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 A Company, 753rd Tank Battalion, and held the rank of sergeant and tank commander.

    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.  This meant he took a reduction in rank to private.  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.  Some men were simply replaed.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
   At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
    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 as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.

    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times.  The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.   
    At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor,  the soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  They then saw what looked like rain drops falling from the planes.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  The company remained at Clark Field for the next two weeks.

    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders, aboutwho was in command and withdrawal from the bridge, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Withdrawing would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to be cut off before they entered Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half had withdrawn.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover.  This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.  At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
    The night of January 6th, the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan around 6:00 A.M. 
    The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road.  The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations.  After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
    The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd.  Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire.  The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.  This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
    The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road.  It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance.  It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.  The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance.  Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver:  "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th.  While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M.  One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops.  The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
    Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.  When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire.  To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
    The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
    On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane.  He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.  Three members of the company were killed.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
    B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.  Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.  The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
    In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks.  This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day.  At the same time, food rations were cut in half again.  Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd.  On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening.  During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew.  C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
    The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back.  The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
    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 lined up for roll call.  As it turned out, the roll call did not start until 7:30 and ended at 9:00. 
    After the roll call the POWs were allowed to roam the prison.  At 11:30 A.M., they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men, fed, and marched to Pier 7 in Manila which was two miles away. 
During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.   
    The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports.  There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay.  When the POWs reached Pier 7,  it too was in disarray.  There were three ships docked at the pier.  One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape.  They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship

     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 at 3:30 A.M.  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 the ships anti-aircraft guns being fired was heard.  The POWs thought the gun crews were practicing since they had not heard planes.  When they did hear planes, the change in the sound of the planes' engines told them that they had begun their dives at 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."  

    During the attack, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions.  The POWs in the holds lived through several attacks from American planes before sunset.  Overall, six bombs hit the ship. The ship steamed closer to shore.
    During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered, 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 wave consisted of 30 to 50 planes and lasted from twenty minutes to a half hour.  When the planes broke off the attack, there was a 30 minute lull until the next attack started. 
    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, went over the side and swam to shore near Olongapo Naval Station, Subic Bay, Luzon.  As they swam, the Japanese shot at them with machine guns so that they stayed together.  Seeing the large number of men in the water, four American planes flew low over the water.  To prevent the planes from strafing them, the POWs began waving wildly at them.  One plane veered off and returned.  This time he flew even lower over the POWs.  The pilot dipped his wings as a sign of recognition.  The attack soon stopped.

    After the POWs had abandoned ship, the planes returned and sunk the Oryoku Maru.  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 Olongapo, 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.
    The POWs were held on the tennis court from December 15th until December 20th.  During this time they received little to no food and water.  Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched the attacks.  The POWs watched the planes go into dives, release their bombs, and hit their targets.  Some of the planes dove over the POWs and released their bombs.  The POWs watched them float past the tennis courts and hit the intended target.
    Twenty-two trucks arrived the morning of December 20th, and the POWs were loaded into the trucks arriving at San Fernando, Pampanga, between four and five the next evening.  After they disembarked the trucks, they were housed in a dark movie theater. 

    On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando. Pampanga.  The doors 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, the POWs had just eaten their first meal when 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.


 

 

 

 

Return to Company B

Next