Pvt. Cecil Walter Kitchens
Pvt. Cecil W. Kitchens was born on September
24, 1917, in Clarita, Oklahoma to Clyde W.
Kitchens & Lona Lee
Winchester-Kitchen. With his sister, he
lived at 108 West Local Avenue, Sayre,
Oklahoma, and earned a living by delivering
ice for an ice company. He was known as
"Kitch" to his friends.
Om March 24, 1941, in Oklahoma City, Kitch was inducted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. It was during his time at Ft. Knox that he qualified as a tank driver. Upon completing basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.
The 192nd had just taken part in maneuvers at Camp Polk and instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected, they were kept at the fort. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were being held there.
On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. They were told that this decision had been made by General George Patton. Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. It was at that time that Kitch joined the 192nd. He was assigned to A Company.
The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco. By ferry, they were taken 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 remained behind on the island. They were scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island. On November 5th, 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.
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.
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.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A 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. The company was sent north toward Lingayen Gulf, the tank crews were expected to hold a position while the other units disengaged from the enemy and formed a new defensive line.
On multiple occasions, the tank companies were asked to hold a defensive line so that the other Filipino and American forces could form a new defensive line. On several occasions, the tankers held off full frontal attacks. Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks. At some point, Kitchens was awarded the Silver Star.
On another occasion the company was in bivouac on two sides of a road. They posted sentries and most of the tankers attempted to get some sleep. The sentries heard noise down the road and woke the company. Every man grabbed a weapon. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. The tankers opened fire with everything they had. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
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 members of A Company circled their tanks. Each tank fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the turrets. The next morning at 7:00 A.M. they became Prisoners of War.
The POWs made their way north from Mariveles. The first five miles of the march were uphill. At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. They received little water and little food. When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen. In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom. The surface of the trench was alive with maggots. How long they remained in the bull pen is not known.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks. They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors. They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was one water faucet for the entire camp. Men literally died for a drink. The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day. The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead. Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in their graves.
After arrving in the camp, Kitch was one of the POWs who returned to Bataan to collect scrap metal. On the detail, Kitch drove a truck with scrap metal to Manila. When the detail he was on ended he was sent to the Cabanatuan POW Camp which had opened to reduce the death rate among the POWs.
While in the camp, he worked in a garden that grew food for the Japanese mess. He and other POWs grew the food, but none of it went to them. One day after returning from working, he stacked his hoe in a pile, The guard began yelling at him. Apparently, he should have started a new stack of hoes. The guarh hit Kitch in the mouth with his bayonet and cut off part of his upper lip. The POWs used wet pages of bible to treat the wound. At some point, he was sent to Ft. William McKinley and remained there until August 1943.
At that time, Kitch was selected to go to Manila and work on what was called the Port Area Detail. The detail had been created in June 1942 with 225 POWs. The POWs were used as stevedores to load and unload ships. The POWs were first housed in a warehouse which was poorly lit and ventilated. The bathroom and kitchen facilities were also poor. The Japanese finally housed the POWs in the Port Terminal Building across the street from Pier 7.
During his time as a POW, Kitch, at various times, had dysentery, beriberi, malaria , and malnutrition. Kitchens became so ill, at one point while at the Port Area, that he was sent to Bilibid Prison on November 6, 1943. It was during this time that he became friends with Dr. Paul Ashton.
It is known that Kitch was still at Bilibid at the beginning of 1945. On February 3rd, the Japanese commander told the ranking American officer that they were leaving the prison and that the POWs should stay inside. The POWs posted guards and waited.
The POWs heard the sound of someone attempting to get into the prison through the window. The plywood was torn from the window and American soldiers of the 148th Infantry Regiment came through. At first the POWs thought that the soldiers were Japanese sent to kill them. One reason they did not recognize the Americans was that the POWs did not recognize the uniforms. The POWs celebrated when they saw that the soldiers were really Americans. The POWs were trucked to a shoe factory for their own safety, since Manila was still a battlefield.
The former POWs were taken to a rest area where they remained for ten days. At that time, he was assigned to the 12th Replacement Battalion which was made up of liberated POWs. It was at this time that Kitch learned that his father had died in 1944, and that his mother had died on February 3, 1945, one day before he was liberated. It was at this time that he was also promoted to sergeant.
At the end of ten days, the POWs boarded a transport to San Francisco. Upon arriving there, the POWs were taken to Letterman General Hospital. Kitch remained there for about five months. He was allowed leave home and returned to, and the hospital. He was transferred to Borden General Hospital in Chichasha, Oklahoma. At some point he married, May Lou Gregory, and received a 90 day leave home.
Kitch became the father of a son and spent the rest of his life in Oklahoma. According his family, his health never really recovered from his time as a POW.
After the war, Kitch worked at various jobs. He became a wheat farmer, raised Hereford cattle, drove heavy equipment, and was ran a milk distributorship. He also contracted to extend runways at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base.
Ceceil W. Kicthens passed away on November 18, 1967, in Sayre, Oklahoma. He was buried at Sayre-Doxey Cemetery, Sayre.