The War Years (1941-1945)

transcript of the handwritten diary of Martha Bullert

Martha Bullert

​ 1909-1996


​​Martha Bullert, a retired college professor, died Wednesday, December 4, 1996 at her home in Waynesville, Missouri.  Miss Bullert is survived by one nephew, Arle Bullert, and several cousins, all of the state of Minnesota; long-time friend Martha Hoffman of Waynesville, and many other friends.  Memorial contributions may be made to the Waynesville/St. Robert Senior Citizens Center. 

Martha was born in St. Paul, Pulaski County, Minnesota on Feb. 11, 1909.  Martha was adopted.  Her adoptive parents were John Albert Bullert (1869-1929) and

Ernestine Bertha (Rucks) Bullert (1875-1935).  They adopted four children:  Arthur Harold Bullert (1902-1986),  Rahmund Bullert (1902-1903), Karl Bullert (1902-1903) and Martha).  Martha's parents and brothers preceded her in death.

FATHER: John Albert BULLERT (b. 17 Apr 1870, Green Isle Twp., Sibley Co., Minn.; d. 11 Jan 1929, Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN; burial Zion Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery (New), Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN - age 60) - Death record in Sibley County Courthouse, Book E-129-51, records birth year as 1869 - provided by Eldrene (Ziegler) Ebert - but John's headstone shows 1870.  John Bullert was a farmer.

MOTHER: Ernestine Bertha "Tillie" RUCKS (b. 27 Sept 1875, MN; d. 30 Jan 1935, Green Isle Twp., Sibley Co., MN; burial Zion Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery (New), Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN - age 59). 

Ernestine Bertha RUCKS was one of 15 children born to parents:

FATHER:  August Theodore RUCKS (b. 26 Sept 1844, Kreis Flatow, West Prussia (now Poland); d. 11 Sept 1927, LeSueur, LeSueur Co., MN) and 

MOTHER:  Ernstine Auguste E. BLUEMKE (b. 20 Mar 1855, Marionwerder, West Prussia; d. 28 Feb 1935, Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN) who married on Apr. 24, 1871. 

In 1898, John Albert BULLERT married Ernestine Bertha RUCKS. They adopted 4 children:

1. Arthur Harold BULLERT (b. 28 Feb 1902, MN.; d. 20 Jan 1986, Arlington, Sibley Co., MN; burial Arlington Public Cemetery, Arlington, SIbley Co., MN)
m. Selma Mathilda Lena DIETZ (b. 24 Mar 1903, Vesta, Redwood Co., MN; d. 14 Mar 1981, Sibley Co., MN) in about 1921. They had a son, Arle John BULLERT (b. 26 Dec 1945) who married and had two children.

2. Rahmund BULLERT (b. 12 Nov 1902, Sibley Co., MN; d. 25 Feb 1903, Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN; burial Zion Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery (Old), Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN) age 3 months, 14 days old

3. Karl BULLERT (b. 22 Dec 1902, Sibley Co., MN; d. 19 Apr 1903, Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN; burial Zion Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery (Old), Green Isle, Sibley Co., MN) age 3 months, 29 days old

4. Martha BULLERT (1909-1996)

Martha attended German school and was confirmed in the Lutheran faith in April, 1922.  She attended Arlington High School, and the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, Wisconsin. 

In 1929, she was Vice President of the Young Women's Christian Association at the Wisconsin State Teachers College. 

In 1931, she was listed as Director of Edwards Service Club, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Her Masters Degree was granted at Columbia University in New York. She studied race relations at Fisk University in Tennessee, and International Relations at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, Vienna University in Austria and the University of Geneva in Switzerland. She was very close to completing her PhD. She was a teacher by profession and taught in the Furough School in Rasht, Iran in 1938.  In 1940, she taught in the Silliman University in Negros Island, the Philippines.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was surprise attacked by the Japanese.  Americans in the Philippines were nervous about a Japanese attack, and their fears were realized within hours.

