Cpl. Robert G. Winston

Corregidor Survivor and World War II POW

 

Dewey Arney and Robert "Bob" Winston (right), Sept. 2, 1945. Winston credits Arney with saving his life when they were POWs in Mukden, Manchuria.

The following article is based on an interview I arranged with Robert Winston on Jan 7, 2005. This work is part of a project by the American Local History Network. If there are any other St. Louis City/County World II, Korean War, Vietnam veterans that would like to share their wartime experiences, please contact Scott K. Williams at email:  showmemule "at" earthlink.net (before sending the email, replace "at" with @ and delete spaces in the address.)

 

In January 2005 I had the privilege to meet Robert "Bob" G. Winston of Hazelwood, Missouri. He was born and raised in Farmington, St. Francois County, Missouri. The son of Calvin and Celia Winston. At age 86, his mind was as sharp as a whistle and he was able to take me back to the early 1940's when he worked at Century Electric at 18th and Pine, St. Louis, Mo. By this time his parents had moved to Maryland Heights. But it was not long before he was laid off at the electric company.  At this point in his life, Winston's was primarily interested in landing a good paying job, but after an unsuccessful search, he enlisted in the Army. After all, there was no thought of war and being in the Army was an adventure.  The Army first sent him to Angel Island, California, then he was assigned to Battery D, 60th Coast Artillery and deployed to the Philippines (then a territory of the United States).  [Photo Left: Winston as a new recruit in California, 1941.]

 

Very soon after the December 7, 1941 bombing on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese concentrated their attack on the Philippines. On December 9, 1941 over 200 Japanese aircraft obliterated over 100 U.S. military aircraft parked at Clark Field in the Philippines. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then commanding forces on the Philippines, now had an American Army with no air support and no naval fleet (destroyed at Pearl Harbor) to come to his rescue.  By late December, massive landings of Japanese forces had pushed U.S. ground forces to the Bataan Peninsula, with his headquarters on Corregidor Island. Corregidor was a very small rocky island, at the mouth of Manila Bay. It was here that Winston was stationed and his battery manned antiquated WWI 3-inch anti-aircraft guns. (the shells had 30 second fuses, which prevented them from reaching planes higher than 30,000 feet.) At times there were long periods of boredom, when nothing was happening. Winston and fellow soldiers would play dice "craps", but MacArthur, being a strict disciplinarian put a stop to that.

 But the men of Battery D were some of MacArthur's best men, and they risked their lives while the General retired to his bomb-proof underground HQ.  The anti-aircraft crews were out in the open, firing at the incoming Japanese planes, trying to hit them before they could deliver their deadly payload. MacArthur for unknown reasons ordered the crews to not fire at the planes until the bombs were being released. Winston staunchly disagreed with this order, because waiting for bombs to drop, "was too late to do much good". In spite of this, Winston's battery shot down 23 Japanese planes. While being exposed to all the shot and shell, this was a courageous achievement.

On March 8, 1942, MacArthur under Presidential order left Corregidor. He was considered too valuable and would be a trophy for the Japanese. But for the men left behind at Corregidor and Bataan, it felt like an abandonment. Although they had plenty of food (the island underground was stockpiled with plenty of food--even beef stamped "1918") and plenty of water (fresh artesian wells). Winston said the only supplies that were running short toward the end was ammunition and the lack of able-bodied men. Sickness was taking its toll.   Bataan fell 9 April, leaving Corregidor the last bastion of American resistance. General Wainwright and the men of Corregidor held on to the hope that MacArthur would be true to his words, "I shall return", and return with reinforcements. But by May 5th, Japanese barges were landing on the islands. The anti-aircraft guns were lowered so they could fire shrapnel down on the heads of the Japanese troops. "We were too outnumbered" to put up much resistance once they had landed on the island.  The following day, May 6, 1942, all hope was lost and the surrender came. The Japanese at this time period were not an honorable people when it came to taking prisoners of war, and the POWs received  no more than subhuman treatment.

Two deaths, Winston remembered clearly. A young soldier named Bingham, took Winston's place on the AA gun, while he went to operate the height finder. Bingham took a direct hit and died on the spot Winston occupied moments before.

