Captain Bob Schulte and Sgt Robert Smouse: Two Incredible Stories of Heroism
"I wouldn't say I had given up, but maybe I had given out."
Cpt Bob Schulte
Mst Sgt Robert Smouse, (1922-2014) Cpt. Bob Schulte, (1920-2012)
These two men, from different parts of the United States, are linked in their service to the country. Proud, courageous and excellent story tellers, each has a unique experience. One took home FIVE Bronze Stars for heroism and the other would be a POW in BOTH World War II and Korea. Yet each fought for the idea that America was inherently in the right with regards to Liberty and Freedom.
I asked each man to relay their story to me with one caveat. I asked that ALL five senses be utilized when recalling data. As they did, each found themselves recalling things they had long forgotten. Unlocking these stories from soldiers who had terrible experiences isn't easy. But the topics covered bring forth a treasure trove of historical memories that only highlight how incredible this generation of men were.
History was recorded largely through the newspapers and you will notice a lot of them add color and perspective to these eyewitness accounts. Contemporary journalists are in a sense, the historians of tomorrow. While they cannot possibly fill out all of the details, news agencies can provide an outline and framework for the rest of the story. And the primary tool a detective historian has are precious primary sources. Historians have learned to draw on these eyewitness accounts to bring accuracy, detail, feeling, and relevance to moments frozen in time.
Very few World War II soldiers are alive today, but for those who continue to be part of my upcoming book, I salute each one of you.
The Backdrop of World War II and the Mood in the US
For two uneasy years, Europe watched as Adolf Hitler rolled through Poland, Austria and Belgium. Almost under the radar was Japan, who was mirroring Germany step-for-step in both conquest and cruelty. This was a period in world history when the ideas of Communism, Socialism, Racism, Militarism, Fascism, Anarchy, Nationalism, and Democracy were all in world conflict. Not only would 102 different nations from all around the globe participate in World War II, but there would be a Civil War in Spain that would almost destroy the country. But the involvement of the United States occurred when the Japanese attacked the United States.
WWII would be the deadliest war of all time. On December 7, 1941, Japan is about to attack the United States. Lieutenant Commander Mitsuo Fuchida gathered the pilots together for the traditional Sake toast to the emperor. He was regarded as one of Japan’s true aces, having flown extensively in the Second Sino-Japanese war and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1936. Fuchida would be the lead pilot for this mission and nothing is left to chance. It’s just 4am but the pilots are wired and ready. The leader of the Japanese imperial army, Yamamoto wants to deliver a decisive blow to the United States with the surprise attack. Beneath him however was the leader of the Japanese carrier group, Chiuchu Ngomo. He was often at odds with Yanamoto over military tactics and strategies. Many contemporaries and historians have doubted Fuchida's suitability for this command, given his lack of familiarity with naval aviation.
Intelligence reports handed to him two days prior to the attack indicate that the Japanese do not know where the aircraft carriers were located. But there was no time for waiting as each hour that went by another opportunity to uncover the Japanese plan. Ngomo proceeded to attack anyway, opting for one attack that he hoped would be decisive. Fuchida had prepared for this day for weeks in advance.
He recounted what happened that day with vivid detail.
''....At 7:20 I led the way down the island's eastern side, then banked west and flew along the southern coast past the city of Honolulu.
I then ordered, "Tenkai!" ("Take attack position!"), and then at 7:40, I opened the canopy of my Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 Model 3 "Kate" torpedo bomber and fired a green flare, the signal to attack.
At 07:53, I ordered Mizuki to send the code words ‘’Tora, Tora, Tora’’ back to the carrier Akagi, the ship I had become so familiar with. In this message, I told the Japanese commanders that our mission of surprise had been achieved. '' 1
The Humbling Memorial at Pearl Harbor
Photography by Robert Bluestein, 2001, ©
The planes began to produce a low buzz that gradually got deeper and louder. There was a slight fragrance of salt-water in the air as the planes buzzed louder and louder. Like a swarm of bees coming in the distance, the skies grew dark.
Sgt Schulte reveals what was going through his mind before the attack happened.
They needn’t have attacked us. The night before the attack, I went out dancing with my friends. There was no appetite, trust me, there was no appetite for war in the USA. No one I knew wanted any part of another great war. My dad was a WWI veteran and he filled my head with the horror of war. Had they just went forward and continued conquering islands in the far other side of the earth, Americans wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Look at what already had happened!
