HumphreyA

Pvt. Abner Lee Humphrey Jr.


    Abner L. Humphrey Jr. was born on September 12, 1919, in Comanche, Texas, to Abner L. Humphrey Sr. and Repty Humphrey.  He grew up on the family farm with his three sisters and left high school after completing his junior year.  He worked as a construction worker building Camp Bowie near Fort Worth, Texas, when he received his draft notice. 
    On March 13, 1941, A. L. was inducted into the U.S. Army after receiving his draft notice.  He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  It was there that he was trained as a tank driver.  After basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk,  Louisiana, and joined the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The battalion was sent there from Ft. Benning, Georgia, but did not take part in the maneuvers that were taking place there.
    After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion had expected to return to Ft. Knox.  Instead, they received orders to remain behind at the fort.  It was on the side of a hill that the tankers learned that they were being sent overseas.  It was at that time men 29 years old or older or married were allowed to resign from federal service. 
    It was at this time that A.L. volunteered to replace a National Guardsman who had been released.  He was assigned to D Company which had been a Kentucky National Guard tank company.  The tank he was assigned to was named "Shirley" after the wife of its commander.  A.L. received leave home for two weeks.
    
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island.  On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals.  Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam. 
    When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila, while the maintenance section of the battalion remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King 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 love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    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.
    The morning of December 8th, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
    All morning long, American planes filled the sky.  At noon, every plane landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes.  When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  The members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had no weapons to be used against planes.
   
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.
    
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.
    At Gumain River, on January 5th, D Company and C Company of the 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.   A.L. Described many
of the engagements against the Japanese as running battles since the tanks would drop back quickly after engaging the Japanese.

   

    The tankers were next assigned to guarding the Bataan and Cabcaban Airfields.  They also guarded against beach landings and paratroopers.  It was around April 5th that A.L. was sent to Hospital #1 suffering from malaria.  When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9th, he was still in the hospital.  When the Japanese took over, the doctors still had medicine, but it quickly ran out.

    A.L. recalled that the Japanese set up artillery near the hospital and fired on Corregidor.  The Americans did not return fire because they knew the artillery was near the hospital.
   A.L. was sent to Cabanatuan on May 19th in what was called the the Cabcaben Detachment. 
Medical records kept at the camp show that A.L. was admitted to the camp's hospital on May 29th  suffering from malaria.  The records do not show when he was discharged. 
    A. L.
stated that the POWs were each given a bunk.  The sicker a man got, the further back in the hospital he was placed.  If a man was in one of the last two rows of bunks, he was not expected to live. 

   Medical records again show he was readmitted to the hospital on June 25th and remained in the hospital until October 17th. 
During this time, his weight dropped from 160 pounds to 78 pounds.  A.L. was moved further and further back in the hospital.  He made it all the way to the second to last bunk suffering from beriberi.  His one testicle reached the size of a grapefruit and burst.  
    POWs in the hospital were fed twice a day.  Since the Japanese viewed them as not being useful, they only received two thirds of a mess kit of rice at each meal.  This cut in rations simply made them sicker.

    J.C. Garrett, A. L.'s friend from D Company, worked in the Japanese Officers Mess.  He stole raw rice for A.L. to eat.  If Garrett had been caught, he would have been killed.  
Somehow he survived his time in the hospital and was discharged on October 17, 1942.

    A.L. recalled that as many as 33 POWs died each day.  The worst day was when 49 men died from malaria, tuberculosis, beriberi, and diphtheria.  He recalled, "Those of us who were able, or barely able, were forced to carry the bodies of our dead to a common grave and then covered them."   
    After being released from the hospital, A.L. worked at the camp farm.  The POWs planted rice and grew vegetables.  Most, if not all, went to the Japanese mess.  The POWs received the leftovers that the Japanese would not eat.
    Beatings of POWs were common.  A.L. recalled that the Japanese often beat POWs with pine or bamboo pole for breaking a rule or an imaginary rule.  Often, the beatings took place because the guards just felt like beating up a POW.
    The worse thing A.L. saw was when the Japanese tied a POW, whom he described as a "smooth faced boy"  to a post for breaking a camp rule.  The POW was left tied to the pole all night.  The next morning the guards began beating the POW with a pole until he died sometime around noon.  After he died, the POWs had to bury him.  Years later, the boy's screams still haunted him.
    In September 1943, A.L. was sent by train to Bilibid Prison,  There, he was given a physical and was deemed healthy enough to be sent to Japan.  On the 18th, he and the other POWs were boarded onto the Coral Maru which was also known as the Taga Maru.  Taga in Japanese means "slow." 

    A.L. recalled climbing down a steel ladder into the hold. Once in the hold, it didn't take too long for the floor to be covered in human waste and vomit.  The ship sailed on September 20th and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on September 23rd.  It sailed for Moji, Japan, on September 26th.
    During the trip to Japan, the ship sailed through a typhoon.  A.L. went topside during the storm to relieve himself when the ship was hit by a fifteen foot wave.  He was carried down the deck by the wave.  What saved him was that he was able to grab a cable.  After the wave subsided, he found himself fifteen feet about the deck.  To get down, he simply let go.  When he hit the deck, he broke an ankle.  The ship arrived at Moji on October 5th.
    In Japan, A.L. was taken by train to
Sakurajima POW Camp.  He recalled that the they were housed in unheated wooden barracks.  The walls were lined with double-decked bunks.  The POWs slept on straw mats covered with blankets and did whatever they had to do to stay warm.
    The POWs in the camp built ships and machinery.  On one occasion, a POW who was part of  a riveting crew got into an argument about hos good a pair of rivet tongs were.  The POW showed the guard that stamped on the tongs was "Made in Akron, Ohio."  The guard grabbed the tongs and really beat the POW with them.  A.L. and the other POWs could do nothing but watch.
   The POWs worked thirteen days on and one day off.  Each work day was nine hours long.  On their day off, the POWs had to clean their barracks.  The Japanese were never happy with how they did it and beat the POWs. 
    After the POW camp was destroyed in an air raid on May 17, 1945, all the POWs were transferred to
Akenobe Camp where the POWs worked in a copper mine.  A. L. recalled that on August 13, 1945, the POWs did not have to go to work.  This was when the POWs knew the war was over.  A.L. was liberated on August 25, 1945. 
    On September 12th, A.L. boarded an American hospital ship for the Philippines.  After arriving there, he remained in the hospital for several days.  In October, he sailed for the United States arriving around November 4th.  He was also promoted to staff sergeant.
    In the U.S. A.L. was once again hospitalized and declared 100% disabled.  As the years went on, his disability was reduced to 50%.  By the 1970s, his disability was back to 100%. 
The one lasting affect of A.L.'s time as a POW was that his thumb nails always would split in half.     
    A. L. was discharged on August 15, 1946.  On October 3, 1946, he married Doris Ripley and resided in Comanche, Texas.  The couple became the parents of a daughter and three sons.  He named his daughter "Shirley."

    A.L. Humphrey spent the rest of his life in Comanche, Texas.  He passed away on May 2, 2001.   


 

Return to D Company

Next