Preston

 

2nd Lt. Everett Rogers Preston


    2nd Lt. Everett R. Preston was the son of William Preston and Josephine Auton-Preston.  He was born on October 27, 1917, in Mercer County, Kentucky, and raised on Maggoffin Street in Harrodsburg.  He attended local schools and was a 1937 graduate of Harrodsburg High School.

    After high school, Everett was employed as an electrician in refrigeration repair.  He also joined the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard.  The tank company was headquartered in Harrodsburg.  He held the rank of sergeant when the company was federalized.

    On November 25, 1940, Everett's tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  He and the other soldiers traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for one year of military training. 

    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  It was after the maneuvers that the battalion learned that their time in the military had been extended from one to six years and that they were being sent overseas.  It was at this time that he was commissioned a second lieutenant and made a tank platoon commander.
    Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to 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.
    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 Thursday, November 20th the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  The tankers rode buses to the train station where they got out and took a train to Ft. Stostenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort 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.  Since it was Thanksgiving, King made sure all the men had eaten before he left to have his own dinner.
    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.

    Arriving in the Philippines, D Company was attached to the 194th Tank Battalion.  The official transfer of the company to the 194th was abandoned when the Japanese bombed Clark Airfield just ten hours after Pearl Harbor.  The company would later return to the command of the 192nd.

    During his time on Bataan, Everett was assigned to C and A Companies.  Everett spent the next four months fighting the long, slow delaying action against the Japanese.  In January 1942, Everett was the commanding officer of a platoon of tanks at Baliuag.  He was sent south to find a bridge or crossing across the river.  He never did find a crossing, and Lt. William Gentry went looking for him the next day to find out where he was.  He and the other men continued to fight without food or the hope of being relieved.

    On February 2, 1942, while assigned to C Company, in the area of the Agloloma and Anyasas Rivers.  Everett received the Purple Heart after receiving wounds in an engagement against the Japanese.

    The morning of April 9, 1942, Everett learned of the surrender of Bataan to the Japanese.  He ordered his tankers to destroy their tanks and waited for orders from the Japanese.

    Everett took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.  At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were forced into small metal boxcars.  They were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the POWs emptied the cars.

    From Capas, Everett walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  It is not known if Everett went out on a work detail, but it is known that he was held as a POW at Cabanatuan and assigned to Barracks #29.

    On October 26, 1942, Everett was selected to go out on a work detail to Mindano.  He and the other POWs marched from Cabanatuan to the barrio of Cabanatuan.  There, they boarded a train for Manila.  Unlike their previous train trip, the doors of the boxcars were left open for ventilation.

   After disembarking the train the POWs marched to Bilibid Prison.  Since there were no beds, they slept on the concrete floors.  They remained at the prison until they were marched to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto a freighter and taken to Mindanao.  The POWs remained in the prison for two days.

   On October 28th, the POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Erie Maru.  The ship sailed the same day for Lasang.  After stops at Iloilo and Cebu, the ship arrived at Lasang on November 7th.  The POWs disembarked and arrived at Davao on November 11th.  At Davao, there were two POW camps.  In each camp, the POWs built runways.

     At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide.  A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks.  In each barracks, were eighteen bays.  Twelve POWs shared a bay.  216 POWs lived in each barracks.  Four cages were later put in a bay.  Each cage held two POWs.

    The camp discipline was poor.  The American commanding officer changed frequently.  The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers.  Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers.  The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive. 

    At first, the work details were not guarded.  The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops.  The sick POWs made baskets.  In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied.  Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment.  They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.  It should be mentioned that on January 9, 1943, Preston's family learned he was a POW.

    As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible.  On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck.  Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed.  The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th.  The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse.  The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25th. They were then taken to Bilibid Prison.
    On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out spread among the POWs.  The POWs were given a farce of a physical and were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued.  They were told they would receive a meal to eat and one to take with them.  The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 A.M., so the lights were left on all night.  At 4:00 A.M. the morning of December 13th, the POWs were awakened.

