Cpl. Kenneth Cecil Squire
Cpl. Kenneth C. Squire was born in Columbus, Ohio, on March 10, 1922, and was the son of John F. & Lillian M. Thomson-Squire. In 1929, his parents moved, with their six sons and two daughters, to Janesville, Wisconsin, where he attended Janesville schools and was a 1940 graduate of Janesville High School. He worked at the high school after graduating.
Ken joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Tank Company which was headquartered in Janesville. His reason for doing this was that a draft act had just been passed, and he knew that it was just a matter of time before he was drafted into the regular army. Since the tank company was suppose to serve for one year and then be released from federal duty, this seemed like a good way to get his military obligation over.
On November 28,
1940, the tank company traveled by train to Fort
Knox, Kentucky. There, they were designated
192nd Tank Battalion. A typical
day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with
reveille, but most of the soldiers were up
before this since they wanted to wash and
dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00
A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to
8:30. Afterwards, the tankers went to
various schools within the company. The
classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber
machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of
personal equipment, military courtesy, and
training in tactics.
After nearly ten
months of training, the 192nd Tank Battalion took
part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st
through 30th. It was at the end of the
maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk,
Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill, the men learned they were
being sent overseas as part of Operation
PLUM. Within hours, most had figured out
that PLUM meant "Manila, Luzon,
Philippines." Many men received furloughs
home to say their goodbyes.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter
Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had
been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks
were put on alert and brought up to full
strength around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M.,
American planes took off to intercept any Japanese
planes. Sometime before
noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were
lined up in front of the pilots' mess hall.
The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were also eating lunch when planes
were seen approaching the airfield from the north
at about 12:45. Many of the tankers had
enough time to count 54 planes. The planes
approached the airfield and the tankers watched
what was described as "raindrops" falling from the
planes. When the raindrops began exploding
on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were
During the attack, they could do little since
their guns were not made to use against planes.
Ken's tank crew,
Herb Durner, Ed DeGroot and Bob Boehm shot at the
fighters as they flew over. The reality was
that their was little that they could do against
planes. For some reason, not
known to the tankers, most of the Japanese
planes did not attack the
tanks. Those that did, dropped their
bombs between the tanks.
and part of the 194th fell back to a line from
on the night of December 27th and 28th.
From there they fell back to the south bank of
the BamBan River which they were suppose to
hold for as long as possible.
On March 2nd
or 3rd, during the Battle of the Points, the tanks
had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of
Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the
main defensive line. The Japanese were soon
cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land
reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong
place creating another pocket. Both,
of the pockets, were wiped out.
On October 26, 1942, Ken and about 1000 other POWs were marched eight miles to the town of Cabanatuan. At the town's railroad stationed they were loaded into boxcars, and the townspeople came out to watch the POWs as they boarded the trains. From their faces, Ken could see that they had a great deal of sympathy for the Americans.
Unlike the trip to Camp O'Donnell, the doors of the boxcars were left open. This made the trip a great deal easier on the POWs. For whatever reason, the train stopped in several towns. When it arrived in a town, the Filipino people would come out. Many brought rice balls, fried chicken, bananas and anything else they had with them. Because they were not allowed to approach the train, the Filipinos would throw the food to the prisoners.
When the train pulled into one town, the people gathered at the station. While the train set in the station, the Filipinos began to hum the song, "God Bless America." They also called out to the POWs, "Mabuhay Joe," which in English meant, "Long life Joe."
The POWs were unloaded from the train in the outskirts of Manila and marched two miles to Bilibid Prison. Bilibid had been built by the Spanish and had been a civilian prisoner before the war but the Japanese put it into use as a POW camp. The prison was a two story mortar and brick building, that went out like spokes. surrounded by a high brick wall. At the entrance were two heavy iron gates.
Upon arrival at the prison, Ken and the other POWs discovered that there were no beds in the prison. At night ever prisoner slept on the concrete floor. The food was also of poor quality, but the one good thing about Bilibid was that the prisoners had more than enough water for drinking and washing.
Two days after arriving at Bilibid, Ken and other prisoners were marched through the streets of Manila to the port area. Dewey Boulevard which had been the most modern street of the city was now lined with burnt out empty buildings. Ashes were all that was left of the huts that had lined other streets in Manila.
At Pier 7, the POWs were boarded onto the freighter the Erie Maru, each man had enough room to lay down without being crowded. The hatches to the ships holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila Harbor.
Food for the prisoners was generous and well prepared, with each POW receiving a full mess kit of rice and a canteen cup filled with a thick cabbage soup containing pork. They even were given corn beef and cabbage one night.
The trip on the freighter lasted thirteen days. The reason was the ship made frequent stops in ports along the coast of Luzon. It is known that the ship also stopped at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao. Ken and the POWs disembarked the ship at Davao on November 7th. There, they joined another group of 1000 prisoners. The one thing that the new POWs to the camp noticed was that the other prisoners appeared to be well fed when compared to themselves. Upon arrival of Ken's group, the rations for these men were cut in half which caused friction between the two groups. Ken remained at Davao for the next two years.
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, which meant that 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay and each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was poor, and 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 the 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 were the result of having a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
One night, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. From the sound of the engine, they knew it was American. It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years. As the plane dove on the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated silently. On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men stayed on the island until August 19, 1944.
Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese posted guards with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily. The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments. The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.
During this time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup of rice a day. The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables. Many ate the weeds that grew inside the camp until it was bare.
Air raids soon were nightly events. Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks. Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped.
On that day, the POWs were lined up by fours. The outside men had rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape. They were marched shoe-less to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon. They were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that evening, the ship sailed.
As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves, and many of the prisoners became seasick. They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs. The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane, and an American plane flew over the ship. Moments later bombs exploded near the ship. The sound of machine gun fire was heard by the POWs. The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air. Over the next three days, there were several more alerts. Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.
On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived. The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship's holds were terrible. The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with salt water.
It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. The order was misinterpreted as saying the ship would be transporting "750 military personnel" instead of "750 military prisoners" to Manila. The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship. The U.S. would acknowledge this mistake in December 1944.
The POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru on September 4th. 250 POWs were put iu the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were its larger hold. That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking an shaking it. The POWs prayed for the ship would be hit.
The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 a.m. Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines, and the POWs were no longer allowed on deck. Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship. For the next two days the ship made good time. It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes or submarines. The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076. Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.
At 7:37 p.m. on Thursday, September 7, 1944, the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two torpedoes at the ship. The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold, and moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship which created a gapping hole in the ship's side. Those POWs still alive saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water.
The POWs found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion. As the water level rose, they were able to climb out. Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles, and as the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off. The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water.
The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits, but the hold remained dry. Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore. As they swam, they were fired upon by the same seven Japanese officers.
According to the POWs, in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. They heard a tremendous crushing sound, and the ship seemed to bend upward, in the middle, before it split in two and sank into the water.
Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine. The good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs. When the planes spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them until they realized that there were Japanese in the water too.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water and was run aground. The Japanese quickly set up machine guns on the ship and fired on the POWs. Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water. If they found a man, they shot him. What saved the survivors was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them.
The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion. About 30 men gave up after hearing this. According to one man who escaped after surrendering, the POWs had their hands tied to the ship's rail, and the Japanese shot each POW in the back of the head. They then pushed the bodies overboard.
Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs survived its sinking and escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944. Cpl Kenneth C. Squire was not one of these men.
Cpl. Kenneth C. Squire died in the sinking of the Shinyo Maru. He was 22 years old. Since he died at sea, his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.