As Good As Dead: The Daring Escape of American POWs From a Japanese Death Camp

As Good As Dead: The Daring Escape of American POWs From a Japanese Death Camp

by Stephen L. Moore

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Overview

“[A] truly uplifting tale of deliverance from certain death… a deeply personal read, in which the reader is drawn into the highs and lows of the action, the tragedy and the salvation, because Moore has so successfully drawn out the characters…. Compelling reading and hard to put down.”—Naval History

The heroic story of eleven American POWs who defied certain death in World War II—As Good as Dead is an unforgettable account of the Palawan Massacre survivors and their daring escape.  


In late 1944, the Allies invaded the Japanese-held Philippines, and soon the end of the Pacific War was within reach. But for the last 150 American prisoners of war still held on the island of Palawan, there would be no salvation. After years of slave labor, starvation, disease, and torture, their worst fears were about to be realized. On December 14, with machine guns trained on them, they were herded underground into shallow air raid shelters—death pits dug with their own hands. 

Japanese soldiers doused the shelters with gasoline and set them on fire. Some thirty prisoners managed to bolt from the fiery carnage, running a lethal gauntlet of machine gun fire and bayonets to jump from the cliffs to the rocky Palawan coast. By the next morning, only eleven men were left alive—but their desperate journey to freedom had just begun. 

As Good as Dead is one of the greatest escape stories of World War II, and one that few Americans know. The eleven survivors of the Palawan Massacre—some badly wounded and burned—spent weeks evading Japanese patrols. They scrounged for food and water, swam shark-infested bays, and wandered through treacherous jungle terrain, hoping to find friendly Filipino guerrillas. Their endurance, determination, and courage in the face of death make this a gripping and inspiring saga of survival.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399583551
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/22/2016
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 761,200
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Stephen L. Moore, a sixth-generation Texan, graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he studied advertising, marketing, and journalism. He is the author of multiple books on World War II and Texas history, including The Battle for Hell’s Island: How a Small Band of Carrier Dive-Bombers Helped Save Guadalcanal; Pacific Payback: The Carrier Fly Boys Who Avenged Pearl Harbor at the Battle of Midway; Texas Rising: The Epic True Story of the Lone Star Republic and the Rise of the Texas Rangers, 1836-1846, and Taming Texas, a biography of his great-great-great grandfather William T. Sadler, who was one of the first Texas Ranger captains in the 1830s. Steve lives north of Dallas in Lantana, Texas, with his wife, Cindy, and their three children.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
As Good as Dead


Prologue

Doug Bogue wished he could make himself invisible.

Crouching behind large rocks on the beach of Palawan Island, the Marine sergeant watched as Japanese soldiers shot and bayoneted American POWs who were fleeing for their lives along the shore. Sixty feet above, atop the steep bluff overlooking the rocky coastline, black smoke rose into the blue sky, a vivid reminder of the unspeakable horrors he had just escaped, scraping through the barbed wire fencing and tumbling down the cliff toward the Sulu Sea below.

Bogue’s body was a mass of injuries. His hands and torso had been slashed as he plunged through the razor wire. His right leg throbbed from a rifle bullet embedded in his thigh, and his bare feet were lacerated and bloody from running along the rough coral beach. As he hid behind the boulders, nearly naked, trying to catch his breath and wondering what to do, two POWs ran past him in an attempt to swim to freedom. Both men were cut down by Japanese riflemen.

It was December 14, 1944. For twenty-eight months, Bogue had slaved as a prisoner of war for the Imperial Japanese Army, working to build the second-largest airfield in the region—one being used to attack Allied forces in the Philippines. He had endured unbearable heat and humidity, illness, physical abuse and torture, and near starvation, and his once-powerful frame had been reduced to skin and bones. That dismal life now seemed merciful in comparison.

All around him, Bogue could hear the screams of other Americans being slaughtered as they tried to escape. If he ran for it, he knew he might be shot down like the rest. If he stayed put . . . Either way, the odds were stacked against him. He had to do something, and quickly.

