Pvt. Abel Flores Ortega
Pvt. Abel F. Ortega was was
born on August 22, 1919, in El Paso, Texas, and
was one of six sons born to Ruben C. and Deborah
F. Ortega. As a child, he lived at 505 East
9th Street in Austin, Texas. While young,
Abel had two things he loved, one was his ability
to draw and the other was history. It would
be this love of history that would result in his
becoming a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
In October, 1940, Abel received his draft notice and was inducted into the army in March 1941. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he became a member of A Company, 753rd Tank Battalion. One day, the commanding officer of the 753rd asked his men if any of them would be interested in going overseas on a tour of duty to the Philippine Islands. Abel's love of history and desire to visit the Orient resulted in him being the first man to volunteer.
Abel was quickly reassigned to Company A,
192nd Tank Battalion, at Camp Polk. The
battalion also received that tanks of the 753rd
as it prepared for duty in the
The members of the battalion pitched the
tents in an open field halfway between the Clark
Field Administration Building and Fort
Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two
rows and five men were assigned to each
tent. There were two supply tents and
meals were provided by food trucks stationed at
the end of the rows of tents.
On December 8, 1941, December 7th in the United
States, the members of A Company heard the news
of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many of the
men believed that this was the start of the
maneuvers they expected. At 8:30, the
planes of the Army Air Corps filled the sky in
every direction. At noon, the planes
landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to
During lunch, the "replacements" were ordered to
stay with the equipment while the original
members of the battalion went to eat.
While guarding his half-track, Abel heard the
sound of planes approaching Clark Field.
As he and the other men watched the sky, they
felt good about the planes in the sky and the
protection they were providing them. It
was only when they heard the sound of bombs
falling did they realize that the planes were
During the battle for the Philippine Islands,
Abel was the half-track driver for the
communications command half-track of Company
A. As a member of this crew, he worked
with Pvt. Joseph McCrea, Capt. Walter Write, 2nd
Lt. Henry Knox and Sgt. Dale Lawton.
A Company was sent, in support of the
194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was
there that they lost a tank platoon commander,
Lt. William Read. On a road east
of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was
bivouacked for the night and posted
sentries. The sentries heard a noise on
the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed
Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine
guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle
battalion rode into their bivouac. When
the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers
opened up on them. When they stopped
firing, they had completely wiped out the
bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the
tankers drove their tanks over the
On January 5th, while attached to the 194th Tank
Battalion, A Company withdrew from the
line. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield received
orders to launch a counter-attack against the
Japanese on a tail picked by Provisional Tank
Group command. Bloomfield, while attempting to
attack, radioed the tank group that the trail
did not exist.
On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an
attack supported by artillery and
aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops
came over Mount Samat and descended down the
south face of the volcano. This attack
wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a
large area of the defensive line open to the
Japanese. When General King saw that the
situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender
talks with the Japanese.
Abel was initially shocked by the way the
Japanese treated the Filipino and American
prisoners on the march. They were marched
with no sense of direction, without any food,
and without any water. Prisoners who tried
to get food or water were shot, bayoneted or
decapitated. If a prisoner fell out of
ranks, he was initially mistreated. Some
of these men were beaten the entire length of
the march. If the man fell out again, he
was shot or bayoneted. As he marched, Abel
saw many bodies of prisoners lying along the
sides of the road.
While on the march, Abel was to witness a number of acts of cruelty by the Japanese. One night, when the prisoners were resting, the Filipino soldier next to Abel tried to build a fire to cook some rice he had come across. A Japanese guard bayoneted the man to death for doing this. In a separate incident, Abel witnessed the Japanese execute four or five Filipinos. The Japanese tied the Filipino prisoners to a hay stack and set the stack on fire. Abel remembered the screams of the these prisoners as they were burned alive.
The final incident involved an American soldier. As the POWs were marching, one POW fell from the ranks. A Japanese truck ran over the prisoner flattening him into the ground. Abel recalled that the driver of the truck had plenty of time to swerve and avoid the man. The Japanese soldiers did these things, but, to Abel, it seemed that the officers stood back and silently approved of the soldier's actions.
On the fifth day of the march Abel received his
first food which was a handful of steamed
rice. On the sixth and seventh day of the
march, Abel received about a half a mess kit
full of rice. He estimated that the total
amount of food he received during the twelve
days it took him to complete the march was the
equivalent of three filled mess kits.
On May 10, 1942, Abel was transferred to another
camp near Calauan under the command of Captain
Wakamori. The American commanding officer
was Lt. Col. Ted Wickord who had been the
commander of the 192nd. Wickord had tried
to fill the detail with as many men from the
tank group that he could. The men in this
camp received good treatment when compared to
the other camps, and the food in the camp was
good and adequate. The men were fed rice
and soup each day. The prisoners on this
detail were given the duty of repairing the
bridges and roads destroyed during the Battle of
The detachment was next sent to Batangas to
rebuild another bridge on June 16, 1942.
Again, the Filipino people did all they could to
see that the Americans got the food and care
they needed. Somehow the Filipinos
convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a
meal to celebrate the completion of the new
bridge. When the work was
completed, the POWs were once again moved.
