June - September 1942

June-September, 1942. Here was my home for the next three and a half months. Camp Cabanatuan had been built for the Philippine Army just before the war started. Cabanatuan was now the holding camp for all U.S. POWs. From here, work details were sent out all over the Philippines. Some of the stories that came back were horror tales. Some people who came back were at death’s door.

    Poker and dice games were in progress all over the camp. Before the Rock fell, some men in the tunnels had access to money that was going to be destroyed, or apparently taken if the men wanted to. Well, some of these games were really big-time; thousands of dollars in every pot. Boy, what a fool’s paradise that place was for some.

    Truck drivers {American} went daily to Manila for supplies with a Japanese guard. By bribing the guards, they were able to buy medicine at pharmacies there. Most were mercenaries and did it to make money off American POWs who were sick and dying. We did not have to work at camp except to maintain ourselves. Dysentery was the big killer and in our weakened condition, it killed many.

    The Japs allowed us to bury our dead once a week on Wednesdays. Why? I’ll never know. The bodies were badly decomposed. We received no medical attention, except from within, from each other. All kinds of old remedies showed up. Some of them worked very well.

    Pop Lundberg, myself, and another sailor team up. It’s an even split on everything we have. Pop and I work together swell, but this other guy is a dope. Maybe he can’t help himself like many men who have gone off their nut, so we gradually ease away from him and are on our own. Pop and I.

    All the month of June we made out okay. I supply wood for the galley, where I am allowed to eat extra food and take all I can lay my hands on. Funny, that I never stole a thing in my life before. Now, it’s dog-eat-dog and to hell with you. Yes, that’s easy to say, but when someone you know is down and out, you forget this rule of prison life.

    My closest shipmate, Pop, came down with dysentery and almost gave up the fight. I volunteered and worked for the Jap guard, making wooden go-aheads {shoes}. I received a can of evaporated milk and a biscuit. I forced Harold {Pop} Lundberg to eat the biscuit. Sometimes I had to chew it first because he was so dehydrated. It worked and he survived.

    There were so many deaths, I decided to go on a work detail. The Japs wanted 300 Navy men to go on a detail. Lundberg, Floyd, Woodward, and I volunteered. We were shipped back to Bilibud Prison in Manila about September 13th, 1942. There were all kinds of civilian internees there with us in the prison. Some of them were newspaper correspondents. Some of them came up to us and said, “You know where you’re going, don’t you?” We said, “No, we have no idea.” They said, “They’re going to ship you Japan. You’re going to be the first group to go. Actually, it turned out we were lucky to get out of there then. The Japanese tried to ship thousands of POWs to Japan, as the American forces were advancing on them. Most of the POWs died when American planes and submarines sunk the ships they were being transported on.


American POW - Earl Anderson's Story