Swift

 


1st/Sgt. William Lloyd Swift


    1st Sgt. William L. Swift was born in Illinois on September 8, 1918, and was the son of William & Leona Swift.  At some point, his family moved to Maywood, Illinois, where he attended local schools and Proviso Township High School.

    William enlisted in the Illinois National Guard and was inducted into the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940.  On November 28th, with his tank company, he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was suppose to be a year of training.  His tank company was now B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  In January 1941, William was assigned to Headquarters Company when it was created and given the job as the company's supply sergeant. 

    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion took part in maneuvers Louisiana.  It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned that they were being sent overseas.  Those men who were married or too old to go overseas were given the opportunity to be released from federal service.

    After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks.  The tanks and half-tracks were new to the battalion but came from the 753rd Tank Battalion as did replacements for men who had left the battalion.
    The battalion traveled over different railroad routes to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried to Ft. McDowell, on Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay.  At the base the men received physicals and inoculations.  Men with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced.

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy.  For many, it would be the last time that they would ever see the United States.  The battalion arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover.  The soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.  On Wednesday, November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the 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 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 they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila. At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a would soon be  at war.   The ships sailed the next day and, at 8:00 A.M., entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  Later in the day they docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those men assigned to trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  The fact was that he learned of their arrival days earlier.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts, did tank maintenance, and prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.

    On Monday, December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half.  At all times, two crew members had two remain with their tank or half-track and received their meals from food trucks.  HQ Company made sure that the companies had what they needed.
   
The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  All morning long as they sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed.       
    As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.   
When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  Since they had few weapons that could be used against Japanese, they could do is watch.

    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the company little to do, William and the other men watched as the dead, dying and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.

    That night, there was one air raid after another.  Since they did not have any foxholes, William and the other men used an old latrine pit for cover.  Being that it was safer than their tents, he and the other men slept in the pit.  The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes.  The next morning the decision was made to move the company into an tree cover area.  Without knowing it, he had slept his last night on a cot or bed.  From this point on, William slept in a blanket on the ground.

    Being first sergeant, it was William's job to make sure that the tankers were supplied with ammunition and gasoline.  The members often left these supplies near abandoned schools for the tank crews to find.  It is not known how much of these supplies were ever found by tank crews since the Japanese advance was quick.

    For William, the coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward Bataan Peninsula. During this time, the soldiers were bombed and strafed.  The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to where HQ Company's kitchen.  That night the sky was lit by the fire burning at the ammunition dumps.
    The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ'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."
   
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment.  A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment.  Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.  They remained along the sides of the road for hours.           
    The company finally boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles, where they were ordered by the Japanese out of their trucks.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit.  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.

    As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the 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 sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
    

    William and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to sit in the sun without food or water.  They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  The American guns on the island began returning fire.  Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs.  The men had no place to hide and several were killed.  Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.

    It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that William began what would later become known as the Bataan Death March.  The first night the POWs were marched all night.  The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machine-gun nest.  Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.  They marched for days and were told there would be food and water at the next stop; but these were lies to keep the prisoners going.  During every hour, the POWs received a five minute break.  The Japanese would change guards and keep the POWs moving.  

    What made things worse was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water.  The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells.  It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells.  This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.  

    The lack of food and water caused physical disabilities; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open.  If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed.  At San Fernando the POWs were crowded together in a bull pen.  After this was done, the POWs were told to lay down for the night.  Since they were packed in so tightly, it was impossible for them to lay down.

    At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars known as , "Forty or Eights."  Each car could hold eight horses or forty men, but 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 at Capas.  From there, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    William was held at Camp O'Donnell which was a death trap.  There was only one water spigot for the entire camp, and the POWs stood in line for hours for a drink.  Since there was no medicine, disease spread quickly among the POWs killing many.  Those men on burial worked all day to bury the dead.  Each morning when they returned to the cemetery, the graves either had been dug up by wild dogs, or the dead were sitting up in their graves.
   To lower the death rate among the POWs, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  Since William was considered a healthier POW, he was sent to the new camp when it opened.  Hospital records kept at the camp indicate that William was hospitalized on July 29, 1942, suffering from dysentery.  According to U. S. Army records and the hospital ledger kept at the camp, 1st Sgt, William L. Swift died of dysentery on October 10, 1942, at 9:00 A.M.  After he died, he was buried in the camp cemetery in what was later designated Grave 512, Row 0, Grave 5.  In the grave were three other members of the tank group.  His family, in July 1943, received word he was a POW and did not learn of his death until the autumn of 1944.

    After the war, William's remains, and the remains of four other POWs could not be identified.  He shares his grave with other unknown POWs from Grave 512, at the American Military Cemetery at Manila in Plot 2, Row 25, Grave 3132.  Since his remains were not identified, William is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the cemetery.

    It should be noted that on the day William's family received the news that he had been taken prisoner, his father died of a heart attack.  His mother would later reside in Elgin, Illinois.


 


 

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