One thought raced through his mind: They’re going to hunt us down and kill every last one of us.

Part One

Bataan

Chapter One

The Death March

It was a time when even the most optimistic of souls had little left to believe in. American servicemen, who just a year earlier had relished duty in the Philippines for its enviable life, now questioned their purpose. They were men abandoned by their own government, left to hold out against a fate already cast, and now, late in the afternoon of April 8, 1942, their five-day fight for freedom and survival was nearing its futile end.

Still, Beto Pacheco was not about to surrender. Handsome, athletic, and quick to flash a toothy smile in better times, the private first class now looked like a bum: His once-sharp uniform had been reduced to rags, his shoes were nearly worn through, and even his underwear was in shreds. Weeks of exposure to the brutal tropical sun had burned his skin, but Pacheco’s Spanish and Mexican ancestry had at least provided him more natural protection than some of his fair-complected companions.

The air smelled of death, dirt, smoke, and gunpowder. The once-lush green jungles were denuded of vegetation, swept bare by endless weeks of pounding artillery and aerial bombardments from the Imperial Japanese Army. Explosions sent shock waves through the earth around Pacheco as he and his comrades continued firing back with their few antiaircraft guns that were still marginally operational. Silver-winged Japanese warplanes flashed past, unleashing violent bomb blasts and chattering rounds of machine-gun bullets that shredded the nearby jungle surrounding the last two American airfields on the Bataan Peninsula.

For Pacheco, the last stand at Bataan was a true test of his devout Catholic faith. At one point, as a strong force flung him from his foxhole, he felt as if the hand of God had saved him. A brilliant red-orange blast left him no time to determine whether a nearby artillery round had propelled him. When the acrid black smoke parted, two of his comrades lay dead in the hole from which he had been thrown.

Even surrounded by the din of battle, he could feel the gnawing hunger in his gut. Army rations had been gone for weeks. The American and Filipino troops had exhausted their meager supplies of rice and canned goods, and by now they had even hunted the native wildlife in the vicinity to extinction. Pacheco had learned to eat anything—from the insides of palm trees to iguanas, snakes, crickets, and even worms. He was a slight man, standing five foot nine and weighing only 160 pounds when the war started. His weight had dropped quickly, and by this point he would have killed for a bite of wild boar meat, or even a freshly picked mango. But food was not an option.

Beto Pacheco’s U.S. Army regiment, the 200th Coast Artillery, was hanging on by threads along with its sister unit, the 515th Coast Artillery Regiment—the last remnants of resistance facing the Japanese on the tip of a peninsula of Luzon Island in the Philippines. The men were firing back at the surging Japanese forces threatening to overrun the Cabcaben and Bataan airfields. Dirty, dehydrated, and exhausted, Pacheco was nonetheless determined to fight beside his comrades to the very end. And now Army brass was spreading the news that the end had come.

At 0300 on April 9, Captain Albert Fields returned from the I Corps headquarters and told his executive officer, “It’s all over.” Runners reached Pacheco’s artillery unit before dawn with orders that the 200th and 515th were to rendezvous on the road west of Cabcaben by 2200. But first, they were to destroy their antiaircraft guns and range equipment, leaving them just their rifles. We’re being reduced to infantrymen! Pacheco thought with disgust.[i]

The disheartened men dutifully sabotaged their weapons and marched out with rifles, canteens, bayonets, and a belt of ammunition each. Men much older than Pacheco trudged along with tears streaming down their dusty, blood-caked faces as they carried out the dreaded orders. The young soldier brushed aside his wavy, dark hair—untrimmed long enough to hang over his sweaty brow—adjusted his gear, and moved forward. He was armed with only a rusting 1903 model .306-caliber Springfield bolt-action rifle, but he still had his pride.

Somehow, some way, he intended to carry on the fight. He was not about to willingly surrender himself to the Japanese.

