A memoir of service:
"A Long Trip"
About five minutes before we were to fallout and go to work on
21 September 1944 I heard the rattle of machine gun fire, looking
up I saw a two motor Jap bomber coming down on fire. The Filipinos
were always trying to keep our morale up by furnishing what information
they could. And the latest rumor was the Americans were pushing
up from the South. The first word I said after the bomber came
down was, "The Yanks are here". Within fifteen minutes
the sky was full of fighters from an aircraft carrier in Halsey's
task force. There would be no work on the Air Field at Los Piñas,
which is located about ten kilometers from Manila that day, as
the Japanese would be afraid to take us out of the compound.
Up until this time my opinion of the Navy was very low. A few
days before this happened we had dug foxholes all around the
Compound. They were now filled with Japs, while the Americans
were hollering and practically going crazy. This was the most
beautiful sight I had ever witnessed. We figured there were about
three or four hundred fighters in on the raid. They were dive
bombing the Japanese Navy in Manila bay, hitting troop concentrations,
barrack at Nichols Field and any other military installations
that could be found. This raid lasted approximately ninety minutes.
We were notified that we would not have any rice to eat, as they
could not build a fire. We didn't mind missing the chow, for
about 13:00 hours, here the fighters came again. On this second
raid, the Japanese had the sky full of anti Aircraft fire. The
Navy fighters didn't pay any attention to this, and went about
their job as though they were not being fired on. Everyone was
in high spirit that day. And the Japs had to make everyone go
to sleep that night. About daylight on the morning of 22 September,
here the fighters came again. After this raid, they had accomplished
their mission, as we did not see them again. The camp Commander
named Watanabe admitted that the Japanese were caught with their
Our hopes of liberation was shattered as we were notified shortly
after that we were going to Japan. The list of names were published
and I was on it. The American Base Commander, Major Cecil S.
McFarland, who was a very good friend of mine, asked me if I
wanted off the list, as there were going to be a few left that
didn't have to leave. I told him I would take my assignment as
On the morning of 1 October 1944, we were taken by truck to the
Manila Port, where we were loaded on a pig iron ship, that was
nothing but a coal transport ship.
[This was the Hokusen Maru, a.k.a., Haro Maru and Benjo Maru] We were crowded into the 2 holds of this ship
so thick we could hardly sit down. There were about six hundred
personnel back in the rear hold. On 3 October, my birthday, the
ship pulled away from the docks in Manila. I was glad to be leaving,
as I had been on many work details, received many beating, and
couldn't remember the last time my stomach had been full. On
the ship with us were about 300 Limey's, some who had been evacuated
from Dunkirk, and later had been captured in Singapore. Their
ship [Hofuku Maru]
had been bombed by Americans in Subic Bay so close to shore that
practically all of them could swim to shore. We were in an eight
ship convoy, and on the second day out, we ran into American
submarines. Two of the tankers went down that day. The ship I
was on was rolling depth charges over the side, and every time
one went off, the ship would really bounce around. I will always
think the only reason we weren't sunk, is because they didn't
think our ship was worth a torpedo. The balance of our convoy
changed course, and we anchored in Hong Kong harbor. We stayed
in this Harbor for 10 days. We were allowed to go top side one
time to take a bath from the fire hose. While I was taking my
bath the American P-38's strafed a Jap ship loaded with fuel
in fifty gallon drums and stored on top deck. After this ship
blew up, the Japanese made us all go below. After ten days in
Hong Kong Harbor we shoved off. No one had an idea where we were
When we did dock [Takao, Formosa], the 40th person had died of thirst. After
two days in the hole of the Hell Ship, we were notified that
we were going ashore. About half of the prisoners had to be carried
up the ladder. We later found out that we were on Formosa [Heito]. Our duty
there was cutting sugar cane, sugar refinery, and farming. During
our stay here which was very short, we saw American airplanes
three times. On 4 January 1945, we were loaded on a Japanese
ship again. This ship [Melbourne
Maru] was so much better than the
one we had got off of. We were not so crowded, and our water
& food were better. We landed At Moji, Japan on 18 January
1945. We were glad to land , as we were all being eaten by lice,
and bed bugs.
We stayed over night in Moji, then boarded a train. We had to
change trains here. While we were carrying the prisoners that
were unable to walk, the Japanese women would spit on them. While
we were passing through Tokyo, we could hear the Air raid siren.
The rest of our travel was by train, with the blinds down. Our
destination was a lead and zinc mine at Hosokura, Japan which
is in the North end of Honshu. This duty was the worst duty that
I have ever been on. The Japanese commander told us we were his
enemies, and would (be) treated as such. The work was from daylight
until dark. The rice ration was so small, that we were to weak
to do the work that was expected of us. There were 300 American
& British prisoners here at this camp. We lost 28 people
from pneumonia that winter. The short rations, beatings, hard
work, and severe weather was beginning to get me. The last time
I had weighed (myself), I had tipped the scales at 100 lbs. I
knew I couldn't last much longer. I was certain that I could
not last another 60 days. I thought about the days of "The
Battle of Bataan", and my escape to Corregidor on a log,
and if I were ever going to survive. My morale and the hopes
of liberation were fast diminishing.
At noon on the 15th of August 1945, we were taken from the mines.
When we reached topside, we heard the loudspeaker blaring out
in Japanese. Women, kids, and men were crying. Our hopes had
been proven wrong so many times, that no one could give an explanation.
Next day the Japanese commander told us it would be a Holiday.
Rumors were many. We had been disappointed so many times. Until
no one could believe it was over with. The Japanese commander
had informed us earlier that if American troops landed on Japan,
we would all be shot.
We were still alive, so we couldn't believe the war was over.
The 3rd, 4th & 5th was also a Holiday. On the 21st of August,
three American shipboard fighters flew over our camp. The day
before the Japanese had written P.W. on the roof of our barracks.
The American planes flew over our camp several times, and each
time would zag the wings in a friendly manner. The sight of Old
Glory was to much, as we were all crying. One plane dropped a
note which read, "The U.S. has accepted Japan's surrender,
and Texas has too". The note also stated the B-29's would
be here next day at a certain time. We were all sweating out
the planes next day, and sure enough, here they came. We were
all wide eyes as the bomb bay doors opened. The planes were so
low that some of the parachutes didn't have time to open. The
drop killed two Limeys and a buddy of mine from Goose Creek,
Texas, by the name of Carl Burk Gann [EM2c, USN, USS Canopus].
A case of corn beef hit a Japanese solder in the lap and drove
him clear through the floor. This flight dropped a note, that
they would be back tomorrow with food and clothing. We were prepared
for the next drop, and no one was hurt. On 12th of September
1945 an American Major and 3 enlisted men entered our camp. We
were taken out by rail to the port of Sendai.
Alonzo C. Meredith
27th Material Squadron
Nichols Field, P.I.
Major John c. Coleman
I left the spelling and grammar as my father wrote it, with a
couple of minor exceptions. I'm sure some of the details were
dim, as others would have been only too vivid. I wish he had
shared with us this story, which I dimly recall he wrote and
sent off to Reader's Digest. When they declined to print it,
he buried it with all the other military papers. We discovered
them in August of 2004.
Susan Meredith Smith (daughter)