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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
PI: This is Julian Pleasants and I am in Lake City. I am speaking today with Mr.
Herbert Pepper. It's September 28, 2005. Tell me where you were born and
where you grew up.
Pe: I was born in Cleveland, Georgia, on March 12, 1919.
PI: Did you grow up most of your childhood in [Cleveland]?
Pe: No, [when I was] twelve years old I moved out to Jefferson, Georgia, and then
PI: How far did you go in school?
Pe: I went through the ninth grade. When I came back from overseas I took the GED
test and got my high school diploma.
PI: Talk about when you joined the armed forces and why.
Pe: I was classified by the 1-A [Available for military service] with the draft and I
decided I'd enlist. I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I went down and
enlisted. They had two openings, one for Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Field, and
one in Panama. I said, I'll take Hunter Field. I went to Hunter Field in Savannah,
PI: What branch of service?
Pe: It was Army Air Corps at the time. I was in the ordinance department and the
27th Bomb Group.
PI: Then you did your training in Savannah?
Pe: I did my training there in Savannah.
PI: What kind of training did you have? What specifically was your specialty?
Pe: Nothing much, just to learn how to field strip your 45-automatic and the other
stuff that you had to do. We had really no extensive training. I think we had two
weeks, they call it boot camp now, but I think we had two weeks of training.
PI: What year was this?
Pe: May, 1941.
PI: This was before Pearl Harbor.
Pe: Yes. May 3, 1941, I went in service. In October, 1941, we loaded up all our
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -2-
equipment and stuff and headed for San Francisco. On November 1, we left
San Francisco. We got in the Philippines on November 20. Then the war started
PI: You thought you were pretty safe over there.
PI: As everybody knows, on December 7, the Japanese, of course, attacked Manila
and Corregidor at the same time that they attacked Pearl Harbor. What were you
doing when the attack came?
Pe: I was stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines.
PI: When the attack came, what was your reaction to it? Surely, you were
Pe: Yes, [I was] surprised and I hit the fox hole. The Japs destroyed all of our planes
the first day because they had them marked. We had no planes to put our
bombs and ammunition on. We just had to wait until we got orders to go from
there to Bataan. One time they came in and said the paratroopers were coming
in. We were not a combating outfit, so we had no firearms. They said, well,
we're going to have to give you some if the Jap paratroops come in. All these old
infield rifles in cosmoline had been there ever since WWI, we'd have been sitting
there cleaning them if the Jap paratroops had to come in. But they didn't come
in. Then when they evacuated into the Bataan Peninsula close to Mariveles. We
weren't doing any fighting because we didn't have anything to fight with. We'd
have just gone down there to stay until whatever happened came about.
PI: I understand that the attack at Clark Field was pretty deadly and the planes kept
coming over and kept coming over and kept bombing. Was there any response
at all from the military? I guess a couple people had rifles and could fire back.
Pe: No, some of the P-40's got off the ground and some of them didn't. They went
up. One came back in, he overshot the field and hit into the jungle there.
PI: You spent the whole time in the fox hole?
Pe: Most of the time during the air raids.
PI: This went on for what, a couple of days?
Pe: Yeah. Then they said the Japanese Army was supposed to be coming that way,
so we evacuated into Bataan and stayed down there until the surrender. General
MacArthur, when he left, he said, "do not surrender. Fight to the last man."
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -3-
General [Edward P.] King was left in charge of Bataan and [General Jonathan
Mayhew] Wainwright was over in Corregidor. So General King went through the
lines and surrendered to the Japs. He said he wasn't going to be responsible for
everybody just annihilated because we had nothing to fight with anymore. He
surrendered. The Bataan Death March started a day or so after he surrendered.
PI: Were you under King's command as opposed to Wainwright's?
PI: Wainwright also surrendered a little later, although they held out at Corregidor.
Pe: Yeah, a month later.
PI: They held out 148 days. Corregidor is a fortress, so they were able to hold out,
but King surrendered first.
PI: How many people were in this group that were surrendered by King?
Pe: They said about 20,000.
PI: Once you had surrendered to the Japanese, what happened then?
Pe: They made us go down to Mariveles and line up on the air strip down there.
Then we got orders to start the march. We started the Bataan Death March out
of Marvelos. Along the road the Japanese had their field artillery on one of the
air strips. They were going to march us in front of their guns so if Corregidor fired
back they'd hit us. We were marching in columns of fours, and just about the
time they said turn to the left and go down that way, Corregidor fired. A shell
came and didn't miss me very much. It came in at an angle and sat on the road
and scooted down the road. We just did about face and went on up the road.
We didn't go down there into those guns.
PI: That's what they thought would be easier, just to get you killed.
Pe: I think we had one meal on the sixty-five mile march. They wouldn't let you get
water or nothing. One time [I will tell about], they have artesian wells in the
Philippines along the road. We'd just make a column and go around and fill our
canteens. They'd shoot over our head. Sometimes, just the different guards,
some of them [prisoners] got killed just by going and getting water. I broke out of
the line one time, I wasn't even thinking of what I was doing. I headed to a sugar
cane field just so the guard didn't see me. I got me some sugar cane. Talk
about picking up your energy. That juice would pick it up.