We didn’t do anything when they invaded China. We did nothing when they invaded Indochina and Burma. We did nothing when Borneo and the Philippines were taken over. So why on earth did they believe that they had to attack us in Hawaii? The attack looks like a dirty and underhanded sneak attack – which strengthened and united a divided America. Like an ominous thunderstorm, we all knew that life as we knew it was going to change drastically. I just couldn’t have imagined how it forever change me.‘’
Associated Press reports of the brutality in Nanking, 1937
Japan's first steps into war began in earnest in August of 1940. Capitalizing on the shortage of French troops due to the war in Europe, they seized control over French airfields in Indo-China. Nearly a year later the Japanese issued an ultimatum that they be allowed to use all French bases. France balked at the idea, and the Japanese took the issue as a provocation, leading the Japanese to seize control of the entire geography.
Japan felt the consequences almost immediately. The United States and her allies swiftly put a freeze on the Japanese financial assets. The result of this was an oil embargo on the island nation, effectively causing great distress. For a new aggressive Japanese government, such shame would not be taken lightly. Expecting a quick and victorious war, Tojo prepared for an all-out battle to the death. They army and navy believed in their huge superiority, while its propaganda continued to assert Japanese racial superiority, much like Hitler was pontificating in Germany.
The Japanese saw America as a nation of pleasure lovers with no appetite for war. They calculated that they could quickly destroy the spirit of America. They believed people would capitulate quickly after island after island fell. To take this plan of action, Tojo appointed Yamamoto, head of the fifth navy to lead up the charge.
There were very major differences between the two Navies. The Japanese hadn't expected to have such a huge Naval superiority and seemed surprised that the Americans hadn't thrown more at them. Meanwhile, Yamamoto had ten battleships, ten aircraft carriers and the worlds most advanced destroyers. The Americans, on the other had, just eight World War I battleships, and two aircraft carriers.
While the chain of command and the pilots ride high with the feeling of success, a celebratory toast is declined by Yanamoto. Tojo seemed to think the attack was a success, but as we will see, Tojo is willing to sacrifice all for the country. For he knows that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a critical failure on every level – despite being an overwhelming tactical victory. What had happened to make Yamamoto so very fatalistic about the attack on Pearl Harbor? To understand this and to really get into the minds of one of the eyewitnesses to speak with me about these events, we have to go back to the very morning of December 7th, 1941.
At 6:30 AM, Battleship row at Pearl Harbor was just awakening. The USS San Francisco was on the opposite side of the harbor. Mal Middlesworth, a Midshipman serving on that ship, began to prepare for his light duties that day before planning to go to a church service. There were no weapons aboard the San Francisco, so when the attack occurred - they were helpless to do much of anything. He wrote a letter recounting the moment he walked out to take a breath of the Pacific morning air.
''I was looking directly at the West Virginia when its mast was hit with a second torpedo. I knew what was happening, but I couldn't understand it. Why now? Why here?''
At 7:02, radar in Hawaii picks up a hug number of planes. They hadn’t expected to see this and they called Sgt. Hermit Tyler, who reassures them that we are expecting several B-17 Bombers. It was a terrible coincidence. Apparently they were expecting the B-17's a little later in the morning and he thought they were early, but not unexpected.
Meanwhile, as a decoy, two Japanese emissaries met at the State Department to discuss the possible withdrawal of troops from China. Since Japan invaded China in 1937, the Americans had pulled a great amount of foreign aid and imposed a mercantile blockade and embargo on the island juggernaut. The State Department insisted that the Japanese pull back to Manchuria - which they seemed willing to do. But it turned out differently. They were simply buying critically needed time to keep America off guard.
The first wave of Zero's fly south, completely unopposed. The Japanese couldn’t imagine their luck. Seen from above, the placidness of the Americans was unexpected.
There were two plans had they caught the Americans off guard. Once radio silence was broken with Fuchida’s declaration of ‘’Tora, Tora, Tora!’’ and a flair was fired off to signal which plan would be followed. If they achieved a total surprise, they were to send their torpedo bombers in first --- followed by their carrier dive bombers. If the Americans caught he invasion and began to fight back, the plan was to send for the carrier dive bombers to attack first and the aerial torpedoes to go in last of all.
Many pilots miss the signal and a second flare is fired off. The confusing mistake caused all units to attack. At 7:57 AM the West Virginia becomes the first ship hit with a torpedo. By 8:30, the attack slows to a stop. But twenty minutes later, the attacks continues on the same targets as well as he airfields. The planes were inexplicably parked wingtip-to-wingtip due to fears of sabotage. But this lapse in judgment made them much easier to target.
The USS Arizona got nailed with a high altitude bomber. One of them hits next to Turret-2 and a chain reaction sets off a blast, followed by two additional explosions when an ammunition room is hit. The remaining explosives, all three million pounds of it, blows up in a huge fireball. The entire ship was thrust out of the water before breaking in half and settling slowly in the shallow water. To those who were eyewitnesses that fateful morning, it was a sight etched in memory.
