Robert Dale Rosendahl was born in Thief River Falls, Minnesota in April 1921 and grew p in a small agricultural town. During the depression years money was short but they never considered themselves poor. The family did not have any money for him to go to college after high school so Rosendahl joined the army. He had tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals farm team. Someone from the team told Rosendahl to come back the following year so Rosendahl joined the army. He enlisted because everyone could see that another war with Europe was coming and he wanted to get in before that happened so he would not be drafted into the infantry. Rosendahl never had a day of basic training. When he enlisted he was immediately assigned to a company. The division had a shooting competition and Rosendahl got a perfect score. He was assigned to a traveling exhibition shooting team for a while. When that ended in the fall he transferred to recruiting duty. Rosendahl did not like recruiting duty so he asked his colonel if he could volunteer for the Army Air Corps. The colonel let him and two days later he was in the Army Air Corps. He wanted to join the Army Air Corps so he could attend school and get some training. He was trained as an aircraft mechanic. When he got to the Philippine Islands he was the only man in his outfit with an FAA [Annotators Note: Federal Aviation Administration] certification. Having the FAA certification got him promoted to first class aircraft mechanic. Rosendahl went to the Philippines in February of 1941. He shipped out from Fort McDowell aboard the army transport Entolin [Annotators Note: USAT Entolin]. The Entolin had been sold as surplus after World War 1 and was used as a cannery ship in Alaska before being reacquired by the United States government and converted back into a transport. The ship was loaded with 9,000 tons of dynamite and artillery shells and 101 privates. The trip to the Philippines took 32 days. When he arrived in the Philippines he was assigned to the 3rd Pursuit Squadron. The equipment the Air Corps had in the Philippines was obsolete. The newest aircraft they had was a P-12 [Annotators Note: Boeing P-12 biplane]. Duty in the Philippines was easy. They worked half days servicing the group's planes then had the other half of the day off. Rosendahl had six aircraft that he was responsible for maintaining. Each plane had a crew and he was the line chief who over saw them. He was later moved into the mechanical section doing inspections. He specialized in hydraulic propellers and brakes. Rosendahl was in the Philippines for about two months when things started to heat up. They started working eight hour shifts and lost their half days off. They started putting forth a serious effort to train the young pilots who were arriving from schools in Texas with little flight time.
Robert Rosendahl’s squadron was stationed at a gunnery school at a small airstrip when the on the west coast of Luzon. They were there training to fire the .50 caliber machineguns in the P-40s [Annotators Note: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft]. They had a problem in that the planes had no oxygen systems in them so the pilots could not exceed 10,000 or 12,000 feet. They were the first military base between Formosa and the Philippine Islands. At half past three in the morning of 8 December [Annotators Note: 8 December 1941] they were woken up and told that Pearl Harbor had just been bombed. They did not have any antiaircraft guns on their field. The only weapons they had were six old .30 caliber Lewis machineguns that were left over from World War 1 set up around the field. At about eleven in the morning someone pointed out that there were aircraft overhead. It was a flight of 54 Japanese Betty [Annotators Note: Mitsubishi G4M bomber, known as the Betty] bombers. The enemy bombers pounded the small airfield. There were 264 enlisted men and 27 officers in the 3rd Pursuit Squadron and 80 of them were lost on the first day. The landing strip at the field was just a sandbar along the coast. There was a small barracks and a lot of tents. Their gasoline was stacked up in 55 gallon barrels a quarter of a mile long and four barrels high. Rosendahl jumped into a hole. In order to keep the sand from coming right back in the hole they used bamboo and cardboard and any other materials they could find. A bomb hit the end of the foxhole Rosendahl was in and covered him with sand. He got out from under the sand but Japanese navy Zeros [Annotators Note: Mitsubishi A6M fighter aircraft, known as the Zero or Zeke] were strafing the field. Rosendahl only had a .45 caliber pistol so he just stayed down at the bottom of the hole. The attackers spent an hour or so attacking Rosendahl’s airfield. Then another group of 53 bombers came over and hit them again. When that second attack was over that was the last they saw of the Japanese that day. They picked up the dead and put them aboard commandeered Filipino buses. The wounded were put in a couple trucks that still ran and were taken to the general hospital in Manila. Rosendahl went with one of the trucks to the hospital. The squadron followed Rosendahl out of there. They had lost all of their equipment. Eight of their young pilots had been killed on that first day. The few airplanes they had left were turned over to other squadrons and the survivors of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron were given rifles and turned into infantry. They left Manila and went over to Bataan on Christmas Eve and were assigned as beach patrol. By now there were only about 85 men still fit for duty. They manned their positions on the west side of Bataan where they were attacked several times by the Japanese. They quickly ran out of ammunition for their artillery and there was very little food. There was some food on Corregidor that was sent over to them but not much. They were issued one eighth Filipino rations. They would each be given a small cup of rice and a one pound can of salmon that 15 men would share. They supplemented their rations with monkeys and fish. Malaria also became a problem. By the time the commanding officer surrendered the peninsula to the Japanese on 9 April [Annotators Note: 9 April 1942] everybody was in poor physical shape.
