Pvt. James C. Thompson was born on
May 3, 1917, in Trigg, Kentucky, to Minnie
Mathis-Thompson & Herbert E. Thompson.
As a child, he grew up in Eddyville, Kentucky,
with his five brothers and two sisters. On
January 22, 1941, he inducted into the U. S. Army
at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
training at Ft. Knox, "Curly," as he was called by
his friends, was trained to be a tank
driver. After his basic training was
completed, he was assigned to D Company, 192nd
Tank Battalion. The reason this was done was
he was from Kentucky and vacancies had been
created in the company when Headquarters Company
was created in January, 1941.
the 192nd Tank Battalion took part in maneuvers in
Louisiana from the 1st through 30th. After
the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp
Polk, Louisiana, where the battalion learned that
they were being sent overseas at part of Operation
PLUM. Within hours most men had figured out
that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon,
Manial. Men who were 29 years old or older
were given the chance to resign from federal
service and replaced.
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.
After a leave home to say
goodbye, Curly returned to Camp Polk,
Louisiana. After loading their tanks, which
came from the 753rd Tank Battalion, D Company
boarded a train west for San Francisco, California, where they
were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General
Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on
Angel Island. On the island, the
tankers were given physicals, by the
battalion's medical detachment, and those
men 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
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.
After arriving in the
Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D
Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had
left for the Philippines minus one company.
B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska
while the remaining companies of the battalion
were sent to the Philippines. The medical
clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records
to be handed over to the 194th.
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, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full
strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.
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.
On December 13th, the tankers
were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do
reconnaissance and guard beaches. They
remained there until December 23rd, when they were
sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the
26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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 patrolling
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
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
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
On April 9,
1942, Bataan was surrendered to the
Japanese. Each man made his own decision to
surrender or attempt to continue to fight.
Having seen men killed by the Japanese while
trying to surrender, James and other members of D
Company decided that they would attempt to escape
to Corregidor. To do this, James made a raft
from five gallon gasoline cans and a
stretcher. He then paddled it to Corregidor.
two days in the hospital on the island, James was
assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, of the
Fourth Marines. He was the number one man in
a four man machine gun crew. Two of the four
men on the crew were killed during action against
the Japanese the night of May 6.
James became a
Prisoner Of War when Corregidor was surrendered on
May 7, 1942. At this time, a Japanese
soldier took his watch and four hundred pesos from
him. He was held on the island for another
ten days. Ten thousand men were confined to
an area that was two blocks square.
were taken by boat to Manila. James recalled
there were at least five thousand men on it.
They were next transferred to landing barges which
took them to within one hundred yards of the
shore. From there, they had to swim to
shore. Those men who could not swim were
helped by those who could. As far as James
knew, no one drowned.
the news of the death march, many feared the
orders they received to march. The
destination was Bilibid Prison As James and
the other POWs marched, a Japanese officer would
ride past them and whip them with his sword.
Those men who fell out, were
march, Curly was fed two meals and received two
half canteen cups of water. The Filipinos
were not allowed to give the prisoners anything to
first held at Bilibid Prison where he was held
from May 20th until May 23rd. This was an
old Spanish prison outside of Manila. While
there, the POWs received water and meals of rice
Curly was then
transferred to Cabanatuan #3. There, he was
held from May 23, 1942, until August 1,
1942. From there, he was sent to Palawan
Island for a work detail. While James was on the island, he
received one of the worse beatings as a POW, when
he was beaten with a four foot paddle by a
Japanese guard. He remained on the island until
June 1943, when he was returned to Manila.
On June 12, 1943, his name appeared on the
hospital ledger from Bilibid Prison. It was
recorded that he was admitted to the hospital
there with a sprained back.
On October 7,
1943, James was transferred from Palawan and sent
to the Port Area of Manila. He was boarded
onto the Taga Maru for Japan. There
were 300 POWs in the ship's 20 by 40 foot
hold. During the voyage, the POWs were
allowed on deck for one hour a day.
In Japan, James
was held as a POW at
Niigata #5-B arriving there on October 7,
1943. The first morning in the camp, the
commandant had the men strip their clothes
off. The prisoners then stood in the cold
for an hour and a half. Once they began to
turn blue, the commandant addressed them. He
said, "I want you
people to know that you are prisoners of war,
and you will be treated like prisoners of war
and not like guests of Japan."
While a POW in
this camp James and the other POWs unloaded coal
from ships onto a beach. To do this, the
POWs worked on high trestles to unload the coal
from the ships into cars. The next day, the
prisoners would unload the coal from the cars
using baskets. Once a month the prisoners
would get one day off.
Meals for the
prisoners often consisted rice. In the rice
were small pebbles which damaged the POWs
teeth. James had gone from 160 pounds to 105
pounds. He recalled that he and the other
POWs never were fed enough and that he was always
During his time
as a prisoner, James was affected by various
diseases. At one time or another, he had,
beriberi or ulcers on his feet. He also
suffered from dysentery while a POW.
Red Cross visited the Niigata Camp
twice. To prevent the representatives from
hearing about the conditions the POWs were living
in and the treatment they were receiving, the
Japanese would not let the representatives speak
to the prisoners.
three and one half years James was held as a POW,
he received only three letters. The letters
were all given to him on the same
day. He also received Red Cross
packages only after they had been opened and the
Japanese had taken what they wanted from them.
It was while
James was a prisoner in this camp that he received
another major beating. In December 1943,
James was beaten with a stick by a Japanese
civilian who was called "Balmer Sahn". This
was the second major beating that he received
while a POW.
liberated on September 5, 1945, and was returned
to the Philippines to receive medical treatment
and fattened up. James also was promoted to
staff sergeant. He returned home on the U.S.S.
Langfitt at Seattle, Washington, on October
4, 1945. He was sent to Madigan General
Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington. He was
discharged, from the army, on February 2,
to farming after the war, but found that the
physical effects of having been a POW made the
work extremely hard for him to do. On
February 10, 1946, James married Lavern Thorp and
together they raised two sons. He later served as
a county sheriff and court judge.
Thompson passed away on October 10, 1997, in
Princeton, Kentucky. He was buried at
Lamasco Baptist Church Cemetery in Lyon County,
The picture below was taken of
James while he was a POW in Japan.