Chaplain (Major General) Robert Preston Taylor, a native of Henderson, Texas, and graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as the third Chief of Chaplains of the United States Air Force from 1962 to 1966. Taylor's service extended back to World War II, however, where, while serving as an Army chaplain in the Philippines, he was captured by the Japanese during the fall of Bataan. Taylor survived the Bataan Death March and a series of prison camps from Bilibid and Cabanatuan in the Philippines to prison camps in Japan and Manchuria, all while ministering to his fellow soldiers.
In this oral history conducted by the University of North Texas Oral History Program, Taylor recalls the circumstances of his capture, his experiences during the Bataan Death March, and his time at the various prison camps in which he was held until the end of the war. His story is also told in the book Days of Anguish, Days of Hope by Bill Keith, an excerpt of which is available online.
The following excerpts are from an interview with Chaplain Robert Preston Taylor conducted by Ronald E. Marcello in Arlington, Texas, on November 2, 1974, for the University of North Texas Oral History Program.
Marcello: Okay, so in early April the American forces on the Bataan Peninsula surrendered.
Taylor: The 9th of April.
Marcello: The 9th of April. And, of course, the Bataan Death March began shortly thereafter. Now at this point then, describe what you were doing and where you were when you heard about the surrender, the news of the surrender, and your reactions to it.
Taylor: Well, it wasn't so much hearing about the surrender as it was seeing the white flags go up, which is a symbol of surrender. About nine o'clock in the morning the surrender flags went up, and, of course, we got word that General King had been ordered to surrender and that he had sent his contact people forward to contact the Japanese leaders and effect the surrender. This was rather a sad moment in the lives of all of us because you just can't imagine what the feeling is unless you've been there to see the white flag hoisted and the American flag lowered in defeat. This is something we had never expected and never witnessed . . . and never experienced. So this was somewhat of a shock. The next thing was to see all of these white flags flying which symbolized surrender. This was degrading and rather suffocating to all of us in feeling and spirit. Then the next thing we realized, here come the Japanese tanks down the road firing their guns once in a while, passing the various units, and people were dropping off to take command and to take over. Then the first night a whole battalion of the Japanese pitched camp right close to where we were and close to the hospital area.
Marcello: Was this your first contact with the Japanese troops?
Taylor: First contact, yes, except for some prisoners of war whom we had seen a time or two. I recall being at [Hospital Number Two]. There were some of the Japanese prisoners of war there. The hospital commander got these fellows, and they went with him down to meet the first Japanese tank which came along just as far as here to that street from the entrance of the hospital, I guess. Well, the Japanese came in, and, of course, these commanders were usually pretty polite. The Japanese leaders were very nice in many instances.
They didn't seem to be hostile or want to perpetrate any murders or executions or anything like that. Of course, then the next day following the surrender, the death march began.
. . .
We had hundreds of men in the hospitals there who were crippled and wounded. [The Japanese] . . . ordered them all who could walk to get on the death march. They may have picked up a few who became exhausted and fell on the death march. But the most of them were bayoneted or shot.
The Japanese didn't make any effort to organize or to evacuate us out of there by trucks. I think they could have done that. All these trucks which had been used to bring in recruitments, reinforcements of equipment and manpower and everything else, could have been concentrated on evacuating these prisoners of war. But they didn't do that. Their main thrust was to get these prisoners of war out of the way if they could, so they could go on to Corregidor. So they ordered them to march—the crippled, one-legged, peg-legged, sick, wounded. So the death march took only God knows how many lives.
Marcello: I've read on several occasions that the Japanese were virtually overwhelmed by the number of troops that they found there. As a result, there was a breakdown in logistics, among other things. They simply weren't prepared to handle this many troops that had surrendered.
Taylor: I'll always feel and know that the Japanese at this point broke down in a great responsibility to innocent prisoners of war. They could have at least come in with their trucks and said to those who were crippled, those who were sick, "We'll pick you up and take you out." But they didn't do that. They threw them all on the death march. This is a thing they had to account for later, of course. But at the time . . . apparently, the local leadership didn't look very far ahead.
Marcello: Okay, so the death march begins on April 9, 1942. I assume that you started from Mariveles. Is that correct?
Taylor: Yes. I didn't do the whole death march. I did a part of it, and Chaplain Oliver, the senior chaplain, had me to drop off the death march and join Hospital Number One. . . . But then I marched through the streets of Manila with my group later, then from Manila to Cabanatuan, and then we marched out to the prison camp from up there.
Marcello: Describe your particular odyssey on the Bataan Death March.
Taylor: I was taken prisoner along with the rest of the prisoners just south of Mariveles at old Hospital Number Two. . . . This was in the early stages of the Bataan Death March. There were not many casualties at the very beginning, see. Consequently, I did not encounter many of the great casualties. I was in that phase of the death march that was forming from the west of Mount Mariveles all around the south, all the way around to Cabcaben, and then a short distance north.
This was in the formative part of it. This was all the death march that I saw.
Now from the time they left the Cabcaben area, going north, was when the going got rough. The hordes of people . . . you can imagine eighty thousand Filipinos with perhaps ten thousand Americans, those who were in the march, going north. It was hot and humid, and they had no food to eat. They had no water to drink. Even though there were springs of water along the way, the Japanese wouldn't permit the men to leave the line of march to get water. This was the thing that made the death march really a horrible set-up.
I saw the formation of the death march and only a few miles of it.
. . .
The Japanese were very rough when maybe the man didn't move out as fast as they should. But I did not see any of that in the beginning. Now this happened along the way.
Marcello: I gather that you still had not been looted or anything of this nature. You still had some personal belongings—rings and watches and that sort of thing.
Taylor: I remember losing my watch. This was while Corregidor was being bombed and being attacked. I was ministering as a chaplain. I was serving as a chaplain in Hospital Number One. Chaplain Dawson and I one day went out through the woods. Keep in mind now that we didn't have any guards yet around us. We went out into the woods to the old headquarters . . . just rummaging around to see what we could find. We thought maybe we might find some rice or something, you know. A little Japanese who was out there hunting monkeys . . . he'd killed him a monkey. You know, they ate monkeys as food. They needed food, too, you know. A little Japanese came up on us, and he saw my watch. I had a watch in my pocket. You know, back in those days we wore watches in our pocket. He saw that chain and wanted my watch, and I just handed it to him.
He went his way, thanked me and went his way. He could have killed me, you know, or taken it if I hadn't given it to him. Oh, he may not. He was a youngster—young Japanese soldier. But the looting and all of that, the men lost a great deal of that as they started out on this long march. The Japanese looted it from them and took everything they had except what they wore. Maybe their canteens they carried and things like that.
Marcello: What happened to you personally at this point after you were separated from the people who actually proceeded on the death march?
Taylor: I was assigned by Chaplain Oliver to minister in [Hospital Number One]. He got permission from the Japanese for me to do this.
Marcello: Did the Japanese seem to have a great deal of . . . I don't think respect is a good word to use, but did they recognize you as a chaplain and that you had certain functions peculiar to a chaplain and this sort of thing?
Taylor: At first, they seemed not to want to recognize chaplains as non-combatants. But then later on they did, and they recognized us.
. . .
I remember soon after we got to this hospital and were here while the Japanese were fighting Corregidor, the commanding general and his staff came down the road one day, and here we were out here holding an evening vespers service. I guess the old man thought we were getting together for something. He didn't know what—maybe recruiting. So he stopped with his staff, and they came out to see what we were doing. The interpreter asked me, ''What are you doing?" I said, "We are conducting a religious service." He spoke a word or two to the Japanese general and then turned and said in perfect English, because the guy had been educated in this country, he said, "Very well. It's the wish of the Japanese general that you continue your service," and they turned around and walked away. It was some time later on after that that we actually received some guards to watch over us.
Marcello: But even so, during this month or however long it was here in Hospital One, the Japanese really didn't harass you at all. They allowed you to go about your normal pastoral duties.
Taylor: Right. In the hospital area they never bothered us. They never questioned us. They just looked on us all as prisoners of war.
Marcello: And generally speaking, did they not harass any of the other wounded people there, also?
Taylor: No, no. They didn't necessarily harass us. They kind of ignored us, except they used us. They placed their guns all around the hospital—the artillery to bomb and to shell Corregidor and Fort Drum. But they didn't necessarily harass us.
One little interesting thing happened. We had a lady in that group. She was caught up somehow as one of the missionary's wives or something. I never did know really why she was out there, but she was caught somehow in Bataan. She was in this hospital. To protect her from these Japanese soldiers, you know, who would wander through, they cut her hair just like a man's hair and dressed her up like a man to protect her, the doctors did. That way they got her through alright.
Marcello: Now at this time at this Hospital Number One, was there an adequate amount of food and medicine and other supplies to take care of the wounded who were there?
Taylor: Well, I wouldn't say adequate because the American forces had depleted their medical set-up pretty much. They did have some medicines. The doctors there were still organized to take care of the patients the best they could. But there wasn't a great deal of medicine to be had.
Marcello: And the Japanese, I assume, did not supply anything for the hospital.
Taylor: No, because we were temporary. We were going to be there only as long as Corregidor stood, and then we would be evacuated.
. . .
We were up there [in Hospital Number One] just three or four or five days. Then trucks came in—Japanese trucks—and they took us aboard, and we went into Bilibid Prison Camp in the old walled city.
. . .
Taylor: We were imprisoned there for several weeks. I've forgotten just how long. It wasn't long, though—two or three weeks, I think. We were in Bilibid Prison. This old Spanish prison had been there for centuries, and there were those walls—gloomy, dismal. Inside were, oh, several hundred prisoners—American prisoners. This was quite an experience. This was really our first imprisonment even though we had surrendered a month before. It was quite a horrible set-up.
Marcello: Describe what it was like.
Taylor: Well, you can imagine being thrown into a prison where the walls are high and the Japanese guards are all around. This was a new experience for us. The food was served to us on little tin plates. It was a typical poverty-type prison experience. Very little food—just a little rice. I think we got it twice a day while I was there, and nothing more. We did have water in the prison camp.
Marcello: Of what quality was the rice that you had?
Taylor: Very poor grade. It had worms in it, and it had weevils in it, and it was not what we call a graded rice. It was just the bare brown rice, you know.
Marcello: Were you hungry enough at this time that the weevils and the worms didn't bother you?
Taylor: Oh, yes. You get to the place those sort of things don't bother you at all if you can eat rice. A lot of the men couldn't eat rice or couldn't force themselves to eat rice. . . . It took a lot of courage. I was a little older than some of the troops, too. A lot of these youngsters—seventeen to twenty-year-olds—out of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, someplace, they'd never gone through anything like this. Neither had I, but at least . . . I think I was seasoned . . . a little better than they were.
. . .
Marcello: What sort of a routine did you have here in Bilibid?
Taylor: We didn't do very much of anything at Bilibid because this was kind of a relay station for the most of us.
