McCage

 

Tec 5 Neil Boyd McCage


    Tec 5 Neil B. McCage was born on December 20, 1917, in Stigler, Oklahoma.  He 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.  In 1938, Neil left home and settled in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, to work.  It was while Neil was living there that 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.  At Ft. Knox, Neil was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. Being that he had been a truck driver, it is believed that he was trained as a tank driver.

    In the late summer of 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  While there, they did not take part in the maneuvers that were taking place at the camp.  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 192nd had taken part in the maneuvers.  Since the army wanted replacements available for those men considered "too old" to go overseas, sending the 753rd to Louisiana provided them.  In October 1941, Neil volunteered to join the 192nd and was assigned to A Company which had been a Wisconsin National Guard Tank 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.
    On 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. 
All morning long, American planes filled the sky.  At noon the planes landed and their crews went to lunch.  Around 12:45 in the afternoon, as the tankers were eating lunch, they saw planes approaching Clark Airfield from the north.  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. The attack wiped out the American Army Air Corps.
   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.  For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line.   

    At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easily seen since they were wearing white t-shirts.  It was there that the tankers found that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.   The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.  

    On February 3, 1942, 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.
         

    On April 8, 1942, General Edward 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-pin and 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 boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  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 ground.  The surviving POWs made their way to Camp O'Donnell.  Camp O'Donnell 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. 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.

    It is not known if Neil remained at Cabanatuan or was sent out to another camp to do work.  What is known is that Neil was still in the Philippine Islands in late 1944.

    In early October 1944, Neil and 1802 other POWs were marched 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 10th at Pier 7, they were boarded onto the Arisan Maru and forced into the ship's two holds.

    The ship sailed, but instead of sailing for Formosa, the ship sailed to a cove off Palawan Island.  For ten days, Neil and the other prisoners were held in the ship's holds while the Japanese formed a convoy.  During this time, the POWs hotwired the hold's ventilation system into its lighting system.  The Japanese had taken out the light bulbs, but they had not turned off the power.  For two days, the POWs had fresh air until the Japanese turned off the power when they discovered what had been done.

    On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila.  While it had been at sea, the Port Area of Manila had been bombed.  On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea.  The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs.  This made the ships targets for American submarines.

     According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, near dinner time, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those in the ship's two holds.  The ship was in the Bashi Channel off the coast of China.  As the POWs watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship as a torpedo passed in front of the ship.  The Japanese then ran to the stern of the ship and another torpedo passed behind the ship.  There was a sudden jar which was caused by the ship being hit by two torpedoes.  The ship stopped dead in the water.  It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U.S.S. Snook.

    The POWs who were on deck were forced back into the holds.  As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two holds.  Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and lowered a ladder to those in the first hold.  They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.

    Many of the POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam.  Those who could not swim raided the ship's galley and ate until their stomachs were full.  They wanted to die with full stomachs.  Most of the POWs survived the attack but died because the Japanese refused to rescue  them.  At some point, the ship broke in two.

    As the ship got lower in the water, the POWs attempted to swim to Japanese ships.  The Japanese destroyers, in the convoy, deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.  The sailors on the other ships pushed the POWs away with poles and hit the POWs with clubs.  While this was being done, the ships picked up the Japanese survivors.

    According to the survivors of the sinking, as the evening went on and it got darker, fewer and fewer cries for help were heard.  Then, all there was was silence.

    T/5 Neil B. McCage lost his life when the Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea on October 24, 1944.  Of the 1800 POWs on the ship, only nine survived the sinking.  Only eight of these POWs lived to 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.


 

 

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