USS HOUSTON CA 30
“The galloping Ghost of
O. C. McManus
Seaman 1st Class, USS Houston
Petty officer, 2nd Class, USS Houston,
Prisoner of War #10097
I want to preface this (I'm O.C.'s daughter Linda, born in 1953) with a statement. Dad never won a medal of honor, but to me he is an undeniable hero. Many others have written incredible histories and biographies about heroism during a war, but I feel that my dad was equal in heroism with them all. During his captivity he _ and his brother Harold _ showed an indomitable spirit that was unquenchable by any amount of beatings. He did have undeniable good health (light malaria was all he suffered, he considered dysentery _ oh come on, they all called it "the shits" _ to just be part and parcel of eating strange foods), but he also had an attitude that always looked toward the good. He is one of the most unbiased people I know. He doesn't hate the Japanese, he hates war. He treats everyone the same regardless of race, country of origin, or gender. His ideal, then and now, is common sense and love, things that we all should have more of. I still try to learn from him!
February 28, 1942
O. C. McManus and his younger brother Harold, who had asked to be placed with his brother, were on board the U.S.S. Houston. O. C. was in the forward repair party on the second deck, the ship was being torpedoed. The officer in charge sent him up to the main deck to check on the fire in the main turret. When he got to the main turret, a salvo came through and wiped out the entire repair party on the second deck; he was the only one from that repair party who survived. He stood for a few seconds, unsure of what to do, when the word was passed to abandon ship. Without hesitating, he grabbed a life jacket and put it under his arm, and jumped off the port side focastle deck.
His lifeguard experience in Iowa came in handy as he swam as fast as possible so as to not get caught by the undertow of the ship. In the distance the mountains of Java could be barely distinguished on the horizon and he started swimming toward them. He had no idea what had happened to his brother Harold (who luckily survived the bombing and was also taken captive on March 2; they met up six weeks later in Batavia, on O.C.'s birthday, April 15. The Houston was sunk on Harold's 22nd birthday).
If it moves, salute it! If it doesn't move, paint it!
O. C. joined the Navy in 1936 as an apprentice seaman and served on the USS New Orleans, CA 32. In 1940 he transferred to the USS Houston where he was a Petty Officer Second Class, well known for his art work _ generally risqué! His normal job was to keep numbers and compartments painted, and spruce up any paint damaged by rust, and he was a member of the damage control group. But of course in his spare time, he painted and drew for his own pleasure. He had made a backgammon board with mermaids as the points _ topless of course - but unfortunately it went down with the ship, a loss he still regrets! To the left is an example (drawn before being captured and no doubt on leave) of his sense of humor… In Otto Schwartz' biography, he mentions a painting of O.C.'s, of a beautiful native girl with six breasts, which the Japanese would bring visitors to view. This was a 10' high drawing on the wall of the barracks in Singapore. The barracks used to be British army buildings and there were still some supplies scattered about, and O.C. didn't miss a beat in grabbing some drawing utensils. The guards were fascinated by this drawing and O.C. would spin a story about American women having six breasts; maybe the Japanese didn't understand the story, but while they were fascinated, other POWs would sabotage the guards' rifles. The officer in charge of the guards would catch them staring at the drawing and would beat them for dereliction of duty, and the guards in turn would beat O.C. That didn't stop him though from drawing more beauties
The Shore of Java
After swimming the three miles to shore of Java, he made the beach by daylight. There were two others with him _ he can't remember who _ and they decided to head on the road in Java that led to Batavia, the capitol city. But three hours later, a group of Japanese infantrymen spotted them and took them captive. They were marched towards Rangkasbitung, and kept under guard first in a movie theater (in Serang), then a schoolhouse, then the civilian jail in Rangkasbitung. Otto Schwartz was in cell number 5 and O.C. in number 6 (just at the very right of the photo). They were fed maggoty rice which seemed to be all anyone had, including the Japanese.
