Occasionally, the Japanese would shoot a wild pig. They gave some of the uncooked pork to the prisoners.
One prisoner, Ed O’Rourke, refused to eat the uncooked pork. He had been instructed during boot camp never to eat uncooked meat. The Japanese threatened to kill O’Rourke. Bub pleaded with him, “Ed, if you don’t eat the pork, they’ll kill you.” Ed refused to eat the meat. The Japs grabbed O’Rourke, dragged him fifty feet to a ravine. They then swung him by his hands and feet down into the ravine. Bub is not sure, but he thinks he heard that O’Rourke had survived the ordeal and had returned to the States after the war.
During the trek northward, the prisoners, carrying the rice and the fish, had to negotiate a gorge. Filipino guerrillas had destroyed the bridge. The prisoners had to climb down one side and up the other loaded down with the sacks of food. One prisoner came down with appendicitis. He was in excruciating pain. The Japanese ordered Bub and three other men to carry the prisoner down and up the ravine to a Japanese field clinic. The Japanese doctors removed the appendix. Bub and the other three then had to carry the man back to the ravine, down one side and up the other. The journey took twenty four hours. Bub knows that the man did not continue the march. He doesn’t know what happened to him. This event represents to Bub the great inconsistencies of the Japanese. On the one hand they would bayonet a prisoner for the smallest infraction. On the other hand they would try to save a prisoner’s life. Bub never could make head nor tail out of it.
In route to Bontoc, the prisoners were met by a tribe of Ingorot Indians. They had come down from the mountains. They were headhunters, but quite friendly to the Americans. They were small in stature, but very ferocious looking. They offered the prisoners bananas and other fruits. They also offered them some betel juice from the bright red betel nut. The red dye of the nut covered most of the face, mouth, and chest of the Indians.
The Americans graciously declined the juice. It was known to be a very strong narcotic. One Indian noticed that Bub was limping. His toe was badly infected and painful. With sign language the Indian instructed Bub to urinate on his toe. Bub figured what the hell, nothing else seemed to work. He proceeded to urinate on his toe.
Within two hours the pain was gone and within three days the toe was back to normal.
Outside of Bontoc Bub came down with a severe case of dysentery. He was weak and dehydrated. A Japanese officer saw how bad off he was. The officer switched Bub from bags of rice to bundles of mosquito netting. Bub grew weaker and collapsed. The officer ordered Bub to stand up. When he stood up, the officer struck him a hard blow to the side of his head, knocking him down. The officer then went over to the bundle of netting. He could hardly lift it. The problem was that the Japanese guards had placed their bandoleers of ammunition inside the netting. The mosquito netting was far heavier than the rice or the fish. The officer was ashamed that he had struck Bub. He was ashamed of his own men who hid their ammunition in the netting. He took Bub into Bontoc, placed him in a room on a cot. The officer ordered that rice gruel be prepared. He fed this to Bub for two weeks. He allowed no other Japanese soldiers near Bub. After two weeks he regained his strength. The dysentery cleared up. He was returned to the ranks of his fellow prisoners.
Some of the prisoners along with Bub were housed in an abandoned school house. Their job was to wash the eating utensils of the Japanese. They also laundered the undershirts and shorts of the guards. They were given one cup of rice daily in the evening. On laundry day the prisoners went down to the river to wash the clothes.
Filipino girls would often slip down to the river bank to offer the Americans some food. These same girls offered to show the Americans the escape routes to northern Luzon where there were no Japanese. The problem was that if any prisoner escaped, those left behind were shot. The prisoners declined the kind offer of the girls.
The Japanese were aware that some of the girls were trying to help the Americans to escape. But, they didn’t know who the culprits were. The prisoners were interrogated by a Japanese officer who spoke impeccable English. He had been educated in the United States. When the war broke out, he was trapped in Japan and could not return to the States. He had come to visit his parents and was drafted into the Japanese army. The interrogation was one on one with other Japanese in attendance. It went on for four hours. No one told the
Japanese anything about the Filipino girls. When Bub left the room, the officer followed. He said to Bub, “You did very well, not even one slip up.” He then told Bub how he got trapped into this senseless war. Bub stayed at Bontoc for two weeks.
From Bontoc,(4) Bub’s group of prisoners were trucked to Cabanatuan where there were at least two prison camps that he knew about. By this time disease was taking its toll. Malnutrition, dysentery, and malaria were claiming a large number of lives. An American sergeant pleaded with the Japanese to allow the Americans to bury the American dead. He then pleaded for help among the prisoners to assist with this gruesome job. He knew that if the dead were not buried, disease would wipe out the entire camp.
Bub offered to help. Not everyone did. They dug mass graves. They buried ten bodies to a grave; their dog tags stuffed into their mouths. The hope was that someday the graves would be found and the men identified.
Often, heavy rains would fall on the gravesites. The dirt would wash away. An arm or a leg would reappear.
The men did their best to keep the graves filled with dirt. All day long for three weeks the burial detail continued their thankless task. They were housed in wooden huts with thatched roofs. One cup of rice was their daily fare. They slept on raised wooden platforms with little or no straw for a mattress. The closeness was very disconcerting.
