Pvt. Vincent Charles Sykora
| Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora was born
in Baylor County, Texas, in 1918 to Vincent J.
Sykora & Anna Krenek-Sykora. He was one
of the couple's four children. His mother
died in 1928, and he and his siblings were
living with his grandparents in Baylor County in
1930. He later lived in Megargel, Texas and
graduated from Westover High School in Westover,
Texas in 1938.
Vincent was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 18, 1941 while living in Young County, Texas. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training and then Camp Polk, Louisiana where he joined the753rd Tank Battalion. He volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion while still at Camp Polk. He was assigned to A Company as a replacement for a National Guardsman released from federal duty.
With the 192nd, Vincent arrived in the Philippine Islands on Thanksgiving Day,1941. He spent the next two weeks preparing for maneuvers. The morning of December 8, 1941, he and the other members of his company were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield after receiving word that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor just ten hours earlier. From his position, he watched as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps in the Philippines.
For the next four months, Vincent fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. When the Filipino and American forces were surrendered, he became a Prisoner of War. It is not known if he became a POW on April 9, 1942, or if he was among the members of A Company who escaped to Corregidor. It is known that he was held as a POW at Cabanatuan POW Camp.
On October 26, 1942, Vincent and 1000 other POWs were marched eight miles to the town of Cabanatuan. At the town's railroad station, they were loaded into steel box cars. The townspeople came out to watch the POWs as they boarded the trains.
Unlike the trip to Camp O'Donnell, the doors of the box cars 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.
At one barrio, the Filipinos 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." Because of their courage and support of the Americans at a threat to their own lives, the POWs appreciated what they said.
The POWs were unloaded from the trains in the outskirts of Manila. They then marched two miles to Bilibid Prison. Bilibid had been built by the Americans and had been a civilian prisoner before the war. The prison was a series of two story mortar and brick buildings surrounded by a high brick wall. At the entrance were two heavy iron gates.
Upon arriving at the prison, the POWs discovered there were no beds for them to sleep on at night. The food was also of poor quality. Probably 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, Vincent and other prisoners were marched through the streets of Manila to the port area. They marched down Dewey Boulevard which had been the most modern street of the city. It was now lined with burnt out empty buildings. The POWs also saw that ashes were all that was left of the huts that had lined other streets in Manila.
Once at the pier, the POWs were boarded onto the Erie Maru. The ship sailed the same day and took the POWs to Mindanao. Each man had enough room to lay down without being crowded. The hatches to the ship's holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were also allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila Harbor.
The ship arrived at Mindanao where the POWs were put to work building revetments and runways at an airfield. Food for the prisoners was generous. The food was well prepared and each POW received 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 POWs were later joined by another group of 1000 prisoners. The new POWs noticed that the original prisoners appeared to be well fed when compared to themselves. Upon arrival of the new group of POWs, the rations for the original men were cut in half. This caused friction between the two groups.
On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men remained on the island until August 19, 1944. Several weeks earlier, the POWs had seen their first American plane in two and one half years. The plane flew over the airfield they were working at and dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway.
Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese now 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 the camp 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. This was the same ship that had taken them to Mindanao two years earlier. 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. 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. An American plane flew over the ship. Moments later bombs exploded near the ship. The sound of machinegun 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 during this time. The conditions in the ship's holds were terrible. Not only were the holds hot and steamy, but the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. The Japanese realized that they had to do something, so 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.
On September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru. 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 and 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. 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. There was a tremendous explosion in the main hold resulting in some POWs being blown out of the hold through the hole that had been created. Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship. 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. 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. There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle. It split in two and sunk 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. This stopped when the plane crews 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. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machineguns and fired on the POWs in the water. Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs. If they found a man, they shot him. What saved many lives 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 a second time after surrendering, the POWs had their hands tied to the ship's rail A Japanese officer than walked down the line and shot each POW in the back of the head. When finished, the Japanese pushed the bodies overboard.
Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944.
Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora was not one of these men.
Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora along with 667 other POWs died during the sinking of the Shinyo Maru after it was torpedoed by as American submarine on September 7, 1944. Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.