As a prisoner at Cabanaatuan, Abel worked in the camp farm. On January 28, 1943, Abel was transferred to a work camp at Lipa in Batangas Province. The men on this detail built runways for the Japanese. The work was extremely hard and the food was scarce. The average meal was rice and soup. The prisoners were able to work but could not do much beyond this. On this detail, Abel worked with Joseph Lajzer a member of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, who would remain his friend the rest of his life.
While a POW at Lipa, Abel was sent out on a work detail. It was on this detail that Abel witnessed a Japanese guard beat an American officer because he did not like him. The guards lined the POW's up at attention and called the officer out. The officer, a 1st. Lt. Hugh E. Wandel was made to get in the "pushup position." He was then beaten by the guard with a long branch of a tree. Lt. Wandel fell to the ground, but the guard would not stop until he returned to the up position on his hands and toes. In Abel's estimation, the beating lasted approximately ten minutes. When the guard was satisfied, he allowed Lt. Wandel to rise. The officer was able to walk, but he was very weak and staggered.
It was Abel's belief that had the beating not stopped, the POW's were on the verge of attacking the guards. The Japanese had made them watch the beating but had forgotten to take away their picks and shovels.
On March 26, 1944, Abel was transferred to Camp
Murphy which was a work camp where he once again
engaged in runway building at Nichols
Field. It was there that the
"Blood Brother" rule was first enforced.
Each group of ten men were responsible for each
other. If one man escaped, the other nine
would be executed. Abel recalled
that a soldier. Pfc. Thomas House escaped
from the camp. For whatever reason, the
Japanese did not execute the other nine men.
At this camp the prisoners were frequently
beaten with pick handles. It was at this
camp that Abel would be punished severely.
On September 24, 1944, Abel was transferred to
Bilibid Prison in Manila. He remained
there only a few days before being sent to the
port area of Manila. When the POWs arrived
their ship, the Arisan Maru
was not ready to sail. Another ship, the Hokusen
Maru was ready to sail, but it's entire
POW detachment had not arrived. The
Japanese decided to switch detachments so that
the Hokusen Maru could
sail. The experience of the trip to Japan
on this "Hell Ship" was the worse experience
Abel had as a POW.
In the hold there was no room to sit down, so
the men stayed in a half-sitting position most
of the time. The only times the men were
permitted on the deck was to go to the
latrine. When this was done, only one man
was permitted on the deck at a time and only for
a few minutes.
The Hokusen Maru arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 24th. While at Formosa, Abel remembered that four survivors from a ship were placed in his ship's hold. They were the survivors of the Arisan Maru which had been sunk in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. This was the ship that Abel had been scheduled to sail on to Japan. The POWs remained in the ship's hold until November 8th when they disembarked the ship.
On Formosa, Abel was sent to Heito Camp. He did not remain there long and was sent to Toroku Camp which was opened just for them in the classrooms of a school. The POWs did gardening, farming, and clean up work around the camp and were not treated as harshly as in other camps. Even though the work was not that hard, many of the POW's died of malnutrition. Abel would remain on Formosa from November 1, 1944, until January 14, 1945, when he was sent to Japan on the Enoshima Maru.
Abel arrived in Japan on January 30th and was sent to Osaka. On February 10th, the Japanese opened a new camp Wakinohama. At the camp, the POWs were housed in a two story school house and put to work as stevedores in the port for the Kamiguni Company. Abel recalled that the prisoners were still beaten; but, by this time, they were so used to it that it did not bother them.
On May 20, 1945, Abel and the other POWs were sent to Maibara 10-B, in the interior of Japan, when the camp was closed. There, he worked building canals and draining lakes. This was near the end of the war so the treatment the POW's received had gotten better.
One day a British POW entered the camp and told the men that the war was over. The prisoners decided that they were going to test this information. The guards were standing nearby, but their guns were leaning against a building. The POW's rushed the guns and so did the guards. After a short struggle, the guards let go of the guns and left. To the POW's this was the first proof that the war was over. When American planes appeared and started to drop them supplies, the prisoners' belief was confirmed.
Abel and the other men decided to take the parachutes from the planes and had a Japanese tailor make the flags of their countries. They next collected instruments and played the national anthems of each of the countries as they raised the flags.
On September 10, 1945, the POW's made contact with American troops. Abel was sent to Yokohoma, Japan, to to be deloused, to shower, and to receive new clothes. He returned to the Philippines for medical treatment. On the Simon Bolivar, he returned to the United States on October 21, 1945, at San Francisco, and received additional medical treatment at Letterman General Hospital. He was discharged, from the army, on May 12, 1946.
After the war, Abel saw House, the man who had escaped and now a sergeant, standing outside a Army Recruiting Office. When Sgt. House saw Abel he turned away from him and would not acknowledge Abel. Abel presumed that House did not know that the other men were not killed because he had escaped.
Abel resided in San Antonio, Texas, and his fishing buddy was Joseph Lajzer of Company B, who had been a POW with him. Abel also enjoyed giving presentations about his experiences as a POW.
Abel Ortega passed away on August 24, 2009, and was buried in Section 45, Site 508 at Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.
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Abel Ortega Interview