The following is a poem composed by the men of Company D, and hand recorded by Robert Winston while a POW. It is dedicated to First Sergeant Dewey Brady, Battery D, 60th CA (AA), who was killed in action at Ft. Mills, Corregidor, Philippine Islands, on April 24th 1942 by enemy artillery fire from Bataan peninsula. He was on duty up on the observation tower when he was hit.

 

A Soldier

 

If you did take a trip through hell

And trod on white hot ember

You'd meet a man of whom you'd tell

A man you would remember

He'll stand there midst the smoke and flame

A smile upon his face

His eyes still blue his hair the same

You'd find his hand clasp still was firm

And a twinkle in his eyes

He could make a slacking soldier squirm

And many a good men shy

 

He stands as as emblem of fighting men

The ready king of hade

He stands erect five feet ten

He's Sergeant Dewey Brady

 

Everyone of battery D, except Winston had become sick with malaria. Winston was healthy and in good physical shape. Perhaps this is why the Japanese picked him along with James O. Williams (of St. Joseph, Missouri) to climb telegraph poles and cut the wires down.  After completing this work, he and all the rest of the Corregidor survivors were ordered into boxcars. Winston says they were "stuffed in the cars like sardines". With the extreme heat, and no water, men died in the railroad cars by the hundreds. Their destination was the concentration camp at Cabantuan. Here he was held until they were ordered to board a ship in the fall of 1942. On November 11th, they arrived in Mukden, Manchuria and the temperature fell to a freak -40 degrees. Winston and  99 other POWs were housed in a "barracks" with a thatched roof, built half underground, with brick floor and slept on straw mats. The barracks had but one stove in the middle, and they were not allowed a bucket of coal until December. 

The leather tag, marked 168, that the Japanese required Winston to wear as a POW.

At Mukden, Manchuria the men were used as slave-laborers at the former Ford Plant (then taken over by Mitsubishi). In the factory they made drill presses and lathes which were manufactured to be used in making military implements in Japan. U.S. intelligence identified the factory as being operated by the Japanese, so it bombed by U.S. aircraft. In the attack 18 POWs were killed and 13 wounded. The barracks, next to the factory, was struck by a bomb that would have killed Winston.  That is, if his friend Dewey Arney had not coaxed him to come to the other side of the barracks, moments earlier.

There were many men at Mukden, and included more than just Americans. Some were Australians, English, and Dutch. Without a doubt, Winston was one of the fortunate ones. He made it home alive-- many didn't.  Winston remembers that the dead at Mukden were piled like cordwood in sheds awaiting burial. But even with Winston, there is  a lot of suffering that is not revealed in the old photographs.  The food, the same thing every day, was pretty bad but it was edible. A cup of corn meal mush in the morning and twice a day a bowl of soy bean soup. But it was just was not enough. Winston himself went from 180 to 98 lbs during his captivity. He had frostbite, bleeding ulcers where he would spit up a cup of blood a day. His feet were swollen by a vitamin malnutrition disease known as beriberi. He also suffered a tooth ache with a swollen jaw.

American POWs photographed with their Russian liberators. Winston is standing second from right. Standing fourth from right is Bill Russell. Galardi is holding the Russian machine gun. Standing third from left, barely visible is POW Constance Wasilewski.  Seated second from right is James O. Williams. All the rest are Russian soldiers. Photo taken 2 Sept 1945, Mukden, Manchuria.

After Winston's liberation by the Russians and return to St. Louis, Winston  literally had to beg the VA to give him medical care due to his mistreatment. But this ordeal did not dampen Winston's patriotism as he reenlisted in the Army reserve after the war. One thing did strike a raw nerve, which happened many years after the war. It was President George Bush, Sr.'s banning law suits against the Japanese Corporations or Government for unpaid work they were forced to endure. Many Japanese factories for decades used equipment machined by allied POW's during World War II.. 

**It should also be noted that Winston received the Bronze Star for his service in shooting down Japanese aircraft at Corregidor. As mentioned earlier, his battery shot down 23 Japanese aircraft. Until recently Winston served as Commander of the Florissant Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars. At 86 years of age he has slowed down a bit.

