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Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II (McFarland & Comp

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by dgmitchell, Jul 20, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

    May 9, 2008
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    Much has been written of the mistreatment and malnourishment suffered by American prisoners of war held by the Japanese during World War II. The hardships suffered – the beatings, the murders, the lack of medical care, the lack of food, adequate shelter, clothing and all of the other basic necessities of human life – were a common experience for all American POWs in the Hell that was the Pacific theater. In Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II (McFarland & Company, 2005; 179 pages), retired journalist Bob Wilbanks reminds us that even in Hell, there are corners that are far worse than all of the others.

    Glenn McDole was a twenty year old high school dropout when he joined the United States Marine Corps in 1940. A few months later, he found himself stationed in the Philippines. After the United States entered the war following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Private McDole fought his way from Manila to Corregidor until American forces surrendered on May 5, 1942. After 18 days of burial details and scrap metal salvage on the island that they called simply the “Rock,” McDole and the other surviving American soldiers were transferred to the now notorious Cabanatuan Prison Camp.

    Cabanatuan was a death pit. As the author recounts:

    “Many of the soldiers imprisoned at Camp 1, Cabanatuan, would never leave. The diet of two half servings of rice per day, weak tea and what the prisoners called mongo bean soup, as well as the untreated wounds of battle and the diseases – malaria, beriberi, scurvy, dysentery, dengue fever and pellagra – began taking lives. Ten to fifteen men died every day at the camp. Camp doctors, like those at [other prison camps], could provide only primitive first aid. There were no drugs or medicines of any kind, and they lacked even bandages. Death was a constant companion.”

    In the face of such horrible conditions, Private McDole and his friends Roy Henderson and Rufus Smith contrived a way to volunteer for a three month labor detail outside of the camp. That three month detail turned into a two year detail as McDole, Henderson and Smith were sent to the island of Palawan where they would work from dawn until dusk, generally seven days per week, building a huge landing strip for Japanese planes. Starved and beaten daily, what the prisoners accomplished was far beyond believable:

    “Working only with hand tools, wheelbarrows and two small cement mixers (one that turned out a yard of cement per loading, and the other only half that), and one rolling machine, it was a huge undertaking. The 300 men had labored for two years through malaria, beriberi, pellagra and a host of jungle funguses and other ailments, and the constant threat of severe punishment or death by their Japanese guards. They had cleared an area 2400 yards by 225 yards and paved a runway measuring 1,530 yards by 75 yards. They had paved cement turnarounds at each end of the runway and built turnoffs for taxiing to the revetments.”

    In the face of such perseverance through adversity, the POWs soon managed to understand that the American Navy and Marines were advancing towards them and that soon they would be able to walk out of the Palawan prison camp as free men, or so they thought. In the days leading up to December 14, 1944, the Japanese guards at the camp became increasing tense. McDole, Smith and the other prisoners could sense it and they could feel it, as the beatings grew more intense. The camp and the airstrip had been increasingly subjected to air raids by American bombers and at Noon on December 14, the Japanese herded all of the Americans into their recently constructed air raid shelters, telling the Americans that a raid was imminent.

    At the time, there was a 400 ship American convoy headed, it seemed to Palawan. The convoy ultimately landed at the next island in the Philippine chain, but the Japanese did not know that. Accordingly, the Japanese created the ruse of an imminent air raid to carry out their instructions to eliminate the American prisoners at Palawan. Japanese soldiers had set up fields of fire around all of the air raid shelters. When all of the Japanese soldiers were in position, others poured gasoline into the bunkers and ignited them, turning each trench into a hellish inferno from which there was no escape once lit. Anyone who tried to escape before the fires engulfed them was likely to be gunned down. There were 150 Americans still surviving at Palawan on the morning of December 14, 1944, and the Japanese intended that none of them live through the day.

    The human will to survive, however, can be stronger, at times, than the will of an enemy to kill. About 30 to 40 Americans did manage to flee to the nearby coral beaches before they could be burned, bayoneted, shot or clubbed to death by the murderous guards assigned to be their executioners. Despite two days of searching by the Japanese, and the meticulous elimination of any survivors located by the Japanese, eleven Americans, including McDole and his friend Smith, managed to elude death. Some hid in the jungle. Others swam five miles to relative safety. One even survived a shark attack when a pod of dolphins arrived in the nick of time and fought off the shark before escorting the bleeding soldier to dry land.

    Safely in the hands of Filipino guerillas who were allied with the United States, the eleven survivors were evacuated to the safety of American-controlled territory. After a brief recuperation, McDole and the others were hurried to Washington DC so that they could retell their experience to American war crimes investigators. They would continue to their stories after the war when they assisted in the war crimes trials of the guards who had killed so many of their fellow prisoners on Palawan. More importantly, because they had escaped and told their story to the advancing American forces, other prison camps – notably, Cabanatuan, the camp from which they had started their journey to Palawan – were liberated before the Japanese could execute the surviving prisoners.

    Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II is an important book. Bob Wilbanks’ research is remarkable and the story that he crafts is compelling. Once started, it will be difficult for any reader to put down Last Man Out until the final page is read. Once finished, it will be difficult for any reader to forget the horrors that the American POWs at Palawan endured, or the triumph of the human spirit in the survival of eleven men who were supposed to die on December 14, 1944.

    To order copies of this book, contact the publisher at www.mcfarlandpub.com or 800-253-2187.
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