WWII-30, Pepper, Page -4-
PI: That may have been the difference between surviving and not surviving.
Pe: It was, yes.
PI: When you were first captured, the story has always been that the Japanese who,
with the Bushido Code [guiding philosophy of the Samurai] would fight to the
death, they saw you as inferior because you had surrendered. Did you
understand that that was their attitude toward you?
Pe: No, I didn't. I knew that they [Japanese soldiers] killed a lot of them [American
soldiers] on the Death March. If you fell out of the line, that's where you stayed.
PI: It was very hot.
Pe: [Yes, it was] very hot.
PI: There was no real protection from the sun.
PI: You had no food.
Pe: No food.
PI: You had no water.
Pe: No water.
PI: A lot of people had dysentery and were already sick.
Pe: Yes, dysentery, beriberi [nervous system ailment caused by a deficiency of
thiamine], malaria, and whatever.
PI: As you marched along, how did you deal with the fact that you had to survive?
Pe: I just had the determination to keep going. I wasn't going to let them get me
down. Some of them, they'd give up and they didn't survive.
PI: Do you think they were trying to humiliate you and force you to give up, or did
you see this as they were trying to kill you?
Pe: They were trying to kill you. That's why it was called a Death March because
they killed so many on that march.
PI: When you first got captured and you started on this march, what did you expect
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -5-
was going to happen to you? Were you aware of how long the march was going
to be? What was going through your mind?
Pe: We didn't even know where we [were] going or how long it would take to get
PI: They told you absolutely nothing.
Pe: Nothing, they told you nothing. They marched us all the way to San Fernando
and then put us in a freight car and rode on up to Camp O'Donnell. O'Donnell
was the first camp.
PI: As you were going through the sixty-five miles, that took you what, four days?
PI: How many would have died along the way? I guess you started with 20,000?
Pe: Yeah. I think they estimated 5,000 or so died on the march.
PI: Were most of them killed by the Japanese or they just fell out because of illness
Pe: Most of them were killed by the Japanese.
PI: Did you see them do any beheading with the swords?
Pe: No, I didn't see [that]. I saw them stick a bayonet in a Filipino boy. This Filipino
boy, he was gonna cook him some rice one night when we stopped. This Jap
guard came by and kicked his fire out and told him no cooking. When he left, he
built his fire back up and started cooking his rice. He come back this time, he hit
him in the back of the head with his rifle butt and when he fell on the ground he
stuck his bayonet in him. He killed him right there because he told him not to be
PI: Did you understand what they were telling you? Did some of them speak
English? How did you know what the commands were?
Pe: Some of them could speak English, but not many of them.
PI: Did you know any Japanese at all?
PI: So you had no way of knowing what they were telling you. They could
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -6-
demonstrate to you to get back in the line.
Pe: I didn't understand anything.
PI: What was the hardest part of the march for you? Was it being without food,
water, just the distance?
Pe: Yeah. Without the food and the water and having malaria. That was the biggest
PI: So you got weaker and weaker every day? That's what was happening, people
were just falling out of the ranks?
Pe: A lot of them were, yes.
PI: Did you try to help some of them keep going?
Pe: Yeah. I had one of my boys in the outfit. I'd make him get up ahead of the
column and I said, you can slow down till you get to the back, but don't be caught
at the rear end with everybody else gone cause they'll kill you then. That's what
they'd do if you fell out on the side. They'd just kill you.
PI: Would they shoot you or bayonet you?
Pe: Bayonet you most of the time.
PI: That must be pretty painful to see your buddies being killed as you're marching
PI: Did that give you more incentive to survive?
Pe: Yeah, it sure did.
PI: Where do you think that comes from? Some people give up, some people
survive. What is it in an individual that allows him to survive?
Pe: I don't know. They just don't have the determination.
PI: Where does that determination come from?
Pe: I don't know.
PI: Is it religious, is it loyalty to your country, is it loyalty to your comrades?
WWII-30, Pepper, Page -7-
Pe: Well, that, and wanting to get back home.
PI: As you went through this process, by the time you got to Camp O'Donnell, there
were probably about 15,000 left. What were the conditions like at Camp
Pe: It was terrible. They did have a little water and they didn't feed you very much.
They weren't prepared to accept as many prisoners as they had. There were
27,000 Filipinos that died there in four month's time. I don't know how many
Americans, it was about 4,000 or 5,000 or more. Then they started shipping
them out on work details. I got sent to Clark Field on work detail. I was there for
a few months.
PI: What did you do on that work detail?
Pe: Keep the runway fixed. I got that beriberi in my feet and couldn't hardly walk
around. They sent me to Manila to the Villa Hospital. I was in Manila in the
Bilibid hospital three or four months. Then they shipped me to Cabanatuan.
PI: The fact that you were in the hospital at that time probably saved you. If you had
to be out working and not getting very much food it would have just made you
weaker and weaker.
PI: Let me go back to a couple of things on the march. Another individual I talked to
said this; they had no sympathy, no concern for us as human beings, no burials,
they treated us like animals.