. . .
When we left there, we were marched out of there as prisoners of war. . . . We were marched out of Bilibid down to the big railroad station. They put us on boxcars like cattle. Then we went on the rails up to Cabanatuan and camped at Cabanatuan over one night, maybe two nights. Then we marched physically and bodily from there to Cabanatuan Prison Camp, about seven or nine miles east of the city of Cabanatuan.
. . .
Marcello: Okay, so they marched you to the railroad station. Now, of course, I assume you took a train ride from the railroad station to Cabanatuan. Describe this train ride and what it was like.
Taylor: Well, they herded us into these boxcars just like cattle.
. . .
We stood. There was no room to sit down, and they pushed us in there until the boxcar was literally full. Then they'd open another one and got us all in there. So we rode in this boxcar all the way to Cabanatuan, which is something like seventy to eighty kilometers to the north.
Marcello: Was it a closed boxcar, or were you able to see out? Were there slats?
Taylor: It had slats, as I recall. It had a roof on it. But as I recall, it did have slats.
Marcello: What provisions were made for lavatory facilities and things of this nature while you were on this train ride?
Taylor: No provisions were made. It may have been that they had a container or something in the boxcar, so if a man had to have a bowel movement, he could do so. But nothing particular.
Marcello: What provisions so far as food were made for this trip?
Taylor: There were no provisions for food en route. Now when we got to Cabanatuan, we were served a little rice in the evening. Then the next morning before we started our trip out, or the second morning . . . I've forgotten how many days. I think we were there just for one night.
Marcello: In your particular railroad car, did you lose anybody, that is, did anybody die?
Taylor: No person died on this trip, as I recall. It was hot in there, and a good many of the men fainted, perhaps, temporarily because of the exhaustion and heat. But they soon were revived and lived through it.
. . .
Marcello: Now you'd been a prisoner of war for approximately two months at this point. How much did you think about home? Did you have time to think about it?
Taylor: Oh, yes, you always have time to think about home even if it's in the evening when you lie down on the ground to sleep. You think about those things. But I'll tell you, you just can't dwell on that too much as a prisoner of war because every moment you are challenged to survive, and in our case as chaplains we were ministering to those who were in worse shape than we were. This was really a blessing in a way to those of us who did. They ministered to each other. I mean, they helped each other and things like this. But you did have time to reflect, and, of course, the human mind always goes back to things more pleasant than the present, you know.
Marcello: As a chaplain, what could you do to encourage the enlisted men, the prisoners of war, to keep faith, to try and survive, to maintain hope?
Taylor: Well, we did it frankly and in a very positive way by saying to our men, these opportunities came quite often to say to a man who was about to give up or wanted to give up, "Well, there's no use." Our answer was always, "There is hope. There is faith. And the thing you need to do is to keep your chin up and keep faith with your Lord and faith with your family and faith with your church because this thing'll be over one of these days. We can't tell you when it'll be. But we're in the same plight you are, and we believe it's going to be over. So come on now. Let's get with it and stay with it." This way you could encourage men. There's nothing of greater encouragement to anyone than to believe that there's going to be an end to a thing like that, and we were just sure that there would be an end to it.
Marcello: You know, one former prisoner in one of the interviews made a rather interesting comment about this very same subject you're talking about. He mentioned that if one is a criminal and is in prison, he knows approximately when he's going to get out. In other words, he has been sentenced to, let us say, five years, and he won't be serving any more than five years. Perhaps with good behavior and all of that sort of thing, he'll be getting out sooner. But when one is a prisoner of war, one doesn't know when the end is going to come, that is, when he is going to cease being a prisoner of war. I'm sure that this was one of the real problems that you had to combat.
Taylor: By the same token, that has its benefits because a man could always believe that something great could happen in the next six months or next year, whereas a prisoner who was serving a definite term might look at five years and say, "Gee, I just know I can't hold out that long." But a prisoner of war who didn't really know could easily in his own mind encourage himself by thinking that this thing might be over in another year or six months. Truly, that's the way it was. We didn't know.
Even in September of 1944, when we had no inkling that the U.S. Navy was as close as it was, to wake up in Cabanatuan about nine or ten o'clock in the morning after we had awakened and to hear and to see these thousands of airplanes coming over the mountains—first we heard them, a long time before we . . . a little while before we saw them, really. You see? Here it came. Now we didn't know thirty minutes before that what time it would happen, but we felt that it would be one of these days, and there it was.
Marcello: I'm sure that you did witness several instances where somebody would simply give up, lose all hope, and simply die.
Taylor: Oh, yes. I can give you an example.
Marcello: What were the symptoms first of all? How could you tell when a person had given up hope?
Taylor: You'd see him closing in. He'd quit talking. All expression of hope had left him and he was limp-like. He had no life about him. It was hard to get him to do anything, you know, except just to lie there. You'd see him turn and face the wall if it was in the house or on the ship, for example.
I'll give you one example that fits almost to a "T" every person I saw in this condition. A colonel—a doctor—said to me on the prison ship, "Well, Bob, there's no use to fight this thing anymore. We've fought it now for three years." It had been just about three years. He said, "There's no use to fight it." Then he turned over. I said to him, "Now colonel, the time is getting near." This is after the American planes had come in, but, you see, the Japanese had picked us up and taken us on to Japan. I said, "Colonel, this thing's coming to an end." I said, "The Americans are on their way back. We know that. Don't forget the sight of those airplanes and everything." But he gave up. He was dead in five minutes.
A man could die if he wanted to. And he just fought it as long as he wanted to. He just gave up.
It takes courage. You've got to have this hope, and you've got to have this faith that this thing'll come about. It takes that in a prison camp.
Marcello: How do you live, one day at a time?
Taylor: In the prison camp you live one day at a time but with your eye on the future, yes, sir, with that hope and faith. I've heard numerous men say, "If I didn't have faith in my country, above all faith in God, and faith that we were coming through this thing out yonder in a few years, I'd have given up a long time ago." But it takes this. With this you can survive a lot that you couldn't otherwise.
Marcello: Okay, so you left Bilibid Prison, you were on the railroad, and finally you come to Cabanatuan, which is where one of the huge prisoner of war camps was located.
Taylor: Yes, we went in there in June of 1942.
Marcello: Describe what Cabanatuan looked like when you first got there, from a physical standpoint.
Taylor: From a physical standpoint, we came in on . . . marched in on the road from Cabanatuan leading east, and there lay a chain of mountains across the eastern part of the highland. We came down into this flat. We were not more than, oh, five or six or eight miles from these mountains right in a big flat plain. Here we saw this tremendous spread of army camp houses that General MacArthur and the Philippine government had built for the Philippine Army for training. This was a big training center. It looked as though it stretched for two or three or four miles, just barracks after barracks after barracks, one story, nipa shack roof. We were just certain that was the place we were going, and we marched in there. We were the first ones in that place. We occupied the first two or three or four or five barracks.
There was one water spigot, one water fountain, a faucet. The Japanese had a guard on that faucet. They'd turn the water on. The water was very limited. They'd let it run, and I have seen men lined for several hundred yards with their cups waiting to get a drink of water. Maybe half of them would get through, and then he'd cut it off for a while.
This was the condition. We had no mess hall. We had no nothing for the first day or two there. When they'd bring rice . . . they had some cauldrons. They had to cook it right out in the open. We were just camping.
Then before we got settled, the prisoners of war began to come in. They brought them in by the thousands. This thing grew like a mushroom, you know. We established a big hospital area on the west side, and there was a divide between the hospital and the main camp—kind of a pasture or field.
I was assigned to the hospital area. . . . The hospital at one time had twenty-seven wards in it. Then on the east side we had all of these thousands of people. There were about nine thousand of us there. The first six months, from June until December, men died by the thousands. We buried them, as I said, a hundred or more a day. Some days if we had less than a hundred, we were doing pretty good.
Marcello: I understand these burial details were a rather gruesome thing, and the prisoners that I have talked to have obviously mentioned that this was one of the more distasteful experiences that they had as a prisoner of war, that is, being on one of these burial details.
Taylor: Yes, you see, they improvised these litters, these things you carry sick people on, and four men would place the body on there without clothing or anything because they didn't bury anybody with even any shorts on or anything because clothing was just that scarce. They'd lift this body up, and there'd be a line of them for a hundred or two yards for half a day, it looked like. They would carry these bodies on these litter carriers out to the grave.
At first, we buried them in common graves—no markers, no nothing. That's the way the Japanese had them do it. The only record of those who had died was kept was back in the camp. That record eventually came back to the States.
At first, the Japanese wouldn't permit chaplains to go. No one ever knew why, but they wouldn't. But later on they did permit chaplains to go. Before that, we'd go to the morgue each morning—several morgues around over the prison camp—and conduct the funeral services. Then the men would take them out and bury them. Later on they permitted us to go, and later on they permitted the heads of the camp to keep a record of where these people were buried. We knew, then, who was buried where. But we didn't until that time.
But it was gruesome. This was really a bad situation. There was every kind of disease that you can recall in the Orient, pellagra and scurvy. Well, these were not the fatal ones. The fatal ones were dysentery and malnutrition. This is when the young men died. Man, they just died like flies during those first six months! It was quite gruesome, very, very gruesome.
Marcello: Now even as a chaplain, was it hard for you to find—for want of better words—any love for the Japanese under these situations? How did you as a chaplain react to what was taking place here in this camp so far as your attitude toward your captors was concerned?
Taylor: My personal feeling—and I think it was pretty universal—toward the Japanese leaders, the commanding general of the Philippines who knew what was going on and whose lieutenants out yonder, whose officers and non-commissioned officers were working under his command—our feelings toward him was that he was absolutely no good. We could not feel [kindly] toward a guy like that who'd permit men to suffer and die when in those early days they could have brought in food, adequate food . . . they could have brought in adequate medicines because there were plenty American medicines in the islands right there in Manila and other places, these bases they'd captured. There were plenty of library books and everything else they could have brought into the prison camp to establish a first-class, comfortable prison, if you can call a prison camp comfortable.
But they could have at least made it liveable. They could have permitted the men to go out and build latrines, and they could have brought in disinfector-type medications. They could have helped us to make it sanitary, which they did not. In other words, as one commander told the fellows at O'Donnell . . . we heard about it. This commander said, "We are not concerned with how many die. The only thing we want to know each morning is how many died the night before. We're not concerned with numbers. Just so we know how many are left in the camp." This tells us something, you know. They were not concerned with human lives. It was just a matter of getting rid of as many as possible. I think they did.
Marcello: Did you ever have the occasion as an officer to become familiar with any of the Japanese officers here at Cabanatuan? Or were they in a world by themselves?
