Bataan Death March
In this issue of CenterNews, we are printing for the first time
excerpts from the diary of George Small, an American serviceman during W.W.II. Mr. Small is one of the few survivors of the Bataan Death March of April 1942. He was subsequently held in five Japanese POW camps until his release in September 1945.
The diary begins shortly after he and several of his fellow inmates commemorated their 1000th day of incarceration. As the war came to an end in Europe as well as in the Pacific, and as George Small thought that he might indeed survive the war, he started keeping a diary in notebooks and on paper that was supplied by the Japanese guards. The Japanese government, however, wanted all evidence of its POW camps—documents and photographs—destroyed. To conceal his diary from his captors, Mr. Small wrote in shorthand. A friend later transcribed the diary, and it is from this version that the following excerpts are taken.
We apologize at the outset for the language in the diary that offends or causes pain. To preserve the authenticity of the diary, we have retained the references to the Japanese that were common among U.S. servicemen.
Mr. Small is a chemical engineer and lives in Reno. On February 28th, he celebrated his 93rd birthday.

Bataan Death March

Ten hours after the Japanese offensive against U.S. ships at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked American troops stationed in the U.S. protectorate of the Philippines. Shortly before Christmas 1941, some 40.000 Japanese troops landed in the Philippines, forcing the Americans to retreat into the peninsula of Bataan on Luzon Island. The poorly equipped U.S. troops were ordered by General Douglas MacArthur to hold out until new supplies arrived. But these supplies never came. On April 9, 1942, with no help on the way, and after four months of intense fighting, the Americans, together with their Philippine allies, laid down their arms. After this largest surrender in U.S. military history, intensified by the agonizing sense of having been abandoned by their own government, some 12,000 U.S. troops were forced into the unspeakable ordeal that later became known as the Bataan Death March.
The Japanese marched the prisoners—approximately 76,000 sick, wounded and malnourished men—some 80 miles out of the area, so as to have a free hand in occupying the rest of the Bataan peninsula. They were forced to walk barefoot, over gravel roads, until they reached an old Philippine army camp, Camp O’Donnell. The march, including a 25-mile stretch by train, lasted more than 10 grueling days. Those too weak to march were bayoneted immediately by the Japanese guards. As the captives grew weaker, and as their speed decreased, the guards grew increasingly impatient. Survivors of the ordeal remember ghastly tales of atrocities. George Small, too, remembers: “We all had to walk in columns and anybody who fell behind was beaten, bayoneted, or decapitated.”
According to Lester Tenney in his memoir My Hitch in Hell—The Bataan Death March (Brassey’s: Washington and London, 1995), by the time the marchers reached Camp O’Donnell, there had been about two deaths for every survivor. While the actual number of casualties may never be known, the brutal ordeal of the Bataan Death March can be compared to the death marches for inmates of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, and other Nazi camps. Orderly columns of four prisoners abreast quickly deteriorated, as everybody was soon limping and the weak were brutally killed.

While the prisoners had to walk 10-12 hours a day, the guards were replaced frequently and showed little signs of fatigue. They were quick to punish prisoners for not following commands given in Japanese. The 90-degree heat and near 100% humidity were almost unbearable. Although water was plentiful, the men were forbidden to stop for a drink. By the time the survivors arrived at Camp O’Donnell, most were suffering from malaria, dysentery, malnutrition, dehydration, pneumonia, beriberi or diphtheria.
George Small remembers several gruesome episodes of cruelty, some of which are also mentioned by Lester Tenney in his book. Tenney recalls one guard in particular: [He] “was waving his samurai sword from side to side, apparently trying to cut off the head of anyone he could. I was on the outside of the column when he rode past, and although I ducked the main thrust of the sword, the end of the blade hit my left shoulder, missing my head and neck by inches. It left a large gash that had to have stitches if I were to continue on this march and continue living.” (p. 53) Trudging along more like zombies than former soldiers, the men passed through several Philippine villages. Some were able to catch balls of rice thrown by kind civilians.
One of the most sadistic incidents, recalls Tenney, was when Japanese guards forced American prisoners to bury their sick comrades alive. Those who refused were shot immediately. Another round of men had to dig graves for those who had just been shot; and they, in turn, faced the same risk. “It was one of many experiences I will never forget,” Tenney writes, “one that made me sick for days. I asked myself over and again, ‘Is this what I’m staying alive for? To be executed tomorrow or the next day, or the next? How will I be able to endure these cruelties?’” (p. 58)
For those who survived the march, the subsequent incarceration in various Japanese POW camps, and the day-to-day slave labor in industrial plants or in the fields, staying alive was their paramount concern. Hunger and starvation were everyday occurrences; and food in general—its questionable origin, its disgusting composition, or its horrible effects on the body—was of overriding importance. This becomes painfully obvious in George Small’s diary entries. Food, the substance that sustained life, also was the agent that lead to a multitude of intestinal discomforts, distress, disease, and sometimes even caused death. George Small was lucky. He survived.

