Pvt. Lonnie Lee Gray

    Pvt. Lonnie L. Gray was born September 15, 1921, in Kentucky to Floyd & Paralee Gray and resided in Burgin, Kentucky, with his brother and sister.  Lonnie like most men his age knew that a federal draft act had been passed, so he enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard.

    On November 25, 1940, Lonnie's tank company was called to federal duty as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  He, with his company, traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for training.  In January 1941, Lonnie was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was formed.

    While on leave home from the army, on April 5, 1941, Lonnie married Gertrude Bailey.  The couple would have three children.  His oldest son Tony would be born after his battalion left the United States for the Philippine Islands.

    In the late summer, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  It was after these maneuvers that the soldiers were informed that they were not being released from federal service as they expected.  Instead they were being sent overseas.
    Over the southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco, California.  After receiving physicals and inoculations, they were boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott which sailed on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy that arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd.  Since the ships had a two day layover, the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ships sailed 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 they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila. 
At one point, the ships passed an island at night in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they would soon be at war.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later in the day.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance, as they prepared to take part in 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 8, 1941, Lonnie heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.  Around 12:45 in the afternoon, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  With the other men of the company, Lonnie took cover to wait out the attack.  Afterwards, they saw the damage done by the Japanese.

    Since Lonnie was assigned to HQ Company, he did not take part in any front-line action.  But, since there was no American Air Force, he lived with the constant strafing of Japanese planes.

    The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to HQ Company's kitchen.  That night the sky was lit by the fire burning at the ammunition dumps.

    The evening of April 8th, word reached Lonnie and the other members of HQ Company that the order had been given to surrender.  Lonnie and the other men took their ammunition and weapons and put them in piles in the last tank and half-track they had.  They poured gasoline into the tank and the half track, and both were set on fire.  

    Captain Fred Bruni took the men of HQ Company into the jungle near their camp site and fed them what would become their last supper.  It consisted of pineapple juice and bread.  He said to them as they ate that it was now every man for himself.  

    On April 11th, the Japanese arrived and a Japanese officer ordered the men out onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac.  It was on this day that Lonnie became a Prisoner Of War.  While on the road, the POWs were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, passing Japanese troops took what they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.

    HQ Company drove their trucks, to Mariveles and were ordered out of them.  At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded into field.  The Japanese soldiers had the POWs lined up for an inspection.  The Japanese took the prisoners' jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them. 

    As the soldiers knelt facing the Japanese guards, they saw what looked like a firing squad forming.  It appeared that the Japanese were going to execute them.  A car pulled up, and out of the car climbed a Japanese officer who gave orders to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to put down their guns.

    Lonnie and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to sit in the sun without food or water.  Behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered.  The American guns on the islands began returning fire.  Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs who had no place to hide and several were killed.  Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.

    It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that Lonnie began what would become known as the Bataan Death March.  The first night the POWs were marched all night.  The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machine gun nest.  Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.

    The Japanese ordered the POWs to move.  What made things worse, for the POWs, was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water.  The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells.  It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells.  This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.  

    The lack of food and water had physical results; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open.  If the prisoners who did get water drank the water, they were often killed.

     Lonnie made it to San Fernando, where he and the other POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars.  The cars were 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.  The POWs died during the trip remained standing sicne they could not fall to the floors. Only when the living left the cars at Capas did the dead fall to the floors.

     From Capas, the POWs walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Camp.  There was only one water faucet for 12,000 POWs, and men literally died waiting for a drink.  Within a month, the death rate in the camp was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.

    Lonnie went out on a work detail to Ft. McKinley arriving there on October 1942.  The POWs on the detail worked to clean up the debris from the battle.  Afterwards, they were moved to Nielsen Field, on January 29, 1943, and worked at constructing a northeast to southwest runway.  The work day for the POWs was from 8:00 A.M. until Noon and from 1:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M.  When they arrived at the airfield they were divided into two groups which alternated between working for a hour while the other and resting for a hour.   
    The work was hard and required the POWs to remove dirt and rock from one ares and dumping it onto the runways.  The dirt and rock was removed with picks and shovels and put into mining cars which were pushed by POWs to the area where they were going to be dumped.

