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.
    The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day, and the next day - when a Navy ship was sent to the area - the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    The battalion's new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains.  The soldiers also cosmolined anything that they thought would rust.  Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S.S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila 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 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 that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload 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.  He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
   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.
          

    On December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tank crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield. 
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch.
    At 12:45, two formations totaling 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew tha planes were Japanese.  Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the American Army Air Corps.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
    One of the results of the attack was that transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed.  The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and Bataan.
    The companies were moved again on the 12th to south of San Fernando near the  Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M.  On December 13th, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and guard beaches.   On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.  These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
    On December 22nd, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese.  The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
     Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove.  As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat.  From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units.  The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
    The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26th.  When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area.  One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
    At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank.  It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been destroyed.  The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan.  The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover.  This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.  At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
    The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.  It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each.  This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements,
    At Gumain River, on January 5th, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw.  The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
    The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.  At this time, the food rations were cut in half.
    General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
     A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa.  Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed.  The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed.  The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
    The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road.  While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month.  The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance.  It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon.  This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
    The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw.  Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed.  The mission was abandoned the next day.  Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
    The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry's command post.  On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
    The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts.  At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road.  When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men.  This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land troops.  The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban.  During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy.  At bight they were pulled out onto the beaches.  The battalion's half-tracks had the job of paroling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
    For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill.  On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them.  While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area.  Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range.  He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's fire.  The Japanese were wiped out.
    Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major offensive on April 4th.  The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance.  On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew.  On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
    It was at this time that Gen. King knowing that the situation was hopeless sent officers to negotiate.  The tanks were instructed that they would hear the order "bash" on their radios, or that it would be given to them verbally.
    When the order was given, the tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front, opened up the gasoline cocks in the crew compartment, and drop hand grenades into each tank.
  Doc and other members of the company decided that they 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, as part of a three ship convoy, for Japan, from Pier 7 in Manila.  Many of the POWs came down with dysentery and seventeen died.  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.
    At one point the hatch covers were put on the holds.  The POWs had no idea why this had been done.  When they felt the vibrations of exploding depth charges, they knew submarines were in the area.

     The Nagoto Maru arrived at Toku, Formosa, on November 11th and anchored for three days.  It sailed but went to the Pescadores Islands, due to a storm, and dropped anchor.  It remained there for several days before it sailed for and arrived at Keelung, Formosa, on November 18th.  On the 20th, the ship sailed again, this time for Moji, Japan.
     The ship arrived at Moji on November 24th and the POWs disembarked.   There the POWs were deloused, showered, fed, and issued new clothing.  In Doc's case, he was 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.  On October 27, 1945, he returned home for the first time in three and one half years.  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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