|Pfc. William Lee
Pfc. William L. Peavler was born on June 14, 1917,
in a log cabin, to William J. Peavler and Omie
Camden-Peavler in Washington
County, Kentucky, and had three
sisters and three brothers. When he was a child,
his parents divorced. After completing the
eighth grade, he left school and went to work as a
hired hand on a farm.
At some point, he joined the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg. In September 1940, the tank company was federalized and designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 28th the company was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where it was joined by three other National Guard Tank Companies to form the battalion.
In January 1941, instead of designating one of the letter companies as Headquarters Company, the army allowed the creation of totally new company. Men from each of the letter companies, including William, were reassigned to the company. It is not known what job he performed with the company.
In August 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. Headquarters Company performed administration duties and tank maintenance. At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk without being given a reason. They had expected to return to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill at Camp Polk, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. It was at this time, men 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. This battalion had been sent to the fort but did not taken part in the maneuvers. The M3A1 "Stuart" tanks from the battalion were also given to the 192nd.
Traveling west over southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, on Monday, October 27th as part of a three ship convoy that arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover. After many of the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. In Hawaii, the soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island. They sailed again on Wednesday, November 5th, for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.
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 the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water before sailing the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island, at night, in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a would soon be at war. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay and docked at Manila later in the day. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked and rode buses to the fort. Those assigned to trucks and drove them to the fort north of Manila. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who 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 live in tents, but he had not learned of their arrival days before they arrived. After making sure they received Thanksgiving Dinner, he went and had his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the voyage. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. William and the other members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had no weapons to be used against planes.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ Company's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders. At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. Lawrence was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
Sitting, watching, and waiting, the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off,while the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, William's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two of the men were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks. They were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas. The cars were known as "forty and eights," because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars since there was no place to fall. From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days, and many died while waiting for a drink. Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep graves. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or that the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they needed to do something about the death rate among the prisoners, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The POWs who were considered healthy were sent to the camp. William was one of the healthy POWs.
After arriving at the camp, William became ill. Medical records kept by the medical staff indicate he was admitted to the camp hospital on June 18, 1942, and remained in the hospital until August 25th.
On December 12, 1942, William went out on a work detail to Lipa, Batangas. The POWs on the detail were used to build runways for an airfield. He remained on the detail until September 23, 1944. A day or two before the detail ended, planes from a U.S. Naval carrier appeared over the airfield and strafed and bombed it.
The POWs on the detail were taken to the Port Area of Manila. The detachment that William was in was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru. Another detachment had not completely arrived, but their ship, the Hokusen Maru, was not ready to sail. The Japanese decided to swap the POW detachments so the ship could sail.
The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those who were out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaben. The next day, it was at San Fernando, La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th but somehow missed the ship. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
The POWs were disembarked on November 8th from the ship and bathed, and the decision was made to hold them on Formosa. During their time on Formosa, they were held at Inrin Temporary Camp which was opened for them. Since they were such bad shape, the POWs were not required to do any hard labor. In January 1945, the POWs were boarded onto the Enoshima Maru which made it safely to Moji, Japan.
In Japan, William was taken to the Uguisusawa Train Station. From there they took a narrow cage train to Sendai Camp #3. When they left the train, they had to walk the last miles, to the camp, in deep snow and arrived on January 28th. In the camp, the POWs were used as slave labor in lead and zinc mining. The mine was operated by Mitsubishi Mining Company. William remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 12, 1945.
About liberation, William recalled, "We were liberated by the 68th Airborne. I wrote my mom and dad a letter, caught a plane, flew to Okinawa, then to Clark Field. In eight days they called out my name. I was going home!" He sailed for the United States, on September 23, 1945, on the U.S.A.T. General R. L. Howze, which arrived in at San Francisco on October 16, 1945, nearly four years to the day that he had sailed from there.
William was discharged from the Army on February 27, 1946, and married Emogene Hoderman the same year. He became the father of a daughter and six sons and worked in construction as a laborer. William L. Peavler passed away on March 4, 1978, in McCreary, Kentucky, during an emergency appendectomy operation and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
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