Pe: Yes, they did. That's right.
PI: When you stayed in Manila, were you in this big warehouse when you stopped at
Manila along the way?
Pe: No, I wasn't.
PI: You didn't stop there?
PI: I guess some of them did.
PI: Another thing that he was telling me that to keep the line moving they'd get the
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -8-
bayonets and kind of prod people and threaten them to keep the line moving.
That's something that I guess was constant.
Pe: It was.
PI: You were harassed along the way.
PI: You didn't let that get you down. Some people said that gave them more
incentive because they mistreated them so badly that they were going to show
the Japanese that they were tough and they were going to survive. When you
got to Camp O'Donnell, at the beginning there must have been something like
40,000 people there. They certainly couldn't take care of them. Was there any
medical care when you first got to O'Donnell?
Pe: No. We had doctors, but the Japanese wouldn't give them any medicine, no
medicine at all. You could go on sick call, but it wouldn't do you any good
because they did not have any medicine at all.
PI: I understand that because so many people had dysentery that the latrine was just
PI: You would just have to go five or six times a night. Did you get dysentery?
PI: Were you up all night having to go?
Pe: I was glad when they sent me out on the work field because that was a filthy
PI: In the situation at O'Donnell, there were germs everywhere. This was infecting
more and more people every day. I talked to another individual who had a
difficult job and his job was burial detail. Every day he'd have to come in and
take his comrades and take them out and bury them.
PI: I can't imagine every day when you'd get up in the morning there would be
another 250 who died during the night.
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PI: How did you deal with the death of your good comrades?
Pe: I tried not to let it bother me. I didn't dwell on any of that stuff. I'd make up my
mind on something else. That helped me get through there, too.
PI: He said he put on like a plate of metal armor. He just shut it all out. If he had to
deal with the horror he didn't think he could make it. He was burying dead
comrades all day long. That's all he was doing. If you let that get you you'd be
Pe: I didn't let it bother me.
PI: Once you got through with Camp O'Donnell, you went back to where you started,
to Clark Field.
Pe: To Clark Field, on the work detail.
PI: Let me ask you about O'Donnell. Where did you stay, what kind of facilities were
there, how much food did you get?
Pe: I didn't get very much food at all. There wasn't very many buildings there so
you'd just sleep right out there on the ground.
PI: What did they feed you when they did feed you?
PI: A cup a day or something like that?
Pe: About that much.
PI: You can't survive on that.
PI: If you had a specific problem, could you go to the Japanese and say, look, I've
got beriberi disease and can you take care of me?
Pe: No, they didn't care about that. You went to the American doctors.
PI: You had several of those?
PI: They didn't have any medicine, of course.
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Pe: No, but they'd try to get it. One doctor, I don't recall his name, but he went every
day to try to get medicine. They beat him up every day he came, too. They
finally gave up. He kept going back and they finally gave him what he wanted.
PI: I think most people would have given up after you'd gotten beaten up two or
Pe: They thought they'd break him from coming to ask for the medicine, but he kept
PI: That's part of what made people survive as well. He could overcome all that
horror and that torture. Did they actually torture people?
Pe: Yeah, but I never saw much of that because I was always away from some of it.
PI: I understand that the one thing that was important about Camp O'Donnell, you
didn't want anybody to notice you. You didn't want to be the first of the line, you
didn't want to be at the end of the line.
PI: You just wanted to be sort of anonymous so they wouldn't pick you out.
Pe: I got in between all that.
PI: You were very careful about what you did?
Pe: Yeah, stay away from the guards.
PI: They, as I understand, were pretty capricious. They would wave at you one time
and shoot you the next time.
Pe: Yeah, that's right.
PI: You had no way of guessing how they would do it. Were there any guards that
were sympathetic at all?
Pe: There were some, but if they got caught, they'd get it. When I was on the Clark
Field detail, this one young soldier, he was sympathetic. They caught him one
day talking with some of the prisoners. He wasn't amusing them at all. They
strapped a machine gun on his back and made him run till he fell on his face. I
never seen him any more. I don't know if they took him out of that camp or not.
PI: They might have killed him.
WWll-30, Pepper, Page-11-
Pe: They might have.
PI: Did you ever think about escaping from O'Donnell?
Pe: No, because I didn't know where to go.
PI: Also, I understand that they would say that if one person would escape, they
would kill five people or ten people for every one who escaped.
Pe: They put them in ten men squads. If one of them escaped, they shot the other
nine. In the building where you slept, if one escaped, they took four off the one
side and five off the other side and executed them.
PI: They were very prompt about doing that.
Pe: They did, yes.
PI: Did you see any of these executions? Were they public?
PI: But you knew they'd been killed.
PI: Now go to Clark Field and talk to me about the conditions there. Were the
conditions a lot better than at O'Donnell?
Pe: Oh, a lot better.
PI: How much food did you get there?
Pe: Very little, mostly rice.
PI: You had to work a full day?
PI: Where did you sleep?
Pe: At the old barracks.
PI: Were you back in the same barracks you'd been in there before?
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PI: How did you feel about helping the Japanese? You were improving the landing
fields for the Japanese military.
