Cover image for The war journal of Major Damon "Rocky" Gause
The war journal of Major Damon "Rocky" Gause
Gause, Damon.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxxiii, 183 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 7.7 10.0 88717.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D811 .G36 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D811 .G36 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



A Veterans Day treasure, the true, first-person account of a captured World War II soldiers incredible escape and courageous journey home, discovered after more than fifty years. Of all the heroic stories to come out of World War II, few are so extraordinary as that of Major Rocky Gause, who was captured by the Japanese, escaped from the infamous Bataan Death March, and, with a fellow soldier, endured a harrowing voyage across the enemy-held Pacific in a leaky, hand-crafted boat. In the battered notebook he kept throughout his journey and later converted to a thrilling narrative, Gause traced his steps from the besieged city of Manila on New Years Eve, 1941, to his safe landing on the Australian coast ten months later.

Author Notes

Historian Stephen E. Ambrose grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Louisiana.

Ambrose is considered to be one of the foremost historical scholars of recent times and has been a professor for over three decades. He is also the founder and president of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans.

His works include D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest and Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West. Abrose served historical consultant on the motion picture Saving Private Ryan.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This story is unbelievably "movie-perfect" (and Miramax will film it), yet it is purportedly true. Gause, an American pilot who died in 1944, maintained a log of his sea escape from the falls of Bataan and, then, Corregidor in 1942. These records had lain among his effects, his widow resisting importunings to publish them. Gause's son has now decided to go public, in tribute to World War II veterans, to whom he says he often relates the tale. The reputation of Japanese prison camps having preceded them, Gause opted to head for Australia in a leaky boat with a balky engine and another American as crew. The odyssey features much comradely poignancy that complements the action: brushes with Japanese cruisers, planes, even a submarine; near destruction in a typhoon; an encounter with a possible German spy; and the topper, a Japanese strafing attack. Perhaps stranger tales of patriotic heroism have emerged from the war, but not many; and this one should strongly resonate with readers. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

This newly discovered memoir relates one WWII soldier's extraordinary escape from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the fortress of Corregidor as he made his way through jungles and villages and then across the Pacific in a leaky boat. A pilot, Gause was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese launched their attack on the American-controlled islands just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Retreating with the American forces to the peninsula of Bataan, he was captured as that area fell to the overwhelming forces of the Japanese. He made an amazing escape from a prison camp to the American fortress of Corregidor, off the coast of the Philippines, and then, when that bastion fell, escaped again; with another American officer, he managed to reach Australia in an old motorboat. They were helped by a beautiful Filipino woman, residents of a leper colony and the isolated inhabitants of various islands on which they landed. The author's repeated references to "japs" and "nips" and his description of the Japanese conquerors as "victory-crazed sadistic devils" may offend readers of a more ethnically sensitive era, but despite these lapses and his merely workmanlike prose, the drama of the events described will hold readers' attention. Gause died in a plane crash in the European theater later during the war. His long-buried journal, found in his foot locker by his son, offers a real-life adventure for fans of The Thin Red Line. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Among all the war stories of World War II, this memoir stands apart as a remarkable true story of a great escape and a miraculous sea voyage. Maj. Rocky Gause, an American pilot in the Philippines, was trapped on the Bataan Peninsula as the Japanese invaded in 1941; when U.S. and Filipino forces surrendered in spring 1942, he escaped from the Bataan Death March and began a 159-day odyssey of survival that ultimately took him from Corregidor to Australia. Accompanied by another American soldier, Capt. William Osborne, Gause sailed a leaky, 20' wooden motorboat across 3200 miles of treacherous waters, dodging Japanese warships, aircraft, submarines, and coastal patrols. Using a hand compass and an old National Geographic map of Oceania, Gause and Osborne navigated all the way to Australia and safety. Rich in detail, suspense, and drama, this memoir was written a year after Gause's escape using notes and a journal he kept during the journey. Gause died in a plane crash in 1944, but his son has resurrected and published this inspiring and exciting tale of human courage and endurance. Recommended for all public libraries.