Pacheco’s 200th Coast Artillery unit had been the first to fire on the Japanese warplanes that swept over Manila on December 8, 1941. Seven hours earlier—December 7 Hawaii time—Japanese carrier aircraft had unleashed a devastating surprise assault on the United States Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. With the capture of the Philippines critical to Japan’s effort to control the Southwest Pacific, their planes attacked within hours the main aviation bases on Manila and the headquarters of the United States Asiatic Fleet at Cavite. In only a single day Japan gained air superiority over the Philippines and forced the surviving ships of the U.S. fleet to withdraw from Cavite.

Tens of thousands of American military personnel were left stranded on the ground in and around Manila, the Philippine capital. Pacheco’s 200th Coast Artillery, the only American antiaircraft unit on Luzon, had been assigned to protect nearly three dozen B-17 bombers on Clark Field with their single battery of .50-caliber machine guns, twenty-one 37mm guns, and a dozen three-inch antiaircraft guns. Prior to that day, Pacheco’s unit had never actually fired a live round of ammunition in the islands.[ii] Yet since firing that first shot at the Japanese on December 8, Pacheco’s antiaircraft regiment had expended some forty thousand rounds in the months that followed. They had been credited with destroying eighty-six Japanese aircraft—a proud accomplishment, but not nearly enough to save the Philippines.

The 200th Coast Artillery, formerly the 111th Cavalry of the New Mexico National Guard, had arrived in the Philippines in August 1941. The unit was composed of eighteen hundred artillery specialists, more than half of whom were New Mexicans from Spanish-speaking border and mountain communities that used little English. The New Mexico National Guard, the oldest continuously active militia in the United States, dating to 1598, had participated in the Mexican War, the Civil War, and the frontier Indian wars. New Mexico’s militiamen had charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, had ridden against Pancho Villa’s banditos south of the Rio Grande, and had served in France during World War I.[iii]

Now hundreds of these proud men were moving out, overwhelmed, while other antiaircraft batteries continued firing back at the approaching enemy. Its companies were widely scattered, hanging on to what little ground they could still hold. Pacheco, a battlewise veteran after four months of hell on Luzon, knew that the last stand of the 200th would be short-lived.

He had heard others whisper the word surrender. The heavily reinforced Japanese forces sweeping down the Bataan Peninsula had pounded the dug-in Americans with blistering air and artillery fire for days. The Japanese had broken through Allied lines on April 7, and the following day, the senior U.S. commander on Bataan, Major General Edward P. King, had seen the futility of further resistance. He began offering plans for capitulation.

As they hustled along, Pacheco tried to offer encouragement to some of the younger men in his Headquarters Battery. Several of his hometown companions from Deming, New Mexico—Angelo Sakelares, Lawrence “Buddy” Byrne, and Jim Huxtable—had been wearing high school graduation caps and gowns just months ago. By August 1941, these fresh-faced boys on the cusp of manhood had been selected for overseas duty in the Philippines by virtue of their reputation as the best antiaircraft regiment in the U.S. Armed Forces. Now they were starving, grimy, and haggard, clothed in tatters, and facing a defeat the likes of which no modern American unit had been forced to reckon with.[iv]

In early 1941, the 200th had trained at Fort Bliss, the Army’s second-largest installation, headquartered in El Paso, Texas. There, Pacheco had met sixteen-year-old Catalina “Katie” Valles, an attractive girl with green eyes and long, dark brown hair. The two were soon an item, and even began dreaming of a future together—against the wishes of her father, because she was so young. Pacheco’s plans took a sudden detour with the selection of the 200th for overseas assignment. He promised Katie he would be gone only a year. When they returned, they could get married and start a life together.

If his proud regiment was now truly surrendering to the Japanese, that future with Katie seemed an impossibility.

The American surrender on the Bataan Peninsula had been months in the making.

Pacheco’s artillery regiment had started the war based at Fort Stotsenburg, which abutted Clark Field some seventy-five miles north of Manila. The destruction of the B-17s at Clark in December forced the 200th and 515th to withdraw to Bataan by the first of 1942. There, the artillery regiments had set up their antiaircraft defenses in and around Manila to protect the airstrips at Cabcaben and Bataan, where only seven P-40s were still flying by the first of the year.