Eventually they arrived at the POW camp near Batavia, the "Bicycle Camp," and then in October O.C. was sent on to Singapore, while Harold remained behind. The camp in Batavia was the last place that the brothers saw of each other until the end of the war. In January O.C. was sent from Singapore to a jungle camp at Moulmein, Burma - the worst of the camps - to work on Thai/Burma railway (Harold still has one of the spikes that O.C. gave him, one of the ones used on the railway.) O.C. also made a pencil drawing of the Allied POW cemetery at Anganan 100 Kilo
Camp, ¼ mile away; later in Calcutta he redrew it in ink. And he continued to entertain his fellow POWs by drawing Varga girls on the walls of the huts. This was of course the cause of several bashings from the Japanese.
Harold had been sent to Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo, a camp under control of the hated and sadistic Colonel Suga Tatsuji who later committed suicide when they lost the war. It was estimated that over 3,000 British and Australian POWs died in those camps. Harold was one of only two Americans (H. H. Stone was the other) who were recovered in Borneo, liberated by the Australians on September 13, 1944.
He said that the boy was in good shape, and was having a wonderful time in Cal the last time he saw him…Please call his mother, and tell her that it was one of my boys who picked up her son. Our boy's name is Sgt. Coyle. I am so proud of the work my group has done, during Burma operations last year, and now, picking up prisoners."
The memory that has been the strongest was the crucial lack of food. They would eat in the dark in order not to see the bugs and worms in it. Food became an all consuming thought. They would eat anything _ although they found that they didn't lose their sense of compassion. They had once caught a monkey, but the monkey looked so forlorn and hopeless that not one man could kill it. Finally O.C.'s brother Harold opened the cage and the men clapped as they watched the monkey flee back into the jungle. They did eat a lot of snakes and some ate whatever dogs and cats could be caught. Their diet consisted almost entirely of rice with the occasional vegetable. They'd cut small bamboo shoots which were edible only after being boiled two or three times to take away the bitter taste.
O. C. had a metal mess kit that he got from an Australian POW; he said the he ate a lot of rice from that kit. He had taken a needle and cut the tip off to make a chisel and etched it on all the outer sides. It's difficult to see in the picture, but on the back is a woman (in lingerie this time!), on one side the names of the countries where he was held prisoner (Java, Singapore, Malaya, Burma, Thailand, and French Indo-China), on the other side his name, and on the short end, U.S. Navy.
One American POW stole some food cans on a work detail and when marched back to camp, stood on the cans during the count off _ the cans were never discovered!
Getting beaten up by the guards was a common occurrence although O. C. said that he couldn't feel it as he was filled with hate. Not hate at the individual person, but hate at war. He felt that the guards were only doing their duty although some of them were definitely more cruel than others, and extremely abusive. Give an insecure man the feeling of power and he will abuse it. One of the reminders of his treatment is partial blindness in one eye. Another reminder _ not the result of bashings from the Japanese _ is pulmonary fibrosis, a result from all those years on board breathing in asbestos fibers.
The prisoners were beaten on every pretext. When an order was given in Japanese, which none of them could understand, they were beaten for not obeying it. One fellow prisoner made the mistake of hitting back and was clubbed to death. They never received the medicinal supplies that the Red Cross sent; the only medicine they received was smuggled in by friendly locals. These locals also occasionally sneaked food and cigarettes to them, knowing that if they were caught, they would be beaten or killed. O.C. also never received word from his family although they did write many times in late 1944. He was allowed to fill in four postcards but his parents only received two of them _ 2 ½ years after being taken prisoner. He finally received news in Calcutta, of both his family and his brother Harold.
Toward the end of the war, the Allied planes flew over the jungle camp so often with bombs that the prisoners worked at nights on the railroad. When the bombings stopped and they began to work daytimes, they decided the war must have ended, but it was not until six days after the end of the war, on August 20, that the Japanese told them it was over. The Japanese received orders to bring all the prisoners to the capitol city; although at this time the Japanese still had guns and the POWs didn't want to do anything to anger them enough to use those guns. Planes flew in and loaded the newly liberated men and took them to Calcutta where O.C. spent a month at the hospital. He was allowed to leave the hospital, but never ventured very far in case transport arrived to take men home. He bought some beautiful etched brass vases at a nearby market. At the hospital he was found to have four varieties of worms but didn't get rid of the worms until he reached New York, although at one time he felt a wriggle in his throat and coughed, and was amazed and disgusted to cough up a round worm, 6" of it… After he was clear of worms for one week _ a blood test told them that _ he got three months of leave.