Taylor: Well, for the most part, yes. They stayed to themselves for the most part. However, let me say this. There were individuals among the officers and among the enlisted men who, as far as they would dare to go, would befriend the Americans. We had a Japanese officer whose name I don't recall right now, but he was a very tall and very handsome fellow who would come over to our prison camp, that is, after things settled down, you know, a great deal. He would come over and play volleyball with us. This wasn't right at the beginning. Not right at the beginning, no. The only time you saw a Japanese was when he came through for an inspection or pulling out everything he could and so forth. Then you had enlisted men who would do little things to show their friendship toward individual prisoners of war and American prisoners in general. But I must say that the enlisted men, and to some extent the officers, had to be on their guard, too, because they wouldn't let on if they had a superior around, you see.
Marcello: They had to impress that superior.
Taylor: Right. And the other thing was, and for that reason primarily, you could never depend on John Doe being your friend tomorrow, even if he's your friend today. It depends on the situation.
Marcello: Again, I think we also have to keep in mind several things. First of all, physical punishment was a way of life for the Japanese Army.
Taylor: They punished their own.
Marcello: Secondly, in the minds of the Japanese, it was a disgrace to surrender and to be taken prisoner. And one who did so, so far as they were concerned, had forfeited the right to live. Probably the language barrier to some extent might have been responsible for some of the physical punishment experienced by the Americans.
Taylor: The leadership of the Japanese Army, however, contradicts that. They could speak English for the most part more fluently than some of us Americans because many of them had been educated in this country.
Marcello: But, again, I think when you get down there into the Japanese enlisted ranks, most of those people couldn’t speak any English at all.
Taylor: Oh, no. Most of them could not, down in that list, no.
Marcello: I'm not trying to rationalize the Japanese behavior because obviously in a great many cases they were brutal, but in some instances there were factors that probably were responsible for this. That still doesn't make those actions right.
Taylor: In clarification of this idea that the Japanese were humiliated over the fact that anybody would surrender, particularly their own people, we observed that they did not punish their troops who had been taken prisoners of war, but they seemed to rejoice seeing them, you see. I've heard this, that to be captured would disgrace a Japanese soldier, but those who came in the tanks and received these prisoners of war didn't seem to be too greatly disturbed about them having become prisoners of war. I'm sure that the big thing about becoming a prisoner of war was that the Japanese soldiers had been indoctrinated that they would never be taken alive. They'd be shot by the Americans. On the other side, many of our troops felt the same way, you see. So that's one thing.
But I will say this, that the Japanese were just as rough on their own troops. They beat one of their troops to death right there at Cabanatuan. I guess he got out of line or something. Boy, they just beat him and he died!
Marcello: Normally, what form would the physical harassment take, that is, the punishment that was dealt out by the Japanese to the American prisoners of war? What form would the punishment usually take?
Taylor: Well, with the troops themselves, they'd tie a man up if he was guilty of an infraction like going through the barbed wire fence or something. They'd tie him up to the post out there or to a tree in the hot sun by a fence post. Through the day the troops would go by, and they would kick him, and they would throw a rock at him or things like this, and abuse him. This is one harassment. Along the death march we were told of many who were bayoneted or beat on the shoulders or head with bayonets and things like this. So they had various ways.
And then we had three men in Cabanatuan who were just thinking about, I guess, getting out—trying to escape. They hadn't even gotten out the fence. The Japanese saw them as they were making some approach toward the fence. They came in and tied them up. After about the third day, they beheaded all three of them.
. . .
I [witnessed] eight young Americans . . . there were eight of them going through the barbed wire fences to get a little rice to eat in the early days, and they were brought back into the camp and charged with having tried to escape. The third evening or afternoon late, just before evening about sundown—maybe it was evening—they led them to the west side of the prison camp and executed them and forced other prisoners to come out and dig their grave.
Marcello: Was it a firing squad?
Taylor: A firing squad, yes. . . . We were all compelled to come out and watch it because they said, "This will be an example to you not to try to escape." And so they were shot, and they fell into the graves, and this sort of thing was real gruesome punishment . . . there was no place for these fellows to go. In the early days the fences were not too good, and they didn't have too many soldiers around. They were just out there getting something to eat. They'd done this before, I guess, and they got caught this time.
Marcello: I understand the Japanese did have some rather interesting policies with regard to escape. At one point in Cabanatuan, did they not divide the men into what were called the ten-man death squads, and if one man escaped, supposedly all the rest of the men in that particular squad would be executed?
Taylor: Right, they had the whole camp . . . I was in one of those squads, and everybody else was. So far as I know, however, they did not carry that out. The nearest to it came one time when two of our medical corpsmen permitted a man who was kind of going out of his head, a patient, to literally crawl out on the road in front of the Japanese guardhouse. They came over and took these two boys. They were going to execute them. But the medical doctor, the camp commander, finally prevailed on them to not execute these men. He said, "Take me instead." He said, "These are just young men, and they couldn't help it. This man who went away was not right in his mind. He was not trying to escape. He didn't know where he was." So he prevailed on them. So they relented and there was no execution.
But these others were actually executed, three officers in the big camp, and then these eight prisoners later on were executed for trying to escape.
Marcello: I would assume that after you were divided into these ten-man death squads that you did more or less keep an eye on the other men in that squad. If one man did have an escape plan, he was going to take all the rest of the men with him.
Taylor: Really, in our prison camp, we took it seriously. But we all knew, I think, pretty much that there was no place to go. We were surrounded by water. The only place you could go if you could get there would be up in the mountains of Northern Luzon to join up with the guerrillas. That was a very risky, very doubtful venture because the Japanese were all over the place. In those days the Filipinos wouldn't dare befriend an American down in the valley there someplace because the Japanese would go in and punish them, their families, and everything else. So it wasn't such a great threat to us because, really, in Cabanatuan we didn't have many people who really tried to escape.
. . .
Marcello: Who was responsible for the internal organization of the prisoners? Did this fall upon the American officers?
Taylor: Yes. The Japanese looked to the senior [American] officers to organize the camp in a military sort of fashion. So we had our own organization, and we looked to the commander of the camp—the American commander of the camp—as our superior. We had a captain or somebody over each barracks. So we were well-organized. We operated under an organized situation. . . . We didn't go every man his own way. For example, in Cabanatuan we tried to help each other even though we were all in great need. I recall we had a TB ward. When the one Red Cross distribution of food came in December, the first year we were in there. . . . The doctors sent out word to all of us, "Even though we know you need your tin of milk—powdered milk—these TB patients really need it worse than any of us. All of you who will, donate yours." Man, they donated that stuff like they had a storehouse full of it, out of their graciousness, you know, their consideration for those TB patients. This was all done through organization. Now if every man had been dog-eat-dog, you could have never done a thing like that. . . . This was the secret to the whole thing. We had an organization, and men did respect the leaders. Even enlisted men respected their sergeants just like they had done in the military. There may have been a few infractions, but very few.
. . .
Taylor: Our leaders kept us informed. For example, we had a radio in the prison camp. The Japanese never did discover it. . . . only the people who operated it knew where it was. But when we'd get reports on our radio about what was going on down in Palau or over in Southeast Asia or later on in the Philippines, it was given to all the men throughout the prison camp without giving the source of it. We worked through the unit like that. We didn't go off man individually to man. I think this is one of the great secrets of our survival, and after we once got through the worst of it, the Japanese respected that.
. . .
I guess this was one of the most wonderfully kept secrets of all our prison life because the Japanese didn't know we had it. It was brought into the men in communications who could put it together, you know, and assemble it. It was brought in piece by piece through unauthorized channels, covert manner, from the city of Manila by the Filipinos who brought it piece by piece to Cabanatuan and planted these pieces among the sacks of feed and rice. As they came in, then the men in communications assembled this short-wave radio station. It functioned in Cabanatuan, I know, for more than two and a half years. The Japanese never knew we had it. But with this machine we could receive information about the war and about the United States. . . . We had a radio in our prison camp that brought news of the slowly coming, but surely coming, progress of the armed forces. We followed them across the Pacific and as they came up the southeast islands and on up through Borneo and into the Philippines. This was all very encouraging. So we didn't have a lot of this melancholy, depressed feeling among the men.
Marcello: How was it done? Was it a case of bringing all of the parts together at a particular time and listening to the broadcasts by a select few men and then having these men spread the news or something throughout the camp?
Taylor: I don't think it was dismantled after it was used every time. Now it may have been, but I rather doubt that. I think that our set-up at Cabanatuan would have made it easy just to have hidden it away in some place where the Japanese would very likely not go and keep it right there. The secret of the success of maintaining the secrecy on it—was the fact that I think only three or four men really knew where it was and anything about it. But we all knew that it was somewhere. We couldn't care less as long as we got this little sheet of paper and word from individuals about the news that was coming in.
Marcello: I would assume that having the radio was a great morale factor not only from the standpoint that you were able to find out what was happening on the outside, but the radio represented, it seems to me, something that you were able to put over on the Japanese.
Taylor: Right. That was the big thing.
Marcello: You had it and they didn't know; therefore, you were smarter than they were, at least in this particular instance.
Taylor: We felt real proud of that, you know, that we could do something like this because the Japanese would come along and they'd feed us all of these little old film strips, you know, about the great victories of the Japanese. They'd come bouncing in and talk about the Japanese bombing San Francisco and New York and all that stuff. They didn't know it, but we were getting direct information from our own people as to our side of the story. In other words, we felt that we were kind of on level ground with them there. We were getting our information from the U.S. by short-wave radio even though they were feeding us propaganda about their great accomplishments.
Marcello: You mentioned that in those first six months, which were perhaps the most trying, that a great toll was taken on the lives of the younger men. I've heard other prisoners mention this same fact. How do you explain this? In other words, why was it that the younger men seemed to not be as capable of surviving as, perhaps, the older men?
Marcello: Ron, I think it boils down to sheer maturity and experience. We had some youngsters of seventeen and younger. Seventeen to twenty are actually pretty formative age brackets in a person's life. I think the sheer shock of becoming a prisoner of war and not having the necessities of life and the comforts of life that they'd been accustomed to at home and even in their BOQs [Base Officers' Quarters] and barracks . . . I think all of this [affected them]. Then, of course, there was the separation of them from their families completely, and their parents. . . . They were just not old enough. They just hadn't gone through any hard knocks, so to speak.
On the other end of the line, we had what we called beachcombers—those old fellows who had been in the Philippines for years as civilians but were picked up by the military when the war came. Man, it was just like water running off a duck's back for those guys. I don't remember a single one of them dying. . . . They were seasoned with this sort of thing—the tropics and the weather and the lack of adequate food.
That's the only way I know to answer it. They were just too young, just too young.
. . .
I don't mean to say that all of these young fellows died. I'm talking about experience, now. Some of these boys eighteen and twenty years old had had some pretty hard experiences.
