Paul J. Cascio Jr., Prisoner of War, June 1943–September 1945

Baltimore, MD

We left Jackson Field on June 1, 1943, for an armed reconnaissance mission over New Britain. My job was to send a weather report every hour on the half-hour. I was sitting by my radio coding up my weather report when I heard the machine guns firing; before I could get out of my seat we were hit. I later learned that there were approximately a dozen fighters, and the third one was making a pass at us and hit us in our gas tank. I looked out my window and saw the wing burning. Flames were going back beyond the plane. Lt. Naumann released the fluid to extinguish the flames and for a moment it appeared that the fire had been put out. After a few seconds the flames were very bad. Orders were given to abandon the plane. My chute was draped over the seat in the radio compartment. I only had to slip my arms through and pull it up over my shoulders and buckle it. Lt. Naumann opened the bombay doors and ejected the five bombs and the extra tank we were carrying. Although I feared jumping out of the plane and for a split second thought of riding the plane down, I made my way to the bombay and put one foot on the catwalk and one foot on the radio compartment to prepare myself to jump. Facing me was Sgt. Fox in the exact position I was in. At that moment the plane seemed to be climbing. Neither one of us could move because of the pressure. My eyes became glued to the fire through the window in the radio compartment. The last thing I saw was the wing crumbling away, and there was a loud explosion. I have no idea how, but I was thrown clear and Sgt. Fox was thrown in the one section of the plane that was burning. I found myself in the air and could see pieces of the plane going in all directions. It seemed like I was sitting still and everything was falling away from me. I knew that if I opened my chute they would immediately try to strafe me so I hesitated briefly. I pulled the cord and after the chute opened I went into a layer of clouds. As I came out of the clouds I could see the jungle directly below me. I hung up in a tree and as I was hanging there I could see a fighter plane, with guns firing, heading directly toward me. I pulled hard on my straps and fell through the rest of the tree to the ground and sprained my foot from the fall. I found out later that Lt. Naumann, who had jumped out after the explosion, was still coming down and it was he that the fighter plane was shooting at.
Now I began to feel frightened simply because I did not know where I was at and did not know if there were any other survivors. I was frightened at the thought that I could be the only survivor. Since I did not know where I was, I felt frightened and distrustful of the natives. I found a good place to hide and stayed there the rest of the day and all night. The next morning I started out but not being sure where I was, I stayed away from all paths. All I had with me was a pack of gum. It rained a lot so I was able to get water off the large leaves. I walked all day through the heavy brush and I came to a small clearing and came upon two members of my crew, Lt. Lewis (navigator) and Lt. Alvin (bombardier). Lt. Lewis had both legs blown off and all his clothing. Lt. Alvin, although having all his clothing on, did not have a chute on and his head was buried in the ground and his body was crumbled around it. I continued on for two more days and never saw anyone else or any part of the plane. On the fourth day I realized that my only chance of survival would be with the natives. I followed the next path I came to. After an hour or so I came to a deserted hut so I continued on for a little while longer until I came to another hut. I yelled hello and a dog started barking and a child started crying. A native came running toward me from a field. He ran up to me, stopped and smiled. He took me into the hut and gave me some food which was some kind of tasteless root. I dried my clothes by the fire. Somehow he made me understand that he was going to take me somewhere else to sleep. We started out and walked for a while and came across several more huts. In one of the huts was a parachute hanging. I repeatedly asked them where did it come from and one of them muttered what I was sure was Naumann. I made them understand that I wanted to go where Naumann was. We started out again and after a while we came upon a few huts, and there I was happy to find Lt. Naumann, Sgt. Fox and Private Green. Sgt. Fox was burned very badly on his arms and legs and across his forehead. Private Green had two small chunks torn from his knee and because of the lack of available medication was in a lot of pain. Lt. Naumann and I were in pretty good shape. Lt. Naumann had exhausted all medication he had recovered from the plane. He had seen the same two bodies I had seen and three bodies that were in the fuselage of the plane. They were Devoss, Bukalsky and Smith. They were all killed instantly. Lt. Gardner could not be accounted for. His remains were recovered 48 years later.
We spent the fourth and fifth day with the natives. The night of the fifth day the natives entertained us, which I do not remember much about. On the fifth day a native arrived who could speak a little English. We talked about going to the coast where we could possibly get some medical treatment for the wounded and better food for all of us. Sgt. Fox repeatedly asked for a gun so he could kill himself. Private Green was also in a lot of pain. We felt if they could get some medical attention they could possibly survive.
