The war experiences of Harold Malcolm Amos of the neighboring Afton community are known in Clarke County and beyond because of his willingness to share. His daughter, Cindy Williams, has loaned a packet which contains articles in the Iowa Life section of the Des Moines Register of Sunday, November 10, 2002, the Albany Ledger of June 2004, the Afton Star Enterprise of November 14, 2004, and the Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau of October 12, 2002. Even though it is impossible to do justice to this incredible, horrible story, the following is an attempt to combine information from those sources and the internet, and retell his experiences.

In the 1930s, the U.S. considered Japan a global threat and stationed forces, including Filipino and American troops, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, on Bataan and Corregidor. Both were identified as keys to keep the Philippine islands out of Japanese control. Corregidor was a tiny island at the mouth of Manila Bay, two miles from the peninsula of Bataan. It was a mountainous 500 square mile island, matted with oversized trees, tropical vines, bamboo, and vertical cliffs. The date of December 7, 1941 is frozen in the memories of all adults who heard the chilling report of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but less was told about eight hours later when Japan attacked the Philippines.

The United States underestimated the enemy. The armed forces were not trained and ready for the onslaught. The Filipino soldiers had even less training than the U.S. troops. Most had never fired a weapon. The final analysis was that they bought the U.S. time to prepare defenses to take the offensive in the Pacific, which caused the Japanese to commit more forces than originally planned for the conquest of the Philippines, and denied them their use in making the conquest to the south. At what price! With the fall of the Philippines, over 70,000 troops -­50,000 Filipinos and 20,000 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen, along with civilian internees, became prisoners of the Japanese. At the end of WWII, nearly 37% of all these POWs (Prisoners of War) had lost their lives as a result of their treatment by the Japanese.

Harold Malcolm Amos, 18 years old, just out of high school, a grocery store employee, figured he could make more money in the Army and joined, weighing in at 205 pounds. In 1940, he was sent to the Philippines. He learned the theory which guided the military minds was that if the Japanese attacked, they would come through Manila Bay, and the Filipino-American forces would stop them at Corregidor and Bataan. Instead, the Japanese attacked from behind. The troops were still not concerned, believing they would be reinforced.

On January 15, 1942, MacArthur assured the troops that thousands of soldiers and hundreds of planes were being dispatched, but he was not in touch with the war department who had decided the Philippines were a liability and Australia was being built up. What reinforcements were sent were insufficient, and neither well trained nor well equipped. Shells lacked proper fuses, grenades more often than not failed to explode. Meanwhile, food was in such short and uncertain supply that MacArthur ordered 1/2-rations for his men — 2,000 calories, or about 30 ounces of food a day. Later, that was lowered to 3/8 rations.

Against his wishes, MacArthur left the Philippines on March 11, and although he did return as he said he would, it was several years too late for the men left on the islands. General Jonathan M. Wainwright replaced MacArthur at Corregidor and GeneralEdward P. King replaced General Wainwright on Bataan, on which Japan launched an offensive on April 3rd.

The American-Filipino forces held their ground in spite of unbelievable odds. In addition to the aforementioned disadvantages, add sickness, malnutrition, and exhaustion. On April 8th, General King announced to the forces that they had food and ammunition enough for only two days and the next day he disobeyed orders and surrendered 70,000 men to the Japanese, 50,000 more than the Japanese anticipated. Malcolm insists that with more supplies, they could have held out longer — probably not defeating Japan, but "We never ran out of will. We ran out of supplies."

Malcolm became a Bataan prisoner of war. The forced march which took the men there became known as the Bataan Death March, which was actually a series of marches. Malcolm walked 65 miles on a one-lane dirt road. He discovered that walking inside the group exposed him to less mistreatment by the guards who used bamboo clubs or rifle butts to prod them along. At times Filipino children might provide a cup of water or rice ball to those on the perimeter, but they were risking their lives to do so.