Truck route from Cabanatuan to Cavite
The sanitary conditions were extremely crude. An open trench ran along the side of the barracks. Every night the same sergeant who organized the burials would go outside to the open trench and spread lime on those spots where it was obvious someone didn’t quite make the trench. This sergeant was sixty three years old. He was an orphan, and the army was the only family he knew. He was determined to remain in the army as long as he possible could. The men were desperately hungry. Sometimes the Japanese guards would shoot a wild pig. The only thing the prisoners got were the intestines. The really sad thing to witness was the prisoners fighting over this slop.
1 A detailed map of the Bataan Death March can be seen in the inside cover of Hampton Sides, “Ghost Soldiers” New York, Doubleday, 2001.
2 For Camp O’Donnell see Gavin Daws, “ Prisoners Of The Japanese’, New York, William Morrow & Co, 1994, pp 27,74,,79-81.
3.Between San Fernando and Bontoc, the prisoners were forced to carry one hundred pound sacks of rice and dried fish. They could manage about seven miles per day. The distance between San Fernando and Bontoc is over two hundred miles. At the end of the day, the men received one cup of rice.
4. The men were trucked from Bontoc to Cabanatuan for burial detail. As many as one hundred per day were buried. Cabanatuan is the center of the book, “Ghost Soldiers” by Hampton Sides, New York, Doubleday,2001.
5. Cabanatuan is mentioned in Galvin Daws” “Behind Enemy Lines” New York, William Morrow & Co.
1944, pp64, 108-110, 125, 132, 136-7.
After three weeks of burial detail, Bub and other prisoners were marched to the gates of Cabanatuan. The were loaded into trucks for a four hour trip to Cavite, a small seaport south of Manila. The roads were rough and the men were sick. The rough ride made them sicker. But, this rough ride with the wind blowing through the trucks, was a far better trip than the one that awaited them. At Cavite, the ship “Totorri Maru” was waiting at the docks. The men were loaded into two separate holds: seven hundred and fifty to a hold. These were forward holds. Bub had no idea how many other holds were aft or how many prisoners they held. The men slept on raised wooden platforms inches apart from one another. The daily rations consisted of a small bag of biscuits (hardtack). Bub managed to eke out a corner in which he made a hammock out of remnants of a shelter tent he smuggled aboard. A friendly rat would run along a beam; stop and stare at Bub. By placing a small piece of biscuit on the beam at regular intervals, Bub was assured of a travel companion. Disease was rampant aboard the ship.
Truck Route from Cabanatuan to Cavite
The Ship Route from Cavite to Pusan
Scurvy, beriberi, and dysentery were the main culprits. Bub remembers one night when a soldier woke up yelling, “ Holy God, I’m covered with shit!”
The ship sailed through the Luzon Straits then headed northward to the East China Sea. American submarines were plentiful in these waters. More than once the subs fired upon these ships unaware that American prisoners were on board. A great loss of American lives was due to these sinkings. Bub remembers hearing a torpedo miss the ship and a second and third pass under. After three days, the ship pulled into a cove of a deserted island, most likely off the coast of Taiwan. For two days the ship avoided American submarines, then proceeded on its way to Pusan,1 Korea.
The sanitary conditions aboard the Totorri were deplorable. Wooden horses held a metal chute running down to the ship’s scuppers. Human feces was floated down the chutes to these openings. A stiff wind would send the waste back on board plastering the bulwarks. Bub tells the story of a Japanese guard who would peer through a porthole in the bulwark unaware of the new coating it had recently received The ship continued its northward trek for two days finally reaching Pusan Korea.2 From Cavite to Pusan took roughly one week, counting the hide and seek games with the American submarines. Not all American prisoners were to leave the “Totorri’.
Sadly many would remain on board to end up in Japan. The treatment of prisoners in Japan was far worse than those prisoners who went to Manchuria. The prisoners who disembarked were stripped naked and fire-hosed.
New clothing was issued. They were then loaded into passenger cars pulled by an old steam engine. The one good thing about the steam engine was that it heated the passenger cars. Winter was approaching. The train snaked its way northward to Manchuria. The temperature continued to drop. The train was side-tracked several time to make way for Japanese troop trains. Sometimes, when they were sidetracked, the Koreans would sell box lunches. The prisoners had little or no money, but they would barter with whatever they had. The lunches consisted of pickled vegetables and pickled minnows. With the lack of vitamin C, most of the men had scurvy.
The pickled food burnt the inside of their mouths. The train ride from Pusan to Mukden Manchuria was about twenty-four hours. Mukden is located in southern Manchuria which today is known by the Chinese name of Shenyang . The prison camps at Hoten were another seven miles south of Mukden. Modern Chinese maps do not show Mukden or the Hoten camps.
There were several camps at Hoten. There were also several Japanese war factories in Mukden. The factories produced airplane parts and military clothing including boots. Each day the prisoners would march to their respective factory. Bub worked in a factory named MKK. To his amazement, the factory contained many crates of new American machinery. Bub’s group of prisoners were assigned the job of building cement foundations for these large machines. The guards within the factory were Manchurians who hated the Japanese more than they did the Americans. The prisoners were loosely guarded. They were in no mood to help the Japanese war effort.
