Sgt. Forrest Kinder Knox
Sgt. Forrest K. Knox was born
on November 29, 1917, in Monroe, Wisconsin, to
Ross V. & Nina Knox. Along with his
brothers, Henry and Ross, he was raised at 1408
Third Street, Janesville, and later he lived in
Beloit, Wisconsin, at 2229 Riverside
Drive. He owned his own contracting
company and did carpentry work.
Forrest was always fascinated with planes and had built a model of one that he wanted to fly. Since the winter weather in Janesville was not conducive to flying the plane, Forrest used the auditorium in the Janesville Armory to fly it.
One day after flying the plane, he went into the basement of the armory and saw a guardsman working on a tank. At that moment, he decided that he wanted to learn how to drive a tank. This decision would lead him to joining the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard in January of 1938.
Forrest believed that the National Guard was like a social club. The members got together for dances and other social activities. If a soldier wanted a promotion, all he had to do is attend a non-commissioned officer class one evening a week. The soldier then would be promoted to corporal and possibly sergeant. In addition, the soldier would earn sixty dollars a month.
In the fall of 1940, the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal duty as A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. While at Fort Knox, the guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in newly built barracks. In Forrest's opinion, this was partially due to the fact that the soldiers of the regular army did not like the guardsmen because they drilled too hard and went on maneuvers two or three times a week. The regular army soldiers, in Forrest's opinion, viewed being in the army as a job. The one thing that Forrest believed the training at Fort Knox taught the members of the tank battalion was to never attack anti-tank guns straight ahead.
After training at Fort Knox, the 192nd was sent on maneuvers in Louisiana. From there, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk. It was there that Forrest and the other members of the battalion were informed that they were being sent to the Philippine Islands for additional training.
The training in the Philippines was suppose to be "top secret," but it was posted all over the camp in the barracks' day rooms on bulletin boards. The notices stated that the 192nd was accepting volunteers for duty in the Philippine Islands. The reason for the notices was that those members of the battalion who had been considered "too old" had been released from federal service.
It was at this time that each company of the
192nd received 17 new M-3 Stewart tanks.
The tanks were loaded onto flat cars and with
the other equipment sent west to San
Francisco. When the battalion arrived in
San Francisco, the soldiers were sent to Angel
Island. There they received their shots
and were kept in quarantine on the island.
It was Forrest's opinion that this "quarantine"
was done to prevent the soldiers from going
traveled by train to San
Francisco. By ferry, they
were taken to Ft. McDowell on
Angel Island. On the
island, they received
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.
Forrest and his tank crew spent over two weeks
preparing their tank for use in the training
that had been promised. Forrest recalled
that on the morning of the Japanese attack on
Clark Field, he had cleaned ten tank
cannons. During this time, the pilots
flying reconnaissance out of Clark Field told
Forrest and the other tankers that the war was
on. Ten days before the attack on Pearl
Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that
Japanese transports were milling around in a
large circle in the China Sea.
From this time
on, two tank
each tank at
Forrest recalled that the members of the 192nd went into combat with no prior experience of firing their tanks' cannons. They also did not know how to adjust the gun sights. It was his belief that when they were issued the "new" tanks that no one expected that they would actually have to fire the guns.
Forrest took part in several engagements with the Japanese. Forrest recalled that one of the biggest problems with the tanks was the fact that they were riveted not welded. When the tanks took a hit from enemy fire, the rivets would "pop" and injure the crew. The hinges on the driver's door would also blow off and the door would end up in the driver's lap. After the Philippine and American defenders withdrew from their first line of defense, Forrest and other soldiers knew that the battle they were fighting would be lost.
During an engagement with the Japanese, Forrest witnessed how poorly the American tanks were built. A direct hit to the driver's door of a tank resulted in the door being blown off. While the crew was abandoning the tank, 1st. Lt. William Reed was killed by enemy fire.
While at a roadblock at Urdaneta, Forrest's tank crew watched as Filipino troops pulled up in buses. The officer in command was having trouble getting the men to leave he buses. A shot rang out and within moments the buses were empty.