The USS Vestal, anchored alongside the Arizona, was the only hope for the survivors of the Arizona. Like many of the others anchored at Pearl Harbor, these ships were built almost a full decade before World War I and were still a formidable presence despite needing major upgrades.
In total, 180 planes were lost, four-US Battleships were sunk, an additional four more were damaged. Thirteen others were severely damaged as well. Only twenty-nine Japanese planes were lost in what seemed like a complete rout.
The casualties of war, 2500 of them, were serving on out-of-date battleships. The intended targets, Aircraft Carriers- were not in the harbor that fateful day. In another stroke of luck, the Japanese neglected to bomb the Dry-Docks, which would allow the country to repair the ships quickly. 650 Million liters of fuel were left off the attack list. It was thought that an attack on the oil fields would create so much smoke that their pilots couldn’t see through the haze. Submarine bases were left out of the bombing too. It was a press-relations and propaganda coup but a tactical military failure.
Ngomo’s decision not to launch a second strike is a crucial mistake made by the Japanese. Unlike his fellow officers, Yanamoto has worked in the USA and he knows the resolve of the Americans. The Japanese high-command believes the USA would fold at once. But the high commander knew otherwise and remembered how quickly the States had mobilized for the First World War. Privately, he feared that a surprise attack would galvanize the States.
Amidst the celebratory excitement, it becomes clear that opportunities were missed. And it stands all the reasoning since none of these pilots had ever taken on a mission such as this. To each of them, even an incomplete mission is an overwhelming victory nonetheless. But Tojo is grim amongst all the accolades android cheer.
For at this moment, he hears about all the missed opportunities. Soon, a steady stream of pilots who came in after the first wave of attacks were reporting that while the damage had been heavy, it was not nearly complete. One eyewitness account after another began to concern the Japanese leader. Without saying a word to Yanamoto, the two of them begin to assess the entire attack, casting doubtful glances to one another while still others in the room celebrated. When it was learned that the nations two aircraft carriers wrest even in dry-dock, Yamamoto grew visibly upset.
Unraveling how this mission became such an epic failure isn’t easy. Most Americans don’t see the numbers of casualties and the total surprise as a sense of failure on the Japanese. But history would prove otherwise and the utter annihilation of Japan would show just how badly they misjudged the entire plan.
But in the short term, Japan WAS successful in its aims regarding the islands in the Pacific. On the same day, Japan attacked western colonies in southwest Asia. They thought they knocked out America, so now they went after the European strongholds. In the weeks after the invasion of Pearl Harbor, the Southern Pacific ocean became a sea of Rising-Sun nations. One by one, they fell. Malaya was gone in one day. In Thailand, a second landing with 30,000 troops were met unopposed.
One target was Singapore. The British thought they built an impregnable fortress but all of the guns pointed out to the sea and weren't prepared for a land invasion. The British were overconfident. Meanwhile, Japan continued to assault other areas. Hong Kong, the Philippines, and landed on the Bataan peninsula. They had a bloody thirst for territory.
They had invaded China in 1937 bringing an orgy of gore and murder for seven years prior to Pearl Harbor. But on the same day they attacked the USA, they attacked every major port of call for Allied ships. The Japanese understood the value of islands in the great ocean perhaps as well as anyone aside from the Americans.
Their attack on that December 7th day also included Malaya, Java, New Guinea, Sumatra, and French Indochina. They invaded Burma too, giving them a foothold on the oil and rubber. They accomplished this remarkable achievement with and an army that was fervently devoted to the emperor. Throughout the war, he is treated as a living God and his actions are covered by ‘’divine’’ authority.
The reputation of the brutality of the Japanese was not the stuff of fanciful propaganda. In fact it was very real and very bloody. The Japanese committed atrocities rivaled only by Nazi Germany. Even casual students of history can speak of the ‘’Nanking Rape’’ or ‘’Nanking Massacre.'' This was in 1937 and close to 300,000 inhabitants were rounded up, pushed into huge trenches, and brutally executed. Still others were slaughtered in the streets and the treatment of women drew the ire an entire world.
It was a harrowing and indescribable cesspool of savagery and murder that is difficult to imagine. The Japanese were pictured 'skewering' children and infants on their bayonets and tossing them aside. Parading in the Forbidden City, the Japanese gave FDR a glimpse of what might be ahead of US Servicemen should there be a war.
