Starvation reaped a terrifying harvest throughout the prisons. Survivors suffered ill effects from vitamin deficiencies and the doctors believed they would continue to be affected for years to come.
There was such a lack of toilet paper that men had to use dirt to clean themselves.
Years later, those who had managed to survive still could not erase the nightmare of O'Donnell from their minds.
Russ entered O'Donnell on the 14th of April, 1942 and left on the 19th of April, 1942. Seeing the terrible diseases sweeping through the other prisoners, the hours long lines waiting for a chance at the pitcher pump well, the constant random beatings inflicted by the guards, he tried to get out of the camp as soon as possible for chance of survival here was very slim.
One morning, a few days after Russ arrived at the camp, several Japanese officers came asking for men who knew how to repair or drive some of captured American trucks. Russ and a number of other soldiers acknowledged that they were mechanics.
Russ was taken on as a driver for a Japanese captain, who had a fancy for Dorothy Lamour, a famous American actress. Russ pretended he knew her.
"Dorothy is my girlfriend back in the States"
The captain was completely impressed, asking Russ all kinds of questions about her, which Russ had to make up answers for. This helped him in his relationship with the captain. One day while driving through a small town, Russ found an old Dorothy Lamour film which he gave to the captain. Totally delighted with this, the Japanese captain gave Russ several cans of food, and lacking a projector, proceeded to look at each frame by hand. A few days later, Russ found a small theater which still worked. The captain got to see his movie on the screen! Now every day, Russ was given extra cans of food, like peaches, spam, corned beef, more. It probably saved his life, for the terrible years yet to come.
Later Russ also used Miss Lamour to get a letter out to his brother to let him know that he was alive. Russ sent the letter addressed to her but since she knew nothing about him, she passed the letter on to the military and eventually Russ' brother got word about Russ. Up to that time, he had been considered MIA and possibly dead.
While Russ was with the captain, he was fed well and had some freedom. He was also paid a little money so he could trade in the villages that they passed through. This only lasted a short time as the captain was transferred and Russ was sent to Baquio prison camp.
When he entered Baquio he was asked by the American officers if he had any money. He said "yes" and they demanded it saying the Japanese insisted all money be taken from the prisoners. So Russ tried to return the money to the captain, who asked why and then he talked to the guard and found that the Japanese had issued no such order. Russ kept his money but was on the next work group sent out from Baquio for Cabanatuan, another notorious camp.