EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of the many interviews conducted by Chuck Knox for his book, The Sound of Distant Drums. The Sound of Distant Drums contains writings and interviews of many soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam, Panama and Gulf Wars. It makes a great book to leave out for casual short readings. You can type “Chuck Knox, The Sound of Distant Drums” into your search engine to find Amazon and other sellers who carry this book.
This presentation of Merle Lype’s story covers just half of his article, up to and including his capture.
Merle Lype: From an interview on November 20th, 2003 between Merle Lype and Charles Knox
|Far East Army Air Force Patch|
I joined the service in September, 1939 and was sent to Selfridge Field, Michigan. I was 21 when I went in. I had to be since my mother wouldn’t let me in the service. She wouldn’t sign for me, so I had to wait till I was 21. I told her, I said, “I’m going to go in.” I was going to go in and learn a trade and then get out in 3 years, that’s not bad. I couldn’t afford to go to school, didn’t have the money. They sent me to Selfridge Field, Michigan to the First Pursuit Group. I wanted to learn welding. I had been over to Chanute Field, and I knew they had a welding school. They put my name on the list, and they said, “Oh yea, when we get an opening, we’ll give you a call.” I waited until September of 1939 and didn’t get a call, so I went into Bloomington. I lived in Downs at that time though I was born and raised in Bloomington. I thought I’d check with a recruiting station. I went down there and the recruiter said, “Yes, I’ve got one opening in the Army Air Corp.” I wanted the Air Corp. and I said, “Where is it?” and he said “Selfridge Field, Michigan.” I said, “Where in the heck is that, I never heard of it.” He said, “Just north of Detroit.” I said that sounds good to me, so I went in. I went to Peoria, was enlisted, and went up there right after I got through six weeks of basic training. They sent me to the 17th Pursuit Squadron. When we got there, there were 7 men from basic training and the first thing the Adjutant said to each one of us was he wanted to know what we wanted to do. He came to me and I said, “I want to go to welding school, I’d like to be a welder.” “Oh,” he said “We can’t do that here, this is a fighter squadron, and you have to get in the base shops.” So I said, “Well transfer me to the base shops.” He said, “Who in the hell do you think you are, you telling me what I’m going to do.” He said, “You can’t go to the base shops. You’re going to stay right here in the squadron.” So there I was. First he wanted me to be an armorer. I didn’t care for that so I came back and then they needed a supply person. A Lieutenant that was in charge of supplies said, “I’ve got an alcoholic in here. I got to get somebody to take his place.” I said, “I’ll try that.” I enjoyed the service. It was good. And then in 1940 we got back off of maneuvers. We were up in Northern Michigan on gunnery, the whole group of four squadrons.
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|Angle Island, San Francisco, 1940|
|My transport ship to the Philippines, 1940|
We were flying P-35’s then. When we came back to the base, orders were issued to not unload anything because we were leaving. We thought, where in the world are we going? The United States wasn’t at war. We found out we were going to go to the Philippines. We wondered what was going on there. We didn’t know. We got over there and then they were saying if the Japanese get riled they’re going to hit here first and we thought so too.
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We were stationed at Nichols Field. It was a fighter base. When we got over there they only had P-26 fighters. They were the low wing open cockpit plane that our guys flew. We took P-35’s with us but they were crated and we had to put them together. After we got that done we operated with P-35’s. Then we went on gunnery up in Northern Luzon, about 150 miles North of Manila to Iba. That was a gunnery base. We were using P-35’s. When we came back from gunnery they started getting P-40’s in. We got P-40-E’s, and that was, of course, a faster plane, with an inline engine and three 50’s in each wing. We thought, ”Wow we got em here!” The war started before even half of our pilots had even been checked out in them. We just didn’t have the people. We operated at Nichols Field, in fact we were hit at Nichols. We were a day ahead of Pearl Harbor which was Sunday there and it was Monday at our place. We got up on Monday morning and somebody turned the radio on. Someone said Pearl Harbor has been bombed. We stopped what we were doing and said, “What? Somebody’s kooky.” “What’s going on here?” We no more than got that out of our mouth when the orders came down, “Hit the line. Get the planes on the line right away.” Up to two months before the war we would have been on the alert, half of our pilots slept in the hanger and our planes were loaded and ready to go. So we all rushed down to the line, and the next thing we heard that day that Clark Field was being bombed. Well, we didn’t see any Jap planes, and we had our planes up patrolling. Finally some planes came back, but not ours. The other planes had bullet holes in them and we said, “Boy, it must be the real thing.” So then the next day we got hit, bombed and strafed. They tore us up. They caught us on the ground. We weren’t expecting things like that.