Viktoria Hertling

George Small’s Diary

January 15, 1945
We received the good news today that our forces have made a landing in the Philippines. I hope that men there will soon be released and that we will soon after them. I had a very bad night and wet my pajamas which are now hanging on the line. They reek from urine and I have hopes that I will soon be healthy enough to hold my water.

January 20, 1945
Last night a big yellow moon came up low over the horizon. It was a clear night with a big bright moon, an excellent night for bombing. The air raid alarm started at 7:45 and we had to go to bed with lights off. There were three alarms during the night. (…) Last night I did not have to get out of bed once to make a pee call. It is a good sign that I am now in better health.

March 28, 1945
The Nips posted a rule that all diaries were to be discontinued. For a long time I did not know whether to comply with the request. I have decided to stay with the accounting. I have become tired of being cold. (…) The winter seems to hang on just like Germany. But I have strong hopes that Germany will soon fall. Made a bet that I would be in the United States in time for Thanksgiving.

March 30, 1945
Easter morning [actually April 1] there were taro cubes in our soup for the first time. They have a flavor similar to mushrooms. Last night I had two extra fish heads which one fastidious fellow did not want. Their eyes were stuffed but I got them down. (…) Spring is definitely here and I exposed my body to the sun for the first time this year. There are scales on my kneecaps due to a lack of fats in my diet.

May 1, 1945
Two rumors came out today. One that Germany is out of the war. The second is that all officers under 40 are to be moved from this camp. (…) My weight is 109 ¾ the lowest since I have been a prisoner. (…) I feel weak most of the time.
We just heard a report that the Russians are 5 kilometers from the heart of Berlin. That is the best news we have had in a long time. On April 15 the Nips gave us permission to have a funeral service for President Roosevelt. At 10:30 AM we assembled outside. (…) It was a beautiful day. The sun was high and nearly straight overhead. There was no eulogy of the President only the facts of his life were stated in a brief fifteen minute service.
There was some rat poison mixed with the rice and Dr. Van Dineen [the camp’s physician] prohibited anyone from eating the rice that was thrown away. Many officers took some of the rice and I had a milk can of it because I was so hungry. Today was the first time in many months that I had a full stomach. (…)
Peed 6 times last night as usual. I am so weak I can hardly drag myself up the stairs. I dreamed of a whipped cream dessert on top of a big mountain of rice. The cream was made out of powdered milk and lard instead of butter. Paid Dennis a ration of rice today since I lost the bet that Germany was out of the war. How much longer is Germany going to hang on? It is incredible that they are still fighting.

May 5, 1945
This morning I saw an American plane for the first time since I was taken prisoner. It had a silvery color and flew at an altitude of about 25,000 feet. We heard rumors that Mussolini was captured and that Hitler was dead. I hope that it is true.

May 7, 1945
Heard the wonderful news this morning of the surrender of Germany. We heard that more troops laid down their arms. (…) We had frogs in the soup today. This is the first time I have ever had frogs. Of course the content was so small that I did not get a good taste but I was not very impressed.

May 24, 1945
Several days ago there was an official notice of a move and there is a lot of activity around here. (…) Some of the rumors are that we are to be separated by nationalities and that we are going to a new camp. I vomited out three rations of rice and had only a second for a ration of burned rice. I am very hungry now. I picked some garbage that was thrown out and ate it in order to stave off my hunger. It seems strange that I have at least $8,000 in the bank and yet I go around picking out garbage. However all that money isn’t doing me any good now.

May 25, 1945 [most likely June 25, 1945]
After many rumors and false starts we finally left Zentsuji at 3:00 PM on Saturday, June 23. (…) We saw mile after mile of devastated country. Buildings were burned down and it still had the peculiar odor of burned flesh. We arrived at our last stop at 11 PM and walked up a muddy trail for 10 kilometers and arrived here at 2:30 AM tired, wet, and hungry.

