Sparrow

 

Sgt. William David Sparrow Jr.


    Sgt. William D. Sparrow Jr. was the third of the four children of Gertrude Howser-Sparrow & Dr. William D. Sparrow Sr.  He was born on May 20, 1915, in Boyle County, Kentucky, and lived on Main Street in Burgin, Kentucky.  He attended college for two years before going to work as a guard at a state hospital.  Being the son of a doctor, he was known as "Doc" to his friends.

    Doc was a member of the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg.  When he was called to federal duty on November 25, 1940, he was working as a guard at a state hospital.  The tank company was designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  After training for nearly a year at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Doc went on maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.
   
    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 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, while the maintenance section remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
    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 8, 1941, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield.  About 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers saw planes approaching the airfield.  When bombs began exploding, they knew the planes were Japanese.

    For the next four months, Doc fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands.  The morning of April 9, 1942, they heard the order "crash" and destroyed their tanks.  Doc decided that he would attempt to escape to Corregidor.

     When Doc reached the island, he learned that they could not leave.  Doc was put on beach defense and given a gun.  He was sent to Skipper Hill which faced Bataan.  He was now attached to the Fourth Marine Division.

    Each evening a chow wagon was sent down to the soldiers.  To get to them, the chow truck had to cross an open field.  Since the Japanese were using observation balloons on Bataan, as soon as the truck made it to the field it came under fire.  The attacks got so bad that this method of feeding the soldiers was abandoned.

    One day, Doc and Lawson were sent out to get food.  When they began crossing the field, shells began landing around them.  In front of them was a member of the 31st Infantry.  As he ran, he was hit by a shrapnel from a shell which decapitated him.

     Doc and Lawson did not let the man lie in the field.  They dragged his body to a bunker and sat it up.  They then picked up his head and placed it on his lap and left him leaning on the bunker.

    As time went on, the soldiers could not go for food.  Instead, Doc and Lawson went to the Malinta Tunnel to get it.  While in the tunnel, they heard small arms fire.  The two did not think anything of it.  To them, it was a normal thing just  a little heavier then normal.

    Doc and Lawson were told that the Japanese had landed on the island the night before.  The two men stated that they had just come from outside and had not seen any Japanese.  They looked out the mouth of the tunnel and saw Japanese marching by fours toward them.

    Japanese tanks approached the tunnel at the same time, and snipers were also near the tunnel's mouth.  When a man attempted to get out, he was dead within eight or ten steps.  In spite of these odds, the two soldiers decided that they would make a break for it.

    Just as Doc and Lawson were about to make their way out of the tunnel, they heard of the surrender.  They remained in the tunnel and destroyed their guns.  The two men did get out of the tunnel and made their way to Queen's Tunnel.

    In this tunnel, the two found canned food.  They opened cans of peaches, sweet corn and cream.  They ate as much as they could.  While they were eating, the Japanese arrived.  Doc and the others stood up at attention.  The Japanese spoke English and wanted food.  In particular, they wanted canned Pineapple.

    Within a few minutes, the tunnel was full of Japanese.  Unlike the first Japanese, these soldiers took anything the Americans had.  They took their watches, money and wallets.  They also began to beat the Americans.

     There was an old American civilian who had a pocket watch on a gold chain with a large fob on it.  A Japanese soldier motioned to him to take it off.  He refused.  The soldier kicked him in the stomach and hit him in the face with the butt of his rifle and then took the watch.  The other Americans could little but watch.  After the beating, they comforted him as he cried.

     Doc and the other Prisoners of War were taken to what was known as the 92nd Garage on Corregidor's shore.  There, they lived in make shift barracks to keep dry since it was the rainy season.  The POWs scavenged for rice and sugar.  He and the other men went three days without water.

    Doc and Lawson volunteered for the water detail.  To get the water they went to the Malinta Tunnel to get water from a faucet.  On their way to the tunnel, a little Japanese guard picked on a big Marine.  While they were in the tunnel getting water, the Marine said to them that things were going to change on the way back.

    On the detail, were three guards.  One in front, one in the middle, and one at the back of the detail.  When they got to a cliff and were making their way along it, the Marine picked up the guard and threw him off it.  Neither of the other guards saw what had happened and never made an issue of it.

    About a week later, Doc and many of the POWs left Corregidor.  They were boarded onto small boats and taken to a larger one.  This boat took them to an area near Manila.  There, they were made to jump off the boat into the water.

    Doc and the other prisoners swam to shore.  Once on shore, they formed formation and were marched to Bilibid Prison.  He remained in the prison for a week when the Japanese moved the prisoners.

    The prisoners were taken to a train station and boarded onto  train cars.  75 to 80 men were put into each car.  From Manila, the POWs were taken to Cabanatuan.  Once there, they lived in an old school house.  The next morning the POWs were marched to Cabanatuan Camp #3.

    At Cabanatuan, the POWs main meal was rice and whistle weed soup.  While Doc was a POW there four Americans who had tried to escape were executed.

    After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese.  The Japanese tied them to posts and left them hang in the sun.  They also beat the POWs with boards.  The Japanese also showed the men water but would not give them any.

    While the POWs were eating supper, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating.  They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water.  The POWs were offered blindfolds which all took but one.  This man spit at the Japanese before they shot him.  The men fell backwards into the grave.  When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot each man with his pistol.

