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
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
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
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
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
The runway was
built through rice
paddies which made
the work harder
since they still
had water in them.
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.
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
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.