| T/5 Neil B. McCage was born on December 20, 1917, in Stigler, Oklahoma, and was the seventh of eleven children born to George Dorse McCage and Minnie Pearl Bonds-McCage. Neil's
family moved to Canon City, Colorado, where he attended school. On December 24, 1930, Neil's mother passed away leaving his father to raise the children. In 1938, Neil left home and settled in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, to work, and while living there, he was drafted into the army. |
On March 20, 1941, in Oklahoma City, Neil was inducted into the U. S. Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Being that he had been a truck driver, at Ft. Knox, he was trained as a tank driver.
In the late summer of 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and Neil and other soldiers were sent there to join the battalion after completing basic training and assigned to A Company. While there, they did not take part in the maneuvers that were taking place.
It appears that the reason the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk was that the decision had already been made to send the 192nd Tank Battalion overseas after the maneuvers. Since the army wanted replacements available for those men considered "too old" to go overseas, sending the 753rd to Louisiana provided them. Neil either volunteered or had his name pulled out of a hat and joined the 192nd Tank Battalion. He was assigned to A Company which had been a Wisconsin National Guard Tank Company.
The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and were ferried 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. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness. Once they recovered, they spent their time 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 but 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, another transport, the S.
S. Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.
During this part of the voyage, on Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure they had what they needed, and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons, which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance, as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tank and half-track crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield. Many of the men believed that this was the start of the maneuvers.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and their pilots went to lunch. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, as the tankers were eating lunch, they saw planes approaching Clark Airfield from the north and had enough time to count them. At first, Neil and the others believed the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding that the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. One bomb hit the mess hall were the pilots were eating. The attack wiped out the American Army Air Corps.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The tankers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
A Company 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 to guard against saboteurs. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. There, the tanks of the company, with A Company, 194th Tank Battalion, held the position.
On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
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 were ordered to hold the position for six hours, they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. That night, on a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31st and January 1st. It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river. As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers which created gaping holes in their ranks. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. January that the food rations were cut in half. Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers.
A Company, on January 5th, while attached to the 194th Tank Battalion, withdrew from the line. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield received orders to launch a counter-attack against the Japanese on a tail picked by Provisional Tank Group command. Bloomfield, while attempting to attack, radioed the tank group that the trail did not exit.
It was evening and the tankers believed they were in a relatively safe place near Lubao along a dried up creek bed. Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gun shot at about 1:50 A.M. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had lunched a major offensive across an open field. The Japanese wore white shirts which made them easy targets. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 3:00 A.M., when the Japanese broke off the attack. Within days of this action, the company returned to the command of the 192nd.
A Company, was sent in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. At Guagua, A Company with the 11th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the Filipinos mistook the tanks as Japanese and accurately used mortars on them knocking out three tanks. A Company rejoined the 194th east of Guagua. The tanks were often the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as American and Filipino units withdrew toward Bataan.
The night of January 7th, A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He crossed the bridge in his jeep and found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
The next day the tanks received maintenance. It was the first rest that the two tank battalions had since December 24th
On January 24th, the tank battalions were ordered to cover all forces withdrawing to the Pilar-Bigac Line. The withdrawal was to take place the night of January 24th-25th. The 192nd covered the withdrawal in the Abucay area. The battalions prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.
morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. They also took part in the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points.
On February 3, 1942, while involved in the Battle of the Pockets, according to Abel Ortega, Neil's tank was hit by enemy fire. Neil and the other members of his tank crew abandoned the tank. As they made their way toward the other tanks in their platoon, one member of the tank crew, Pvt. Miles Weech, was shot in his stomach by a Japanese sniper. Neil, seeing his friend shot, ran up to Abel and grabbed the tommy-gun that Abel was holding. Neil ran up the road in the direction of the tree where he believed the sniper to be. As he ran, he fired the gun into the tree. Since there was no more sniper fire, it is believed that Neil killed the sniper. Neil's friend, Miles
Weech, died from his wounds on February 5th.
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.
On March 2nd or 3rd, during "The Battle of the Points." The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The Japanese were soon cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.
The tanks helped to wipe out both pockets.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die." The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
On April 8, 1942, General Edward P. King made the decision to surrender the Filipino and American forces on Bataan. The tankers received the order "crash" and destroyed their tanks. To do this, A Company circled its tanks. Each tank fired an armor piecing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. The crews then opened the gasoline cocks and dropped hand grenades into the tanks setting them on fire.