Another problem Forrest witnessed was that supplies were often left behind by those assigned to move them. The truck drivers often drove their trucks into Bataan empty. The tankers had enough ammunition, almost enough gas, but they did not have enough food or quinine. He believed that the Japanese could have just sat at the north end of the Bataan Peninsula and watched the Filipinos and Americans starve to death. By doing this, the Japanese would have saved themselves casualties. For the Bataan defenders, the worst thing they had to deal with was the constant harassment by the Japanese. The defenders simply could not get away from it.
To prevent the Japanese from landing troops behind American lines, A Company and the other tank companies were put on coast watching duty. At night, he would ride up and down the coastline, in Abel Ortega's half-track, looking for Japanese troops attempting to land.
Bataan, in Forrest's opinion, was no place for people to live because of the diseases found there. American soldiers would not take the quinine they were given because it tasted bad. They ended up with malaria and died from it.
On April 9, 1942, Forrest became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered. At kilometer post 201, the tankers circled their tanks and shot an anti-tank round into each tank. They flooded the tanks with gas and set them on fire. After this was done they waited for orders to move.
Forrest and the other members of A Company started the death march at Miraveles. Fearing retribution because their tanks had been used to wipe out pockets of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Bataan, Forrest and the other tankers would not identify themselves as tank battalion members. On several occasions, Forrest said that he was a cook.
Forrest would always try to march near the front of the column. His reason for doing this was that as he grew weaker the longer he marched, the column would gradually start to pass him. By the time he had fallen to the end of the column, he had regained his strength and was able to continue marching. He believed that doing this saved his life on the death march.
The column that Forrest was in marched ten days before they received their first food. The rice being fed to the prisoners was being given out from a large pot as the Americans marched passed. Right before Forrest reached the pot the Japanese ran out of rice. They went to the side of the road to refill the pot, but by the time they returned to their position, Forrest was ten men beyond their position.
Forrest also believed that the Japanese intentionally caused many of the POWs to get ill from drinking water from the ditches alongside the road. The Japanese would kill anyone who attempted to get water from the artesian wells along the march. But, they never stopped or attempted to kill a prisoner who took water from a ditch.
At San Fernando, Forrest and the other POWs were crammed into boxcars. They were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he would continue standing even though he was dead.
Forrest was first held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell. It seemed that one of the guards had it out for Forrest. The guard would single him out and hit him across the knees. Why the guard did this was somewhat of a mystery to Forest until he realized that the guard could speak English. The beatings were in response to his cursing at the guard.
Forrest went out a work detail to retrieve
destroyed American equipment as scrap
metal. The POWs tied the vehicles together
and drove them to San Fernando. From there the
vehicles were shipped to Manila.
When this detail ended, Forrest was sent on a detail to Manila. On this detail, he drove a truck carrying building supplies to POWs who were rebuilding the bridges, airfields and roads. With him on the detail were Lloyd Richter, Owen Sandmire and Alva Chapman. The POWs were treated fairly well on the detail and lived in a shoe factory.
When this detail ended Forrest was sent to Cabanatuan Camp #1. He was next sent to Nichols Field to build runways. The camp commandant was known for his cruelty toward the POWs. Forrest recalled that his attitude was that he could kill as many POWs as he wanted since he could always get more replacements at Cabanatuan.
Sometime after arriving at Cabanatuan, Forrest
went out on a work detail to Manila. The
POWs on the detail drove trucks for the
Japanese. With him on the detail were
Lloyd Richter, Owen Sandmire, and Alva
Chapman. Sometime during 1943, the detail
ended and Forrest was returned to
Cabanatuan. Medical records from the
camp's hospital show that Forrest was
hospitalized on April 5, 1943. The records
do not show why he had been admitted or when he
In September 1943, Forrest was sent on a detail
digging trenches and building an airfield near
Los Banos. This detail was known as "death
detail" due to the large number of men who died
on it. He recalled that men on this detail
often paid other prisoners a pack of cigarettes
to break their arms or to injure them in some
way. In his opinion, this was the worse
camp he was held in. "It
was run by the same bunch who had charge of
Nichols Field and Camp O'Donnell.
After awhile the Japs stopped being
completely unmerciful. They discovered
that if you put a man in the hospital , he
can't work any more."
