U.S. State Department telegrams.
U.S. War Department (January 27, 1944)
Joint Army-Navy Report Concerning Japanese Atrocities in Bataan and Corregidor
For Immediate Release January 27, 1944
The factual and official story of how the Japanese tortured, starved to death and sometimes wantonly murdered American and Filipino soldiers who had been taken prisoner on Bataan and Corregidor was jointly released today by the Army and Navy.
The facts were taken from reports made by Cdr. Melvyn H. McCoy (USN) of Indianapolis; Lt. Col. S. M. Mellnik (Coast Artillery Corps) of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, and Lt. Col. (then Capt.) William E. Dyess (USAAC) of Albany, Texas, all of whom escaped from the Philippines after almost a year as Japanese prisoners.
Their sworn statements included no hearsay whatever, but only facts which the officers related from their own personal experience and observations. The statements have been verified from other sources. After he made his statement to the War Department, Col. Dyess was killed in a crash of his fighter plane at Burbank, California, while he was preparing to go back and fight the Japanese who had tortured him. Col. Mellnik is now on duty with Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Cdr. McCoy is on duty in this country.
The three officers stated that several times as many American prisoners of war have died, mostly of starvation, forced hard labor and general brutality, as the Japanese have ever reported.
At one prison camp, Camp O’Donnell, about 2,200 American prisoners died in April and May 1942. In the camp at Cabanatuan, about 3,000 Americans had died up to the end of October 1942. Still heavier mortality occurred among the Filipino prisoners of war at Camp O’Donnell.
While this report deals exclusively with the records of Cdr. McCoy, Col. Mellnik and Col. Dyess, other Americans known to have escaped from Japanese prison camps in the Philippines include Maj. Michael Dobervich of Ironton, Minnesota; Maj. Austin C. Shofner of Shelbyville, Tennessee; Maj. Jack Hawkins of Roxton, Texas, and Cpl. Reid Carlos Chamberlain of El Cajon, California, all of them U.S. Marine Corps.
The calculated Japanese campaign of brutality against the battle-spent, hungry American and Filipino soldiers on Bataan began as soon as they surrendered, with what was always thereafter known among its survivors as “the March of Death.” Cdr. McCoy and Col. Mellnik, who were taken at Corregidor, did not take part in this, but Col. Dyess, who did so, said:
Though beaten, hungry and tired from the terrible last days of combat on Bataan, though further resistance was hopeless, our American soldiers and their Filipino comrades in arms would not have surrendered had they known the fate in store for them.
“The March of Death” began when thousands of prisoners were herded together at Mariveles Airfield on Bataan at daylight on April 10, 1942, after their surrender. Though some had food, neither Americans nor Filipinos were permitted to eat any of it by their guards. They were searched and their personal belongings taken from them. Those who had Japanese tokens or money in their possession were beheaded.
In groups of 500 to 1,000 men, the prisoners were marched along the National Road of Bataan toward San Fernando, in Pampanga Province. Those marchers who still had personal belongings were stripped of them. The Japanese slapped and beat them with sticks as the marched along without food or water on a scorching hot day.
Col. Dyess, in a middle group, gave thus description of “the March of Death:”
A Japanese soldier took my canteen, gave the water to a horse, and threw the canteen away. We passed a Filipino prisoner of war who had been bayoneted. Men recently killed were lying along the roadside, many had been run over and flattened by Japanese trucks. Many American prisoners were forced to act as porters for military equipment. Such treatment caused the death of a sergeant in my squadron, the 21st Pursuit. Patients bombed out of a nearby hospital, half-dazed and wandering about in pajamas and slippers, were thrown into our marching column of prisoners. What their fate was I do not know. At 10 o’clock that night, we were forced to retrace our march of two hours, for no apparent reason.
At midnight we were crowded into an enclosure too narrow to lie down. An officer asked permission to get water and a Japanese guard beat him with a rifle butt. Finally, a Japanese officer permitted us to drink water from a nearby carabao wallow.
Before daylight the next morning, the 11th, we were awakened and marched down the road. Japanese trucks speeded by. A Japanese soldier swung his rifle from one of them in passing, and knocked an American soldier unconscious beside the road.
