Edwards

S/Sgt. Albert Thomas Edwards


     S/Sgt. Albert T. Edwards was born on December 27, 1916, to Mr. & Mrs. William Edwards.  He lived at 1202 North 19th Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois, which was the home of his brother's, William, mother-in-law and father-in-law. 
    Al was a member of the Proviso Township High School Class of 1937.  While at Proviso, Al was the captain of the varsity football team and played basketball.  After high school, he worked as a meter reader for the Public Service Company.  He was  the brother of Pvt. James E. Edwards who also was a member of Company B.

     Al joined the Illinois National Guard and became a member of the 33rd Tank Battalion from Maywood, Illinois.  When the company was called to federal duty in the fall of 1940, Al trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  What specific training he received is not known.
    In the late summer of 1941, Al took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, 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, who 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 live 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.
    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.

     In the Philippines, Albert was a tank commander and platoon sergeant of the second tank platoon.  When the Japanese landed troops at Agoo, a platoon of tanks from Company B was sent to stop the Japanese advance so that the U. S. 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts could withdraw to Rosario.   During the engagement, the tank of Lt.  Ben Morin came under heavy enemy fire.  Albert , being in the second tank, attempted to come to the aid of Morin, but he had to finally give up since his tank was also taking heavy anti-tank fire.

    During this engagement, a member of his tank crew, Pvt. Henry J. Deckert, was killed by enemy fire.  Al took on the responsibility of making sure that Deckert was properly buried in a churchyard.  It was only after this was done that Al felt something wet on his neck.  It turned out he had been wounded at the height of the battle and never knew it.
    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.

    On April 9, 1942, Al became a Prisoner Of War when the defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.  Al took part in the Death March and was held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanatuan.  Back home, his brother, William, did not learn that Al was a POW until February 22, 1943.  It was while he was a POW at Cabanatuan that William received a POW post card from him on September 7, 1943.

    As a Prisoner of War, Al spent time in camps in the Philippines.  At Cabanatuan, camp medical records show that he was admitted to the hospital on March 26, 1943.  The reason for his hospitalization was not reported nor was the date he was discharged.  He was readmitted on April 6, 1943, but once again no reason or date of discharge were given. 

    It is known that Al was sent to the  Pas Pinas Detail.  The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms.  Thirty POWs were assigned to a room.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war.  The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
    Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again.  They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again.  Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
 

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like.  These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
   
            

    At some point during his time in the camp, Al was tortured with Pvt. Steve Gados and Sgt. Larry Jordan, both of Company B, for violating some imaginary rule.   In 1944, the detail ended and Al was selected to be sent to Japan.

     Al and other POWs arrived at Pier 7 in Manila on October 10th.  The ship they were scheduled to be sent to Japan on was the Hokusen Maru, but since another POW detachment had not completely arrived, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  The ship sailed to a cove off Palawan Island.

    During the first 48 hours off Palawan, five POWs died.  The POWs realized that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs from the lighting system, but that they had not turned off the power.  They figured out a way to hook the ventilation system into the lights and had fresh air for two days.  When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.

    The Japanese conceded that more POWs would die unless they did something.  The Japanese transferred POWs from the second hold to its first hold.  This hold was partially filled with coal.  During the transfer, one POW attempted to escape and was shot.

    On October 20th, the Arisan Maru returned to Manila.  There, it joined a twelve ship convoy bound for Formosa.  The convoy sailed on October 21st.

    About 5:00 p.m. on October 24th, some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the POWs in the ship's holds.  The ship was in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea.  Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded.  The Japanese on deck ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship.  The Japanese then ran to the stern of the ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship.    The ship shook and came to a stop.  It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships.

     The Japanese guard fired their guns at the POWs on deck to drive them into the holds.  Once in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders into the holds and put the hatch covers over the holds.  The Japanese did not tie the hatch covers down.

    After the Japanese had abandoned ship, some POWs made their way back onto the deck.  They reattached the ladders and dropped them to the other POWs.  Once on deck, few POWs made an attempt to abandon the ship.

    Over two hours, the ship sunk lower into the water.  Some POWs who could not swim, raided the food lockers.  They wanted to die with a full stomach.  Others found anything that would float in an attempt to escape the ship.  A group of 35 POWs made it to a Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized they were Americans, the hit them with clubs and pushed them away with poles.

    Three POWs found an abandoned lifeboat which they boarded.  Since it had no oars and the seas were rough, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs.  Only two other POWs would reach the boat.  According to the survivors, the Arisan Maru sunk sometime after dark.   At some point, it had split in half.  Only nine of the 1803 POWs who boarded the Arisan Maru survived its sinking.  Eight of these men survived the war.

    On Tuesday, October 24, 1944, Al died when the Arisan Maru was sunk by an American submarine.  S/Sgt. Albert T. Edwards was 25 years old when he died.

    Since Al died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.

    In one of the stranger episodes of the war, a report surfaced that Al and his brother, Jim, had escaped from a Japanese prison camp and somehow had made their way to the Soviet Union.  This story appears to have been confirmed by the Russians.  It was only after his family received POW cards from the Al and Jim, that this story was proved to be untrue.


 

 


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