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 "Archie" 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, where he qualified as a tank driver.  

    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, or had their names drawn, to replace National Guardsmen who had been released from federal service.  William volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion, and was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. 
   Each company of the battalion traveled by train, over different train route, to San Francisco, California, and 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 rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    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 that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed, and that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went 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 worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance preparing to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion. 
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from a food truck.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, William and the other members of A Company were told about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most of the men believed that this was the start of the expected maneuvers.  The tankers returned to the perimeter of Clark Field.  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.

    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the battalion's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.  Anything 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. 

    The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12th, so it would could protect a highway and railroad from sabotage.  On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta with the rest of the battalion.  It was there, that the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  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 were asked to hold the position for ix hours; They 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.  A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.  The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
    The tankers were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read on December 30th. 

    On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.  

    At Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south 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 Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance.  The wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
    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 from the General MacArthur's chief of staff about who had command of the troops.  Gen. Wainwright was attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan and was unaware of the orders.
     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.

    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions 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.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines 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 the tank which was relieved left the pocket.
    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 used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the opposite track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
    On March 2nd or 3rd, during the Battle of the Points.  The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line.  The Japanese were soon cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.
   The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been

hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.

    The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    On April 9, 1942, William and the other members of the company were informed of the surrender by and ordered to destroy their equipment.  They remained two days in their bivouac before being ordered by the Japanese to go to Mariveles.

    A Company made their way to Mariveles, and it was from this barrio that William started the death march.  At San Fernando, William and the other Prisoners of War were packed into boxcars and taken to Capas. Those who died remained standing since they had no place to fall.   As the living climbed out of the cars, the bodies of the prisoners who died fell to the floors.  From Capas, William walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  
    Camp O'Donnell was a death trap with as many as 50 POWs dying a day.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line for hours to get a drink.  Disease ran wild since there was no medicine to treat the sick.  The Japanese finally acknowledged they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.

    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  with 30 POWs 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 to build it. 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.  To be more efficient, 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.
    A typical day started at 6:00 A.M., when the POWs had reveille.   At 6:15 "bongo" (count) was taken 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 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." 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.  With them, the Japanese had death certificates, signed by an American doctor, which had manufactured causes of death on them.  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, which 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, then 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 a LST to Yokohama.  There, William was transferred to the U.S.S. Rescue and returned to the United States.  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, and was buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, in Section:  20  Site:  558.


 

Return to A Company

Next