When Robert Rosendahl and his fellow survivors were told to destroy their weapons they threw them all out into the bay. Then they tried to catch a boat over to Corregidor but no boats were available so they went back to their airstrip at Mariveles. Rosendahl went back to the small airstrip on the beach. While he was there he was attacked by a Japanese soldier who charged at him with the bayonet he had fixed to his rifle. Rosendahl grabbed the bayonet. He pulled out the small canteen knife that he had broken the tip off of and used to shave with. He slashed the Japanese soldier across his stomach. The enemy soldier’s guts came out. The Rosendahl finished the enemy soldier off with his knife. Rosendahl found a needle and thread and stitched his hand up then went into Mariveles and turned himself in to the Japanese authorities. The prisoners were separated into groups of about 100 men each with six or seven Japanese soldiers guarding each group. They were then marched off. The group Rosendahl was in was not the first to go. There had been several that went out before them. When they did leave they were placed into chicken wire pens whenever they stopped. The pens were full of fecal matter from the men who were there before them. It was at this time that the shooting started. If prisoners were unable to keep up with their group they would bayoneted or stabbed. The Japanese set up a trap at an artesian well. The Japanese set up a machinegun anticipating that the American prisoners would try to get to the water. The prisoners had not had any water in two days so many of them tried to get to the water and were shot. The Japanese killed a lot of guys at those wells. Rosendahl was on the march for five days. During that time he got no water. He did get two bowls of rice about the size of a snowball on the fourth day. When they were almost to San Fernando they came across a Japanese officer standing on a Dodge truck that had he had driven into the ditch. The Japanese officer asked for a driver and Rosendahl volunteered. He drove the Japanese officer over to the west coast where the officer turned him over to a Japanese sergeant. The sergeant was overseeing a detail of about 14 morticians who were identifying Japanese dead. Rosendahl was not allowed to go with the morticians to see exactly what they were doing. He stayed with this group on Bataan for about two weeks. One day Rosandahl told the Japanese soldier running the detail that they needed some more gasoline. The Japanese soldier took a hammer and stuck the handle down into the gas tank. When the man withdrew the hammer and saw that there was a little gasoline still in the tank he started beating Rosendahl and screaming at him. Rosendahl later learned that the man was screaming at him because he had just learned of the Doolittle Raid on the Japanese mainland. A truck came by carrying a load of rice. Rosendahl was thrown onto the truck. In the back of the truck was a Japanese guard. The rice in the truck was going to Camp O' Donnell. When he arrived Rosendahl saw that the camp was a hell hole. The only duty there was to bury 100 men a day. They would go out in the morning and dig a hole would carry the bodies to it in the evening then cover it up. When a Japanese soldier came by calling out for volunteers for a detail Rosendahl volunteered. He did so because the food at the camp was so poor. They usually ate sweet potatoes that had been boiled in a 55 gallon gasoline barrel. They got the potatoes early in the day then got sweet potatoe vines later in the day. That was all they were given to eat. The truck load of rice that was being brought into the camp had come from American stores. All of the rice they had in the Philippines had been damaged by moisture which caused a mold to grow on it. This made it poisonous. When it was fed to the prisoners they all got dysentery.
