Poweleit

 

Capt. Alvin Charles Poweleit, M. D.


    Captain Alvin C. Poweleit was born June 8, 1908, to August Poweleit & Caroline Yutze-Poweleit.  His mother died and his father remarried.  He had two sisters and one brother, a half-sister, and a half-brother.  Alvin married, Loretta Catherine Thesing, on June 28, 1930, and attended the University of Louisville.  He graduated from the university's medical school in 1936.  After residency, he had a general medical practice in Newport, Kentucky.  His wife and him lived at 327 East Park Avenue in Newport, Kentucky. 
    While in school, Alvin enlisted in the U. S. Army Reserve and received the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was trained in infantry tactics during the summers.
    In January, 1941, Alvin was called to federal duty.  Reporting to Fort Knox, he was assigned to the newly formed medical detachment of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  During this time, Alvin and the other members of the detachment trained to operate the battalion's trucks, motorcycles, reconnaissance cars and tanks.  They also learned to fire every gun used by the battalion. Alvin, in his own opinion was pretty good on the .50 machine gun.
    In the late summer of 1941, Alvin and the medical detachment traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana for maneuvers.  The medical detachment did not take part in the maneuvers, but they did treat the members of the battalion for injuries and snake bites.
    After the maneuvers, on the side of a hill, Alvin and the other members of the battalion learned that the 192nd was being sent overseas.  At this time Alvin was promoted to captain because the ranking medical officer was considered too old to go overseas.

    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, while the maintenance section remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
    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.
  Alvin and Ardell Schei, the company clerk, worked to organize the military records of the battalion.  Part of the reason this was done was because D Company was going to be reassigned to the 194th Tank Battalion. This transfer would never take place.
    On December 8, 1941, Alvin and the other members learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  At 12:45 pm, just after lunch, bombs began to fall on Clark Field.  Since the 192nd Tank Battalion were assigned to tents along the main road to Fort Stotsenburg, Alvin drove to the airfield to see if he could aid the wounded and dying.
    As he was doing this, Japanese fighters came in to strafe the airfield.  To avoid being hit, Alvin hid in a bomb crater.  He recalled that the dead were everywhere.  After the attack Alvin continued to give first aid to the wounded.
    Since the American Army Air Corps was destroyed, Alvin and the other members of the medical detachment lived with strafing and bombing during the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula.  Alvin and the other members of the battalion worked to provide adequate medical care for the letter companies of the battalion.
    On December 21st, Alvin was with B Company when one platoon of its tanks were sent north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops.  Alvin stated that Gen. Wainwright was advised, by Lt. Col. Wickord, that the tanks should not be sent into the area without reconnaissance.  According to Alvin, Wainwright demanded the tanks be sent into the area.  The result was that the tank platoon was lost.
    One day while doing this job, Alvin, Sgt. Howard Massey, and Cpl. John Reynolds encountered a Japanese patrol.  The three soldiers were in a stream bed when they heard a twig snap.  Carefully, they made their way back to their truck and hid in the brush.
    As they watched, a Japanese patrol made its way down the bed of the stream.  Each of the medical detachment men aimed their guns at a specific member of the patrol.  They opened fire and continued to fire until the patrol was wiped out.
    According to Alvin, the reason Bataan held out for four months was because Gen. James Weaver was a good tactician.  Weaver, by moving the tanks around, convinced the Japanese that the Americans had a greater number of tanks then they actually did.  A Japanese officer, on Formosa, would later confirm this belief in a conversation with Alvin while he was a POW there.
    On April 9, 1942, the medical detachment were given their order to surrender.  They remained in their bivouac for two days until they received orders from the Japanese to report to Mariveles.
    At Mariveles, the soldiers were searched.  It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that Alvin started what became known as the death march.
    As he marched, Alvin saw bodies of the dead lying along the road.  He believed there were ten bodies for every mile.  The bodies were bloated from lying in the sun and had maggots crawling on them.  Alvin also witnessed three Filipinos have their heads cut off for giving rice to the Prisoners of War.
    All these things built up in Alvin until he snapped.  When a Japanese guard approached to hit a POW, Alvin grabbed him and snapped his neck.  He and another POWs hid the guard's body and gun in the undergrowth.  As he continued the march, he heard the guards call the missing guards name.  As far as Alvin knew, the guard's body was never found.
    At San Fernando, Alvin and the other prisoners were crammed into boxcars.  They rode in the cars until they reached Capas.  There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last six miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    In Camp O'Donnell, Alvin and the other doctors attempted to provide medical services to the sick and dying.  This was nearly impossible to do since the doctors had no medical supplies.  The situation was so bad that the as many as 50 POWs died each day.  The work detail to bury the dead worked endlessly.
    On June 5, 1942, the Japanese opened Cabanatuan to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.  The healthier prisoners were sent to this new camp.  Those too ill to move or too close to death remained behind at Cabanatuan.  Alvin remained to administer medical aid to them.
    Although most of the prisoners had been transferred to Cabanatuan, Alvin and some other POWs remained at Camp O'Donnell until January 1, 1943.  It was on that date that Alvin was sent to Cabanatuan.  He did not remain in the camp long, because he was sent to Bongabon on February 7, 1943.  He remained there until October, 1943, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.
    In September, 1944, Alvin and many of the other POWs were sent to Manila.  There he was held at Bilibid Prison.  After receiving a physical, it was determined that he was healthy enough to be sent to Japan.  He and other POWs were boarded onto the Hokusen Maru and sailed for Hong Kong.  They next sailed for Formosa and arrived there on October 24, 1944.  The one lasting memory of the trip was that the floor of the ship's hold was covered in human waste.
    On Formosa, Alvin was held at Shirakawa and Taihoku POW camps.  He would remain there until the end of the war.  He and the other POWs learned of the end of the war on August 10, 1945.
   Alvin returned to Kentucky and was discharged, from the army, on September 9, 1946.  He went back to school and became a specialist in eye, ear and throat medicine.  He opened a practice in Covington, Kentucky, from which he retired.
   He became known for his aggressiveness in fighting cancer through surgical procedures that were considered risky in the 1950s.  He was viewed as someone who took this type of surgery from primitive medicine to modern medicine.
     On July 13, 1997, Dr. Alvin C. Poweleit died of injuries he received from a car accident.  He was 89 years old.  He is buried at Saint Stephen's Cemetery in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.

 


Return to Medical Detachment

Interview
Next