One at a time a prisoner would slip away to damage the new machinery. Bolts were unscrewed; knobs, handles and flywheels disappeared. The prisoners finished the foundations and secured the machinery; but, it was totally useless.
The Japanese had to keep the prisoners alive to work in the factories. They were fed three times a day. It was usually a rice gruel or corn mush. Also the Japanese provided shots of vitamin B to combat scurvy. The Japanese had a method to determine who needed the shots and who didn’t. The test was as follows: a man was stuck with a pin, starting with his foot and moving up his leg. If a prisoner cried out when his foot was stuck he was entitled to a small shot and a wedge of orange. If the pain was located further up the leg, the prisoner received a larger shot and a bigger wedge of orange. Bub caught on to the procedure. He practiced not to wince by pricking his foot, then his leg with a pin. When it was his turn to be examined, he held back from wincing as long as he could. It was quite painful but the reward was a large dose of vitamin B and three quarters of an orange. Also, one of Bub’s friends worked in the Japanese infirmary. He would smuggle out some vitamin B for Bub and others who were in pretty dire straits.
Manchurian children also worked in the factories. Bub could not figure out what they accomplished. All day long they would sit at a bench and pound scrap metal with a ball-peen hammer. The children never played; they never laughed; they never sang. It was a very sad thing to behold. Another memoir of Bub was an old Manchurian man who was frozen stiff along the side of the road that led back and forth from the camps to the factories. The old man was in a ditch, naked, but sitting up in forty below zero weather. The prisoners called him “Fu Man Chu.” Each day there was a little less of the old man because dogs nibbled away at his hands and feet. As the winter turned to spring, the old man disappeared.
The prisoners had arrived at Hoten in November of 1942. They would remain there for two and a half years.
Bub has many memories and stories of those terrible years. On Christmas eve of 1943 one of the prisoners had smuggled some anti-freeze into the compound in a pair of water wings. Bub could never figure out where he had gotten either. It was assumed that the prisoner could make an alcoholic beverage out of the anti-freeze. As he made his way toward the barracks the officer of the day called for an inspection. The man had to ditch the water wings behind some shrubs. A guard found the water wings and brought them to the O.D. The officer was enraged and demanded that the offender step forward. The word went up and down the line not to say a word.
The officer’s rage approached insanity. He ordered the men to stand at attention all night long. the temperature was thirty below zero.The culprit told his fellow prisoners that he must give himself up. The reply was, “Hell no, don’t give that son-of-a-bitch the satisfaction.” In the morning a new O.D. saw the men standing in the cold at attention. He was amazed at the punishment meted out by the other officer. He ordered the men back to their barracks. Once again the contradictions of the Japanese made their appearance. Bub would have occasion to run into the cruel officer often. He was called the “Bull of the Woods.”
One fellow prisoner of Bubs was part native American. He and Bub became friends. Bub was long used to working with native Americans. He had saved the soles of his boots, but, the rest had rotted out. Bub’s friend had many skills, one of which was bootmaking. He made Bub a pair of slippers out of the old soles and a part of an army blanket. He lined the slippers and sewed them to the soles and to a few scraps of leather for tops. It was these slippers that kept Bub’s feet from freezing on that cold Christmas Eve.
Camp Hoten was no Hilton hotel. The barracks had very little heat. The prisoners slept on raised wooden platforms on which straw was thinly spread. The men were issued five blankets. Bub used four beneath him as a mattress. He slept with his clothes on and a cover of one blanket. The men had a cup of the rice gruel or corn mush three times a day. It was not uncommon to find a dead mouse in the cooked gruel. When this happened, a prisoner would shout out, “Hey, I found some meat in mine’. Sadly, some of the soldiers would not eat the gruel because of the mice.
On the outside of the barracks was a ditch, six feet wide and two feet deep. When it rained, the ditch would fill with running water. Bub decided to build a bridge over the ditch.He filled in the ditch with clay. He then made clay bricks which he laid across the ditch on top of the mound of clay. He waited for the clay bricks to dry; then removed the supporting clay from under the bricks The principles of the Roman arch held true. The bridge held together perfectly and easily supported the weight of a man. When Bull of the Woods saw the bridge, he was bewildered. He looked under it, trying to figure out what held the bridge up. He was dumbfounded as to how it could support his weight as he jumped up and down on the dried clay bricks. The following day Bub dismantled the bridge. He told his barrack buddies that he was going to drive old “Bull”
nuts. He then laid some wooden planks across the ditch. These planks were usually used for coffins. He covered the planks with the clay bricks from the former bridge. The bricks completely cover the planks. “Bull” came along and spotted the new bridge. Again, he looked under the bridge to see what was supporting it. He saw nothing. “Bull” jumped up and down on the bridge. He could not understand why the bridge did not collapse under his weight. Back in the barracks Bub laughed his head off. But, his buddies told him, “Bub if that s.o.b.
finds out it was you who built the bridges, he’ll kill you.”
