Nickols

Pfc. Carl N. Nickols


    Pfc. Carl N. Nickols was the son of Frank & Frances Nickols and was born on December 15, 1915.  He 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.  It is known that he was in business, for himself, as a beer distributor 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.  On November 28th, they boarded a train in Janesville for Fort. Knox, Kentucky.

    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.

    On January 13th the members of the company were assigned to attend various schools for training.  In Carl's case, he was assigned to ordinance.  It was his job to insure that the tank crews received the gasoline, weapons, and ammunition they needed during training.  

    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent on maneuvers to Louisiana from September 1st through 30th.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, where on the side of a hill they learned they were being sent overseas.  Most of the men received leaves home to say goodbye to friends and family.
    The reason for this move was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, on a routine patrol, when one of the pilots noticed something odd in the water.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water. and saw another flagged buoy in the distance.  The squadron flew toward it and came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its designated patrol and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed and reported what had been seen, it was too late to do anything that evening.
   The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was on August 15th that the decision was made to send the battalion to the Philippines.
    The battalion traveled by train routes to San Francisco, California, and were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island by the ferry the U.S.A.T Frank M. Coxe.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from its medical detachment, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other 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 Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were greeted by Col. Edward P. King who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He remained with the battalion and made sure they had what they needed and had Thanksgiving dinner, before he went to have his own dinner.

    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.  
    The tankers 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.

    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 the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by Capt. Walter Write.  The tank and half-track crews were brought up to full strength.  As the tankers watched, all the planes from the airfield took off, at 8:30 and filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch.

    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 planting mines on 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, but before he died, Write had asked that roses be put on his grave.  After he died the men could not find roses, so 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.  The Japanese also liked to leave the POWs sitting in the sun for hours.  Bob had already fallen twice, but he was able to get up and continue marching.  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, and they 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 used ti haul sugarcane.  They were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars.  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.
    Recalling the march, Carl said, "Most men will tell you the same thing. I wouldn't do it again, but for the experience I wouldn't give a million dollars for it.  You wouldn't believe what a man's body can take.  It's hard to believe you can survive with so little food or water."

    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 tortures 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.  Next, they would jump on on the man's stomach killing the man.  This was one of the favorite tortures used on the Filipino Guerrilla

    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 or higher than his would be executed.  To prevent escapes, the prisoners posted their own guards who 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. 

   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 and if they would be alive.

    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 P.M. the next day, the fighting stopped and 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 A.M. the morning of February 4, 1945, a boarded up window in the building holding the POWs was knocked down and American soldiers entered the building.  Carl and the other men had been liberated.

    To get them out of the battle area, the former POWs were taken to San Carlos.  They next were flown to Leyte, and from Leyte, Carl returned to the United States on the S.S. Monterey 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 was discharged from the Army on April 9, 1946.  He married Jeanette H. Thiele -  a former U.S. Army nurse whom he met while hospitalized - in Indiana at Saint John's Catholic Church in Goshen, Indiana, on September 29, 1946.  Carl & Jeanette raised a family of six children in Janesville where he was employed by Parker Pen Company.

    Carl N. Nickols passed away on December 30, 1993, and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin.


 

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