Sgt. Marcus Arnold Lawson
| Sgt. Marcus A.
Lawson was from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and born on
March 4, 1922. He was the son of Raymond A.
Lawson & Margaret Newby-Lawson. With his
brother and three sisters, he grew up at 155 South
Depot Street, Burgin, Kentucky.
Marcus joined the National Guard on January 28, 1939, and was one of the original members of the Kentucky National Guard Company called to federal service. On November 25, 1940, he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He was promoted to corporal upon arrival at Ft. Knox. Within three months he was made a sergeant.
During this time, he attended automotive school to learn mechanics. He was in the course for three months and ended up never using what he learned. Marcus was made a tank commander and instructed other soldiers in driving tanks. His life during this time consisted of overnight maneuvers, hikes and teaching machine gun maintenance.
In the late summer of 1941, Marcus and the other members of the 192nd were sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill at Camp Polk, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day, and the next day, when a Navy ship was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
It was at this time, men 29 years or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. This battalion had been sent to the fort, but it had not taken part in the maneuvers. The M3 "Stuart" tanks from the battalion were also given to the 192nd.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
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, while the maintenance section remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
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.
After arriving in the Philippines the paperwork began to be processed to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion. Doing this meant that both battalions would have three letter companies. With the start of the war, the transfer never was completed.
On December 8, 1941, the tanks were put on alert and sent to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. The news of the attack on Pearl Harbor had reached the tankers earlier that morning. He and the other Americans were optimistic that they would beat the Japanese in as little of two weeks or in one month at most.
It was around lunch time and Marcus and the other men had gone to the chow truck. One man was left with each of the tanks. At 12:45, planes appeared over the airfield. He and the other men thought the planes were American. When bombs began hitting the ground, they knew that the planes were Japanese.
After the air raid, the tankers found Robert Brooks dead in front of a tank. Since Brooks had been his tank driver, Marcus took over his duties.
That night the tanks left Clark Field. Marcus and other tanks were sent to Maracot. The tanks were set up along the bank of a river. During this time, little happened, but the tankers were strafed a few times by Japanese planes.
The tankers were next moved to Manalupa. They remained there for a week and a half. During this time, the Japanese landed troops at Lingayen Gulf. Marcus and the other tankers were sent to Lingayen Gulf in support of B Company which had already been sent there.
The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climbed to the top, where they found troops, ammunition, and guns. The soldiers were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf, since they had received orders not to fire.
The tankers walked down the mountain and waited. They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
It was from this time on that Marcus's tank and the other tanks played hit and run with the Japanese. They did this until they got to Guagua. There, they stayed for three days until the Japanese made it so dangerous that they pulled out. As they left, the town was literally burning down around them. Shells were landing in the street and bouncing down it.
The tankers fell back to the Pampanga River and lined up along the bank. They thought they were safe there. Other tanks pulled in behind them around midnight. It was sometime after their arrival that the shooting started. It was at this time that Ralph Stine joined his tank crew after his tank had been knocked out by enemy fire.
The tanks dropped back five miles while under fire. They remained under fire for the next several days. They once again found themselves in a hit and run game with the Japanese. Their main job was to serve as a rear guard covering the withdraws of the other units.
On Bataan, Marcus's tank platoon was assigned to beach duty near the 148th kilometer marker. It was while on this duty that the main defensive line broke. His tank and the other tanks were sent north in an attempt to plug the hole.
Marcus felt that the tanks really could not do much because the Japanese outnumbered them and had air superiority. They were constantly bombed and strafed. It was while attempting to plug the hole, that the Marcus's tank was knocked out by enemy fire. He dropped back on foot toward Mariveles.
At an ammunition dump, Marcus climbed into a truck and went to sleep. While he was sleeping, the ammo dump was blown up, and at about the same time, an earthquake took place. Jumping to his feet from a sound sleep, he had a hard time standing since the two events happened at the same time.
Hearing the news of the surrender the morning of April 9th. "We had orders to surrender but we didn't." Marcus made the decision that he would attempt to escape to Australia. He met up with Morgan French and two Hungarians who had a boat. Morgan managed to get the engine working.