One of the factories to which Bub was assigned was a tannery. It processed raw leather for a nearby boot factory. The prisoners were not inclined to process leather for the boots of Japanese soldiers.There were several stages in the tanning process. When the leather passed through the final vat, the men repeated the process which rendered the leather soft as cloth. It was easily torn to shreds.
The prisoners were at Camp Hoten from November of 1942 until September of 1945. Occasionally a prisoner would try to escape. In May of 1943, three made the attempt. They were captured, brought back to the camp, and paraded before the other prisoners. They had been badly beaten and bloodied. “Bull” stood before the prisoners with a vicious smile on his face. He stuck his thumb high in the air. The message was that Americans stand out like sore thumbs in any oriental group. You cannot escape without being caught. The three men were taken outside the compound and were never seen again. The prison grapevine said that the escapees had been shot. This was never verified.
1.The “Totorri Maru” dropped off some prisoners at Pusan, Korea. The ship then continued onward to Japan with many other American, British, and Dutch prisoners. Bub Merrill was among those dropped off at Pusan.
The prisoners who then went northward to Mukden, Manchuria, fared much better than those who went to Japan. At the Hoten camps, the prisoners were guarded by the Manchurians who hated the Japanese more than they did the Americans.
2. For the landing of American prisoners at Pusan, see Gavin Daws,
“Prisoners Of The Japanese’New York, William Morrow & Co. 1994,p 285.
On the evening of September 11, 1945 Bub fell asleep after a long and hard day at the tannery. He was awakened on the morning of the 12th by the sound of motorized vehicles. He thought little about the noise because Japanese trucks frequently moved in and out of Camp Hoten. He dozed off to sleep only to be awakened again by motorized vehicles, a large number of them. The sound of the motors were not Japanese. By now, most of the men were up and peering out the barrack windows. The Japanese were gone, but the Russians were there. The Russians told the prisoners that they were free to go whenever and wherever they wished. The American prisoners were completely on their own. The Russians departed almost as quickly as they had arrived.
American officers took charge of the camp.
Food and clothing had been dropped earlier on by the Army Airforce. The Red Cross packages had sat on the tarmac for weeks. The Japanese never distributed the packages. Instead, they rifled through the goods and took what they wanted, mostly cigarettes. The packages also contained soap, shaving cream and razor blades, candy, dried fruit and spam. The newly released officers had the food and clothing distributed among the prisoners. It was then that Bub learned that his stomach could not digest any solid food. For two more weeks, the prisoners stayed at Camp Hoten.1 They awaited orders. Finally, Airforce planes arrived on the short runways just beyond the gates of the prison compound. The mission of the Airforce was to take the very ill back to the hospitals in the Philippines. Bub was very ill with the stomach disorder. He declined to be among the first to be removed.
He told the officers that there were men far worse off than he. This was a mistake because the stomach disorder would haunt him for several years. Bub and the remaining prisoners were trained back to Pusan along the same tracks that had brought them to Mukden two and a half years earlier. Bub was in such bad shape that he would remember nothing about the two-day trip to Pusan.
When the now- freed prisoners arrived at Pusan they were put aboard the hospital ship “The Relief.”2 The hospital ship sailed for Okinawa. Two days out, a hurricane developed. The ship changed its course to skirt the hurricane. Returning to course the ship encountered mines which had been torn loose from their moorings by the hurricane. The men were in the hold of the ship. When they heard about the mines they rushed to the stairs to go topside. As Bub climbed the stairs he spotted a friend going downstairs. Bub yelled, “Hey, where are you going?’The friend shouted back, “I forgot my immunization card and I’m not going through those damn shots again.” On deck the sailors were shooting at the mines to explode them. It took a good shot to hit a horn protruding from the mine. The sailors were good shooters. One sad note was that the released prisoners had war souvenirs of one sort or another. Bub had a Japanese saber which he placed under his mattress. While the men were in the mess hall, the sailors robbed them of their souvenirs. Bub didn’t really care. He was going home.
The meals were buffet style, but Bub could not keep any solids down. He literally lived on milk. It saved his life.
The ship landed at Okinawa. The Red Cross had set up a makeshift camp with tents and a mess hall. The conditions at the camp were primitive because the above mentioned hurricane had completely wrecked the facility. There was no phone or telegraph to notify people stateside. The War Department, however, did notify Bub’s parents that he was safe in Okinawa. After a one week stay at the improvised camp, the men were loaded onto B 24s.They sat in the bomb-bay on planks that were eight feet long, with a seating depth of 12 inches. As soon as they took off, the bomb-bay doors were opened. The pilot informed the men that this was necessary because of the gas fumes that could accumulate in that area. Several B-24’s had been lost by explosions caused by the gas fumes. The men flew with their legs dangling close to the bomb-bay doors. General MacArthur, always the showman, wanted the men to be brought back to the Philippines. He wanted them to share in his “I shall return” gig. Bad weather forced the plane to land on the northern tip of Luzon. The runway was short and made of packed dirt. There were no tents, cots, or ground personnel. Army rations were plentiful, but Bub could consume only the powdered milk. After two days the pilot decided to give a take-off a try. He was nervous about the shortness of the runway. He revved up the engines and gave the plane as much forward thrust as was safe. The end of the runway was approaching quickly. With a final thrust of the throttle, the plane lifted off the ground just in the nick of time.