We didn’t have many revetments. We were in the process of making them, but we had the planes scattered out. But at Clark Field we had B-17’s there. They had just gotten them in. I guess they were lined up and the Japanese just tore the heck out of them right away. So then every day from the 8th and 9th of December up until Christmas Eve we were in combat. The day before Christmas, on the 24th of December, McArthur declared Manila an open city. Well, we were right on the edge of Manila, so we had to get out. They moved us to Bataan. When we went over there on Christmas Day, we only had 5 planes in my squadron when we arrived. We were on a strip, a dirt strip on a rice paddy. That’s all we were using. We had three P-40’s and two P-35’s. That’s all we had. The landing strip was located at Pilar on Bataan.
We weren’t much of a threat to the Japs. From Christmas Day until January 10th, we lost everything we had. On January the 10th they put us in the infantry. They took part of my squadron, they didn’t take all of them. We thought, well, what in the world is this? They issued us Springfield rifles, bandoleers and ammunition and all the hand grenades we could carry. We thought, “Oh boy!” Then they took us part of the way down Bataan to a place the Filipinos had been using as a target range for practice in firing. They said, “We’re going to give you two days firing the rifle and then you’ll probably go up on the line.” Well, what are you going to say, you just go along with it. That night we dug our holes and settled in for the night. About midnight, a motorcycle rider came saying that the Japanese had broken on the west side of the line... had punched a hole in the line. Now, I had never fired the rifle yet. Threw us in buses and carted us around. The next day we got up there to the mobile point, they called it Caibobo Point. We set up a beach defense on 22 January, 1942. The Japanese tried to land in our area and were repulsed with only a few Japanese reached the shore. This was our first baptism under fire. We had become combatants for real! They threw us in and we didn’t know anything. Now I’m telling you what, we learned in a hurry. It was survive. You learned on the job. It was one of those things. Still we thought we had the goose by the neck. We thought we could whip them with one hand tied behind us. That’s how high our moral was. What Japanese were left, moved down the coast and landed there. On January 24th our outfit was moved to KP 191. On the 25th of January, the 17th was moved to Quinauan and Anyasan River. Here we were called to meet the Japanese in the jungle. These were the ones that had moved south of us at Caibobo Point. On the 28th of January, my platoon leader, Lt. Boezina was killed and that slowed us up for awhile.
We operated what they called the points where the Japanese had decided to come around behind the Filipino and American lines, drop troops in and try to get us from behind. They took us over in that area and we started pushing them out. They took 100 of my outfit, took us down in the jungle and said, “There are fifty Japs in there, go get ‘em. Don’t take anything but your canteens and ammunition because you’re going to be back tonight for supper.” So here we go. Thirty-two days later we got out of there and they tore us every way but loose. We hit the Japs but they were all trained and they knew how to do that stuff. We didn’t know from didley. So we lost. We had casualties. They pulled us back and gave us more troops and we went again. Finally we did get ‘em cleared out, but it took almost three months. Then we pulled out after we straightened that area up. They were going to move us to another area that they thought was threatened. That’s what they used us for. We were to push and hold what they tore open. Then that’s when the big push came in April. On April the 7th the Japanese issued an ultimatum. By then, you can imagine, we were down to nothing. One meal a day and it was rice. We were just getting down that’s all, we just didn’t have it left in us. The Japanese warned us to surrender.
They dropped pamphlets and over the loudspeakers that they had on the line you could hear them, and we still didn’t surrender. General King was our commander on Bataan. Finally they hit. We were at the place they were trying to get us up to where they had made a hole. We couldn’t get up there because the road was jammed with Filipinos coming back. We couldn’t get up there for anything. No way could you get up there. So the order came down, “Dig in where you are, this is it!” In other words, we’re going to make a stand. I thought nothing about it. We dug in and got ready. The next morning the order came down from General King, “It’s all over, destroy everything, and destroy everything you have got.” Then he sent two officers over to the Japanese to discuss the surrender.
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|In case you have trouble reading the caption under the photo it reads: “American wings with their war paint on soar protectively over the Philippine Islands as the U. S. army orders aviation unites in the islands to be prepared for any eventuality. The squadron of fast combat planes pictured above is on duty at Camp Nichols, near Manila, and reinforcements have been ordered from the United States.”|
All Manila was cheered today by the arrival of 177 officers and men from the United States Army’s Seventeenth Pursuit Squadron from Selfridge Field . Crowds at the dock cheered lustily as the airmen disembarked from the liner Washington. Observers saw in the attitude of the people a conviction that the United States is determined to defend the Philippines at all costs in event of war.