Take my own case. I grew up on a farm. From the time I was seven years of age, I was plowing down furrow. I was seasoned to kind of an outdoor-type of rugged life. This meant a lot to me over there. For example, so many of my fellow airmen and enlisted men and officers came down with malaria in Bataan. I never had malaria, even though the same mosquitoes bit me that bit them. . . . I asked the doctors about it, and they said, "Well, did you have malaria when you were growing up?" I said, "Yes." Every summer, chills and fevers. My father and mother broke it up on me with quinine and chill tonic or something. They said, "You built up an immunity against it." You see what I mean? This is where the experience comes in.
. . .
Marcello: What was the food like at Cabanatuan?
Taylor: Bad (chuckle). Rice and water lilies. You spoke of these special days, Christmas and Easter. Sometimes the Japanese would even let us have a few carabao. Outside of that it was rice. . . . After the first year we were able to raise some vegetables on the farm. That part that the Japanese would permit us to keep, of course, added to our diet.
Marcello: I assume this was a pretty poor quality of rice, also, was it not?
Taylor: Very. It was not the beautiful clean rice that you and I are accustomed to here. It was rough. . . . We used to speak of it as rice that had been swept from the floors after the prime and the choice rice had been sold to China or some other place by the Japanese.
Marcello: As I recall, you had to be careful of the small pebbles and this sort of thing in that rice, did you not?
Taylor: Yes, rocks and pebbles and weevils and worms and things like that. We didn't worry about that too much.
Marcello: How often were you fed?
Taylor: Well, for a long time there, we got about two meals a day at Cabanatuan. Then later on, I think that when we had our vegetables and everything, we were able to have three meals a day for a couple of years. But I can remember even after we left Cabanatuan and went on up into Japan—we had soup three times a day and that was it. Soup—not soup in the sense of chunky soup as we hear spoken of, but just soup, you know.
Marcello: Very watery with maybe some sort of little flavoring.
Taylor: Very watery, yes. You were hard-put to find a leaf or anything in there, you know. So I would say the rations were poor all the way, all the way.
Marcello: What was the thought that was most constantly on everybody's mind while they were prisoners of war?
Taylor: Recipes (chuckle). You can't imagine the number of recipes . . . these guys would think of food and talk about food. In their minds they'd come up with a beautiful recipe. Then they'd pass this recipe on to their fellow prisoners. Of course, what we were doing was just punishing ourselves with this sort of talk.
. . .
Marcello: How did you supplement your diet in the Philippines at Cabanatuan? Did you ever resort to the eating of snakes, dogs, cats—things of this nature?
Taylor: I don't think any cats . . . I can't say for sure whether any dogs were eaten or not. I don't think we had any snakes there. I never saw a snake in that part of the Philippines in the prison camp. But frogs or anything like that that came around, they were consumed pretty quickly. . . . The Japanese did permit us to establish a little commissary—what we'd call a commissary. They permitted certain civilians to bring vegetables—peanuts, maybe some corn, and other types of vegetables—and sometimes some fruit, some oranges that grew in the southern islands, into the camp. This was after the Red Cross, when no more Red Cross parcels came.
Marcello: You were probably getting into 1943 when this took place.
Taylor: Right. This, I would say, was mid-1943 perhaps, under the leadership of Colonel [Harold K.] Johnson, who was then our camp commander, and who later became chief of staff for the United States Army after we came back. Under his leadership and his staff, we were able to get this commissary established, and the Japanese. . . . started paying us along there in 1943. . . . I was a captain at the time. I think I got fifteen or twenty pesos a month. I think we all got the same, you know, if we were an officer. But anyway, we had this commissary, and we could go to the commissary and buy these little things. This helped us a great deal.
Marcello: What were the prices like?
Taylor: Very cheap, very cheap.
Marcello: I wasn't sure if inflation had taken over there or not.
Taylor: No, not yet. It did after the war.
Marcello: What sort of black market activities took place here in Cabanatuan? I'm sure there must have been a flourishing black market.
Taylor: There was. I don't know to the extent of the black market. Among the prisoners of war, I don't think it was tremendously great—not after we became established and so forth. But you can just bet there was some of it. There's always a few guys, you know, who want to get rich at the expense of others. But we didn't have much of that.
I'll have to commend the American prisoners of war on assisting each other and having each other's welfare in mind as we went along. We were all in the same pot, and we kind of had to prop each other up.
Marcello: What were the Japanese guards like at Cabanatuan?
Taylor: It depended on the guard. We had some that we liked very much. They were very considerate of the prisoners of war and did everything they could to help them, who would even share his own lunch with them sometimes. Then there were others who were very rigid and evidently trying to get ahead with their own rank or something. They were very hard on the prisoners of war. They were very bitter and seemed to do everything they could to make conditions worse for the prisoners of war.
Marcello: What sort of punishment would these guards generally mete out for the prisoners?
Taylor: Well, they usually didn't wait long to do it, and you never knew what would cause a Japanese guard to just jump on you and beat you up, so to speak, or whack you around over the head or back or something with a stick. But this was their usual custom. It was usually a physical sort of punishment that they would mete out, even in the position of taking life. We had some people who they charged with trying to escape from the prison camp. They took them out and chopped their heads off. Things like that. It was always physical—some kind of physical punishment. I can remember one time they paraded through our prison camp . . . [and] dangling from a pole that was carried on the shoulders of two Japanese soldiers were two or three Filipino heads that they'd taken from some people who hadn't cooperated with the Japanese up in the mountains. I think they brought those into the prison camp to impress upon us that it wouldn't do us any good to go to the mountains, that they were operating out there, too. So this was the sort of punishment they'd mete out.
Marcello: I'm sure you observed that physical punishment was a way of life in the Japanese Army, too, was it not?
Taylor: Very much so. They treated their own Japanese soldiers pretty much the same way. They beat one of them to death right there in our prison camp or in their quarters out there. He had done something. We never did know what it was. But they literally beat him to death.
Marcello: I'm sure you had nicknames for a great many of the Japanese guards, did you not?
Taylor: Oh, yes. We called one, as I recall, "Big Speedo" and one "Little Speedo." The "Big Speedo" was a good one, and the "Little Speedo," everybody recognized him as being a devil, you know.
Marcello: How'd they get those names?
Taylor: We gave them to them because of their attitude and the way they treated us, you know. The "Big Speedo" was considerate. "Little Speedo" was a little . . . man, he was a fire ant! He wanted people to do the impossible all the time for the imperial command of the Japanese forces by just going all out to do great things.
. . .
Marcello: I would assume, and I may be wrong here, that you weren't exactly seeing the cream of the Japanese Army in the prisoner of war camps either, were you? In other words, the good soldiers, I would assume, were out on the front line.
Taylor: I think that's right. These soldiers that they put in prison camp responsibility were perhaps a less effective type of soldier and less aggressive out there somewhere.
Marcello: And I think the same would be true of the commandants. A good officer would have been out there on the front line.
Taylor: I was going to say, I don't think we ever had a commandant. . . . I think the highest rank of commandant we ever had was a major there at Cabanatuan. That's when we had ten thousand prisoners there. Most of the prison camps, I think, were commanded by some type of lieutenant, and perhaps not a very good lieutenant at that.
Marcello: Did you, as an officer or as a chaplain, have very much contact with the Japanese officers here at Cabanatuan?
Taylor: Yes, we had quite a bit. The Japanese officers would come through the camp. They quite often would stop and talk with us. Then we had the interpreters, one or two of which made it a point to come over and visit with us. Then on another occasion we had a rather tall Japanese officer who played volleyball with us. He loved to play volleyball. . . . This is after the bad days, you know, along in 1943 and 1944. He'd come over and play volleyball in the evenings. After dinner we'd usually get out there and play some volleyball, get exercise, and so forth. He would come with us.
As I went on into Japan, I had some more personal contacts with some of the officers up there who would come to the camp. I remember in Moji, Japan. . . . a week or ten days after [President Roosevelt died], the lieutenant called for the American chaplain, and I went to his home with his aide. He wanted to know why I, as an American chaplain, had not asked permission to conduct a memorial service for Mr. Roosevelt, our President. Well, I thought at first he might just be trying to find out how much we knew in the prison camp. So my answer to him was, "Well, sir, we have not received official information about the death of our President." I, of course, acted real surprised when I knew that we had heard that he was dead. Then he was very apologetic and had his aide bring out papers, and he read to me the record of the death of Mr. Roosevelt. . . . During that period of time and then for the next two or three days when we held the memorial service, to which he sent his guards, his honor guard, we had some personal contact. Things like this all the way once in a while would indicate personal contact with the commandant or with some other officer of the prison camp.
Marcello: Now here at Cabanatuan I know that the Japanese. . . . had the prisoners going on all sorts of work details. What was the nature of the work that the prisoners had to do here at Cabanatuan?
Taylor: Well, of course, the big details. . . . were those who went out and worked on the farm. But each detail of some twelve or fifteen men had a Japanese guard with him. They would work on the farm. . . . We didn't raise any rice in Cabanatuan that I know of. I don't recall any rice. . . . We didn't have water for the rice and such as that. But we raised potatoes, what they called sweet potatoes, yams. We raised corn. We raised beans, cucumbers, onions—garlic and all sorts of things like that. So it wouldn't be quite as rough as that rice planting that I watched the natives over there do so much. Now I imagine that some of the prisoners of war in some of these other camps maybe did grow rice. But at Cabanatuan we were just west of the mountains where there was no great amount of water.
. . .
Marcello: Let's talk a little bit about some of the improvising that prisoners had to do in this camp. How did you improvise in terms of a toothbrush and toothpaste, let's say?
Taylor: Well, in the early days, the most of us who had been reared out in the country area knew how to make a toothbrush. You get a little shrub off of a limb or something and split the end of it until you have a brush on the end. That was one of the more common types. . . . Some of us had been able to keep our toothbrush in our whatever type of uniform we wore in the prison camp. I will say this. I suspect never in the history of the world did toothbrushes last so long as they did over there. Those who had them didn't throw them away when they got worn a little. They wore them right on down to the base. But as for toothpaste, a lot of us used soap.
We did have some soap. We reasoned it like this. If soap is soap, you know, there's likely not very many germs in it. So we used the soap for toothpaste.
Marcello: Was soap relatively plentiful?
Taylor: Of course, I'm speaking now after we got away from that initial three to six months. During those three to six months everything was scarce. I mean it was just almost nil. But when we got into, say, early 1943, the Japanese began to loosen up a little and provide a few things. They permitted and brought soap in. Then later we could buy soap in the commissary and things like that.
Marcello: What did you do for shaving and haircuts?
Taylor: Well, now we had barbers in the prison camp. It wasn't so awfully difficult to find a barber because back there most of the guys had grown up . . . if they had more than two or three boys in the family, at least one of them cut the others' hair, or maybe the daddy would cut the hair or vice versa. So here again, hair began to get long. You saw some people with beards and things like that in the early days because they didn't have a thing to shave with.
. . .
But there again, as time went on, we used soap when we were able to get some kind of razors, and these razors were passed around among the men. I will say that here again the men kept themselves groomed pretty well after those first three to six months.
