Pvt. William Franklin Oldaker
Pvt. William F. Oldaker was
born December 26, 1913, in El Reno, Oklahoma, to
Eliza M. and Archie B. Oldaker. He was one
of five children and had two sisters and two
brothers. He grew up in Estella, a small
rural town about five miles from Vinita,
Oklahoma. There, he attended the Rock School
and completed the sixth grade. He was known
as "Bill" to his family and friends.
On March 27, 1941, Bill was inducted into Federal Service at Fort Still, Oklahoma. Sometime after his induction and trained at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. In the late summer of 1941, he traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana, there he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. Although the maneuvers were taking place there, the 753rd did not take part in them.
After the maneuvers, the army began to recruit soldiers to replace members of the 192nd Tank Battalion who had been released from federal service. It was at this time that Bill joined the 192nd and became a member of B Company as a half-track driver.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam. When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
Being a half-track driver, Bill was assigned to a platoon of B Company tanks. His half track commander was Sgt. Jim Bashleben. Together, they experienced several close calls while fighting the Japanese.
On one occasion, Bill and Sgt. Bashleben were driving down a road when shells began landing around them. One shell landed to the side of their half-track in an area where an American unit was bivouacked. Sixteen men died in the explosion. On a different occasion, Bill witnessed a Japanese shell hit a school bus loaded with Filipino civilians.
During the withdraw into Bataan, Bill and Sgt. Bashleben were with a platoon of B Company tanks near a river. The platoon picked a grove of trees to hide in for the night. The Japanese must have seen what they were doing, because the next morning a Japanese barrage began. Shells exploded in the treetops and around them. Bill and Sgt. Bashleben jumped out of the half track and laid down on the sloped bank of the river while shells exploded around them and in the river. When the barrage ended, the two men found that they were soaking wet.
The tank platoon they were with crossed the river and went up the other slope. Bill's half-track was the last vehicle in the column and could not get up the slope. He and Sgt. Bashleben continued to attempt to get up the slope as the Japanese closed in on their position and the tanks got further away. Sgt. Bud Bardowski noticed that the half-track was missing and turned his tank around. When he found Bill and Sgt. Bashleben, their half-track was stuck on the riverbank. Sgt. Bardowski threw them a towline and pulled the half-track up the slope with his tank. In all likelihood, he had saved the lives of the two men since the Japanese overran the area.
On April 9, 1942, Bill became a Prisoner Of War. Being that Sgt. Bashleben had been sent to the front without him, Bill with the other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles. It was from there that Bill began what became known as the death march.
Bill believed that the worse part of the march was the lack of water and food. The sun beating down on the prisoners who were weak and often sick made the situation worse. Bill recalled that many soldiers died because they had dysentery and malaria. Others were bayoneted because they tried to take drinks from the artesian wells along the road. He also witnessed the Japanese soldiers kill Filipino children who gave food and water to the POWs.
Bill recalled that one Filipino boy ran alongside their group and hid in the jungle when the guards got close. The boy gave water to the POWs as they walked. Bill believed the boy was a "guardian angel" sent by God. He believed this because the boy was never caught by the Japanese. The rest of his life, Bill wondered what happened to the boy who had risked his life to show kindness to him and other POWs.
At San Fernando, Bill and the other prisoners boarded boxcars. They were packed in so tight that those who died remained standing. He disembarked at Capas and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Bill was later sent to Cabanatuan when the new camp opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell. He remained there until he was went out on a work detail. The only thing known about the detail is that it is referred to in reports as the "AV. BU. Detail."
While on the detail, Bill sprained his ankle and was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid on January 5, 1944. There was no date of discharged recorded. After returning to the detail, he came down with dengue fever and was sent to Bilibid Prison and admitted to the hospital ward on February 8th and discharged on February 13th. On March 2nd, he was admitted again. This time he was suffering from Benign Tertian Malaria. He was discharged but readmitted on April 18th suffering from malaria and benign Tatiana. He was discharged on April 22nd and sent back to the airfield to work.
Bill was picked for transport to Japan and put into the hold of a Nissyo Maru on July 15th. The ship sailed on July 17, 1944. The POWs were packed into the holds so tight that when someone died, the other prisoners would pass the body above their heads. They then stacked the bodies in the corner until they were lifted from the hold and thrown into the sea.
Bill was afraid to go to sleep out of fear of being attacked by other prisoners. He recalled that there were prisoners so desperate that they drank their own urine. Although he was desperate for water, Bill could never get himself to drink urine.
The convoy his ship was in was composed of six ships. Two of the ships were sunk by American submarines. The Americans had no idea that the ships were carrying POWs. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa. It is not known when the ship arrived, but it remained at Takao until July 27th. The next day, the ship sailed from Formosa for Moji, Japan and arrived there on August 3rd.
Upon reaching Japan, Bill was sent to Narumi Camp in the Osaka area on August 4, 1944. The POWs in the camp were used as slave labor for the Daido Electric Steel Company and manufactured wheels for Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company. The POWs did manual labor. Those could operate lathes or milling machines were given jobs using those skills.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in barracks that were 25 feet wide by 140 feet long. Each prisoner had a sleeping space of six feet. The POW food varied and sometime was hulled rice, hulled wheat, and hulled koliang.
To get to the plant, the POWs had to ride a train with the Japanese civilians. The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars. The Americans who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts.
It was also at this camp that the POWs witnessed a prisoner put to death for stealing. One night, the man crawled into the camp kitchen to steal food. For whatever reason, the man did not get out. Realizing he would be caught, he attempted to kill himself. The Japanese allowed the man to heal and then made him stand naked in front of the other POWs. The Japanese then proceeded to starve the man to death.
In the little free time that the POWs had, they would sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. The prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp. The POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from raids to knock out the train station. As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters.
One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in. No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night. It was not too long after this that the POWs heard that they were going to be moved to another camp.
One day, the POWs heard that the emperor was going to speak to his people over loudspeakers. Through the interpreter, the POWs learned of the surrender. when he told them "Between your country and mine we are now friends." The camp was turned over to the POWs and the guards vanished. The guards left behind their weapons so the POWs posted guards to protect themselves against any possible attack. The POWs also marked the camp so that it could be spotted by American planes. The B-29s began dropping fifty gallon barrels of supplies to the former prisoners on September 2, 1945.
The strangest experience for the former prisoners was the fact the Japanese now insisted on bowing to them. It also seemed a little strange to them that the Japanese brought all the food dropped by the B-29s to them without taking anything for themselves. This was strange to the men, because they knew that the Japanese civilians did not have much more to eat than the former POWs.
American troops entered the camp on September 4th. On September 12th, the former POWs received orders to move south. They boarded trains and went to southern Japan. There they boarded the USS Rescue for medical treatment.
Bill and the other men were returned to the Philippines to be fattened up. He sailed for the United States on September 24, 1945. He was treated at Ft. Madigan Hospital in Washington state. He was discharged on February 23, 1946, and returned home to Oklahoma.
After the war, Bill married. He and his wife, Pauline, were the parents of two children, Bill and Linda. To support his family, he first worked as an automobile mechanic, but later took correspondence classes and became a electrician.
William F. Oldaker, passed away on August 23, 2001. He was buried at Timpson Chapel Cemetery.