Tojo, the Japanese military leader, broadcast the initial declaration of war over loudspeakers in the city squares. If Pearl Harbor had happened any differently, we would be talking about the success of their other mission – which was to sink the most modern British battleship of the war and to conquer the islands along the Coral Sea. Taking off from a newly built base in Indochina, they set out to rule the South Pacific.
These two British ships, ‘’The Repulse’’ and the ‘’Prince of Wales,’’ were the pride of the Royal Navy and were sunk within an hour. Gone were the days of British domination on the high seas, and the Port of Singapore was left vulnerable for attack. This was a clear and key gateway to the South Pacific and everything from oil and rubber, to spices and medical items were now in Japanese hands.
And in another attack that would have huge implications, the Air Force Base at Clark Field in the Philippines was almost completely reduced to rubble. In an unthinkable lack of preparation, the commanders of Clark took nothing from Pearl Harbor and had their planes lined up wingtip-to-wingtip and fully loaded with fuel. The mistake was so egregious, it left members of FDR's cabinet wondering if someone had betrayed the country from within.
In Germany, Hitler was well on his way. Just five days later, the Fuhrer goes to the Reichstag for a special meeting. Much against he advice of his generals, Hitler itched for war against the Americans. Hitler waited for four critical days while FDR declared war. He was certain that Japan’s intervention would turn the tide of the conflict. Churchill had been waiting for two full years for FDR to join him in the war effort. And now, the war had finally begun to turn a little. The USA had unlimited resources and manpower. British newspapers heralded the sneak attack on Hawaii as a ''blessed misfortune'' for the United States but a grand thing overall, as it would speed America's involvement in the epic outcome.
Meanwhile in the Pacific theater, General Yamashita, known as the ‘’Tiger of Malaya’’ sent his tanks through thick jungle and captures Singapore. He forces 27,000 prisoners to line up and be humiliated during a review by the Japanese upper command. He indulged in a gratuitous salute for propaganda purposes. The British prisoners would suffer from disease, starvation, beatings, amputations, and battled forced labor in the jungles of Southeast Asia. In the middle of monsoon season, the Brits were forced to build a bridge over he Kwai river in Burma. The costs in human suffering was astronomical. Hundreds and thousands died from infections, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases. Death was always at the door.
Not much is known about Yamashita outside of many enduring myths. He was one of the few Japanese high-command to meet both Hitler and Mussolini while on a clandestine mission to Europe in June of 1941. He was frequently at odds with both Yamamoto and Tojo over Japanese international diplomacy. He urged for peace in 1938 with China and earned a demotion for one year to Korea.
Throughout his time in the military he had consistently urged the implementation of his proposals, which included "streamlining the air arm, to mechanise the Army, to integrate control of the armed forces in a defence ministry coordinated by a chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, to create a paratroop corps and to employ effective propaganda". For the terrible infliction of pain upon prisoners of war, Yamashita would later be hung for war crimes. He remained unrepentant until the very end.
America's response was to improvise. It was in fact the very thing that America did better than anyone else. Our deep range bombers were Mitchell B-25s but they had never been designed to take off from Aircraft carriers and they were too far from land to make an impact. America had already dropped bombs on Tokyo - but that was from airfields we no longer had control over or possessed. With Papua-New Guinea now in the cross-hairs, America was about to improvise.
Japan had been on the island since June of 1942. They made slaves out of many of the locals, many of whom had never seen civilization and thus, it was their first taste of modern humanity. Rubber was in high demand throughout the war and Papua-New Guinea was the wealthiest in the world. The Americans simply hadn't mastered the island hopping of the South Pacific. Malaria and other diseases ran unimpeded and it took a courageous Australian infantry to push the Japanese back.
For two years the Japanese Air Force ventured with impunity all over the South Pacific. American planes concentrated on Japanese supply centers and did such damage that the Japanese retreated for the first time in the war. The best defense was a strong offense and they pushed ahead to Papua-New Guinea.
Later, In a battle on Midway Island, the Japanese Navy would strip Japan of its Naval Dominance. It was a personal and political disaster. There was no room for maneuvering or explaining away a loss. Tojo would take over every cabinet post in the Japanese government and told the people that everyone, young and old, must be prepared to die. In February 1944, he even took over the army, which speaks lot for his power. He soon revealed his ignorance for war by issuing an all out invasion of India, across thousands of miles. His plan was to knock the British out of the war.
In a series of brutal battles at Imphal in India, Tojo ordered his men to fight to the death. Broken by their Commander-in-Cheif's ineptitude and cruel indifference to his own men, over half of the men died. In the Japanese armed services altogether, 80% soldiers died of disease and starvation on the way to an ultimate defeat at Saipan.
