Manila. We were permitted one pass a month to Manila, so I got a weekend pass Sat. and Sun., the 14th and 15th. I saw and spent the night with Willie Jamieson, Ernest Stanley, and Leo Stancliff. Leo took me in hand to visit friends and then to see some sights of interest there. The time was very short before I must go to my base. Leo told me later that he was concerned about me when he heard that Bataan fell. Because I didn’t seem too robust, he was afraid that I wouldn’t make it. I also met several of the Filipinos and had the privilege of Sun. AM meeting with Ernest and the Filipinos. They had the mtg. in English for my benefit. (Willie and Leo had gone to another home for mtg.) That was the only meeting I was privileged to attend from July 1941 until Oct. 18, 1945 in Oakland, Calif. I didn’t get to see Herman Beaber and Cecil Barrett.
In the early part of December, there were many rumors of trouble with Japan but few believed. There were anti-aircraft guns set up, which we hoped would keep unwanted aircraft out that might come this way. There were war clouds hanging low over us. Most felt Japan wouldn’t dare attack America, but I wasn’t so sure. It at least didn’t look good to me. A general alert was called for all the forces in the Philippines, and most of the men still thought it was a lot of nonsense. The morning of the 8th, we were told Pearl Harbor had been bombed. It was quite a sobering thought. About 12:30 PM, when most were eating dinner, someone reported a flight of planes coming. I looked and saw a perfect formation of 52 planes headed our way. Even then some argued they were American planes. They didn’t argue long; bombs began to crash and planes, barracks, fuel dumps, etc. went up in a burning inferno and wreckage. The heavy bombers were followed by navy dive bombers and strafers to finish the job. The anti-aircraft had been caught offguard but brought down a few planes. Hundreds of men were killed and wounded, mostly Air Corpsmen who were caught in the barracks, PX, and mess hall.
Our kitchen was moved to a village south of the airport and set up under some large trees so it could not be seen from the air (we thought). Since war was now on, one of our officers and one of our sergeants decided I would carry arms. I had been standing guard the same as the others but without a gun. It was decided that everyone would stand guard and with a gun. It looked like I was in for some trouble at best until things were settled in a different way. At noon the 12th, when part of the battery was in for dinner, some Jap planes dropped three bombs, one on each side and one in our kitchen area. Seven men were killed and about 12 badly hurt, including the sergeant who thought I should carry arms. Several of the wounded died later. The officer was transferred to another outfit and I wasn’t bothered during the rest of the time. From here, we moved to a Spanish sugar plantation about 5 or 6 miles north of the airfield.
One night I sought out a place to be quiet and alone. I found a shack almost fallen down, but in one end was room to kneel in prayer and seek the face of God who dwells on high. While there I felt the friends and family back home so near. I realized then that miles or ocean, mountains or time, could not keep kindred spirits apart.
While there, I got a letter from Willie Jamieson telling of another friend, Philip Parish of Janesville, Wisconsin, who was in the 192nd Tanks. One morning about 9:00, we saw 3 medium bombers at very low altitude coming our way. The kitchen again seemed to be their objective. They were almost within bombing range and machine gun bullets were peppering the ground within a few feet of us when AA opened up and brought down all three planes. This, no doubt, saved us from another disaster.
Christmas Eve we were ordered to move down into Bataan. It took us all night to get moved and in shape to feed the men again. We had stopped at Hermosa, but on New Year’s Eve we had to move again, this time farther down the peninsula to Limay. While here the kitchen force had our cots set up in the dense jungle. We had shelter halves tied to one side of the cot, and slanting higher tied the other side in trees, to shed off the rain. There is no dusk in the jungle. It’s even dark by day and then when the sun goes down it’s really dark.
One night I was lying on my cot and I heard a noise in the underbrush that kept coming closer. As it got nearer I smelled a terrible odor. It came by my cot, bumping the leg of the cot. I noticed it was going past on one side of me and still coming on the other side. So it must have been one of the Philippines’ huge pythons. Frank Buck had caught one in the area that was 32 feet long, I believe. Other nights I would listen to the monkeys chattering. I couldn’t see them, it was so dark. They would grab my shelter halves ropes and jerk on them.
I also realized there were all sizes of ants in the jungle. They had the warrior ants that made their nests out of tree leaves and would fight to their death to defend it. Some ants were so tiny you could hardly see them, while some were ½ inch long. One afternoon, after cleaning up from serving the men lunch, I was lying on my cot reading my New Testament. I heard a noise at the head of my cot. I looked up and there was a very small mother bird feeding her young about three feet from my head.
Although we changed the location of the kitchen again, we were in this area until toward the end. Many times, bombs fell much too close for comfort but we were not hit. We were set up between an airfield and an ammunition dump with AA guns on all sides. The Japs would bomb the field, dump, or gun batteries almost every day, so between the bombs and guns, it was plenty noisy.
Our rations were cut to one-half soon after reaching Bataan; then to one-fourth, and then to one-eighth, which made the food situation mighty serious. Everyone was weak and many getting sick from malaria and other diseases. The food we did get was not all of the best. Bread was soon a thing of the past, and the rice we got was moldy and hard to eat. Cavalry horses, mules, and water buffaloes were slaughtered to help the situation. The men helped themselves when anything edible could be found. Many lizards, hawks, monkeys, and others went in this way. Wild plants, roots, fruit, and berries were not overlooked, which sometimes resulted in sick men.