    In May 1943, the work was sped up.  The POWs weren't sure if this was because they were behind schedule or if the airfield was need because of the military situation.   The runway was built through rice paddies which made the work harder since they still had water in them.
    It appeared that Lonnie became ill and was returned to Cabanatuan.  How long he remained there is not known.  Records show he was sent to the Port Area of Manila to work as a stevedore loading and unloading in November 1943.
    At some point, Lonnie was sent to the Port Area of Manila to work as a stevedore on what was known as the Port Terminal Detail.  He was a replacement for another POW who had become too ill to work.  On the detail he was reunited with his friend Pvt. Marvin Taylor, who was also from Harrodsburg.   It was while he was on this detail that on February 8, 1944, that his wife received word that he was alive.  This was because his friend, Marvin Taylor, was allowed to make a shortwave broadcast and mentioned him in it.
    In July 1944, the detail ended and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison to be transferred to Japan.  
In August 1944, Lonnie was sent to Pier 7 for transport to Japan.  he remained there until August 25th, when he was boarded onto the Noto Maru, which sailed for Takao, Formosa, as part of a convoy, on August 27th.   After leaving Manila, the convoy stopped at Subic Bay for the night.   During the trip, the ship made it through a submarine attack and arrived at Takao on August 30th and sailed for Japan the on August 31st and arrived at Moji on September 4th.

    Lonnie and the other POWs were taken by train to Oasaka and marched through a subway to another train.  This train arrived at Nuttari, Higashi Ward, Niigata Prefecture. The POWs were put on trucks and driven to the POW camp which was designated as a Niigata POW camp.   The camp was located in Nuttari, Higashi Ward, Niigata Prefecture.     In the camp, the POWs worked at a coal yard, the POWs were used as slave labor and loaded and unloaded coal cars.  The winches in the camp were run by women.  The winches lifted the coal out of the ship's holds and dropped it on conveyor belts that dumped it into coal cars which the POWs pushed.  The POWs also would work on barges shoveling coal into a steam shovel which lifted it and dropped it into coal cars.

    In September 1945, Lonnie was liberated from the camp.  His family received word of his liberation on September 16, 1945.  After being liberated, he was returned to the Philippines and received medical treatment.  When it was determined he was healthy, he was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman which arrived at San Francisco on October 3, 1945, and was taken to Letterman General Hospital before being allowed to return to Kentucky and his wife. 
    When Lonnie returned home for the first time, his wife introduced him to his son, Tony.  Tony, who was five, had never met his father.   He ran to the photo of his father that was sitting on a desk in the house and said, "
No, No, this is my daddy!"  He would have nothing to do with the stranger standing in front of him. 

    Lonnie and Gertrude would have two more children.  Lonnie re-enlisted in the army on April 12, 1948, with the rank of corporal and served in Korea during the Korean War.  When he was discharged, as a sergeant, in 1952, he returned to Harrodsburg and worked as a carpenter. 
    Lonnie's life was not easy.  His family recalled that he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming.  Lonnie was also admitted, several times, to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington because of his alcoholism.  

    The greatest impact Lonnie's alcoholism had his life was that Gertrude would divorce him in 1965.  Although she could no longer fight her husband's demons, she said she still loved him.  After the divorce, he remained in Harrodsburg for four years when he suddenly disappeared.

    Lonnie's children had no idea if he was alive or dead.  In the fall of 1986, Lonnie called his children and asked if one of them would be willing to bring him home to Harrodsburg.  For the last fifteen years, he had been living in a trailer in Florida and working as a tenant farmer.  He had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to die in Harrodsburg.  To his surprise, all three of his children went to Florida to get him.

    Lonnie spent his last Christmas living with his son, Tony, and daughter-in-law, Marilyn.  He and his children reacquainted themselves with each other.  They found him easy to be with and a person with a great sense of humor.

    In February 1987, Lonnie was admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and later moved to the Leestown Road VA Facility and admitted to the terminal unit.  It was at this time that he began to share his memories of Bataan with his family.  Even at that time, he could hardly bring himself to talk about his POW experiences in the Philippines and Japan.

    Lonnie Gray died peacefully from a large tumor next to his aortic artery.  The tumor caused massive bleeding which resulted in him just going to sleep.  Lonnie L. Gray passed away on April 10, 1987, and was buried in Section I, Site 581, at Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky.


Return to D Company