The next morning, April 9th, the tankers made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Before they got there, they stripped their uniforms of anything that indicated that they were tankers. They did this because they knew that the Japanese were looking for them to take out revenge for what the tankers had done while fighting the Japanese. It was from Mariveles that Neil started what became known as the death march.
Neil made his way north from Mariveles to San Fernando. He and the other Prisoners of War received little food and no water. According to other members of A Company, it seemed that the Japanese guards intentionally prevented them from drinking good water from the artesian wells that flowed across the road, but the guards were willing to let the prisoners drink the dirty water in the ditches which had the bodies of men killed on the march floating in them.
At San Fernando, the POWs were herded into a bull-pen and slept in the human waste of other POWs who had been held there the night before. The next day the POWs were taken to the train station in San Fernando and boarded into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as forty or eights, since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 men in each car and closed the doors. They were packed in so tightly that the prisoners who died remained standing.
At Capas, Neil and the other POWs disembarked the cars. As they did, the bodies of the dead fell to the cars floors. The surviving POWs made their way to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino military camp. There was only one water spigot for 12,000 POWs in the camp. Men stood in line for days for a drink of water, and many died while waiting for a drink. Disease ran wild in the camp causing as many as 50 men to die each day.
It is not known if Neil went out on a work detail, but it is known that he was also held Cabanatuan prison camp when the new camp opened in May 1942. He was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 2. It is known from camp medical records that he was in the camp hospital on July 7, 1942. He was tested for tuberculosis, but records indicate that he was suffering from malaria. No date of discharge was given.
During his time in the camp, Neil worked in the garden growing food for the Japanese. Neil repeatedly stole food while working on this detail. The POWs used the vegetables to supplement their diets. Had Neil been caught doing this, he would have been severely beaten or executed.
Neil appears to have remained at Cabanatuan most, if not the entire time, he was a POW. Medical records kept at Cabanatuan show that on July 5, 1944, Neil was admitted to Hospital Building #3, from Group II, Building #5. The reason he was admitted was not recorded.
In early October 1944, Neil was one of nearly 1800 POWs who were taken to the Port Area of Manila. His detachment of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Houksen Maru.
The ship was ready to sail but the entire detachment of POWs had not arrived, so the Japanese put another detachment of POWs on the ship. On October 11th at Pier 7, Neil's detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru and forced into the ship's first hold which could hold 400 men.
The ship sailed, but instead of sailing for Formosa, the ship sailed to a cove off Palawan Island to hide from American planes. Within the first 48 hours, five men had died. It was discovered that the Japanese had removed the light bulbs, in the hold, but had not turned off the system's power. Some of the POWs managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system. This provided fresh air to the POWs for two days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.
After this was done, the POWs began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese soon realized that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship. To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's second hold which was partially filled with coal. During the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape. During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces of water and every 24 hours, the POWs received two half a mess kits of rice.
On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila, where it joined twelve other ships bound for the Island of Formosa. The convoy left Manila on Saturday, October 21st, and on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, the Arisan Maru was in Bashi channel of the South China Sea.
The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. In addition, U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines.
The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines. The waves were high since a storm had just passed. At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner. About half the POWs on the ship had been fed. When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship. The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship.
Suddenly the Arisan
it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S.
killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly. A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death.
The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the second hold. Once they were in the hold the Japanese cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch cover before abandoning the ship, but they did not tie the hatch covers down.
Some of the POWs from the first hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and dropped them to the men in the holds. The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship. On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the script." Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men." The ship sank lower into the water.
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in the water. At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but the halves remained afloat. It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship. When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs. Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal, because they wanted to die with full stomachs. Other POWs took to the water with anything that would float.
Five POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to climb in but found it had no oars. With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the survivors, the Arisan
Maru and sank sometime after dark. The men in the boat heard cries for help, which became fewer and fewer, until there was silence.
Although most of the prisoners survived the submarine attack, they died when the Japanese refused to rescue them. Only nine of the nearly 1800 POWs who boarded the ship in Manila survived the sinking. Only eight would see the end of the war.
Since he was lost at sea, T/5 Neil B. McCage's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.