Pvt. James William Durr
| Pvt. James W.
Durr was born on April 2, 1919 , in Mercer County,
Kentucky, to Ernest Durr and Grace Dnuny-Durr, and
with his three sisters and brother, he grew up on
Beaumont Road in Mercer County. He left
school after the eighth gradde and worked as a
farmhand. At some point, he joined the Kentucky
National Guard and was called Jim by the other
members of his company.
In September 1940, the 38th Division's Tank Company was re-designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 25th, they reported to the armory and prepared to go to Ft. Knox. They traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, arriving there on November 28th, and with three other National Guard Tank Companies, formed the battalion.
In December 1941, the Army attempted to designate one of the letter companies Headquarters Company which none of the companies wanted to do since they would have to give up their tanks. Instead, the army allowed the creation of totally new HQ company by taking men from each company and filling out the battalion's ranks with draftees. It was at that time that Jim was reassigned to the company. It is not known what job Jim performed with the company.
In August 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. Headquarters Company performed administration duties and tank maintenance. At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk without being given a reason why; They had expected to return to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill at Camp Polk, 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 that time that married men and men 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. This 753rd had been sent to the fort, but it had not taken part in the maneuvers. The M3A1 "Stuart" tanks, from the battalion, were also given to the 192nd.
Traveling west over the southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, and was ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T Hugh L. Scott on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy that arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover. The soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island. The ships sailed again on Wednesday, November 5th, for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water before sailing for Manila. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. 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. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th. They docked at Pier 7 later that day and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Ironically, it was the day the National Guard members of the battalion had originally been scheduled to be released from federal service.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field, but he had just learned of their arrival days earlier. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them rusting while at sea. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles, and meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the tankers at the perimeter of Clark Field when they received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. HQ Company had just had lunch and could do little more than watch and seek shelter, since they had no weapons to be used against planes.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
Sitting, watching, and waiting the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers, got out of the car, and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Jim's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles, where the POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from the two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide, and some were killed. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks, and they were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas. The cars were known as "forty and eights," because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Frank walked the last miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink. Many men went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs on the detail found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or that the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
When the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan the healthier POWs were sent to the camp, while those who were going to die remained behind at Camp O'Donnell. Jim was sent to the new camp when it opened. What is known about his time in the camp was that he was hospitalized on March 26, 1943. Why he was hospitalized and when he was discharged are not known. He remained in the camp until March 22, 1944, when he transferred to Bilibid Prison.
The POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila, and boarded the Taikoku Maru which sailed on March 23, 1944. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on March 27th and remained in harbor until April 3rd when it sailed again. It arrived at Osaka, Japan, on April 9, 1944, and the POWs disembarked on April 10th and rode a train to Hitachi arriving on April 11th.
In Japan, Jim was held at Hitachi Camp which was designated as Tokyo #8B. He was given POW #185. The POWs were used as slave labor in a copper mine. He remained in this camp until August 14, 1944, when he was transferred.
The POWs were taken by train to Hitachi were they disembarked on March 11th, and taken to Hitachi #8. In the camp the POWs were used as slave labor in a copper mine. Jim was given the POW number of 148 and remained in the camp, about four months, before he was transferred to Kawasaki where the POWs worked in a shipyard.
Jim remained in the camp until he was liberated in September 1945. When he was liberated, he weighed 98 pounds. He was taken to Ookinawa and returned to the Philippines for medical treatment and to be "fattened up." Jim was promoted to sergeant and returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman arriving at San Francisco on October 3, 1945. After further medical treatment, he was discharged from the Army on April 5, 1946.
It is known that Jim married and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked for a railroad. In April 1952, in a case of mistaken identity, Jim went on trial as an accomplice in a robbery that took place at a White Castle. He was found innocent. He resided in Cincinnati until his death on November 25, 1975, and was buried at the Cemetery of Spring Grove in Section 139, Lot G, Space 73, in Cincinnati, Ohio.