Aquila

Pvt. Andrew Joseph Aquila


     Pvt. Andrew J. Aquila was born on May 31, 1918, in what was called "Little Italy" in Cleveland, Ohio.  He was one of the few members of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, who was not from Illinois.

     Andy was drafted into the army on March 31, 1941 and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to train.  Training consisted mostly of drilling.  Very little time was devoted to operating machine guns, tanks and using chemicals.  At Fort Knox, he also went to clerical school and studied company administration.

     In mid-October, 1941, Andy was an orderly for the 753rd Tank Battalion.  There were five clerks in the battalion, and they were told that one of them would be transferred to the 192nd Tank Battalion which was scheduled to go to the Philippine Islands.  Since no one volunteered, their names were placed in a hat.  Andy's name was drawn three separate times.  When he told his family he had to go overseas he said that it was destiny.

     The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.
   
At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
  At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
   
    In the Philippines, Andy ended up sharing a tent with Sgt. Thomas Savage.  Upon arrival, Andy was assigned to Company B as the company clerk.  This assignment kept him from engagements with the Japanese, but since he was in a battle zone, he experienced bombings and strafing by Japanese planes.

   When Bataan surrendered on April 9, 1942, Andy took part in the death march.  As a Prisoner of War,  he was interred first at Camp O'Donnell.  While a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell, Andy worked for three days on the burial detail.  In one case, a POW, believed to be dead, moved his arm as the detail was preparing to bury him.  He was returned to Zero Ward at the camp.  He made it back from Zero Ward, and Andy later saw him carrying a bucket of water.  It is not known whether or not this man survived the war.  

    The second camp Andy was held prisoner at was Cabanatuan.  He was assigned to Barracks 12 in the camp.  There he worked on the farm detail.  Andy later went out to Nichols Field on a detail to repair the runways.   According to records kept at the camp he was admitted to the camp hospital on August 30, 1943.  The records do not indicate why he was hospitalized or when he was discharged.

    On July 15, 1944, Andy was one of the POWs who boarded between 25 to 30 trucks for Bilibid Prison.  The POWs left the camp at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid at 2:00 in the morning.  The morning of July 17th, the POWs at 7:00 A.M. the POWs were marched to the port area.  When they arrived, the Japanese attempted to put 1600 POWs in the rear hold of the ship.  When they realized this could not be done, they moved 900 POWs to the forward hold. 
    The ship sailed later that day and dropped anchor off the breakwater of the harbor.  For the first day and a half, the POWs were not fed.  When they were fed, they received rice and vegetables and a canteen cup of water.  They would receive this meal and amount of water twice a day. 
    On July 23rd, the ship moved to a point off of Corregidor.  It remained there overnight and sailed the next morning as part of a convoy.  As the ships sailed to Formosa, the ships were attacked by an American submarine wolf pack.  According to POWs, they heard a bang against the haul of the ship.  They believed it had been hit by a torpedo that failed to detonate.  Other men were awakened when depth charges were dropped.  They also heard the explosions as other ships were hit.  In one case, the explosion was so great that the POWs saw the flames go over the uncovered hatches.  Four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk.

    The POWs were calmed by Father John Curran, O. P., who told them that they could not do anything but pray.  He then began saying the "Our Father" and the screaming subsided.   
    The remaining ships reached Takao, Formosa, the morning of Friday, July 28th.  The ships sailed again that evening for Moji, Japan.  They sailed through a storm and arrived there near midnight the night of August 3rd.
    At 8:00 A.M., the POWs were disembarked and taken to a movie theater.  In the theater they sat in complete darkness.  The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 200 men.  They were marched to the train station and took trains to the POW camps.

    In Japan, Andy was sent to Fukuoka #3-B, there he worked at the Yawata Steel Mills doing manual labor.  The work was to shovel iron ore and rebuild the ovens.  The POWs were sent into the ovens to clean out the debris.  Since the ovens were hot, because the Japanese would not let them cool off, the POWs worked faster on this detail. 

    Andy received his worst beating on this detail.  A sack of roasted soy beans broke close to where the POWs were working.  Those POWs who saw this started to pick up the beans.  Andy was too busy picking up beans to notice that the guards were coming and that the other prisoners had stopped.  He was kicked so hard he lost all the beans he had collected.  The guard continued to kick Andy until the guard was satisfied that the punishment was sufficient.  When Andy got back to camp, the American doctor could not help him with the pain because all he had was a stethoscope.

     After the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the POWs were sent back early to the camp from the mill.  They did not return to work for two or three days.  When they did go back, they again returned early.  

    The Yawata Steel Mills were the primary target for the second atomic bomb, but since the sky was extremely overcast, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  This time, they saw  Japanese workers facing in the direction of radio speakers with their heads bowed.  The Americans thought that the emperor had passed away.  The truth was that the second atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki, and the emperor was announcing Japan's surrender.  An American ensign, who could read and speak Japanese, saw a newspaper with the announcement of the surrender.  He was the first person to inform his fellow POWs that the war was over.  They were then told the same news by a Japanese officer.

     The POWs were allowed to travel anywhere they wanted in Japan after September 2, 1945.  When Andy heard that American troops were in the southern part of the island, he went to find the Americans.  Looking back on this, Andy could not believe how "nuts" he was to do this.

    Andy returned to the United States in October 1945, on the USS Joseph T. Dickman, APA 13.    When he returned,  he stayed at Letterman Hospital for two days, then was transferred to Birmingham Hospital in Van Nuys, California.  The reason for this was that while he had been a POW, his family had moved to California.  Andy was discharged from military service on March 7, 1946.  Today, he resides in Oregon.

    While a POW, Andy witnessed different acts of cruelty.  One involved a POW who had made a bet regarding when the next American bombing raid would take place.  He made a wager that the raid would take place within a certain period of time.  When it did, he won a half-ration of rice.  The man was caught by a guard with this extra half-ration and told the truth of how he had received it.  He was beaten and clubbed in the head which made him bleed.  He returned to the barracks, but he could not stop the bleeding.  The next day he was sent to work.  When he came back from working, he was sicker then he had been before he went.  He died shortly after this.

      Another incident involved an American soldier who traded with the Japanese. The war was almost over and Japan was about to surrender.  The soldier traded for roasted beans.  As it turned out, the beans had been tainted with arsenic.  The soldier died the next day.  After going through all he had suffered, the soldier died when freedom was almost his.

    Andy believed that there were Japanese guards who had compassion for the POWs.  It was his belief that these guards were afraid of beatings from their superiors so they did not show it very often.

    Andy Aquila returned to  United States and resided on the west coast where his parents had moved.  Andy married and became a father.  He passed away on November 11, 2011, with his family by his side.

    The picture below was taken of Andy while he was a POW in Japan.






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