    By 8:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men who had been selected for transport to Japan.  1, 618 POWs were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to fall-in.  The men received a meal and were marched to Pier 7 in Manila.  During the march down Luzon Boulevad, the POWs noticed the street cars weren't running andmany things needed to be repaired. 

     At the harbor, the POWs saw that American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports.  There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay.  When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked.  One was a run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape.  They soon discovered that one of the two nicer ships was theirs.

    The POWs were allowed to sit.  Many fell asleep and slept to around 3:45.  About 5:00 P.M., the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.  It is not known in which hold Preston was held in, but the sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around the diameter.  The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it. 

    About 3:30 A.M. on December 14th, the Oryoku Maru left Manila as part of the MATA-37 convoy bound for Takao, Formosa.  The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 P.M.  Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish and water.  By the swells in the water, the POWs knew that they were in open water.  While they were receiving their meals, the POWs heard the change in the engines of the planes. By the sound of the engines, as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy, the POWs knew they were being attacked.  Explosions were taking place all around the POWs and the ship rocked from the explosions.

    At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack.  It was hit at least three times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern.  Most of the POWs who were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions.  Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it.  Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevented most from penetrating.  Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours.

    In the hold the POWs crowded together.  Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling.  After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started.  A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them.  They know not what they do." 
    Bullets from the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties.  In all, the POWs would sweat out five air raids.  the one result was there was no evening meal. 

    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.

    The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night.  That night 25 POWs died in the hold.  The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning.  It was a suitable landing place.
    Some time after midnight, the POWs heard noise on deck as women and children were unloaded.  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.

    The morning of December 15th, U.S. Navy planes resumed the attack.  Again, the attacks came in waves.  After the first air raid, the ship was left alone by "playing possum" in the water.  The fighters went after the other ships in the convoy.
   
A guard shouted into the holds that the prisoners were going ashore.  He also said that 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.  

     Everett and the other POWs swam to shore near Olongapa, Subic Bay, Luzon.  He did this while under Japanese machine gun fire. The Japanese fired at the POWs to prevent them from escaping.  As they swam to shore, the American planes flew low over the POWs.  The men frantically waved at the planes so they would not strafe them.  The planes banked and flew lower over the men.  This time they waved their wings to let the men know they knew that they were Americans.  

    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.  They were buried at a cemetery nearby. 

    On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando, La Union.  The widows of the train were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible.  From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and later on a beach at San Fernando, La Union.  During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water.  The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater.   Many of these men died.

    The remaining prisoners were put on barges and boarded another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru.   On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds.  Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards. 

    The POWs on the ship were taken to Formosa.  There, Everett once again came close to death when the ship was bombed and sunk by American planes on January 13, 1945, while it was still docked.   During the attack, a bomb did explode in one of the the holds of the ship resulting in many POWs being wounded. 

    On January 13, 1945, Everett was boarded onto his third "hell ship" the Brazil Maru.  To the POWs amazement, they actually had room to move, and they were issued life jackets.  The ship which left Formosa and arrived in Moji, Japan, on January 29, 1945.  Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan.

    By the time Everett arrived at Moji, he was extremely ill.  He was taken to Fukuoka Camp #1-D.  The POWs in the camp worked in a Onoda Coal Mine.  It was while Everett was there that he became ill.

    2nd Lt. Everett R. Preston is officially reported to have died of Acute Enteritis on Saturday, April 21, 1945.  When his family learned of his death in November 1945, they were informed that he had died of dysentery.

    After his death, Everett's remains were cremated and put in an urn with the remains of 98 other POWs.  At the end of the war, since the remains of the POWs in the grave could not be identified, they were returned to the United States and buried in Section 82, Site 1B-1D, at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.  Everett shares his grave with 2nd Lt. Harry Black, 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady, and Capt. Donald Hanes of the 192nd.


 

 

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