Meanwhile in Singapore, a stunning surrender of 90000 British troops completely galvanized the Empire of the Rising Sun. It is a questionable a move that is still debated by British military scholars today. In addition to the losses, 30,000 Americans and 28,000 Filipinos were taken prisoners after MacArthur was ordered to leave the Philippines and avoid capture. But his soldiers were captured and set off for a Japanese interment camp 60 miles away. This is the Bataan Death march. I interviewed a survivor for this book, Cpt Robert Schulte, had this to say:
‘’….They broke my arm by repeatedly hitting the same place with the butt of a rifle. ‘Whack! Whack! Whack!’’ you hear it still in your head. If any of the men gave out, they were shot, stabbed, beaten, and even beheaded….you know, treated like animals. ‘'
Me and Bob Schulte, survivor of Bataan Death March, later a POW in Korea, and still later, a POW in Vietnam. ''It got to the point where no one wanted anything to do with me. I was ''Bad-Luck Bob!'' Discharged honorably in 1967, Schulte has told his story of faith and survival to churches around the United States. He has no living family members.
I enlisted in 1941. Our family settled in Chicago area and I was a complete neophyte in the world. I didn't know anything other than Cubs baseball and playing hockey from school once every so often to catch a game. Neither my mom or dad was gung-ho about me enlisting but they understood. We were attacked and there wasn't a feeling that you could choose. All of your friends were enlisting and you did want to be the one coward who didn't. I enlisted in the Marines and then re-enlisted for Korea in the Air Force! That's a lot of experience!
Almost instantly I was in the South Pacific. For weeks we were onboard of a ship in beautiful weather and we got the false illusion that this war was going to be a picnic. That changed completely, and drastically. We were walking down a road toward a bluff and there was a Jap setting up his tripod, in order to put a machine gun up. As soon as he was seen, gunfire opened. Then we were in the middle, and you could feel the compression on either side of you. The Filipinos fought valiantly and for every Filipino soldier killed, it seemed like they took three of theirs.
We were hoping for some sense of rest in Singapore. Instead, we were pushed aside with ease. The Japs had no problem with the Brits or the Indian army and were now aiming directly for us. All bets were off with the Japanese, we believed they would resort to anything. All of the British heavy guns faced out to sea, you see....They couldn't have defended the position like that and the Japs just bombed the holy hell out of the city. Who was going to stop them?
The civilian injured were soon taking the place of wounded soldiers - a situation that our command was not prepared for and it was deemed unacceptable. But what are you going to do? Turn them away? We didn't because we couldn't. The differences between us and the Japanese couldn't have been more on display in the fact that we were willing to treat ALL wounded. They were hell-bent on wounding all.
Japanese bombers quickly sunk both of the British warships and in an era of long distance planes and aerial capabilities, it was clear that the battleship was soon to be a thing of the past. As the new year rolled around, a much smaller Japanese force picked away at us. Then the unthinkable happened, General Percival surrendered with almost 100,000 men. We retreated back to Manilla.
The Japs had NO respect for the surrendering of the British. They expected every warrior to fight to the death. They didn't have even one POW camp and hadn't planned for such a possibility anyway! Hell the British surrender was a shock to them when they did! They weren't expecting the British - with three times as many men as they did, to simply wave a damn white flag. We had no air power and the Japanese just kept on coming.
The weather prevented us from getting relief and the men were scratching for a square meal. We ate tree bark at times. Back and back we went, with our numbers getting smaller and smaller each day. Malaria and dysentery were commonplace. When we heard that our allied forces, one-by-one, were losing, the morale amongst us really began to affect us. It didn't seem to matter to the Japanese and we couldn't understand it. They were just as happy to die with an empty barrel than to surrender. It was something that our command could have understood better and prepared a different war plan.
We were pushed back through Manilla and ended up on the Bataan peninsula. Everything happened might fast. There was always something to do in the jungle. You couldn't rest for a second. We took our shirts off because they weighed a lot more soaked with sweat, plus, it helped us to squeeze the shirt out into a palm leaf and drink a little water, you know, replenish. It probabaly didn't help but we didn't know that at the time and if it made us feel better, why not, right?
But we finally had a moment in the evening where we had into a field of fog. It was cooler and windy. We were in a good position and we were pretty lucky. It was such a simple moment, and it didn't last long, but I would never forget it. For me, I wouldn't have another peaceful moment. We weren't really over what happened in Pearl Harbor, and now it is just a few short months later. It was during one of these rare quiet moments that a chaplain told me of something called ''The Tanaka Plan.'
