NM Times
Military Experience
Pacific Theater
Lee Roach's Story
by Lee Charlie Roach

(Copyrighted by Lee Charlie Roach. Used with permission)

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I was raised on a farm six and one half miles northwest of Field, New Mexico and did nearly everything there was to do with farming. I worked for about one dollar a day when I wasn't in school. I went to school at Field and played baseball and basketball in High School. After I got out of high school in 1939, I went to work at Field, New Mexico, for Mack Johnson, at a Grocery, Hardware, Gas & Oil of all kinds. I worked there until April of 1941 when I got drafted.

I was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico first, then hauled on a bus to Albuquerque, N. M. We got on a train at Albuquerque and went to El Paso, Texas. I was put in Battery E 200th C.A. We were issued army clothes. Nothing fit very good. There were five men to a half tent and the bottom half was wood. Our drill field was dirt with rocks to stump your toe on. I think the wind blew every day! James Hamilton from Clovis was our First Sergeant and when he said something he meant it.

T. B. Bryant, Staff Sergeant of the Motor Pool, later asked me if I wanted to drive a truck. I said, "Yes, anything is better than this." We would go out at night on maneuvers. There would be fifty or sixty trucks all blacked out. It was rough traveling thirty or forty miles an hour with only black out lights at night. After we completed all of our training, they cooked up a trip for us over New Mexico. About 1,800 men and a lot of trucks went first to Deming, New Mexico, T. or C., Albuquerque, Roswell, and Carlsbad. It was a rough trip but we enjoyed it. We were gone about a week.

We got our orders after we returned to El Paso, Texas and shipped out the first part of September, 1941. We didn't know where we were going when they put us on a train going west. On arriving in San Francisco, Calif. they put us on barges and took us to Angel Island. It was not very far from San Francisco. We were there about a week and then we were gone again. We boarded the President Coolidge, a wonderful liner (but we still didn't know where we were going). We made it to Hawaii and was there about a day before going on.

After we left Hawaii, for the first time, I heard the name of the Philippine Islands. One of the men who worked on the ship said a lot of you guys have got a one way ticket over here. He sure knew what he was talking about and he was sure right. After eighteen days and nights we landed in Manila on the Philippine Islands on the 26th of September 1941. We got off the Coolidge and were loaded into busses. They took us to Ft. Stotsenberg about 70 miles north. Ft. Stotsenberg was next to Clark Airfield. We had open barracks with no windows. It wasn't too bad after we got settled in. When we got to camp we were issued live ammunition. We didn't get to use live ammunition in basic training. We knew something was going to happen! We trained a lot at night tracking planes [by tracking them] with search lights.

On December 7, 1941, we got news Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. We had all of our guns at Clark Airfield. About 10 o'clock we got word they were coming after us. The Air Force got all the planes way up high to get the Japanese planes. Well, they didn't come then and our planes were low on fuel, so they landed to refuel and the refueling trucks came out on the field to fuel all of the planes about 12 noon. The pilots went to the chow shack to eat.

While our planes were all on the ground; here came 54 Japanese high bombers and they unloaded on us. We lost nearly all the planes. Planes and people on the airfield were on fire and burning. Over a hundred men out on the field were killed. Right behind the bombers, fifty or more Japanese fighters came in and tried to kill the rest of us. This lasted about two hours and we were lucky to live through all of that!
After the first alert I never did get back to my barracks. Our gun battery was right by the airstrip. We just sat around our guns waiting for the Japanese; and the chow truck. I had a bunch of pictures of the Philippines and the trip over. I didn't get to get them or any clothes. None of us that I know of got to go back and get anything. Most of the barracks were destroyed and some burning.

We moved out to Bataan with just what we had on our backs. We would move at night and the Japanese would try to kill us in the daytime. The next day the 515th Coast Artillery was formed as part of the 200th Coast Artillery. We backed south a ways to form a strong line on Bataan. They would dive bomb us in the day time and we would move at night and dig our guns in before daylight. We moved every day until we ran out of shells for the big artillery. We destroyed our big guns and anything else we could. All but our rifles. They were not any good against those big tanks. They said they might just kill us all so General King and General Wainwright surrendered us to the Japanese. We didn't know what was going to happen.

The Japanese came up to us in tanks, took all of our guns, and put them in a big pile. We weren't all together. Our gun crews were scattered all over Bataan. There were about 100 men in our crew. They put us on trucks and carried us a ways that evening to a bull pen. We had no food, water, or nothing but the dirt. The Japanese would set us out in the sun for two or three hours without anything to eat or drink. We went three days and nights in that tropical heat with nothing to eat or drink. That's what hurt so many Americans on the death march. Lots of our boys didn't make it. We helped each other when we could but you can help only so much. We were all pretty weak. The ones that couldn't make it the Japanese soldiers would kill them and let them lay beside the dirt road.

We finally made it to Camp O'Donnell and were put in an old barracks. A bunch of us slept under the barracks for a month. I guess there were too many to get us all inside. We finally got some rice to eat and water to drink. You couldn't drink the water until it was boiled and sometime you would stand in line for hours to get some water.

Soon people were dying like flies with malaria and dysentery. There were so many sick americans that we didn't have enough well people to bury the dead. We dug the graves big enough for ten men to lie side by side. You couldn't dig but about 18 inches deep and then you hit solid rock. We buried 78 one day and every day there was a bunch to bury. We used a pick and shovel to dig the graves. After about five or six months of that they moved all that were able to go to Cabanatuan Camp. Doc Springer and I were on burial detail and we stayed there at Camp O'Donnell waiting for the sick to get better or or die. We got better food then and more of it.

After two months or so, they marched us to a train station three or four miles away and put us in little boxcars like sardines with no windows and the doors were shut. We spent most of a day on that trip. I don't know how we made it in the heat. We had to walk about four or five miles to Cabanatuan Camp. It was a lot bigger than Camp O'Donnell.

Rainy season hit about the time I got to Cabanatuan Camp. If 20 or 30 men died during a day, they were all put in the same hole. We buried men every day at Cabanataun Camp. Burial detail was bad during rainy season.

After I got to Cabanatuan Camp we had work detail. Some of us would cut wood to cook rice; some would carry the wood in. Once we moved a big barracks by hand and foot. The barracks didn't have a floor in it. Logs were placed under the barracks and about 60 or 70 guys carried it about three miles.

The Japanese had a big garden. It was about 20 acres. They would have about 100 man carry water from a little river in 5 gallon buckets to water different plants. If they caught you stealing anything out of the garden they would nearly kill you.

I got sent on a detail to Nichols Field close to Manila. It was the worst detail in the world I guess. The Japanese had mine cars to move dirt building laterals for more runways for their airplanes. This detail was all pick and shovel work in rain or shine. Three of us had to get about ten cars a day and push them a long ways by hand. We had to walk about two miles to work and if we were lucky we got one day a month off. A lot of our guys got killed on that job. I was there on that detail about 13 months then they sent some of us to Bilibed prison. Was I ever glad to go! That was a mean job.

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