Durham

Pvt. Jesse Willard Durham


    Pvt. Jesse Durham was born on August 11, 1916, in Jacksonville, Texas, to Lonnie L. Durham & Lillie Stuart-Durham.  With his three sisters he grew up in Cherokee County, Texas, and attended high school for one year.
    Jesse was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 18, 1941, in Houston, Texas, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  What training he received is not known.  After completing his basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. 
    The 753rd had been sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941.  Maneuvers were taking place at the fort, but the battalion did not take part in them.  After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was held at Camp Polk.  None of its members had any idea why they were being kept at the base.  It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within in hours, many of the men had figured out that they 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.  Jesse was one of the men who volunteered to replace a National Guardsman.  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.  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.
   
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.

    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.  

    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. 
    At Gumain River, 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.  It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.   The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.
    The tankers soon found themselves in given the job of holding a defensive line so that the other troops could disengage and form a new defensive line further south.  They repeated this action over and over.

    C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks.  It was at Baluiag that Gentry's tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.

    On December 31, 1941, Capt. William Gentry, commanding officer of C Company, sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag.  The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way.  Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. 

    Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge.  The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks.  A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.  

    Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.  One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge.   Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.  

    Major John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, came riding in his jeep into Baluiag.  He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church steeple.  The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.  Gentry had told Morley that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.

     When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge.  The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks.  Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.

    Kennady held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt.  The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them.  By the time C Company was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.  

    C Company withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group.  When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown.  Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river.  Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice.  This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.

    The tanks were about 100 yards apart.  The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them.  The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire which caused the rice stacks to catch fire.  The fighting was such a rout that the the tankers were using a .37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.
    Jesse's tank company was next sent to the Barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino Army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire.  From a Filipino lieutenant, they learned where the guns were located and attacked.  Before the Japanese withdrew, the tanks had knocked out three of the guns. 
  
    After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across.  The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days.
When the company entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment.  The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.

    During the Battle of the Points the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back.  According to members of the battalion they resorted two ways to wipe out the Japanese.
    The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades.  When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would explode.
    About 6:45 in the morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  They destroyed their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them.  When they did, the Americans officially became Prisoners of War.  Having heard a rumor that the Japanese were looking for them, the tankers got rid of anything that indicated that they were tankers.  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. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
    It is not known if Jesse went out on any work details while he was a POW in the Philippines.  It is known that he was held at Cabanatuan.  According to camp medical records, he was admitted into the camp hospital on August 21, 1942.  The records do not indicate what the illness was or when he was discharged.  He was again admitted to the camp hospital on April 17, 1943.  Once again, no reason for the hospitalization or discharge date was given.  In the fall of 1944, Jesse's name appeared on a list of POWs being transferred to Japan.  This was being done because American forces had landed in the Philippines.  By train, the POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila to Pier 7. 
   
The POWs were scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru.  While the POWs were on the dock waiting to board their ship, the Hokusen Maru became ready to sail.  Since the entire POW detachment assigned to the ship had not arrived,  the Japanese put  Jesse's POW detachment on the ship since it was ready to sail.  The Arisan Maru, Jesse's original ship, was later sunk by an American submarine on its way to Hong Kong.  Only nine of the 1803 POWs on the ship survived its sinking.
    The Hokusen Maru sailed for Manila on October 3, 1944.  During the voyage north the convoy the ship was part of was attacked by American submarines resulting in the sinking of several ships.  It took the surviving ships eight days to reach Hong Kong.  They dropped anchor there on October 11th.  While in port, the ships were attacked by American planes.
    The convoy left Hong Kong on October 21st for Formosa.  It arrived at Takao Formosa, on October 24th, but they remained in the ship's holds until November 8th when they were disembarked.  Since the POWs were in such bad shape, the Japanese opened an new POW camp which was given the designation of 
Inrin Temporary Camp.  The POWs were given light work to do.  Those who were in better shape worked at harvesting sugarcane or at a sugarcane mill.   
    In January 1945, the POWs were taken back to Takao and boarded onto the Enoshima Maru.  The ship Arrived safely at Moji, Japan.  After disembarking from the ship, the POWs were taken to the train station and sent to various POW camps in Japan.  In Jesse's case, he was taken to
Sendai #3 where the POWs worked for the Mitsubishi Mining Company at a lead and zinc mine.
    On August 15th, the POWs were ordered out of the mines.  When they got topside, they saw the Japanese civilians crying and heard loudspeakers blaring.   When they got up to go to work on the 16th, they were told they had the day off because it was a holiday.  They had never received a day off for a holiday before this.  They began to wonder if the war was over.
    Three American fighters flew low over the camp on August 21st.  As they did they tipped their wings.  A note was dropped indicating B-29s would come over the camp the next day.  The next day the planes appeared and dropped food to the POWs.  Three POWs were killed since some of the parachutes did not open.  The following day B-29s dropped clothing to the POWs.
    On September 12, 1945, Jesse was liberated when an American major and three enlisted men entered the camp.  The POWs were taken by train to Sendai, and later were returned to the Philippines, where he was promoted to Corporal. After receiving medical treatment Jesse was returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Tryon which arrived at San Francisco on October 24, 1945. 
    Jesse W. Durham returned to Jacksonville, Texas, and spent the rest of his life there.  He passed away in Jacksonville, Texas, on September 12, 2000, and was buried at Resthaven Memorial Park in Jacksonville.


 

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