Weatherford Democrat

November 16, 2012

A POW's memoir of World War II

Sally Sexton

PARKER COUNTY — For more than three years, Odell Guess’ life was a living hell.

A U.S. Navy veteran and resident of Parker County, Guess was captured and held as a prisoner of war by Japanese soldiers following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was a torture he would endure for 42 months.

On the afternoon of May 6, 1942, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright surrendered the forces of Bataan and Corregidor, where Guess was, to the Japanese.

Guess and many others were ordered to the south side of Corregidor, to what he called the 92nd Garage, an abandoned sea plane ramp with all of the 12,000 POWs were being held.

“As we were marching down the road, we passed a Philippine soldier who had been horrible wounded, who was holding his bloody arms out begging for a drink of water,” Guess, who died in 2007, wrote in his memoir. “As we were passing by him, I turned to look in his direction and as I did, the Japanese guard hit me on the right side of the head with a baseball-sized rock he was carrying.

“It almost knocked me unconscious and I scarcely remembers arriving down at the 92nd Garage area.”

The conditions of his imprisonment would get no better. When the group he was with received its first meal they were given a gallon can of tomatoes for each group of 10.

“The water supply was so scarce that they only had one tap and, fortunately, the water line ran right through the group I was with and there happened to be a leaky joint in the middle of our plot of ground,” he wrote in the book he compiled for his family. “It dripped about a canteen cup of water per hour and we split it 10 ways. The others had to stand in line at the one water tap for hours on end before they could even get a drink of water.”

The bay near the area served as a way to get out of the sun and prevent sunburn, as well as a bathroom facility, as the actual bathrooms were used for men who had dysentery.

Despite their weakening states, the prisoners were ordered to load supplies from the island onto cargo ships. Once the project was completed, the POWs were taken to Manila and placed in the Bilibid Prison.

“Bilibid Prison was a very old and very dirty place,” Guess wrote. “The cells were very small and there was no place to sleep or go to the bathroom, and no food available except for the riceball the Japs gave us once a day.”

The next day, the group traveled by freight train on an eight-hour journey to Cabanatuan. On the way, the group suffered more casualties.

“Several men in our car had died on the way and we were so densely packed in the car that there was no way we could lay them on the floor,” Guess wrote. “They remained in an upright position until the Japs opened the door and let us out.”

The conditions, topped off with the POWs lack of strength, worsened, as many of the soldiers contracted dysentery and pellagra, a vitamin deficiency disease.

“Almost everyone was affected,” Guess wrote. “We would lose between 30 and 40 men a day.

“It was pitiful to see the men reduced to mere skeletons.”

Most of the bodies were tossed into a common grave and covered with dirt.

Time wore on, and with the help of friends within the camp, Guess was able to pull through.

One day during the summer of 1945, Guess and others looked up to see what looked like rain from a black, inky sky. They would later find out it was an atom bomb dropped on Japan.

Things began to change. Different guards patrolled areas in their encampment.

On Aug. 25, salvation arrived as an Office of Strategic Services team parachuted in to the rescue, and a platoon of Russian soldiers appeared to announce that the war was over.

“The platoon commander asked if anyone could speak Russian,” Guess wrote. “Fortunately, we had a guy from the Fourth Marines who was born and raised in Russia, who acted as our interpreter.”

From India to north Africa, Libya and Bermuda, Guess’ group finally made it back stateside in Washington, D.C., to the Anacostia Naval Air Station.

“They brought us the biggest steak I have ever seen, covered with six eggs,” Guess wrote. “With this came fried potatoes, toast, jelly and all the fresh milk we could hold.

“Our stomachs were still too small to hold all the food, but we tried to eat it all.”

After hospital visits and surgery on his right arm, Guess received an honorable discharge Feb. 15, 1946.

Civilian life

After his discharge, Guess began working for the post office for a few months before using his GI bill to attend Winifred Browns flying school, which was located a mile south of Weatherford.

Guess met his future wife, Dorothy (Dot) while attending Millsap High School.

Though just friends, they kept in touch as much as possible while Guess was away.

“This war was different from the other wars,” Dot said. “We didn’t have emails or cell phones like we do now. His mother got a telegram from him one day and that was the first we knew about him being alive.”

Dot and Odell were reacquainted at a Millsap High School reunion, and wed in March of 1947.

“I didn’t finish my flight training because on March 1, I made the greatest move of my life when I married my high school friend Dorothy Ashley,” Guess wrote. “She didn’t like my particular type of flying so I decided to devote my time to my mail delivery job.”

Though happily married with two children and three great-grandchildren, Guess’ war experiences had a lasting affect on his life.

“He was in the hospital more than he was out, from the issues he suffered as a POW and malnutrition,” his wife said.

Guess passed away five years ago.

“To look back now, I think I made him do a lot of things he didn’t want to do, but it made his life a little more pleasant,” she said.