Jennings

S/Sgt. Willard Daylis Jennings


     S/Sgt. Willard Daylis Jennings was was born on June 29, 1919, in Billings, Montana, to George T. Jennings & Stella Daylis-Jennings.  With his two sisters and two brothers, he would later move to Forest Park, Illinois, where he resided at 1120 Circle Avenue.  He attended the Field-Stevenson School in Forest Park and was a member of the Proviso Township High School Class of 1939.   He worked in the shipping department of a newspaper.

    In 1937, with his parents permission and while he was still in high school, Willard enlisted in the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois.  When the company was federalized as Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, he went to Fort Knox, Kentucky to train.  After nearly a year of training at Fort Knox, Willard qualified as a tank driver.  He would later become a tank commander.

    In the late summer of 1941, Willard and his battalion traveled to Louisiana to take part in the Maneuvers of 1941.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was assigned to Camp Polk, Louisiana.    When the maneuvers ended, the members of the 192nd Tank Battalion remained behind at Camp Polk.  The members of the battalion had no idea why they were being kept there.  What they were told, on the side of a hill, was that they were being sent overseas.

    After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and halftracks.  The battalion traveled over three different railroad routes to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. 
    On the island, the soldiers were inoculated and received physicals.  Those who had minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. 

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  For many, it would be the last time that they would ever see the United States.  The battalion arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.
   
At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  

    Seventeen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Willard and the other members of Company B arrived in Manila.  The battalion was deployed Fort Stotsenbeurg.  At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.

    On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.    
   
The 192nd remained at Clark field for about a week before they were ordered to the barrio of Dau so it would be near a road and railroad.  For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line. 

    At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.   The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.
    The tankers soon found themselves in given the job of holding a defensive line so that the other troops could disengage and form a new defensive line further south.  They repeated this action over and over.
   
During the Battle of the Points 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.  According to members of the battalion they resorted two ways to wipe out the Japanese.
    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 explode.
    The second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole.   The driver spun the tank on one track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
 
    The night of April 8, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  They circled their tanks.  Each tank fired a armor piecing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it.  They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks.  Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
   After the Japanese made contact with B Company, the members of the company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  They were now officially Prisoners of War.  At Mariveles, the Japanese took blankets and other items from the POWs that they could use.  The tankers striped anything from their uniforms that indicated that they were tankers.  They heard the rumor that the Japanese were looking for them.
    From Mariveles, the tankers made their way north toward San Fernando.  They were given little food or water.  They were often marched at night.  When they arrived at San Fernando, they were put in a bull pen.  In one corner was a slit trench that was the washroom for the POWs.  The surface of it moved from the maggots. 

    The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.  They were taken to the train station and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were known as forty or eights since they could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar.  Those who died remained standing since there was no place to fall.  At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floor of the cars.  The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  Disease among the POWs ran wild with as many as 55 POWs dying each day.  The Japanese closed the camp and moved the POWs to Cabanatuan to try to lower the death rate. 

    When Cabanatuan was opened Willard was sent to the new camp.  It was there that Sgt. Willard D. Jennings died at about 4:00 in the morning on Friday, June 12, 1942, from dysentery.  He was 22 years old.   He was buried in the camp cemetery.
    After the war the remains recovery team identified the remains of Sgt. Willard D. Jennings at the camp cemetery. 
At the request of his family, Sgt. Willard D. Jennings remains lie in Plot B, Row 2, Grave 137, at the American Military Cemetery just outside of Manila.   


 


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