Cunningham_J

 


Pvt. John O. Cunningham


    Pvt. John O. Cunningham was born on November 12, 1912, in Kentucky, to Charles Cunningham and Anna Cunningham.  Later, his father married Anna Ruth Stewart on August 5, 1922.  He was the brother of three sisters, four brothers, and two half-brothers.  The family resided in Henry County, Kentucky, and later lived at 313 Pocahontas Street, Louisville, Kentucky.
    On January 21, 1941, John was inducted into the U.S. Army in Louisville, Kentucky, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  It is not known what training he received, but it is known that he was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, while in basic training.  The reason this was done was that the tank company had been a Kentucky National Guard Tank Company from Harrodsburg, and the Army wanted to fill its vacancies with men from Kentucky.
   
  The unit trained at the base for nearly a year before being sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th.  At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, without being given a reason, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected.  On the side of a hill, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. 
    It was at this time, men 29 years or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion.  This battalion had been sent to the fort, but it had not taken part in the maneuvers.  The M3 "Stuart" tanks from the battalion were also given to the 192nd.
    The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day, and the next day - when a Navy ship was sent to the area - the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    The battalion's new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains.  The soldiers also cosmolined anything that they thought would rust.  Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. 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.   They 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, the transport, S.S. President 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, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
    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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company.  B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines.  The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
    On December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.  All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch.  The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots' mess hall.
    At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese.  Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
    One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed.  The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Bataan.
    The 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M.  On December 13th, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard beaches.  On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.  These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
    The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf.  The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climber to the top.  On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, guns but were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf.  They had received orders not to fire.
     The tankers walked down the mountain and waited.  They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it.  They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain.  The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
    On December 22nd, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese.  The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
    Christmas Day, the tankers spent in the night in a coconut grove.  As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat.  From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units.  The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
    The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26th.  When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area.  One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
    At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank.  It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been destroyed.  The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan.  The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
    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 were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward 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.  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/7th 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, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.  It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each.  This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements,
    At Gumain River, on January 5th, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw.  The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
    The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.  At this time, the food rations were cut in half.
    General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. "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."
     A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa.  Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed.  The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed.  The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
    The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road.  While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month.  The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance.  It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon.  This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
    The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw.  Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed.  The mission was abandoned the next day.  Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
    The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry's command post.  On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
    The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts.  At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road.  When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men.  This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land troops.  The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban.  During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy.  At bight they were pulled out onto the beaches.  The battalion's half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
    For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill.  On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them.  While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area.  Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range.  He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's fire.  The Japanese were wiped out.  On March 21st, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
    Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major offensive on April 4th.  The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance.  On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew.  On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
    It was at this time that Gen. King knowing that the situation was hopeless sent officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan.  The tanks were instructed that they would hear the order "bash" on their radios, or that it would be given to them verbally.


    After destroying their tanks the tankers could wait in their bivouac until the Japanese made contact with them or attempt to reach the Island of Corregidor which had not surrendered.  It is know known what John did.
    The next report on John was at Cabanatuan POW Camp.  It was reported by the camp's medical staff that he was hospitalized on July 5, 1942, suffering from dysentery and malnutrition.  It was not recorded if he was discharged from the hospital or if he remained in the hospital the entire time.
    According to records kept at the camp, Pvt. John O. Cunningham died in the camp hospital on October 23, 1942, from malaria. malnutrition, and beriberi.  The approximate time of his death was given as 8:00 A.M., and he was buried in the camp cemetery.
   
After the war, the U.S. Remains Recovery Team positively identified the remains of Pvt. John O. Cunningham.  He was posthumously promoted to Private First Class.  At the request of his family, his remains were returned to United States and buried, on October 28, 1949, at Resthaven Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.



 






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