Marcello: I'm sure that you had to be very concerned with hygiene.
Taylor: Oh, yes, sir. Doctors impressed upon us all the way through to keep clean. We built our own showers and everything. Here again, the Japanese didn't do it for us. We did it ourselves. They would, perhaps, let us scrounge some piping and such as that. We had showers all over the camp.
Marcello: Like you mentioned, we're talking about a camp that had thousands of prisoners. It was almost like a town. There were skilled people in this camp. There were, in other words, people who could do everything.
Taylor: That is right. You had all kinds of talent. If you wanted a plumber, we had men who knew how. If you wanted a radio man, we had radio men. If you wanted barbers, we had barbers. Cooks, we had cooks. Man, these fellows could take this inferior grade of rice and cassava roots . . . they'd take that cassava root, for example. When they got through with that stuff—along there in 1943 and 1944—it was a delectable dish for us, you know. It was nothing in the world but roots of a plant that grows.
Marcello: How did you replace your clothing? Obviously, as time goes on your clothing must have been wearing out.
Taylor: Well, we didn't wear much clothing in Cabanatuan. We went in there, most of us, with some kind of khaki shirts and slacks. But it wasn't long before those slacks became shorts. Maybe we had a couple of sets, one or two. They lasted a long time. Then, here again, I think the Japanese did permit some of the storage houses down in Manila to be opened up, and they brought in additional stuff. But very little, very little. We went out of Cabanatuan on the ships to Japan, the most of us, with only shorts around the trunk of our bodies. A few had some type of shirt, but a very few.
Marcello: You mentioned wooden shoes a while ago, and I assume that these were shoes that the prisoners had to make after their regular Army issue shoes had worn out.
Taylor: Right, and after about a year or so those Army issue shoes were just about gone. The soles were gone. The prisoners did a lot of walking around the prison camp and in the farms and so forth. So for the most part we wound up making our own shoes, and all you have to do to make a shoe is to get you a piece of board that's thick enough and get you a good sharp knife. I think most any person can figure out some configuration of the sole of his foot, to kind of match, and we made what we called . . . we called them skivvies. That’s not a good word for shoes, but that was the word we used. What it amounted to was simply a piece of wood with a strap across the instep of the foot there. We'd just walk all over the place. Some of them got real fancy. Some person would get a piece of old rubber or something off of the sole of another shoe that was worn out and make him a heel back there.
Marcello: I would assume that after the first six months or something like that, you began to fall into a daily routine, did you not?
Taylor: . . . After the first six or eight months, we began to develop everything. . . . We had our library. The Japanese permitted us to bring in—after along early 1943—some books from the old Army libraries down around over the islands. We had books to read. They even brought in some music for our people to sing. They brought in some instruments for our boys.
Here again, you mentioned a while ago about talent. We had all kinds of talent. People could play a trombone, or they could play a harp, or they could sing. . . . They even got hold of a violin or two somewhere. We had our own bands and our own choirs and our own libraries. We had our own chapels. We were living as near normal lives as possible under the circumstances.
. . .
Marcello: What sort of a trip was it from Cabanatuan to Bilibid Prison?
Taylor: By trucks, and we had to stop any number of times—the convoy I went in—to hide under the trees or something from the American airplanes operating above.
Marcello: Incidentally, when you heard the news of Halsey's planes raiding Manila harbor and the other various installations and the landings at Leyte Gulf, what did this do for your morale?
Taylor: It was tremendous! In fact, we had a ringside seat to Halsey's first flights into Manila.
Marcello: Now this occurred when you were in Bilibid?
Taylor: In Cabanatuan. In September of 1944 . . . about the 22nd of September 1944, if I remember my date, one morning about nine o'clock we heard the dronings of many, many planes coming over the mountains. Pretty soon there came flights of seventy-five to a hundred planes, flight after flight. We knew right away they were Americans—or pretty soon. Then they came right over our camp. Just over the prison camp, they would separate into smaller flights. Some would go south, and some would go north.
Then in a few minutes, we could hear the explosives hitting Clark Field and other places a good long way across there. But we could hear these explosives.
Marcello: It must have been a fantastic experience to see these planes and then to know what was happening.
Taylor: Oh, yes. Yes, this was a great morale builder. Of course, the only drawback was that, naturally, you think, "Well, it's going to be over in just a week or two." It's kind of a letdown, then, when the Japanese corralled us all and got into Bilibid Prison because we knew what was coming. They were going to try and get us out. . . . Of course, the planes didn't bother our prison camp. They shot down a Japanese plane or two right close to our camp. But anyway, [the Japanese] got us into Bilibid.
Taylor: Then all that fall, from October until the fifteenth of December, the Japanese were not able to get us out because the American bombers came in and bombed Manila Bay and kept the Japanese ships from coming in. Almost every day the weather was good and all. Then there came kind of a late typhoon, which is unusual, I guess, for the Philippines. Sometimes they have them late. They had three or four days of this. During this time of inclement weather when our planes didn't come in to bomb, the Japanese sneaked into Manila Bay with the Oryoku Maru and a few other ships and loaded us onto the Oryoku Maru, about 1,700 of us, with a convoy of about thirteen ships. We went out by Corregidor and then turned north to Japan. This is the night of the 13th, all day of the 14th, and . . . yes, all day the 14th we were under bombing attacks because the weather had cleared, and here the bombers came back.
. . .
The ship was a beautiful luxury liner of the Japanese before the war. Compared with the large American ships, it was small, but it was a beautiful and, I suspect, a very comfortable ship. Of course, we were put in the hull of the ship. . . . We were marched out across Quezon Bridge, down around the old walled city, down to pier seven which was the longest pier in the world at the beginning of World War II. There's where the Oryoku Maru was anchored. The Japanese were very jittery and very anxious to get us aboard and get us out of there because they knew that the moment that the weather cleared the Americans would be back.
But they didn't get us out. . . . On the 14th, the American dive bombers came in and destroyed, or chased away, every escorting vessel with us. Then late in the afternoon, after strafing the decks of our ship and knocking out the gun emplacements. . . . They came in and dropped a bomb right close to the stern of our ship and crippled it so it couldn't get away in the night.
Marcello: Were you in the ship during this period?
Taylor: Oh, yes. We were right in the hull of the ship. There were three, what we called, holds in the ship, down in the hull. Up here in the forward deck—the hold of the ship—we had about 650. In the middle deck, we had about 200 or 300, maybe 400. Then the rest of our prisoners were in the aft hold of the ship. That's where we were. It was hot and humid and no food and no water to amount to anything. So you can imagine the conditions were bad, real bad. Well, this bomb crippled us about five o'clock in the afternoon.
Then during the night the Japanese towed the ship. We could hear the towing . . . [the] boat out there pulling us into what later turned out to be Subic Bay. It was the old Navy station that's used now as a Marine-Navy station by the United States, I believe. They pulled us into this Subic Bay and Mr. Wada, the Japanese interpreter, said to us, "When daylight comes, we'll get you off of the ship."
But they didn't, and the next morning they kept us on, and about eight o'clock the Americans came in and didn't see anybody moving around on the ship and dropped their bombs, a string of bombs. One exploded on the aft part of the ship, and one or two went right into the aft hold of the ship. One or two fell up here toward the center and the forward. So in the aft hold there were about 650 men killed.
Then Mr. Wada sent us word that we could come out. By the time we got out . . . I guess several hundred got into the water and were swimming ashore. The American bombers came back. There were three of them—dive bombers. They saw all of this group coming out, and one of them dropped down and circled low around the ship and saw that we were Americans. They dipped their wings in salute and went back and joined the other two, and they went away and stayed away for about two or three hours.
Marcello: What was it like being in the hold of that ship while this bombing and strafing was going on? What kind of thoughts were going through your mind?
Taylor: Well, it's hard to describe those moments unless you were actually there, but I'll tell you. My first impression was that the American prisoners of war were soldiers to the very end. I can remember hearing them say now as the guns were strafing the decks of that ship, you'd hear these GI's say, "Give them heck, Joe." Here we were right down under it. It was a tremendous experience. A lot of our men, of course, were in bad shape by this time. Of course, there was sickness. But I guess there were hundreds of Japanese killed by those strafings above. . . .
But the thought was, well, after you've gone through as much as you have, I think the good Lord kind of prepares us to accept whatever comes. We were prepared for anything. We were prepared for a bomb to explode the ship and destroy us all. There was no panic. The men acted with as much natural attitude or natural reaction, I think, in those moments as I had ever seen anybody act.
Now this couldn't be except that you'd gone through a lot of experiences already, you see. There are other circumstances in life that would have brought on panic if something like this would have happened. Everybody would have tried to climb out of the holds of those ships. But for the most part, nobody moved. Nobody said a word except you could hear some guy speak up as I did, "Who wants to buy my watch?" During an awful moment like this, it broke the spell. Everybody laughed, you know. This is American spirit. You just can't accredit it to anything else. The men who believed in their country and who loved their country and who detested the way the Japanese were treating the prisoners of war—put them in the hull of a ship, and not even mark the ship or anything else. But they were soldiers to the end.
Marcello: Okay, so you finally have to abandon ship, and you hit the water. How far from shore were you?
Taylor: Well, after being in the hull of that ship about two days and nights, when we came out we discovered that it's difficult to see very well. It's amazing how quickly your eyes are affected by almost total darkness in a ship—no windows, no lights, or anything. I would judge it was possibly a couple hundred yards, maybe three hundred yards, out to the ship. You see, they could come in just so far. I don't think, though, it was more than probably a couple hundred yards.
Marcello: In other words, you didn't have to do a whole lot of swimming.
Taylor: No, and we clustered together. Some of the debris that had been thrown from the ship by the explosions, pieces of plank and things like that. . . . Some of the patients who couldn't swim very well or who were too weak clustered to those and swam in. As we swam in, however, the Japanese were watching to be sure that nobody drifted to one side to escape or anything. The few who did because they couldn't prevent it were shot right there in the water. But we got ashore, and then after about three hours the Americans came back and, of course, there was no sign of life around that ship. Again, we had a ringside seat, and they just barreled down on it just one right after the other. They just dropped a string of bombs from the forward deck . . . from the bow to the stern. That old ship went up in flames in just a few minutes. I don't know how long it took it to sink but not very long.
Marcello: Meanwhile, what were the Japanese doing all this time?
Taylor: Just guarding us and seeing that we didn't escape. We were put in tennis courts which were located, oh, I guess, 350 yards away.
Marcello: Okay, so what happened from that point?
Taylor: Well, we were retained on this tennis court for six days and nights and given a little dry rice to eat. Of course, we had water there on the tennis courts. Then, after six days, the Japanese . . . loaded us onto these trucks, and took us to San Fernando, Pampanga, which is the capital of the province in central Luzon. We stayed there over, I believe, one or two nights. By this time, it was coming up on Christmas. The American bombers and fighter planes were operating all over the Philippines. They even operated over us right there on the tennis courts, knocking out Japanese emplacements and everything. They knew where we were then. They didn't drop any bombs on us in this tennis court.
