An American Soldier’s Courage and Faith in Japanese Captivity
From Fort Worth to Corregidor
Joseph Quintero had no thought of fighting a war, much less becoming a hero, when he joined the Army in 1941. His initial motivation was to get a better job: one that paid $21 a month and included free meals and a place to sleep.
The struggle to get ahead had dominated his life. His parents, Faustino and Lorenza Quintero, had fled their hometown of Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1914 to get married and build a new life in the United States. Faustino found work on a track-laying crew with the Texas and Pacific Railway Company in Fort Worth, Texas, but had trouble providing for a family of nine children in an improvised home fashioned from three railroad caboose cars.
Joseph, as the second oldest, helped put food on the table from earliest childhood by doing odd jobs at a nearby farm. At age 13 he began working full-time herding cows at 25 cents a day. Joseph had been very close to his mother, Lorenza, who kept her nine children together in their makeshift home in a converted caboose in Fort Worth while their father worked long hours.
When Joseph was in his teens, Lorenza became seriously ill and left the family to seek medical care with her family in Mexico, where she died at age 36. Joseph took on more responsibility to care for his younger brothers and sisters after his mother passed away.
By 1941 he was working at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Worth. Joseph started cleaning windows and quickly gained a reputation as a hard worker. He worked his way up to become an elevator operator, a janitor and eventually a jack-of-all-trades assisting ambulance crews, the mortician and even the cook.
Joseph and his friend, John Adams, visited the recruiting office and learned of the benefits of military life. Joseph and several buddies returned later and decided to enlist. They were turned down for the Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Corps. Joseph and his friends then visited the Army recruiter. Joseph was 22 but, at 112 pounds, was underweight and failed to pass the physical.
Joseph took this as a challenge. He started eating high-carbohydrate food, including bunches of bananas, until he gained a little weight. He also started running and exercising. When he and his buddies went back to the recruiting office, Joseph demonstrated that he could run up and down stairs and that his weight had gone up a little. Joseph’s friends told the recruiter that if Joseph were not allowed to enlist that they would all take a walk. After the recruiter had a lengthy discussion with his commanding officer, the recruiter accepted them all.
Joseph and his friends enlisted 29 January 1941, and reported to the induction center in Fort Worth to test for job assignments. Joseph was elated when he passed a final physical fitness exam and met all requirements to become a soldier in the United States Army. He was so excited that he shouted “I am now an American soldier.” Joseph remembered:
After the oath they shook our hands and said congratulations, you are now in the United States Army. I thought I was just getting a government job. Then they said “come back here at 1 p.m., we are leaving here.” So the sergeant took us across the street to a nice restaurant where I had eggs and hot chocolate and toast. Boy, I thought, they sure feed us good. I want to stay in this job.
After he said goodbye to his father, brothers and sisters, Joseph reported to the train station. Unlike those who enlisted later in the war, Joseph did not attend basic military training but instead boarded a train at Fort Worth with other new recruits and headed for the West Coast to be assigned to a unit. A train ride this long was a new experience for Joseph.
We rode the rest of the day and all night. And the next day it hit me and I got very sad. I didn’t let anybody see me. The other men were playing cards and dice. I was just watching because I had never seen card games or dice games.
After a stop at El Paso, the train continued on to California.
I was the only Mexican in the group. I found out later the other guys were from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. They were southern boys, huge, strong boys like football players. I was the smallest one and the only Mejicano, so they called me Pancho and every time the train stopped for some time I would try and get them some wine and whiskey. They trusted me and I was their errand boy. One of them particularly took care of me and said: “You are my amigo. Stick with me and I will see that no one bothers you.” He was nice to me and I sort of got acquainted with him. He treated me more like a small brother.
When he first saw the Pacific Ocean, Joseph thought it was the biggest lake he had ever seen. His first stop was Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, where the recruits were issued uniforms and equipment. There he received his first military training: close order drill to teach the new recruits the difference between their right and left feet. Joseph quickly learned the difference after his drill sergeant shouted in his ear: “Don’t you get it? This is your right, this is your left!” He never knew anyone could speak with such a commanding and demanding voice. At night he lay in his bunk thinking about the day’s activity while pointing at his toes, “this is my right, this is my left, what in the world did I get myself into.” A few days and many hours of drill later, the recruits were assembled and told they would soon depart for the South Pacific.
