Pfc. Joseph F. McCrea
| Pfc. Joseph F. McCrea was
born on March 2, 1920, in Benton, Wisconsin.
He was the son of John R. McCrea & Flora Mae
Peacock-McCrea. He crew up in Benton with
his brother and two sisters. His mother
passed away soon after his birth. His father
passed away in 1938 so Joe moved to Janesville, in
1939, to live with his sister and her
family. In 1940, Joe joined the Wisconsin
National Guard's 32nd Tank Company headquartered
in an armory in Janesville.
In the autumn of 1940, Joseph went with to Fort Knox, Kentucky, the company when it was called to federal service as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
At Ft. Knox, Joseph had trained as a radioman and was assigned to a half track. His job was to stay in contact with the tanks. The members of the crew members of his half track were Sgt. Dale Lawton, Pvt. Abel Ortega, and at times Capt. Walter Write and Lt. Henry Knox.
In September, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. It was after tne maneuvers that the battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, for further orders. On the side of a hill, the tankers were informed that they were being sent overseas.
The battalion traveled, by train, to San Francisco. Upon arriving they 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.
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 as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Joseph lived through the attack on Clark Field. That morning, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. At 12:45, planes were spotted approaching the airfield. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
A few days after the attack on Clark Field, A Company pulled out of airfield and was sent north to Lingayen Gulf in support of B Company. Joe, Sgt. Dale Lawton and Pvt. Abel Ortega stayed behind. For days, they were strafed and bombed by Japanese planes since there was no American Air Corps.
For the next four months, Joseph worked with Forrest Knox in ordnance. Together they worked to keep the tanks of A Company supplied with working machine guns, gasoline and food.
On one occasion during the night, Joseph and Forrest were sleeping alongside of a tank. A commotion started and Joseph woke Forrest up. The two men barely got into the tank when a mortar round exploded where they had been sleeping.
It also seemed that Joseph was selected by the Filipinos when they found unexploded enemy ammunition. The Filipinos were always trying to give him the ammunition that they found. On one occasion, a Filipino attempted to give him a .75mm Japanese shell.
In other incidents, Filipinos came up to Joseph and gave him unexploded artillery shells. When the other members of his company saw this, they took off for cover. Joseph on several occasions attempted to explain to the Filipinos that the shells were dangerous and that they should get rid of them.
When the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered, Joseph became a Prisoner Of War. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. He then rode a train in boxcars crammed with POWs.
At Capas, Joseph and the other POWs disembarked the freight cars and walked the last three miles to Camp O'Donnell. It is known that Joseph went out on a work detail while a POW at Camp O'Donnell. He was sent to Calauan to rebuild a bridge that had been destroyed by the retreating American troops.
Arriving at Calauan, Joseph was reunited with John Wood, Phil Parish, Forrest Teal, James Schultz, Lewis Wallisch and Ken Schoeberle of A Company. Bill Nolan also joined the detail with Joseph.
Joseph was also sent to Batangas and Candaleria to build bridges. While on this detail, Joseph developed malaria and was sent to Cabanatuan. According to camp records, Joseph was admitted to the camp hospital on Tuesday, July 28, 1942. There, he was visited by Ardell Schei who had been a medic with the 192nd. Schei stated that Joe was so out of his head from the malaria that he did not want to see anyone.
Pfc. Joseph F. McCrea died of malaria on Tuesday, September 15, 1942, at approximately 8:00 AM at Cabanatuan POW Camp and was buried in the camp cemetery. After the war, Joseph's uncle, Harold, had his remains returned to the United States. Joseph remains arrived in Wisconsin in October 1949. He was buried in Saint Patrick's Cemetery in Benton, Wisconsin, next to his parents.