Pe: I did as little as I could. I didn't want to do anything that would help them instead
of the Americans coming back. I told them one time, after I got to Japan working
in the coal mine, that one of them, the civilians were over us in the mine. The
soldiers stayed in the topside. They wanted you to work fast. He grabbed my
shovel when I was shoveling coal one day and he said, that's the way he wanted
me to work. I said, every time I put a shovel of coal out, that keeps Uncle Sam
away that much longer. Boy, they got me.
PI: What did they do to you?
Pe: They beat me. I grabbed one of those Japs down there one time. He carried a
riding quirt with him all the time and when he came at me 'cause I would not
work, he let everyone else sit down and rest and he wanted me to keep working,
but I wouldn't do it. He came after me. When he raised it [the riding quirt] up
there, I grabbed him, both arms. Then he turned me into the guards outside.
They made me bend over and they used a pine pole on my back, and I mean
they beat me for ten or fifteen minutes. I couldn't very well get around for three
weeks, but I didn't let them beat me down. If they beat you down, they killed you.
PI: Let me go back to talking about that. Another individual said that they would
sometimes put people on a rack and stretch them, that they would make them
swallow salt water, and they would fill up their stomachs, and they would hit their
stomachs and keep doing that. Did you see any of that?
Pe: No, I didn't see any of that.
PI: But you heard about it?
Pe: Yes. There's a different bunch of guards in the different places there were.
PI: One of the worst things that this guy, Lester Tenney, wrote a book about this said
that they would take the bamboo and tie it around his testicles and let it dry,
because the bamboo would dry, and it would get tight. He said it was just like
being castrated. He said the pain was just horrible. They had no willingness to
give him any relief at all. They just dismissed it. I think, without knowing
specifically, if you demonstrated a certain toughness, they kind of respected that.
Pe: Yes, some of them did.
WWll-30, Pepper, Page -13-
Pl: One of the things they disliked about people who had surrendered is that they
were cowards. They didn't have any respect for them. If you survived and sort
of fought back, without going too far, obviously it was a thin line, you wouldn't
want to attack a soldier, I wouldn't imagine. A civilian you might get away with a
Pe: I didn't get away with that when I grabbed that civilian.
PI: What about when you were at this work detail? That lasted what, four months?
Pe: I think it was.
PI: Then you got beriberi and they sent you to the hospital.
Pe: Yeah, in Manila.
PI: Wasn't that kind of unusual that they would send you to get medical care?
Pe: Yeah, they usually didn't put up with it. Most of the time they'd kill them.
PI: Because they were no good to the Japanese, they couldn't work.
PI: Why do you think you got to go to a hospital?
Pe: I don't know. The way they'd been treating people, I didn't know if I'd make it
there or not.
PI: Did they give you pretty good medical care?
Pe: Pretty good, well, as much as they could. They had this one Navy doctor, he did
pretty good with the people if he could get the medication.
PI: The doctors were Allied doctors being held as prisoners, as opposed to
PI: Were there any nurses or staff people?
Pe: No, just doctors.
PI: These were all Allied prisoners?
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PI: When you got better, then they sent you to Cabanatuan prison camp?
PI: How did you get from the hospital to that camp?
Pe: I think it was on a truck. Or a train. Well, the train went up that way. I guess it
was on a train.
PI: That took what, a week or so?
Pe: No, it didn't take that long to get up from Manila to Cabanatuan, a couple of days
PI: What were the conditions like in that camp?
Pe: To start with, it was pretty good. Then it got worse. That was on a farm. They
had a farm there. Everybody worked on the farm that was able to work.
PI: What would you raise? What kind of crops?
Pe: They had sweet potatoes and tomatoes and beans and radishes, all that stuff.
PI: That's what you would eat, or it went to the Japanese?
Pe: Most of it went to the Japanese.
PI: You didn't get to see too much of it.
Pe: No. They'd better not even catch you eating any of it up on the farm while you
PI: You couldn't put any in your pocket?
PI: What was the medical care like at Cabanatuan?
Pe: I got no medical care. I don't know about the others. There wasn't anything.
PI: You were in, I guess in open barracks?
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PI: So you had a cot to sleep on?
Pe: Right on the bamboo.
PI: Just on the floor?
PI: You would have to work how many hours a day?
Pe: Eight to ten.
PI: So you worked from dawn to dusk, when you couldn't see anymore.
PI: How much food did you get there?
Pe: Very little.
PI: The same kind of thing?
PI: A bowl of rice a day.
Pe: Yeah. They did let people send out. If you had any money, you could buy stuff.
They'd send out. I don't know who went outside to bring stuff in, but they'd go
out and bring stuff in there. A lot of times I'd get peanuts.
PI: So you had some money?
Pe: Yeah, a little bit.
PI: Did you give that money to the guards?
Pe: No, I'd give it to the person who ordered the stuff that came in.
PI: They were American?
PI: There were British troops there as well?
Pe: Not where I was.
WVllI-30, Pepper, Page -16-
PI: They were all Americans?
PI: How many were there?
Pe: I don't know exactly. It must have been 2,000 or 3,000 at the time.
