Another Tender Sailor's Tale

This is the story of Henry Clay Henderson

His service to his country during WWII

TenderTale II

The Diary of Henry Clay Henderson

Part Two:
from: February 14, 1945
to: September 20, 1945

Prisoner of War in Japan - Guilty by association...
Hey! Remember us - We're the GOOD guys!!!!

Feb. 14, 1945. We arrived in Moji, Japan. We almost froze to death. Finally a Japanese Officer issued us over coats and told us we were going to Tokyo. These coats come in real handy as the only clothes we had were the very light things we wore in the Philippines.

Feb. 15, 1945 Late Evening, we boarded a train bound for Tokyo. This was a long ride.

Feb. 17, 1945. We arrived in Kawasaki, which is across the river from Tokyo and we were assigned to the Tokyo War Prisoners Camp number 23D. It sure was cold, snow was on the ground and ice cycles were hanging from the eaves of the barracks roof. We took off all our clothes and all of our belongings were boiled to kill the lice and in general, just sterilize everything.

Feb. 19, 1945. Admiral Halsey's Carrier planes strafed and bombed every thing in our area causing considerable damage. Kawasaki was a heavy manufacturing, and chemical complex plants. Just the right ingredients to cause heavy bombing raids quite often. The US Marines were landing on Iwo Jima. Little did we know the havoc they would rain down on us in just a few short weeks.

March 8-9, 1945 1100-0130 hrs. USAAF General LeMay's B29 incendiary bombing of Tokyo and Kawasaki consisted of three hundred and thirtyfour of these large SuperForts. We were right in the middle of all this planned arson. Eighty three thousand people were killed and over forty thousand injured, plus total destruction of a large part of the cities. A gale type wind was also blowing, fanning the fires as they burned. It is utterly unbelievable the amount of destruction and loss of life a fire storm of this magnitude can cause. The plant where I worked, Kagaku (formerly Suzuki) was totally destroyed. It appears these planes come so close to the ground, we could talk to the air crewmen. The more we yelled, the more they bombed us. Boy, did they have fun. You could say there was a hot time in the old town that night. It was this area, not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, where the most loss of life and destruction took place. While I'm not down grading the destruction power of theAtomic bomb, there are other means to cause greater damage in a war.

April 1, 1945, NOON. The small fighter/bombers started operating from the newly acquired landing strips on Iwo Jima, hitting us before the air raid alarms could be sounded. Now this was a new type of warfare we had to contend with. Hit and Run at will with little or no opposition. This was the first time we saw the planes firing rockets. This became unbearable as they strafed and bombed us. After all, we were the Enemy, and didn't practice discrimination. Weren't we working in the Japanese Defense plants, and investing in Japanese War savings bonds? This area was finally designated as having no further strategicvalue, so the bombings became sporadic in the next few months.

June 1, 1945, 0800 hrs. You guessed it, another march. This would be our last move. We were transferred to the Tokyo War Prisoners Camp number 1. We continued working at Kagaku, doing salvage and clean up work on the premise.

August 15, 1945, 1200hrs. Over 1700 carrier born planes plus a whole sky full of B-29 super-forts blacked out the sky. We were told to sit down and the Emperor of Japan had a message for the Nation. When he started speaking, we understood what he was saying. He told us we had lost the war and were to resist no longer. We marched back to the camp, and strangely enough, the next morning the Japanese guards were no longer in our camp.

August 16, 1945, 0800 hrs. Civilian overseers came into the camp along with a Swedish representative to inspect the camp and to tendto the sick and wounded. We were instructed to remilitarize ourselves, what ever that meant. We had a USN Captain and a few Chief Petty Officers to help organize the foreign Nationals, as well as our own people in groups so that we would be ready to be liberated when the cease fire was at last finalized.

Colonel Sakabaru, Imperial Japanese Army Commandant of all POW's in the area stated he would place the Japanese soldiers on duty outside the camp confines to protest us from any possible civilian uprisings. We did not know if some hot head existed that would create a disturbance. Anywhere in the sky that I looked, I could see our planes and felt safe enough.There were no incidents.

Our Senior Officer, USN Captain Davidson and myself along with some other Chief Petty Officers went on inspection tours of the other POW facilities in our sector. All was quiet and no one was in danger of life and limb. The B-29's started dropping food, medical supplies and clothing. The Japanese civilians helped us to round up these things and bring them into the camps. We all got sick from eating all that rich food and had to stop eating it for a while. They dropped everything but ice-cream.

Aug. 17, 1945, 0800 hrs. The new civilian overseers cashed in our War savings bonds and gave us a regulation Japanese Army hair cut. This consists of clipping off all the hair on the head. Boy, with all that money in my pockets a little of Y30, and a hair cut I felt like a new man. For the next two weeks we just lazed around the camp, reminiscing, just waiting for the day of Jubilee.

Sept. 2, 1945, 0800 hr. Word came down to proceed to the docks and await landing crafts to take us out to the USS Benevolence, a hospital ship. In the late afternoon, a landing party, headed by USN Commander Stassen, arrived and carried us out to the USS Lansdown DD-856 for supper. Wieners and sauerkraut, boiled potatoes and ice cream. After supper, we were taken to the USS Benevolence.