The men decided that they would not attempt to escape after dark. As they waited, they were warned by a Filipino that there were Japanese on the cliffs above them.
Before they sailed, they picked up a American captain and three soldiers. They told the captain of their plan. He pulled out his handgun and told them that they were going to Corregidor. Being that he had them by gunpoint, they went to Corregidor. As they attempted to reach the island, the Japanese shelled them.
When they reached the island, they learned that they could not leave. Marcus was put on beach defense and given a gun. He was sent to Skipper Hill, which faced Bataan, with Charlie Quinn of D Company. The two men were now attached to the Fourth Marine Division.
Each evening a chow wagon was sent down to the soldiers. To get to them, the chow truck had to cross an open field. Since the Japanese were using observation balloons on Bataan, as soon as the truck made it to the field it came under fire. The attacks got so bad that this method of feeding the soldiers was abandoned.
One day, Marcus and Doc Sparrow were sent out to get food. When they began crossing the field, shells began landing around them. In front of them was a member of the 31st Infantry. As he ran, he was hit by a shrapnel from a shell which decapitated him.
Marcus and Doc Sparrow did not let the man lie in the field. They dragged his body to a bunker and sat it up. They then picked up his head and placed it on his lap. They left him leaning on the bunker.
As time went on, the soldiers could not go for food. Instead, Marcus and Doc went to the Malinta Tunnel to get it. While in the tunnel, they heard small arms fire. The two did not think anything of it. To them, it was a normal thing just a little heavier then normal.
Marcus and Doc were told that the Japanese had landed on the island the night before. The two men said that they had just come from outside and had not seen any Japanese. They looked out the mouth of the tunnel and saw Japanese marching by fours toward them.
Japanese tanks approached the tunnel at the same time, and snipers were also near the tunnel's mouth. When a man attempted to get out, he was dead within eight or ten steps. In spite of these odds, the two soldiers decided that they would make a break for it.
Just as Marcus and Doc were about to make their way out of the tunnel, they heard of the surrender. They remained in the tunnel and destroyed their guns. The two men did get out of the tunnel and made their way to Queen's Tunnel.
In this tunnel, the two found canned food. They opened cans of peaches, sweet corn and cream. They ate as much as they could. While they were eating, the Japanese arrived. Marcus and the others stood up at attention. The Japanese spoke English and wanted food. In particular, they wanted canned Pineapple.
Within a few minutes, the tunnel was full of Japanese. Unlike the first Japanese, these soldiers took anything the Americans had. They took their watches, money and wallets. They also began to beat the Americans.
There was an old American civilian who had a pocket watch on a gold chain with a large fob on it. A Japanese soldier motioned to him to take it off. He refused. The soldier kicked him in the stomach and hit him in the face with the butt of his rifle and then took the watch. The other Americans could little but watch. After the beating, they comforted him as he cried.
It was not much later that Marcus saw General Wainwright as he came out of the tunnel. He was crying as he saluted them.
Marcus and the other Prisoners of War were taken to what was known as the 92nd Garage on Corregidor's shore. There, they lived in make shift barracks to keep dry since it was the rainy season. The POWs scavenged for rice and sugar. He and the other men went three days without water.
Marcus and Doc Sparrow volunteered for the water detail. To get the water they went to the Malinta Tunnel to get water from a faucet. On their way to the tunnel, a little Japanese guard picked on a big Marine. While they were in the tunnel getting water, the Marine said that things were going to change on the way back.
On the detail, were three guards. One in front, one in the middle, and one at the back of the detail. When they got to a cliff and were making their way along it, the Marine picked up the guard and threw him off it. Neither of the other guards saw what had happened and never made an issue of it.
About a week later, Marcus and many of the POWs left Corregidor. They were boarded onto small boats and taken to a larger one. This boat took them to an area near Manila. There, they were made to jump off the boat into the water.
Marcus could not swim, but when he saw another American, who could not swim, hit and pushed into a water by a guard, he decided to take his chances. He jumped into the water, bobbed up, took a breath and began walking along the bottom toward shore. He pushed himself up for air and continued to walk until his head was above water.