It was written after World War I. To me, it explained a lot but it didn't make me feel any more confident. The plan was to extract huge amounts of resources from the south of Asia. Rubber, Petroleum, Iron -- all in large quantities were to be had to the victors. Step-by-step and in a systematic manner, the Japs achieved their goals.
Now they had us surrounded. Every time a twig snapped we thought we were sure it was the Japanese. They did use snipers and occasionally you'd hear about them from the other men. But it was largely considered cowardice to be a sniper and so the Japanese largely didn't use it.
Many of us wrote letters home, knowing these would likely be the last times we were going to get the chance. We had little help from anyone. When Manilla was captured, we had our backs against the wall. On April 3rd -- I remember because it was the last time I was able to write a letter home.
It took less than sixth months for the Japanese blitzkrieg to take over all of Southern Asia, just like they planned to do after World War I. And now we were sick, both mentally and physically depleted. We were on the ultimate defensive, not seeking to find a way to win, but to find a way not to be captured or to die. But nothing could have prepared us for what was about to happen.
We had heard of American heavy losses. We heard that our ships were taking a beating and our Air Force was depleted. It didn't seem real to us. You could hear the war happening far away but you had no way of knowing what was happening. Desperate to hear anything, one of the guys comes running and says the Lexington (An Aircraft Carrier) was hit and lost. But so was a Japanese carrier, and they only had fewer to use. You couldn't have known it then, but it would be the last news we would hear from the outside for some time.
The sounds were deafening and your skin just crawled with itching and burning insects. We were deadlocked in an awful battle. On April 6th or 7th, I can't remember which day exactly, we waved our own white flag. The Filipino soldiers were treated without mercy. They were bayonetted, set on fire, tortured. Oh it was awful, just awful. Later in the afternoon, they had these poor souls build a trench and ordered them to crawl inside the trenches. Once there, they were executed. Made you sick, just sick.
It's difficult to talk about, even now. My great grandson is ten and wants to be a soldier. I have a hard time telling him what it was all like. It's not glory and victory.
The death toll in every battle was huge. The Japanese would not surrender.
But we did. On April 9 ,1942, I became part of the largest surrender by the United States Army in its history -- 78,000 American and Filipino troops. We died a little day by day. While there, we got to meet some of the veterans of the Philippines, members of the 75th Ordinance of Manilla. These men knew what to expect and it was grim. But moreover, they knew how to survive. The guys I met with the 75th were outstanding. And for a kid like me, so scared, it was a blessing.
Along the way, we saw the dead. We even saw Japanese dead. Hell they didn't care. We had wounded that couldn't be treated. We had no supplies. It was merciful if the guy next to you just died rather than continue this nonsense.
The Horrors of the Bataan Death March (Very Graphic)
They broke my arm by repeatedly hitting the same place with the butt of a rifle. ‘Whack! Whack! Whack!’’ you hear it still in your head. If any of the men gave out, they were shot, stabbed, beaten, and even beheaded….you know, treated like animals.
And cruelty! What do you say when a Japanese soldier on horseback takes his sword and simply beheads one of your brothers because he was too tired or sick to continue. And they did it all the time. Death was merely a game to them. We were crowded into small confined spaces. Fanatical troops and younger soldiers took special delight in outperforming one another in contests of savagery.
Two soldiers, you can barely call them that, took to cutting the flesh off of the arms of one of our boys and making him watch as they took turns tearing the flesh apart with their teeth. I couldn't have imagined this out of any horror movie. It stays with you to see another human screaming as bits and pieces of his arms are cut away and the Japs simply are eating him alive.
Bataan Death March Pamphlet
Towards the back of the march, the guys who were sick or injured who could keep up were simply run down and run over by Japanese supply trucks. In this manner, they were able to prevent the vehicles from sinking too far into the mud. And we'd be walking and we would see the decomposing and rotting flesh beneath us. Most - if not all of us - were forced to walk barefoot, often feeling the flesh and bones beneath our feet.
We all carried canteens but we had no water. There were artisan wells along the way, but the guards stood there with a fixed bayonets and told us they would kill us if we broke to get water, they would stab us and shoot us. I wondered if they would really do it when just then i saw a Filipino and an American attempt to get to the well. What they did to those men was horrible. They bayonetted them and stabbed them with bamboo poles in their knees and elbows. They shot them in their joints, screaming in pain, pleading for death. Meanwhile the Japanese soldier would yell, ''This is for you Yank!''
We were marching four abreast and so it occurred to me that if I was in the middle, I had two boys on my left and a boy on my right. God help you if you fell down. They just randomly took guys out of the line and killed them. They would force some of the men to dig trenches and if they couldn't dig any more - because hey were sick, feeble, etc,,, they would take these bamboo sticks and force them face down into the mud and water, drowning them. Other times, they executed soldiers by simply running them over - back and forth these huge jeeps would roll over them. It was sick.
