Becker_H

 


Pfc. Harold Carl Becker


    Pfc. Harold C. Becker was born on April 23, 1917, in Illinois to Henry & Adeline Becker.  With his two sisters and five brothers, one of which was his twin, he lived at 622 South Eleventh Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, and graduated from Proviso Township High School in 1935.   After high school, he worked as a machinist at Mississippi Valley Steel in Melrose Park, Illinois.
    On April 14, 1941, in Chicago, he was inducted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  During basic training, he volunteered to join B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  His reason for doing this was the company had been an Illinois National Guard Tank Company from Maywood, and many of the members of the company were friends of his from high school.  He qualified as a radio operator.

    In late August, the battalion was informed it would take part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  During the maneuvers the battalion performed exceptionally well.  After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion remained at Camp Polk.  None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there.
    On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas.  They were told that this decision had been made by General George Patton.  Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. 
    The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco.  By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to join 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.
    On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
   The 192nd remained at Clark Field for about a week before they were ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad.  For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line. 
   The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese had lunched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line.  Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line.  The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out.  One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon.  The tanks would do this one at a time. 
    The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole.  Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks.  Each man had a bag of hand grenades.  As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
    The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole.  The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese.  The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn't have to smell the rotting flesh.
    The morning of April 9, 1942,the tankers received the order "crash."  This meant that they were suppose to circle their tanks and destroy them.  Sgt. Zenon Bardowski's tank platoon made the decision to make their way along the coast and see if they could find a way to Corregidor.  They found a boat, and at gun point, convinced the captain to take them to the island. 
    The tankers reached the island and received the first good meal they had had for months.  Harold was assigned to a unit, but at this time it is not known what unit he was assigned to.
    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on the island the morning of May 6th.  The first tank to land on the island was one of the tanks abandoned by Harold's tank platoon.
    For two weeks, the POWs were held on the beach on Corregidor.  They were taken by barge off the coast of Bataan and made to swim to shore.  On shore, they worked to fill craters in a pier that had been damaged by the battle for Bataan.  After they finished, they formed detachments and marched to Manila.
    At first, the POWs feared they would experience the same treatment given the POWs on the march from Bataan.  Instead, they were marched at a reasonable pace and given breaks.  They marched down Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison.  They remained there until sent to Cabanatuan.
    Harold remained at the camp until he was selected to go out on a work detail. 
In July 1943, he was sent to out on the Las Pinas Work Detail.  It was there that he built runways at Camp Murphy and worked on a farm.  The POWs on this detail had nothing but picks and shovels to build the runways.  At first the work was hard but not as hard as it was going to get.  About 400 yards from where they began working where hills.  The POWs removed these hills with picks and shovels.  The dirt was put into wheel barrows and carried to a swamp and dumped as landfill.  This turned out to be inefficient, so the Japanese brought in mining cars and railroad track.  Two POWs pushed each car to where it was to be dumped.  He would remain on this detail for almost seventeen months. 
  

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  The White Angel to them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.

    The welfare of the POWs was of no concern to the Japanese.  They only concern they had was getting the runway built.  If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and select men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury.  Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work.

    In particular, "the Wolf" was was hardest to convince that a man was sick.  If a man's arm or leg was bandaged, he would kick the man's leg, in the spot it was bandaged, and see how the man reacted.  If the man showed a great deal of pain, he was not required to work.  In one case, a man whose broken wrist was in a splint, was twisted by the Wolf while the man trembled in pain.

    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like.  These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.    
    In late September 1944, Harold's name appeared on a list of POWs being transferred to Japan.  He was taken to Pier 7 on October 1st, and he was boarded onto the Hokusen Maru.  His POW detachment was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, but the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail but the POW detachment had not arrived.  The Japanese switched Harold's detachment with the other detachment so the ship could sail.
    The ship sailed on October 3rd for Formosa.  Avoiding U.S. submarines, the ship did not arrive at Hong Kong until October 11th.  While in port, the harbor was attacked by American fighter bombers.  After ten days in port, the ship sailed again on October 21st.
    The ship arrived on at Takao, Formosa, on November 11th.  After arriving the POWs were disembarked.  Harold was taken to the Inrin Temporary Camp.  The camp was opened for the POWs and they were not required to do any heavy work because of the condition they were in from being in the ship's holds for so long.  They gardened and cleaned up around the camp.  Those who were in better shape worked at a sugar mill.
    On January 14, 1945, the POWs were sent to Japan on the Melbourne Maru.  It took the ship eleven days to reach Mojji, Japan.  It arrived on January 23rd and the POWs where taken to the train station.  From there, the POWs were taken to
Sendai #8 where they worked in a cooper mineor at a cooper smelter.
    In September 1945, Harold was liberated by American forces.  He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.  He was promoted to sergeant and than staff sergeant before he returned home to Maywood.  When he returned home, he learned that his mother had died while he was a POW.  He was discharged on March 29, 1946. 

    Harold married Lois Ann Jason on March 19, 1954, she was a 1948 graduate of Proviso Township High School.  The two would later move to Fort Meyers, Florida, where he worked as a contractor.  They became parents of three sons. 
    Harold C. Becker passed away in Fort Meyers, Florida, on May 2, 1984.  He was buried at Fort Meyers Memorial Garden, Fort Meyers.


 

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