Pfc. Carl N. Nickols
Pfc. Carl N. Nickols was the
son of Frank & Frances Nickols. He was
born on December 15, 1915, and was one of the
couple's four children. As a child he
attended St. Mary's School. and grew up at
462 North Washington Street in Janesville.
He was in business for himself as a beer
distributer in 1940.
In the fall of 1940, Carl was called to federal service as a member of the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard. His tank company was designated as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
At Ft. Knox, Carl met Bob Stewart who had joined the company knowing that he was about to be drafted into the army. Bob was the same height and weight as Carl which meant he was one of the biggest men in the company. Seeing Bob for the first time, Carl walked to him and said, " Hi Tiny!" Stewart looked back at Carl and said, "Hello Tiny yourself!" It was at that moment that the two men became best friends.
Carl was assigned to ordinance. It was his job to insure that the tank crews received the gasoline and ammunition they needed during training.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent on maneuvers to Louisiana. It was on a hill at Camp Polk that Carl and the other men learned that they were being sent overseas. Each man received leave home to say goodbye to friends and family.
Reporting back to Camp Polk, the battalion
loaded their tanks on flat cars and road the
train to California. Arriving in San
Francisco, Carl and the other men were ferried
to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. They
received inoculations and prepared for the trip
to the Philippine Islands.
Carl spent the next eighteen days getting ready
for maneuvers in which the battalion was suppose
to take part. The morning of December 8,
1941, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor was received by the tankers. The
tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
At 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers
were getting lunch when planes, in a "V" formation
approached the airfield from the north.
The tankers saw what looked like raindrops
falling from the planes. When bombs began
exploding on the runways, they knew the planes
were Japanese. The men ran to their tanks or
took cover. Amazingly, not one tank was
hit by a bomb.
For the next four months, Carl worked to get the tanks the gasoline and ammunition that they needed to fight the Japanese. On December 21st or 22nd, A Company was sent north toward Lingayen Gulf in support of B Company. The tanks were used to hold the Japanese as the Filipino and Americans disengaged and formed a new defensive lines.
On Christmas Day, the tankers were planting homemade mines as they withdrew from an area. The mines were eight by eight square boxes which had a flashlight battery in the center of the box. Attached to the lids of the boxes were metal strips. When pressure was placed on the lid, the circuit was completed and the mine exploded.
Carl watched as Capt. Write began placing the mines in the road. Write did this himself since he knew that the mines could go off at any time. As Carl drove away to deliver gasoline and ammunition to the tanks, he heard an explosion. A mine had gone off as Capt. Write was planting it.
After delivering the supplies, Carl returned to where Capt. Write had been wounded. Although he was fatality wounded, Write kept giving orders to his company. Carl stayed with Capt. Write and only left him to deliver supplies. The men got a jeep and moved Write to a aid station in a more secure area. The medics knew there was nothing they could do for Write, so they attempted to keep him comfortable. Capt. Write died of his wounds. Before he died, Write had asked that roses be put on his grave. But since the men could not find roses, Carl Nickols placed a native red flower on Write's grave.
Carl also recalled that while A Company's bivouac was near an American Artillery unit, the bivouac was attacked by Japanese planes which came in low. During the strafing and bombing, Sgt. Ivan Wilmer was attempting to reach his tank when he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese bomb. He was killed instantly.
On another occasion, Carl remembered that the tankers were listening to a San Francisco radio station on their tanks' radios. The radio announcer spoke of how the soldiers on Bataan needed ammunition. Carl remembered thinking that they needed food not ammunition; they had plenty of ammunition! As the announcer continued to talk, he said that all was quiet on Bataan tonight. The men thought it was one of the funniest things they had ever heard since they were in the middle of one the largest Japanese barrages of the war.
On April 9, 1942, Carl and the other men received the word that General King had surrendered them to the Japanese. Carl and the other men destroyed their equipment and ammunition and waited for the Japanese. It was his belief that had the soldiers known what lay ahead of them, they would have fought to the bitter end.
The next day the Japanese showed up. It was at that moment that Carl officially became a Prisoner of War. The soldiers slapped the Americans and took anything they wanted from them. A short time later A Company was ordered to move to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
It was from Mariveles that Carl began what became known as the death march. In his group of POWs was his best friend, Bob Stewart. In Carl's opinion when they started the march, sickness and hunger were the greatest enemies facing the members of A Company.