In early 1942, at age 33, Martha was teaching at the Silliman University in Dumaguete on Negros Island, Philippines, run and operated by Americans.  She was among the many Americans captured by the Japanese Imperial Army and was a Prisoner of War for over three years (1942-1945) in Dumaguete and Bacolod Internment Camps on Negros Island, and then the Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, the Philippines. 

Bacolod Internment Camp was established on June 5, 1942 in Bacolod North Elementary School, in Bacolod City, on Negros. The camp had about 140 internees within the first three months.

On March 2, 1943, 119 internees were transported to Santo Tomás Internment Camp (STIC), arriving there about March 10th (1943).

In the camp at Santo Tomas, Martha cared for 1-year-old Robert Douglas "Doug" White, the son of Max Douglas White (1905-1978). Later in adulthood, Doug wrote:

"I was less than a year old when dad and I were interned. We were interned from the beginning in 1942 till the liberation in 1945. I have little or no personal memories of the camp but I have letters, and several books written by those others who were interned. I believe there are very few copies/rare and have not been published since the originals of the book. I would like to share these as they bring back my memories, both good and bad and memories of other internees."

From "Santo Tomas Internment Camp", 
by F. H. Stevens
"Eating and cooking arrangements were extremely haphazard to begin with. The great outdoors was their dining room and the earth their table until a cement building was turned over for their use as kitchen and mess hall. The Swiss Family Robinson at least had a breadfruit tree, but the internees’ only resource was the bounty of their cooks. Small wonder therefore that they attached much value to the work of Vera Harbort, the chief chef, who with a gang of helpers did all the cooking for the odd one hundred and forty prisoners for the first three months. At first they had to cook on open fires, with school furniture as fuel; later, alcohol and stoves from the sugar centrals made the culinary task easier. Mrs. Jardeleza succeeded Mrs. Harbort as cook and, when she was released from Camp, Martha Bullert took on the job for the duration."

Liberation finally came when General Douglas MacArthur and U.S. forces broke through Japanese defenses on Feb. 3, 1945.  A little over a month later, on Apr. 10, 1945, Martha returned to the U.S. sailing from Manila, Philippine Islands with other liberated POW's aboard the naval transport ship S.S. Admiral E. W. Eberle. On May 2, 1945 (23 days after leaving Manila), Martha arrived at the Port of San Pedro, California.  She was 36 years old, had no documents to prove U.S. citizenship, only listing her U.S. address as "Arlington, Minnesota".

Martha returned to teaching at her Alma Mater, University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, Wisconsin, from 1946 to 1949. 

Martha Bullert gave lectures and spoke to sororities about her POW experiences.  On May 6, 1946, Miss Martha Bullert spoke to a large group of sororities at La Crosse State Teachers College in Wisconsin.  From an article in The Racquet, Vol. 38, No. 15, La Crosse, Wisconsin, May 10, 1946:

"When Miss Bullert was in the Philippines in July, 1941, war seemed inevitable. Passage on boats was almost impossible to get after September, 1941, since all available ships were used to carry food and ammunition. December 7 was Pearl Harbor day, and December 8 the Japanese bombed the larger islands of the Philippines.

After Pearl Harbor, the (Japanese) army took over all boats. There was no more inter-island shipping. Plans were made (by civilians) to withdraw from the seaports and go back to (hide in) the hills. Manila was declared an "open city" to save its population. On January 2, Manila fell (to the Japanese Imperial Army), and on January 4 the Santo Tomas camp was opened.

The group of prisoners were taken to Manila where they were marched through the streets. From here, they were taken to Santo Tomas. It was beautiful there, and 'the first year there was like Coney Island.' Prisoners could go to the gates and buy what they liked (from the native Filipinos). Then things became hard to get. (This was when the Japanese Army took over the supervision of the internment camps from civilians and began rationing food causing large scale starvation. Many parents had to decide which one would starve to death by giving the other parent both rations in order to stay alive to care for their children.) 