June 30, 1945
Noticed that my ankles were swollen this morning. This is the first time that I have had edema. The doctor said it was due to the lack of protein in the diet and the long march. (…) The Nips are supplying paper.

July 2, 1945
Went out in a wood gathering detail yesterday. I was glad to get away from the camp. I picked some wild lilies and put them in a battery can on the shelf. They have a strong odor and remind me somewhat of gardenias.

July 9, 1945
There is always something to plague us in Japan. When it is warm enough to enjoy the sunshine, there are fleas, mosquitoes, bedbugs, or some other kind of insect to bother one. When it is cold enough to drive away the insects we suffer from chillblains and the cold. It isn’t a comfortable wait here. Neither beds, nor baths nor any of the comforts that we are used to. How tired I am of this war! I hope that we will see the end of the war this September.

July 10, 1945
Mother’s birthday. All the family is probably gathered at the dinner table tonight eating something good, enjoying each others’ company and some good food. How I would like to join them.

July 14, 1945
It rained all day and we did not go out to work. Yesterday I caught a frog and a snail. I gutted the frog and put it in a cream can, added a little water and boiled it in the fire. The snail did not taste good. The frog was very tasty and the meat was sweet.
July 16, 1945
We found a snake and a turtle today. The man who found the snake roasted it and ate it. Unfortunately, I did not get a taste.

July 27, 1945
We caught a snake yesterday. We cooked it in a milk can with a little water. I ate the bones, liver and all the meat. I believe that I ate more meat yesterday than I have eaten since I’ve been here. (…) I saw an American plane yesterday as it went high up in the clouds. It was a sight that cheered me up. The fleas are still biting ferociously. It prevents me from enjoying a good night’s sleep. When am I going to sleep between some clean sheets on a bed? I am so tired of prison life.

July 31, 1945
Had an attack of diarrhea last night. I washed myself under the spigot at about 3 o’clock in the morning. (…) There is a rumor that our ships shelled Tokyo Bay. If that is true we won’t be here long. Talked to Bill Williams today and he advised me to go to UCLA for a post graduate course. I finished Storm Over Our Land, a sad book.

August 2, 1945
Dad’s birthday. We received 65 pounds of bones and after they were boiled in water for soup they were removed and served individually. It was funny to see the officers sitting around sucking on the bones and breaking them up with big hammers.
There was a big raid around three last night and there was a blackout for about five hours. I found a snake that was burned and I ate the tail, skin and all.

August 6, 1945
Yesterday two men escaped from camp. The camp commander returned and subjected us to mass punishment by cutting our rice ration to 290 grams, restricting us to barracks, and forbidding us to play any kind of games. (…) The officers who escaped were caught today and the Nips have them tied at the guard house.

August 12, 1945
The Nip sergeant major told one enlisted man that his son and father were dead. We presumed that they were killed in a bombing raid. Some of the men expressed regret about it happening. When the war strikes home we are prone to feel sorry for the enemy.

August 17, 1945
Yesterday the camp commander ordered the officers to dip the benjo [latrines]. The officers growled and after much bickering the commander rescinded the order. He stated that we [meaning the U.S.] are using inhuman methods of warfare. [On August 6 and 9, 1945, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki]. We have been receiving boxes and meat for the past two weeks which we believe comes from horses. These have been killed by these new type bombs.

August 19, 1945
Today a Nip guard told one of the enlisted men that the war is over. The men have been getting bolder, smoking outside, smoking before dinner, smoking on anchor watch. Very few of the Nips have come around here, and there is an air of expectancy as if we are waiting for Americans to come and get us.

August 24, 1945
On the afternoon of the 22nd, Colonel True made two announcements: “The war is ended.” I will never forget those words. Since the beginning of the war I have been waiting and hoping for that day. And now it has come. We all shouted and cheered when we heard the Colonel’s words. He also said that the camp commander will try to make our stay here as pleasant as possible. That is a change in his policy. That night we sang “God Bless America.” We also sang the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Today the Colonel was informed that we are to paint the letters POW on the roofs of the buildings. He also said that comfort kits were expected tomorrow. We assume that there will be an airplane here to drop food. We are speculating on what’s to come—sugar, cigarettes, and magazines have been suggested.