On the sixth day we started out early and walked approximately eight hours. The natives carried Fox and Green in makeshift stretchers. I was limping a little but could manage. We reached the coast and arrived in a village. The natives walked us to the middle of a compound and put the stretchers down. I could see that the natives were swiftly backing away from us. Suddenly, there was screaming and running and we were surrounded by a Japanese patrol. Each of us including the wounded men had a bayonet placed against our bodies. Lt. Naumann and I each had a .45 in our shoulder holster. They were taken away from us and our hands tied behind our backs. We were put into a canoe and taken down the river until dusk. We were then taken ashore and kept there until morning where we were put back in canoes and taken to an outpost. There were a small group of Japanese there and their purpose was to spot planes and radio onto Rabaul. The homes there were elevated, so we were tied to posts underneath them. I was tied too tight and my right hand was starting to swell up. I was trying to tell the Japanese guard that I was tied too tight and he hit me for speaking. Lt. Naumann was repeatedly hit for speaking, he kept saying, "you're going to kill us anyway so why don't you get it over with." I said to him "please keep quiet so they will stop hitting you" and I was struck for speaking. So I immediately made up my mind to keep quiet. When we were untied to eat they could see that my hand was swollen very badly and the Japanese officer who commanded this group said he was sorry and that they would put handcuffs on me from then on.
On approximately the 13th of June, Sgt. Fox and Private Green were taken away. We were told that they were being taken to a hospital in Gasmato. I never saw them again. Around the 21st of June, Lt. Naumann and I were put in a power boat and began our trip to Rabaul. We only traveled at night and arrived in Rabaul early the 23rd of June. After leaving the outpost we were kept tied and blindfolded. I was very surprised that we were being kept alive. I was beginning to believe that they were going to make an exhibition of killing us. Of course, I was very frightened and prayed repeatedly that I could show them that I was not afraid. We were taken off the boat and I could feel a guard holding me as we were walking. We stopped walking; I could no longer feel the guard holding me. I visualized that I was lined up for execution. I could hear screaming and running and could only think that they were charging me with a bayonet. Later I learned that we had arrived while they were doing their morning exercises.
We were taken to a house before a Japanese officer, who began to interrogate us. His questions were directed at Lt. Naumann, who repeatedly said he could only give his name, rank and serial number. Finally, the officer said that we were to be executed the next morning. Lt. Naumann asked why and he said that we were spies. Lt. Naumann said that we were not spies, that we were American soldiers. We were then taken and put under a house. I could faintly see women and children through my blindfold in the daylight walking and some would throw stones at us. We were hit a few times but nothing serious. I don't recall how long we were there, but we were taken from there to another camp where there were other American prisoners and what I believe were internees.
After a few days I began becoming ill with malaria. The rice we were given to eat was recovered when they captured the island, and it was infested with bugs. I would not eat it, and I didn't eat for 10 days. I would only drink water. I had lost all interest in living. Constantly I prayed to die, (I suppose I was looking for an easy way out.) I was becoming weaker and weaker. Lt. Naumann was trying to do everything possible to get me to eat. They were begging the Japanese to give me something decent to eat. I could not stand very long without collapsing. Finally the Japanese sent over some clean food. However, I had now reached the point where I could not eat anything solid. Again Lt. Naumann was repeatedly cursing and yelling for me to eat. I may have taken a bite or two but that was all.
On July 14, Sgt. J.E. Etheridge and Sgt. Clarence Surrett and I were taken from this camp which was very crowded, and put on a small boat and left Rabaul. When they brought food to us here it was a bowl of soup and a bowl of rice. If I mixed the soup with the rice I could eat it until I had no more soup left. A Japanese officer came around and was speaking to us and told us that we were being taken to Truk Island and eventually would go on to Japan. We were only untied to eat. I asked this Japanese officer if I could have more soup and less rice and the next meal I was given more soup and a bowl of rice. I would keep mixing it until the soup was gone. My stomach could not withstand the food any longer and I began to throw up and have diarrhea.
On July 15, we were attacked by an American bomber and although we were on deck, we could not see anything. I could hear bombs explode when they hit the water and the plane soon was gone.
Day by day I was eating a little bit of food at every meal and starting to gain a little bit of strength. We arrived at Truk Island on July 17. We were blindfolded and taken ashore and put into a cell. Later I was taken somewhere and interrogated. I was still very weak and could not stand very long and repeatedly told them so. I was told that I was lying but still I was taken back to my cell. The next morning they came and got me and took me to an area where there was a long table and a lot of Japanese officers. I told them I could not answer any questions and I was too ill and weak. Sweat would roll down my face as I stood there and I would bob and weave. They could easily see that I was not well and again I was taken back to my cell.
