Pvt. James C. Thompson
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.
During his 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 of the 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.
In September, the 192nd Tank Battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. James and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas after the completion of the maneuvers.
After a leave
home to say goodbye, James returned to Camp Polk,
Louisiana. He and the rest of D Company
boarded a train west for San Francisco. Over different train
routes, the 192nd traveled to San
Francisco. After receiving physicals
and inoculations, they were boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L.
After hearing the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were placed around the perimeter of Clark Field. It was while on this duty that the Japanese bombed the airfield.
According to James, the tankers were waiting for the chow truck when they heard the sound of motors overhead. He and the other soldiers looked up and counted 54 planes. Within seconds, bombs began to explode around them.
After the attack, D Company was sent to a position about two miles from Clark Field. On December 10th, James came down with Dengue Fever and was hospitalized at Clark Field on December 12th. Six days after being admitted to the hospital, he was transferred to a hospital in Manila. On December 29th, he and the other patients were transported by boat to a hospital on Bataan. On January 9, 1942, James returned to D Company. Since he had been hospitalized, he was not involved in the initial assignments of the company.
James spent the next three months fighting the Japanese as the Philippine and American defenders fell back into the Bataan Peninsula. During one engagement, his tank was literally shot out from under him.
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.
After spending 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.
The prisoners 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.
Having heard 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 bayoneted.
During his march, James was fed two meals and received two half canteen cups of water. The Filipinos were not allowed to give the prisoners anything to drink.
James was 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 twice.
James 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 hungry.
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.
The International 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.
During the 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.
James was 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, 1946.
James returned 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.
James C. Thompson passed away on October 10, 1997, in Princeton, Kentucky. He was buried at Lamasco Baptist Church Cemetery in Lyon County, Kentucky.
The picture below was taken of James while he was a POW in Japan.