Carl and Bob were completely exhausted by the third day of the march. This was due to the fact that they had no food or water. Bob had already fallen twice, but he was able to get up and continue marching. The Japanese also liked to leave the POWs sitting in the sun for hours. When the men found shade, the Japanese started them marching again.
At some point both Carl and Bob were too tired to go on any further. Both fell to the ground. A Japanese guard who was suppose to bayonet anyone who fell came up to Carl and stuck his bayonet into the ground inches from Carl's nose. He did this again near Bob. Laughing, he walked away allowing the two men to rest on the side of the road. Both men fell asleep and slept for about three hours. Carl recalled that when they awoke, they got up and continued the march.
The hardest thing that Carl faced on the march was the lack of food and water. During his time on the march toward San Fernando, Carl was fed one handful of rice. He and Bob Stewart went up to an artesian well and took water at one point. To their amazement, nothing was done to them.
The longer Carl was on the march the more stretched out his group of marchers became. Capt. Thorman, who had been in the POW group behind him, caught up to him on the march. By the time the POWs reached San Fernando, A Company was pretty much together in one group.
At San Fernando, Carl and the other POWs were
packed into small boxcars. They were
packed in so tightly that those who died
remained standing. At Capas, the POWs
disembarked the cars and walked the last few
miles to Camp O'Donnell. It had taken Carl
six or seven days to complete the march.
In Carl's opinion, the Japanese hated the Filipinos more than the Americans. The reason was that the Filipinos were Asians and chose to fight with the Americans. When the Japanese captured a Filipino guerilla, they took great pleasure in torturing the man.
One of the favorite torches used by the Japanese was what became known as the water treatment. The Japanese would stretch the man out and force a hose down his throat. The Japanese filled the man's stomach with water beyond its limit. They then would than jump on it. Most guerillas died after receiving this treatment.
When the new camp at Cabanatuan opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell, Carl was sent there. It was his belief that there were few to no atheists in the camps. Being Catholic, Carl went to mass everyday. He even recalled seeing Japanese guards at mass.
To keep their spirits up, the POWs put on shows. In Carl's opinion, they couldn't sing or dance, but they were the best shows he had ever seen.
While Carl was at Cabanatuan, the Japanese instituted the blood brother rule. If one POW escaped, those men with the next five numbers lower than his and five men with the next five numbers higher than his would be executed. To prevent escapes, the prisoners posted their own guards. These guards patrolled the perimeter of the camp at night.
As the war went on and it became apparent to the Japanese that the Americans would be invading the Philippines, the Japanese began to send large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries. On November 17, 1944, Carl was sent to Ft. McKinley for processing. During the processing, he was diagnosed as being too ill to make the trip to Japan. Instead of going to Japan, Carl was sent to Bilibid Prison on January 6, 1945. There, he was assigned to the 12th Replacement Battalion.
Carl recalled that he and the other POWs knew that it was just a matter of time before the Americans reached Manila. They just did not know when they would get there.
The night of February 2, 1945, Carl and the other POWs listened to the battle raging around them outside the prison's walls. The fighting continued throughout the night. Around 6:30 pm, the firing stopped. The following night was quiet.
Around 10:30 am, the morning of February 3, 1945, the Japanese pulled out of the prison. The Japanese commanding officer told the prisoners that they should not leave the compound. At 7:30 am, the morning of February 4, 1945, a boarded up window in the building holding the POWs was broken down and American soldiers entered the building. Carl and the other men had been liberated.
Carl and the other men were taken to San Carlos. They next were flown to Leyte. From Leyte, Carl returned to the United States on March 16, 1945. He was the second member of Company A to be liberated. Carl returned home in March 1945 and shared his stories of life as a Japanese POW.
Carl spent the rest of his life in Janesville. He married Jeanette Thiele a U.S. Army nurse he met while hospitalized in Indiana. He was discharged from the army on April 17, 1946. Carl & Jeanette raised a family of six children. He was employed by Parker Pen Company in Janesville.
Carl N. Nickols passed away on December 30, 1993. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Janesville.