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Catalog Number Camp Cabanatuan
Object Name Journal
Scope & Content Cabanatuan Camps

Cabanatuan consisted of three camps near Cebu Village, 5 to 15 miles northeast of Cabanatuan and became the largest American POW camp in the Far East. It consisted of 100 acres of land, mainly surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. The training camp originally served as a home to the Ninety-first Philippine Army Division. The complex housed three separate camps and all were in shabby condition. Camp 3 had a working supply, Camp 2 had water, but it was a thousand yards away from the camp, and Camp No. 1 had no working water supply in the beginning.

On May 26, the first Americans from Bataan arrived. They were the sick and wounded who had been left behind on Bataan. Six thousand men from Corregidor joined them three days later and they were sent to Camp 3. Another fifteen hundred more men from Corregidor arrived and they were assigned to Camp 2, but because of water conditions, the Japanese shifted them back to Camp 1 where water had been restored. The amount of men at the camp by the first week of June was about 9,000 at Camp 1 and nearly 6,000 at Camp 3. As the Japanese started to send men out in work details, Camp 3 closed in October 1942, and the approximately 3,000 men there transferred to Camp 1. During 1942, conditions in the camp remained deplorable with flies spreading dysentery and mosquitoes breeding and transmitting malaria. Because the men at Camp 1 started out in worse physical condition than the men from Corregidor who were mainly housed at Camp 3, they succumbed to disease and vitamin deficiency problems faster. By July of 1942, about 1300 men of Camp 1 had died and 32 at Camp 3 passed away.

For the men at Cabanatuan who were gravely ill, a hospital existed, but it was just made up of wood frame shacks with bamboo shelves for beds. This hospital was located in the southern third of Camp 1. The prisoners referred to this area as “Zero Ward,” because those were the chances of getting out of “Zero Ward” alive. The doctors mainly stayed by the dying men, offering encouragement as they rarely had medicine to dispense. The ward housed a primitive operating room, but it wasn’t used much as the doctors had no equipment. In July 1942 a staggering number of 786 deaths occurred, mainly men under thirty. These men had no wife or children to count on them, faced a real test in life for the first time, did not possess the money some of the older men had, and also lacked the maturity to deal with difficult circumstances.

In 1943, conditions improved some, because of a black market and the farm set up at the camp. A slow moving group of caraboa pulled carts bringing in supplies from the town of Cabanatuan. Sympathetic Filipinos and members of the Manila international community used these hauling carts to smuggle in notes and money. During this time, recreation and entertainment programs were developed.

Then in 1944, conditions became worse again, as the Japanese cut down on rations and cracked down on smuggling. Men shipped out on “hellships” that took them to camps in Japan and Manchuria and other surrounding areas to work in Japanese industries as the Japanese’s labor supply had diminished due to the war.

In 1945, the men left at Cabanatuan numbered around 500. The U.S. Sixth Ranger Battalion, along with local guerilla groups, liberated the camp on January 31, 1945.




The 7,000 American prisoners of war from Corregidor fared somewhat better than did those captured on Bataan. After being interned for a week in a small, crowded area on Corregidor they were placed aboard transports and taken to Manila, where they were first paraded through the streets and then thrown into old Bilibid Prison. They had been there only a short time when they were packed into freight cars and sent to Cabanatuan.

The first group, comprising 2,000 officers and men, was taken to Camp 1. They were forced to march on foot the entire 12 miles between the town and the camp. Anyone who fell by the wayside from heat prostration or exhaustion was severely beaten by the guards. If, after having been beaten, they still insisted they were unable to continue the march, they were thrown into trucks and were permitted to ride the rest of the way.

Conditions at Camp 1 were fair, the camp being, on the whole, well organized and administered.

The Headquarters Staff at this camp comprised the following officers:

Camp commander: Lt. Col. Curtis E. Beecher, U.S.M.C.

Vice Camp Commander: Lt. Col. Charles Leinbach, U.S.A. (FA) 011578

Camp Executive: Lt. Col. Arthur Shreve, U.S.A. (G.S.C.) 011176

Statistical & Personnel Officer: Major Frank Pyzick, U.S.M.C.

Camp Supply Officer: Lt. Col. John Brettell, A.U.S. (2 MG)

Camp Adjutant: Major Gilbert Reynolds, A.U.S. (FA)

Work Detail Officer: Major James Vincent Bradley, U.S.M.C.

Chief, Medical Service: Lt. Col. R.W. Craig, U.S.A. (MC)

Supply - Medical: Lt. Col. Orin W. Kemp, U.S.A. (MC)

Medical Adjutant: Major Carl Houghton, U.S.A. (MC)

Other Staff Personnel: Lt. Col. Harold K. Johnson, U.S.A. 019187

Major Harry Leighlon, U.S.A. (VC) 016296 Major John Brinkmeyer (Probably alive & recaptured at Bilibid.)

Prisoners who were seriously ill were sent to Camp 3 to die. Consequently, the death rate at Camp 1 was very low. Several of the prisoners there were executed for attempting to escape, and one officer was killed when a group of Filipino guerrillas ambushed a truck in which he was riding with 2 Japanese officers, and, not recognizing the American, opened fire and killed all 3 occupants of the truck. Several details were sent to Japan from the Camp between June and September 1942. It was closed in September 1942 and the remaining American prisoners removed to Camp 3. A short time later the Japanese reopened Camp 1 as a rehabilitation camp for Filipino prisoners of war.

