Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Alvin A. Andrews died in 1961 at the age of 42, his life cut short by hardships he suffered while being held by the Japanese as a POW for three years during World War II. Andrews spoke little to his family about his wartime experiences, but his daughter Denise, who was five years old when he died, remembers his refusing to allow rice in the house. After his death, his family discovered a trunk containing memorabilia from his days in the Pacific. Among the items was a long letter by a fellow sailor named Arthur D. Emard, who apparently had been captured along with Andrews in Corregidor. Soon after the war, Emard wrote in vivid detail about what he and his fellow prisoners endured. Much remains unknown about the letter, including how Andrews came to have a copy of it and the identity of the “Skipper” to whom it is addressed. Presumably he is John Morrell, captain of the USS Quail (the minesweeper both Andrews and Emard served aboard), who escaped with some of the crew to Australia after the ship was scuttled. The letter below has been significantly condensed from its original form.
I have thought of you a great many times since that fateful day of May 6, 1942 and would have given twenty years of my life to have been able to go with you, but I guess what was meant to be happened and there wasn’t much that could be done about it. Anyway I thought I would write and give you a brief account of what happened to us.
[W]e were told that the Japs had landed out on Monkey Point. We were armed and ready for anything. We fell out, manned the trenches outside of the Navy tunnels there. Huss, several other men, and myself were taken out towards Monkey Point and before we knew what it was all about we were being fired upon. It seems that the Japs had filtered through our men, somewhere and were in the rear sniping at anything that moved. Our hands were full for awhile and in about two hours we had the immediate area cleared of Japs. Then we moved forward.
It was now beginning to get daylight and we found we were only a short distance to Malinta Hill. With the coming of daylight we could see better but so could the Japs. This time we were fired upon from both flanks.
I was hit twice by small mortar fragments and shot in the groin. It was only a very slight flesh wound. Later I packed the holes full of sulfathiazole and they all have healed so well that even the scars are hard to find. I was lucky so far. I guess the devil was looking out for me. When I looked about and saw some of our soldiers had come to our aid they seemed like rescuing angels.
When we had cleared the immediate area of Japs we were out of ammunition and tired and dirty and sweaty and it was so damn dusty one had a hard time to breathe. The smell of burned gunpowder was everywhere. The bodies of the dead were beginning to bloat and smell to high heaven in the heat of the tropic sun. The odor will linger in my memory for a long time.
About noon on the 6th the white flag went up on top of the hill. Later we went back to Queen’s tunnels and it was full of smoke from burning papers. With the exception of the fact that we had to surrender, we felt quite well. My spirits, however, were down to my toes.
On the 8th of May we were all gathered and crowded together on the concrete ramp at the 92 garage. (About 14 thousand American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Filipinos.) The Japs seemed surprised that there were so many. Because of the shelling they thought most of the men should have been killed.
[W]e were assembled into our respective companies and proceeded up Dewey Boulevard in what was called the “March of Shame.” We were flanked by Jap cavalry, and as we were marched up the boulevard crowds of people lined the sides of the streets and nearly all of them were crying. We were then marched through town and finally reached the old Bilabid Prison and were given rice to eat. Straight rice. Ugh! There was concrete to lie on. Three days later we left for the depot and were jammed, a hundred men to a car, a box car, damn it! It was awful. A great many men had dysentery and malaria and it wasn’t only an hour or two till things were getting unbearable, but endure it we did. After about 8 hours on that infernal train we arrived in the city of Cabanatuan. We disembarked and stayed all night in the school grounds. They fed us more rice for supper and again for breakfast.
About 6:00 am the next day we were underway again, only this time on foot. We all were told to fill our canteens because it would be a long and dry walk (20 kilometers). We started on time but they wouldn’t let us step out and hit a natural stride. They made us walk slowly. We had our packs on and it wasn’t only a few hours till they felt as if they weighed 500 pounds. The sun was hot as hades and it just seemed as though we had walked for hours. Men began passing out from heat and exhaustion and they would put up a stick with a small white flag on it and later a truck would pick them up. Some of them died where they lay. My head was beginning to buzz and I began to get dizzy. My canteen was practically empty, due to the fact that two of us were drinking from it and before I reached our camp my tongue was hanging out almost a foot.
In the following months we ate much rice and damn little of anything else. It wasn’t long till beri-beri and scurvy broke out. Many died and are now lying in unmarked graves. Some were beaten to death!
Later they sent out a 1200 man detail from our camp and 900 from camp 1. We were told we were going to Japan, but we didn’t. It was 38 degrees below zero the night we arrived in Mukden, Manchuria. Everyone’s blood was thinned after being in the tropics and coming into sub-zero weather like that was damned hard to take. We had no socks, just bare feet in G.I. shoes, and no hats, or gloves.
I spent most of the first winter in the camp hospital with a bad case of diarrhea and a mild case of beri-beri and scurvy. I look back and shake with horror at the things we ate to keep alive. I had weighed only 94 pounds and now I was discharged on light duty nearly six months later. All during the past month a great many men had been beaten with clubs, clapped and kicked around. Three men were shot for trying to escape. Two marines and one sailor.
In the spring of ’43 we took all the dead bodies out of the warehouse where they were stored; piled up like cord wood. We chipped large holes in the ground, big enough to hold 19 men each and held our mass funeral. We buried about 225 men who had passed away the first winter. It was tough going.
On the 17th of August, Major General Parker called the camp together and told them officially that the war was over. You could have heard the yell that went up all the way to Frisco. On September 14, we boarded the train for Dairen and embarked on the A.P. Colbert; off Okinawa we rode out a typhoon, and as the storm subsided we ran into a mine and it hit at the engine room killing two there and one X-POW on deck. A tug towed us to Okinawa and we were taken ashore and given new clothing, a bath, and good chow. The next morning we embarked on the hospital ship Rixie for Guam. There we embarked again, this time on the A.P. U.S.S. Catron. Twelve days later we sailed through the Golden Gate. The Bridge looked like the Pearly Gates to us. Coming home to America was just like going to heaven. I didn’t realize the U.S. had so much of everything. It’s by far the grandest country in the world.
Well, Skipper, I hope this big long letter didn’t tire you all out. There are a great many more things I could have written about this, but this is a book already.
Goodbye for now and I hope and pray that this letter finds you, your wife and family well and happy.
Arthur D. Emard