|Pfc. Cecil J.
Pfc. Cecil J. Sims was born on March 8, 1917, in
Mercer County, Kentucky, to Finas J. Sims and Cora Mae
Gritton-Sims. With his three sisters and three
brothers he lived on the family farm on Cornishville
Road in Mercer County. He graduated from high
school and went to work on the family's farm.
A draft act was passed in 1940 and Cecil knowing that it was just a matter of time until he would be drafted, enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard to fulfill his one year of military service. The tank company he joined had been notified it was being federalized for one year and designated as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
The tank company was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where it joined three other National Guard Tank companies to form the battalion. During his time at the base, he attended school, but it is not known what specific training he received. In January 1941, he was transferred to HQ Company when it was formed.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. HQ company did not actively take part in the maneuvers but made sure the letter companies had the supplies they needed. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of the soldiers had any idea why they were remaining at the base.
On the side of a hill, the battalion was informed that their time in the Army had been extended from one to five years. They also learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, most had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Men 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from military service. They were replaced by men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. In addition, the battalion received the M3A1 tanks of the 753rd.
Traveling west over the southern train routes through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and up the west coast to San Francisco, California. From there, they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on 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. Other men were simply replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, on Monday, October 27th as part of a three ship convoy. After the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ships arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover. The soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island. They sailed again on Wednesday, November 5th, for Guam but 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 up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water before sailing for Manila. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they would soon be at war. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships entered Manila Bay and arrived at Manila later in the day. It was three or four hours after docking before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded buses and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind and unloaded the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who 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 live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. After making sure they had Thanksgiving Dinner, he went and had his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the day that the National Guardsmen had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting while at sea. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts as they prepared to take part in manevers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
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 half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the all the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac. When they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, as the tankers ate lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they saw what appeared to be "raindrops" 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 take cover, since they had few weapons to be used against planes.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the company bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
For the next four months, Ceceil worked to supply the tanks with fuel and ammunition. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ Company'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."
The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders. At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.
On April 9, 1942, James became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. Bill and the other tankers stripped their uniforms of anything that identified them as tankers. They had heard that the Japanese were looking for them for what they had done at the pockets. After getting rid of everything that identified them as tankers, the members of the company remained in their bivouac for two days until a Japanese officer and soldiers appeared and ordered them out to the road that ran by their encampment.
Once on the road, they were ordered to kneel along each side of the road with their possessions in front of them so the Japanese soldiers passing them could take what they wanted. They remained kneeling for hours.
The company members boarded their trucks and drove to a point outside of Mariveles and were ordered out of the trucks. From there, they walked to Mariveles Field 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 soldiers, 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, while the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Cecil's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles where they were left sitting in the sun for hours without food or water. 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 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 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 of thePOWs 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, and they were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars known as "forty and eights," because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars, because there was no room for them to fall. From Capas, the POWs walked the last 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 and men stood in line for days for a drink. 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 graves. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, when the POWs on the detail returned, they found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that the death rate at the camp had to be dealt with, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Cecil was healthy enough to be sent to the camp. It is not known if, while he was in the camp, he went out on a work detail.
On December 12, 1942, Cecil was sent to the Pasay School Detail which built a runway at Nichols Airfield. The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms. Thirty POWs were assigned to a room. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills. When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again. When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling."There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The American captain told the other Americans what had happened. The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf." He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
Medical records kept at Bilibid Prison show that Cecil was sent to the prison and admitted to the hospital ward on September 22, 1943, suffering from beriberi. How long he remained is not known.
In early July 1944, a list was posted at the camp of POWs who were being sent to Japan. Cecil's name was on it. The POWs were taken by truck to the train station and then by train to Manila. He and the other POWs were put into the holds of the Nissyo Maru on July 11th. The ship moved into the harbor on the 17th, dropped anchor and sat for a week. The haul of the ship became hot from the sun raising the temperature inside the hold to over 100 degrees.
On July 24th, the ship sailed as part of a convoy, which on the 26th, was attacked by three American submarines. During the night, there was a huge explosion and the POWs could see the flames shoot over the hatch since the hold was not covered. Somehow the ship made it safely through the attack and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27th. After an overnight stay, the ship sailed the next day arriving at Moji, Japan, on August 3rd. The POWs were disembarked on a pier, divided into detachments, and most where marched to the train station.
In Cecil's case, he was held sent to Fukuoka #4, in Moji, where the POWs lived in the YMCA. It appears at some point he was sick enough to be put into the camp hospital. Cecil spent the rest of the war in the camp and was liberated on September 13, 1945.
Cecil was returned to the Philippines and received medical treatment and to be fattened up. He returned to the United States on October 28, 1945, and discharged from the Army on July 16, 1946. He married Mary "Beck" Sims and became the father of three daughters and a son. The family resided at 322 North Fourth Street in Danville.
Cecil went to college on the GI Bill and graduated from Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. Cecil worked as a eighth grade teacher from 1953 to 1955 at McAfee Grade School in Harrodsburg. He next took a job at Jennie Rogers Elementary School in Danville, Kentucky. During this time, he received a Masters Degree in Administration from the University of Kentucky in 1958. He also became the principal of Mary G. Hogsett Elementary School in Danville in 1958 and remained principal until he retired in 1981.
Cecil J. Sims passed away at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, on August 31, 1990, and was buried in Springhill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.
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