Pvt. Joseph Pickney Pevey

    Pvt. Joseph P. Pevey was born in Chunky, Mississippi, on July 4, 1908.  He was the youngest of four children, and the only son, of Joseph F. and Rosie Donella Pevey.  His mother was a full blood Choctaw Indian from one of the Mississippi Indian Clans.  He was called "Joe" by his family members.

    Joe had the normal life of a child growing up in the south.  Like many children of the time, he did not have a formal education.  As a teen, he worked in the fields and did odd jobs.  At one point, he even worked in a coal mine.  Joe was known as an avid hunter and fisherman and had learned these skills as a child.  As a young adult. Joe traveled throughout Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana seeking employment.  

    In 1929, Joe married Bertha Althea Lumbley.  They became the parents of three children, Joseph, Rosie and Geneva.  Since work was hard to come by, Joe enlisted in the U.S. Army at Camp Blanding, Florida, to support his family.  He did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and qualified as a tank driver with C Company, 68th Armored Regiment. 
    During Joe's time at Ft. Benning, he rose in rank to private first class and was promoted to corporal on on March 26, 1941. 
At some point, he was transferred to the 753rd Tank Battalion and assigned to B Company.  The battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana in the early summer of 1941.  On June 26th, he was promoted to sergeant and became a tank commander.

    In late 1941, the army issued orders that the 192nd Tank Battalion, which was made up of National Guard Companies from Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky, be sent overseas.  Those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  To replace these men, volunteers were sought.  It was at this time at Camp Polk, Louisiana, that Joe became a member of the 192nd and was assigned to C Company.  To join the battalion, he was demoted in rank to private.

    The 192nd received new M-3 tanks and new half-tracks to replace their reconnaissance cars.  The equipment was loaded onto flatcars and the tank battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.
    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 8, 1941,  December 7th in the United States, Joe and the rest of the soldiers heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  Joe and the other tankers were sent to the perimeter of the airfield, with their tanks, to guard against Japanese paratroopers.

    Around 12:45 in the afternoon, planes appeared in the sky.  At first, the Americans believed these planes were American.  It was only after bombs began exploding that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  Not having the proper guns, the tankers could do little more than watch the Japanese attack the airfield.  After the attack, the tankers gave aid to the wounded.

    As a member of C Company, Joe fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands.  He with his company took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  Tanks of B and C Companies were sent to the western side of the Bataan Peninsula.  There, they were used to wipe out the Japanese Marines who had accidentally been landed in the wrong place.  To wipe out the Japanese, the tanks with soldiers sitting on the back of them drove over the Japanese foxholes.  When the tanks passed over a foxhole, the soldiers dropped hand grenades into it.  The Japanese Marines were completely wiped out.

    General James Weaver also sent the tanks of C Company to attack the Japanese troops who had landed behind Filipino and American lines at Silaiim and Anyasan Points.  According Captain Alvin Poweleit, the battalion surgeon, the tanks caused heavy damage to the Japanese.

    On April 9, 1942, Joe with the other members of C Company became  Prisoners Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered.  After receiving the order to destroy their tanks, Joe and the other members of C Company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of the peninsula.  It was from there that Joe started what became known as the death march.

    Joe with his company made their way to San Fernando.  During the march they were fed only once and given no water.  At one point, he and the other POWs had to run through an area where Japanese artillery was exchanging fire with the Island of Corregidor.  As they ran, shells landed around them.  

    When they reached San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars so tightly that those who died remained standing.  When the POWs disembarked from the cars, the bodies of the dead fell out.  Joe and the other men walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a unfinished Filipino Army training camp.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp.  Men had to stand in line for days to get a drink of water.  Conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as 50 men died each day from disease.  The burial detail worked day and night to bury the dead.

    When Cabanatuan opened, Joe was sent there.  It is known he was assigned to Barracks #8 in the camp.  At this time, it is not known which work details Joe went out on while a POW.  Medical records at the camp show that Joseph was admitted to the camp hospital on March 29, 1943, because he had cysts that were the result of having malaria.   When he was released from the hospital was not recorded.