But in the provincial prison camp or jailhouse up in San Fernando, Pampanga, we were held over a couple of nights. The worst wounded patients and the sick patients were loaded on some trucks and taken back to Cabanatuan. They never reached Cabanatuan because the Japanese took them out to the edge of town and decapitated the whole outfit. It was this incident that brought on a great inquiry during the war crimes trials in Tokyo. Finally, one of the little guards was put under pressure, and he told what happened. Then they went there and they found these graves and these men—about twenty of them—that we had put on trucks to go back.
Well, on the Christmas Eve of 1944, they put us on rail cars. Even while we were loading and while we traveled along to Clark Field, there were fighter planes having dog fights with the Japanese Zeroes up above. We went on through, though, and they put prisoners of war up on top of these boxcars to try to prevent the Americans from bombing us. I guess it worked. They didn't bomb us. We went on through and got to San Fernando, La Union. This is adjacent or pretty close to the north side of Lingayen Gulf. We were held there through Christmas Day and the following two days on the beaches and up in a little schoolhouse on the side of a hill.
Marcello: Were you still about to hold your Christmas services at this time?
Taylor: No, we were on the move then, and this was the only Christmas Eve that we failed to have a Christmas service because we were on the move and we could not. Of course, in a way we did among ourselves in small groups, as we'd pass Christmas greetings and things like that with small prayer meetings and moments of devotion between the men, you know.
But then on the twenty-seventh of December—that's two days after Christmas—they loaded us on to some more ships that came in—a couple more ships. We went out on little boats to these ships. We sailed for Japan.
Marcello: What did you think about the idea of going to Japan?
Taylor: We really hoped that the sinking of these ships in Subic Bay would be the end of it and that the Japanese would not get us out of the Philippines because we felt that the Americans would come in right away, and they did. Three days after we sailed from Lingayen Gulf, the American Navy ships entered the Lingayen Gulf area and were shelling all of this beach where we were held until the twenty-seventh—just two or three days later.
Marcello: In other words, you didn't want to go back to Japan because you simply believed that that would prolong your liberation?
Taylor: Oh, yes.
Marcello: Plus, there was always the danger, I assume, of being sunk while you were on your way to Japan.
Taylor: Well, I don't think the sinking concerned us a great deal because we . . . as I said a while ago, after you go so long, you just don't dwell on those things. Our main ambition, our main desire, was to rid ourselves of these doggone ships, you know, and stay in the Philippines. We were greatly in hopes that the Japanese would not have the chance to get us out.
But they had this one chance on the twenty-seventh. Evidently, they slipped in there with a couple of ships and took us out and got us as far as Formosa. Then they were forced into the harbor at Formosa either for supplies or fuel or something.
Marcello: How long did it take you to get from Lingayen Gulf to Formosa?
Taylor: I'd say two or three days.
Marcello: What were conditions like aboard the particular ship that you were on?
Taylor: Very bad. That old ship—the old scow we called it—had been used as a ship to transport horses from Japan to the Philippines. It hadn't been cleaned in ten years. It was full of lice. We were a "lousy" group by the time we got to Formosa.
Marcello: Did they provide any sort of food and water and sanitary facilities and this sort of thing while you were aboard this cavalry ship?
Taylor: No, no sanitary facilities at all on that thing. For the waste, they provided cans around in different compartments. Water, about once a day . . . we would have to send the detail up to the deck to get water that came from barrels. They'd pass it down in buckets—a chain of men passing it down to the people. The water would be distributed by cup to the men. This was a grave danger to us, this shortage of water. A man can live a long time without eating, but he can't go too long without some water. It was during those days that men would take a West Point graduate ring that they'd been hiding for years while they were prisoners and give it to a Japanese for a cup of water to drink. Things like this, you know. It was a very trying time. But we reached Japan after leaving there, I'd say, the morning of the twenty-eighth of January. It may have been the twenty-ninth.
Marcello: How long did it take you to get from Formosa to Japan?
Taylor: Well now, we left Formosa on about the 13th of January. We were bombed there. Chennault's outfit, bombers, came in from China and destroyed the old scow, which we were glad to see the old scow go. But the one we got after that wasn't any improvement.
Marcello: Were you off the scow when the bombing took place?
Taylor: No, we were right on it again. Here's where we lost another 500 of our men in the forward deck of the ship this time. Then we left Formosa with only about 500 of our original group of 1,700. On the way to Japan, I guess more than 100 of those died. So we got to Japan maybe with 400 or 450 out of the 1,700. Two hundred and fifty or more of those died while we were in Japan. So out of the 1,700 that we had left Manila with, surviving from that group was about 200 men. That's all.
Marcello: In other words, the rest had either been killed in the air raids or had died from the various diseases and malnutrition and so on, exposure, on the ship itself.
Taylor: For example, there were sixteen chaplains on that ship. Sixteen, I believe, was the number. Only two of us survived. There was a long trip in which the attrition was just something unheard of.
Marcello: What happened to the bodies? You mentioned that men were dying on this trip between Formosa and Japan. What was done with the bodies?
Taylor: The Japanese were great for cremating bodies. Those who were killed on the ship in the harbor at Formosa were cremated. We received the ashes later on in urns. Those who died at sea, we buried them at sea. Each morning we had a burial ceremony in the hull of the ship and buried the men at sea.
Marcello: Let's just recapitulate and go back a minute, Chaplain Taylor. A while ago you mentioned that when you got to Formosa you got caught in another air raid, this time by some of Chennault's China-based airplanes. Describe what that attack was like in whatever detail you remember.
Taylor: Well, we had sailed into a Formosa harbor called Takao. I believe it was Takao Harbor. While we were there getting ready to go . . . taking on fuel and sugar and such as that—the Japanese were loading—we received a bombing raid warning. Of course, the Japanese rushed us back into the holds of the ship. Then we heard the planes coming. Sure enough, one of them picked out our old ship we were on and bombed it. We lost about five hundred men who were killed.
Marcello: What does it feel like when a ship is hit by those bombers?
Taylor: Well, it's a pretty terrifying experience to go through because you first feel the impact of your explosion, and then there's the falling of the debris and the flying of planks and everything from the decks. Then there's the quiet moment when seemingly everything's over—complete silence. You don't hear a scream; you don't hear a moan. You don't hear anything for just a moment. Then we began to get to our feet, you know. When something like that happens, you fall flat on your stomach and get as close to whatever you're standing or lying on as possible.
So in my particular group . . . I had a group of ten men that I was kind of the leader of for purposes of receiving their rice and water. We all just fell in a cluster right on the deck of the ship. When I was able to get up, I had been wounded in my wrist and my hip by flying fragments from shells. Only about two of us got up. The rest of them were all dead in my group. . . . Those of us who were still alive, we began to do our best to help those who were wounded. There wasn't much we could do except to get around among them and see how badly they were hurt. We had doctors there, a few of those who survived. It's a pretty terrifying thing. Out of the . . . about eleven or twelve hundred of us that had been living, as I say, about five hundred were killed. So that left us a very few—probably five hundred or so prisoners to go on to Japan.
Marcello: By this time are you getting used to death, or do you ever get used to it?
Taylor: You never get used to it. The only thing, you do kind of process yourself into accepting whatever comes. You go at it more or less with maturity. You don't panic when something like this happens.
Marcello: It's not really fatalism, however.
Taylor: Not fatalism, no, not at all. You do everything to protect yourself and protect your men. But there is something about it that you go through. If you go through with it sufficiently enough, you get to the place that you methodically go about doing what you have to do, you see, without panicking.
Marcello: So how long was it after the attack that you were finally able to get out of Formosa?
Taylor: We left Formosa . . . This was on about the ninth of January that these bombs hit us.
. . .
Taylor: Well, from Formosa to Japan was a very trying trip of suffering. Again, we didn't have adequate food. We didn't have adequate water. We certainly had no heat. The men had no clothing. Consequently, from Formosa to Moji, Japan, we lost about 250 men, something like that, out of the 500 or 600. Those men died every day, every night. We buried them at sea as we went along.
Marcello: As a chaplain, is this sort of thing really testing your faith?
Taylor: Yes, in a way. It does. You could say it tests our faith. The chaplains performed their duties and knew that under such circumstances as these, not only did it test our faith but it was a great challenge to us to minister to the men, to do what we could for them under these trying conditions.
Marcello: What do you tell men under these conditions? How do you counsel them?
Taylor: There's always the message—the spiritual ministry—that a minister can perform under the most trying of experiences. Number one is that we can tell our men that although the man who believes is not exempted from suffering, he's not exempted from danger, he's not exempt from sickness or disease, if he will put his trust and his faith in God and the Christ that we serve, he may also find, even in the midst of suffering and in the midst of disease and in the midst of trouble, he may find an inner peace that helps him through such hours. They accept this. They are looking for something. They're groping for something and they find it. That is the true message of a Christian at such an hour.
Marcello: What sort of trouble or what sort of problems did American submarines create on this trip between Formosa and Japan?
Taylor: They were quite a nuisance to us because we were dodging submarines most of the way. Every once in a while you'd hear this bell ring, you know, a signal for the crew and for the guards to be alert for submarines. Then we'd feel the ship as it abruptly changed to a forty-five-degree angle and go a certain few moments this way, and then it turned again right quick. Then you knew very well what they were doing. They were dodging these submarines—trying to. Fortunately, we were able to dodge them.
Marcello: Was the submarine menace more frightening then the airplanes, or was it six of one and half a dozen of the other?
Taylor: It was worse by far because, you know, we could hear the airplanes coming. These submarines, the only thing you could hear was maybe the sonar beams bumping off the hull of the ship or something.
Marcello: That had to be unnerving.
Taylor: Yes, it was. And you never knew when they might slip one on you. This was kind of a new way of life for all of us.
Marcello: Were you part of a convoy?
Taylor: We started out as a part of a convoy, but the first day out we lost thirteen ships of the fourteen right away. They were either sunk or turned away by the American bombers.
. . .
Marcello: To use the old expression, I guess you were really between a rock and a hard place here because even if a torpedo did hit that ship and it was sinking and you had to get into the ocean, I'm sure chances of survival would have been slim given how cold it was.
Taylor: Yes, and scarcity of vessels, you know, unless some other Japanese vessel came along. They were so busy with the war that they didn't have much time to bother with floating prisoners of war, you know. Your chance would have been one out of a million, I imagine.
Marcello: Okay, so you finally get into Moji, Japan. What happened here?