Diet: The daily ration ... was somewhat better. Here, about 16 oz. of rice, per man per day, 4 oz of top greens (similar to spinach, somewhat) was issued. Once per week, 1 oz of caribou (water buffalo) meat was issued. For about 1 month, while in season, each man received 1 slice of cucumber (1/4 x 1 1/2" dam.) per day. About once per week 2 oz of coconut was issued and this was utilized with cornstarch and sugar, of which there was almost always a fair amount available, to make a pudding. Also, once per week for 1 month 1 small banana was issued and this also was used for pudding. For a period of 1 month, each man received a total of 15 limes. All the vegetables, except the cucumbers were boiled, with the further exception of fried sweet potatoes on 2 occasions (from July-Nov.). For the soups, 50 Ib. of Purico per week (coconut oil fat) for 500 men or 1/10 Ib. per man per week was issued.

Analysis of these data readily demonstrate the reason for the high death rate of these two camps and explain the reasons for the tremendous number of cases of dietary deficiency diseases. In no single respect was the diet adequate, not even in calories, which in O'Donnell was approximately 1340, and at Cabanatuan, 1989.

At Cabanatuan, a commissary was available for these who had money. However, these fortunate ones were by far in the minority; perhaps 10% had some money and about 1%, only, had enough to adequately supplement the diet to basic minimum requirements.

Organization--... Camp No 1 was divided into 3 groups of approximately 1500 men each. Each group had its own kitchens, administrative group and dispensary. A central camp administration and field medical supply headquarters were in charge of the whole camp. In addition there was a large hospital separate from the camp, but next to it, of 2,000 patients and 400 medical personnel. Those prisoners of war who were very ill were sent to the hospital, not so much for treatment (due to lack of drugs) as for isolation from the relatively healthy. Medical supplies and equipment were very, very limited.

The dispensary in each group had a staff of 4 to 6 physicians and dentists, and about 5 enlisted medical corps men. Here, a daily sick call was conducted for diagnosis and minor dressings. Very few drugs were available unfortunately. The dispensary kept careful records of diagnosis and treatments of every patient in the group.


Starvation, "nutritional and actual" was present among American Prisoners of War in the Philippines in 1942 and was the direct cause of the great majority of the excessively large number of deaths which occurred.

On changing from a balanced diet, at the beginning of the war, to a nutritionally deficient one, Beriberi was the first nutritional disease observed, occurring after 3 months departure from a balanced diet; Pellagra was observed after 9 months; Ariboflavinosis after 9 months and Scurvy was still questionable after 9 months and began to definitely appear in 10 months. Xerophthalmia and nystalopia, although difficult to diagnose microscopically, was definitely present in ten months and very severe thereafter, increasing in intensity to complete blindness in many cases, cleared up by massive doses of Vitamin A and thiamin.

Severe and sharp "shooting" pains in the feet and legs developed during the winter months of 1942-43 and resulted in gangrene of the toes and many deaths. It was definitely cleared up by great doses of thiamin in test cases, administered intra-spinally and intra-muscularly.

The efficiency and fighting capacity of the Filipino-American troops in Bataan was markedly lowered by a very poor diet, affecting military capabilities, their morale, and fighting capacity.

POW Descriptions

from Ken Wheeler, in a document prepared for his children, called, "For My Children

I was not prepared for the horror of the camp at Cabanatuan. It was a former Philippine Army temporary training camp of flimsy grass roofed buildings with dirt floors and no doors. There were no sanitary facilities, except open latrines, and drinking water came from and occasional outside faucet. Both water came from shallow open dirty wells dug near each group of buildings. The barracks were completely open at the bottom and consisted of two tiers of bamboo covered platforms running along either side of the central dirt walk-away. The sides were covered by woven “suwali” or split reed. There were no lights in the barracks. The cooking facilities were primitive, consisting of large cast iron “kawas” or pots which were heated by wood fires. Here again the diet was an even smaller issue of straight boiled rice three times each day with an occasional watery, leafy soup.

Disease was rampant in the camp. Already there was ahead of us what remained of the American troops from Bataan. These were the survivors of the “Death March” and the infamous Camp O’Donnell ordeal which followed. The majority of the prisoners had malaria or dysentery or both, and medical care was virtually hopeless since our own doctors were sick as well and none had enough medicine to really help. The Japanese guards seldom came inside the barbed wire enclosures, and then only with masks on.

They threw our over the fence once each day and the remaining time kept their distance in the guard towers and sentry positions. Our pleas for help went completely unheeded. The comparatively well prisoners had great difficulty caring for the sick and the death rate was very high. We lost upwards of thirty men each day for the first three months, not counting those who were executed.

Attempts to escape were invariably punished by 24-36 hours of torture, then execution by shooting or beheading. Reprisals against the innocent were common. We were divided up into groups of ten, which we laughingly called our “running mates” because the purpose of the groupings was to prevent escapes. If one of the ten attempted escape, the other nine were executed. Dietary deficiencies such as beriberi, scurvy and pellagra soon began to appear, causing acute discomfort, pain and numerous deaths. An epidemic of diphtheria likewise took an enormous toll of life before some anti-toxin was smuggled into the camp by Catholic priests under their vestments. The Filipino or European priests were at first allowed into the camp to hold mass on Sundays and did much good, but this privilege was soon withdrawn like so many other small concessions allowed for short periods only.

Cabanatuan Report
Collection Camp Cabanatuan Collection
Accession number 1680.1