Pvt. Wallace Herman Coats
| Pvt. Wallace H.
Coats was born on February 27, 1918, in Jefferson
County, Oklahoma, to Wallace O Coats & Mattie
F. Coats. He grew up in outside of Ryan,
Oklahoma, on the family farm. He married Venis
E. Smith on January 5, 1941.
Wallace was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 24, 1941, in Oklahoma City. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. It was during this time that Wallace qualified as a tank driver.
It was after basic training that he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been sent there from Fort Benning, Georgia. When it arrived, maneuvers were taking place, but he battalion did not take part in the maneuvers.
During the maneuvers the 192nd Tank 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. Wallace volunteered to replace a National Guardsman released 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.A.T. 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 night of April 8, 1942, the members of B Company circled their tanks. Each tank fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the turrets. The next morning at 7:00 A.M. they became Prisoners of War.
The members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It was from this barrio that the tankers started what they simply called "the march."
The POWs made their way north from Mariveles. The first five miles of the march were uphill. At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. They received little water and little food. When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen. In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom. The surface of the trench was alive with maggots. How long they remained in the bull pen is not known.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks. They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors. They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was one water faucet for the entire camp. Men literally died for a drink. The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day. The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead. Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The Japanese realized they had to do something to lower the death rate at the camp, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. It is not known if Wallace was sent to the camp when it opened or if he was sent there after he returned from a work detail. It is known that, at one point, he was admitted to the camp hospital. Why he was admitted and when he was discharged is not known.
In early July 1943, Wallace's name appeared on a list of POWs who were beginning sent to Japan. The POWs were taken by truck to Manila and disembarked at Pier 7. They were boarded on the Clyde Maru and sailed on July 23rd. The ship arrived at Santa Cruz, Zambeles, Philippines, the same day. There, it was loaded with manganese ore. It remained in port for three days before sailing on July 26th. During this part of the voyage the Japanese allowed 100 POWs, at a time, to be on deck from 6:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 28th.
At 8:00 A.M. on August 5th, the ship sailed again as part of a nine ship convoy. The ships arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 7th, but the POWs didn't disembark until the next day. They were broken up into 100 men detachments and taken by train to various POW camps.
Wallace was held at Fukuoka Main Camp after arriving in Japan. The POWs in the camp worked in a coal mine. At this time, not much else is known about life in the camp. He remained in camp until liberated in September 1945. He returned to the Philippines for medical treatment and then returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Tryon, at San Francisco, on October 24, 1945.
After being discharged from the Army, Wallace and his wife moved to Washington State and became the parents of five daughters and a son. The couple would later return to Oklahoma. Wallace H. Coats passed away on April 23, 1989, in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was buried in Ryan, Oklahoma, in Ryan Cemetery.