The transport ship USS Republic (AP-33) was Joseph’s home for the next two weeks. Originally a passenger liner, the aging ship had been used as a troop transport in World War I and was again pressed into government service in the 1930s. Joseph had never seen such a big ship. It took two days to board all the equipment and assign the troops to their new quarters. The first morning out at sea the breeze began to blow, and at times like this Joseph would block out the constant machine noise of the ship’s engines and gaze out at the ocean. In one of his letters home he wrote: “staring out, I see nothing but sea. It’s like living way out in the flats of West Texas on a ranch where your closest neighbor lives maybe fifty miles away.”
The Republic made a refueling stop at Pearl Harbor and took on provisions. The troops were not allowed off the ship and spent the one-day stop on work details loading provisions for the rest of the voyage. “I was glad that we got underway again,” Joseph recalled. “I was not feeling very well and reported to sick bay.”
Joseph was examined by a military doctor and was diagnosed as having a case of the mumps. “What a bummer,” he said to himself. “Here I am at the prime of my life, on a voyage of a lifetime and now I have the mumps.” The Republic arrived in Manila 22 April 1941, and Joseph was admitted to a hospital and remained there for 12 days. Once he was cleared for duty he rejoined his unit, which was now stationed on the island of Corregidor.
Corregidor was the largest of four fortified islands that guarded the entrance to Manila Bay. Sometimes known as the “Gibraltar of the East,” the island had an extensive network of tunnels, underground facilities and defensive positions.
Joseph found his unit, the 60th Coast Artillery, living in tents. He was assigned to Battery H (Hartford), a 37mm air defense battery. Because he was one of the smallest men in the unit, he was given the job of relaying orders as a flash radio operator instead of the heavier work of handling the antiaircraft guns. His new boss was another Fort Worth native, Sergeant Edward A. Grounds, chief of the communications section.
Joseph’s hospital stay had put him behind in training, and he had to start from scratch to learn the mission of the battery and his own duties. He was issued a Springfield rifle and reported to the rifle range in order to learn how to aim and shoot a weapon that was almost as tall as he was. His first shot was a frightening experience: The rifle kicked him hard in the shoulder and the muzzle blast made his ears ring for a few moments. No harm was done, the range instructor told him: He had completely missed the target and the bullet was on its way to the moon. After several days at the firing range he became proficient and was satisfied that he could at least hit the outer edges of the target.
Later he learned to fire a 50-caliber machine gun. “It jumped in all directions, up down right and left,” Joseph remembered. “It reminded me of learning to march; right-left or was it left-right.” He also learned to toss a hand grenade and spent long hours practicing self-defense using a rifle with an attached bayonet. “Training days were fun,” he said. “Learning new methods of self defense made me aware of the importance of being prepared for whatever may be in my future. It instilled in me a sense of pride to belong to the fine soldiers of Hartford Battery.”
The routine of the peacetime Army was much the same from one day to the next with a posted training schedule outlining each day’s activities. Joseph described it this way:
A typical day started with early morning formation and roll call. Because of the heat most of our days work was done in the early part of the day and consisted of more close order drills, marching in formation, and some physical training. I was actually getting to like the close order drills now that I knew the difference between my left and right foot. Once in a while I would screw up but this usually went unnoticed because we were in ranks according to our height and, being rather short, I usually wound-up in the rear of the formation. Most of us new soldiers were young and we quickly learned to tolerate the training schedule as well as the heat of the day and the warm and humid nights.
Joseph remembered Corregidor as a busy place. The island was shaped like a teardrop or tadpole. Its topography varied from a high point called Topside, where barracks had been built and many different types of fortifications existed. Joseph’s unit was partly housed in the barracks while the rest were housed in an area known as Middle Side.