Through the dust clouds and blistering heat, we marched that entire day without food. We were allowed to drink dirty water from a roadside stream at noon. Some time later three officers were taken from our marching column, thrown into an auto and driven off. I never learned what became of them. They never arrived at any of the prison camps.
Our guards repeatedly promised us food, but never produced it. The night of the 11th, we again were searched and then the march resumed. Totally done in, American and Filipino prisoners fell out frequently and threw themselves beside the roadside. The stronger were not permitted to help the weaker. We then would hear shots behind us.
At 3 o’clock on the morning of April 12, they shoved us into a barbed-wire bullpen big enough to accommodate 200, we were 1,200 inside the pen – no room to lie down, human filth and maggots were everywhere.
Throughout the 12th, we were introduced to a form of torture which came to be known as the sun treatment. We were made to sit in the broiling sun all day long without cover. We had very little water; our thirst was intense. Many of us went crazy and several died. The Japanese dragged out the sick and delirious. Three Filipino and three American soldiers were buried while still alive.
On the 13th, each of those who survived was given a mess kit of rice. We were given another full day of the sun treatment. At nightfall, we were forced to resume our march. We marched without water until dawn of April 14, with one two-hour interval when we were permitted to sit beside the roadside.
The very pace of our march itself was a torture. Sometimes we had to go very fast, with the Japanese pacing us on bicycles. At other times, we were forced to shuffle along very slowly. The muscles of my legs began to draw and each step was an agony.
Filipino civilians tried to help both Filipino and American soldiers by tossing food and cigarettes from windows or from behind houses. Those who were caught were beaten. The Japanese had food stores along the roadside. A U.S. Army colonel pointed to some of the cans of salmon and asked for food for his men. A Japanese officer picked up a can and hit the colonel in the face with it, cutting his cheek wide open. Another colonel and a brave Filipino picked up three American soldiers who had collapsed before the Japs could get to them. They placed them on a cart and startled down the road toward San Fernando. The Japanese seized them, as well as the soldiers, who were in a coma, and horse-whipped them fiercely.
Along the road in the province of Pampanga, there are many wells. Half-crazed with thirst, six Filipino soldiers made a dash for one of the wells. All six were killed. As we passed Lubao we marched by a Filipino soldier gutted and hanging over a barbed-wire fence. Late that night of the 14th we were jammed into another bullpen at San Fernando with again no room to lie down. During the night Japanese soldiers with fixed bayonets charged into the compound to terrorize the prisoners.
Before daylight on April 15, we were marched out and 15 of us were packed into a small narrow-gauge boxcar. The doors were closed and locked. Movement was impossible. Many of the prisoners were suffering from diarrhea and dysentery, the heat and stench were unbearable. We all wondered if we would get out of the boxcar alive. At Capiz Tarlac we were taken out and given the sun treatment for three hours. Then we were marched to Camp O’Donnell, a prison camp under construction, surrounded with barbed wire and high towers, with separate inner compounds of wire. On this last leg of the journey, the Japanese permitted the stronger to carry the weaker.
I made that march of about 85 miles in six days on one mess kit of rice. Other Americans made “the March of Death” in 12 days, without any food whatever. Much of the time, of course, they were given the sun treatment along the way.
The prisoners taken at Corregidor, among whom were Cdr. McCoy and Col. Mellnik, had no experience quite like the March of Death. But after the surrender, the 7,000 Americans and 5,000 Filipinos were concentrated in a former balloon station known as the Kindley Field garage area – by that time only a square of concrete about 100 yards to the side, with one side extending into the waters of the bay. The 12,000 prisoners, including all the wounded who were able to walk, were kept on this concrete floor without food for a week. There was only one water spigot for the 12,000 men and a 12-hour wait to fill a canteen was the usual rule. After seven days the men received their first rations – one mess kit of rice and a can of sardines.
The Corregidor prisoners were forced to march through Manila on May 23, 1942, having previously been forced to jump out of the barges, which brought them over from the island, while they were still a hundred yards from the beach.
Col. Mellnik said:
Thus, we were marched through Manila presenting the worst appearance possible – wet, bedraggled, hungry, thirsty, and many so weak from illness they could hardly stand.
