Daniel Crowley often repeats two words as he recounts his experience as a prisoner of war being shipped from the Philippines to Japan in 1944: nightmare and lucky.
“The hellships were nightmarish,” said the 96-year-old. As the Allies prepared to retake the Philippines after more than three years of Japanese occupation, POWs were marched to ports to be shipped to the Japanese mainland. Hundreds of men would be crammed together in the deepest bowels of the ships in sweltering heat and little or no ventilation.
“They would prod you in the ass with their bayonets and force you down into the deepest ‘dragoons’ until they packed human beings so tightly that you couldn’t turn around, sit down, lie down,” Crowley said. “You just sat in the [feces]. It’s beyond your worst nightmare.”
The guards’ “idea of a humane gesture,” he said, was to let a few men each day carry buckets of feces and urine to the top deck and dump it over the side of the Taikoku Maru. “And throw dead bodies over the side,” he said. “They definitely allowed that every day.”
“But actually, I was lucky,” Crowley said, noting that the ship made it to Japan intact in a relatively fast 17 days. Other hellships took many more weeks and were frequently targets of Allied submarines and carrier aircraft because they were not marked as carrying POWs.