WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — JAN. 28, 1944 — A pent-up
story of atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese army on the
captured heroes of Bataan and Corregidor was released by the
United States government today in sickening detail.
A joint report by the Army and Navy broke at last the rigid
censorship maintained by the high command on the almost
unbelievable reports that came out of the Pacific, to tell
what happened to the men whose valor slowed the tide of
A Tale of Torture
Compiled from the sworn statements of officers who survived
the starvation and torture and escaped, it catalogued the
infamy of a brutal enemy, and wrote in shocking terms the
code of the Japanese warrior — to subject 36,000 gallant
soldiers to deliberate starvation, to shoot in cold blood
the thirsty who seek water, to watch sick men writhe and
deny them medicine, to horsewhip those who help their fallen
comrades, to beat men with two-by-fours, to behead those who
try to escape, and to bury tortured men alive.
The three who lived to return and tell of the agony they
endured were Commander Melvyn H. McCoy, USN, of
Indianapolis, Lt. Col. S. M. Mellnik, Coast Artillery Corps
of Dunmore, Pa., and Lt. Col. William E. Dyess, Air Corps,
of Albany, Tex. Dyess is dead—killed in a fighter plane
crash at Burbank, Calif., recently while preparing to return
to duty in the Pacific. Mellnik is with Gen. Douglas
MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific, McCoy on duty in the
“Their sworn statements included no hearsay whatever, but
only facts which the officers related from their own
personal experience and observations,” said the official
The statements have been verified from other sources.
The three officers stated that several times as many
American prisoners of war have died, mostly of starvation,
forced hard labor, and general brutality, as the Japanese
have ever reported.
At one prison camp, Camp O’Donnell, about 2,200 American
prisoners died in April and May 1942. In the camp at
Cabanatuan, about 3,000 Americans had died up to the end of
October 1942. Still heavier mortality occurred among the
Filipino prisoners of war at Camp O’Donnell.
The March of Death
The calculated campaign of brutality began as soon as the
exhausted American and Filipino soldiers on Bataan collapsed
under the overwhelming weight of the enemy assault. What was
in store for them was to begin with “the march of death” —
and Dyess reported that, beaten and hopeless as they were,
they never would have surrendered if they had guessed what
Thousands of prisoners were herded together on the Mariveles
airfield at daylight April 10, within earshot of the still
defiant guns of Corregidor. Some had food, but were not
permitted to eat. All were searched, their personal
belongings seized. Those with Japanese money or tokens were
Then, in groups of 500 to 1,000 they began the terrible
six-day march, along the national road of Bataan toward San
Fernando in Pampanga province, the “march of death” so
hideous that it would make the black hole of Calcutta sound
like a haven of refuge.
A Japanese soldier took Dyess’ canteen, gave the water to a
horse, threw the canteen away. In a broiling sun, the
prisoners were herded through clouds of dust. Men recently
killed lay along the road, their bodies flattened by
Japanese trucks. Patients bombed out of a field hospital
were pushed into the marching column. At midnight the entire
group was penned in an enclosure too narrow to allow any of
them to lie down. They had no water — a Japanese officer
finally permitted them to drink at a dirty carabao wallow.
Before daylight the next day the March was resumed. Still no
food for any of them. — water at noon from a dirty roadside
stream. Another bullpen at night. When exhausted men fell
out moaning, no one was allowed to help — those who still
marched heard shots behind them.
The Sun Treatment
On the third day “we were introduced to a form of torture
which came to be known as the sun treatment. We were made to
sit in the boiling sun all day without cover. We had very
little water; our thirst was intense. Many of us went crazy
and several died.
“Three Filipino and three American soldiers were buried
while still alive.”
Photos at right - top row left to
right: LtCOL S. M. Mellnik; Cmdr. Melvyn H. McCoy;
LtCOL William Dyess. Middle row left to right: MAJ
Austin C. Shofner; CAPT L. A. Boelens; SGT R. B.