Marcus and the other POWs were taken to Bilibid Prison outside Manila. He remembered marching down a boulevard for ten miles on the way to the prison. He remained in the prison for a week before being sent to Cabanatuan.
The POWs were taken to a train station and boarded into freight cars. Each car held 75 to 80 men. In the cars, the POWs were taken to to the town of Cabanatuan where they lived in an old school house. The next morning they were marched to Cabanatuan #3.
The march was 15 to 20 miles. The prisoners were told that anyone who fell out would be shot. When the first man fell out, a Japanese guard came up to him and aimed his rifle at him. The man got up and ran back to the column.
Not too long later, another man fell out. A guard approached him and did the same thing. When the man did not get up, the guard raised a red flag. A Japanese truck pulled up and the man was placed on it. When the prisoners saw this, it wasn't very long until many of them were falling out to get a ride to the camp.
At Cabanatuan, the POWs main meal was rice and whistle weed soup. Marcus recalled that while he was there he witnessed four Americans killed who had escaped from the camp.
After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese. The Japanese tied them to posts and left them hang in the sun. They also beat the POWs with boards. The Japanese also showed the men water but would not give them any.
While the POWs were eating supper, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating. They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water. The POWs were offered blindfolds which all took but one. This man spit at the Japanese before they shot him. The men fell backwards into the grave. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot each man with his pistol.
The Japanese began consolidating the camps and Marcus was sent to Cabanatuan Camp #1. This camp was about seven miles from Camp #3. There he was reunited with other members of D Company.
Marcus did not like the camp so he volunteered to go to Japan on the first ship. With him on the ship were Elzie Anness, Skip Rue, Morgan French and Bill "Doc" Sparrow of D Company. There were also other members of his battalion on the ship with whom he had become friends with at Ft. Knox.
The Nagato Maru sailed for Japan from Pier 7 in Manila on November 7th as part of a three ship convoy. During the trip, many of the POWs came down with dysentery and seventeen died. On the ship were Japanese soldiers returning to Japan. The first few days they spent much of their time getting drunk.
If the soldiers had to relieve themselves, they urinated into the ship's holds onto the POWs. If they had to vomit, they did the same. Since there was not a great deal of room to move, the POWs could do little to escape the urine and vomit.
At some point a submarine was spotted in the area and the hatch covers were put on the holds. The POWs knew what was going on because they could feel the explosions through the ship's haul. During this part of the voyage, seventeen POWs died.
The Nagato Maru arrived at Toku, Formosa, on November 11th and remained in the harbor for three days. When it sailed again, it dropped anchor off the Pescadores Islands because of a storm. It remained off the islands for two days before sailing for and arriving at Keelung, Formosa, on November 18th. After a two day stay, the ship sailed again on November 20th. While the men were in the holds they were infest with lice.
The ship arrived at Moji on November 24th. The POWs were deloused, showered, fed and issued new clothes. In Marcus' case, he was boarded onto a train and taken to Tanagawa #4-B. In the camp, they were put to work building a dry-dock. The POWs loaded mine cars which they pushed on trestle over the ocean. They then dumped the cars into the ocean.
At first, the Japanese expected them to load and dump twenty cars a day, but as time went on and the prisoners grew weaker, they could only manage five or six cars each day. As their work decreased the number of beatings by the Japanese increased.
It was not too long after arriving at Tanagawa that Pvt. Elzie Anness became extremely ill from dysentery. Being that Elzie was Marcus's best friend from childhood and had grown up across the street from him, Marcus did what he could for his friend.
One night, the American medic in charge of the ward came to Marcus's quarters and told him Elzie was near death. Marcus and the other man dodged the camp search light and made their way to the camp hospital. Marcus held Elzie and got him to eat some food. Before he left, the medic in charge of the ward told him that it wouldn't be too long before Elzie would die. Marcus left the ward and returned to his barracks. The next morning Marcus was told that Elzie Anness had died.
Marcus could not bring himself to be present when Elzie was cremated. Instead, Morgan French watched the cremation. After he had been cremated, Elzie's remains were given to the camp commandant.