Now talk about the uninvited guests. We were treated with disdain and scorned. God Damn, we could walk. The bunks were forbidden to us on those grounds. It gets cold in Tokyo Bay in September at night, and boy this was night time. We finally got some blankets and a few cots but we still had to sleep on the deck outside. The next morning we were herded back to the fan tail of the ship where the sterilizer was located. All belongings were placed inside and the steam turned on. It was still damp and chilly, now this is no place to be walking around with no clothes on. Someone started calling off the Foreign National's names and had them fall in to be sent to their own jurisdiction on other ships in the bay. After all foreigners had been culled out, and this took severalhours, we were told to go below and get some clothes issued to us. Later in the day we were sent to an LSV, the USS Hovey, for transportation to the States. I ran into a friend of my earlier submarine days named John Perks, a USN Chief Warrant Officer. He gave me one of his old uniforms to wear on my way home. I was very grateful for this act of kindness as all I had on was a pair of dungarees. The next day he told me Admiral Halsey had ordered three planes to fly a small token number of us home. On board was the Submarine Commander that had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Admiral wanted him sent to Washington, DC, so that President Truman could make the presentation to him. Commander O'Kane was the Commanding Officer of the USS Tang SS-306, this submarine was a one ship task force and caused tremendous damage to a convoy single handed. The last torpedo fired made a circular run, sinking the USS Tang. His submarine had sunk 13 ships in this large convoy.
Commander O'Kane was having some kind of medical problem and the ships doctor would not certify him for air travel. Hicks told me he would be the Officer of the Deck when the 96 names were to be called off to go to the Haneda Air Port. He said if the doctor did not allow the Commander to leave the ship he would call my name and for me to jump in the landing craft as if everything was all right.

The USS Peavy would not arrive in San Francisco until October.
As I was browsing through a copy of News Week magazine, I learned the fate of the 150 friends we lad left behind in Palawan. The Japanese spotted a large invasion fleet they thought was to invade them, they sounded the air alarm and put all POW's in the air raid shelter. They then tossed gasoline and a torch inside the shelter and when the POW's came out, they were shot and bayoneted. Only eleven survived and escaped to our own forces that had infiltrated the area. The others are buried in a common grave in the State of Missouri.

September 4, 1945, Late afternoon. We took off from the Hanead Air Port and the pilot said he would make a wide circle over the area sowe could see all of the destruction and realize how lucky we were to still be alive. For many miles in each direction, all that was still standing were some metal or concrete smoke stacks that had not been blown down by the bombs. It was unbelievable how much damage had been reeked on Tokyo, Kawasaki, and Yokahama. If the rest of Japan looked like this area, with winter coming on, I think I know how Napoleon's troops felt in Moscow. This area had been reduced from a primary strategic bombing target to one of little or no value as a target of any kind.

We arrived early the next morning in Guam, immediately upon landing,this is what we heard. "Fall In, Get a Move on, We got to Interrogate All of You. You gotta make out depositions." We didn't hear any one say would you like a coke or a beer, or maybe send a message home to let the folks know we had made it to safety. Now I know they were all busy, but wasn't the fighting done and wasn't it time to relax and think of someone else? We were then sent to the field hospital for a bath and physical, and clearance for the next leg of our flight to the States.

September 6, 1945. The next morning we took off for Palmyra, Kwajalein, and Johnston Island enroute to Pearl Harbor.

September 7, 1945. We arrived at Pearl Harbor and stayed in the hospital for the next two nights. During our stay here all submarine POW's were taken to the Submarine base and awarded Purple Heart Medals for wounds received in the fighting on Bataan and Corregidor, Philippine Island in the early part of the war. Oh, Yes, I also received three months pay, a whopping $434.00.

September 8, 1945, 1800 hrs. We boarded a PBY (USN pontoon typeplane and headed for the Naval Air Station at Alemeda, California.

September 9, 1945, late evening. We were sent to the US NavalHospital Oak Knoll, at Oakland, California. We stayed here for the nexteight days. We were taken to a clothing store and bought new uniformsand other items of wearing apparel and in general just did a lot of goin' ashore and doin' what sailors do.

September 17, 1945, 0800. Boarded a plane for Oletha, Kansas to stay for the night.

September 18, 1945, 0800. Flew to Norman, Oklahoma to the US Naval Hospital.

September 19, 1945, 0800. In compliance with a Navy Department Directive, I was advance to Chief Machinists Mate, Permanent Appointment. Now this was a joke, the effective date was March 1, 1943, for all purposes except pay. In those days, all CPO's were required to serve one year, on a sea going vessel or foreign station as Acting Appointee before being advanced to Permanent Appointment. The Commanding Officer's recommendation was also required. Japanese CO's did not apply in the situation.

September 20, 1945, 0800. Departed on 90 Days rehabilitation leave with orders to report to the Commandant of the Eighth Naval District in New Orleans, La. and upon completion of the leave for further assignment to a permanent duty station.

