Army 1st Lt. Carl F. Rhodes was an officer and a gentleman to the end. An electrical engineering major, had joined the R.O.T.C. with his Lambda Chi brother Otto Glasser ’40, and was called up in February 1941. He was commissioned as an officer in the Signal Corps, and in April, sent to the Philippines as war rumbled on the horizon.
Imperial Japanese forces invaded the Philippines almost immediately after Pearl Harbor. Carl was captured at the Fall of Bataan the following April 9, and along with tens of thousands of other American troops, sent on the infamous forced march through the jungle now known as the Bataan Death March. Many died of starvation, heat stroke, and exhaustion, or at the hands of their captors. The survivors were divided among three camps near Cabanatuan, Luzon; Bro. Rhodes was sent to the worst of these, Camp #1, where dysentery, malaria, malnutrition, and abuse took a heavy toll on the prisoners.
No one at home knew his fate. Bro. Glasser wrote the Cornell Alumni News in March 1943:
“I was delighted to read that Bruce Cormack '39 is alive although a prisoner. Bruce, Carl Rhodes '38, and myself entered the Army together, with the same outfit, and but for a queer quirk of fate we would all be together today. I hope you will have good news about Carl in the near future.”
News of a sort came in June, when his parents and childhood friends identified Carl in a photograph of the prisoners printed in Life magazine. It was not good news, but last they would hear until after the war.
As American forces advanced in 1944, the Japanese began removing healthy POWs to Japan, leaving only the sick and wounded at Cabanatuan. On December 13, 1944 (U.S. time), 1,915 of the remaining POWs, including Carl Rhodes, were put on the infamous “hellship” Oryoku Maru. Two days later, as the ship made its way up the coast, it was bombed by American planes. One bomb hit the hold where the Signal Corps lay huddled. Another bomb struck the ship as it sank, a mile from shore, blowing the wounded and non-swimmers clinging to wreckage to bits. Only 1,100 survived the swim back to shore, where they were recaptured. Two weeks later, the prisoners were put on another hellship, the Enoura Maru. They were not fed the entire three-day voyage, until they docked at Takao (now Kaohsiung) on New Year's. On January 9, as Gen. MacArthur invaded Luzon, Takao was also attacked, and the Enoura Maru was bombed. A deck collapsed, and the hatches were blown out, exposing the prisoners to the winter. Remarkably, Bro. Rhodes survived all of these ordeals as well.
On January 13, 1945, the enfeebled remnants were boarded onto the Brazil Maru for the final two-week voyage to Japan, and the most hellish. Amidst the frigid winter temperatures, the prisoner quarters had no heat. They were given no water, except what they could bribe from the guards. Deaths were constant, with guards hauling bodies up to the deck to be discarded on a daily basis. Bro. Rhodes, whose weight had dropped below 100 pounds from severe malnutrition, stayed huddled in his bunk for warmth. On January 28, one his of sergeants, risking his own life, stole a cup of water and brought it to Bro. Rhodes, who drank some, then passed the rest to his chaplain. The sergeant left them to replace the cup. When he returned, he found both the lieutenant and the chaplain dead— two among the five hundred who died on the voyage from Takao to Moji.
Despite the degradation and dehumanizing treatment Carl experienced in his final years, his men had only warm memories of him. S/Sgt. Thomas O'Shea wrote “He was my lieutenant and I worshipped him. He spoke to the men as courteously as he spoke to officers and never asked any man to do anything he would not do himself.” And S/Sgt. Anthony Marangiello added, “We knew him when the going was tough as a soldier, a gentleman and a friend. He was never too busy, too tired or too sick to help the other guy. He always shared what little he had. We shall never forget him.”
Lt. Bruce Cormack, his and Bro. Glasser's friend from Cornell, survived, and wrote to Carl’s mother: "I want you to know what a fine man Carl was in the opinion of all who knew him and what a good soldier and officer he made. His men loved him, would do anything for him and would follow him anywhere. I could not have asked for a better buddy and companion.”
His parents created the Carl F. Rhodes ’38 Scholarship in his memory, which was awarded for the next 20 years to an outstanding ROTC cadet.