Taylor: Well, we walked off the ship on that cold, snowy day. It was snowing in Moji, Japan. I can remember us going down the gangplanks barefooted with just shorts around the trunk of our body for the most part. We'd not been issued any warm clothing. We were marched across two or three blocks . . . a few blocks here. Patients were taken in some type of vehicle, and the rest of us were marched over to this big city hall. It looked something like a city hall. It was here that the Japanese Red Cross met us. This was the first time we'd seen the Red Cross people in a long time. They had little packages or little crates of fruit and such as that that they gave us. Then those of us who were wounded or sick, they took us in Japanese ambulances to the hospital.
Marcello: What was your health like at this time?
Taylor: Well, my health was in pretty bad shape at this time because I had suffered a concussion in my chest during the sinking of the ship in Formosa. By this time I had recovered to the extent that I could get up on my own strength and walk with my own strength. But I did have a broken arm. My left arm . . . fragments had gone through my wrist. It was still in a sling. I had a minor wound in my left hip.
Marcello: Your arm had never been set, I gather.
Taylor: No, no. The doctor simply looked at it and said, "Well, all you need is a sling here." Fortunately, it grew back very straight. They examined it. Only one bone was really broken in it. The rest of them held it straight. But anyway, I went to the hospital with about 120 men. In about ten days, out of the 120 we were down to about 32. Most of them died. In other words, out of the . . . I'd say around 600 or maybe 650. I don't know how many got there more or less. Within a month, about 200 or 250 of those died from exposure and wounds and things like that.
Marcello: I have a couple of questions to ask at this point. First, can you see the attitude of the Japanese changing in any way, that is, in comparison to what their attitude had been when you were initially captured?
Taylor: Only by virtue of the fact that we were in a little different environment now. For example, when we walked off that gangplank in Moji, Japan, we were in a civilian sort of atmosphere. These Red Cross people, of course, were civilians. Even though we're still under the control of the military . . . the drivers of those vehicles were apparently civilian drivers.
Marcello: But do you still see this sense of superiority that was so evident when you were captured?
Taylor: Oh, in the military, yes. It did not change. Even after we were in a hospital, one night there was a big commotion in the Moji hospital. The Japanese guards were running around, and the doctors and the workers were running and making a lot of noise. We inquired what happened. They said, "Well, we just received word that Japan has just bombed San Francisco again, and New York. Our super flying bombers are operating over the United States." They'd been fed this propaganda, see, by their people. But they were still very optimistic.
Marcello: Had Moji been hit by American bombers yet?
Taylor: Moji proper had not.
Marcello: So in other words, then, you wouldn't have received a necessarily hostile reception from those civilians.
Taylor: No, not right then. Now a few days later, the B-29s . . . within a short time, the B-29s had begun to operate all over Tokyo and Fukuoka.
Taylor: Along in the later part of February, I guess, maybe mid-February, the thirty-two of us who survived this hospital ordeal were put on trains and taken to Fukuoka Prison Camp Number Twenty-Two. This was an Australian camp.
Marcello: What was the train trip like between the hospital and Fukuoka?
Taylor: Very nice. It was civilian-type transportation, very comfortable, very warm.
Marcello: Did they allow you to view the countryside?
Taylor: No, they took us by night and pulled down the shades.
Marcello: I see. I gather it only took you a relatively short time to get to that prison camp.
Taylor: Very, very short. As I remember it was less than an hour or an hour and a half.
Marcello: What was Fukuoka like?
Taylor: Fukuoka was adjacent to a coal mine. The prisoners of war there, who were Australians, were working in these coal mines. The thirty-two of us, with few exceptions, were placed at first in the hospital area of the camp. We were treated by a Dutch doctor who had been serving with the Australians. But it was a very nice camp. It was very comfortable compared to what we had had. They had heat and . . . of course, the food was somewhat better. As I remember, we had rice and soup a couple or three times a day. A little later, when we improved some, we began to work in the Japanese gardens there. We were there from the latter part of February until the latter part of April. We were there about two months in that camp.
Marcello: And as you mentioned, it was basically a case of recuperating and then also working in this vegetable garden.
Taylor: Right, and we got along pretty well. We didn't lose any of our thirty-two men, as I recall, while we were there.
Taylor: It was during this period of time that the president of our country died. I related this story to you earlier about the Japanese commandant who made a statement that I will always remember. He was a young lieutenant who had been educated in America. . . . He was surprised that we had not asked permission to have this memorial for our president. Then he said to me . . . I'm sure he would not have said it to his people. He said to me, "Of all the leaders of the various countries, I admire Mr. Roosevelt as one of the greatest." He'd been president then a good many years. I guess he was president when he was over here in school. But anyway, I thought that was a little unusual.
Marcello: What blow was that to the morale of the prisoners when they found out that Roosevelt had died? Did it affect the morale in one way or another?
Taylor: None whatsoever because we knew that our country did not depend on the president like countries with dictatorships depend on their leaders. We've got Congress and we've got other leaders who really lead the country in a very efficient way even in the absence of the president.
Marcello: Were the Japanese relatively jubilant when they found out about Roosevelt's death?
Taylor: I don't think so. Some of them may have been. Some of the military may have dreamed dreams that this might weaken the country, but if they did it was because they just didn't know our country. That's all.
Marcello: What were your impressions of the Australian prisoners that were here?
Taylor: I was greatly impressed with the Australian people and leaders. . . . They, like the Americans, conducted a military-like camp. The Japanese permitted them to do so. They maintained good discipline among their troops. They were able to instill in the minds of their fellow prisoners of war that we're all in this thing together, and we're going to live through it. They were wonderful. We enjoyed them very much.
Marcello: I assume, then, from what you've said, that they probably tried to accommodate you and help you in every way to adjust to your surroundings here at Fukuoka.
Taylor: They went all out to assist us. They put us right in the hospital, and their doctor took as good care of us as possible. They were just great to us.
Marcello: In the meantime, did you have any further treatment for your wrist?
Taylor: Yes, it was here that the doctor treated my wrist daily and checked it and determined that it was growing back promptly . . . my hip and everything. It was just fine. We were in Fukuoka, then, until the last of April, about the twenty-fifth of April.
Marcello: And then this is when they moved you to Manchuria?
Taylor: Right. . . . They didn't move any of the Australians out of the camp, but they came in and picked up just about all of the Americans. Now they left two or three Americans there who were still in the hospital and hadn't recovered completely. So they left them there, and they pulled us out and took us by truck to Fukuoka. By this time, the last week of April, Fukuoka had nobody living in it. . . . It had been completely destroyed, apparently, because we drove right through by the depot and right on through the town down to the pier where the little ships came. We didn't see any business in operation, nothing but shells of buildings. They had all been bombed out by the American B-29s. Even the night we arrived, we stayed in a little park right adjacent to where we were going to load on the ship that night. This was in the afternoon. The sun was shining. During that night, they had one bombing warning after another. Two or three times we went aboard the ship and were going to sleep on the ship. But two or three times the Japanese alerted us, and we left the ship and went out on the beach in order . . . they were afraid the ship would be bombed or something. Then the next morning before daylight, a good long time before day, we felt ourselves shipping out. We sailed across as fast as we could to Pusan, Korea, the next day.
Marcello: Did you know that you were ultimately going to Manchuria? Had they told you where you were going?
Taylor: We knew this by this time, yes.
Marcello: What were your feelings about going from Japan to Manchuria?
Taylor: It was alright with us. It didn't seem to disturb us.
Marcello: Well, I guess it wasn't too healthy in Japan with all those bombers and so on.
Taylor: No, no, it wasn't because the bombers were raiding all over the place. This is one reason the Japanese were moving us on up to Manchuria. You see, their object was to hold as many prisoners of war, particularly officers, as hostages against the day of settlement, I suppose, because they didn't know at that time whether Japan would be in the war long. They thought they were going to fight on and on, I think.
Marcello: Given the Japanese attitude and the Japanese mentality with which you had now had a good deal of first-hand experience, did you think that they were ultimately going to kill you? In other words, suppose it was quite evident that they were going to be beaten, did you ever have the feeling that ultimately you weren't going to come out of this alive?
Taylor: Well, we didn't rule that possibility out by any reason. However, we never dwelt on it a great deal because we didn't know, and it just didn't bother us too much one way or another about that. But we did maintain the hope and faith by this time that we would be cared for unless we were killed by our own bombs or something like that.
Marcello: I assume this trip from Japan over to Pusan was a relatively short trip.
Taylor: Just a few hours. . . . As I remember, we left Fukuoka early in the morning—maybe daylight, a little before daylight, maybe—and we were in Pusan in the mid-afternoon.
Marcello: Okay, so what happened at that point when you got over to Pusan?
Taylor: Well, when we got to Pusan, we ran into a different atmosphere completely—one of friendliness on the part of the Japanese who met us there. There was a Japanese doctor from Manchuria—Mukden, Manchuria—and quite a staff of aides and assistants as well as guards. The first night we were there, we were all bedded down in the city hall with little grass mats. They fed us soybeans, rice, and some fish. We had a very nice meal.
Marcello: I assume you had been eating fairly well there at Fukuoka.
. . .
Taylor: Compared to what we had had before, we had been eating better. But now that we were over into Korea and out of the war zone and with this doctor meeting us, we began, then, to travel by train up through South Korea to Seoul and all up through there. They had regular stops that they would stop and pick up food. I can remember one time that this doctor refused. . . . He always checked the food. He refused to accept food. We went without food for a few hours until we made another stop. His explanation to us was that this food was not adequate. It was not good, was not what he wanted.
Marcello: How do you account for this change in attitudes on the part of the Japanese? Do you attribute it to the character of the individuals who were in charge of this operation?
Taylor: Exactly! We attributed it to the fact that these men that we were under now—even though they were military men—were not in the war zone. There were no great bombings going on in Korea or up into Manchuria. They had bombed some there and knocked out a factory. But we got out of Japan. These guards were not in the wartime situation, and their superiors were not pressing upon them to treat the prisoners badly, but rather to treat them fairly. So we had good care. We rode up there on a passenger train. . . . Compared to what we'd been on, you see, boxcars, we were now on a first-class passenger train and two men to a seat. We had meals three times a day except for one day that the food was rejected by our doctor.
By the way, this doctor proved to be a great friend of the Americans. Even during the rest of the time when we were in Roten Prison Camp in Mukden, Manchuria, we were well cared for. He ran a first-class hospital and did everything he could for these patients. He was just a good doctor. When the war was over, rather than see this doctor go on into Russia with the other prisoners, who our leaders felt surely would go there, I was told—I can't say for sure—but I was told that they got this doctor out and brought him back. I'm not certain of that.
Marcello: How long did it take you to go from Pusan up to Roten in Manchuria?
Taylor: Let's see. We left on the 25th of April. That took one day from . . . let's see, one day and a half, I guess. It took us about, I'd say, a day and . . . two days, something like that, because we left—I think it was the 25th—and went into Fukuoka. The next morning would have been the 26th. We were in Manchuria early the 29th, so it took about two days to go from Fukuoka up there.
Marcello: Describe what this Roten Prison Camp was like from a physical standpoint.