Robert Rosendahl got out of Camp O' Donnell and went on a detail north of a town called Cabanatuan where he was put to work on a bridge. They mixed concrete in a wooded box then put it in a rice basket that would be carried on a pole by two men coolie style. The Japanese engineered the bridge and the prisoners built it. When the bridge was completed around 8 July [Annotators Note: 8 July 1942] the Japanese walked the prisoners across it and back to a camp called Cabanatuan Number One. When the prisoners arrived at the camp they discovered that it was the same as the camp they had been in. There was little food. There was lots of sickness and there were a lot of deaths every day. On 2 October Rosendahl was selected to be part of a detail of 1500 mechanics and machinists that were to be sent to Manchuria to build a factory. The men were put aboard a boat called the Tottori Maru. The prisoners were put in the first and second holds. The back hold held 125 Japanese soldiers who were going back to Japan. The ship went out into Manila Bay for a couple of days. Water and food were passed down to the prisoners in a bucket. In the hold there was no order. It was a mob rule. Some guys got a lot to eat and some guys did not get anything. The ship left Manila and steamed to Formosa. Before it got to Formosa someone fired a torpedo at the ship but missed. In Formosa the prisoners were hosed off with fresh water. They also tested everyone for something but the prisoners were not told what. From Formosa the ship went to a bunch of islands off the China coast between China and Formosa. The ship sat out there for 12 days or so. During that time the prisoners were given poor rations and very little water. The ship eventually joined a convoy to Pusan, Korea. By the time the ship docked in Pusan 13 of the prisoners had died. The prisoners were washed off with a creosote sprayer and given second hand Japanese army clothes on the pier. Each man got a pair of size 14 goat skin lined boots. The boots were nice but the prisoners had to stuff them with straw so they would fit. Each prisoner also got a camel hair overcoat. The overcoats and boots had been captured from the Russian Army on 1904 and had been in storage ever since. The prisoners were marched through the city of Pusan. The native Koreans threw dog turds at the prisoners and spit on them. The prisoners were put on a train that had its windows papered over so the prisoners could not see out. When they boarded the train the prisoners were each given a small box containing a standard Japanese Army ration. It was the first time the prisoners had been treated like human beings since they had gone into captivity. When the prisoners got to Manchuria it was raining and freezing. The prisoners had just come out of the Philippines and many of them got pneumonia.
[Annotators Note: Robert Rosendahl served in the USAAF with the 3rd Pursuit Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group. He deployed to the Philippines in February 1941 and was captured when the Japanese occupied the islands. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW and was used as a slave laborer in Mukden, China until he was liberated by Russian troops in 1945.] The prisoners were put in old Chinese barracks. There were 50 men on each side of the barracks. The barracks had a stove in it but the prisoners were not allowed to light a fire until the first day of winter which is 21 December. By that time the temperature had already dropped to 25 below zero. The weather was cold and dry. The prisoners were put to work in a factory that had been built by Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Company in 1928. Ford Motor Company owned it for a time. When the Japanese occupied the area, they ran the Chinese out. The factory was made up of six big buildings and had its own power plant. The buildings were full of machinery still packed in crates. The prisoners were to dig holes in the floor to set up the machines. They followed the directions given to them. They mixed concrete for the footers. There were 50 men on each crew with two Japanese overseeing them. When the Japanese would take their tea break the GIs would slip some of the gears out of the boxes and would drop them down into the wet concrete. The Japanese were never able to prove that the GIs were doing that so they picked out 150 men that they suspected and shipped them to Japan to work in the coal mines. It was a tough place. The food was poor and the work was hard and if the prisoners did not work they did not get any food. Rosendahl got sick and was unable to work. He remained in the camp where they got one meal in the morning consisting of Milo maize. There was a sewing machine in the camp and Rosendahl knew how to sew. He started making repairs for the men in the camp. He was also assigned the detail of taking care of the bodies of the men who died. His job was to take the clothes off the corpses and bury the men naked with their dog tags in their mouths. He did those jobs for two or three years. He was never sent back to the factory.
