Shewmaker

 

Pvt. Reid Thompson Shewmaker


    Pvt. Reid T. Shewmaker was born on June 7, 1914, in Washington County, Kentucky, to James L. Shewmaker and Ina Rae Sims-Shewmaker.  He had one half-brother, two brothers, and one sister.  He left school after eighth grade and later worked as a plumber's apprentice.
    On 1940, the draft act had been passed and Reid, like many other young men, wanted to fulfill his military obligation.  In September 1940, The Kentucky National Guard Tank Company that was headquartered in Harrodsburg received orders that it was re-designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  The company was scheduled to be federalized for one year of military service.  Knowing he was going to be drafted, Reid joined the tank company to fulfill his military obligation. 
    The company rode a train to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where it joined three other National Guard Tank Companies to form the battalion.  When they arrived at Ft. Knox, they lived in tents since their barracks had not been finished.  It is not known what specialized school Reid attended, but it is known that in early 1941, he was transferred to the battalion's newly created headquarters company.

    The battalion trained at the base for nearly a year before being sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk without being given a reason.  They had expected to return to Ft. Knox.
    On the side of a hill, at Camp Polk, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. 
    It was at this time, men 29 years or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion.  This battalion had been sent to the fort, but it had not taken part in the maneuvers.  The M3 "Stuart" tanks from the battalion were also given to the 192nd.
    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 Tuesday, November 4th, again on  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 tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
    All morning long, American planes filled the sky.  At noon, every plane landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes.  When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  The members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had no weapons to be used against planes.
    For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational.  The morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, commander of HQ Company, informed his men of the surrender.  Bruni somehow came up with enough food for the men to have what he called, "Their last supper."  The meal consisted of bread and pineapple.  Bruni told his men that from this point on it was each man for himself.  Most of the company remained in their bivouac for two days.
   

    The first contact HQ Company had with the Japanese was when Japanese officers entered their bivouac.  They ordered the Americans to go to the road that ran past their encampment.  Once on the road, they were made to kneel on both sides of the road.  As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
    When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and f
rom 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.

   
    Sitting, watching, and waiting the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do.  It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese 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.  The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, Reid's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours.  The Japanese did not feed them or give them water.  Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  These two islands had not surrendered.  Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs.  The POWs could do little 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.  The men 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 pin 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 pin, 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.  At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks.  They were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.

    At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas.  The cars were known as "forty and eights" because they could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car.  From Capas, Frank 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.  It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.  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 fifty 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. 
    To lower the death rate among the POWs, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  Reid was sent to the camp when it opened since he was considered healthy.  He was in the camp from May 1942 until June 30, 1942, when he was sent to the Port Area of Manila.  There, the POWs were put onto an inter-island  steamer.  The ship sailed on July 1st and arrived at Lasang, Mindanao, on July 9th.
    The POWs were disembarked from the ship and waited three days until the Yashu Maru arrived.  They were boarded on the ship and arrived at
Davao, Mindanao, on July 12th and taken to an experimental farming facility. 
    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 of the barracks.  In each barracks, there were eighteen bays.  Twelve POWs shared a bay.  216 POWs lived in each barracks.  Four cages were later put in a bay and two POWs slept in each one.
    The discipline in the camp was poor, and the commanding officer changed frequently.  The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers.  Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to the officers.  The situation improved because of majority of the POWs they needed to have discipline if they were to survive.

    At first the work  details were not guarded, and the POW plowed, planted and harvested the crops unsupervised.  Those POWs too sick to work in the fields made straw baskets.  In 1943, this changed.  Those POWs working the rice fields received the worst treatment and were beaten for not making quotas.  There were frequent misunderstandings between the POWs and the guards, and the translator could not be trusted to tell the truth.  While he was a POW at Davao in February 1943, that his family learned he was a POW.

    In early June, Reid was selected to be returned to Manila. The POWs were taken to Lasang and boarded the Yashu Maru on June 12, 1944.  The ship arrive at Cebu City, Mindanao, on the 17th, and the POWs disembarked.  They then boarded the Teiryo Maru on June 21st and arrived at Manila on June 24th.
    From the Port Area of Manila, the POWs were taken to Bilibid Prison.  Those who were considered healthy were sent to Japan.  Reid was held at Bilibid because he was considered too ill to travel.  Medical records from the prison show that he was admitted to the hospital ward on June 26th.  They also indicate the medical staff believed he had tuberculosis. 
    What is known is that Reid was still at Bilibid on February 4, 1945, when the the POWs in Bilibid were liberated by the
148th Infantry Regiment.  According to the POWs, the Japanese commander of the prison told them that he and the guards were ordered to leave.  He instructed them not to leave the prison.  The POWs posted guards and waited.  Around 7:00 A.M., the sound of someone breaking into the prison was heard.  When the soldiers entered, the POWs realized they were Americans.
    The POWs were moved to a shoe factory for safety before they were taken to transported to a safer location.  After receiving medical treatment and being fattened up, Reid returned to Harrodsburg.  He told the families of other members of D Company about life as a Japanese POW.
    Reid was discharged on November 24, 1945.  He married Mabel Gritton on June 6, 1946.  The couple of became parents of a daughter
    Reid Shewmaker passed away on September 1, 1983, in Fayette County, Kentucky.  He was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.


 

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