Hurtt_T

 


Pvt. Thomas Edward Hurtt


    Pvt. Thomas E. Hurtt was born in Kemper County, Mississippi, on October 18, 1912, to William J. & Alice Hurtt.  His mother died when he was a child and his father remarried.  He had one brother, two half-brothers, and five half-sisters.  He joined the army, in September 1939, and did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.  On May 7, 1941, he reenlisted and was assigned to A Company, 753rd Tank Battalion.

    In September 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  Maneuvers were going on in Louisiana, but the battalion did not take part in them.  It was at Camp Polk that Thomas become a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  The battalion had received orders for overseas duty, and he replaced a National Guardsman who had been released from federal service.  He was assigned to A Company.
    The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, where they ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced. 
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness.  Once they recovered, they spent their time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.  The ship 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, 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 that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and that they 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.
    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 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 as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times.  Their meals were brought to them by food trucks.
   The morning of December 8, 1942, the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  They returned to their tanks around the airfield.  Many of them believed that this was nothing more than the start of the maneuvers they had expected to take part in after arriving in the Philippines.
    The planes of the Army Air Corps took off about 8:00 in the morning and filled the sky.  At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch in the mess hall.  At 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers were at food trucks receiving lunch when they spotted planes approaching the airfield from the north.  Many of the men counted 54 planes in a "V" formation and commented that they thought they were American.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
    The men ran to their tanks or took cover wherever they could.  They could do little more than watch since their weapons were not meant to fight planes.  They also had been ordered not to fire at the planes.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The tankers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything 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 the soldiers had slept their last night in a bed.  For protection, they slept under their tanks or in them.
    Four days after the attack, on December 12th, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and protect them against sabotage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. 
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were asked to hold the position for six hours, but they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.  The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  That night, on a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
   As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31st and January 1st.  Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep.  It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.
    As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers.  The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks.  To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smoke screen.  Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
    From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.  It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half.  It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. January that the food rations were cut in half.  Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers.
    A Company, on January 5th, while attached to the 194th Tank Battalion, withdrew from the line.  Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield received orders to launch a counter-attack against the Japanese on a tail picked by Provisional Tank Group command. Bloomfield, while attempting to attack, radioed the tank group that the trail did not exist.
   It was evening and the tankers believed they were in a relatively safe place near Lubao along a dried up creek bed.  Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep.  Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gun shot at about 1:50 A.M.  The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had lunched a major offensive across an open field wearing white shirts which made them easy targets.  There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 3:00 A.M., when the Japanese broke off the attack.  Within days of this action, the company returned to the command of the 192nd. 
    The company was next sent in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  At Guagua,  A Company with the 11th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the Filipinos mistook the tanks as Japanese and accurately used mortars on them knocking out three tanks.  A Company rejoined the 194th east of Guagua.
    As American and Filipino forces entered Bataan, the company waited for orders to cross the bridge over the Culis Creek the night of January 7th.  Receiving none, many of the tankers went to sleep.  Col. Ted Wickord, Commanding Officer of the 192nd, crossed the bridge and went looking for the company when they did not cross.  He did this because the engineers wanted to blow up the bridge.  Wickord found the company, woke them, and ordered them across the bridge.  A Company was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the last bridge was blown by the engineers.       
    The next day the tanks received maintenance.  It was the first rest that the two tank battalions had since December 24th.
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. 

    The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese offensive had been stopped and two groups of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the main line of defense.  The tanks were sent in to help eliminate the pockets.   The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until the tank, which had been relieved, had left the pocket.    
    To wipe out the Japanese two methods were employed.  The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades.  When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would usually explode.
    The second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole.  The driver gave power to the opposite track and spun the tank dragging the other track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
    The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.    
    During the Battle of the Points, on March 2nd and 3rd, the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back toward the sea and wiped out the pockets.
    The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.

    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.

    On April 9, 1942, Thomas became a Prisoner of War.  He took part in the death march and was held at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanatuan.  During his time as a POW, he was sent to Batangas, Batangas, to build runways at an airfield.
   Thomas was returned to Cabanatuan when the detail ended and remained there for the rest of his time as a POW in the Philippines.  According to medical records kept at Cabanatuan, he was sent to Building 8 on September 4, 1944.  When he was discharged is not known.

    As American forces approached the Philippines, the Japanese began sending large numbers of POWs to other parts of the empire.  In early October, he was sent to Manila for shipment to Japan.  When Thomas' group of POWs arrived at the Port Area of Manila, on October 10, 1944, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru.  The POWs had been scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru, but since one of the POW groups, in his detachment, had not arrived on time, and the ship was ready to sail, the Japanese switched the POW groups and the Hokusen Maru sailed on October 3rd.  

    Thomas' POW group was crammed into the first hold of the ship.  They were packed in so tightly that they could not move.  Those who used the wooden bunks along the hull found that once they laid down, the bunks were so close together that they could not sit up in them. Five men died in the hold in the first twenty-four hours.  

    On October 10, 1944, the ship sailed.  Instead of heading toward Formosa, it headed south to Palawan Island, where the ship dropped anchor in a cove.  This was done to avoid American planes.  While it was there, the Port of Manila were bombed by American planes.  Within the first 48 hours, five men had died.

    It was during this time that the POWs figured out how to turn the hold's ventilation fans on by wiring them into the ship's lighting system.  Although the Japanese had removed the lights, they had not turned off the power.  For two days conditions in the hold improved because the POWs had fresh air.  When the Japanese discovered what the POWs had done, they turned off the power to the hold.
    After this, the prisoners began to develop heat blisters.  The Japanese soon realized that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship.  To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's first hold which was partially filled with coal.  During the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape.  During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces of water and two rations of rice.  Twice every 24 hours, the POWs received half a mess kit of rice.

    The ship returned to the Manila on October 20th, where, it joined a convoy.  On October 21st, after loading bananas and other foods, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The Japanese also issued life jackets to the POWs which could float for about two hours.  According to survivors, all this did was reinforced in the Americans the fear of being killed by their own countrymen.    
    The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs.  In addition, U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese.  To protect this secret, they did not tell the crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines. 
    The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines. The waves were high since a storm had just passed.  At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner.  About half the POWs on the ship had been fed.  When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship.  The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship.
    Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark, amidships, killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly.  A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death. 

    The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the #2 hold.  Once they were in the hold the Japanese cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover. 

    The Japanese abandoned ship, but cut the rope ladders into the ship's holds before they left.  A few POWs managed to get out of the first hold and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds to the other POWs. 
    The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck.  On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs and said, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before.  Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers.  Let's play it that way to the very end of the script."  Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."

    According to surviving POWs, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but remain afloat.  It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship.  When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs.  Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal.  These men wanted to die with full stomachs.       

    Three POWs found a lifeboat abandoned by the Japanese and manged to climb into it.   According to them, as night fell, the cries for help grew fainter and fainter until there was silence.  Only nine of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the ship survived the sinking. Eight of these men survived the war.

    Pvt. Thomas E. Hurtt died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru in the South China Sea on October 24, 1944.  Since he was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.


 

 

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