Edwards Jim

 

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.  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.  They spent the next seven days preparing their equipment for use in the maneuvers they expected to take part in.

    Being given a ten day pass home, Jim took care of unfinished business.  He then returned to Camp Polk and prepared equipment for shipment.  Over three different train routes the battalion was sent to San Francisco and then Angel Island.  From there, they were sent to the Philippine Islands.

    Arriving in Manila, the battalion was immediately sent to Fort Stotsenburg.  There, they resided in tents along the main road between Clark Field and the fort since their barracks were unfinished.

    On December 8, 1941, Jim lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  During the attack, the tanks guarded the perimeter of the airfield to prevent paratroopers from landing.  Jim's tank and other tanks of the 192nd were then sent north when reports came in that the Japanese had landed at Lingayen Gulf.

    Jim was involved in repeated action against the Japanese over the next few months.  On April 8, 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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