Taylor: Well, there was nothing elaborate about it. It was just a huge camp of very large concrete-type buildings which were heated with steam, you know. That was a cold country up there. We arrived there in April, and there was still ice on the ground the last of April. They'd had an awfully cold winter. But these buildings were substantial buildings, well-heated and everything. The prisoners who had been there all during the winter worked in the factories. . . . We were all just skin and bone. They looked very well. They'd had very good food. This was, we learned, the show camp for the International Red Cross. The Japanese had permitted the Red Cross to come in and inspect this camp. They'd furnished it with food and supplies and Red Cross supplies and equipment and such like that.
Marcello: Had you been issued winter clothing by this time?
Taylor: Yes, we were issued winter clothing partly in Moji in the hospital there. We had been issued some winter clothing. Then when we arrived at this Australian camp, we were re-issued heavier clothing. We took this clothing right along with us to Manchuria, so we were pretty well-clothed.
Marcello: What did you do after you got to Roten Prison Camp? What sort of work were you doing?
Taylor: I performed chaplain functions. None of our people had to go out to work after we got there because we were in very poor shape. We were not there long. We were there from the last week of April until mid-August when the war was over. During this period of time, our sole job was to recuperate and get a little walking exercise. Our own fellow prisoners of war who had been there, as I say, took very good care of us. Little by little they gave us increased rations as they could. We had soybeans, and we had a lot of fish. We had plenty of fish. The Japanese provided that. The Japanese guards were very, very accommodating. We didn't have this hostility.
We had no Japanese guards shooting guns around and threatening the prisoners or beating them up or anything like that. It was just a different atmosphere.
. . .
Marcello: How large a camp was this?
Taylor: Well, it wasn't too large. I think we had, as I recall, only about three to five hundred regular troops there when we got there, men who were working in the factories.
Marcello: Were these all American troops?
Taylor: No, there were British and a few Australians. Mostly British and maybe a few Dutch.
. . .
Marcello: By this time, are you making plans for your eventual liberation? Do you see that day somewhere off in the distance?
Taylor: Yes, we see it coming, we think, pretty soon now.
Marcello: Is it the sort of thing you talk about?
Taylor: Oh, yes. We talked about it and wondered just how long it would be because, you know, we could tell when we passed through Japan with all of these B-29s operating all over Japan that it just had to . . . something had to give. We figured it would be giving pretty soon. But it came sooner than we thought, really. We thought that Americans would very likely have to invade Japan. The moment that happened, we knew what would follow, we thought. The thing that happened that we didn't know about that brought the war to the end was the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Marcello: You never heard about it at all?
Taylor: No, we never heard about it. We didn't know about the atomic bomb until right at the last. Rumors began to come through that a bomb of such magnitude had been dropped and that 350,000 people were killed. We couldn't believe that at all until the Americans told us after we were liberated. This brought, of course—all of us know—the war to a sudden stop.
. . .
Marcello: Now during this period when you perhaps see the possibility of liberation looming on the horizon, and I'm sure you also think about the possibility of the Japanese killing you. Were you hiding weapons? Were you accumulating weapons however primitive they might be?
Taylor: No. This will tell you something. In our prison camp up in Manchuria, Roten, we had no reason to believe that the Japanese would kill us because of their attitude and everything. . . . I don't remember us ever talking about it, frankly, up there. But we never ruled out the possibility of anything happening. There could have been an order that came down in a flash from the higher headquarters saying, "Kill all of your prisoners of war." But we just didn't believe that would happen, and it didn't happen.
Marcello: Incidentally, what was your maximum weight, your peak weight, at the time you were captured or when you went in the service?
Taylor: About 170 pounds.
Marcello: And what was the minimum weight that you got down to as a prisoner?
Taylor: I don't really know how low I did get, but I know the first time I was weighed after coming out of the prison camp. I guess that was, oh, possibly on the ship in the Yellow Sea when the hospital ship picked us up in the middle of September. I weighed ninety-seven pounds. I was still pretty shapely.
Marcello: And you had actually been living fairly well for a couple of months.
Taylor: Yes, I'd been recuperating and nourishment-wise had been eating better food since April, well, a little earlier than that. Yes, about the later part of March, something like that.
Marcello: So actually, your weight at its lowest was a great deal less than ninety-seven pounds or whatever it was at that time.
Taylor: Possibly eighty or eighty-five pounds or less.
Marcello: Okay, I think this more or less brings us up to the days immediately prior to the end of the war and then your eventual liberation itself. . . .
Taylor: Well, I think I can best describe it by simply saying that there it was in August of 1945. Even though we received some news through the people who worked in the factory about the progress of the war, about the towns and cities of Japan being bombed and destroyed, we, by this stage, had decided that maybe the Americans would have to invade Japan before any surrender came. So we were really not expecting anything sudden-like. . . . I think it was around the fifteenth day . . . fourteenth day of August . . . we looked out and saw these two or three large planes flying kind of in a circular pattern around the north side of the city of Mukden. At first we just thought it was the Japanese. Then later we saw parachutes coming out of those planes—men coming out. Of course, it was far enough where we couldn't see the men on them, but we could see the parachutes. About seven to ten parachutes opened.
Marcello: In other words, you don't know the war is over.
Taylor: No. . . . We don't know that at all yet. At first . . . the rumor got started that the Russians were invading, coming in from the north and west.
Marcello: Did you know that the Russians had entered the war?
Taylor: No, no, we didn't know it. . . . They entered about that time. But, anyway, these parachutes opened and came on down. Then these planes disappeared. I think there were two of them, if I remember correctly—big planes. Late that afternoon, then, we saw something that was most unusual. We saw seven or eight men coming into our prison camp and Japanese guards with them, but the Japanese were carrying their parachutes. We put two and two together, and we said, "These are the men who parachuted out. Something has happened because a Japanese would not otherwise be carrying their parachutes." So they came into the camp, and we sent spotters down to see what was going on. These troopers looked through the cracks of the buildings, and they came back and reported to us that the Japanese were serving these Americans. "They're Americans," they said, "Americans in uniform. They're serving tea to them." Then we knew.
We just knew the war was over. So we started celebrating in the camp. In previous nights we had to turn the lights out, say, at ten o'clock at night, and everybody had to be in bed. Previous nights, a guard would come around every thirty minutes. That night, no guards came. So we just . . . we didn't turn the lights out. We just sang, and we told stories, and we conversed with each other. . . . It went on through the night. A lot of us, I don't think, slept any at all. The next morning bright and early, General [George M.] Parker [Jr.] came. He called us all together and said, "The war is over."
Marcello: What sort of emotional feelings went through you at this time?
Taylor: Oh, man, it went high! The emotions went very high. . . . You could hear these camp boys parading and rejoicing all about the place. It was a great day. . . . There was an Australian chaplain and I who were the two active chaplains. . . .
We got with our camp commander. He said, "By all means, now let's have a big thanksgiving service." So we got together, set a time. I think it was for that afternoon about five o'clock. We had a camp-wide song fest and a big thanksgiving service over the victory.
The Japanese then came to us and said, "The war is over. We have guards around the camp. We have agreed with General Parker or General Parker has agreed with us that it'd be good if we maintain your security." For three or four days after that, until the Russians came in, the Japanese guards continued to serve at their posts, but guarding us against the Chinese or anybody else that might want to perpetrate . . . or come into that camp, for our protection. They advised us not to go into town because there was fighting in the streets of Mukden, you see, between the Japanese and the Chinese. So the Japanese prison guards protected us for three or four or five days until the Russians came in and formally liberated us. At that point, the Japanese guards all came into the camp in formation, and they went through a ceremony with the Russians and the Americans. They turned their guns over to General Parker and his American guards. Then the Japanese were marched off as prisoners. That was the end of it.
Marcello: You might describe the Russian liberators coming in.
Taylor: Well, the Russians came in and, man, they brought in their interpreter! He gave a speech to us about how wonderful and how glad they were to liberate us from these Japanese warmongers and pigs and people like that. The American prisoners of war grabbed him up on their shoulders, did it in the American style. They paraded around the grounds with him. From a formality viewpoint, the Russians liberated us but they got there after we were already free and everything. But it was alright.
Then the Russians offered to do everything in the world they could for us. We were free, then, to go into town. The Russians took over the guarding of all the town. So we went to Chinese homes at their invitation. For a number of days we remained there under the supervision of our own command with the protection of the Russian guards and so forth in the city and out until the Russians were able to build a road to the Yellow Sea. It was the 11th of September, I believe it was, before we got out of there. We were there almost a month.
Marcello: Were you getting itchy in the meantime to get out of there?
Taylor: You bet, yes. Well, at first we were in no big rush. But I'll tell you, we were glad when those trains rolled in to take us down to the Yellow Sea. We came to the Yellow Sea, and I remember that night we came in there by train, and we saw the lights on these hospital ships. There were one or two hospital ships out there. We were taken immediately to the ships and given hot showers, and the doctors took over and examined us. For two, three, or four days we were under examination. They clothed us and everything, and we started for the long trek back home.
Marcello: As you look back upon your experiences as a prisoner of war, what do you feel was the key to your survival?
Taylor: I think the key to my survival, of course, was the dominant, lasting, optimistic faith that I've been possessed of a long time. The other thing was that I was busy. My profession provided me an opportunity to be busy ministering to others and serving with others all the way through. We were very fortunate as chaplains, you know. The field was always ripe. There were always people to whom you could minister and serve. I think this was a great contributing factor to my survival.
Of course, there were rough times, but never once did I give up, you know, did I succumb to these temptations. A man could literally die if he wanted. If he just gave up, he could die. I've seen them die who just gave up, and they'd be dead in five minutes—just turn over and die. It was easy to do. But you have to keep your chin up and you have to look forward to live through such circumstances.
This was not because I was any better than anybody else or those of us who survived were any better. I think the key to all of it, though, was . . . of course, the providence of God, but in his good way we were able to be optimistic and to keep on fighting, keep on pushing, keep on pulling, not only for yourself but for those about you. That's the key to it. I don't think I could have ever made it if I'd just been pulling to see that Preston Taylor got through. That's not the point at all.
It brings up the big question about what's life all about. It's not just for me or just for you. If we try to live it in that way for our own gratification, our own benefit, then we soon give up. If you get to thinking about, "Now, gee, there's no use me fighting this thing because I am not going to make it." But if you think there is a reason to fight because it might help somebody else to make it, you see, that's the key. I think that's a key to life, really.
After surviving the Bataan Death March and forty-two months of captivity as a prisoner of war, Taylor returned home in 1945 to find that his wife, Ione, who had been told that he had not survived, had remarried just one month earlier. In 1950, Taylor married Mildred Good. He stayed in the military, reached the rank of major general, and was named Air Force Chief of Chaplains by President John F. Kennedy. Taylor retired to Texas in 1963, where he served as a lecturer and preacher at the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary.