“The galloping Ghost of the Java Coast


Charles T Atterberry





On that dark and long night
Many men had to bravely fight
The sounds of sirens and guns awoke them from a sleep
With one eye open they were up in just one leap
As the speaker blared "This is not a drill"
The guns and cannons they began to fill
As quickly as it started
The ship was being departed
The men where captured and taken to jail.
Little did they know it was going to be a living hell.
They were starved and beat
Made to work in the cold and heat.
Their captors had food of plenty while they had little
Mal-nutrition turned their bones very brittle
Their faces sunkin in and skin began to sag.
They went from pleanty of clothing to nothing but rags.
When they stopped to take a rest
They were hit like pest
Rations they cut if someone became ill.
The Japs they wanted to kill.
Hell is what they all went thru
So know it is time to THANK them from me and you.
For the hell you had to endure and the horrible life it was that no one will ever truely understand I THANK YOU EVERYTIME I SALUTE THE AMERICAN FLAG THAT YOU MEN WERE WILLING TO DIE FOR ME TO BE FREE. I was inspired to write this after I read one of my grandfathers notes from when he was on ward 18. I don't remember him all that well he got very sick when i was still little. This is dedicated to him and all the men who served on the USS HOUSTON CA-30.


The following article was written by one of the residents on ward 18: Charles Atterberry. It is some of his memories from his war career. Parts of the story are graphic and everyone may not be able to read them. They were left in the article to show the hardships that many of our service men had/have to endure.



On July 3, 1940, I joined the navy. I went through boot Camp at San Diego, CA. I was then shipped to the Saratoga, an aircraft carrier that was BBB feet lung. This ship was in dry dock for 6 reeks in Seattle, WA. I transferred to a few other ships before I was assigned to the U.S.S. Houston. In December, 1940,            we were on an island called Ceuleu Ceuleu in the Philippines. On December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, our ship was called to Perth Australia, to join the other U.S. ships. There were many ships from many different countries with us. Some of the ships with our convoy were two Dutch ships, an Australian cruiser, four destroyers built in V.M.I., and a British ship that had been hit by the Germans and now had a concrete bow on it. On February 4. 1941, our fleet was bombed. We shot down several planes. The ship I was on, the U.S.S. Houston was hit by a delayed bomb. The bomb vent through the main deck exploded in the powder magazine and killed 30 men in the 8' gun turret. One of the other ships in our fleet, the Marble Head, was also hit and returned to the U.S. for repairs. We went to Java to bury our dead. I noticed some large fish following our ship to port. We were told that the fish had caught the odor of the dead men on the ship.

After repairs, we left the Port of Java and joined the fleet again. In the middle of the February, we spotted a Japanese convoy about 15 miles from our fleet. Our destroyers and several of our submarines went towards the convoy and sunk several of the Japanese ships. We also lost two destroyers. The battle was taking place at night. Suddenly flares began popping out of the water. Japanese subs torpedoed and sunk the two Dutch ships in our fleet flag ship, the Houston, dodged two torpedoes and later returned to lava to refuel.

Late in the evening of the last day of February, my ship and three others left Java. Air patrol informed us that the Sunda Straits were clear of any Japanese ships.         We later found out that this message had been sabotaged. In the middle of the straits our four ships cruised into the middle of a Japanese landing force.     Three of our four ships were sunk, however we sunk more of their ships.

On March 1, 1941, my ship, the U.S.S. Houston, was sunk at 12:30 a.m. in the Sunda Straits between Java and Sumatra in the Netherlands East Indies. The Japanese picked us up at approximately 2:30 p.m. We were about 50 yards onshore. They kicked us trying to get information about the U.S. Navy. When we landed on Java, we landed close to a live, belching volcano, 'Krakatoa'.

From the beach, we were marched several miles to the town of Batauia where we were placed in jail. 1 was in an B's 12' cell with 29 Australians. There was not enough room for all of us to lay down at, the same time. They fed us a small portion of rice twice a day. We had two buckets in our cell, one for water and the other for bodily eliminations. We were given one cup for all the men to drink from. The feces bucket was emptied once a day and had no cover. Because the conditions were so dirty, we all had dysentery. We were kept in these conditions: for about six weeks.

