DeCant

 

Tec 4 Chester S. DeCant


    T/4 Chester DeCant was born on March 26, 1917, in Lucas County, Ohio, to Virginia Cutcher-DeCant & Richard W. DeCant.  With his six brothers and sister, he grew up at 99 Jerusalem Road, Jerusalem Township, Lucas County, Ohio. He left school after the eighth grade and worked as a laborer in a quarry.  At some point, Chester joined the Ohio National Guard in Port Clinton. 
    In September 1940, his tank company was designated as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  The company members reported to Port Clinton on November 25th and left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 29th.  For the next nine months the members of the tank battalion trained and attended schools at Ft. Knox.  In Chester's case, he graduated from cook's school.
   
    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  During the maneuvers, the Red Army, which the 192nd was part of, broke through the lines of the Blue Army.  As they approached the headquarters of the Blue Army, which was under the command of General George Patton, the maneuvers were suddenly canceled.  The 192nd was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of the members had any idea why this order was given.
    On the side of a hill at Camp Polk, the tankers learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours many men had figured out that "PLUM" stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.  Those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  Replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Benning, Georgia.   The 192nd also received the battalion's tanks and half-tracks.
    Over different train routes, the battalion was sent to San Francisco.  Once there, they were taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  At the fort, they received physicals and inoculated against tropical diseases.  Those men with minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion in the Philippines.
   

    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 and docked at Pier 7.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guardsmen were scheduled to be released from federal service.  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.

    The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  That morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  When they looked up that morning, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  Chester, as a company cook, was serving lunch to the tankers.
   
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers noticed planes approaching the airfield.  When bombs began exploding around them, they knew the planes were Japanese.  Besides their .50 caliber machine guns, they had few weapons to use against the planes.  Most took cover and waited out the attack.  After it ended, they saw the destruction done by the bombs.
    The 192nd remained at Clark Field for about a week before they were ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad.  For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line.
    During the next four months, Chester worked to feed the members of the tank crews.  This was often a difficult job since food rations were cut several times.  On several occasions, the tankers were fed horse meat from the 26th U.S. Cavalry Philippine Scouts.
   
    The morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  The tank crews destroyed  their tanks and the members of the company waited for the Japanese to make contact with them.  When they did, the Americans officially became Prisoners of War.  They made their way, as a company, to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  There, they started what they simply referred to as "the march."
    From Mariveles, the POWs made there way north to San Fernando.  They received little food and almost no water.  At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into a bull pin.  In one corner was a slit trench that was used as a washroom.  The surface moved from the maggots that covered it.
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men.  They were marched to the train station and put into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses and were known as "Forty or Eights."  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
   
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  As many as fifty POWs died each day.  Disease spread quickly among the POWs.  To get out of the camp, POWs volunteered to go out on work details. It is not known if Chester went out on a work detail.
    It is known that Chester was held as a POW at Cabanatuan.  The camp had been opened by the Japanese in an attempt to lower the death rate among the POWs.  In July, Chester was put in the camp hospital suffering from dysentery and malaria.  According to the records kept by the hospital staff, T/4 Chester S. DeCant died from malaria and dysentery at Cabanatuan POW Camp at approximately 7:00 A.M.  He was buried in the camp cemetery.
    After the war, the U.S. Recovery Team could not positively identify the remains of T/4 Chester DeCant.  He was buried at the new American Cemetery at Manila as an unknown.  His name also appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the cemetery


 

 

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