Pvt. Charles Cleo Harmon

    Pvt. Charles C. Harmon was one of twin sons born on August 5, 1916, on the family's farm three miles east of Alfalfa, Oklahoma, to Arthur L. Harmon and Lola May Luper-Harmon.  In addition to his twin, he had two sisters and two more brothers.  They were raised in Alfalfa, until the family moved to Loco, Oklahoma.  His mother passed away on January 1, 1923, when he was six, so he and his siblings lived with their grandparents.
    Charles father remarried and moved the family to Augusta, Kansas.  Charles was unhappy, so he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt in Carnegie, Oklahoma.  He went to work at Crain Ford as a car salesman.  He was inducted in the U.S. Army in Oklahoma City, on March 20, 1941. 
    Charles was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  What exact training he received is not known.  What is known is that he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, after completing basic training and assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk in the late summer, but did not take part maneuvers that were going on at the fort.
    After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to remain at Camp Polk.  The members of the battalion had no idea why they were remaining at the fort.  It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas.  Those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  Once this was done, replacements were sought from the 753rd.  Charles was one of the replacements.  He was assigned to C Company.

    Over different train routes, the battalion's companies traveled to San Francisco.  They were taken by ferry to Fort McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  There, they were given physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands.  Those men who were found to need minor medical treatment remained behind at the fort and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and 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 and docked at Pier 7.  November 20th was the date that the National Guardsmen were scheduled to be released from federal service.  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, the tankers learned of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor.  He and the other tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
    Around 12:45 P.M., the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield.  When bombs began exploding they knew the planes were Japanese.  Although they did the best they could, the tankers did not have the right type of weapons to fight the planes.
    Charles spent the next four months taking part in a delaying action against the Japanese.  During the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula, the tanks were often the last unit to disengage from the Japanese.

    At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.   The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.      
    Charles took part in the Battle of the Points.  The Japanese lunched an offensive and broken through the defensive line on Bataan and were pushed back.  This resulted in two pockets of Japanese troops trapped behind American and Filipino lines.  During this battle, the tankers drove over the Japanese foxholes and soldiers sitting on the tanks dropped hand grenades into the foxholes.  In a matter of days, all resistance was wiped out.

    Another method the tankers used to wipe out the pockets was to park a tank with one track over the Japanese foxhole.  The crew would then spin the tank on one track while the other track dug into the ground.

    At 6:45 A.M. in the morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  They destroyed their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them.  When they did, they ordered the members of the company to make their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
   From Mariveles, the POWs made their way north to San Fernando.  They received little food and almost no water.  At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into a bull pin.  In one corner was a slit trench that was used as a washroom.  The surface moved from the maggots that covered it.
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men.  They were marched to the train station and put into small wooden
boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses and were known as "Forty or Eights."  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  As many as fifty POWs died each day.  Disease spread quickly among the POWs.  To get out of the camp, POWs volunteered to go out on work details.
    Charles most likely went out on a work detail, but at this time, it is not known which one.  It is known that he was a POW in Cabanatuan in 1943.  In early September, his name appeared on a roster of POWs being sent to Japan.  The POWs were taken by truck to Manila.  At Bilibid, they were given a physical and taken to the Port Area for transport to Japan. 
    The POWs were boarded onto the Coral Maru which was also known as the Taga Maru.  It sailed from Manila on September 20th and arrived at Takao, Formosa, around September 23rd.  It spent two or three days in port before sailing about September 26th.  The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5th.
    The POWs were disembarked and organized into detachments of 100 POWs.  They were taken by train to various POW camps.  In Charles' case, he was taken to
Tokyo Camp #5-B.  The POWs in the camp worked as stevedores at Niigata Harbor and at a foundry.
    Charles remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 5, 1945, and the POWs were taken by train to Yokohama.  The POWs were returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.
    Charles returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Rescue on October 10, 1945, at San Francisco.  He was on the first ship to bring the former POWs home.  After arriving the men were sent to Letterman General Hospital.   He was next sent to Bruns General Hospital to recover.  It was while he was there that he met his future wife, Mary Ann Huelsmann.   The couple married on October 9, 1946.  
    Charles worked in automobile sales at different car dealers in Norman, Oklahoma.  He later opened his own car dealership and worked until he retired in 1998.

    Mary Ann passed away in May 1990, and Charles, in 2006, married Huiging Ying in China.  She was known as Jean.  Charles C. Harmon passed away on May 30, 2016, in Norman, Oklahoma, and was the last known surviving member of C Company.


Return to C Company