Cdr. McCoy added, however, that the Japanese purpose of making this triumphal victory parade was frustrated by the friendliness of Filipino civilians.
Cdr. McCoy said:
All during the march through Manila, the heat was traffic. The weaker ones in our ranks began to stumbled during the first mile. These were cuffed back into the line and made to march until they dropped. If no guards were in the immediate vicinity, the Filipinos along the route tried to revive the prisoners with ices, water and fruit. These Filipinos were severely beaten if caught by the guards.
Col. Dyess’ sworn statement declared that the Japanese officer commanding Camp O’Donnell, where the survivors of the Bataan death march were imprisoned delivered a speech to the American and Filipino soldiers telling them that they were not prisoners of war and would not be treated as such, but were captives without rights or privileges.
There were virtually no water facilities at Camp O’Donnell. Prisoners stood in line for six to 10 hours to get a drink. They wore the same clothing without change for a month and a half. Col. Dyess waited 35 days for his first bath, and then had one gallon of water for it.
The principal food at Camp O’Donnell was rice. The prisoners received meat twice in two months, and then not enough to give as many as a quarter of them a piece an inch square. A few times the prisoners had camotes, an inferior type of sweet potato. Many were rotten and had to be thrown away. prisoners themselves had to post guards to prevent the starving from eating the rotten potatoes. The intermittent ration of potato was one spoonful per man. once or twice the prisoners received a few mango beans, a type of cow pea, a little flour to make a paste gravy for the rice, and spoonful each of coconut lard.
Col. Dyess’ diet for the entire 361 days he was a prisoner of the Japanese, with the exception of some American and British Red Cross food he received, was a sort of watery juice with a little paste and rice.
Some Japanese operated a black market and sold those prisoners who had money a small can of fish for five dollars.
After the prisoners had been at Camp O’Donnell for the week, the death rate among American soldiers was 20 a day, and among Filipino soldiers 150 a day. After two weeks the death rate had increased to 50 a day among Americans and 500 a day among Filipinos. To find men strong enough to dig graves was a problem. Shallow trenches were dug to hold 10 bodies each.
Col. Dyess’ statement reads:
The actual conditions I find impossible to describe. It is impossible from a description to visualize how horrible they really were.
One dilapidated building was set aside and called a hospital. Hundreds of men lay naked on the bare floor without covering of any kind. There was no medicine of any kind. The doctors had not even water to wash human waste from their patients. Some afflicted with dysentery remained out in the weather near the latrines until they died.
Men shrank from 200 pounds to 90. They had no buttocks. They were human skeletons.
Col. Dyess’ statement reads:
It was plain and simple starvation. It was difficult to look at a man lying still and determine whether he was dead or alive.
The Japanese promised medicines, but never produced them. Once the Japanese allowed the Red Cross at Manila to bring in quinine. How much, the prisoners never found out. The Japanese did not issue enough to cure 10 cases of malaria and there were thousands.
The sick as well as those merely starving were forced into labor details by the Japanese. Many times, men did not return from work. By May 1, 1942, only about 20 out of every company of 200 were able to go to work details. Many died in the barracks overnight. Frequently, for no apparent reason, the prisoners were forced to line up and stand in the sun for hours.
Around June 1, the American prisoners at Camp O’Donnell were separated from their Filipino comrades in arms and moved to Cabanatuan concentration camp in Luzon. There Col. Dyess joined Col. Mellnik and Cdr. McCoy.
Conditions at Cabanatuan were slightly improved – there was adequate drinking water and muddy seepage wells provided water for bathing. Japanese brutality continued, however.
Col. Dyess’ statement reads:
I had been at Cabanatuan one day when a Jap came through the barracks looting. He found a watch hidden in some equipment of a man not present. As I was sitting nearby, he punched me severely to show his feeling at the idea of a prisoner still have a watch.
Rice remained the principal diet at Cabanatuan. On one occasion the Japanese gave the American prisoners three chickens for 500 men, and on another occasion 50 eggs for 500 men. As a result, their propaganda later told the world that American prisoners in the Philippines were being fed on chickens and eggs.
