Bottoms

 

T/Sgt. Johnnie William Bottoms Sr.


    T/Sgt. Johnnie William Bottoms Sr. was born in September 23, 1915, and raised in Harrodsburg and Richmond, Kentucky by his grandparents.  He was known as "Johnnie" to his family and friends.  It was in Harrodsburg that he joined the Kentucky National Guard's 38th Tank Company.  He was called to federal service on November 25, 1940. 
    It is known that he was married to Anna Mae Spoonamore and was the father of a son, John William Bottoms Jr.  When he was called to federal service, he was working as a truck driver and farm worker.

    Johnnie trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky as a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  He was reassigned to Headquarters Company when the company was created in January, 1941.

    In September, 1941, Johnnie took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  It was at Camp Polk, Louisiana, that he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.  Most members of the battalion received passes home to see their families and say goodbye.

    Over different train routes, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco.  After receiving physicals and inoculations, they were boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott  The ship 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 early afternoon of December 8, 1941, Johnnie lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  Although Johnnie did not take part in any front-line action, he did live with the constant bombing and strafing by Japanese planes.  The night of April 8, 1942, he and the other members of HQ Company were informed of the surrender to the Japanese by Capt. Fred Bruni its Commanding Officer.  He called them together with all the food they could find and held what the company members called, "the last supper." 

    HQ Company remained in its bivouac for two days.  The third morning a Japanese officer and soldiers arrived and ordered the Americans onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac.  Once on the road, they were ordered to kneel with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, Japanese soldiers marching past them took whatever they wanted from the Americans.  They were now officially Prisoners of War. 

    The members of the company boarded trucks and made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  They left the trucks and were ordered into a schoolyard.  They remained in the schoolyard for hours.

    As they sat, the members of his company noticed that Japanese soldiers with rifles were organizing themselves into a formation.  It soon became apparent to the Americans that this formation was a firing squad.  The men watched and waited to see what was going to happen. 

     It was about this time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a jeep and got out.  He called a sergeant over to him and said something to him.  When he was done talking to the sergeant, he got back into the jeep and drove off.  The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns. 

    Johnnie and the other members of HQ were ordered to move.   It was this time that Johnnie began the death march.  The first few miles out of Mariveles were uphill.  At one point, the Prisoners of War were ordered to rest in front of Japanese artillery that was firing on Corregidor and Fort Drum.  The American guns on Corregidor returned fire.  Shells began to land among the POWs.  One group of POWs, who attempted to hide in a small shack, was killed when it took a direct hit.  The Americans did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns. 

    The members of HQ Company were ordered to move again.  When he reached San Fernando he and the other Prisoners of War were packed into wooden freight cars used to haul sugarcane. 

    Each boxcar could hold eight horses or forty men.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car.  Those men who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall.   

    At Capas, Johnnie and the other POWs disembarked the cars.  The dead fell to the floor as they living left. The POWs walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  It took Johnnie, and the other members of HQ Company, six days to complete the march.  

    The situation in the Camp O'Donnell was so bad that as many as fifty men a day died.  To get out of the camp, Johnnie went out on a work detail to rebuild bridges that had been destroyed weeks before as the Filipino and American forces as they retreated.

   The first barrio that the work detail went to was Calauan.  Johnnie like the other POWs was weak and susceptible to illness.  In his case, he came down with malaria.  According to Phil Parish of A Company, Sgt. Johnnie Bottoms died from malaria on Thursday, May 28, 1942, at Calauan.  His death bed was a wet concrete floor.

    T/Sgt. Johnnie Bottoms was buried in Calauan's small but neat cemetery.  Phil Parish, of A Company, stated that several days after Johnnie's burial, a Japanese guard was escorting the POWs as they left for a work detail.  As the detail passed the front of the cemetery, the guard ordered the POWs to halt and pointed to Johnnie's grave.  He then called out in English "Attention" and the POWs and the guard saluted.  After saluting Johnnie, the guard and detail continued on their way. Later, the Japanese allowed the POWs to put a fence around Johnnie's grave and the grave of Cpl. Thomas Davenport, C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.

    After the war. the remains of T/Sgt. Johnnie William Bottoms Sr.,  were returned to Kentucky as requested by his wife and family on October 21, 1948.  A service was held the next day at Harrodsburg Baptist Church.  His pallbearers were Virgil and Edwin Elliott, and former members of D Company Jack Wilson, Kenneth Hourigan, M/Sgt. Joe Anness, and T/Sgt. Morgan French.
    Sgt. Johnny Bottoms was buried in Richmond Cemetery in Richmond, Kentucky.  Today, he lies next to his wife,who never remarried, at Richmond Cemetery in Richmond, Kentucky.


 

 

 

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