Spielman. Bottom row left to right: MAJ Jack
Hawkins; CAPT Samuel Grashio; and MAJ Michiel
Also see: “TEN ESCAPE FROM TOJO” by Commander Melvyn
H. McCoy, USN, and Lieutenant Colonel S. M. Mellnik, USA, as
told to Lieutenant Welbour Kelley, USNR, on the Franklin D.
Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum web site.
Death for Water
“Along the road in the province of Pampanga there are many
wells. Half-crazed with thirst, six Filipino soldiers made a
dash for one of the wells. All six were killed. As we passed
Lubao we marched by a Filipino soldier gutted and hanging
over a barbed-wire fence.
“Before daylight on April 15 we marched out and 115 of us
were packed into a small narrow-gauge box car. The doors
were closed and locked. Movement was impossible. Many of the
prisoners were suffering from diarrhea and dysentery. The
heat and stench were unbearable.
“At Capas Tarlac we were taken out and given the sun
treatment for three hours. Then we were marched to Camp
“I made that march of about 85 miles in six days on one mess
kit of rice. Other Americans made ‘the march of death’ in 12
days without any food whatever.”
The prisoners taken at Corregidor did not experience that
march, but 7,000 Americans and 5,000 Filipinos were packed
for a week with no food on a concrete pavement 100 yards
square. There was one water spigot for the 12,000 — the
average wait to fill a canteen was 12 hours. They got their
first food — a mess kit of rice and a can of sardines —
after seven days.
6 to 10 Hours for Water
At Camp O’Donnell there were virtually no water facilities.
Prisoners stood in line 6 to 10 hours to get a drink.
Clothing went unchanged a month and a half. The principal
food was rice, varied twice in two months with enough meat
to give one-fourth of the men a piece an inch square. A few
times there were comotes, a type of sweet potato, but many
were rotten and the prisoners themselves had to post a guard
to keep their starving comrades from devouring the rotten
vegetables. There was an occasional dab of coconut lard, a
little flour, a few mango beans. But there was a black
market — those who had money could buy from the Japanese a
small can of fish for $5.
There was a hospital — a dilapidated building with no
facilities, no medicine. Hundreds lay on the bare floor
without cover. The doctors did not even have water to wash
the human filth from their patients. After one week, the
death rate was 20 Americans a day, 150 Filipinos; after two
weeks, 50 and 500 respectively. The sick as well as the
merely starving were forced into work gangs, and worked
until they dropped dead.
About June 1, the Americans were removed from Camp O’Donnell
to Cabanatuan, where Dyess joined Mellnik and McCoy, who had
come in from Corregidor. Conditions there were a little
better. There was adequate drinking water, it was possible
to bathe in muddy water; but the diet did not improve. And
the brutality continued — men were beaten with shovels and
golf clubs, “men were literally worked to death.”
Three officers who tried to escape were caught, stripped to
their shorts, their hands tied behind them and pulled up by
ropes fastened overhead, and kept in this position in the
blazing sun for two days; periodically the Japs beat them
with a two-by-four; finally one was beheaded and the others
shot. By Oct. 26, when Dyess, McCoy and Mellnik left
Cabanatuan, 3,000 of the American prisoners had died.
Red Cross Salvation
The three officers were taken with 966 other prisoners, to a
penal camp at Davao, Mindanao and put to hard labor. Food
was slightly better there, but “the salvation of the
American prisoners of war,” Dyess reported, was the American
and British Red Cross supplies, both clothing and food, that
finally began to arrive months late. The beatings, the
murder, the studied mistreatment and humiliation continued.
By April 1943, there were 1,100 of the 2,000 prisoners at
Davao still able to work.
This was the life from which McCoy, Dyess and Mellnik
escaped April 4, 1943. The account is based solely on their
official reports, but the Army and Navy said at least four
others were known to have escaped from the Philippines —
Majors Michiel Dobervitch, Ironton, Minn., Austin C.
Shoffner, Shelbyville, Tenn., Jack Hawkins, Roxton, Tex.,
and Corp. Reid Carlos Chamberlain, El Cajone, Calif., all of
the Marine Corps.