Coulter

 

Pvt. Harley Woodrow Coulter


    Pvt. Harley Woodrow Coulter was the son of Mack and Ora Coulter.  He was born on December 23, 1919, in Dover, Tennessee, and had five sisters and two brothers.  Harley attended Dover Schools until the age of sixteen, when he left school and moved from Dover to Columbus, Georgia.

    On April 3, 1939, Harley enlisted in the U. S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia.  There he was assigned to D Company, 66th Infantry, Light Tanks.  While training at Ft. Benning, Harley qualified as a truck driver and a tank driver.  He was later assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.

    In the late summer of 1941, Harley with the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk in Louisiana.  Although at the camp, the 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers.  It was after these maneuvers at Camp Polk, that Harley volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion which was preparing for duty overseas.  After he volunteered he was assigned to B Company.

    Harley and the other members of B Company loaded their tanks and other equipment onto a train and traveled west to California.  Arriving in San Francisco, the members of B Company spent a couple of days on Angel Island awaiting the arrival of the other companies of the 192nd.
    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.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.

    On December 8, 1941, Harley and the other members of the tank battalion were guarding the perimeter of Clark Field when Japanese planes appeared.  At first, the soldiers believed the planes were American.  It was only when the bombs began exploding that they knew the planes were Japanese.

    For the next four months, Harley worked with Walter Tucker in getting ammunition and food to the tank crews.  Although he was not involved in combat, Harley lived through the constant shelling and strafing by Japanese planes.

    On April 9, 1942, Harley with the other members of the 192nd became Prisoners Of War.  He and the other members of his company made their way to Mariveles where they started what became known as the death march.

    Harley did the march with other members of the 192nd.  It would take them five days to complete the march.  One of the men Harley marched with was Walter Tucker.  Like the other prisoners, Harley went without food or water for days.  This resulted in men falling out and being killed by the Japanese.

    Near the end of the march, Walter Tucker had an attack of malaria.  Harley's and Walter's friends knowing that if Walter fell out he would be executed, carried Walter to San Fernando.  There, they were boarded onto a train and shipped to Capas.  Disembarking the boxcar, the POWs walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Life in Camp O'Donnell was so bad that men died by the dozens.  To get out of the camp, Harley and Walter Tucker volunteered to go out on the work detail recover destroyed vehicles as scrap metal for the Japanese.

    The POWs would tie the vehicles together with ropes.  Then each man would drive a vehicle as they were towed to San Fernando.  From there they were taken to Manila.

    When the detail ended, Harley and the other men were sent to Cabanatuan.  Medical records, from the camp, indicate that Harley was hospitalized on March 26, 1943.  The records do not show the cause of his hospitalization or when he was discharged. 
    Harley was selected to go out to build runways on the Las Pins Detail.  The POWs worked at an airfield outside of Manila.  On September 21, the POWs saw their first American planes in over two years.  The planes flew over the airfield and bombed and strafed it.  The next day, September 22nd, the detail was ended and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison for processing for shipment to Japan.

    On December 7th, the Japanese gave orders to the medical staff at Bilibid to make a list of POWs healthy enough to survive a trip to Japan.  Harley's name was on the list.  

    On December 12, 1944, roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called.  At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, Harley and the other POWs were awakened and marched to Pier 7 in Manila. 

     At the pier, the POWs were allowed to sit down.  Many of them fell asleep as they waited to board the ship.  Those had fallen asleep were awakened at about 5:00 PM and boarded onto the ship.  The ship's name was the Oryoku Maru.

    The ship left Manila as part of the MATA-37 convoy bound for Takao, Formosa.  Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish and water.  The morning of December 14th, mess was being given to the prisoners when the sound of planes was heard.  The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy.  Explosions were taking place all around the POWs.  

    In the hold the POWs crowded together.  Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling.  After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started.  A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying. Father forgive them.  They know not what they do."  

    When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions.  The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset.  Overall, six bombs hit the ship.  During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded.  One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.

    In the ship's holds, the POWs could hear the sound of the Japanese passengers being loaded into lifeboats.  By the next morning, all the Japanese passengers were off the ship.

    The morning of December 15th, U.S. Navy planes resumed the attack.  Again, the attacks came in waves.  A guard shouted into the holds that the prisoners were going ashore.  The wounded would be the first evacuated.  As the POWs were abandoning ship. the planes returned.  The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners. 

    Harley, and the other POWs, swam to shore near Olongoa, Subic Bay, Luzon.  As they swam, the Japanese shot at them with machine guns.  Four American planes flew low over the water.  To prevent the planes from strafing them, the POWs began waving wildly at them.  The planes banked and returned even lower.  As they flew over the POWs the pilots dipped their planes wings to show that they knew the men were POWs.

    After the POWs had abandoned ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk.  The POWs saw that the ship stern was blown away.  The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court.  When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack.  

    While the POWs were at Olongoa, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid.  Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck.  They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. 

    On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando, La Union.  The widows were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible.  From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and, later, on a beach at San Fernando, La Union.  During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water.  The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater.   Many of these men died.

    The remaining prisoners were returned to Manila where they boarded another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru on December 27th.   On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds.  Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards. 

    The POWs on the ship were taken to Formosa.  There, the ship was tied to a buoy next another Japanese ship. On January 9, 1945, American planes from the U. S. S. Hornet attacked the Enoura Maru.  Being next to another ship made it a desirable target.   During the attack, a bomb exploded in the hold George was being held in. The explosion killed and wounded 438 of prisoners.   The dead were several days.  Finally, the Japanese organized a burial detail and cremated the remains of 200 POWs.  The rest were later buried on a beach at Takao.

    The Japanese also sent medics into the holds.  The medics bandaged the wounds of those who were not too seriously wounded.  On January 14th, the surviving prisoners, including Harley, were transferred to a third ship, the Brazil Maru.  The ship sailed on next day and made the final leg of the voyage safely.  On Monday, January 29, 1945, the ship arrived at Moji, Japan.  It was during the arrival that Pvt. Harley W. Coulter died in the hold of the ship.

     The exact cause of Harley's death is unknown.  He may have been wounded during aerial attack at Formosa and died of his wounds or, as reported in the battalion report after the war, he may have died of colitis.

    It is not known if Harley's body was thrown overboard or if his remains were taken ashore and cremated.  After the war, his family had a memorial dedicated to Harley at Ft. Mitchell National Cemetery in Phoenix City, Alabama.  He is also memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.


 

 

 

 

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