PI: That's sort of the general figure that I've read as well. If you had stayed there,
would you have survived the war?
Pe: I don't really know if I would have or not. I probably wouldn't because the way the
things were getting to be.
PI: They were getting worse?
Pe: Yeah, [they were] getting worse.
PI: What did you hear about the war itself? Did you know anything about how the
war was progressing?
Pe: I never heard anything.
PI: What was your long term view? Did you expect the Allies to win the war and that
they would come and rescue you?
Pe: Yeah, I always had good hope that they'd be coming.
PI: Although from where you were, you were in such an isolated spot, it could not
have been a very bright future at that point.
PI: At Cabanatuan, were the Japanese brutal, did they torture you, were they better
than they had been at Camp O'Donnell?
Pe: They were better than they had been, because they wanted you to work.
PI: You were not there when the allied rescue effort arrived at Cabanatuan?
Pe: No, I was in Japan.
PI: When did you leave Cabanatuan?
Pe: In July, 1943.
WWII-30, Pepper, Page -17-
PI: Did they tell you why?
Pe: No, they just said they'd take us to Japan to work up there.
PI: How many were with you?
Pe: 500 in the group I was in.
PI: They would put you back on the train and take you back to Manila?
PI: And get on a ship?
PI: I heard the ships were terrible.
Pe: They were. You'd get down in the hole there and you weren't supposed to get
out. It was awful down in there.
PI: There were no toilets?
PI: There was no fresh air?
PI: No water?
PI: No food?
PI: There were 500 people or more on these ships were just down there for what,
seven or eight days?
Pe: Yeah, July we left the Philippines and we got to Japan in August. It was two or
three weeks there.
PI: You were at sea the whole time?
WWVlI-30, Pepper, Page -18-
PI: There were examples, obviously not your case, that some Allied planes sank
some of those ships, attacked some of those ships, not knowing that American
prisoners were on board.
Pe: Yeah, that was later on in the war.
PI: That's right, 1943 would have been too soon for that.
PI: So you survived that trip without too much difficulty?
PI: How many would have died on board?
Pe: Not any of them died on this group I was in. We all of the 500 made it. It was
500 that was in the camp up there in Japan, Camp 17.
PI: At this point, how much did you weigh?
Pe: About 125, 130 pounds.
PI: What had you weighed when you went into the service?
Pe: 175 [pounds].
PI: You pretty much lost a third of your weight, or a quarter of your weight, hadn't
PI: Did that make you a lot weaker?
Pe: Oh yeah.
PI: You mentioned beriberi, did you have the dry beriberi or the wet beriberi?
Pe: I had both. The dry was the pains and the wet was just the swelling.
PI: Because of too much fluid, you retained all the fluid.
Pe: That was the wet beriberi. I had the dry in my feet.
WWll-30, Pepper, Page -19-
PI: I understand the pain is horrible.
Pe: Oh, it is.
PI: There's not much really you can do about it.
Pe: No. They tell me there's nothing [for the pain], and I still have it.
PI: You still have those recurring pains?
PI: When you got to Japan, what did you think at that point? You get to the ship,
now you're in Japan. Obviously your chance of rescue would have been a lot
better in the Philippines than in Japan. Did you think that you were going to be
Pe: We just didn't think about being rescued. We figured the war would have to be
over before [we would be rescued].
PI: Did you assume that you might be there for years and years?
PI: What was your job when you first got to, that would have been Camp 17?
Pe: Camp 17, down in the coal mine, shoveling coal up.
PI: Talk about that experience. You would go up in the beginning of the day and you
would literally mine coal in what I understand was a pretty unsafe environment.
Pe: It was a condemned coal mine. It was condemned in 1936 by American
engineers. They didn't care about it coming down on us or whatever happened.
PI: Now, at Camp 17 there would have been some other nationalities as well, there
would have been some Australians?
Pe: Yeah, we got some English and Dutch and some Australians came in later, about
1944, 1945. They weren't there the whole time we were there.
PI: You were there for what, a year and a half?
Pe: Two years.
PI: Somebody did a study and discovered that the Australians and the British
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -20-
survived these ordeals better than the Americans.
PI: Why do you think that was?
Pe: I don't really know.
PI: Is that true in your experience?
Pe: Yeah. Some of those Dutch men, they tried to pass themselves off as
Americans, but the Japanese knew different. They'd work them over good, too.
PI: When you worked, did you work in a group that had the same make-up all the
PI: So you had a group of how many people that would work in the mine?
Pe: I think there was about ten in my group.
PI: So the same group would work every day?
Pe: Every day.
PI: You were under civilian control while you were actually in the mines?
PI: I know from talking with other people that all that black coal dust really affected
Pe: Yeah, because you had no protection.
PI: You mentioned that you had incipient tuberculosis when you left?
PI: Do you think it was caused by your work in the mine?
Pe: I think so.
PI: Were you aware of that at the time?
Pe: I wasn't aware of it 'till I got back in the States.
WWll-30, Pepper, Page -21-
PI: Some people have argued that having to go to work every day, even in the coal
mines, you had physical exertion, that helped you survive.
