|Pfc. Joseph F. McCrea
Pfc. Joseph F. McCrea was born on March 2, 1920, in
Benton, Wisconsin, and was the son of John R. McCrea
& Flora Mae Peacock-McCrea. It is known that
his mother passed away soon after his birth. He
grew up in Benton with his brother and two
sisters. His father passed away in 1938, and 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.
On November 28, 1940, Joseph went 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 crew members of his half-track were Sgt. Dale Lawton, Pvt. Abel Ortega, and at times Capt. Walter Write and Lt. Henry Knox.
In August the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th. It was after the 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. Joe received a furlough home so he could say his goodbyes.
The battalion traveled, by train, over different routes to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island and 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 rejoin the battalion at a later date, while 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. President 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.
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 the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they received what they needed, and 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. 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 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle, at all times, and received their meals from food trucks.
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 tanks were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield. At 12:45, planes were spotted approaching the airfield, and the soldiers had time enough to count 54 planes in formation. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, the tankers lived through several more air raids. Most slept under their tanks since it was safer then sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one half years.
On December 12th, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad from sabotage. 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, Joe 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, Joe 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 Joe 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. When the other members of his company saw this, they took off for cover. Joe, on several occasions, attempted to explain to the Filipinos that the shells were dangerous and that they should get rid of them.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Mariveles 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.
When the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered, on April 9, 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.
In Cabanatuan, Joseph was put into the camp hospital. 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.