The way was strewn with bodies of American soldiers, their army packs, helmets and canteens. Malcolm walked seven days in 120 degree heat with no food and only what water he could scoop from mud puddles. They were robbed of personal effects, and soldiers who could not keep the pace were bayoneted, shot, or beheaded. Some were pushed off cliffs to the apparent entertainment of their captors. If others tried to help them, they were shot. Sixteen thousand died, others went insane, but those like Malcolm kept walking.

The destination was Camp O'Donnell, an abandoned Philippine army post made from bamboo slats, grass shingles, and surrounded by barbed wire. It had been abandoned because it could not provide enough water for 5,000 men. Now there were 54,000. There were two spigots and Malcolm waited up to 14 hours to fill a canteen. The food was infested with maggots and men died of starvation rather than eat it. In addition to the diseases they arrived with, there were malaria and dengue fever, which caused blinding headaches. The death rate was staggering and the prisoners were required to bury the dead.

Camp O'Donnell was closed in June 1942, and all but the weakest were transferred to Cabanatuan, which grew to become the largest POW camp in Asia. This was where Malcolm met Jason Brown, originally from Trenton, Missouri, who served on Corregidor. Cabanatuan was a compound surrounded by an eight-foot wire fence with four-story wooden guard towers at even intervals. The prisoners' days were spent at forced labor, harvesting wood or tilling the fields of a 1,000 acre farm, planting sweet potatoes and rice (in mud). To flood the rice, they carried water in five-gallon buckets, so heavy "we felt like our shoulder would pull out," They never knew what day or time it was. Their only goal was to survive.

A difference between their former plight and their incarceration in Cabanatuan was that in the latter, water was plentiful. Men showered and shaved, usually also shaving their heads to avoid lice and bedbugs. They used a double-edge razor sharpened by filing across a piece of broken glass. They used the same instrument for surgeries — no anesthetic whatsoever, just men holding down the screaming patient. The food was the greens from the sweet potatoes. "They tasted terrible, very bitter," or it was gruel that had WOJ las, weevils, and cockroaches. Red Cross trucks were turned away and neither Malcolm nor Jason ever received a package or mail.

When General King submitted to the unconditional surrender of Bataan, he realized General Wainwright had been told to "hold Corregidor at all costs." The Japanese established heavy artillery and bombarded the island. They positioned some of their Bataan prisoners as human shields. General Wainwright stopped bombing when he realized he was bombing his own men.

The Japanese were possessed with taking Corregidor, so there was not only shelling on land but from overhead there were hundreds of bombing missions. The lack of food became such an issue that men ate their cavalry horses, monkeys, and small deer that were on the island. In spite of super-human defense, Corregidor fell May 6, 1942, 27 days after Bataan. General MacArthur is quoted as saying, "Through the bloody haze of its last reverberating shot, I shall always see a vision of grim, gaunt, ghastly men still unafraid." It is possible that by holding Bataan and Corregidor, the Fil-Americans gave the US time to secure Australia and enter the Battle of the Coral Sea much better prepared, and in that way turned the war in America's favor.

One week after the fall of Corregidor, there were about 7,200 American POWs at Cabanatuan, about 2,000 of whom, over time, were shipped out, leaving only 512 of the original POWs who would survive the camp. But suddenly, on January 30, 1945, the "Great Raid" occured. The 512 POWs were liberated by a selection from the 6th American Rangers, the "Alamo Scouts" — a group of volunteers selected because of their courage, intelligence, physical ruggedness, excellent health, and marksmanship. Each one had been assigned a barrack and one by one they accomplished their mission. On February 9, the freed prisoners were transported to army transports, reaching New Guinea on February 13, boarded the General AE Anderson for the 28 day interim before docking at San Francisco on March 15, 1945. Malcolm weighed in at 97 pounds. The loss of 108 pounds substantiates and graphically defines what the survivors had endured.

Our indebtedness to these men is inexpressible. It is understandable that many of the veterans, as is the case with Jason Brown, found memories too horrible to talk about and relive. We are grateful to Harold Malcolm Amos and his willingness to inform us. His account surely speaks for all who were called to serve on Corregidor and Bataan.




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Last Revised April 13, 2015