Camp O'Donnell – April 14, 1942 – Day 6
Located near Tarlac, Americans knew it as O'Donnell, Filipinos knew it as O'Dunnell, and everyone knew it as Hell Hole #1. It had been a training camp but was abandoned before the war because the water supply was inadequate for 5,000 men. Now it became the first POW camp and into it went the Bataan Force -between 40,000 and 60,000 half starved, emaciated, exhausted men already afflicted with cholera, dysentery and other diseases.
The prisoners had a long wait in the sun, then were stripped and searched again. All remaining personal possessions were confiscated - nail files, scissors, toothbrushes, razors, blades, matches, pen knives, cigarettes, pipe tobacco, along with blankets, shelter halves, and rain mats.
Camp O'Donnell was the lowest ebb. The many rough experiences
of the years ahead could not approach the despair of O'Donnell. The food
consisted of lugao twice a day. Lugao was a watery gruel made
from half rotted rice and a few putrid comotes - a type of
root fit for animal fodder. No salt was used and water or soap was not
used to wash the utensils.
Young men had not yet learned the water discipline that the old timers had in getting along on a minimum of water and avoid-ing contaminated the water you drank at all costs. Bad water killed the young by the hundreds. Russ would collect fresh rain water from leaves. He also would stay away from stagnant ponds or pools. He always would go upstream to gather water and use any medicines like iodine or chlorine tablets he could get.
From the beginning the rate of death at O'Donnell was more than a hundred a day. Soon it was 20 Americans and 150 Filipino lives each day. It became increasingly difficult to bury them. Many were found dead each morning by the latrines.
In the first nine months of incarceration in Camp O'Donnell more than 40,000 American and Filipino prisoners died. The chaplains had more freedom of movement here and conducted as many as 500 simple funerals a day. Dying was easy, the living was hell.