Earl Martin Szwabo, a veteran of the Battle of Corregidor, passed peacefully on Saturday, August 15, 2015 at the age of 90. His wife of 69 years, Mary Elizabeth, died in June.
Szwabo joined the U.S. Army at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri in September 1941. He was sent immediately to the Philippines aboard the USAT Willard Holbrook arriving in late October. His basic training took place directly on the fortress island of Corregidor in Manila Bay with the 59th Coast Artillery Regiment, 1st Battalion C Battery (Wheeler).
|12" DC Gun|
From the start of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines on December 8, 1941 to Corregidor's surrender on May 6, 1942, Szwabo fought nonstop to defend the island. After surrender, most of the 7,000 Americans on Corregidor were crowded into a small open area, Garage to wait in the tropical sun for a week prior to going by boat to Manila.
They were then made to wade ashore before being paraded through the streets on a Victory March" display of POWs to Bilibid Prison. After a short stay at Bilibid, he was packed into a freight car and sent to Cabanatuan where 30-50 men a day died from disease, starvation, and torture. On August 1, 1942, he and 346 men were sent to the island of Palawan, over 300 miles southwest of Manila on the edge of the Sulu Sea.
Through all this, Private First Class Earl M Szwabo was only 17.
|Palawan Massacre Grave|
Sometime in the early summer of 1944, Szwabo was returned to Manila. He was among a lucky 150 who were not present for the infamous December 14th Palawan Massacre. Fearing an American invasion, the Kempeitai-led Japanese troops on that day herded the remaining Americans into "air raid shelters," drenched them with gasoline, and tossed in matches. Grenades and machine gun fire followed. Somehow 11 men were able to escape and to preserve this history.
Tears always came to Mr. Szwabo when he remembered his friends who died that day.
The ship ended its journey on September 1, 1944 as so many other POW Hellships in Moji. On September 4, Pvt Szwabo turned 20 at Nagoya #5-B Yokkaichi a POW camp supplying labor to a copper foundry and sulphuric acid factory owned by Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha in Nagoya, a port city south of Tokyo. He remembers melting down church and temple bells Japanese troops had looted from all over Asia.
|Book on Nagoya #5-B|
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On the afternoon of September 4th, the men were put aboard a train in Nagoya to Hamamatsu. They were then taken by landing craft to the U.S.S. “The Rescue” (a hospital ship). From there Szwabo was flown to recuperate in Manila and soon returned to the United States for recovery and treatment. He remained hospitalized for several months as doctors helped him regain his health after 42 months of near starvation, deplorable living conditions, and abuse in Japan.
Szwabo said his trip to Japan gave him peace.
"I figure I was lucky," he said. "A lot of POWs didn't make it back."
Accepting an apology, however, doesn't mean that the horrors should be forgotten, as Mr. Szwabo told the St. Louis Beacon:
A POW will never forget. I dream still of different things, and think about it," he said. "I lost my outfit on Palawan when they burned 150 alive there. I was lucky that I got shipped out. I guess God was on my side. And I know why I was picked; I was in better shape than the older guys, and the Japanese took the ones who looked the best physically, so they could work us to death. The bad part is you can't forget it.