Pvt. Earl Leo Pratt
| Pvt. Earl
L. Pratt was born in August 22, 1913, in Hopewell,
Oklahoma, to Ora A. Pratt & Emma
Holt-Pratt. With his one sister and three
brothers, he was raised in Hopewell and graduated
high school there. After high school, he
worked on a farm.
On March 24, 1941, Earl was inducted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. It is not know what specific training he received at this time. After basic training in the late summer of 1941, he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion and sent to Camp Polk Louisiana, where he joined the battalion.
Earl's name was selected to join the 192nd Tank Battalion which was being sent overseas. He was assigned to Headquarters Company and replaced a National Guardsman who had been determined to be "too old" to go overseas or who was married. His new company traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and taken by ferry to Angel Island. On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii, as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd, and the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam. The ships 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 its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the ship was from a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables, and sailed the same day for Manila. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later the same day. At 3:00 P.M. most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg, while some drove trucks to the base. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. The fact was that he had not learned of their arrival until days before their ship docked. He made sure that they had what they needed, and that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
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 portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
At six in the morning, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to move their all the members of their platoons to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. The 192nd had been assigned to the southern portion of the airfield. The tankers watched that morning as the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers watched as 54 planes approached the airfield. As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
As a member of HQ Company, Earl remained in the bivouac of the battalion. After the attack, the tankers saw the carnage done during the attack. The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps. The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
HQ, B, and C Companies received orders, on December 21st, that they were to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough gasoline for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
Earl took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23rd until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had been caught off behind the battle line. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket. According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades. As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole. The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I, and one out of three exploded.
The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole. The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks.
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ'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."
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment which meant that Earl 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. The POWs knelt their for hours.
The company finally boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. 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.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, 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. As he drove off, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles, where the POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours without water or food. 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 who could do little to protect themselves, 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 by the Japanese 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 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.
The POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments. Once this was done, they were marched to the train station in San Fernando. There, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing, since there was no room for them to fall to the floor. They remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas and 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. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink. The death rate among the POWs was as high as 50 men a day. 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. 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 the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The rate of death among the POWs was so high that the Japanese knew they had to do something to lower it. They opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The Japanese sent the healthier POWs to the camp. It is known that Earl was in the camp hospital on June 21, 1942. On that date, he had been tested for tuberculosis. It is not known when he was discharged. He most likely worked on the camp farm. He remained in the camp until the fall of 1943, when his name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Japan.
The POWs were taken by truck to Manila. They were boarded onto the Coral Maru which was also known as the Taga Maru. The ship sailed on September 20, 1943, and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on September 23rd. It remained in port until September 26th, when it sailed. It arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5, 1943.
The POWs were disembarked and divided into detachments to be sent to different camps. Earl's POW detachment was sent Hirohata #12-B where the were used as slave labor at the Seitetsu Steel Mills. He remained in the camp until the end of the war. He was liberated on September 9, 1945, and returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.
Earl returned to Oklahoma, was discharged, and married. He spent the rest of his life in Oklahoma, where he passed away on June 24, 1991, in Ellis County and was buried at Allmon Cemetery in Arnett County, Oklahoma.