    Sometime after Joseph was released from the hospital at Cabanatuan, he went out on a work detail.  Not much is known about the detail except that it was referred to as the Army Air Group. He apparently became ill while on the detail; medical records from the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison show that he was admitted on July 22, 1944, suffering from cellulitis.  He was discharged on July 30th and returned to the work detail. 

    The same records indicate that Joseph was readmitted to the hospital ward on August 4, 1944, with beriberi.  Because the records are in poor condition, a date of discharge is not known.
    When it became apparent to the Japanese that the American military forces were about to winning back the Philippines, the Japanese decided to transport the healthier POWs to Japan or another occupied country.

    On December 7th, the Japanese told the American medical staff of the prisoners to put together a list of POWs who were healthy enough to be sent to Japan.  Joseph's name was put on the list.

    The morning of December 12th, roll was taken and Joe's name and the names of the other men on the list were read.  That evening, Joe said his goodbyes to his friends.  At 4:00 a.m. in the morning of December 13th, the POWs were awakened and fed breakfast.  1,619 POWs were marched to Pier 7 in Manila.   Around 6:00 P.M., the POWs boarded the ship and were forced into one of the ship's three holds.  The ship remained docked in Manila and did not sail until 3:00 A.M. the next morning.  Inside the holds, the temperature was near 100 degrees.

    The Oryoku Maru sailed as part of MATA-37 convoy on December 14th.  Around 8:00 a.m. in the morning, while the prisoners were receiving breakfast, American fighter planes appeared in the sky.  When the sound of the engines changed, the POWs knew they were diving to attack.  Since the Japanese refused to mark the ships with Red Crosses which would indicate it was carrying POWs, the pilots had no idea that they were attacking a prison ship.  

    In the hold the POWs crowded together.  With each explosion, chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling.   A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying.  "Father forgive them.  They know not what they do."  After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. 

    When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions.  The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset.  Overall, six bombs hit the ship.  During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded.  One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.  Blood dripped onto the men in the holds.

    That night in the ship's holds, the POWs could hear the sound of the Japanese passengers being loaded into lifeboats.  By the next morning, all the Japanese passengers were off the ship.

    The morning of December 15th, U.S. Navy planes resumed the attack.  Again, the attacks came in waves.  A guard shouted into the holds that the prisoners were going ashore.  The wounded would be the first evacuated.  As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned.  The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners.  It was not until the pilots saw the POWs climbing out of the ship's holds that they realized it was a prison ship and stopped the attack.  

     Joe and the other POWs swam to shore near Olongoa, Subic Bay, Luzon.  While they swam, the Japanese fired at them with machine guns.  After the POWs had abandoned ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk.  

    The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court.  When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack.  

    While the POWs were at Olongoa, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid.  Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck.  They were taken into the mountains and never seen again.  It was learned later that the POWs were taken to a cemetery and executed.

    On December 18, 1945, Pvt. Joseph Pickney Pevey died.  Could Joe have been one of the fifteen men taken into the mountains and shot?   Or, could he have been one of the six POWs who had been wounded and died while being held on the tennis courts? 

    The official army records states that Pvt. Joseph Pickney Pevey died on Friday, December 15, 1944, during the attack on the Oryoku Maru.  But, the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion, which was written by 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifield who was on the Oryoku Maru, states that Pvt. Joseph P. Pevey died on Monday, December 18, 1944, from his wounds.

    Whichever date is correct, Pvt. Joseph Pickney Pevey died while being transported to Japan.  He left behind a wife and three children.

    After the war, the name of Pvt. Joseph P. Pevey was added to the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.
    In 2016, the United States set up a permanent team to identify remains of American MIAs in the Philippines.  At this time, they are working in the Subic Bay Area attempting to identify remains found there.  It appears, that some of the remains found in the area may be those of Pvt. Joseph P. Pevey.




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