Hourigan

Pvt. Kenneth Mason Hourigan


    Pvt. Kenneth M. Hourigan was born Kenneth Mason Isaacs to Johnny B. Isaacs and Clydie Rexroat-Isaacs 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 to earn some extra money.  On November 25, 1940, he was called to federal duty when his tank company was called into the regular army and left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28th.  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 from September 1st through 30th.  It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered, to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and learned that they not being released from federal service as planned but being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Those 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service.
    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 battalion's new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains.  The soldiers also cosmolined anything that they thought would rust.  Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    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, the transport, S.S. President 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, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company.  B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines.  The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th. 
    On December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks. 

    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tank and half-track crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.  They were told that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  Before noon, many of the tankers went to the mess hall for lunch leaving two men with each vehicle.  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 and many ran to their tanks or half-tracks.  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 machine gun.  His tank crew opened the turret and let him into the tank.  They stayed in the tank until the grass the near the tank caught fire, and moved the tank by following a road into the jungle.

    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
    One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed.  The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Bataan.
    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.

    The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf.  The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climber to the top.  On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, guns but were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf.  They had received orders not to fire.
     The tankers walked down the mountain and waited.  They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it.  They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain.  The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
    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 the night 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.

    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 commanding officer of the company, Capt. Jack Altman, could bot bring himself to totally disable the tanks which resulted in the Japanese using them on Bataan.  One tank crew refused to do this and found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the destroyed bridge.

    In January 1942, the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each.  Doing this allowed D Company to have tanks.  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,
    At Gumain River, on January 5th, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw.  The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.   
    The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.  At this time, the food rations were cut in half.
    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 because the lines had broken.  It was at this time the Gen. King knowing the situation was hopeless sent officers to meet with the Japanese for terms of surrender.  The tankers fought until receiving the news of the surrender. 
   The night of April 8/9, over their tank radios, they heard the order to surrender.  It was after Ken 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 and 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. 
    The Japanese began to transfer POWs from the Philippines to other parts of their empire.  At first, the Japanese sought volunteers, but then forced POWs to be transferred. 800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6th, and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball.  After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M.  There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M.  The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
    From the train station, the men were marched to pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila.  Some of the Filipinos flashed the "V" for victory sign as they made their war to the pier.  The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M and were tired and hungry and were put in a warehouse on the pier.  The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted.  They also were allowed to wash.

    Before boarding the ship on October 7th, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs those on deck were better off.  This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
    The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon.  In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship.  That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck.  Each day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals - which equaled one American loaf of bread - which most ate in one meal, but the men rationed their water.  The ship was at sea, when torpedoes fired at by an American submarine but the torpedoes missed the ship.  The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed.  A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine.  The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.

    The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 12th. and were bathed on the dock.   They sailed again on October 16th at 7:30 A.M. but returned to Takao at 10:30 P.M. the same day because of a storm.  At this time, the POWs were receiving two bags of hardtack and a meal of rice and soup each day.  The ship sailed again on October 18th and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M., where it remained anchored off the islands for several days.  During this time two POWs died, and their bodies were thrown into the sea.
    The ship sailed again on October 28th and returned to Takao the same day.  The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned.  They were again put into the holds and the ship sailed again on October 30th and arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands.  The ship sailed on October 31st, as part of a seven ship convoy.
    During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea.  On November 5th, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.  The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7th, but the POWs did not disembark until November 8th.  Those who were too sick to continue the trip were held at Fusan until they were healthy enough to make the trip. If a man died, his remains were cremated, put in a white box, and sent to Mukden.

    The POWs were issued fur-lined coats and marched to a train depot and took a two day train trip to Mukden, Manchuria.  In Manchuria, the POWs worked in a lumberyard and a factory.
    The meals in the camp consisted of a soup made of soy bean.  The POWs attempted to supplement their meals by making snares and catching the wild dogs that roamed into the camp.  They did this until a detachment of POWs, while going to work, saw a wild dog eating the body of a dead Chinese civilian.
    The Japanese attempted to get the POWs to manufacture weapons to be used in their war effort.  The Americans committed acts of sabotage to prevent this from happening.  One of the ways that they did this was to take sand and drop it into the oiling holes on the machines.  They were able to get away with doing this because the Japanese guards believed it was the Chinese workers committing the acts of sabotage.
    In late 1944, the POWs saw their first American planes.  In December, 1944, while on a bombing run to destroy ammunition dumps near the camp, a bomb,from one plane, dropped on the camp killing POWs. 

   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.


 

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