PI: If you had to sit around all day, it would be better working on the farm, at least
you were out in fresh air and you could at least get some healthy exercise. This
is not in the coal mines, but on the farm.
PI: When you were working with the civilians, I understand that some of them could
be a little kind to the people, or less vicious than the guards?
Pe: Yes. They had to be watched. They couldn't let the guards know.
PI: So you had to make your arrangements with them.
PI: Did you ever try to trade for cigarettes or food or anything like that?
PI: Would you trade with civilians?
Pe: No, with other prisoners.
PI: You never tried to make a deal with the guards or with the civilians?
Pe: No. They gave us some old cigarettes, I don't know what they was made out of,
but I'd trade my cigarettes off for food, because I didn't smoke.
PI: The thing that amazes me, and I've talked to several people who were in exactly
the same camp you were, they said people would trade their food for these
cigarettes and literally were committing suicide because they weren't eating and
they were smoking.
PI: I guess the cigarettes somehow helped you get through the horrors of being a
prisoner. Did you have meals served to you? Did you have a cafeteria?
Pe: They had a mess hall.
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -22-
PI: There's a famous story at this mess hall, maybe not the one where you were, but
there was an American in charge of that who fed all of his buddies.
PI: Is that a true story?
Pe: Well, yeah.
PI: There must have been a lot of anger at him because he was showing favoritism
to his friends.
Pe: Oh yeah, he was a Lieutenant in the Navy. Little. His name was Little.
PI: Yes. So he would take the extra food and give it to his buddies and take it out of
the mouths of some of the other people who were not connected with him.
PI: I would imagine that would be something that everybody is probably still angry
about. One person mentioned that when they were finally liberated that they
were going after him.
Pe: Yeah. They couldn't find him though.
PI: That's right, he had already left. There were several people who apparently had
it in mind to get their revenge.
PI: Also in these places, there's always somebody who is into the black market, who
can trade cigarettes for food, or food for a blanket; they were just good
businessmen, I guess. Did you see a lot of that?
PI: Were you resentful of those kinds of people?
Pe: No, I didn't pay any attention to it.
PI: Some of them got pretty wealthy.
PI: Making life and death decisions, giving some people rice and selling it. Imagine
WWlII-30, Pepper, Page -23-
selling rice to people who would otherwise starve to death. That's pretty low,
Pe: Yeah, it is.
PI: Although the person getting the rice would be glad to see it.
PI: When you were working here, did you ever try [any] sabotage or try to destroy
Pe: Yeah. I used to sabotage the jackhammer.
PI: What would you do?
Pe: I'd pour sand in it.
PI: What would they say? They wouldn't know who did it.
Pe: They got me one time. They caught me doing it.
PI: What did they do?
Pe: They gave me a good beating.
PI: They wouldn't beat you so bad you couldn't work, but beat you enough that you
wouldn't do it again.
Pe: One time they beat me so bad I couldn't work.
PI: But they didn't have any desire to kill you at that point?
PI: Did you have a bento box? Do you remember bento boxes? Where you would
keep all your valuables you had?
Pe: No, I didn't have one.
PI: When you went to sleep at night, what did you dream about?
PI: Food. Always food?
WllII-30, Pepper, Page -24-
Pe: Always food.
PI: What kind of food?
Pe: Just anything. Big banquets where you'd have tables full of food.
PI: Fried chicken?
Pe: Yeah, everything.
PI: Did it make you sad?
PI: Did you dream of folks back home?
Pe: I never did.
PI: Always food.
Pe: Always food.
PI: No girls?
[End of Tape A, Side 1.]
PI: When you were in the mines, I'm aware of individuals who would literally break
their own bones to get out of work?
Pe: They would.
PI: Did you see some of that?
Pe: One boy tried to get me to break his arm and I wouldn't do it.
PI: Somebody would do it. I've heard of a case where they just put their arm down
and somebody took a big mallet and smashed their arm.
PI: That would get them out of the mines.
Pe: It would get them out of working a while.
PI: Eventually they'd have to come back.
WllII-30, Pepper, Page -25-
Pe: One of our own told the Japs what was happening. The Japs thought they were
accidents, but one of our own soldiers told the Japs that it was not accidents that
were doing it. When it got so much they told them, they said anybody who
comes in with a broken leg, we cut it off. [If you have] a broken arm, we cut it off.
That stopped it.
PI: I would think so. That's pretty desperate to have to do that.
PI: Did you ever even think about doing that?
PI: Do you think that as the war was winding down, you of course wouldn't know
this, but the Japanese would, did their attitude change at all?
PI: Even though at some point they knew they were probably going to lose the war?
PI: They never changed their attitude.
Pe: No. They didn't even tell us when they dropped the bomb.
PI: One person told me that from Camp 17 he could see the blast at Nagasaki, is
Pe: I was in the mine when it went off. When I came up to the top, the mushroom
cloud was floating by the camp. There's a mountain in between us and
Nagasaki. If there was any shock of anything, it went up when it hit that
PI: He said he could see that big mushroom cloud.
PI: Did you know what that was?
PI: You had no idea?
WllII-30, Pepper, Page -26-
PI: Nobody talked about it?
