Prater

 

Pvt. Lacy Lonzo Prater


    Pvt. Lacy L. Prater was born on August 10, 1914, in Floyd County, Kentucky, to William B. Prater and Rhoda Blakinship-Prater.  He and his four brothers and sister were raised in Abbot and Marion, Kentucky.  His youngest brother died as a child.  
   Lacy was residing in Alger, Ohio, when he was inducted into the U.S. Army on February 5, 1941, at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio.  He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and was assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  During the maneuvers, the 192nd, which was part of the Red Army,  broke through the defenses of the the Blue Army and was on its way to overrun the headquarters of the army when the maneuvers were suddenly cancelled.  The Blue Army was under the command of General George S. Patton.
  
  After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  On the side of a hill, they were informed that they were being sent overseas as part as operation "PLUM."  Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.  Those men 29 years or older were allowed to resign from federal service and replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion's M2A2 tanks and it's scout cars were replaced with M-3 tanks and half-tracks.
    The battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived in San Francisco.  They were taken by ferry to Angel Island where they given physicals and inoculated.  Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.

    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.

    For the next four months, the tankers held positions so that the other units could disengage and form a defensive line.  They repeated this maneuver over and over again.

   
    At Kabu, C Company's tanks were hidden in brush.  The Japanese troops passed the tanks for three hours without knowing that they were there.  While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing.  It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered.  The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.  They then fell back to Cabanatuan.

    C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks.  It was at Baluiag that C Company's tanks won the first tank battle victory of World War II against enemy tanks.  After the battle, C Company made its way south.  When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment.  The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.

    On December 31, 1941, the commanding officer of C Company sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag.  The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way.  Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, the company set up it's defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. 

    Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge.  The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks.  A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.  

    Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.  One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge.   Lt. Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.  

    Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag.  He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple.  The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.  Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.

     When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge.  The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks.  Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.

    Kennady's platoon held it's fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt.  The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them.  By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.  

    The tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group.  When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown.  Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river.  Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice.  This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.

    The tanks were spaced about 100 yards apart.  The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them.  The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.

    Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire.  They then used their .37 mm guns.  The fighting was such a rout that the the tankers were using a .37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.

    The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire.  From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked.  Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns. 

    After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across.  The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.

    In addition to serving as a rear guard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left behind.  They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese.    
    The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese had lunched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line.  Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line.  The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out.  One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon.  The tanks would do this one at a time. 
    The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole.  Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks.  Each man had a bag of hand grenades.  As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
    The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole.  The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese.  The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn't have to smell the rotting flesh.
    On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan.  C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line.  They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.  Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.

    The morning of the April 9, 1942, at 6:45 the tankers received the order "crash" and destroyed their tanks.  When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to Mariveles where they started the death march.
    
From Mariveles, the members of C Company made their way north along the east coast of Bataan.  The first five miles of the march the were more difficult since the march was uphill.  The POWs also were denied food and received little water.  Those who attempted to get water from the artesian wells that flowed across the road were often killed.
  
    When the POWs reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull-pin. In one corner, was a trench that was used as a toilet by the POWs.  The surface was alive with maggots.
    At some point, the POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men, marched to the train station at San Fernando, and packed into small wooden
boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were known as forty or eights.  This was because each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  Since the detachments were made up of 100 men, the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car.  The POWs who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.

    The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.  The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base which was put into use by the Japanese as a POW Camp.  There was only one water spigot for the entire camp.  The POWs had to stand in line for hours to get a drink.  The guards often turned off the water because they could.  Disease ran wild among the POWs, because they had no medicine to treat the sick.  As many as 50 men died each day.
    Being considered healthy, Lacy was sent to Cabanatuan when the camp was opened by the Japanese to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.  It is not known if he was sent to the camp when it opened or if he out on any work detail before he was a POW in the camp.  Medical records from the camp show that he was admitted on April 8, 1943.  Why he was admitted and when he was released were not recorded on the records.
     Lacy was selected to be sent to Japan.  On July11, 1944, trucks arrived at the camp and took selected POWs to Manila and Pier 7.  The POWs, at 8:00 A.M., were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru on July 17th and forced into the number one hold.  When the Japanese realized they could not get all the POWs into the hold, they opened the second hold.  After midnight, the morning of July 18th, the ship was moved from the pier but dropped anchor in the harbor, near a breakwater, and waited for a convoy to form.  After over 24 hours in the holds, the Japanese finally gave the POWs water and food.

    The ship moved again on July 23rd, at 8:00 A.M., and dropped anchor at 7:00 P.M. off Corregidor. On July 24th, a convoy was ready and the ship sailed as part of it.  At 3:00 A.M. on July 26th, the convoy came under attack from an American Wolf Pack made up of the U.S.S. Crevale, the U.S.S. Angler, and the U.S.S. Flasher.  One ship, the Otari Yama Maru, was  hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher which was a part of a three submarine wolf pack.   The POWs saw the flames from the explosion shoot over the hatches of the holds.
    One of the worst things to happen during this part of the voyage was several POWs were murdered by other POWs.  The remaining ships in the convoy made it to Takao, Formosa, arriving at 9:00 A.M. on July 28th.  They remained in harbor all day and sailed at 7:00 P.M.

    From July 30th until August 2nd, the ships sailed through a storm.  They were issued new clothing on August 3rd before the ship arrived at midnight, August 4th at Moji.  At 8:00 in the morning, they disembarked and were marched to a darkened movie theater.  They remained there until they were formed into detachments and taken to the train station.  They boarded a train and rode it to various camps along the line.  In Lacy's case, he was taken to Osaka Camp #3-B , which was also known as Oeyama.  The POWs in the camp worked in a nickel mine and at a smelter owned by Nippon Yakin Kogyo and  at the Hachidate Branch Nickel Refinery as laborers. They also were marched nearly six miles to a nickel mine.  In 1945, the POWs were sent to the Miyazu docks to work as stevedores.  Most of what they handle was food for the Japanese Army, so they stole beans to eat.

    In May, 1945, the first B-29s appeared over the camp.  The bombings became more frequent.  On July 30th, B-29s bombed Miyazu which was a nearby town were the POWs worked on the docks.  Since the bombing run ran over the camp, two  POWs were killed.  About two weeks later, a massive air raid on the town took place and lasted all night until it ended about midday.   
    Lacy remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 2, 1945.  He returned to the Philippines and promoted to Private First Class.  He was discharged from the Army on October 10, 1946. tin
    Lacy Prater passed away on July 25, 1990, in Florida.  He was buried at Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell, Florida, in Section 301, Site 1301.


 

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