Final comments by Mr. Henderson:

The Japanese felt that since they had never ratified the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention of 1929, they were under no obligation to treat their POWs properly.

So while the Convention stated all captured prisoners were entitled to POW status - no prisoner was ever treated humanly nor their personal property respected.  There was no record of them made, no names recorded nor disclosed to Red Cross.

It was thought by the Japanese that it was better to die that to be a POW and live.  The greatest honor for a Japanese soldiers was to die for the Emperor. To surrender to the enemy would bring great disgrace not for just the soldier,  but his family.

So it was that the Japs had the utmost contempt for a captured soldier that surrendered.  They were horrified that American soldiers requested to have their names listed as POWs so that their families would know that they were alive.  In the eyes of the Japs they had lost honor and no respect was entitled to them.  So they felt their countless decapitations, shootings, and drowning and other outright murder of all descriptions was justified and right.

 There were dozens and dozens of men bayoneted and shot on the death march.  Prisoners were marched in intense heat for up to 75 miles.  Before capture the soldiers had been on little rations so most were sick or wounded - all were forced to march.  Those that fell or were unable to continue were shot or bayoneted.  Some were taken and tied to trees and mutilated, beaten and killed.   The march lasted many days non stop,  but the Japs were  relieved every 5 or 6 kilometers. 

 The first 5 days of “The March” we had no food or water except what we were able to drink out on the caribou ditches along the road.  Dead bodies lined the road.  You could not help nor carry another soldier.  He had to stay.  Occasionally a Filipino would throw food to us - but if caught doing so -  they were kicked, shot and killed.  One women was pregnant, she had  been tied to a tree and her child ripped from her womb, cut to pieces and the mother was bayoneted and bled to death.  

When we finally made it to the train, we thought "Oh Great! We get to ride the rest of the way – the worst must be over..." Wrong.  We were crowded into very small railway coaches 100 men to each, sometimes more.  Hundreds fainted from no air and many died of suffocation on the way to Camp O‘Donnell. The narrow gauge railways that they were stuffed into was inhumane to say the very least. Too many men in too little space – combined with the heat of the tropics was enough to drain even the strongest of men. 

 The prisoner of war camps were more than inadequate in any and every way. Rather than providing for even their basic needs- the POWs were not housed,  fed nor clothed properly.  Rats and maggot infested rice were welcome when they could be had- many were just allowed to starve. No proper medical care- if any at all. Housing was whatever we could scrounge together – as long as the Japs didn’t decide to take it away. Most lived in the basest of squalor and filth. No sanitation facilities – you just tried not to sleep in it.   Work was to be neither excessive nor connected with the war – yet work from before dawn to after dark was routine; work that was back breaking, in appalling conditions with ancient tools if any at all. Beatings every day; tortures beyond belief.  If you were lucky enough to escape it meant death for the men housed with you or execution for yourself if you were recaptured, a slow death staked out in the sun or a quick death by beheading at the decision of the Japanese in charge that day. Cannibalism was not the least of crimes by the Japanese.   

The Puerto Princesa Palawan POW Camp massacre.
There were 150 prisoners in this camp.
Most were Marines and Army.
On December 145 men died.
The men had gone to work that morning and were brought back a noon which was unusual. They had been told previously that if the Japanese lost the war that all POWs would be killed.

On October 1944 air raids began at Puerto Princesa. We had 3 shelters. After lunch the air raid siren went off and all POWs were herded into the shelters under ground. The guards laughed, buckets of gasoline were thrown into the shelters and ignited . As the men tried to escape the inferno they were stabbed, bayoneted shot clubbed or stabbed.  The few men that made it out were in flames, as they fell they were shot down and bayoneted.  All that came out were mowed down by sub machines and shot. All the while the Japs were yelling and cheering to the others.  While the prisoners in the first two were being shot some of the men in the 3rd shelter were able to escape over the double barbed wired fence and make it to the cliffs, although some were found and killed. by Japs that were standing above on the bluff waiting for them to try to escape.  Some attempted to swim in the bay to get away, they were shot and killed. You could hear the screams of the other POWs being killed in the distance.  The seven that survived all of the carnage managed after a few days  near this bay they joined the Filipino guerrillas to safety. One man that was recaptured was tortured by having one of his feet set on fire and then the other when he begged to be shot.  Instead, they bayoneted him and set both his hands  and arm on fire.  Eventually they poured more gas on him all over and set him on fire to die and watched the flames engulf him alive.

While on leave, another article caught my eye, of the 235,473 United States and the United Kingdom prisoners reported captured by Germany and Italy together, only 4 percent (9,348) died in the hands of their captors, whereas 27 percent of Japan's Anglo-American POW's (35,756 of 132,134) did not survive.

It did not take much imagination on my part to realize that my chances of survival from December 8, 1941 to September 2, 1945, had as much chance as a snow ball in hell.   I know:
I've been in Hell.

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(© 1998 & 2006 the Hank Henderson Estate)