ÄCol. William D. Bushnell, USMC (ret.), Brunswick, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One It was indeed a strange sight. I doubt if the Empire Room in the Manila Hotel had ever been host to as varied a conglomeration of people. The Japanese were expected in Manila within a few hours, so the bars were down. And the bars were well patronized. I thought of the boys digging in on Bataan. They would never believe that I celebrated the approach of a New Year--and the Japanese army--from a front-row seat in the doomed city. Everybody danced that night, young and old. Against the distant rumbling of big guns the music was loud and occasionally off-key. People were drinking too much, more than they would have normally. There were little parties in progress around the velvet-walled room and there was much loud talking and raucous laughter as people tried to forget. This was more than an ordinary New Year's party. We were commemorating the passing of an era as well as a year.     Clay Conner and I were definitely out of place. Pistols swung at our hips. Our G.I. brogans hadn't been shined in weeks, and we hadn't shaved since leaving Fort McKinley for Bataan on Christmas Day. Our khaki shirts and trousers were filthy. We were the only American soldiers in the place. In fact, the only men there in uniform, unless perhaps a Japanese reconnaissance patrol was snooping around. We would have been on Bataan with the rest of our forces, if we hadn't been ordered to return to Manila for badly needed radio equipment that had been forgotten in the evacuation rush.     One of the little Filipino waiters was busy changing our plates.     "Will you give the Japanese as good service as you have us?" I asked, half jokingly, half seriously.     "Oh, but I will not be here then," he answered quietly. "I am staying only until there is no further need of me tonight. My gun is ready in my room. By dawn I will be on my way to Bataan."     "You might do better if you stayed here," I told him. "It isn't going to be any picnic on Bataan. And you don't have to fight, you know."     He drew himself up to his full five feet. "Sir, my brother was killed five days ago in northern Luzon. My father is in the hills, fighting with his old outfit. My mother and sister have gone to care for the wounded. We will fight, all of us, to the end."     "But the Japanese say they are bringing you freedom," broke in Conner. "They may treat you well."     "The Americans have promised us freedom. It is their kind we want. We will never forget what they have done for us. And the Japs we will always hate."     His last words were said in a tone that sent a shiver down my spine. He meant every word. I wondered if all his countrymen felt that way. Through the long months ahead I was to learn that they did. I have often wondered what happened to the boy and if he is still fighting "to the end."     Conner and I were at the hotel to join Rita for the last time before we pulled out of the city. We had seen her by chance on Escolta Street early that evening. We had been loafing along, after loading our trucks with the radio equipment and supplies that were hidden in the Santa Anna cabaret. I had told the men where we would meet an hour before dawn to begin the trek back to Bataan. Then Rita had come rushing across the street to thank me again for saving her life. Again I told her that I hadn't saved her life, that anyone finding her wounded would have picked up and carried her to the hospital. But she insisted that I had, and asked us to her home. We had nothing to do and the "last day and inevitable hour for Manila" atmosphere that pervaded the city wasn't exactly cheering, so we accepted.     She had taken us to a rambling Spanish-type hacienda, in a good residential section, where her mother, her younger brother and two sisters were almost overwhelmed at the prospects of the invasion. Her father was with the Filipino army in the heavy fighting in the north, where the Japs had first landed, and nothing had been heard from him. The family feared he was dead. The purpose of the visit was to persuade me to take the mother and young girls to Bataan when I returned. I explained how impossible that was. Then she suggested that Conner and I meet her at the Manila Hotel.     When she came across the room to our table I realized again how charming she was. Her long black hair framed her sparkling eyes and cameo-like Spanish features. Her evening dress was dark red studded with sequins. She looked very different from the first time I had seen her on the roadside, but if anyone had told me that she would be wearing a sarong when we finally said good-bye I would have said he was bomb-happy.     Rita danced with Conner and then I asked her to dance. My muddy shoes sank lusciously into the heavy carpet as we picked our way between the overcrowded tables and milling patrons toward the postage-stamp dance floor. Rita spoke to many people and asked one girl if she wouldn't like to go over and sit with Lieutenant Conner until we returned. Things like that were being done in Manila on December 31, 1941. The orchestra was playing "The Beautiful Blue Danube" as we began jostling our way around the dance floor.     I expected Rita to begin again the plea that we take all her family to Bataan, but she didn't mention the subject. Instead she told me that she had graduated from college only the summer before and that her father, who had a business in Manila, hadn't been home since December 8th.     