Bottom Side contained two docks, one on the north side and another on the south side, where barges to and from the Philippine main island of Luzon docked and ships delivered provisions to Corregidor. Bottom Side also included the barrio of San Jose, where about six hundred Filipinos lived who worked for the U.S. Army in the island’s shops and warehouses. The area also contained water storage tanks, a power plant, coal basin and cold storage units.1
To the east of Bottom Side was Malinta Hill, which contained an elaborate network of tunnels. Originally the tunnels were designed to store supplies, equipment, and ammunition for Harbor Defense Force. Later this reinforced steel-and-concrete tunnel complex would become the headquarters for Corregidor’s defense.
Joseph’s battery commander told the troops that part of the tunnel complex had been built to house senior civilian and military officials of the Philippines with secure operational facilities for Military Advisor General Douglas MacArthur, Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, U.S. High Commissioner Francis B. Sayre, and their families and staffs. The same facility would protect the “purple machine,” a designation given by U.S. crypto-analysts to the cipher machine used by the Japanese Foreign Office for secure communication before and during World War II. Analogs of the purple machine were used by the Allies to decrypt Japanese highly classified messages.
Everything about Corregidor was new to Joseph:
There was always much activity at Bottom Side; soldiers were always either coming to or leaving the island to enjoy the city life in Manila. One thing that made this fortress attractive was its greenery: the many different types of plants and flowers that were everywhere, many of the small trees had fruit hanging from the branches. After residing in the Fort Worth area, where we had nothing but small shrubs and cactus plants, I compared my new surroundings to a green heaven.
Some days we were taken to an area called 92nd Garage, an old seaplane base with two very large hangars used as maintenance and storage areas. The large floor space was concrete, on the edges of the floor space eight-man tents lined the area, when we trained in this area we were required to stay in the tents. The concrete pads plus the tents attracted the heat and made for very hot training. This is where we learned about close-up engagement training and bayonet drills.
Once we completed this required training a new group was formed called the 59th Coast Artillery but I remained in the 60th. I felt very lucky to be assigned to the 60th because our commanding officer was Captain Warren A. Starr, an officer who was very highly respected for his leadership abilities, military bearing and his soldier caring attitude.
Twenty-two-hundred soldiers had come over on the Republic. Those who came to Corregidor made up the two new batteries and noncommissioned officers from the other batteries were assigned to build up the new units. I met several noncommissioned officers from the 200th Coast Artillery, a National Guard unit from New Mexico that was deployed in the Fort Stotesenburg area north of Manila. I was very impressed with these fine soldiers because they had the knowledge and ability to train us new recruits and, best of all, they spoke Spanish like me.
Upon being released from the 92nd Garage area we were housed in Topside. This was the highest part of the island and rose to heights of more than 600 feet in some places with steep, rocky cliffs and many bare rock ravines with jagged outcroppings. The flanks of Topside rose up on three sides to form a tadpole-shaped plateau where the main enlisted living quarters was located. Our barracks were three story, concrete and steel reinforced. We called them the “longest barracks in the whole wide world,” and some soldiers referred to them as the “mile-long barracks.” Topside was home of the headquarters for the island, a movie theater, a small parade ground in front of the western side of the 1500-foot barracks. A small nine-hole golf course with additional officer and noncommissioned officers’ quarters arced around the northern side. Our main duty was to go around and police the area of unwanted trash. The view from Topside was fantastic: You could see for many miles in all directions, plus the constant sea breeze made the days not so hot.
The primary mission of Joseph’s air defense unit was to shoot down enemy aircraft and protect Corregidor’s vital installations. Antiaircraft (AA) artillery on the island consisted of six batteries, with 3-inch guns that could fire to a height of 3200 feet, and four batteries with twelve .50-caliber machine guns. AA equipment also included one battery of five SL Sperry 60-inch searchlights. These weapons were shared by both the 59th and 60th Coast Artillery.
Just before the beginning of the war, the combined strengths of military personnel stationed on the four islands surrounding Manila Bay totaled about six thousand men and women. The women were Army nurses, mostly stationed on Corregidor. The rest of the garrison was composed mostly of the headquarters, the artillerymen, and various administrative troops. American forces included the Philippine Scouts, a component of the U.S. Army in which Filipino enlisted men served under American officers.