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. He
had two sisters and a brother. The family
resided on Dixville Road, Rosehill, Kentucky.
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 part of the 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. Men from each of the letter companies, including Jim, were reassigned to the 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. 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 finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The 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. He 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.