On my seventh day without food, water, sleep, or energy, we finally got a little rain. I had learned from my friends in the 75th, to take a towel and leave it our so it could get wet. It absorbed just enough water. The road improved which helped a lot because walking in the dirt and mud was taking it out of me. I saw a torn and
tattered American flag on the ground and I thought about reaching down and picking it up, but thought better of it. I often wonder what came of it or of any other soldier picked it up, but it made me mad. I mean, it made me angry. I can't forget the image of that flag with the right corner unravelling and tattered, and it gave me resolve. They cannot do this to the American flag.
A Food Line at Camp O'donnell
Courtesy of James Litton
Meanwhile, my health was deteriorating. I was brittle and I had open and infected wounds. My tongue swelled due to the dehydration. I couldn't talk. I figured I wasn't long for this world.
I had pneumonia and tuberculosis. At Camp O'Donnell, we were worked until we practically dropped dead. We cleared trees, transported lumber, and did whatever they wanted us to do. Most of all, we dug trenches for bodies and we buried them. We would wrap up a corpse in a dirty blanket and then we would carry the corpse on a stick on each of our shoulders. Then we had to dump the bodies into the trench. The smell was awful. Sometimes the sewage and the smell was so bad that it would burn your nostrils.
The Japanese camped at the top of the hill and all their sewage would drain into a pit which was our water. We had no means to sterilize i and guys who were weak didn't survive the infection. I was put into a shallow pit where I thought they were going to execute me and my buddy, but instead they shoveled human waste and urinated on us - laughing the entire time. Every type of humiliation was put upon us. It makes a man fill with rage.
One Jap was particularly mean. He took pleasure in driving his bayonet through the wretched skeletons of men barely able to walk. He seemed to take fun in torturing the men. One of the corpsmen was dying and he knew it - well this Jap walked over to him as he lay there and spit on him before putting a bullet through him.
By now we hadn't had a bath in months and and my arms developed sores from being broken and bent in an opposite manner from where they were intended to bend. When I laid down, my bones would scrape the ground and it was painful. Some of our guys inadvertently made things hard for the rest of us. If one of them talked back, we'd all get beat.
You learn the art of passive aggressiveness. While we were tasked to fix things, we would 'break' them. It was a common occurrence and the Japanese didn't know what to do about it. We would make it so things would break and 'not work' as it was meant to. We would always apologize and things would go on and on. The beatings would be commonplace but we continued to 'break' things.
These things never leave you, they haunt you, and the littlest of things can bring back horrible memories. I am only able to share with you so much, because I am old and have coped with it all these years. But I have terrible dreams and terrible relationships for many years afterward. If not for my unshakable faith in God, I would have committed suicide many years ago. Believe it when I tell you that I thought of it many times.
There's one more story that really didn't involve me but I want to tell it for all those guys who never made it out. It happened in Palawan. Using an air-raid shelter they shoved 150 Americans and a handful of Filipinos inside. They locked them in and doused them with gasoline and lit a match. Very few survived. Two of the dead were friends of mine. And they used to psychologically do this to us with great frequency. The smell of gas and burning humanity wafted through the air for miles and was unmistakable. I looked into the faces of these arrogant people and saw sheer hatred. I felt sheer hatred for them too.
Things changed very rapidly in the summer of 1945. We didn't know that the war was drawing to a close. We just knew death. We tried to have a periscope into the real world but we didn't know about the atomic bombs or anything such as this. I was filled with so much rage and hatred. I wanted to exact a deeply personal revenge. But a strange and funny thing happened to me.
After we were freed, we were barely able to stand on our own, let-alone to eat. It was good to see the guys but we were gaunt, little more than skeletons. We were relaxing in a hospital in Hawaii when a film of the Holocaust was shown. It was every bit as brutal as what we went through, and perhaps more. The Germans attacked the very heart of a people's unrelenting faith. The Japanese hadn't done that. And so I began to wonder....What is the nature of suffering?
I wasn't raised with a variety of religions and I knew precious little about the Jewish people. But one thing began to gnaw at me. Why should I feel sorry for myself? I began to really research my own upbringing. I felt God had abandoned me during the time that I was held and beaten.
So I had this conflict inside of myself when Korea happened. I wanted to re-enlist but this time with the Air Force. It took some arm twisting but I became an Air Force officer for the 51sh Air Force and the 339th Squadron. I envisioned my experience to be much different than what turned out.
