Pvt. Willard Emmal Foster
| Pvt. Willard E. Foster was born on
December 27, 1923, in Mercer County, Kentucky, to
Gladys Chilton-Foster and Arthur Foster. With
his two sisters and a brother, the family resided on
Dixville Road, Rosehill, Kentucky. It is known
that during the 1920s, his father died.
Willard joined the Kentucky National Guard on May 20, 1940. In September 1940, his Kentucky National Guard Tank Company was federalized and called to federal service on November 20, 1940, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Joining three other National Guard tank companies, the company was now D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
In early 1941, instead of re-designating one of the letter companies as Headquarters Company, the army allowed the creation of totally new company. This was done since none of the tank companies wanted to give up their tanks. Men from each of the letter companies, including Willard, were reassigned to HQ Company. It is not known what job Willard 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 and was not considered an active participant. At the end of the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk without being given a reason why. 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, married men and men 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion, which had been sent to the fort but did not take 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 were 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. Some 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 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. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay and docked later in the day. It was three or four hours before after docking that the soldiers disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila. Those assigned to trucks drove to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. 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 which had been greased to prevent them from rusting while at sea. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts as they prepared for the planned 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. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the all 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 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, and he turned away from the men for a moment. When he turned back he continued and 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. 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 where they were ordered to sit. 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. 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 as the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles and 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 these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide, and 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 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. 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 known as "forty or eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since they could not fall to the floor until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. From there, they 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 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 grave, 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 their graves.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan, and those POWs that were deemed to be healthy were sent to the camp. Willard was considered too ill to be moved, so he remained behind at Camp O'Donnell.
According to records kept by the camp medical staff, Pvt. Willard E. Foster died of dysentery on Monday, June 1, 1942, and was buried in the camp cemetery in Section L, Row 1, Grave 4.
After the war, the remains of Pvt. Willard E. Foster were positively identified by the U.S. Remains Recovery Team and reburied at the new American Military Cemetery, at Manila, in Plot D, Row 1, Grave 257.