By January 9, the strung-out artillery regiments were already living on reduced rations as the drubbing of Japanese artillery signaled the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy in 1907, had landed his troops of the Japanese 14th Army at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon and advanced toward Manila. His army found little resistance at first, as General Douglas MacArthur had ordered his own forces to withdraw from the capital city to the Bataan Peninsula. During the early months of the siege, MacArthur was fed false hope from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised hundreds of planes and thousands of troops. To await his reinforcements, the general took up headquarters more than two miles across the water from Bataan on Corregidor Island, known to most as “the Rock.”

MacArthur was unaware that as early as late December 1941, President Roosevelt and War Secretary Henry Stimson had already privately written off the remote outpost of Bataan—a decision they confided in with Winston Churchill. In so doing, Washington had also forsaken the Philippines and all of its defenders.

The four-month stand made by General King’s men had been doomed from the start. The American troops in Manila were unable to receive supplies and ammunition due to their own crippled Navy and the blockade that the Imperial Japanese Navy had placed on the Philippines. Now, on April 9, King, adorned in his last clean uniform, was prepared to surrender to General Homma some seventy-eight thousand American and Filipino soldiers under his command. By doing so, he hoped to avoid a slaughter.

The Americans had agreed to a cease-fire, but the Japanese ignored the surrender talks and kept right on bombing into the morning of April 9. One artillery officer told Pacheco’s gun crew that they could either flee into the hills near Bataan or head across the bay for Corregidor. The officer was going to the island, so Pacheco decided to follow.[v]

They were just two among hundreds of other Americans who headed for the coast several miles away in search of passage to Corregidor, determined to avoid surrender. One of them was Seaman First Class Bruce Gordon Elliott, a dark-haired teenager with bushy eyebrows and a poker face that helped hide that he was just shy of his nineteenth birthday. On the beach at Mariveles, Pacheco, Elliott, and many others found mass confusion—hundreds of frustrated servicemen milling about with no more boats left to transport them across the bay.[vi]

As many as two thousand Filipinos and Americans, including nurses at the local hospitals, would manage to escape Bataan during the surrender by taking to boats and barges—or some even by swimming. Yet Pacheco, Elliott, and many other soldiers had emerged from the jungle too late to catch any of the outgoing launches. They found the water dotted with hundreds of swimmers attempting to cross the bay. Some were hanging on to lifeboats or bamboo rafts, or clinging to floating debris.[vii]

Though it was two and a half miles across choppy, shark-infested waters swirling with dangerous undercurrents to reach Corregidor, Pacheco and Elliott individually decided to join those swimming for the island rather than surrendering to the Japanese. The tides helped push the men out toward sea, but soon they were exhausted. Bruce Elliott had been swimming for about six hours, feeling that he was about to drown at any minute, when a launch plucked him from the sea in only his skivvies. Pacheco had made it only a third of the way before a small Filipino fishing boat came along and its crew pulled him from the water. He and several others were transferred to a larger Navy launch.

Safely aboard the Navy interisland boat, Pacheco was reunited with other members of his artillery unit. The men lay flat on the steel deck as Japanese planes strafed and bombed the boats bobbing across Manila Bay, headed for the Rock.[viii]

He and his companions were able to obtain new clothes after reaching the island. New arrivals were assigned to machine-gun nests at Monkey Point, facing away from the hell they had escaped at Bataan. Pacheco was still a free man on Corregidor, but his future did not look bright.

Those remaining faced a perilous path. Even as their countrymen reached the relative safety of the Rock on April 9, tens of thousands of American and Filipino soldiers on Bataan laid down their weapons, and they were soon relieved of their valuables by Japanese soldiers. Months of fighting had come to this. General MacArthur had long since fled to Corregidor, where he stayed until March 11, when, under orders of the U.S. President, a PT boat whisked him away on the first leg of a journey to Australia. Without their commander in chief, the men had sensed that they were expendable. Frank Hewlett, the only U.S. war correspondent left in the Philippines, summed up the feeling of the remaining servicemen in poetry:[ix]

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan.