We were taken by ship to Singapore. The ships the Japanese transported us on were old M.M.I. cattle boats. On the way to Singapore, the three transport ships were bombed and one of them was sunk. Several P.O.W.'s were injured. We had been bombed by

our own Air Force. The Japanese picked all of the P.O.W.'s out of the water and placed us on the two remaining ships. It took us two weeks to reach Singapore. Once we arrived, the Japanese had us clearing land to raise a garden. We cleared 50 acres of rubber trees on the Sunbur Plantation. The gardens were fertilized with human feces. When the vegetables were ready, the Japanese ate them and we were still given only two small portions of rice a day.

We were soon put on a train to Maulmien, Burma. While in jail there, a Japanese Colonel came to the jail and gave a speech. The Colonel spoke English. He said we were to, build a railroad from Rangoon to Thailand. He said if it cost every P.O.W.; life the railroad had to be built so supplies could go through. We were told we would have little food and would be working long hours 'wet or dry'. To my knowledge there were 70,000 or more P.O.W.'s.

We were put in groups along the line to build the railroad. There was no machinery involved, only picks, shovel rakes and what the Japanese called a yo ho roll.      This roll was a bamboo pole with a rice sack looped over the pole. It was filled with dirt until it could hold no more. Then two P.O.W.'s would pick It up, place it on their shoulders, and carry it to a low place and dump it.

The worse part of my time as a P.O.W. was the disease. Many P.O.W.'s got Malaria, Berry-Berry, and dysentery. I had all of these. I also had an ulcer on my right leg.  This became infected but I was given no medical treatment. If it  had not been for a blow fly my leg would have gotten much worse. The fly laid eggs in the infected area and when they hatched, they cleaned out the wound. But by then, approximately six inches of tendon was exposed. Soon proud flesh began filling in the hole. Soon, however, the new flesh was growing higher than the level of my skin. A Dutch doctor in one of the camps managed to talk the Japanese Into giving him a yellow powder called Iodaform. They rounded a spoon at the edges and sharpened it. The doctor used the spoon to scrape down the flesh and then would sprinkle the yellow powder in it.         The doctor had to scrape out my leg 7 or 8 times.

The Japanese would take sticks and hit the P.U.W.'..: on their feet or sores to get us back to work en the road. If a P.O.W. became ill, our rations were cut to one time a day. If the other-P.O.W.'s got the chance, they would cut bamboo shoots and boil them for us. Occasionally a native dog or cat would stray through the camp. These would he killed and cooked so we would have something to eat. Sometimes we would kilt a python, but not very often. Usually, we only had out rice one time per day.

Many of the P.O.W.'s got sick and died. Approximately 30,000 out of 70,000 were liberated.

Most of the time we were in prison we were abused. One time some Japanese guards came through our bamboo hut. One of them stopped in front of me. He spoke English and said he had attended school in California. He said, I can tell what you are thinking. Your eyes are like a mirror. You think the Nipponese (Japanese) are like a yellow dog. Then he hit me with a rifle.

In the rainy season we built a fire Between two platforms made of split bamboo poles. We slept on rice sacks. One time while I was sitting on my spot on the platform, I felt something move under me. It was dark but we finally saw what it was in the light of one of the fires. It was a python about 5 feet long which we killed and cooked. There were also largo land crabs in the jungle. They would run sideway into the fires and all you would see was yellow liquid coming from them.

Our only clothes were G-strings and our shoes were wooden clogs tied to our feet with pieces of rice sacks.

When we finally reached Thailand we were to build side track so the trains could pass each other. The Japanese had the P.O.W.'s build and live in camps built around the powder houses. They said that the U.S.  British would not bomb the  powder houses if the P.O. W. 's were living there. But they did bomb them. Some P.O.W.'s were killed and others  were injured from the bombs and the fall out.

During the war, the Red Cross dropped a lot al food. They dropped salmon, sardines and other canned meats. The Japanese let them drop the food inside the prison and then they would eat the food and use the medical supplies for themselves. The P.O.W.'s would watch as the Japanese ate and use the things that were dropped. We did not get any of things. I think this made the war go on longer. If the Red Cross would have stayed out of it, they (the Japanese) would have had to Give up for they were going hungry, too.

This is all I can think of for now, I can think of more from time to time


The memories of Charles Atterberry were edited for space availability.