She asked a few questions. I told her that when the Filipino and American forces pushed across and around Manila Bay to Bataan, I had remained at Fort McKinley to destroy the radio stations, then had led a convoy to the peninsula, and returned for more supplies. She could not understand how I, a pilot, was now working with radios, but I explained as best I could that when we had no more planes to fly, I had been placed in command of the communications section. The music ended then, and we rejoined Conner and his friend.     "Miss Rodriguez, this is Lt. Gause," Rita said simply, and we all had another drink. Several more people joined us and we had a lively party until about three-thirty, when we called for the check. A silly thing to do I thought, with the Japs only hours away. The management had decreed that the party was "on the house," however, so we thanked the waiter and left the still bustling Empire Room with the strains of the Philippine national anthem ringing in our ears.     The marble pillar lobby of the Hotel Manila, where General MacArthur had made his headquarters, was quiet and deserted and our heels clacked ominously on the shining floor as we walked towards the door. The battered blue Hudson sedan, dirty and dented, that I had picked up in Manila and driven to Bataan on my first trip, was parked majestically at the main entrance. The three of us lit cigarettes and rode in silence through the darkened streets. Rita was sitting between us in the front seat, and I felt her shoulders heave spasmodically a few times. I saw that she was crying. It was the only time I ever saw her cry, although she was to endure many hardships. She still hoped I would save her mother and sisters from the ravages of the victory-maddened Japs, but Clay and I left her forlornly at the door of her home and returned to our rendezvous.     Our small, four-truck convoy was to move out of Manila just before dawn, along the road that skirted Bataan Bay, through the town of San Fernando at the northern tip, and then into Bataan. When we had all assembled, Col. Jack Sewell, commander of our dive-bomber group, rushed up, driving a staff car, and said that he had come into the city to notify me that a ship would be anchored off Bataan in the morning to take a group of pilots to Australia. We had all been hoping for such news and I delightfully prepared to begin the trek to Bataan. Several days later, however, I saw the ship that was to have carried us to Australia with its masts barely sticking above the water in a bay off Bataan. The Japs had scored two direct bomb hits.     The return to Bataan was a nightmare. As long as there was no hum of plane engines, we crawled along about ten miles an hour with blackout lights. It was impossible to see very far ahead and we drove into tree stumps and shell craters, and were on and off the road scores of times. The blue Hudson was followed closely by the loaded army trucks, and when the sun rose our clothes became drenched with perspiration and dust caked our faces and hands. The radio in my car blared though nobody listened. Two soldiers sat on the roofs of the trucks watching for low flying, strafing Jap planes, and whenever they sang out and beat with their fists on the metal roofs, we jarred to a stop and leaped for the cover of nearby jungle undergrowth.     There was little traffic on the road now, although large numbers of Filipinos, sometimes entire families, struggled toward Bataan hoping to obtain protection from the Japs. Trucks and autos that had broken down lined the macadam strip and we had to make frequent detours around stalled vehicles, bomb craters, and bridges that had been blasted out.     We could hear the crackling of Jap rifle fire as we reached the northern end of the bay, and when we passed through the deserted village of San Fernando we heard the shouts of advancing Nip soldiers. I nursed the car along with a prayer and hoped that the trucks would hold out. I expected that when we crossed the San Fernando bridge a Jap patrol might step out in the road and open fire. From the village on down into the peninsula the road dwindled into a trail recently covered with crushed rock. Dust was so thick along and above the road that at times I was forced to stop to catch a breath of fresh air. The owner of the Hudson, if he were still alive, would have wrung his hands if he could have seen his battered car.     About nightfall we encountered American troops, this time much more coordinated and settled than they had been when I reached Bataan on December 26th. We were ready now for the grim business ahead.     Weeks later on Bataan, I met Captain Pat Burns, who had left Manila that same morning fifteen minutes after our convoy. He said that when his car loaded with officers reached the bridge in San Fernando a small party of Japs opened fire and he was the only one to escape. He returned to Manila ahead of the Japs and a native sailed him across the bay to Bataan.     Our convoy, therefore, was the last to get safely out of Manila. Chapter Two Conditions on Bataan were far from desirable, and before the peninsula was surrendered, I wondered many times how it was possible to live in the face of the steady Jap bombing and shelling. A sturdy mountain range jutted out of the center of the peninsula, and our forces established a line designated at the "Abucay Hacienda Line" because it passed from the mountains to the bay through a town by that name.     