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces,

And nobody gives a damn.

The nearly twelve thousand captured American servicemen, as well as fifty-eight thousand Filipino troops, were now little more than an obstacle to the operational plans of General Homma. His conquest of the Philippines would not be complete until his forces could kill or capture the American troops that remained on Corregidor and the other islands in Manila Bay. To accomplish his goal, his forces needed to move their prisoners of war northward to an area where they could contain them.

The men who surrendered were from all branches of the service: aviators, mechanics, radiomen, artillerymen, infantrymen, all rates and ranks. There were sailors without ships, pilots without planes, and ground crew without squadrons to service. Private First Class Edwin Petry was a twenty-one-year-old airman from San Antonio whose 19th Bomb Group had been stationed at Clark Field. After his aircraft was shot down over Lingayen Gulf on December 16, he had eluded capture and made his way to Bataan to fight with the infantry. Another Texan, Private Thomas Tinsley Daniels, served as a mechanic and carpenter with the Army Air Corp’s 28th Material Squadron. At age thirty-eight, Tommie Daniels was one of the oldest privates in his outfit, and many of his fellow soldiers who were young enough to be his sons called him “Pop.”[x]

Now they were no longer soldiers, but prisoners of war. On April 10, they were assembled at Mariveles and Saisaih Point on Bataan and ordered to march toward San Fernando, near Clark Field. The Japanese command planned to house the POWs at Camp O’Donnell, located at Capas in North Central Luzon. The seventy-thousand American and Filipino prisoners, Petry and Daniels among them, were divided into groups of several hundred men each and prompted down the road along with small groups of Japanese guards. Ahead of them lay a grueling sixty-mile trek that would come to be known as the Bataan Death March.

Sweat-streaked faces plodded through heavy clouds of dust kicked up by Japanese trucks, cavalry, and infantrymen who taunted and beat the surrendered men, many bloodied and limping with broken limbs. During one rest period when the prisoners were finally allowed to sleep, Japanese soldiers patrolled the crowd, stepping on men’s faces with hobnailed shoes. Ed Petry figured that he could have escaped during the forced march, but too many of his comrades were sick and needed his support. They had simply refused to believe that the Japanese would treat them unmercifully if they remained as prisoners. Now they were finding out otherwise. The Japanese had a cruel trick of marching the men for miles, then forcing them to walk back over the same road they had just traversed. Prisoners were provided with neither food nor water. Petry’s only water came from drinking out of ditches littered with dead men and animals. By the third day, those who fell behind or were too injured to walk were beaten, bayoneted, or shot.[xi]

The other Americans could do little to help their comrades, although Army medic Philip Brodsky tried his best. The Japanese had failed to confiscate his medical kit, filled with bandages, iodine, morphine, atropine, and a few other supplies. Each time the marching stopped, Brodsky moved about to tend to the wounded.[xii]

The Japanese herded their prisoners down the highways under cloudless skies until the dusty road along the edge of sparkling Manila Bay snaked westward for a stretch. Along the way, men were killed for all kinds of reasons. Some were left lying dead along the road with their pants down, slaughtered while simply trying to take care of their most basic bodily functions. Between seven thousand and ten thousand Americans and Filipinos died along the way from beating, execution, exhaustion, or disease. Those who survived had marched distances varying from fifty to sixty-five miles before reaching the staging area at San Fernando, the capital of Pampanga Province. There, the men were crowded into a small area to lie down until they could be moved into proper prison camps. They were given two handfuls of rice and a pinch of salt per man—their first food in five days.

They stayed in San Fernando until the next morning, when they were loaded on freight trains and transported to Capas, a distance of about thirty miles. The small boxcars were crowded with a hundred men in each, and three men suffocated in the same car with Petry. Three hours later, at Capas, they were unloaded and started on a six-mile march to Camp O’Donnell, an unfinished former Philippine Constabulary facility that the Japanese would use as an internment camp for the POWs. Along the way, the Filipinos warned the Americans that if they had any Japanese money, they should throw it away or be shot, as would anyone who fell out of line.