Upon arriving in Japan, Marcus's eyes went bad. He also was suffering from dry beriberi. Because of his condition, he was selected for an experimental detail and taken to a Japanese Army Hospital. For seven or eight weeks Marcus and the other POWs were given different pills everyday. No one died from the pills. The Japanese doctor told the POWs that their health problems were the result of their poor diets, but that there was little that he could do for them.
One man's beriberi was so bad that his feet began to turn black. The Japanese told them that they were going to remove his feet at the ankles. Instead, they removed the flesh leaving only the bone.
When this detail was disbanded, Marcus was sent to Osaka #1. The camp was located in Osaka and the POWs worked as stevedores unloading ships. While they worked, they stole as much food as they could. They stole soybeans and salt and once in awhile they got some sugar.
On one occasion, the prisoners were unloading a ship hauling sugar and alcohol. When they were given their green tea, many of them poured out half of their tea and filled the cup with alcohol. They also stirred in sugar. At the end of the day when the POWs were done working, many of them were drunk. The Japanese civilians afraid of what would happen if the guards found out. So they sobered the men up by making them shower.
Marcus remained at Osaka #1 until the camp commandant was transferred. It was at that time that it was discovered that he had been sent there by mistake. He was returned to Tanagawa #4-B.
Upon arriving in the camp, Marcus was reunited with Doc Sparrow and Morgan French. He then went back to work building the dry-dock.
One night, Marcus could not sleep. While he was laying on his mat, he heard the sound of American B-29s. This was the first time he heard them. The bombers bombed the shipyard. "The Americans bombed me out of about three prison camps. They worked us all the time."
Within a few months, the camp was broken up and Marcus and the other prisoners were sent to a graphite factory at Osaka #5. Across from the factory, there was a airfield and behind it was a oil refinery. The camp was surrounded by 27 smoke stacks. "They (the Japanese) put us where they knew the Americans were going to bomb." What amazed Marcus was that the POW Camp was never hit by the American bombers.
Marcus, Morgan French and Doc Sparrow were selected for a work detail to Tsurguga Camp. There, they once again worked as stevedores unloading ships. The POWs at this camp lived in a two story house.
One day, the Japanese expected the POWs to unload a ship loaded with bombs. The POWs refused on the basis that the bombs would be used against other Americans. To get the prisoners to work, the Japanese brought in what Marcus called the "baseball brigade." The POWs were beaten with bats. The POWs still refused to unload the bombs.
On another occasion, the POWs were unloading beans and placing them in boxcars. Each boxcar held 170 to 180 sacks of beans. The POWs Marcus was working with got the idea to just put a few bags in the center of the car and then load the rest in front of the door to make the car look filled. The POWs got away with this for about a week.
One evening while Marcus and the other POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese pulled in a string of cars. They then threw all the bean bags out the door of one of the cars. Since the car had the number of the POW group that loaded it, the Japanese lined them up and beat them with baseball bats. When the POWs fell to the ground the guards jumped on them.
Marcus was the last man in line. When the guards got to him, they hit him twice with the bat and he fell to the ground. The guard kicked him in the ribs two or three times and that was it.
While working, Marcus broke his shoulder blade from carrying too much weight on it. He was in the camp hospital. One night, he heard American planes approaching and the bombs as they came down. The bombing lasted three hours. The next day the POWs could see that almost the entire town had burnt down.
About two weeks later, the POWs were taking a break on the dock. Suddenly, they saw three Navy Hellcats approaching. The POWs ran to a warehouse that had been bombed out. Each plane dropped three bombs. About five minutes later, sixty more Hellcats came over the docks and bombed and strafed the area. Any ships in the port were attacked and bombed.
During the attack the POWs' barracks were hit. After the attack the POWs slept on concrete until the Japanese moved them to a building across from a textile mill. Marcus recalled that most of the workers in the textile mill were women and children.
The POWs lived in this building for a couple of months. In the building was a kiln. Some of the POWs were put to work on it. Every morning, a B-29 would fly over doing reconnaissance. One morning the air raid siren went off, but the POWs ignored it. They thought it was another reconnaissance flight. The plane dropped a blockbuster in the middle of the textile mill killing many women and children.