The plane headed for Manila. A hospital camp had been set up by the Red Cross to receive the returning prisoners. For two weeks they received whatever medical attention was available. Bub had a cousin, Betty Jane Smith, who had married an army officer. They came to the camp, looking for Bub. The party of three went to the Officers Club outside of Manila.3 Bub had jello washed down with milk. Prior to his capture, he had hidden some personal items under a tree; a watch, class ring, and some money. Bub took a short trip to Bataan. He was sure he found the place of surrender, but he couldn’t remember the exact tree under which he had hidden the treasure. Bub had an Aunt Rosemary by marriage. She in turn had a cousin Bobbie who came to the camp to see him. She was a very attractive woman. She was dating a general at that time. She drove Bub and her General friend to a place close to Manila for a nice lunch. Again, Bub could only have milk. He doesn’t remember what ever happened to Bobbie, but he does remember how attractive she was. He had not blocked that from his memory.
By the time that the army interrogation officers got around to Bub, they had already interviewed thousands of prisoners. They were primarily interested in the fact that he had been on a burial detail. They wanted to know where American soldiers had been buried. After almost three years in Japanese prison camps, he had already begun to block these kind of things from his mind. He simply could not remember the burial sites. Only years later did his mind tell him that the burial site was Camp Cabanatuan. Actually, there were several camps in the Cabanatuan area.
After two weeks at the Red Cross camp outside Manila, the men were loaded onto troop ships docked in the Manila harbor. The ships sailed directly to San Francisco bypassing Hawaii. The holds of the ships were redesigned to accommodate the troops. The bunks were three tiers and relatively comfortable. The men were very ill from their sojourn in Japanese prison camps. Bub was worse off than most of the men. He still could not eat solids. At night time he would go topside. Landing craft were lashed to the decks. He would crawl inside a landing craft and sleep on the craft’s floor. The sea air was far more soothing to Bub than the smell of sickness in the holds.He remembers very little about this trip. He did know that he was going home.
The ship sailed under the Golden Gate. It had been four years since Bub last saw the bridge. When the ship docked, the men were transported to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco. An old Algonac friend, Sam Martin, visited him. He was the supply sergeant at Ft. Ord. He called Treg to let her know that Bub was OK.
She uttered a silent prayer to thank the Good Lord for bringing Bub back. Like most of the men he received many shots. He told no one about the stomach problem. He did not want to be hospitalized and delay his return home. Later diagnosis would verify that Bub had a severe case of gastric ulcers. He would, through subsequent operations lose half of his stomach. After one week at Letterman he boarded a train for Galesburg, Illinois.
There were sleeping berths on the train. When the train stopped at Las Vegas, the men were led to a mess hall in the station where they had lunch. Bub had a class of tomato juice which he immediately threw up. A nurse had witnessed his distress. She took him by the hand and led him back to the train. She put him in her own private room. For the rest of the trip she nursed Bub as best she could. He pleaded with her not to report his illness. She didn’t. Upon arrival at Galesburg, he was placed in the Mayo Clinic with a dozen other men on the ground floor. He received word that his Mom and Dad and Treg were on their way to visit him. He wanted to look his best. He went to the dentist with a tooth cap wrapped in a handkerchief, a memorial to a Japanese rifle butt. The dentist smiled and said that the cap would no longer fit the tooth. A new cap had to be made. It would not be ready for the upcoming visit. Bub would return to the dental office on another day.
The day of the visit was at hand. Laura, Leigh and Treg walked arm in arm down the central corridor of Bub’s ward. The men were standing at the end of the ward. Half way down Leigh and Laura stopped. They pushed Treg forward to be the first to greet Bub. Treg was hesitant because she felt Laura should be the first.
In this moment of indecision, she spotted Bub. Treg had on a brown suit which did her figure justice. Her brown hair was fixed in a short bob. She had not seen Bub for four years. She didn’t know what to do, what to say. She had read about the Bataan Death March. She was simply petrified. The closer she stepped toward Bub, the greater her heart pounded. The smile on his face lifted the shroud of terror in her eyes. Bub was in very poor health. He too, was frightened, because he had not heard from or about her for over four years. He knew about the “Dear John” letters that other men had received. Had she fallen in love with someone else? One look from Treg and one look from Bub was all that was needed to throw the future husband and wife into one another’s arms; a warm embrace, a loving kiss. When he let her go, he said to her, “You’ve gained weight.” The truth was that she had not gained a single pound since he last saw her. The problem was that Bub had lived too long with the skeletal frames of his fellow prisoners. Treg was very much aware of Leigh and Laura waiting to see Bub.
She took him by the hand and walked quickly to his parents with him in tow. It was a very emotional reunion.