Officers were not forced to work at Cabanatuan, but could volunteer to take out work details. Col. Dyess so volunteered.
His statement reads:
The Japs frequently mistreated Americans working for them. Once when a frail American private was not digging a ditch to suit his guard, the guard grabbed the shovel from him and beat him across the back with it. The boy had to be sent to the hospital. One Jap carried a golf club and beat the men working for him the way one wouldn’t beat a horse. When two Americans were caught getting food from a Filipino, they were beaten unmercifully on the face and body. After a doctor dressed their wounds, the Japs took sticks and beat them again.
Men were literally worked to death. I was not unusual for 20 percent of a work detail to be worked to death. In one instance, 75 percent were killed that way.
Cdr. McCoy reported that two American Army officers and a Navy officer attempted to escape from Cabanatuan, which was thickly ringed with barbed wire, and had machine-gun emplacements and towers outside the wire. The officers were caught moving down a drain ditch to get under the wire.
Their Japanese captors beat them about the feet and legs till they could no longer stand, then kicked the officers and jumped on them. The next morning the three Americans stripped to their shorts, were taken out on the road in full view of the camp, their hands were tied behind them, and they were pulled up by ropes from an overhead purchase, so that they had to remain standing, but bent forward to ease the pressure on their arms.
They were kept in this position in the blazing sun for two full days. Periodically the Japanese beat them with a two-by-four, and any Filipino unlucky enough to pass that way was compelled to beat them too. If he failed to beat them hard enough, the Japanese beat them. After two days of this, one of the officers was beheaded and the other two were shot.
The Japanese made every effort to humiliate their prisoners of war. They would force them to stand and call them vile names. When one older American colonel turned away from a Japanese reviling him, he was knocked unconscious with a blackjack. American flags were habitually and designedly used as rags in the Japanese kitchens.
The death rate at Cabanatuan for June and July 1942 was 30 American a day, according to the sworn statements of the three officers. The rate for August 1942 was more than 20 a day. The rate for September, 15 a day – because by that time most of the weaker men were already dead. During October 1942, the rate ranged upward from 16 a day to 19 a day and was increasing when Col. Dyess, Col. Mellnik and Cdr. McCoy left on October 26, 1942.
By that date 3,000 of the 12,200 Army, Navy and Marine Corps prisoners at Cabanatuan had died. There were 2,00 in the hospitals and the American doctors doubted that any of them would live.
The chief cause of death was starvation. This was definitely established by autopsies performed by both American and Japanese doctors. After it was determined that the men were starving to death, the Japanese answer was that there was no food available. There was a great abundance of food available in the Philippines at the time.
Other diseases caused indirectly by starvation were wet beriberi (in which the feet, ankles and head swell to twice their size), dry beriberi, dysentery, diarrhea, malaria, scurvy, blindness, diphtheria, yellow jaundice and dengue fever. Several men went completely blind.
The Japanese eventually permitted the Red Cross in Manila to send medical supplies, but after they arrived, they were not unpacked for many days and during this period many died. Col. Dyess had dengue fever, yellow jaundice and later scurvy sores.
His weight shrank from 175 to 130 pounds and he was given no medicine. At 130 pounds, he was considered a fat man in the camp.
High Japanese officers regularly inspected the camp and knew of conditions. During inspections prisoners were forced to wear their best clothes, which were rags – some men had no shirts, only trousers, and many had no shoes.
One inspection, said Col. Mellnik, was conducted by a Japanese general. An American lieutenant colonel was called out to accompany the general’s group. He pointed out that many officers and enlisted men were too weak to stand in the ranks.
“We have many sick here,” he said courageously. The Japanese general, who spoke excellent English, asked: “Why?”
The mess barracks was nearby. The American lieutenant colonel pointed to a meal of white rice and thin carrot-top soup.
Here is why. We are all starving.
The Japanese general snapped:
That will be enough. Your men are not starving. They need more exercise.
The lieutenant colonel tried to say more, but Japanese guards quickly stepped in and restrained him. The Japanese general curtly turned on his hell and continued his inspection with an air of boredom and indifference.
