Sykora

 


Pvt. Vincent Charles Sykora


    Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora was born in Baylor County, Texas, in 1918 to Vincent J. Sykora & Anna Krenek-Sykora and 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 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, in Dallas, while living in Young County, Texas.  He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and then Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he joined the 753rd Tank Battalion.  He volunteered, or had his name selected, 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.
    The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and was ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion's medical detachment.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Some men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. 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 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.  It was at this time that Vincent mailed a letter home to his family telling them about the voyage.  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, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and 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.
    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 worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.

    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  At all times, two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicle and received their meals from food trucks.
    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 took their positions around the airfield. A good many of the men believed that this was the start of the maneuvers.  At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off and filled the sky in every directionAt noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up in a straight line near the mess hall where the pilots ate.  At 12;45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes flying in formation. 
    As they watched, "raindrops" fell from the planes.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tank crews knew the planes were Japanese.  Most of the tankers took cover since - except for the machine guns on the tanks - their weapons were useless against planes.  The bombers were followed by Japanese Zeros which strafed the airfield.  For some unknown reason, most of the planes never attacked the tanks.  The few that did had their bombs fall between the tanks.

    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, the tankers 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 for the next three and one half years.    
    A Company remained at the airfield until it received orders to relocate to the Barrio of Dau on December 12th.  Its job there was to protect a road and railway against sabotage. 
From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the battalion made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    The 192nd 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.
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
    At the Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south 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 Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
    At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese.  The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them.  The result was the loss of three tanks.    
    On January 1st, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off.  General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion.  Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
    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.  It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half.  It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. The company returned to the command of the 192nd on January 8, 1942.

    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank had left the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.

    The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.  
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    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.
    The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    When the Filipino and American forces were surrendered, on April 9, 1942, it is not known if he became a POW, 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 and marched two miles to Bilibid Prison.  Bilibid had been built by the Americans and had been a civilian prisoner before the war but put into use as a POW camp by the Japanese.  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, and 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 and 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.
    It should be mentioned that on January 1, 1943, his family received a telegram that he was officially a POW.  This was confirmed by another telegram on January 31st.  Before this, they had no news about him since he mailed a letter home on his way to the Philippines in November 1941.  On March 5, 1943, Vincent's name was on an official list of soldiers held by the Japanese released by the War Department.  They also received a POW postcards, on September 24, 1943, and in December 1943, he had filled out while at Davao.

    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 events.  The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments.  About this time, 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, from man to man, 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, 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 rocking it in the water.  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 during this time, and 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,   so the U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.  The U.S. would acknowledge this mistake in December 1945.

    On September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru.  250 POWs were put in the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were put into its larger hold.   That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking and shaking it.  The POWs prayed for the ship to 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, resulting in their lips and throats being covered with dust from the cement that had previously been hauled by the ship.  For the next two days, the ship made good time as it head north. 

    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, and there was a tremendous explosion in the main hold killing many and 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 were shot.  The lucky POWs made it through the 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, and there was a tremendous crushing sound.  The ship seemed to bend upward in the middle, and it split in two and sunk into the water. 

   Japanese seaplanes appeared overhead and 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 the crews realized that there were Japanese soldiers in the water too. 

    A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water.  The ship ran aground to save it from sinking.  The Japanese quickly set up machine guns on its deck and fired on the POWs in the water.  Boats from the other ships, in the convoy, attempted to hunt down the POWs.  When they found a man, they shot him.  What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them in the water. 

    The Japanese announced 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 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 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.
    It should be mentioned that on September 9, 1944, Vincent's family received a POW postcard, from him, that was written while he was a POW on Davao.  They expressed great relief knowing that he was alive and well and had no idea, when they received the postcard, that he had died two days earlier.





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