The last year there, only corn was allowed as food and it was strictly rationed. Vegetables were grown on all available land. All food was good.

Miss Bullert described the first planes they saw, the Christmas message they received from McArthur's men. Thanksgiving and Christmas days, and the liberation which took place February 3. She described the trip back, the procedure of burial at sea which she had witnessed, and her experience and thoughts upon arriving in the states again."

In Sept 1947, she was listed in the Who's Who of Faculty as Chairman of the Biology Department at Wisconsin State Teachers College. 

On May 6, 1952, the School Board approved employment of Martha Bullert to teach home bound children.

July 15, 1952, at age 43, Martha sailed on the S.S. Zuiderkruis from New York City, NY bound for the port of Rotterdam. On her return to America, the passenger list noted her occupation as "Post Special Services, Fort Leonard Wood, MO". At the time, her address was 113 N. 22nd Street, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

In 1952, she came to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Martha was Director of the Edwards Service Club, and retired after 20 years of service working for the United States Army. She made her home in Waynesville, Missouri with long-time friend since 1968, Martha Hoffman. 

In 1968, she and long-time friend Martha Hoffman bought a home at 114 Elliot Drive, Waynesville, Pulaski Co., Missouri. 

Martha was interested and active in many community activities, including lecturing and travel. She was loyal to countless friends, loved humor, gardening and hand crafts.

Martha departed this life the morning of Dec. 4, 1996 at her home in Waynesville. She was 87 years of age.

Martha willed her body to Washington University and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis for transplants and scientific study.

A memorial service was held at 1 p.m. Monday, December 9, 1996 at Waynesville Memorial Chapel with Rev. Paul Catterton officiating. Pianist Dorothy Moore played, "For All the Saints" and "Nearer My God to Thee". The congregation sang "Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty". A lovely eulogy was given by Tom Moran. An American Flag was presented by Staff Sergeant Deborah Hancock.

Services were under the direction of Waynesville Memorial Chapel.

Find A Grave Memorial# 181748162

​Martha Bullert was single, never married and had no children.   She had a love of world travel and was proficient in four languages: German, French, Dutch and Persian.  Her amazing life story probably never would have come to light but for an inexplicable curiosity to know more about her.  A google search produced only two clues.   The first was her obituary, posted by a man named Doug White, who was an infant when he and his father were captured by the Japanese and interned as Prisoners of War in World War II at Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila, the Philippines.  Doug noted that Martha had cared for him while they were both POW's.  A second search result was the account of another POW at Santo Tomas who mentioned Martha Bullert by name as being a cook at the POW camp.  Thus began the search to find out the story of Martha Bullert.  

Her obituary mentioned her alma mater, University of Wisconsin, in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  On a hunch, a search of the University's online database found Martha Bullert named in the Murphy Library's Special Collections.  There were only a few articles referencing her as a teacher, but no photographs of her.  A phone call to the Library proved invaluable.  Historian and academic librarian, Laura Godden, confirmed they were in possession of several unopened boxes which had been donated to the Library after Martha's death in 1996.  The boxes had been stored, untouched, until now - 21 years later.  Laura agreed to look through the boxes to see if there were any photos of Martha.  A few days later, her email confirmed not only the existence of photographs, but letters, diaries, photographs, an old German Bible, scrap books, scholarly works and so much more.  This revelation was thrilling!

Thanks to Laura Godden at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Murphy Library, new documents have been uncovered (September 2017) that reveal the incredible life of Martha Bullert.   Laura Godden is supervising the organization and archiving of the "Martha Bullert special collection" for posterity!  One of the treasures she discovered is Martha Bullert's handwritten diary of "the War Years" (1941-1945) during which she was a Prisoner of War at Santo Tomas Internment Camp in the Philippines.   This diary is a mesmerizing account of the horrors of war, Martha's remarkable courage, ingenuity, and indomitable spirit!