Pe: They didn't say nothing. Them Japanese went to the bottom of that mine after
they dropped the bombs.
PI: They figured that was the safest place.
PI: Ultimately, you would be liberated when and by whom?
Pe: The soldiers came in on September 13. The war was over on August 15. Then
we waited. This liberating party got in. I got sick and couldn't leave the camp.
They said if you go down to the end of the island you could catch a ride out on
the planes from the engineers bringing stuff in and going out empty. Some of
them did but I got sick and couldn't go. It was September 16 before I got out of
PI: How did you get out?
Pe: They put us on a train and went around Nagasaki and got on a boat in Nagasaki.
PI: Did you get to see the devastation of the bomb when you were in Nagasaki?
Pe: Yeah, I saw what it did.
PI: It must have been extraordinary.
PI: It's hard to imagine one bomb could do that kind of damage.
Pe: That's right.
PI: How did you feel about the dropping of the bombs. Do you think it was the right
thing to do?
Pe: I think it was, if it hadn't have been, I wouldn't be here.
PI: Every veteran I talked to thinks it was a good idea.
Pe: They had our execution date set for August 29 if there was an invasion.
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -27-
PI: They would have killed you.
Pe: All prisoners would have been executed if there had been an invasion.
PI: Had they told you that?
Pe: I didn't find that out till afterwards.
PI: What kind of illness did you have at the end?
Pe: I had TB and beriberi.
PI: Did they give you medical care when the Americans came in to liberate the
Pe: They didn't tell me it was TB then, but I got sick and the doctors kept going to the
Japs to get medication, and they gave him nine sulfur tablets. They said that's all
you're going to get. They said you can give this to him and he can live or die.
The sulfur tablets got me to where I could [travel]. I didn't find out I had TB until I
got on the ship when they x-rayed me.
PI: You got on a train from Nagasaki, where did they take you?
Pe: The train was from the town where the mine was, [it went] around to Nagasaki
and [I] got on a boat there. I got on a British boat and they took me down to
Okinawa and dropped me off.
PI: Then you were at an American hospital?
Pe: Yeah, [I was at] an American hospital from there on in. I island hopped to the
Philippines. I was in the Army hospital in the Philippines from September until
October. They forgot we were there. Everybody had left except a certain group.
The commander thought everyone had been sent back to the States. This one
boy, he took everybody's name and gave it to [the commander] and he said, "I
thought you'd already gone." They had a plane ready for us in another day or
two. We did island hopping all the way back.
PI: Where did you come in to, San Francisco?
Pe: San Francisco in the Letterman General Hospital.
PI: Then you stayed there how long?
Pe: I didn't stay there but a week or so. It wasn't a week. I don't think I stayed there
WWII-30, Pepper, Page -28-
a week and they sent me to Santa Fe, New Mexico in the Army hospital there.
PI: That was a TB center?
Pe: Yeah. I stayed there at Santa Fe about three or four months and then they sent
me to Swannanoa, North Carolina.
PI: Near Asheville?
Pe: Yeah. I was there until I was discharged.
PI: When was that?
Pe: 1946. I got my discharge. They mailed it to me. I was home on leave and they
mailed the discharge to me. December 25, 1946, that's my discharge date.
PI: You were in the hospital at Swannanoa for quite a while.
Pe: Thirteen months.
PI: All together, when you left Camp 17, it was almost a year and two months where
you were in hospitals.
Pe: I was in the hospitals, yes.
PI: You must have been pretty sick at the end there.
Pe: Yeah, [I had] TB.
PI: It's amazing that not only can you overcome being a prisoner of war, but all of
Pe: Malnutrition and all that stuff.
PI: How much did you weigh when they got you out?
Pe: [I weighed] 125 pounds.
PI: You maintained your weight pretty good through the end of it.
PI: Did you feel when you left the camp that you wanted revenge on the Japanese?
Pe: No, I didn't. I was just going to forget all about all of that stuff.
WVllII-30, Pepper, Page -29-
PI: Some people forgot it, some people wanted to get the guards and I guess
everybody had a different reaction.
Pe: I made up my mind to forget everything I could because I didn't want it to run me
PI: That's what it'll do.
PI: Did you have nightmares?
Pe: Oh yeah, for years I had them.
PI: How did you deal with them?
Pe: I just passed them on.
PI: Have you had any other physical ailments that have restricted you over the years
that you developed in the war?
Pe: Now I have atherosclerotic heart disease.
PI: That came from working in the mines you think?
Pe: Yeah. [I have] arthritis and chronic anxiety.
PI: Have you had that for a long time?
PI: I can't imagine you not having that. When you first got back to the United States,
what was your reaction? The first time you set foot on American soil?
Pe: I was just glad to be there.
PI: What's the first thing you wanted to eat?
Pe: They fed us too much.
PI: Your body was not prepared for it.
Pe: No. On the way back, every time the plane landed we'd go in the mess hall and
eat. Then the next place we landed we'd go in the mess hall and eat. All the
way back to Letterman General, and that's the first thing, we'd go and eat.