Due to lack of trained infantrymen in Bataan the Air Corps men and officers were organized into an infantry regiment. We defended the sector between Manila Bay on the right to the foothills of the central mountains on the left, a frontal distance of approximately 30 kilometers. This regiment was made up of the following Air Corp units: 17th Bomb Sqdn, 16th Bomb Sqdn, 91st Bomb Sqdn of the 27th Bomb Group, the 27th Materiel Sqdn, 7th Materiel Sqdn, 2nd Observation Sqdn, 48th Materiel Sqdn, and a Headquarters Sqdn, of which I was a member during the last days of the campaign. Upon returning to Bataan I was given command of a machine-gun company, which was formed out of the 17th Bomb Sqdn. Utilizing the air-cooled machine-guns that we brought from the States to install on our Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers (A-24s), which never arrived, we established ourselves to defend our allotted sector of the line. I would swell with pride as I watched these skilled men lay aside their tools, bombsight, radio, delicate instruments, and pick up a .30 caliber rifle or dig a machine-gun emplacement as if they had been trained in the infantry for years. I never heard a complaint from these men during the bloody days that followed. The first thing we did after setting up our guns was to get in some rifle practice. We accomplished this by picking out a haystack or corn shock and seeing if we could set it afire with tracer bullets. After a few days these men who had never had a rifle or hand grenade in their hands before they came to Bataan were acting like seasoned infantrymen.     In this company I had 20 or 30 expert aerial gunners who formerly had ridden in the cockpit of the dive bombers with us. These men I put on the antiaircraft 50's we had. One of these men, Pvt. James Oestricher, an aircraft sheet metal worker by trade, improvised a pair of .50 caliber guns on a carriage which looked something like a coaster wagon. Oestricher would pull this contraption behind him wherever he went. He built a dummy haystack which he would set over his guns. When the dive-bombers peeled off to dive, Oestricher would scramble for his emplacement, throw off the haystack, and open fire point blank at them. He was accredited with two Jap dive-bombers within a period of three weeks. Oestricher was only 18 years of age. He was from Quitman, Georgia. Yes, he made a wonderful record for himself and the Air Corps. About two days before Bataan fell, Oestricher was killed by a direct bomb hit that was dropped from a plane as he fired point-blank at it.     We were fortunate that for the first two or three weeks the Japs didn't make a strong assault on our sector. The only ground action we had was when a patrol of about 18 Japs tried to penetrate our lines during the early morning. The men got in some much needed rifle practice on them, and after about a thirty-minute skirmish all 18 were riddled. This little instance gave the men confidence in themselves and their new weapons (the rifle). After that it was hard to get them down. They wanted to advance into enemy territory and look for trouble. Thereafter whenever scouting parties were organized to scout the enemy several miles behind the enemy lines, there were always more hands raised than men needed for the job.     Our men were on the alert at all times and that was tiring. Finally by strength of numbers, the Japs broke through along the bay side and the American and Filipino forces fell back to a previously prepared defense sector from Orion, on the bay, to Bagac, on the China Sea. Here we had a continuous line girding the peninsula and made our stand for all but a few days of the campaign.     The first week in January brought the first heavy Jap attack on this front, during which an estimated 15,000 Japs were killed or wounded. I was commanding a machinegun company boasting twenty of the best aerial machine gunners in the army. They had mounted their air-cooled caliber 50s on makeshift tripods and piled the Japs, one on top of another. After the first big push, which failed, the Japs contented themselves with constant bombardment and occasional skirmishes.     Our Air Corps men soon learned the tricks of the infantry trade and became as much at home in a slit trench or foxhole as a professional infantryman. Morale was good, and whenever communications had to be laid into Jap territory for reconnaissance purposes, there were always a host of volunteers.     Early one night, about fifteen of us were stringing a wire to an outlying sentry post when we saw two Jap scouts sneaking away in the underbrush. We fired a volley and brought both of them down. One was killed instantly, and when we ran up to them the other was dying. He was the first Jap soldier in uniform that I had seen face-to-face, and he was the most pathetic and frightened man I can ever recall.     He expected to be bayoneted on the spot, it seemed, but we offered him a sip of water, and it couldn't have reached his stomach before he slumped over. These two were the first Japs the men in our section of the line had killed and when the scouts flaunted the Jap clothing and knickknacks on their return, everyone felt better. The boys knew now that Japs weren't so tough after all. They could be killed like anybody else.     The heat never let up at any time. It caused us nearly as much discomfort as the Japs. The mosquitoes were no respecters of rank and annoyed colonels and privates alike. It was impossible to sleep without a netting, but you fell' asleep when exhausted.     Some nights the men could entrust their foxholes to a pal and slip through the dusk to the communications tent to listen to the radio for a while. By this time, the Japs had taken over control of the Manila station, and the strains of "My Old Kentucky Home," "Home on the Range," and a host of other tunes were being broadcast in the hope that our boys would get homesick and give up. It only served to increase our hatred for the Japs. One night we picked up "Deep in the Heart of Texas" from the States and discovered that it topped the hit parade. Some of the fellows were interested in the fact.     