On 15 August 1945 nobody came to pick Robert Rosendahl and his fellow prisoners up to go to work. One of the prisoners had noticed six parachutes coming down near the airfield that turned out to be six Americans. The Americans were there for the prisoners but the Japanese refused to turn them over because the Russians were on their way there. Eventually the men were given access to the prisoners. Rosendahl and another prisoner went into the town near their camp and shot the lock off of a Kirin Beer Brewery and took a load of Kirin Beer back to the camp. After that the prisoners ran the camp. The Russians had come in and taken the weapons away from the guards and turned them over to the former prisoners. The prisoners were a long way away from civilization. Guys with illnesses and wounds were flown out. Those who were in decent enough shape were forced to wait for surface transportation. The prisoners were finally put aboard a train that took them to Darien, Manchuria where they loaded aboard APA145 [Annotators Note: USS Colbert (APA-145)]. The prisoners were given new clothes and shoes. Each prisoner had to sign a statement of charges and eventually paid for the clothes they were issued. Aboard ship they had steak and ice cream. After shipping out they ran into a typhoon but suffered no damage from it. Then one day they hit a mine and had to be towed into Okinawa. At Okinawa they were taken to an air force base where they saw number of B-24s that had suffered battle damage and were worn out. The prisoners were flown out on these B-24s from Okinawa to Clark Field in the Philippines. In Luzon, Rosendahl had his records straightened out then went aboard an army transport that took him back to the United States. Rosendahl got back to the United States the day after Thanksgiving [Annotators Note: 23 November 1945] at Madigan General Hospital in Seattle. He was put aboard a hospital train to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa and from there got a pass and went home to northern Minnesota. He spent the Christmas holidays with his folks then returned to the hospital. He took a physical then got 114 day pass. Seeing his family again was pretty traumatic for Rosendahl. His family had suffered quite a bit.
For Robert Rosendahl fear is what kept him going during the Bataan Death March. The Japanese were barbarians. Very few of the Japanese could drive a car. Most of them were rural farmers. The toughest part of the march was going without water and drinking dirty ditch water. Rosendahl was lucky, though. He had a few chlorine tablets and a bottle of iodine he had scrounged up after killing a Japanese soldier at the airstrip where he returned after they got word that the American forces had surrendered to the Japanese. During the march the prisoners would be put into pens at night. The pens were full of fecal matter from the prisoners who had been there before them. They were not able to lie down. The conditions were very bad. Some of the guys lost their minds. Rosendahl has never felt special being a Bataan Death March survivor. He feels that he was just a soldier and did what he had to survive. The hardest part of captivity was getting through the winter of 1942 and 1943. Rosendahl developed beriberi and his legs swelled up. If the swelling had gotten past his waist he would have died. He had the wet kind of beriberi. There was also a dry kind of beriberi that caused intense pain. The prisoners learned little tricks to keep the Japanese away. The Japanese were opportunists who delighted in picking out a prisoner to pick on. When Rosendahl returned to the United States he thought that anyone who drove a Japanese vehicle was a deviant. Rosendahl believes that history has a way of repeating itself. Most people do not have any idea of what happened at Bataan. During the war, there was a deferment program. Guys who were in college stayed in college and they ended up being the people who wrote the books. In them they eliminated most of the information on World War 2. Rosendahl’s message to future generations is to practice good citizenship and vote. There is not much that can be done to prepare a person to be a prisoner of war. Winston Churchill was a prisoner of war during the Boer War. When a person is a prisoner of war they are completely at the mercy of their captors. What impresses Rosendahl the most about The National WWII Museum is the effort put in by the volunteers.
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