Pvt. James Monroe Langford
| Pvt. James
M. Langford was born on June 12, 1915, to Emmet
Langford & Minnie Stokes-Langford in Livingston
County, Kentucky. With his two sisters and six
brothers he resided in Rockcastle County,
Kentucky. In 1940, he resided in Sycamore Ohio,
and worked as a dairy farmer.
On March 15, 1941, James was inducted into the U.S. Army at Port Thomas, Kentucky. During his basic training, he attended tracked vehicle maintenance school and qualified as a tank mechanic and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. HQ Company did not actively take part in the maneuvers, but it did maintain the tanks, and other vehicles, of the battalion. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill that the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. According to members of the battalion, General George Patton had selected them for this duty. Men too old to go overseas were given the chance to be released from federal service. Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
Many of the members of the battalion were given leaves home so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to San Francisco, California, where the tankers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in 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 and 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 the U.S.A.T Calvin Coolidge. On Sunday, November 9th, the ships crossed the International Date Line so the soldiers went to bed Sunday and woke up Tuesday morning. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke was seen on the horizon from an unknown ship. The U.S.S.Louisville revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off after the unknown ship. As it turned out the unknown ship belonged to a friendly nation.
The next day, Sunday, November 16th, the ships arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables, before sailing the next day for Manila. The ships entered Manila Bay,at 7:30 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th and docked at Pier 7 at Manila later that day. The soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. The fact was he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. He made sure that they had everything they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
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 and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern part. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All members of the tank companies were sent to the airfield. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac. Jim was an early riser and heard the news of the Japanese attack. He told Grover Bummett, Nick Marchese, and either Kenneth Engel or Elmer Engle that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. One of his tent mates took his boot, threw it at him, and told him to, "Get out of here!" Not too long later, they learned the attack had taken place.
At 12:45, Jim lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The members of the company could do little more than take cover during the attack. After the attack the tankers saw the carnage done by the attack. The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps. The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
James took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two more weeks living through several more air raids. On December 21st, they were ordered to the area around Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops. On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
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 held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
The battalion took part in the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23rd until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had been caught off behind the battle line. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket. According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades. As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole. The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I, and one out of three exploded.
The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole. The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks.
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
The company next boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off, and the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours and were not feed or given water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide and some were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two of the POWs were still alive. When one tried to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men and marched them to the train station in San Fernando. There, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars, used to haul sugarcane, and taken to Capas. The cars were known as "Forty or Eights" because they could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. The POWs were packed into the cars so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From there, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for hours. Many died while waiting for a drink. The death rate among the POWs was as high as fifty men a day. To get out of the camp, many POWs went out on work details.
The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
On December 12, 1942, James went out on a work detail to an airfield to build runways and revetments. They first went to Ft. McKinley and collected scrap metal and ordnance left from the battle. From there, on January 29, 1943, they went to Nielson Airfield and built runways. When the work was complete, they were moved to Camp Murphy and Zablan Field on October 23, 1943.
It is known that while on the detail James developed acute gastroenteritis and was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison. He was admitted to the ward on April 25, 1944, and discharged the next day. Records indicate he was sent back to the airfield.
In July 1944, James' name appeared on a list of POWs being transferred to Japan and was taken to Pier 7 at Manila, where he boarded onto the Nissyo Maru at 8:00 A.M. on July 17, 1944. The ship remained anchored outside the harbor breakwater from July 18th until July 23rd. The morning of the 23rd the ship was moved and dropped,its anchor off of Corregidor at 2:00 P.M. The ship sailed, as part of a convoy, on July 24th. In an attempt to avoid American submarines, the convoy hugged the coast of Luzon. At 3:00 A.M. one of the ships, the Otari Yama Maru, was hit by torpedoes from the American submarine, the U.S.S. Flasher. The submarine was one of three subs stalking the convoy. The other two were the U.S.S. Crevale and the U.S.S. Flasher. The subs sank several ships.
On July 28th, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, at 9:00 A.M. and sailed at 7:00 P.M. the same day. From July 30th to August 2nd, it sailed through a storm which protected the ships from submarines. On August 3rd, the POWs were issued new clothing. The convoy arrived at Moji, Japan, at midnight on August 4th, but the POWs did not disembark until 8:00 A.M. and were taken to a theater and sat in the dark. They were next marched to the train station where they were divided into detachments to be sent to different camps along the train line. The POWs in James' detachment arrived at their stop at 2:00 A.M. and marched three miles to the camp.
In Japan, James was held at Fukuoka #23 which consisted of a mess hall, a hospital, and six unheated barracks. The camp was located on top of a hill with a ten foot high wooden fence around it. In the barracks, the POWs slept in 15 X 15 foot bays with six POWs shared a bay. At 6:00 A.M., 6:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M. the Japanese took row call. For the first two weeks in the camp, the POWs learned the Japanese words for mining equipment.
The POWs received their jobs from the camp commandant who spoke adequate English. The POWs were divided into two groups of miners. The "A" group mined during the day, while the "B" group mined at night. Every two weeks the groups would swap shifts. When the POWs arrived at the mine, they were turned over to civilian supervisors. The POWs quickly learned the more they did the more these supervisors wanted from them. After awhile, the supervisors and POWs came to a reasonable agreement on how many cars they would load each day. The one good thing about working in the mine, during the winter, was the temperature was about 70 degrees.
During 1945, things got worse for the POWs, so they knew the Japanese were losing the war. At 5:00 P.M. on August 15th they learned the war was over but did not believe it. The next day the camp commandant, at 9:00 A.M., informed the POWs that the war was over. He also told them that they had to stay in the camp. On August 24th, the Japanese gave the POWs paint and canvas and told them to paint "POW" on the canvas and to put the canvas on a barrack's roofs.
On August 28th, B-29s appeared over the camp. Two of the planes circled the camp and dropped fifty gallon drums to the POWs. For the first time, the POWs knew they were now in charge. Most of the guards quickly disappeared at this time. On September 15th, Americans arrived in the camp and the POWs were taken by truck to the train station. They rode the train to Nagasaki were they were given physicals and deloused. The seriously ill were boarded onto a hospital ship at the Dejima Docks. The rest were taken by the U.S.S. Marathon to Okinawa, from there, they were flown back to the Philippines. It was during his time in the Philippines that James was promoted to sergeant. Near the end of September, 1945, he was boarded onto the S.S. Simon Bolivar for transport home. The ship arrived at San Francisco on October 21, 1945, and the former POWs were taken to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment.
James returned home to Kentucky and was discharged from the Army on November 25, 1946. He married Ruth and the couple became the parents of a daughter. To support his family, he worked for the Marley Company.
James M. Langford died on April 29, 2003, at his home in Fairdale, Kentucky. His funeral was held at Cole Baptist Church and he was buried at Evergreen Cemetery.
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