Gray

 

Pvt. Lonnie Lee Gray


    Pvt. Lonnie Lee Gray was born September 15, 1921, in Kentucky to Floyd & Paralee Gray.  He 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, Lonnie's battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  it was after these maneuvers that he and the other men were informed that they were not being released from federal service as they expected.  Instead they were being sent overseas.
    Over different train routes, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco.  After receiving physicals and inoculations, they were boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott. The ship sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. 
    When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 
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.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.

    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.

    Word reached Lonnie and the other members of HQ Company that the order had been given to surrender the morning of April 9, 1942.  That morning they were suppose to join up with other troops and surrender together.  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.  

    A few days later, a Japanese officer showed up and ordered the men out onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac.  The Japanese officer ordered the Americans out onto the road.  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.  As they knealt, passing Japanese troops took what they wanted from the Americans.

    HQ Company made its way to Mariveles.  At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded.  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 stood facing the Japanese guards, it appeared that the Japanese were going to execute the prisoners.  Out of the car climbed a Japanese officer, the officer gave orders to the soldiers that they were not to kill the POWs.  After doing this, he got back into the car and it drove off.

    Lonnie and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to kneel in the sun without food or water. They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  The American guns on the island began returning fire.  Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs.  The men 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 later become known as the Bataan Death March.  The first night the POWs were marched all night.  The fist place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machinegun 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 caused physical disabilities; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open.  If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed.

     Lonnie made to San Fernando.  There, he and the other POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars.  The cars were known as "Forty or Eight" cars.  This meant each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Many POWs died during the trip and fell-out when the POWs climbed out of the cars at Mariveles.

     From Mariveles, 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.  Men literally died waiting for a drink.  The death rate in the camp was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.

    Lonnie was held in the new camp until August 1944 when he was sent to Manila for transport to Japan.  On August 25th, Lonnie and other POWs were boarded onto the Noto Maru.  The ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, on August 27th, but stopped at Subic Bay for the night.   It arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30th.  The ship sailed for Japan on August 30th for Keelung, Formosa, arriving the same day.  The ship, joined by other ships, sailed for Japan and arrived at Moji, Japan, 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 into coal cars. The POWs job was to push the coal cars. 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.  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.  He  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 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 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.  He was 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 this 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. The bleeding resulted in him just going to sleep.  Lonnie L. Gray passed away on April 10, 1987.  He was buried in Section I, Site 581, at Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky.


 

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