Upon arrival at O’Donnell, the men were lined up and searched. Five men found to have Japanese cash were immediately executed by soldiers who claimed that they must have taken it from a Japanese soldier they had killed. The remaining men were then separated by services: Army, Army Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Conditions were terrible. Only one small water spigot in the yard served thousands of men. With no medical attention, many died, at a rate of about fifty Americans and five hundred Filipinos per day.[xiii]

Ed Petry, Pop Daniels, and the others who once called themselves “the Battling Bastards of Bataan” had been reduced to masses of desperate souls surviving on mere crumbs. General Homma’s forces were now able to concentrate their efforts on seizing control of the remaining American forces holed up on the Rock.


1. The Death March

[i] Cave, Beyond Courage, 146.

[ii] Ibid., 53. Pacheco was sworn into federal service in Luna County, New Mexico, on January 6, 1941.

[iii] Ibid., 4–5, 14–15. The men of the 200th referred to themselves as the “Old Two Hon’erd.”

[iv] Ibid., 28, 37.

[v] Wartime interview video of Alberto Pacheco, January 1945.

[vi] Bruce Elliott biographical information from Jennifer Meixner e-mail of September 24, 2015; Bruce Elliott interview with Roger Mansell, 2001; Mansell archives. Elliott, born in Kansas, had moved with his family to Alameda, California, to escape the Dust Bowl. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1940 at age seventeen, but since December 1941, two of the apprentice yeoman’s assigned ships had been destroyed.

[vii] Villarin, We Remember Bataan and Corregidor, 118–119; Daniel William Crowley Oral History transcription.

[viii] Cave, Beyond Courage, 160.

[ix] Sloan, Undefeated, 109.

[x] Edwin Petry was born July 15, 1920, to Edgar Avren and Helen Wallace Petry, who had been married in Temple, Texas, in 1912. They had two daughters and then son Edwin, who had been working as an attendant on a used-car lot in San Antonio when he enlisted in the Army on May 20, 1941.

Thomas Daniels, having only a fourth-grade education, signed all of his military papers as “Tommie,” and that name would remain on all of his records. Tommie’s mother, Louisa Indiana Saxon Daniels, had eight children born to several different fathers, and Tommie was thus raised without a real father figure. His mother died in 1929.

[xi] “Interrogation of Escapees from Bataan and Corregidor,” 2.

[xii] Philip Brodsky Oral History, UNT Collection No. 815; interviewed by George Burlage on December 11, 1989, pp. 1–2, 11–12.

[xiii] “Interrogation of Escapees from Bataan and Corregidor,” 3.

2. Prisoners of the Rock

(Continues…)



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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Part 1 Bataam

1 The Death March 5

2 Prisoners of the Rock 16

3 Passage to Palawan 28

Part 2 Palawan

4 Camp 10-A 43

5 Palawan's "Fighting One Thousand" 56

6 "We Got the Third and Fourth Degree" 64

7 Escape and Evasion 80

8 Changing of the Guard 91

Code Name "Red Hankie" 106

10 Sub Survivors and Coastwatchers 123

11 The Weasel and the Buzzard 130

12 "Annihilate Them All" 143

13 The Gauntlet 153

14 Hunted 173

15 Fights and Flight 184

16 Swimmers and Survivors 202

17 Mac's Odyssey 223

18 Eleven Against the Elements 229

19 Exodus From Brooke's Point 241

20 The Long Road Home 255

21 Trials and Tributes 272

Acknowledgments 291

Appendix A Victims of the Palawan Massacre, December 14, 1944 295

Appendix B Survivors of the Palawan Massacre, December 14, 1944 299

Appendix C American POWs of Palawan Camp 10-A Held between August 1, 1942 and September 14, 1944 301

Bibliography 313

Endnotes 325

Index 349

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