August 25, 1945
Last night we had the best meal since we have been in this camp. We had a very thick soup of flour, potatoes, onions, miso, and cucumbers. Some officers estimated that we are now eating about 3,000 calories. The rice ration is estimated at 625 grams which is more than the 294 grams we were receiving about two weeks ago when we were working.
I am studying my Spanish grammar so that I will be able to speak the language should the occasion arise.

August 28, 1945
(…) At about 3:30 PM American planes flew over the camp. We all ran out of the building to watch it. One fellow grabbed an American flag and began to wave it. I wonder if he expected the pilot could see a flag from an altitude of 20.000 feet. The plane flew over the camp without diverting from its course. (…)
We were given the freedom of the compound and can now walk or play ball in the field next to the compound. The Nips issued about ten bottles of Saki. We each had about three teaspoons of saki.

August 29, 1945
This morning the Nips gave us grapes. In the afternoon we received pears, grapes, watermelon and a tomato. It seems as though the millennium has arrived. This afternoon we received Nip clothes. I am going to take them home for a funeral.

September 3, 1945
At about 10:00 AM, I heard a plane overhead and we all ran. There were five planes and they dropped ten loads of supplies. Some of the boxes broke from the parachutes and hit the ground and leaked. Many peaches and meat cans broke and the contents spilled on the ground. We began to eat whatever was damaged and I had too much again and I loaded my stomach again. The boxes that came down nearly killed some of the men. I ran back to the box, picked it up and took it to the storeroom.

September 6, 1945
I have been sick since the planes arrived. After three and a half years of starvation I made a pig of myself and I ate too much. My poor stomach has taken a beating since. I am tapering off and eating only enough food to satisfy. Today I feel much better.

September 8, 1945
We saw our first free American today. Several doctors and a news photographer and several army men and two nurses came to the camp today in a Nip truck. It was a thrill to see them. We inspected their carbines, pistols, sun glasses and looked at their uniforms. (…)
We were given a rough examination by the doctors in preparation to our leaving camp. We leave tomorrow morning. We were issued Nip and American chow. (…) It never rains but it pours. We could not get enough to eat since we have been prisoners and now we are getting too much.

September 9, 1945
Didn’t sleep much last night because of the excitement. We managed to get a cup of saki and many of the men got drunk and vomited. (…) At 10:15 AM we left camp in trucks.

September 10, 1945
It was a big event in our lives to meet these free Americans from the Sixth and Eighth Army. I am now sitting on a bench waiting to take a bath. (…) There is a rumor that we will be flown to Manila this afternoon.
While we were waiting at the Army Reception Center, General MacArthur entered the room. Some of the officers began to rise to salute him but he motioned us to remain seated. (…)
We went into a large room to the shower and our clothes were sprayed with bug powder. Then we were taken on a landing barge. This was the first time we left the Japanese Mainland since we were brought up here from the Philippine Islands.
We had our first meal aboard ship at noon. It consisted of two hot dogs, sauerkraut, mustard with bacon, peach jam cake, two slices of bread accompanied by coffee, condensed milk and sugar. Since I have been a prisoner I have been dreaming of mixing bread, milk and sugar together. At last, I was able to realize that dream. I was not disappointed. The mix lived up to my expectations.

September 12, 1945
The ship got underway today at 7:07 AM We were the third ship in a convoy of six. There are five passenger ships and one destroyer. There are all sorts of vessels in Yokohama Bay. At least four cruisers, battle wagons, landing ships and others that I cannot identify. It was the biggest assemblage of ships that I have ever seen. (…)
One of the crewmen showed me around the ship. We went down to the pantry and the baker said, “The way you guys ate the first day, you should have come down here and asked for a full loaf instead of two slices of bread.”

September 18, 1945
Arrived in Manila this afternoon. The moving picture was cancelled because of rain. Frank Porter helped bandage my ribs with a piece of parachute shroud. I broke that rib playing with a medicine ball.

We, and Mr. Small’s many friends are happy that he survived this ordeal, and we thank him for making these excerpts from his diary available to us.

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Spring 2001
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From Viktoria Hertling,
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Bataan Death March
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Dr. Viktoria Hertling

Assistant Editor:
Martin Heim
Michael Feuerstein

Editorial Consultant:
Shelly Lescott-Leszczysnki

Proof Reading:
Linda Salzman Sagan
Sara Russel-Conley

Michael Feuerstein

University of Nevada, Reno
(MS 402) Reno, NV 89557
Tel 775 784 6767
Fax 775 784 6611