Sgt. George Oliver Christopher
| Sgt. George O.
Christopher was the son of son of Walter
Christopher and Mary Belle
Cassity-Christopher. He was born on
September 15, 1919, in Bowling Green, Kentucky,
and was one of nine children born to the
couple. His friends called him "Red,"
but he was known as "Oliver" to his family.
George attended Littlesville Grade School and Franklin Junior High School while growing up. While he was a child, his family moved to Paducah, Kentucky.
George enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1941, with two of his friends. The reason he did this was he had gotten caught by the police and wanted to avoid some legal problems. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with his friends. George and his friends could handle the physical training, but they always got into trouble because they lacked self-discipline. Because of this, George barely made it through basic training. It was at this time that George and his friends were assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
On one occasion during their training, the three soldiers had gotten drunk. They each took turns trying to get a two and a half ton truck over the pinnacle of a motorcycle training course. When they got the truck to the top, it got stuck with one set of wheels on one side and the back wheels on the other side. When the company commander called George and the other two soldiers into his officer, he asked them why they had done this. In response, George said, "You'd want us to get it over the top if there was a war!" In spite of his behavior, George became a tank commander.
In the late summer of 1941, George with the rest of his battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers. It was during these maneuvers that George and his tank crew drove their tank into Alabama and parked at a roadhouse. The Alabama State Police Car pulled into the tavern's parking lot when they spotted the tank idling in the lot.
The police went into the roadhouse, found the members of the tank crew and escorted them to the Louisiana state line. What the state police did not know was that the tank's .37 millimeter ammo rack was loaded with beer bottles instead of shells.
After the maneuvers were finished, on the side of a hill, George and the other members of the battalion learned that instead of being released from federal service, they were being sent overseas. Each man received a leave home to say goodbye to family and friends.
From Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to the Philippine Islands. Arriving there on Thanksgiving Day, the members of the battalion were taken to St. Stotsenburg. There, they were housed in tents since their barracks were unfinished. It was at this time that the paper work was started to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion which was short one company.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers received word that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese ten hours earlier. The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against paratroopers.
After receiving the news, George and two other members of D Company were called into the commanding officer's office. The CO reminded George of his answer at Ft. Knox when he had asked George why he had driven the tank onto the motorcycle course. He told the men that there were peacetime soldiers and wartime soldiers. George and the other two men were wartime soldiers. He then promoted George from Private First Class to Buck Sergeant.
George was with his tank while the other members of his crew were getting lunch in the mess tent. Around 11:45, a supply truck pulled up to the tank. At the same time bombers appeared in the sky approaching the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
During the attack, George had been lying in front of his tank. During a lull in the bombing, George scrambled into the turret. Just as he pulled the hatch closed, he felt 20mm machinegun shells rake his tank. Inside the tank, George could feel his heart pounding and felt sweat rolling off him. In spite of his fear, he opened the hatch and grabbed a hold of the tank's machinegun. George went through belt after belt of bullets as he fired on the planes. Once he started fighting back, his fear disappeared.
The machine George was using jammed and George could no longer fight back. He went back down into the turret and shut the hatch. Again the tank was strafed. He could hear and feel the bullets as they hit. Again, his heart began pound and he uncontrollably shook. When he opened the hatch and cleared the jammed gun, he once again was fine.
After the first wave of planes, George climbed out of the tank. He looked around and saw fires everywhere. He saw a man lying on the ground and recognized him as the supply truck driver. When the bombing had started, the driver had crawled unfder his truck. In his hurry to get out of the truck, he had forgotten to set the parking brake. The vibrations from the bombs had caused to move about fifty feet. The driver had laid on the ground out in the open during the attack.
George and the other tankers were spent the next several months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. In George's opinion, the tanks spent a large amount of their time running between the American and Japanese lines. Often, they had no idea where they were.
The tanks often had to travel at night. George recalled that the one of his crew members walked in front of the tank with a lit cigarette lighter. The tank rolled down the road following the light. On one occasion the tank crew came in contact with the Japanese. The man who was walking in front of the tank with the lighter barely made it through the tank hatch when bullets hit it.
On another occasion, George and his tank crew came into contact with three Japanese soldiers climbing over a fence. His tank opened fire on them. When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of the Japanese.
After four long months of fighting, the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. The tankers destroyed their tanks and made their way to Mariveles. It was from there, that George began the death march.
George with most of the other members of D Company made their way to San Fernando. At San Fernando, the 100 marchers were crammed into small wooden boxcars . The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar. The men were packed so tightly in the cars that those who died could not fall to the floors. At Capas, the Prisoners Of War disembarked the cards. As they did, the dead fell to the floors. From Capas, George walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was a nightmare, as many as fifty men died each day. The POWs worked around the clock attempting to bury the dead. There was only one water faucet in the camp for 12,000 POWs. To get a drink, meant that men often stood in line for days.
It is not known if George went out on a work detail. But, he was held at Cabanatuan before being sent to Manila for shipment to Japan. What George recalled about the trip was that the convoy was tailed by an American submarine which was sinking ships in the convoy. According to George the Japanese gave orders to the guards that if the ship was hit by torpedoes, they were to shoot all the prisoners.
George was one of 312 American POWs selected to be sent to Korea and Japan in late 1942. On October 8th, the Tottori Maru sailed for Japan. The ship stopped at Takao, Formosa. It departed Formosa and sailed to Pusan, Korea, where 116 POWs disembarked and were sent to Manchuria. The ship sailed again and arrived at Moji, Japan on November 12, 1942.
In Japan, George was held at Tokyo Camp #2. There, he operated a crane and unloaded coal from ships. While in Japan, the worse job he had was going out on a burial detail. The POWs were used to dig up the bodies of Japanese killed by the American bombing. George recalled that one day while he and the other POWs were burying the dead, they noticed that one of the dead was a Japanese guard known as Sgt. Saki. This guard was had tormented the POWs repeatedly. George stated that the POWs took turns hitting his head with sticks before burying him.
The prisoners knew how the war was going by how they were treated. As the war went on and American victories became more frequent, the treatment given to the POWs got worse. When the camp was burnt down on July 25, 1945, after a air raid, the POWs were sent to Tokyo #5-D. The prisoners learned of the end of the war when they went to work but were sent back to the camp. Since this was the first day off that they had ever had, they knew something was up.
George was liberated, returned to the Philippines, and promoted to staff sergeant. He returned to the United States and spent time at Walter Reed Hospital. He was finally released, from the army, on January 11, 1946.
George returned to Paducah and married Cornelia Kokos. The couple had one son and resided in Alton, Illinois. He passed away on September 21, 1995, in Alton, Illinois.