Pvt. Kenneth Mason Hourigan
Pvt. Kenneth Mason Hourigan
was born Kenneth Mason Isaacs to Johnny B. Isaacs
and Clydie Rexroat-Isaacs. He was born on
December 24, 1912, in Marion County, Kentucky, and
grew up outside of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. In
1915, his mother married Robert Hourigan whose
last name he took. He had three sisters, two
brothers, one half-sister, and three
half-brothers. He was known as "Ken" to his
family and friends. It is known he worked on
his family's farm.
Ken joined the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg. On November 25, 1940, he was called to federal duty when his tank company was called into the regular army at Fort Knox, Kentucky. During his training Ken attended radio school and qualified as a radio operator.
After training for nearly a year at Ft. Knox,
Ken took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.
It was after the maneuvers at Camp Polk,
Louisiana, that the tankers learned that they
not being released from federal service as
planned. Instead they were being sent
overseas. Those 29 years old or older were
given the chance to resign from federal service.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Ken and the other tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. They were told that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor ten hours earlier. Their job was to guard the airfield against Japanese paratroopers. At noon men from each tank went for chow. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, while they were eating lunch, 54 planes appeared in the sky. When the hangers at the north end of the field began exploding, they knew the planes were Japanese.
Kenneth got to his tank, and began firing the .30 caliber machinegun. His tank crew opened the turret and let him into the tank. They stayed in the tank until the grass the tank was on caught fire. They followed a road into the jungle.
D Company moved to an area about fifteen miles south of Manila. They stayed in the area until December 24th. They moved north toward Del Carmen Airfield. His platoon of tanks guarded an area along the Agnoo River. The U.S. commanders knew the Japanese would attempt to cross the river.
D Company was ordered out of the area. Ken remember that since the tankers could not find a place to cross the river, they ended up destroying their tanks. The other tank platoons were forced to give up tanks so that they had tanks.
For four months the tankers fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. On April 8, 1942, over his tanks radio, he heard the order to surrender. It was after he saw the Japanese killing unarmed Filipinos and Americans that he made the decision to escape to Corregidor.
Ken and other members of D Company made their way along the coast. They confiscated a boat from Filipino fishermen. It turned out that the boat was too large for them to control, and they began drifting into the South China Sea. They reached a buoy and tied the boat to it. As they sat there, an American gun boat pulled alongside of their boat. The next morning the gunboat took them to Corregidor.
Ken was assigned to beach defense detail. Ken remained on Corregidor for a month until the island surrendered on May 6, 1942. On the first day he was a Prisoner of War, he was searched 26 times by the Japanese. He remained on the island for two weeks disposing of the bodies of the dead. He was then taken by boat near Manila. He and the other Prisoners of War had to jump into the water and swim to shore.
Once Ken and the other men were on shore, they were lined up and marched through to Manila to Bilibid Prison. They remained there for three nights until they were taken to a school house at Cabanatuan. He was then taken to Cabanatuan #3.
While he was at Cabanatuan, four POWs escaped from a barracks and were captured the next day. The Japanese tied the men to posts at the front of the camp. They put 2X4's between their legs to prevent them from standing up straight. After several days, they untied them and had them dig their own graves.
The POWs were made to stand in the open graves facing the rising sun. Each was given a glass of water and a half of a cigarette. Each man said, "God Bless America" another said "So long boys." They were then gunned down. The Japanese commander then walked up to each man and shot one bullet into each skull.
Ken remained in Cabanatuan #3. He recalled that there was not much food or water. The POWs food was prepared twice a day in five gallon tins. Illness was also a major problem in the camp; everyone was sick. He watched as members of his company became ill and died. He went out on a work detail about five months after arriving at Cabanatuan. He was taken to Clark Airfield. The POWs worked in a blue mud and many became ill. When Ken became ill, he was taken to Bilibid Prison.
On October 5, 1942, Ken was selected to be sent to Manchuria. The POWs were awakened at 2:00 in the morning and taken to the Pier 7 in Manila. There, they were housed in a warehouse for two days.
The POWs were boarded onto the Tottori Maru. The ship sailed the next day. After leaving port, it was fired on by an American submarine. The captain of the ship was able to maneuver it safely out of danger. The ship also had to avoid a mine laid by a submarine.
On October 12th, the Tottori Maru dropped anchor at Takao, Formosa. It remained in port until October 16th when it sailed. Later in the same day, the ship returned to Takao.
The ship sailed a second time on October 18th. This time it made its way to the Pescadores Islands. Once again it dropped anchor and remained off the islands until October 27th. On that day it returned to Takao.
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and stripped and given a shower with fire hoses by the Japanese. While on shore, they were also used as labor on the docks.
The Tottori Maru sailed on October 30th, and made its way to Makou in the Pescadores Islands. It remained there over night and then sailed for Pusan, Korea. During this part of its trip it battled its way through a typhoon for five days. It finally arrived at Pusan on November 7th.
The POWs disembarked the next day and were taken
to a train depot and took a four day trip to
Mukden, Manchuria. In Manchuria, the POWs
worked in a lumberyard and a factory.
On May 27, 1945, Ken was selected to sent to Japan with 480 other POWs. In Japan, he was taken to a camp near Osaka and worked in a steel mill. After a short time only 80 of the POWs were healthy enough to work. The Japanese even realized that they needed to feed the POWs better food and brought in two hogs for the 480 men.
Ken was sent to Nagoya #9. The POWs in the camp were used as stevedores on the docks of Iwase. Ken recalled that they really did not know how the war was going. "We didn't know the war was over until a Jap cooking detail got drunk on saki and let the cat of the bag."
Not to long after the POWs learned that the war was over when American B-29's appeared over the camp and dropped food and clothing to them. It was the first real food the Ken had had in over three years. "It was like dope. We felt we could knock a building over eating all that good chow."
The POWs waited for three weeks after the food drop for liberation. They finally took the guns away from the guards and went into a town. There, they commandeered a train and went to Nagoya. Upon reaching Nagoya, they met American troops.
After Ken was liberated and declared healthy, he was discharged on May 20, 1946. He returned to Harrodsburg and married Sally Ann Tyler-Steele. Her husband had been Herbert Steele, another member of the tank company who had died as a POW. Ken was the father of Carolyn and spent 28 years as a police officer. When asked if he would have changed anything about his military experience, he said, "I would never want to be in the same outfit again with my friends - people I'd eat chicken off the same bone with."
Kenneth Hourigan passed away on February 19, 2000. He was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.