Kirby

 

Pvt. Lewis Haymond Kirby


    Pvt. Lewis H. Kirby was born July 13, 1921, in Big Chimney, West Virginia, to James Kirby and Lula Darlington-Kirby in Gallipolis, Ohio.   The family resided at 108 Third Ave in Gallipolis.  He was inducted into the U.S. Army on January 28, 1941, at Camp Atterbury, Columbus, Indiana.  He was sent to Fort Lnox, Kentucky, for basic training and assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  The company had been an Ohio National Guard Tank Company from Port Clinton.  It is not known what training he received at the fort.  
   The 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers in the late summer of 1941.  According to members of the battalion, they, as members of the Red Army, broke through the Blue Army's defensive and were on their way to capture it's command center when the maneuvers were suddenly canceled.  The commanding general of the Blue Army was George S. Patton.
    After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of it's members had any idea why they this order had been issued.  It was on the side of a hill that the members of the battalion received the news that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many had determined that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. 
    Those men 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service.  They were replaced with volunteers from the 753rd Tank Battalion. 

    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    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.
    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 officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.

    For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line.  They repeated this maneuver over and over again.

    At Kabu, C Company's tanks were hidden in brush.  The Japanese troops passed the tanks for three hours without knowing that they were there.  While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing.  It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered.  The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.  They then fell back to Cabanatuan.

    C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks.  It was at Baluiag that C Company's tanks won the first tank battle victory of World War II against enemy tanks.  After the battle, C Company made its way south.  When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment.  The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.

    On December 31, 1941, the commanding officer of C Company sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag.  The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way.  Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, the company set up it's defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. 

    Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge.  The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks.  A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.  

    Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.  One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge.   Lt. Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.  

    Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag.  He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple.  The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.  Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.

     When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge.  The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks.  Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.

    Kennady's platoon held it's fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt.  The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them.  By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.  

    The tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group.  When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown.  Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river.  Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice.  This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.

    The tanks were spaced about 100 yards apart.  The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them.  The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.

    Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire.  They then used their .37 mm guns.  The fighting was such a rout that the the tankers were using a .37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.

    The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire.  From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked.  Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns. 

    After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across.  The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.

    In addition to serving as a rear guard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left behind.  They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese.    
    The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese had lunched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line.  Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line.  The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out.  One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon.  The tanks would do this one at a time. 
    The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole.  Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks.  Each man had a bag of hand grenades.  As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
    The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole.  The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese.  The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn't have to smell the rotting flesh.
    The morning of the April 9, 1942, at 6:45 the tankers received the order "crash" and destroyed their tanks.  When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to Mariveles where they started the death march.

    Lewis made his way north on the march to San Fernando.  There, the POWs were herded into a bull-pin.  In one corner, there was a trench that was for use as a toilet.  The surface of the pit moved from the maggots on its surface.  They remained in the pin until the Japanese ordered them to form detachments of 100 men.  Once the groups were formed, the men were marched to the train station.
    The POWs were 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.  100 POWs were packed into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
 
    When the POWs arrived at Camp O'Donnell, they were lectured by the camp commandant who told them they were not prisoners of war but captives and would be treated as such.  The camp had only one water spigot, and the POWs stood in line for hours for a drink.  Disease ran wild since the medical staff had nothing to treat the diseases.
    It is not known if Lewis went out on a work detail while a POW.  It is known that he was held at Cabanatuan when the new camp opened to lower the death rate among the POWs.  It is known that he was admitted to the camp hospital on Monday, June 1, 1943.  The reason for his admittance or the date he was discharged were not recorded.  He was still in the camp when he was selected to be transported to Japan.

    Trucks appeared at the camp and drove the POWs to Manila and boarded the Canadian Inventor on July 2, 1944.   The ship sailed on July 4th but returned to Manila on the 5th because of boiler problems.  It remained in port until it sailed on July 16th.  The ship sailed through a hurricane and finally reached Takao, Formosa, on July 23rd.  The ship sailed again on August 4th and arrived the same day at Keelung, Formosa, because of additional boiler problems.  On the 17th, the ship sailed again but had addition boiler problems near Naha, Okinawa.  It stayed there for six days before sailing for Moji, Japan.  The ship finally arrived at Moji on September 1st. The POWs disembarked on September 2nd and taken to stables.

    Detachments of 100 POWs were formed and they were taken to the train station.  Lewis was taken to Omine Machi.  The POWs in the camp worked in a coal mine.  This was also the "propaganda" POW camp, so the POWs were treated better.  Lewis remained in the camp until he was liberated in September 1945. 
    Lewis was returned to the Philippines and later the United States.  He received medical treatment during this time before returning home on, the Dutch ship, the S.S. Klipfontein arriving in Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1945.  He was sent for more medical care and remained in the Army until discharged on September 17, 1947. 
    Lewis Kirby married and became the father of four daughters.  He and his wife later divorced.  He passed away on March 5, 1972, in Gallipolis, Ohio.  He was burie at Pine Street Cemetery in Gallipolis.


 

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