Arrival of the 17th pursuit squadron from Selfridge field, Mich., and the 20th pursuit squadron from Hamilton field, Calif., will bring air force strength in the Philippines to a hitherto unanticipated peak. These 300 men with their crack, Republic fighters originally ordered by Sweden but requisitioned by the United States, will give the Philippines fair defensive air strength.surrender. Well, we didn’t like that. We didn’t know what it was, but we knew it wasn’t going to be easy because we’d seen what they had done to some of our troops that they had caught. They didn’t take prisoners that’s all there was to it. You couldn’t take them as prisoners either. Boy, they would fight to the finish. Then we started on the March. This was April the 9th, 1942. The Japs started us out walking. General King offered the Japanese the use our trucks and we could go by truck anywhere they wanted us to go. The Japanese said, “No, you’re going to walk.” We destroyed everything, all the trucks and everything else. We were on the march. They called it the Death March earlier on. When we got liberated we didn’t think of it as a death march, it was just a march. We got to Camp O’Donnell. Camp O’Donnell was the first camp and I was fortunate. I made it very well. I got slapped around, beaten but a lot of the men got killed. It was according to who you were around. Some guards were worse than others.
What they did was try to get 100 Americans and have a set of guards and they would move you out. You went out to the right side of the road. The Filipinos were separated from us. They were going up the left side of the road and the Japanese were coming in the middle. So wherever you ran into Japanese coming in, you knew you were going to get beat. The Japs would be in trucks and they would hit you with rifle butts and anything they had. Coming down the road when we were on the march the Filipinos would stand along and when you went through a Village, they’d set up cans of water and rice and things along the road. Well, the Japanese, if they’d see it they’d stomp on it or kick it over so you wouldn’t get it, but some of it got through. Then, if they caught a Filipino trying to get you something, they’d just beat the hell out of the Filipinos too. The first time they stopped me, they wanted my wristwatch, and anything else of any value. They took my class ring, my wristwatch, and then we didn’t have anything else. Then you go up a little farther and somebody else would stop you. They would see from where the sun shined, it was all white here where your watch was, so they thought you had stuck it in your pocket or hid it. So they’d slap you around to try and find that watch. They’d point to that pale spot on your arm. You’d tell them, “No, no don’t have it.” Well, wham, they’d hit you. You couldn’t help your partners or people you were walking with because if they got down or weren’t able to continue on, you had to leave them there. They wouldn’t let you help them. Then they did away with them. They were shot, bayoneted, or beat to death. There were 12,000 Americans on Bataan. Almost 8,000 made it to O’Donnell, the first prison camp. We lost around 4,000 in there.
Funny things would happen. It was on the second or third day, here comes a Japanese officer up on horseback. Drove his horse right up to me, got off, didn’t say a damn word to me, just took my canteen, got back on the horse and took off. Well, here I’m without a canteen. You needed that because it was hot and dry. I was fortunate enough as I went along, I found an American, who had a canteen, lying along the side of the road. I just took it because I needed one. The Japs would do that, you know. There is no rhyme or reason of what they were up to.
Then we got to O’Donnell, the first camp, there was no rhyme or reason to them either. They didn’t know what to do with us. In fact, they didn’t want us to make it to camp, that’s for sure, we found out later. The Camp Commander came out to every group that came in. The groups came in at different times of the day. We would have to wait and then he would come out talk to you. The first thing he’d say, “We hope you all die.” The interpreter would say, “We hope you all die.” We thought, well, we know we are in for trouble, that’s for sure. Another policy in the prison camp was that if you didn’t work after they got it set up, you only got one meal a day. That was rice. If you worked then you got lugow or soupy rice for breakfast, a rice-ball for lunch, and a rice-ball for supper at night when you came in.
You didn’t know what you were going to do because every day they would have different details and you very seldom ever got the same detail. I didn’t go out on detail at first because I just stayed clear. I didn’t want anything to do with the Japs. I figured the further I stayed away from them the better I liked it. Then finally, it got to the point of where they weren’t feeding us. We thought well, if you got out on detail maybe you’d have a better chance of stealing food or the Filipinos could help you.
In prison camp some of them tried to escape, but nobody was successful. They always caught them. They’d bring them back into camp and then everybody had to watch as they were put to death. They were either shot or beheaded, and the whole camp had to see. The camp commander would say, “Now see this is what happens if you try this.” They would make an impression and so it did.
(Much more about prison camp in the book.)
More Pictures from Merle Lype