After two days, I was blindfolded and tied and taken away. I don't recall how but I knew Etheridge and Surett were there (probably because I could faintly see through by blindfold in daylight). We were put into a small boat and taken out into the bay. I could see ships everywhere. We were taken off the small boat and put onto a large ship. I was very happy to be leaving there. I was beginning to believe that if I arrived in Japan I would have some chance of surviving. After boarding this large vessel we were led down a lot of steps to a hold. They opened the door and I was shoved in and fell down to the floor. I could hear the door was closed and locked behind me. I didn't lie there very long when I heard the door open. I was then untied and the blindfold removed and was given an examination. During the examination, I was asked in broken English, where does it hurt and I would tell him where it would hurt me. After the examination I was tied and blindfolded and taken back off the ship. If I had known I would be taken off the ship I would have told them that I felt fine. They then took me back to Truk Island to a hospital for a complete examination. Here again they asked a lot of questions of where I hurt and if I was constipated and so on. After the exam I was taken back to my cell.
My malaria attacks were frequent now, ever since they had started in Rabaul. In the beginning I was given two pills and a powder three times a day. It was the 21st when they began these treatments. On the 27th I was again blindfolded and tied and taken to the bay and I was put on a Japanese destroyer. I was on this destroyer for 10 days and continued to get treatment. As far as I know I was the only prisoner on this destroyer. My malaria attacks were getting less frequent and they were cutting down on the medication day by day until my attacks stopped. I was eating regularly now and gaining back my strength.
We arrived in Yokohama late in the day and I was taken to a jail there. The next morning I was taken to a prison camp about seven miles outside Yokohama, which I knew only as of Ofuna. Here there were quite a few American prisoners. All prisoners here were flyers and Navy personnel captured by the Japanese navy. There were a lot of officers and a few were commanders of ships. Commander Hurt was a ranking officer and he spoke to me first. He said that they would interrogate me and to not refuse to answer. "Just make anything up", he said, and that was truly all I could do for I did not know anything.
We were forced to run around the compound every morning for about an hour. I had regained my strength and being very young it was not difficult for me. However, some of the officers were considerably older and could not keep up with the running. They were hit with a club and forced to keep running and those who could not were forced into uncomfortable positions for long periods of time.
I was interrogated one time at this camp. The treatment at this camp was very poor and the food was not enough. I fared better on the food than some because I did not eat very much.
On Christmas Day 1943, we were allowed to have a little service. During this service I had a malaria attack. After having a few attacks, I was given some pills (quinine) from an Australian Lt. Cmdr. Pelgrave E. Carr. After taking these pills I never again in my life had another malaria attack.
There were several Australians in this camp. I stayed there through March 14, 1944. On March 15, a group of us were removed to a work camp under the direction of the Japanese army. A place I only knew as Ashio. I believe it was approximately 65 miles north of Tokyo. There were approximately 250 men at this camp. We were divided into two groups. Some worked in the mines and some in the smelter. Of course, some worked in the camp as cooks, etc. I worked in the smelter. This was a mine and smelter that had been shut down and they needed copper so it was reopened to get what little copper they could get. The work in the smelter was very dirty and we would go to a community bath once a week.
On June 7, 1945, we were transferred from camp 8D and arrived at a new camp which was also Ashio. Our treatment in these camps was very poor and our bedding was infested with lice or fleas, depending on the season. Some of the men would steal food and if they were caught they would be punished. I can remember one fellow who had caught a snake to eat and while cooking it was caught. He was made to stand at attention for hours with his hands stretched out in front of him. If he lowered his hands he would be hit with a stick.
My biggest problem was cigarettes. There were times I would sell one of my meals for a cigarette. I could only do this when cigarettes were available. We were issued two cigarettes a day but this did not always happen. We received approximately 20 parcels of Red Cross supplies. These parcels were issued once each week. This went on for approximately four months. During the remaining months of my stay there, there were no more parcels.
In the camp there was an interpreter who came to us and said that the Americans had dropped atomic bombs. We found that so hard to believe. At that point we were beginning to feel that maybe the war was finally coming to an end. Our commanding officer was told by the Japanese camp commander that if a third bomb was dropped that orders were to kill all prisoners.
Around Aug. 20, 1945, they stopped taking us to work. On Aug. 27, two American planes flew over our camp and dropped cigarettes, soaps, magazines and many other articles. Again on Aug. 29, we were dropped K rations and more cigarettes, clothing and many more items and again on Aug. 30, along with notes that it would not be long.
On Sept. 4, 1945, we were put on a train and taken to Tokyo where American troops were waiting for us. My body weight was approximately 100 pounds. They had Red Cross booths set up with an abundance of food and we could help ourselves to anything there.
We spent the next month and a half in hospitals in Okinawa, Philippines, San Francisco and Virginia. I arrived home on Oct. 27, 1945.

« Previous story
Next story »