Among Winston's possessions is a small booklet where he recorded a few poems that he and the men of his barracks composed. His hand writing is amazing, writing font that looks almost as if it were printed by a printing press.  He credits the ability to the nuns of St. Joseph school he attended in Farmington, Mo.

On May 7, 1942

Corregidor Isle

I lived awhile on Corregidor Isle 

In that sunburnt God cursed land

Where bomb and shell made life like hell

With death on every hand

Then I got the thirst of the cursed

With no water to be had

I heard men scream in that hellish dream

And watched my friends go mad

Its no man's fault that the water salt

Or that the food all is gone

That the guns are manned by

men who are damned

To face death with every dawn

Some hold there breath and watch the death

That comes with bursting shells

As bomb's moan something of home or what they'll do in hell.

 

When thou bones blend with the stones

You'll hear the parrots cry

Those splendid bones belong to me

who were not afraid to die.

 

To squander there meager pay

they raise merry hell for the evening

And are broke the very next day

 

Back to the post for another month

God how the time does drag

Hardly enough filthy pesos to supply a man with fags.

Bugs at night keep us hopping

Mosqueto bars only allure

Hello No! Were not convicts

Just soldiers on foreign tour

 

 

After liberation, on Sept 2, 1945. Pictured standing: C. Wasilewski, Galardi. Seated: Winston, James O. Williams and William L. Russell.

Note: Bob Winston also mentioned that Billy Templeton, a member of the Air Corps, stationed at Clark Airbase, was in the same POW camp.  Templeton moved to Florissant after the war and worked as an Air Traffic Controller at Lambert Field.  After Templeton retired he moved away from the area and Winston lost touch with him.

Readable names of POW comrades recorded in Winston's booklet:

 

William L. Russell, Kociusko, Mississippi

James O. Williams, 2212 S. 7th Street, St. Joseph, Mo.

Lawrence V. Carter, 6335 Michigan Ave, St. Louis, Mo.

Lewis C. West, Strong, OK

John T. Gallager, 913 Pennsylvania Ave, East St. Louis, IL

J.G. Carr 1701 Chestnut St. Houston, TX

Byron Kearby, 7818 Ivory St.,  St. Louis, Mo.

William A. Norfolk, 219 South 10th Street, Hannibal, Mo.

Lewis Withrow, Brunswick, Ga

Lewis Elliot, Monroe, Michigan

Robert Morse, Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Herbert C. Griffin, Mullen, TX

Harold Shrode, Rockport, Indiana

Henry H. Cook, Atlanta, GA.

Bruce Cramer, Maryville, WY

Kenneth S. Farmer, Wesson, MS

W. H. "Herbert" Sohn, 116 St. Joseph St. Bonne Terre, Mo. (killed in motorcycle accident shortly after war)

Carl W. Biggs, 765 Spears Ave., N. Chattanooga, TN

Dewey J. Arney, 3002 Chartres St. Houston, TX

C.R. McKiddy, Chowchilla, CA

Ben T. Griffin, 426 S. Main Street, Logan, Utah

Billy Templeton, 306 Woodburry St., Marshalltown, Iowa

George Harris, Till Till Station, NSW Australia

Robert T. Horton

Tony Reyna Taos, NM (Tony was a Indian silversmith)

Kounstant J. Wasilewski, Nanticoke, PA

J. E Davis, USN

Harlow A. Yaeger, 703 Van birch St., Litchfield, IL

Homer E. Ringer, Dove Creek, CO

Walter C. Lam, 937 Green St. Allentown, PA

John Zurich, Philadelphia, PA

Lt. Charles L. Kaster, Logan, Utah (Killed  as POW in sunken Japanese Ship)

Owen W. Romaine, 2nd Lt Air Corps, 9th Taylor Ave. Ft. Thomas, KY

Wm. E. Walter, 1st Lt, Pittsburg, PA

 

The subject of this article, Robert Winston, resides in Hazelwood, St. Louis County, Missouri.  He is now a widower, but he was married for 56 years to Ezlee "Lee" Winston. They had one son, a daughter, five grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren.  Winston raised his family in Overland (also in St. Louis County), and moved to Hazelwood in 1992.

 

This article by Scott K. Williams of Florissant, Mo.

 

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