On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were
working, they saw American diver bombers.
This was the first time they had seen American
planes since the surrender of Bataan.
Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused
the POWs to cheer. The next day the detail
was ended. Forrest and the other prisoners
were sent to Bilibid Prison to prepare for
transport to Japan. In his own words, "The Yank planes followed
us all the way from the Philippines. Shortly
after we left Los Banos in September 1944,
the yanks moved in; we got to Formosa and
the big fellows came over, and finally they
were over Tokyo itself."
On October 1, 1944, Forrest was sent to the Port Area of Manila as part of Company II. The POWs in this company were scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru. Since his entire company had arrived, and another ship was ready to sail, the POWs were boarded onto the Hokusen Maru. The POWs remained in the ship's holds for twelve days. On October 3rd, the ship sailed. During the first part of the voyage, the convoy was attacked by an American submarine which sunk three ships. He recalled listening the sound of something hitting the side of the ship's hull. The sound continued along the hull and finally stopped. An American sailor who had been a member of a submarine crew told him that it was a torpedo that they had heard.
With the other remaining ships of the convoy,
the Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on
October 11th. The ships remained in the
harbor for the next ten days. While there,
on October 13th, the convoy was attacked by
American planes. On October 21st, the
convoy sailed for Formosa. The ship arrived at Formosa on
October 24th. For the next eighteen days
the POWs remained in the ship's holds. Men
began going mad from the conditions. Since
the Japanese were threatening to cover the hold
unless these crazy men stopped howling, Forrest
and other POWs strangled them with towels.
They were finally unloaded on November
11th. Forrest recalled of the trip,
"Of 18 transports which
began the trip six got to Formosa, and we
were on-board one of the lucky ones.".
On Formosa, Forrest was held at Toroku POW Camp. At the camp, Forrest and the other POWs worked in rice fields. In the water, were microscopic freshwater snails. If the snails got into a man's bloodstream, they would lodge in the brain. The POWs who were infected with the snails would scream in agony. The other POWs would fight to hold them down until the man passed out. Any soldier who had these symptoms died within 24 hours.
Forrest was held on Formosa for three
months. During this time, he also worked
in a sugar mill and on a farm. In his
opinion, this was the easiest work he did as a
prisoner. He recalled that the guards on
this detail were reasonable and treated the POWs
wasn't able to find out, in my nine weeks
there, what they were doing with the sugar,
they just kept shifting it back and forth."
On January 25, 1945, Forrest was boarded onto the Melbourne Maru and sent to Japan. This voyage lasted until January 30, 1945, when the ship arrived at Moji, Japan. The ship was protected from American submarines by a typhoon. The submarines stayed deep to avoid the storm.
The worst part of the trip was the stench in the hold of the ship. The smell was terrible. During the trip, many prisoners died or cracked up. Those who died suffocated because they were too weak and could not stand up. Forrest believed what saved his life was that he cooled himself down by using his army hat as a fan. Over the years, he would never forget this experience. He simply learned to tolerate it.
Forrest arrived in Japan at the City of Moji. He was held in a camp in the Osaka area. There he worked making electric carbons. The work was extremely dirty. On May 29, 1945, the area surrounding the camp was bombed by American planes. Due to the amount of damage, the POWs were moved to Tokaing on the west coast of Japan. There he worked on the docks. This new camp was named Nagoya #9.
Forrest remained a prisoner in Japan until he
was liberated by American troops occupying Japan
at the end of the war. According to
Forrest, "We were
working when the big news came. You
could see by the looks on the Japs' faces
that it was true and that they were glad
enough to quit." He was sent back
to the Philippines were he was reunited with his
brother Henry. This was the first time the
two brothers had seen each other in three and
one half years.
Forrest spent much of 1946 at Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, because the army had a difficult time of curing him of his hookworm. He was discharged from the army on November 11, 1946. For the rest of his life, he carried anger toward the military for what he saw as betrayal which led him to be a POW.
Forrest returned to Wisconsin got married. He worked as a mechanic and raised a family of six children. The "ghosts" from his POWs days remained with him his entire life. He divorced, remarried, and lived in Janesville the rest of his life. He passed away on September 5, 1985, in the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville.