Sgt. Aaron Clyde Hopper
| Sgt. Aaron C.
Hopper was born on January 25, 1918, in Carroll
County, Tennessee, to Allen P. Hopper and Effie J.
Pendergrass-Hopper, and lived in Carroll County
with his four sisters and two brothers. He
was known as "Clyde" to his family and friends.
He was a graduate of West Tennessee Business College and was working as an office worker in Gilbertsville, Kentucky, when he was drafted into the Army. On March 11, 1941, in Louisville, Kentucky, and was scheduled to go to Ft. Hood, Texas, but his paperwork was lost, so he was sent to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where he remained for six weeks while the Army attempted to find his paperwork.
After his paperwork was found, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and attended classes on military supplies. He rose in rank quickly and held the rank of sergeant by the late summer of 1941 and was the company's supply sergeant.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd participated in maneuvers in Louisiana, as part of the First Armor Division. At one point, the battalion broke through the defenses of the 2nd Armor Division and was on its way to overrun the division's headquarters when the maneuvers were cancelled. Afterwards, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill that the members of the 192nd learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were given the chance to resign from federal service, while many of the remaining men received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day, and the next day - when a Navy ship was sent to the area - the buoys had been picked up. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The companies of the battalion traveled by train, over different train routes, to San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island and received inoculations and physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and 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. It is not known if D Company lived in tents or assigned to barracks since they were scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, Clyde lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Since he was in supplies, he was in the tank battalions bivouac on the road between the airfield and Ft. Stotsenburg.
That morning, about 8:30, all the American planes took off and filled the sky. In any direction the tankers looked, there were planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The attack also destroyed the paperwork, for the members of D Company, that was needed to officially transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion. Since the United States was now at war, the company was never transferred to the battalion but only attached to it.
On December 13th, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers to do reconnaissance and guard beaches. They remained there until December 23rd, when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken.
The companies were moved again on the 12th to south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
On December 22nd, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26th. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company,
For the next four months, William worked to keep D Company supplied. Of this he recalled
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry's command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At bight they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion's half-tracks had the job of patroling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's fire. The Japanese were wiped out.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major offensive on April 4th. The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew. On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
The tankers were next assigned to guarding the Bataan and Cabcaban Airfields. They also guarded against beach landings and paratroopers. They would continue this duty until April 7th. On April 8th, the tankers were sent Trail 10 and Mount Samat. The lines had broken. They fought there until receiving the news of the surrender.
It was at this time that Gen. King knowing that the situation was hopeless sent officers to negotiate. The tanks were instructed that they would hear the order "crash" on their radios, or that it would be given to them verbally. When the order was given, the tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front, opened up the gasoline cocks in the crew compartment, and drop hand grenades into each tank.
The night of April 8, 1942, the tankers heard the order "bash" which meant that they should destroy all their weapons, including tanks. It was at that moment that Clyde made the decision to attempt to reach Corregidor with another member of D Comapny.
Recalling this, he said
When Corregidor was surrendered on May 6, 1942, Ft. Drum was also ordered to surrender. After they did, the Prisoners of War were returned to Corregidor where he remained when the other POWs were taken by barge to Luzon. The detail he was on filled the crater holes created by the Japanese shelling the island. "We worked continuously, from noon Thursday to Sunday night, in the tropical sun with no water, food, or sleep, and with no shirt or head cover.
During his time at the camp he went out on work details. One detail that Clyde was on was the wood detail. "Occasionally, they sent us out on work details to cut wood for cooking. The Japanese put us in ten men squads. If one escaped, the other nine would be shot."
After six months in the camp, Clyde was selected to be taken to another part of the Japanese Empire. On October 5th, he was one of 2000 POWs who were lined up four abreast and forced to double-time it to San Fernando, which was twelve miles away. The guards with them rode horses. Any POW who fell behind was bayoneted.
The POWs were put into boxcars at San Fernando and taken to Manila. They disembarked and were marched to the Port Area of Manila where they were housed in a warehouse on Pier 7. There, on October 7th, they were boarded onto the Tottori Maru with 500 POWs put in the front hold and the 1461 POWs put in the rear hold.
The ship sailed on October 8th at 10:00 A.M. and passed Corregidor at noon. The meals for the POWs consisted of three small loaves of bread that were the equal to one American loaf of bread. Of this, he said, "The first thirteen days on the ship, we were given three hamburger buns a day as food ration. Then they gave us a half a cup of rice once or twice a day for the rest of the trip.
On October 9th, an American submarine fired two torpedoes at the ship, and at 9:00 A.M., it sailed past a mine that the submarine had laid. The ship continued its voyage and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11th and remained in the port until the 16th when it sailed again but returned to Takao at 10:00 P.M. that night. Two days later, on the 18th, the ship sailed a second time. This time it dropped anchor off the Pescadores Islands, north of Formosa, the same day and remained there for several days. By this time, the POWs had been in the holds for nine days, Clyde said
On November 7th, the ship reached Fusan, Korea, where the POWs disembarked on the 8th. The remains of any POW who died were taken ashore, cremated, and the ashes were placed in white boxes. Those who were sick were also left behind at Fuson and sent to Mukden at a later date. The remaining POWs were issued new clothing and fur-lined overcoats and boarded a train for Mukden, Manchuria, arriving there on November 11th.
The POWs in the camp worked various jobs. Many worked at the MKK Machine Shop which was attempting to produce copies of American weapons. To prevent this from happening, the POWs committed acts of sabotage. Many believed that they never manufactured one usable weapon.
Winters in the camp were brutal, and 400 men died the first winter. Since it was too cold to bury them, the bodies were stacked like wood in a warehouse. "The temperature would sometimes get down to forty below zero and the ground was so hard we couldn't bury them. We had to wait until spring to bury them." By the next winter, the food was better since they were being fed soybean soup, which was more nutritional than cabbage and rice soup, which helped the death rate among the POWs to drop.
One of the first jobs Clyde had in the camp was laying concrete to install machinery. While doing this job he committed an act of sabotage by dropping parts of the machine into the newly poured concrete.
He was next assigned as a mechanic at a textile mill that 150 POWs were assigned to work. A shift for the POWs lasted twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Clyde's job, with Manchurian mechanics, was to keep twelve textile machines running. "When some of the machines broke down, I learned what was causing it and began to help it along. I was able to keep some of the machines disabled most of the time."
It needs to be mentioned that Clyde's brother, Edward, had been Killed in Action in North Africa on July 23, 1943.
During his time in the camp received one letter from home. The POWs were also so isolated that they did not know much news from the outside world. When B-29s began making bombing runs on Mukden, they had a good idea that the Allies were winning the war.
On August 18, 1945, an American Recovery Team from the OSS parachuted into the camp and entered the commandant's office. They later told the POWs that the war was over. Clyde was officially liberated by the Russian Army, who made the Japanese surrender in front of the POWs.
After being liberated, the former prisoners were taken by train to Darien, China, where they boarded ships and were taken to Okinawa. From there, they were flown to Manila for medical treatment.
As it turned out, Clyde needed more intense medical treatment and was boarded on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze in September 1945. He arrived at San Francisco on October 16th, which was almost four years since he had left San Francisco for the Philippines. In San Francisco, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital. From there, he was sent to Moore General Hospital in Swannanoa, North Carolina, and hospitalized for five months.
Clyde was discharged from the Army on March 8, 1946. He married and became the father of a daughter and son. Lasting effects of his time as a POW was excessive nervousness and dietary problems.
Aaron Clyde Hopper died on January 11, 2000, in Jackson, Tennessee and was buried in Ridgecrest Cemetery.