Harold wrote home from Kuching camp in Borneo to his parents, ironically using a pencil that had belonged to Colonel Suga, "I can't begin to tell you how happy I am. Today the other Yank with me and myself saw Col. Suga, who was the Jap in charge of all prisoners of our camps in Borneo. He was stone dead. They brought him from Sarawak yesterday and during the night he got hold of a knife and killed himself. This is not such a good way to begin a letter after all these years but it did us a lot of good to see him. He was responsible for all our bashings. I am writing this with his pencil."
In a letter to his parents written on September 16, 1945, O.C. wrote ""Gosh! Mom, today is your birthday and I hope and wish it proves to be the best and happiest birthday of your life. Of course you'll be having at least 50 more of them…I'll be here for a couple more weeks as I've my teeth to get fixed up. They were in not too good of condition. Also I've worms but they're not bad. I mean they don't bother me." All his teeth had to be pulled probably due to malnutrition.
October 1945. Otto Schwartz, Fred Jenkins, John Hood.
Although he won't admit it now, by the time O.C. got back to Iowa, he was looking forward to seeing some snow as it had been almost 9 years since he'd seen some. The most outstanding change that he found in the United States was the number of WACs and WAVES as there were none at the time he was last home. It seemed strange to see them giving orders to the servicemen and to be driving trucks. While in New York he served as best man to the wedding of a Houston friend and a WAVE.
He didn't see his brother Harold until he got back to his home town of Cherokee Iowa. 0His parents, five sisters, niece, and grand-nephew had for days met each train. For O.C. and Harold's homecoming -which seemed like the whole town attended although it was mostly McManus relatives - their dad made a long table that stretched across the lawn. And it was covered with food.
January 11, 1942 This letter wasn't received until March 10. "I haven't received any mail since the war started but I expect some in the near future."
September 9, 1945, Calcutta "As a POW, I never received a single letter or card, but I knew you folks were sending them. Since arriving here, I received your letter and picture dated August 18, 1945 and also a card dated in 1944…I will probably fly home either to New York or Miami, Florida. That will be going around the world in five years."
September 16, 1945, 142 General Hospital, Calcutta, India "I'm eating like a horse because everything tastes more like dessert than food. I'll probably be fat time I get home…If Harold is O.K. could you drop me a cable? I'm sure wanting to know how he made out."
October 7, 1945 U.S. Naval Hospital, St. Albans, NY
"Gosh! After 5 years overseas I'm once again back in good old U.S.A… I left Calcutta, India Oct 2 in the late afternoon arriving in N.Y. yesterday about noon. That's going pretty fast 11,088 miles in 4 days counting all stop-overs…The actual time spent in the air was 54 hours & 41 minutes. Every place we stopped they had a hot meal waiting for us. I'll be here in the Naval Hospital for at least 2 weeks so please write & tell all my various sisters to write too. I don't know my new brother-in-laws name, yet ha! ha!...When we do get leave it will be 90 days worth, also I'll be advanced at least one rate. I'll rate at least 7 ribbons on my chest. I'll look like a Xmas tree ha! ha!"
March 2, 1946, Ward 118, US Naval Hospital, St. Albans, NY While recuperating at the Naval Hospital, O.C. and another Houston survivor went on a trip to Washington, D.C., saw the sites, and visited the home of Guy M. Gillette, U.S. Senator from Cherokee, Iowa. "He wasn't home but his wife was. She remembered reading all about me in the hometown paper and liked to talked my arm off about Cherokee, & people we both knew. She took us out to dinner in a nice café and told me to be sure and stop in if I'm ever in Washington again. Kind of liked the old gal."