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. With his three sisters and
brother, he grew up on Beaumont Road in Mercer
County. He worked as a farmhand and joined
the Kentucky National Guard. He 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 traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and with three other National Guard Companies, formed the battalion.
Instead of re-designating one of the letter companies as Headquarters Company, the army allowed the creation of totally new company. Men from each of the letter companies, including Jim, were 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. 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 this time, men 29 years or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. This battalion had been sent to the fort, but it had not taken part in the maneuvers. The M3 "Stuart" tanks from the battalion were also given to the 192nd.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to 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.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T Hugh L. Scott from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam. When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 8th, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed 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. Jim and the other members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters 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 morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, commander of HQ Company, informed his men of the surrender. Bruni somehow came up with enough food for the men to have what he called, "Their last supper." The meal consisted of bread and pineapple. Bruni told his men that from this point on it was each man for himself. Most of the company remained in their bivouac for two days.
The first contact HQ Company had with the Japanese was when Japanese officers entered their bivouac. They ordered the Americans to go to the road that ran past their encampment. Once on the road, they were made to kneel on both sides of the road. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
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 Japanese soldiers. He 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 Japanese 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. 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. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. 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 by the Japanese. The men 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 pin 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 pin, 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. They were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcar 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. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. From Capas, Frank walked the last ten 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. The death rate among the POWs was as high as fifty men a day. Many POWs 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 the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The healthier POWs were sent to the camp. 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, Jim was one of the POWs transferred to Bilibid Prison.
The POWs boarded the Taikoku Maru and sailed on 23 March, 1944. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on March 27th and remained in harbor until April 3rd when it sailed. It arrived at Osaka, Japan, on April 9, 1944. The POWs disembarked on April 10th and road a train to Hitachi arriving on April 11th.
Upon arriving 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. They were taken to Hitachi #8 and used as slave labor in a copper mine. Jim was given the POW number of 148. He remained in the camp about four months before he was transferred to Kawasaki. In this camp, the POWs worked in a shipyard.
Jim remained in the camp until he was liberated in September 1945. He weighed 98 pounds when he was liberated. He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment and to be "fattened up." He was promoted to sergeant and returned to the United States and 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, 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. Jim was buried at the Cemetery of Spring Grove in Section 139, Lot G, Space 73, in Cincinnati, Ohio.