Edwards J

 

Pvt. James Ernest Edwards


    Pvt. James E. Edwards was born on July 6, 1917.  With his two brothers, he resided at his brother's, William, father -in-law and mother-in-law's house at 1202 North 19th Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois.  Jim attended Melrose Park Schools and Proviso Township High School. 
    While in high school, Jim played football.  Like so many others of the time, Jim left high school after his junior year.  He worked at National Foundry manufacturing railroad wheels for train cars.  He was the brother of Sgt. Albert Edwards also of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  

    Jim realized that it was just a matter of time until he was drafted into the army.  To avoid this, he enlisted in the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard in Maywood, Illinois.  The fact that his older brother, Al, was already in the company made his decision to join the tank company easier.

    In the fall of 1940, the tank company was called to federal duty as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  At Ft. Knox, Jim trained as a wheeled vehicle machinist.  After training for almost a  year at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the battalion went on maneuvers in Louisiana. 

    After the maneuvers, the battalion remained behind at the base instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  The company members had no idea why they were being held at the fort.  On the side of a hill, they were informed they were being sent overseas.  Those men 29 years or older were allowed to resign from federal service.  Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The code name for the move was "PLUM."  Within hours, most of them had figured out PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. 
    After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and halftracks.  The battalion traveled over three different railroad routes to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. 
    On the island, the soldiers were inoculated and received physicals.  Those who had minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. 
    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.  For many, it would be the last time that they would ever see the United States.  The battalion 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.  They docked at Pier 7 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.
    Seventeen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the members of 192nd arrived in Manila.  The battalion was deployed Fort Stotsenburg. 
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King, who apologized that they 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.  They spent the next seven days preparing their equipment for use in the maneuvers they expected to take part in.

    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times.  The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.   
    At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor,  the soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  They then saw what looked like rain drops falling from the planes.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  The company remained at Clark Field for the next two weeks.

    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    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 held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown.  The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
    Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. 
The tank battalions, on January 28th, 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.           B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers 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 a tank exited 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 to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.  The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks from the tanks because of the smell.

     The morning of April 9, 1942, word came down that the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan were to be surrendered on April 9th.  Jim and the other members of his tank platoon decided that instead of surrendering they would try to escape to Corregidor in Manila Bay.  Abandoning their tanks, Jim and the other men were successful at their attempt to reach Corregidor.

    When Corregidor was surrendered on May 6, 1942, Pvt. Jim Edwards became a Prisoner of War.  He remained on Corregidor until October 21, 1942, when he was sent to Cabanatuan #3.   It is known that on November 20, 1942, Jim was admitted to the hospital at Bilibid Prison.  The records also indicate that he was suffering from arthritis. No date of discharge is known, but other records show he was admitted December 12, 1942, suffering from beriberi.  Other medical records kept by the Cabanatuan's medical staff show that Jim was hospitalized on March 26, 1943.  The records do not indicate why he was hospitalized or when he was discharged.  He was held at this camp until September 15, 1943, when he was sent to Nielson Field.

    At Nielson Field, Jim worked to build runways.  One day, Jim was working and decided to get a drink of water.  While he was drinking the water, a U.S. Navy signalman came up to him and slapped him in the face because Jim had left the faucet running.  This signalman was known as a collaborator to the other POWs.  Jim also witnessed an American POW bayoneted by the Japanese because he had been planning to escape.  Jim believed that the man had been informed on by the signalman.  On October 12, 1943, Jim was sent to Camp Murphy.  The POWs extended runways at Zablan Airfield.  The conditions were harsh and abuse of the POWs was common. 

    The POWs were moved to Nielsen Airfield on January 29, 1944, Again they were put to work building runways and airplane revetments.  On March 1, 1944, Jim witnessed an American POW, Pvt. George Garrett, bayoneted by the camp commander, Lt. Yoshi Koshi, for planning to escape.  According to the POWs, Garrett and two other men had planned an escape and informed on by the Navy signalman. 

    As the American forces approached the Philippines, Jim's name appeared on a transfer roster on August 20, 1944.  The POWs on the roster were sent back to Bilibid Prison.  Jim was boarded onto the Japanese freighter the Noto Maru with 1,033 other POWs.  The ship sailed on August 27, 1944.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30th.  It stayed in harbor for two days.  During its time in the harbor, American B-17s attacked the port but did little damage. 
    The ship sailed on August 31st and arrived at Keelung, Formosa, the same day.  After an overnight stay, the ship sailed for Moji, Japan.  During this part of the voyage, the convoy was attacked by American submarines.  The POWs could not see the flames, but the glow from the flames could seen from the hold.  The Japanese quickly covered the hold.  The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 7, 1944.  

    Jim was then sent to a camp at Tanagawa where he remained until March 1945 when he was sent to Fukuoka #8 at Mukaishima.  The town was about forty miles from Moji.  The POWs in the camp were used as slave labor in a coal mine. 
   
At this camp the POWs were used as slave labor by the Yamano Mining Company.  The POWs were housed in twelve barracks that were 10 feet wide by 100 feet long.  None of the barracks were heated and were infested with lice.  The daily meal for the POWs was rice, between 550 and 750 grams a day, and thin vegetable soup.  Once a month, fish would be added to the soup.
    The Japanese guards were brutal toward the POWs and beat them for any offense.  The treatment the POWs received from the civilian supervisors at the mine was even worse.  Ironically, the Japanese took a good number of precautions to protect the POWs from being hurt in cave-ins.

    When the war ended, Jim was liberated in September 1945.  He was taken to the 29th Replacement Depot in Manila, Philippine Islands.  Upon returning to the Philippine Islands, he learned that his brother, Al, died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru, by an American submarine, on October 24, 1944.

    Jim returned to the United States and was admitted to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco on October 16, 1945.  This was almost four years to the day since he had left the United States for the Philippines.  He was discharged, from the army, on  March 31, 1946.

    Jim would later travel to New York to testify against a Navy signalman who had collaborated with the Japanese at Camp Murphy.  During the testimony, Jim stated that another American died because the signalman had informed on him and his plan to escape.  When the signalman was exonerated by a Naval Court, Jim felt it was the Navy taking care of one of their own.

    While Jim was being held as a prisoner, a story appeared in U. S. newspapers that he and his brother, Al, had managed to escape to the Soviet Union.  This story was first circulated by ham radio operators.  The story also gained credibility when the Soviet government failed to deny the story.  It was only when his family received a POW postcard from Jim that they knew the story was not true.

    Jim returned to Melrose Park and married.  For the rest of his life, he worked at National Foundry in Melrose Park and resided in River Grove, Illinois.  Jim Edwards passed away on November 9, 1993.

    The picture at the bottom of this page was taken six months after Jim had been liberated from a Japanese POW Camp.

     


 

 

 


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