The Japanese took 400 prisoners who were technical men, gave them a physical examination, issued clothes to them, and sent them to Japan to work in factories, another shipment of 1,000 technical men for Japan was being arranged when Col. Dyess, Col. Mellnik and Cdr. McCoy left Cabanatuan on October 26, 1942. These three officers and 966 other American officers and enlisted men had been crowded into the hold of a 7,000-ton British-built freighter at Manila for shipment to Davao on the island of Mindanao, with stops at Cebu and Iloilo.
The voyage took 11 days. The hold was filthy and vermin-infested. Some prisoners were lucky enough to get a place on the junk-filled, rain-swept deck. Two men died on the trip.
On November 7, 1942, the Americans were unloaded at Lansang Lumber Company, near the Davao penal colony.
The sun treatment for two hours followed to march more than 15 miles to the penal colony. Many were so weakened they fell by the roadside. In this instance, Japanese picked them up, and threw them into trucks and carried them along.
It developed that the Japanese commanding officer at the penal colony, which in peacetimes had been operated for criminals by the Philippine Bureau of Prisons, was disturbed when he saw the condition of the Americans. He had requested able-bodied laborers. Instead, he shouted, he had been sent walking corpses.
In spite of the condition of the prisoners, they were without exception put to hard labor – chaplains, officers and enlisted men alike, Col. Dyess, barefooted for a month and a half, was forced to clear jungle and plow every day.
During Col. Dyess’ 361 days as a prisoner of war, he received $10 in pay from the Japanese. To get the $10, he was forced to sign a statement saying that he had received more than $250, with clothes, food and lodging. No clothes were issued until American and British Red Cross supplies began to arrive at Davao, an event Col. Dyess’ statement describes as “the salvation of the American prisoners of war.”
Food was slightly better at Davao. In addition to rice, the prisoners received once a day a small portion of mango beans and some camotes, green papayas, cassavas, or cooking bananas.
However, most of the prisoners were already suffering from beriberi and the food was not sufficient to prevent the disease from progressing. Although oranges and lemons were abundant in the vicinity, the Japanese would not allow the prisoners to have them. The brutality of Japanese officers continued.
One lieutenant habitually beat prisoners. According to the statement of Col. Mellnik, this lieutenant had done most of his fighting at the rear when in action and had been assigned to prison duty as a punishment. He avenged himself on the prisoners.
The camp commandant made a speech to the prisoners shortly after their arrival.
You have been used to a soft, easy life since your capture. All that will be different here. You will learn about hard labor. Every prisoner will continue to work until he is actually hospitalized. Punishment for malingering will be severe.
These orders were rigidly enforced. When Col. Dyess, Col. Mellnik and Cdr. McCoy escaped from Davao in April 1943, only 1,100 of the 2,000 prisoners there were able to work.
The arrival of two Red Cross boxes for each prisoner early in 1943 caused joy beyond description among the prisoners, according to the statements of the three officers. The boxes contained chocolate bars, cheese, tinned meats and sardines, cigarettes, a portion each of tea, coca, salt, pepper and sugar. Most important of all, quinine and sulfa drugs were included.
The Red Cross supplies had been received aboard a diplomatic ship in Japan in June 1942. The prisoners never learned why it took them seven months to reach Davao.
A few days before Cdr. McCoy, Col. Mellnik and Col. Dyess escaped from Davao on April 4, 1943, one of the American prisoners, a hospital orderly, was wantonly murdered by a Japanese sentry.
The orderly was digging camotes, Col. Mellnik reported, outside the hospital stockade and directly beneath a watchtower. It was an extremely hot day. He called to a fellow prisoner to toss him a canteen from the stockade. As the orderly was about t drink from the canteen, the Japanese sentry in the tower shouted at him angrily.
To show that the canteen contained only water, the orderly took it from his mouth and poured a little on the ground. Apparently because he did this, the sentry trained his rifle on him and fired. The bullet entered at the neck and shoulder and came out at the hip.
The orderly cried out: “Don’t shoot me again.”
The sentry fired two more bullets into the man’s body. He then emptied his clip at the man inside the hospital stockade, who ran for his life and was not hit.