WWII-30, Pepper, Page -30-
Pl: Of course, that food must have looked absolutely wonderful to you.
Pe: Yes, but it was too much at one time. Instead of limiting you to what you had,
they let you have all you wanted.
PI: Your body couldn't absorb that much.
Pe: No. I had problems all the time.
PI: Your digestion and all of that would be messed up for some time I would guess.
PI: Some guy told me the first thing he wanted was a glass of milk.
PI: Maybe cause that's the thing that was most unlikely for him to actually get.
Everybody in the back of their mind had an image of what they wanted to do
when they got out. What was your family situation at that time? Where was your
Pe: [They were] in Georgia.
PI: Did you have brothers and sisters?
Pe: Yeah, I had two brothers. Both of them were in the service. I had six sisters.
PI: Your brothers were back by then? Back from the service?
PI: You eventually got to go back and see your parents and your family?
PI: That would have been December, 1946 when you went on leave?
Pe: Well, I went back to Santa Fe and from there I got a pass to go home and I went
home on leave from Santa Fe in early 1946. I went back to the hospital and
that's when they sent me to Swannanoa.
PI: Which was pretty close to where you needed to be, right.
WWll-30, Pepper, Page -31-
PI: When you were getting through your service, did you get all your back pay? Did
you get your sick pay?
PI: How much was that, do you remember?
Pe: It was about $5,000 I think.
PI: What did you do with it?
Pe: I put it in the bank. I bought me an automobile when they would let you.
PI: You couldn't get one right away.
Pe: No. I got a 1950 Chevrolet, that's what I got.
PI: I remember those 1950 Chevrolets, they had those little curves in the back?
PI: What about your life from 1946 on? What did you do with the rest of your life?
Pe: When I was able, I went to work with the Carolina Tree Service and worked with
them. I'd worked with the Davey Tree Company before WWII, and a friend of
mine moved to Lake City. He wanted me to come down and start our own
business. That didn't go over. We couldn't even get started. We couldn't even
get insurance to cover it. One fellow said, if you join the Lions Club we'll see that
you get in business. That didn't set good with me, so I went to work with the VA.
I worked at the VA for twenty-nine years.
PI: Did you feel at the end of the war that you were part of what Tom Brokaw called
"The Greatest Generation?"
Pe: I didn't even think about it.
PI: You just went back and you went to work. You obviously got married and had a
PI: How many children do you have?
Pe: I have five children, twelve grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -32-
PI: That's pretty good. It increases exponentially. Do you have regrets about your
service at all?
PI: Are you glad you had fought?
PI: Would you have changed anything?
Pe: No, I wouldn't.
PI: Do you have regrets about the loss of comrades and friends?
Pe: Oh yeah.
PI: Some people will tell me that the thing that most affected them was the loss of
their buddies, and the people they were with in the military environment. You
need them for survival, and when you lose them it's very difficult emotionally.
Pe: On this reunion in Fontana this past August, myself and one other boy was in my
company. That's all that was there in my company. The three of us had worked
in the same coal mine in Japan.
PI: This reunion, which was what, last year?
Pe: August 28.
PI: There were only twelve people?
PI: How many survivors of the Bataan Death March are still alive, do you have any
Pe: I don't think there are more than 1,000.
PI: There would have been how many who finally survived, out of the 20,000 who
started, how many would have survived that ordeal all the way through the end of
Pe: I think it's 5,000.
PI: That's out of 20,000. That's not a lot.
WWllII-30, Pepper, Page -33-
PI: How would you say the war impacted your life? Did it change how you thought
about the world, did it change your values, did it change anything?
Pe: No, it didn't at the time.
PI: When you look back on it, is it the most important experience of your life?
Pe: Yes. I don't want it again.
PI: Everybody I talked to said I'm glad I did it one time, but I don't [want to do it
PI: As you look back on all this, I want to ask you one more time, I know this is a
difficult question. [Out of] 20,000, only 5,000 survived. What do you think it was
that made those 5,000 survive? Some of it was just pure luck. You've got the
wrong guard or you got sick at the wrong time or you got a job and got out of
Camp O'Donnell. There has to be some other personal quality.
Pe: You have to have the determination to survive.
PI: You never got discouraged?
Pe: No, I kept waiting, hoping they'd be here one day.
PI: Do you think in the long run that's a characteristic you'd always had?
PI: Would your brothers be the same way?
Pe: I don't know.
PI: Is it sort of a family thing, is it cultural, is it individual?
PI: It's interesting to me that the Brits and the Australians would have survived more
than Americans. I wonder why that's the case.
Pe: I don't really know.
WllII-30, Pepper, Page -34-
PI: It's interesting. Are there any other stories that you'd like to talk about for the
record, anything that we didn't cover?
Pe: I can't think right now of anything.
PI: Any amusing experiences ever take place? I can't imagine. Somebody
mentioned at one point at Camp 17 there was some entertainment that local
troops would put on a show.
PI: Did you see any of those or participate in any of those?
Pe: I didn't participate.
PI: I suspect any diversion would have been good.
PI: Anything else you'd like to say about the experience?
Pe: I can't recall.
PI: On that note, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
[End of Interview.]