The day after the visit, Bub returned to the dental office. There were three dentists standing around, doing nothing. When Bub appeared, they tossed a coin to see who would treat him. He was outraged and stormed out of the office. He went directly to the Commanding General’s office. The officer at the desk informed Bub that there was no way he could see the General because he was at a meeting. He walked over to the General’s door and opened it. There were about twelve officers sitting around a table. The General rose. He could see that Bub was very agitated. He was shaking and perspiration dripped from his forehead and hands. The General gently spoke to him. “What can I do for you, son?” Bub unloaded about the dentists. He also unloaded about the fences that surrounded the hospital. The treatment and the damn fences weren’t any better than the Japanese camps.
The General said to him, “Let me finish up here and I’ll talk to you some more in fifteen minutes.” Bub was not an arrogant person. When his sense of justice was offended, he sought a remedy. His father had always taught him that if you think you are in the right, stick to your guns.
The general was a kind man. He knew what Bub had gone through. He sat and listened to Bub who pleaded with him to send him home. The general told him that the only way he could do that was to get him a medical discharge. The paper work would take a month and monthly visits to a VA hospital would be necessary. Bub replied that if he could go home now, he would return in one month to obtain his discharge papers and he would make the monthly visits to the VA hospital. The General believed Bub and gave him a leave to go home. He called his Dad to come take him home. Leigh was there the next morning. The trip from Galesburg to Algonac was a good day and a half. Leigh drove all night long alone. Bub drove back while his father slept. They were home the next day. The drive for Bub was his first contact with reality for over four years. The drive gave him a sense that he had some control over his life. The trip home was very therapeutic. Bub realized how much he loved his Dad and how much his Dad loved him. This special relationship would bond the two men together until death took Leigh away.
1. There is a list of prisoners released from Camp Hoten. The appendices has an abbreviated list. The list contains he names of Lt. General G.F. Wainwright who surrendered Corregidor, and Maj. General E.P. King who surrendered Bataan. Bub Merrill’s name appears under the category Engineers.
2.. The hospital ship, “The Relief’, which carried the wounded prisoners to Okinawa is referred to in Gavin Daws, “Prisoners Of The Japanese’, New York, William Morrow &Co. 1994, p.343.
3.When the prisoners were sent from Okinawa to Manila, Manila was out of bounds to them. Manila had been completely destroyed by the Japanese upon their retreat. The civilian popuation had been killed. Disease was rampant in the city. See the index for a report on the complete devastation of Manila.
The young soldier
Bub outside Manila — 1945
The wedding cake
Gertrude Worfolk—Bub’s Partner in life
Home in Algonac
Bub and his Dad drove the entire day from Galesburg to Algonac. It was late in the evening when they drove into the driveway on St. Clair Drive. The house was lit up and music could be heard coming from the living room. Bub’s sister Ann had purchased an antique record player. It had a brass turn table and the record disks were also made of brass. The records were very rusty. Ann’s husband had taken the records to a brass repair shop. The records were restored to pristine condition. Ann had put on the player a recording of “ The Wedding March” from the opera, Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner. She slipped out of the house before Bub arrived. The reunion with her dear brother was too much to endure. She knew she would cry. It was Ann who gave Bub his nickname. One day she came home from college. Smith Merrill was four years old. Ann said, “What’s up Bub?” and from that day Smith was called Bub. When Bub entered the house, his mother was beside herself.
She hugged and kissed him. He was too tired to eat. He drank a glass of milk, then went to bed.
Men who have gone through what Bub experienced as a prisoner suffer psychological damage. The harshness, the brutality, the deaths, the diseases, the lack of food, all take a toll on the human mind. This damage is handled in different ways. Some men turn to alcohol. Some commit suicide. Some become very bitter with a sense of hopelessness. Others become reclusive. The damage can be repaired but it takes time. At first Bub was reclusive. He stayed inside the house; reluctant to venture out. He feared that he would not remember people when they spoke to him. He was aware of his problem and knew he had to beat it. One day he ventured out and walked toward town. A man passed him by turned and said, “Hi Bub, welcome home!” Bub returned the greeting but was petrified. He didn’t know the man but he knew the voice. He continued to walk telling himself that he knew that voice. Then it dawned on him. The man was Robert Townsend, one of his sister’s former boyfriends. This was a breakthrough for Bub. So what if he didn’t remember names and faces. He could handle that. If he didn’t recognize a person who spoke to him, he would simply say, “ I’m sorry, I have been away for awhile. What is your name?” People understood. And more importantly, his memory began to improve. He went for walks more frequently. He returned to work with his Dad. His father never pushed Bub, but let him find his own pace. Life was achieving some normalcy.
The wounds of war heal slowly, mental wounds more slowly. After a month had passed, Bub drove back to Galesburg to get his medical discharge papers. The General was genuinely pleased to see that Bub looked so much better. “You made the right decision, son!” The discharge papers were in order. Bub drove back to Algonac by way of Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan. Treg was finishing her college years.
