Alonzo C. Meredith
"A Long Trip"

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Source: Daughter, Susan Meredith Smith

A memoir of service:

"A Long Trip"
(1493 words)

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 pants down.

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 it came.
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 going.

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.
Commanding Officer
Major John c. Coleman
Wellington, Texas

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)