The fiery trials of war can weld bonds that men find hard to break. A young soldier had been shot in the head three times. His helmet looked much like a sieve. He was in the hospital. How he could be alive we could not understand. He left the hospital on his own to get back with his buddies, who were still fighting at the front. En route, he stopped at our camp for food. There is hardly a chance that he lived, but we never knew for sure.
Although the Japs bombed daily and at times day and night, Bataan was such a jungle and everything so well concealed, they made few important hits for the number of bombs dropped. We had our own way of keeping check of the front lines by listening to the artillery. If it was quiet, we knew all was well, but sometimes the rumble of the cannons was almost continuous and we knew the Japs were making a drive. Sometimes our artillery was closer than at other times and we knew the Japs had broken through or driven our troops back. When the artillery was back to normal distance, we knew the Japs would have to try again. Due to the Jap airplanes bombing our guns, if located during the day, our forces shelled mostly at night and our guns having the greater range could locate the Jap guns at night by their flashes. The Japs shelled mostly during the day.
Knowing the condition of both the Americans and Filipinos, I often wondered how much longer they could hold out under the pounding they were taking. In the first part of April, we knew by the Jap planes and hearing the artillery that the lines were falling back. On the 7th when we saw men who were on beach defense or had been sent behind the lines to get a little rest, heading for the front, we knew anything could be happening. That night we were ordered to move to another post, more to the interior. It took us most of the night as going was slow. The roads were jammed with traffic moving both ways. We got about 2 hours sleep before starting the new day which was mostly spent digging foxholes.
About sundown our Battery Commander called us to his Command Post and said we had been cut off from everyone else and had no information from anyone so we would try to cross the mountain and reach Mariveles. We started from there with what we could find at hand. We started with a few cans of food, blankets which happened to be in reach and anything we thought we might use. I started with none of my personal belongings except watch, fountain pen, pencil, billfold and a New Testament which I always carried in my pocket. I managed to keep it and still have it. We traveled in single file down the trail we were taking. One man, who had been over part of the trail, took the lead. We had not gone far until it was so dark the lead man had to use a flashlight and the rest had to follow by contact (keep his hand on the man in front). There was no moon and it was such a jungle, it was total darkness. We did not see the man we had our hands on. It was a dangerous trail and each man had to depend on the one in front to warn him of holes, fallen trees, roots, vines, low limbs, bluffs, etc., which was whispered back from the lead man to the last, about 100 men. The trail was steadily getting worse; about 2:00 AM the lead man decided it was just too dangerous to go any further. We layed down to get what rest we could before daybreak. Just as it was getting light enough to see and we were preparing to move on, three Filipino scouts came toward us and motioned us to be quiet. When they were within speaking distance we were told the Japs were on the other side of the ridge from us.
In a few moments, we could hear them talking among themselves. This gave us much encouragement to get on the move again. Later in the morning, the earthquake (that Japan boasts was going on when her troops captured Bataan) was felt. The quake caused a person to realize that power of man was as nothing by comparison. We climbed up and down the mountain trail all day and seemingly made little progress. The officers decided we should open a few cans and divide among ourselves. We had part of a can each at night, for three nights, and nothing during the day. We now only traveled while it was light enough to see and slept at night. Due to the sick and weakest, we were forced to rest more and more often to enable them to keep up. Some were forced to discard all surplus ammunition and later, rifles were abandoned that they might keep going.
Sometimes, we were along a stream; then climb or follow a steep slope hanging onto roots, vines or anything we could get hold of to keep from falling. Sometimes we were on ridges or rims overlooking uncertain depths below. One place was estimated to be 800 feet of perpendicular bluff and not over 5 or 6 feet of standing space. After three days, we still had quite a way to go and no food. We learned from the Filipinos, who had taken to the mountains to escape the Japs, that the Japs had reached Mariveles shortly after we had left camp. As there was no food in that part of the mountains and everyone was weaker after our trip, the officers decided to go down and surrender. All arms were discarded and anything else we felt that Japs might not approve of, even our helmets, which we later regretted. We started down, not knowing what we were going into. Some Filipinos said they were taking Americans prisoners and others said they were shooting them as fast as they tried to surrender.
We went down, expecting anything. I believe every man in the group went down with the feeling that they might be walking into certain death, yet I know of only two men who didn’t come down and surrender. The officers took the unenviable position of carrying white flags at the head of the line of men marching single file down the trail toward the Japanese positions. There was little talking; there seemed to be nothing to say. Each was absorbed in his own thought. I’ll never forget the first Japs I had ever seen as we turned ourselves in that day. The commanding Jap was a fat, round-faced, beady-eyed Nip that I thought at the time looked awful mean and probably was.
The first thing they did was to search everyone and take what they wanted. My watch was the first thing they took and then my fountain pen. I never knew why they didn’t take my billfold and money. After we were stripped of anything that could be used as a weapon and the things they wanted for themselves, we were started out on the march to San Fernando, which a Jap officer said would be our march to the death, which proved to be all too true for so many.