They drove around the campus and stopped at the Arboretum, an experimental station of the university. The trees and shrubs provided a natural place for two people to express their love for one another. On this occasion he told Treg that the Letterman doctors had informed him that the starvation and disease he suffered during Japanese imprisonment would leave him sterile. Treg was not concerned. She had waited for him for four years.
As it would turn out in later years, Bub and Treg would have five Children. As they kissed passionately, a police car pulled up beside them. The police officer approached Bub, “May I see your driver’s license, please?”
Bub did not have a driver’s license. The officer began to berate him. He explained to the officer that he had just been released from a Japanese prison camp. The officer apologized profusely, shaking his head in embarrassment as he walked back to the patrol car. This situation would repeat itself when a few weeks later Bub was driving Treg home to Algonac. Treg spotted an abandoned gas station. Let’s pull over and “neck,” she said to Bub. He was ever so happy to oblige her. A sheriff’s car pulled along side of them. “What are you kids doing here” “We’re necking,” Treg replied. The officer got out of the car and asked Bub for his driver’s license.
Bub told the same story as before. The officer was apologetic and advised him to get a driver’s license. “And be careful around here, there have been several robberies in this area.” Bub and Treg thanked the officer and drove quietly away.
On one of their frequent kissing bouts, Treg said, “Let’s get married!” Bub thought that it was a great idea.
He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t popped the question earlier. There remained a shyness about Bub. The mind was still healing. Arrangements for the wedding were made at the Episcopal Church in Algonac. It was to be a small and very private affair. It was customary in the Episcopal Church to publish the wedding band. When Treg and Bub arrived at the church on December 22, 1945, they found the church literally packed with friends, townspeople and churchgoers. Bub’s best man was, Fred Gilbert, the friendly undertaker. The wedding party rode in a highly polished hearst. Treg’s very old and dear friend, Grace Trix, was her bridesmaid. The wedding dress belonged to Treg’s cousin whose husband was a clothes designer. It was a beautiful purple taffeta dress.
The skirt was pleated. When Treg swirled the least bit the pleats opened up to reveal a lovely scarlet lining.
After the wedding the reception was held in the church hall. The same people who had crowded the church, now crowded the hall.
After the wedding, Bub and Treg drove to Detroit for an overnight honeymoon at the Statler Hotel, a very old but gracious hotel. When Bub signed in at the desk, he wrote only his name. The clerk looked at him and asked about the lady. “ Oh, I forgot, we just got married!” They had a quiet but pleasant dinner. Somewhat exhausted, they collapsed into a much needed sleep. In the morning a knock on the door woke them up. They invited the knocker to come in. The bell boy stood holding a massive red poinsettia plant. It was from Uncle Owen. He had sent red roses the night before but they had frozen on the way to Detroit. His note was apologetic, but expressed a hope and wish for a very happy married life. Bub dropped Treg of at the University of Michigan. She still had some required courses to take in preparation for her June graduation. Bub went back to his parent’s house. There were many trips back and forth between Algonac and Ann Arbor. Sometimes Bub would meet her in Detroit and drive up to Algonac for a long weekend. Treg had earned enough money to pay for her tuition. Her parents helped with the room and board, but from December to June this became Bub’s responsibility. His work with his father provided sufficient money to pay for his wife’s education. She would remain his source of strength and happiness as he put his life back together.
Shortly after Treg’s graduation, she and Bub decided to have a second and longer honeymoon. They wanted to visit his sister Marie at Ft. Monroe, Virginia. It was another warm and loving reunion. After the visit, they drove farther south to Georgia. Bub wanted to see his old native American friend to thank him for the slippers and other kindnesses he had performed for Bub during their imprisonment. His name was Ike Garret. Bub spotted the mailbox at the end of a dusty road. As he pulled in, he saw an elderly lady working in the field. Bub asked her if Ike lived here. She said he did, but had gone to town. He explained to her that he wanted to thank Ike for his many acts of kindness. She said to Bub, “Suit yourself, but you will only make things worse. He’ll start thinking about those Jap prisons and be more bitter than he is now.” The honeymooners thanked the lady and headed further south to visit another prison friend in Mt. Dora, Florida. The man was happy to see the couple. He then told Treg and Bub about his wife, who was unbalanced. She would go out on the highway and pick up hitchhikers and take them wherever they wanted to go. He had enough of this and wanted a divorce.
From then on Bub refrained from visiting any of his old army friends.
Bub’s Dad had bought a piece of property on which he hoped to build a marina. Bub had ideas on a much grander scale. He hoped to purchase some property adjacent to the one his dad had bought. By combining the properties, a larger marina could be constructed. He also wanted to keep his summer workers for winter jobs.
There were two native Americans from Walpole Island, Don Jacobs and Gene Altman. They were excellent workers well trained by Bub in the drudging business. The property that Bub wanted was owned by his cousin’s brother-in-law who was also building some homes on marsh lands. He needed canals behind the homes which would connect with Lake St. Clair. Bub made a deal with him that he would build the canals in exchange for the property adjacent to his father’s lot. He then talked his Dad into buying one more piece of property. Father and son now had sufficient land on which to build a good size marina. The father and son were a great team. During the winter of 1946, Bub dug the canals. In the spring the L.C. Merrill Dredging Company became The Merrill Marina and Dredging Company.