Particularly irritating was a news commentator from KGEI in San Francisco. We listened to him every night for news of the other war fronts, and he never failed to tell the waiting world how the men on Bataan were holding off the Japs and winning skirmish after skirmish and battle after battle. It always left us with a bad taste in our mouth.     Maybe those radio programs initiated some of the wild rumors that made the rounds and caught everyone. There were always troopships filled with American soldiers waiting over the horizon to land fully equipped troops after dark. And American planes were always coming into the three landing fields the engineer units had hacked out of the Bataan wilds. Neither these nor the anticipated supplies ever arrived.     Whenever we went on a scouting mission, I marveled at the ease with which the Filipinos moved through the jungle. The native troops were holding the China Sea side of the line, but some always accompanied our patrols. Two weeks after we dug in on Bataan, one of the scouts who frequently passed through our front line headquarters approached me and said, "Sir, I have a message for you."     I don't know how he recognized me through the beard, dirt, and grimy clothes. The envelope, he said, had been handed to him in Manila by a girl, and, of course, it was from Rita. She still hoped that we could bring her family to Bataan as she expected the Japs to ransack her home and ravish her mother and sisters at any moment. There was still no word from her father. I was to answer by the same scout, who had been bringing us military information out of Manila, and he would guide them through the Jap lines. Such an undertaking was simply impossible. Should they be picked up by a Jap scouting party there is no telling what would have happened. I told the scout that there would be no answer, and he melted away into the jungle.     From another Filipino scout we learned that the Japs were storing large supplies of ammunition in the town of Balanga, about twelve miles in front of our lines. My men were to establish a forward communications post that night to keep us acquainted by sentry of Jap advances, so I offered our services to Captain Mark Wohfield, whose mission it was to destroy the dump.     We left about dark, each of the fifteen men carrying as many hand grenades as they could stuff in their clothes, and bottles of gasoline with rags twisted into the necks as wicks. It was dawn by the time we reached the poor native village. The thatched huts were lined in rows, and the only sturdy building was a church. Its spire and cross stretched skyward, ignoring the events that were about to transpire.     We didn't see any Japs as we crept up on the windward side, dodging, ducking, and running from house to house, but it wasn't long before we heard the sound of trucks and shouts and noises as if the Nips were unloading the vehicles. A strong wind was blowing and our party retreated to the edge of the village where we held a conference. Lighting the bottles of gasoline, we each took a street and ran up and down both sides, lighting the thatched walls and remaining to make sure that they would burn. In seconds the village was enveloped in flames fanned by a brisk wind. The smoke was dark near the ground, but swelled up in greyish billows, and the crackle of flames was almost as loud as rifle fire. Burning brands carried by the wind ignited huts on the far side of the town, trapping the Japs working in the village, and their cries were rising above the roar of the fire when the stored ammunition began to explode.     After a few staccato bursts it all went up in a tremendous blast, and we leaped up waving our Garand rifles over our heads and cheered. When the embers cooled a trace of a hut still dotted the village site here and there, but the church was miraculously the only undamaged structure. We walked through the debris-littered streets and examined the charred bodies of the Japs who had been working in the village.     Several days later, one of my best friends, Lt. Reid Amron, was leading a patrol through the town, and he asked his men to stop for a minute. He wanted to go into the church to say a prayer. An enlisted man went with him, and the officer just stepped inside the huge Spanish-type portal when there was a burst of machine-gun fire. The Japs had spotted guns in the belfry, sacristy--everywhere in the church--waiting for anyone who sought its quiet. The other members of the patrol hustled to cover as Lieutenant Amron backed out the door, seriously wounded.     The private who hadn't entered the church took Amron under the arms and, holding him almost erect, was dragging him to safety when a hidden Jap machine-gun outfit across the road opened fire, and the lieutenant died in the enlisted man's arms. His body, acting as a shield, saved the private, who was wounded by the burst but managed to fall into a shell hole. The Japs left the officer sprawled in the road in front of the church as bait, but we knew their trick. We sent for reserves, who came up heavily armed and in force sufficient to surround the church. One man volunteered to move forward and draw Jap fire and when the first Jap trigger was pressed, we raked them. Before the fun was over, there wasn't a Jap who could walk away. Copyright © 1999 Damon L. Gause. All rights reserved.