TYLER, TX (KLTV) - When Clifford Warren joined the Army at the age of 16 he had no inkling he would spend much of his time as a prisoner of war.
"We was in the Philippines eight months before World War II broke out."
Warren had been sent to Corregidor Island in the Phillippines soon after joining the Army. The Japanese invaded the Philippines soon after their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and took Warren, along with thousands of other American soldiers, prisoners.
"The best we could tell they put 9,000 of us in one camp."
At the beginning of his captivity, Warren asked captured American doctors how he could stay alive in prison. They told him to work hard and build up muscle, and he determined that was what he would do. But his first work detail was anything but healthy.
"I was on the burial detail."
The death rate among the American prisoners was high, and burying dead bodies was the worst thing Warren could imagine.
"The other soldiers wouldn't let us sleep in the same barracks because of the odor."
Warren knew he had to get off the burial detail or he'd never make it, so he volunteered for the first new detail being organized. Work on the docks and building an airfield was better since the prisoners could steal food to supplement their meager diets.
Warren worked 18 months, before the worst part of all...being shipped to Japan on a "hell" ship.
"There were 3,000 men on one ship."
The hell ship sat in the harbor three days waiting for its convoy and then traveled 18 days more to get to Japan. With the lack of food and water and crowded conditions, many of the prisoners never reached their destination.
"There was a lot of us in Japan that gave up hope."
Warren and the other prisoners, who were still alive, were unloaded on the little island of Moje, Japan, where Warren was assigned to another work detail. After learning some of the Japanese language, Warren served as an interpreter, until the war was over and he could return home, knowing he was one of the only a few to have such an experience and live to tell about it.