Curtis

 


Pvt. William Archie Curtis Jr.


    Pvt. William A. Curtis Jr. was born on September 27, 1919, in Harris, Oklahoma, to William A. Curtis Sr. & Daphne Curtis.  He was known as "Arhcie" to his family and friends.  He was drafted into the U. S. Army on March 18, 1941, and sent into Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  There, he qualified as a tank driver.  He was originally a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered to replace a member of the 192nd who had been released from federal duty.

    During the summer of 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana for further training.  While they were there, the Louisiana maneuvers took place.  The 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers, but after the completion of the maneuvers, the battalion surrendered its equipment to the 192nd Tank Battalion which was being sent overseas.  Members of the 753rd also were asked to volunteer to replace  National Guardsmen who had been released from federal service.  William volunteered to join the 753rd and was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. 
    The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers.  They were kept at Camp Polk after the maneuvers without being given a reason.  According to members of the battalion, General George Patton told them the news that they were going overseas.  Men too old to go overseas were released from federal service.  Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
   The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California.  From San Francisco, the tankers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S 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 November 5th, 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.  It sailed the same day for Manila.  The ship entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  It 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.
    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 December 8, 1941, William and the other members of A Company were told about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The tankers were sent to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  In William's case, he was assigned to a half-track with Abel Ortega.  As they were eating lunch, the soldiers noticed planes approaching the airfield.  At first they believed the planes were American.  It wasn't until bombs began exploding that the soldiers knew that they were Japanese.

    William spent the next four months fighting the Japanese.  On April 9, 1942, William and the other members of the company were informed of the surrender by Capt. Fred Bruni.  They remained two days in their bivouac before being ordered by the Japanese to go to Mariveles.

    A Company made their way to Mariveles.  It was from this town that William started the death march.  At San Fernando, William and the other Prisoners of War were packed into boxcars and taken to Capas.  As the climbed out, the bodies of the prisoners who died fell out.  William walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.   It is known that during his time as a POW he suffered from malaria, beriberi, and temporary went blind from malnutrition. He also was beaten on several occasions.

    William was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan #1 and #3 before being selected to go out on the Las Pinas Work Detail.  It is not known if he went on this detail when the POWs arrived in August 1942, or if he was a replacement for a POW who had died or been sent to Bilibid for illness.
    The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms.  30 POWs were assigned to a room.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war.  The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
    Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    At six A.M., the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again.  They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again.  Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
 

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like.  These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
   
    

    On August 27, 1944, William was sent to Japan on the Noto Maru.  After a stop at Takao, Formosa on July 30th, the ship sailed for the Island of Kelung the next day.  The Noto Maru arrived at Moji, Japan on September 4th.  In Japan, he was held as a POW at Sendai #6 outside of Hanawa.  This camp supplied slave labor for a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi. 

    One day the POWs lined up for work, but they were sent back to their barracks.  The same thing happened repeatedly over the next several days.  The POWs knew something had happened, but none of them had any idea what it could have been.

    Finally, a Japanese officer stood on a box and announced the Japanese Empire and the United States were no longer enemies.  He also told them that the camp was theirs.  This was the first time the  POWs received news on how the war was going. 

    Not too long after this, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped food to the prisoners.  The Japanese townspeople helped the POWs carry the food to the camp.  Since material for clothing was scarce, they were interested more in the silk from the parachutes for clothing than the food in the drums.   

     One day, a  jeep with American soldiers appeared and  the soldiers told the former POWs to sit tight until the railroad line had been repaired.  After it was repaired, the prisoners took the train and then an LST to Yokohama.  There William was transferred to the U.S.S. Rescue.  He returned to the United States on this ship.  He was promoted to Private First Class and was discharged on February 24, 1946.

    After he was discharge from the army, William A. Curtis returned to Oklahoma where he resided in Muskogee.  He married, Norma Jean Fricks, on November 10, 1945, and was the father of four daughters.  William A. Curtis Jr. passed away on August 8, 2004.  He was buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, in Section:  20  Site:  558.


 

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