For the second time in as many wars, I was captured. We were simply in a place outside Pusan that we weren't supposed to be in. The Koreans weren't much different in their treatment of us than the Japanese were. But because I was an officer, they only tortured and beat me once a week. I guess I grew numb to pain. They wanted us to give up the names of superiors and things like that but we knew never to give up anything more than our vitals. Still, you could hear the screams of other soldiers as they were getting torn apart. It put my spirit in a very paralyzing and dark place.
One particular event happened while I was in Korea. General Dean was taken prisoner and he was a mighty man. I didn't know him but of course I knew of him, and his capture - in a strange way - lifted all of our spirits. I would ask about him and it never failed, someone knew him. I was taken to a prison camp number 76 where we had to listen to speeches about Communism and told that we were going to recant our American democracy. I began suffering from diarrhea and dysentery. Well once again, I had figured I was at death's door. At this point I really did just want to be home. I wouldn't say I had given up, but maybe I had given out. Does that make sense?
Once again, a prisoner exchange gave me my freedom. While I was there, both my mother and father passed away. I didn't know for months while I was incarcerated. I spent far too much time locked up, beaten, tortured. My back was broken, my arms were broken (again), they shot my right kneecap to keep me from running. I lost all but three of my teeth and had four or five diseases that I live with even today.
I returned to the US for good in 1955. Although I remained enlisted through 1967 before receiving a discharge. I tried to date but it was hard. I couldn't find a wife because my mind was too messed up. Who wants a head-case, right? At one point, they discussed putting me in a sanitarium. But God had other plans for me!
I had to go to Church when I was young, but upon getting back, I wanted to go. I found that I could identify with Christ, His suffering was for all mankind, and I felt like our suffering - to a much smaller extent - was to be done so that other soldiers wouldn't have too suffer. But the real change happened to me in 1956.
I was visiting my family in California. I heard that an inspiring speaker was going to be visiting an apostolic church in Berkley. His name was Yoshiake and he was the equal to a Captain in our military. He was one of those who committed heinous acts of barbarity on the Bataan marchers. I wanted to see him.
And there he tells his story. Living with the heaviness of guilt of what he had done. He told the church how a God he never knew visited him when a soldier he had beaten to death died. At the moment of his death, Yoshiake said the mans spirit rose and forgave him. ''Even death, could not kill the man.''
As he lay dying, he clutched his small cross that was given to him by his ten year old daughter. The story was so powerful and so moving, that I knew right then that I had a LOT of things to be thankful for, but moreover that I had a lot more to seek forgiveness for. I couldn't be angry anymore. And the work God has done in healing me is ongoing to this day, and I am 92 years young!
Yoshiake and me became fast friends. He died in 1988 but we were quite a pair for awhile. Our testimonies brought an introduction to God's grace to everyone. I think about him all the time.
Well I never married but i was never without companionship. I might be lonely at some times, but I am never, ever, alone. ###
Spirits of the Dead
Sgt. Robert ''Big Bob'' Smouse
The Story of Master Sgt. Robert Smouse - Hero of World War II
Smouse's World War II Diary and Post Cards he collected while in Europe
<------- Intro Letter from Eisenhower to the commanders of the invasion forces of both Italy and Normandy
Meeting World War II Hero Robert Smouse
I met World War II hero Master Sergeant Robert Smouse in September of 2014. Once again, it was by happenstance that I saw him walking into the HEB Grocery-store with his hat on and I had to pay him respect for his service. After befriending him, he opened up to me about his experience and even gave me two priceless items, his own War Diary and the Diary of Admiral Sabin.
At 17, Mr. Robert "Big Bob" Smouse joined the US Navy after Pearl Harbor. As a Navy signalman he participated in the African campaign battles of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, the Italian campaign battles of Salerno and Anzio, then from England to Normandy as part of the initial D-Day landing on Utah Beach, then finally finishing the war in the Pacific in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After the war, he re-enlisted in the Air Force. He retired as Master Sergeant after 20 years of service.
''Big Bob'' had the most gregarious of personalities. Easy to laugh and seemed to enjoy people, he had a twinkle in his eye and a captivating story to tell. Moreover, he was in a hurry to get his story out there. He was living on borrowed time and only he knew it. I spent three memorable afternoons and an hour at the grocery store together, but each time he was more frail than the last time we had met. He passed away before the last interview could be completed but I pieced together his diaries and letters in order to complete this interview.
The Historical Backdrop to Smouse's Story
The fall of France and the British evacuation of Dunkirk showed that any war by the United States against Germany would have to be carried out on entirely different lines from those of World War I, when we were able to use the excellent terminal facilities of French harbors.