The prisoners knew that the Americans were getting closer from the civilian newspapers. One day the POWs were working, suddenly the guards stopped them and told them that it was too hot to work. The POWs knew something was up because this story just did not sound right. Some of the POWs said that the war had to be over because it had never been too hot to work before. Marcus was among those who were skeptical that the war had ended.
The next morning the POWs got up again and were told that they did not have to work that day. It was on this day that some of the prisoners heard a Japanese radio broadcast that said the Japanese were attempting to negotiate for peace.
The Japanese then came around and gave each prisoner a cigarette ration. The POWs had not seen cigarettes in months. Next, the Japanese gave the POWs new split toe shoes and new POW uniforms.
Marcus was sick with a 106 degree temperature. The camp doctor could do little for him because he had no medicine. When a Japanese soldier came to the hospital and gave the men knew shoes and clothes, Marcus knew that the war was over.
Doc Sparrow came to see him. Marcus got out of bed with a temperature of 105 degrees. The two friends went into the town to trade the shoes and clothes for saki. They then got drunk.
Knowing that the war was over, Marcus and the other POWs moved to a building with nicer quarters. Marcus had a thick mattress to sleep on for the first time in years. The POWs also painted a big "POW" on the roof of a building. American planes dropped food, medicine and clothing to them, but no Americans appeared at the camp.
Marcus and another American made the decision to go find the Americans. They gathered a group of 62 POWs to go with them. The ranking American officer in the camp asked them where they were going. When they told him, he ordered them to remain in the camp. "We liberated ourselves. We were told we could be court martial-ed." But this threat did not stop them.
The men made their way to the train station. At the station, a Japanese guard attempted to stop them, but another POW pushed him off the train station platform. The men got onto the train when it pulled into the station. They rode it to Tokyo.
When they got to Tokyo, they lined up and started marching down the street looking for Americans. They never saw any Americans. The POWs were wearing new uniforms dropped to them from the planes. At this time a jeep came around the corner with Americans in it. Being the former POWs were wearing new uniforms, the men did not know that Marcus and the other men had been POWs. The jeep stopped and the men in it told the former POWs that Tokyo was off limits.
When the men in the jeep learned that Marcus and the other men had been POWs in Japan for over three years, they jumped out of the jeeps and took pictures. It turned out that the men were correspondents from an American magazine.
The reporters than told the former POWs that American troops were in Yokohama near Tokyo. The men got onto a street car and rode it to Yokohama. They got off and were passed by American trucks.
The men saw a GI kitchen and went up to it. When they asked for food the cooks told them to go back to their own outfits. When one of the men said that they had been in Japan for over three years and that they couldn't find anyone to report to, the cooks began giving them as much food as they wanted.
The freed POWs were taken by truck to Benevolence Hospital Ship. They were deloused before they were allowed on the ship. Each man had to be brought onto the ship by stretcher. When they reached the deck, they would jump off of the stretcher and run.
About a week later, Marcus saw a line on the ship. He asked someone what was going on. He was told that the men in the line were signing up to fly home. Marcus got in line and signed up to go home. A few days later he was taken to an airfield and flown to Okinawa. He stayed there for four or five days and next was flown back to the Philippines.
He was finally put on the ship the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman and sailed for San Francisco arriving on October 3, 1945. There, he stayed at Letterman General Hospital until it was decided what Veterans Administration Hospital he would be sent to a VA hospital closer to home. Marcus was sent to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Even though he wanted to travel by train, he was put on an airplane.
Marcus landed at Westover Field, Massachusetts, and spent the next ten months at the VA Hospital. His discharge papers were all filled out, but after an examination by a doctor it was determined that he should go to a eye hospital in Avon, Connecticut. He stayed there for three or four months until he was discharged on November 5, 1946, as a Staff Sergeant.
Marcus returned to Kentucky and married Helen Crews and became the father of two sons. The one lasting affect of his time as a POW was vision problems.
Marcus A. Lawson passed away in Florida on August 6, 2005, and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.