Port of Manila

113th Australian General Hospital - Sydney

Quench Hospital Ship Fire

July 22, 1942

This is the final article in a series by Lieut. Emmett F. Gibson, of the old Maywood Tank Company, dealing with the battle of Bataan. He told of being wounded and placed on a hospital ship bound for Australia, and of discovery of fire aboard ship at sea.

Gibson, Wounded Mates Reach Haven in Sydney
Jap Timetable Upset by Valiant Stand in Luzon

The steady thumping of the engine stopped, and we rolled on a glassy, unfriendly sea.

Someone said:

“It’s a fire in the engine room. They’re trying to bring it under control.”

It was windless, and broiling hot under the awnings. The temperature was 110, and the harsh, acrid odor of fire slowly crept over the deck, hanging like a blanket about us.

Smoke billowed through the ventilators. Rows of wounded men on their white cots raised themselves anxiously on their elbows, looked anxiously at the attendants, who tried to soothe us, saying:

“It’s all right. They’ll have it out in a few minutes.”

But the reeking odor of smoke increased. Preparations were made to abandon ship. The thought of wounded men — many of them in serious condition — tossing about under that fiery sun in small boats was horrible.

Engine Gang Wins Battle Against Fire

Below, members of the engine room gang were fighting the blaze in temperatures that must have rivaled the heat of their boilers.

A man came on deck, black, gasping for breath. Sweat rolled from him in rivers. He collapsed.

The engines were running again!

A nurse who had been trying not to appear worried, came to us, smiling:

“It’s all right! They’ve put the fire out!”

Days later, outside Sydney, a terrific storm caught us, tossing our ship in mountainous waves. At times it seemed she could not live through them — but she fought her way out as gallantly as Maywood’s men had battled in Luzon, and on the twenty-seventh, I was hospitalized in the 113th Australian General Hospital in Sydney.

* * *

My story had ended. But not that of Maywood’s sons, fighting with the rest of MacArthur’s forces in the hell of Bataan.

They were fighting a lost cause, and they knew it. There was no hope for relief. It was just a question of how long they could hold out against bombs and shells, bullets, disease and hunger. They answered that question magnificently.

MacArthur’s Men Surpass All Hopes

In the words of Maj. Gen. George Grunert, who commanded the United Sates troops in the Philippines until he was transferred a month before the war broke out:

“They surpassed their country’s greatest hopes.”

They fought until they could walk no longer — and the end came when those gallant men found their legs would not carry them fifty feet!

They fought malaria until the quinine supply ran out, and thousands became walking bundles of fever. Exhaustion and hunger made them easy victims of disease.

They fought their way through forests of bamboo trees, with spikes that tore into the flesh.

There was no food supply and the men ate horses, mules — anything that would sustain life and strength a little longer.

They fought against Japanese terror as well as Japanese bullets; against Jap loudspeakers screaming an eerie threat over the battlefield:

“Now you are going to die!”

They fought against fifth columnists, who betrayed their positions with flares and fires.

They had no air force. The Japs could pour bombs onto them almost at will. Japanese cannon pounded them without mercy.

There could be no rest, no sleep. They became haggard ghosts of men. They lost from twenty-five to fifty pounds a man; and they found that a nervous, abused stomach cannot retain unsalted rice and mule meat.

Shoes, underwear and uniforms were in rags. Wounds could not be properly treated. Men fought in the semi-darkness of the tropical forest, in steaming heat, with the sun hidden for days by the dense foliage overhead.

And in the end, they were not defeated. They simply collapsed where they were, and the Japs flowed over them. There were stories, printed in Australia and America, that Corregidor was “impregnable.”

Jap Timetable Upset by Gallant Stand

But no place is impregnable to hunger, disease and exhaustion. The Japs were able to amass overwhelming artillery fire against the rocky island, which was all but pulverized. The tunnels through the rock were chambers of horror.

Not the least of the heroes was Gen. Wainwright. He was nicknamed “Skinny,” and that name had a grim meaning in the last days. He had to use a cane, and his right leg dragged — yet to the end he insisted on walking around the island, encouraging his men.

What was gained by that desperate, gallant, hopeless fight on Bataan? I quote Gen. Grunert again:

“We upset the Japanese timetable. The Japanese were forced to lose much needed time and material to wipe out the gallant defenders. It allowed time for the united nations to amass men and materials in other theaters for the eventual Japanese downfall.

“Our sacrifice for our allies will not be in vain. The men in the Philippines saved precious time when it appeared that the whole Pacific might be lost. And the defenders were responsible for the boost in morale in all the united nations.”

Maywood’s men helped to save a world on Bataan — save it for decency, for democracy and the way of life that we value above all else.

Many of them are Jap prisoners today.

But some of Maywood’s men are not. Some are free men, waiting for us to come back; fighting doggedly in remote jungles and mountain passes until the day MacArthur marches once more into Manila.

That I know.

I know that one man’s family received a letter from him, written AFTER THE FALL OF CORREGIDOR!

I cannot tell how that letter came to America. I cannot tell where there is fighting and I do not know the names of many.

There is still a Battle of the Philippines. And some of Maywood’s men are in it!

THE END.

By Emmett F. Gibson, 1st Lt., 192nd Tank Bat.
As Told to David Camelon
(Originally published in the Chicago Herald-American, July 22, 1942)

(This presentation (c) 2000, Stephen Gibson)

Chicago Herald-American
July 22, 1942