    The Japanese began consolidating the camps and Doc was sent to Cabanatuan Camp #1.  This camp was about seven miles from Camp #3.  There he was reunited with other members of D Company.

    The Japanese began to transfer POWs to other areas of their empire.  Doc volunteered to go to Japan on the first ship.  With him on the ship were Elzie Anness, Skip Rue, Morgan French and Marcus Lawson of D Company.  There were also other members of his battalion on the ship with whom he had become friends with at Ft. Knox.

    On November 7, 1942, the Nagato Maru sailed for Japan from Pier 7 in Manila.  The trip took 27 days.  Many of the POWs came down with dysentery.  On the ship were Japanese soldiers returning to Japan.  The first few days they spent much of their time getting drunk.

    If the soldiers had to relieve themselves, they urinated into the ship's holds onto the POWs.  If they had to vomit, they did the same.  Since there was not a great deal of room to move, the POWs could do little to escape the urine and vomit.

     The Nagoto Maru arrived at Toku, Formosa, before it sailed for Moji, Japan.  There the POWs were boarded onto a train and taken to Tanagawa #4-B.  In the camp, they were put to work building a dry-dock.  The POWs loaded mine cars which they pushed on trestle over the ocean.  They then dumped the cars into the ocean.

     At first, the Japanese expected them to load and dump twenty cars a day, but as time went on and the prisoners grew weaker, they could only manage five or six cars each day.  As their work decreased the number of beatings by the Japanese increased.

    Doc remained in the camp until the detail was broken up.  The Japanese sent Doc and the other prisoners were sent to a graphite factory.  Across from the factory, there was a airfield and behind it was a oil refinery.  The camp was surrounded by 27 smoke stacks.  What amazed Marcus was that the POW Camp was never hit by the American bombers.

    Doc, Morgan French and Lawson were selected for a work detail to Osaka #5.  There, they once again worked as stevedores unloading ships.  The POWs at this camp lived in a two story house.

      The Japanese expected the POWs to unload a ship loaded with bombs.  The POWs refused on the basis that the bombs would be used against other Americans.  To get the prisoners to work, the Japanese brought in the "baseball brigade."  The POWs were beaten with bats.  The POWs still refused to unload the bombs.

     One night, Doc and the other POWs heard American planes approaching the docks. They also heard the bombs as they came down.  The bombing lasted three hours.  The next day the POWs could see that almost the entire town had burnt down.

    About two weeks later, the POWs were taking a break on the dock.  Suddenly, they saw three Navy Hellcats approaching.  The POWs ran to a warehouse that had been bombed out.  Each plane dropped three bombs.  About five minutes later, sixty more Hellcats came over the docks and bombed and strafed the area.  Any ships in the port were attacked and bombed.

    During the attack the POWs' barracks were hit.  After the attack the POWs slept on concrete until the Japanese moved them to a building across from a textile mill.  Most of the workers in the textile mill were women and children.

    The POWs lived in this building for a couple of months.  In the building was a kiln.  Some of the POWs were put to work on it.  Every morning, a B-29 would fly over doing reconnaissance.  One morning the air raid siren went off, but the POWs ignored it.  They thought it was another reconnaissance flight.  The plane dropped a blockbuster in the middle of the textile mill killing many women and children.

    The prisoners knew that the Americans were getting closer from the civilian newspapers.  One day the POWs were working, suddenly the guards stopped them and told them that it was too hot to work.  The POWs knew something was up because this story just did not sound right.  Some of the POWs said that the war had to be over because it had never been too hot to work before.

    The next morning the POWs got up again and were told that they did not have to work that day.  It was on this day that some of the prisoners heard a Japanese radio broadcast that said the Japanese were attempting to negotiate for peace.

    The Japanese then came around and gave each prisoner a cigarette ration.  The POWs had not seen cigarettes in months.  Next, the Japanese gave the POWs new split toe shoes and new POW uniforms.

    At this time Lawson was sick in bed with a 106 degree fever.  Doc Sparrow went to see him and got him out of bed.  The two friends went into the town to trade the shoes and clothes for Saki.  They then got drunk.

    Knowing that the war was over, Doc and the other POWs moved to a building with nicer quarters.  The POWs also painted a big "POW" on the roof of a building.  American planes dropped food, medicine and clothing to them, but no Americans appeared at the camp on September 5, 1945.

    When the POWs were finally liberated, they were returned to the Philippines.  Doc remained there until it was determined that he was healthy enough to return home.  Doc sailed on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze, on September 23, 1945, and arrived, in San Francisco, on October 16, 1945.  It was almost four years, to the day, since he had left, from there, for the Philippines.  When he was ashore, he placed a long distance phone call to his parents before going to Letterman General Hospital for additional medical treatment.  He was discharged from the army on  February 5, 1946.  Doc returned home to Harrodsburg.
    William "Doc" Sparrow never recovered from his time as a POW and was in and out of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.  On May 1, 1952, Doc was admitted to the VA Hospital.  He passed away on  May 5, 1952, in Lexington and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg on May 9th.

    It should be mentioned that William D. Sparrow Jr. grave did not have a headstone was until 1961, when his sister got a military headstone for the grave.


 

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