Bub and his dad did not receive salaries as such. When money was needed for equipment, machinery, autos, or for groceries, they simply wrote checks against the company’s bank account. There was never a doubt on the part of father or son that one would take unfair advantage the other. Social Security legislation put an end to this way of doing business. Salaries would have to be paid and Social Security taxes deducted from the salaries.
Bub’s sister, Anne, and her husband were transferred to the ChrisCraft plant in Cadillac, Michigan. His Dad had bought the house in Algonac for Anne. Bub could have the house, if he took over the mortgage payments.
This was a fortunate happenstance. When Treg had returned to Algonac after graduation, she and Bub lived on a ChrisCraft with a cabin. It was a twenty three foot Express Cruiser named “The Prisoner’s Dream.” The cabin cruiser was simply too uncomfortable to live on. Treg had become pregnant with the first of five children. It would seem that the doctors at Letterman had overstated Bub’s condition of sterility. When his sister’s house became available, Treg and Bub sold the cabin cruiser and moved to their first real home. A baby daughter was born to them in late summer at Harper Hospital in Detroit.
Because Bub had a medical discharge, he had to report to the VA hospital in Detroit once a month. It was a fifty mile trip each way. The routine was always the same. He would hurry to get to the hospital then sit around and wait until someone had time to give him a physical. The doctors were curious about the various diseases Bub may have had as a Japanese prisoner. They were particularly concerned about a possible case of shistosomiasis, a parasitic disease often found in returning prisoners. Bub did not have the parasite, nor had he ever had malaria or pellagra. He had had dysentery, scurvy, and beriberi. His main health problem was with his stomach. He never mentioned this to the VA doctors. Bub was tiring of these monthly trips and the long hours of waiting. On one occasion he had sat for several hours waiting to see the doctors. He was escorted to a room where the physical would take place. Several doctors were in the room completely ignoring Bub. He was enraged. He stormed out of the room and went directly to the director’s office by-passing the receptionist’s desk. Without knocking he entered the director’s office and told the man what exactly was on his mind. The treatment of soldiers by the VA staff was simply deplorable. The director listened attentively. He told Bub that he understood the frustration. There was to be a meeting of the VA board that evening. He pleaded with Bub to tell the board exactly what he had told him. Bub agreed and that evening he unloaded on the board of directors.
When Bub left the meeting the director followed him out of the room, shook Bub’s hand and said, “You don’t realize how much good you have just achieved for your fellow soldiers who so depend on the VA.” Bub was never notified to return to the VA. The trips were over.
The marina business was growing quickly. Money was more plentiful and pleasure boats were multiplying like rabbits. On one occasion one of Bub’s customer complained about the high cost of painting the bottom of his boat. He told Bub that a local yacht club in Detroit charged considerably less. Bub explained that the local yacht club only power washed the boat bottoms and then painted over the minuscule moss cells.He told the man to watch the boats of his friends as the summer wore on. By mid-summer these boats would be sluggish because the maturing moss would begin to pick up all the garbage that floated in the Detroit River. He then explained to the customer that not only did he power wash the bottom, but sanded every inch of it. Then he applied only the best of marine paints. The customer was so impressed that he told his friends about Bub’s fine workmanship.
His business picked up considerably that summer. The price was high but so was the quality.
Treg helped out at the marina switchboard. One day she received a call from a man who was verbally abusive and offensive.Treg listened politely and then simply hung up the phone. When Bub came into the office, Treg told him about the phone call. He picked up the phone and called the customer. “Please come and get your boat! No one talks to my wife disrespectfully.” The customer got to the root of the nasty call. One of his mannequin employees was the culprit who called on the customer’s behalf to see if the boat was ready. The man came to Bub’s office the next day and apologized for the poor behavior of one of his employees.He remained a loyal customer.
The marina business flourished. Bub and Treg raised their family in Algonac. Their children grew up quickly. Their happy family life was interrupted by a very sad event. The oldest daughter lived in an apartment in Algonac with a couple of other girls. She came down with a throat infection. During the night her throat swelled cutting off her air supply. Bub and Treg got the call to come to Melinda’s apartment. When they arrived it was too late. There is no greater sadness in life than losing a loving child.
Bub and Treg retired from the marina business in 1969. They had purchased some acreage on Lake Charlevoix in northern Michigan. They enlarged a small house sitting near the lakefront. Bub did the work himself including putting up the trusses. It was a real challenge but a labor of love. They enjoyed many a happy year on Lake Charlevoix. In 1997 they sold the property and moved to their current address in Petoskey, Michigan. The Duggans and the Merrills became neighbors.
1. The prisoners who returned to the States were physically debilitated due to lack of food and various diseases.
They were psychologically damaged from imprisonment and brutality either endured or witnessed. When Bub went to Mayo General Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois, he was in very poor condition physically and mentally. It is no wonder that he reacted negatively to the chain fences around the hospital and the callused attitude of the hospital staff. He spoke out whenever he encountered these conditions.