Pvt. Walter Lenard Tucker
Pvt. Walter L. Tucker was born to Erie Thomas
Tucker and Jerusha Emiline Fields-Tucker on
January 29, 1921, in the town of Carbon in
Eastland County, Texas. He was one of
couple's six sons and grew up on farms outside of
Carbon. He attended school in both Carbon
and Eastland, Texas, but left high school after
completing his sophomore year.
On March 17, 1941, Walter inducted into the United States Army and sent for basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After completing basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Benning, Georgia, but did not take part in the maneuvers that were taking place in Louisiana.
After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to Camp Polk for orders. It was ther, on the side of a hill, that the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. Married men, or men 29 years old or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. Replacements of these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. At first, volunteers were sought, but when this did not fill the vacancies in the battalion, a lottery was held and names were pulled from a box. It is not known if Walter volunteered or if he had his named drawn from a box. Upon becoming a member of the 192nd, Walter was assigned to Headquarters Company as a truck driver.
The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii, as part of a three ship convoy. The ships arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover, so the soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam. The ships took a southerly route away from the main 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 the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. 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 sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day. At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila. The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind and unloaded the battalion's tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward 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 remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner. Afterwards, he went and had his own dinners.
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. From here, the men first traveled to Hawaii and then Guam. The battalion arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day. Two weeks later, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Walter witnessed the Japanese bombing of Clark Field.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
At six in the morning on December 8th, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength around Clark Airfield. The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north. At first they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes. As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
During the battle to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands, Walter worked as a truck driver supplying the men of the 192nd Tank Battalion with ammunition and fuel. Other men that he worked with were Pvt. Alex Gorr of Company B, Pvt. Joe Trilicik and Pvt. William Peavler, all of Headquarters Company. As a truck driver, Walter carried ammunition and gasoline to the tanks while dodging bombs from Japanese planes. Walter performed this duty for four months.
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. George was now a Prisoner of War. 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.
HQ Company finally boarded its trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, they 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 front of the soldiers in a car. He got out and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail before getting back into the car and driving off. As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles. In the school yard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Shells from the two forts began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed from incoming shells. Three of the four Japanese guns were knocked out by the shells.
The POWs were ordered to move by the Japanese and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march they received no water and little food. Walter saw soldiers, desperate for water, shot because they attempted to get water from artesian wells that flowed over the road. It took the members of HQ Company eleven days to complete the march.
At San Fernando, the POWs were put in a school yard that had surrounded with barbwire and turned into a holding pen for the POWs. At some point, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station. There, they were put into a small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas. The POWs were packed into the cars so tightly that those who died remained standing. He and the other POWs disembarked from the cars at Capas and walked the last few miles to Camp O' Donnell
Walter's first POW camp was Camp O' Donnell. From there, he would be returned to Bataan to drive trucks on a scrap metal detail. While on this detail, he was reunited with Pvt. Alex Gorr and Pvt. Bland Moore of the 192nd. On December 18, 1942, while on the detail, Walter was admitted to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison with gastroenteritis. After this detail was completed, he was then sent to Cabanatuan.
As a POW, Walter was selected for the Pasay School Detail. The detail's name came from the fact that the POWs were housed in a school at Pasay a little over a mile from Nichols Field. The POWs on the detail were housed in eighteen classrooms at the school. 30 POWs were assigned to each room. On the detail, the POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. The plans for this expansion, of the airfield, came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills which were 80 feet high The POWs flattened them by hand and moved the dirt with wheel barrows. The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
A normal day for the POWs started at six A.M., the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again before returning to the school, where they were counted again. After being counted, they rushed to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, which was another meal of fish and rice, and were counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
Walter had no clothing but a Japanese supplied G-string and a straw hat to protect him from the sun. The shoes given to the POWs would disintegrate within weeks of receiving them. Daily, he and the other POWs were marched through the town of Pasay to work and from work. Walter spent 28 months on this detail.
At some point after arriving at Pasay, Walter developed gastroenteritis and was sent to the hospital at Bilibid and was admitted on December 18, 1942. He remained there until February 14, 1942, and was sent to Building #18 at the prison. It is known he was later returned to the Pasay School Detail.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn't get up, four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the school.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans on the detail were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, "Tell them I went down smiling." The White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The White Angel told the POWs that this was what was going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf." He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and do 50 push-ups. If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway while working. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the school and strung him up by his thumbs, outside the doorway of the school, and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did the POWs there learn what the detail was like. The POWs from the detail were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
In 1944, Walter was selected to be sent to Cabanatuan when the Japanese reduced the number of POW on the detail. In early July, Walter's name was listed on a roster of POWs being sent to Japan. On July 17th, his POW detachment was boarded onto the Nissyo Maru at 8:00 A.M. The ship moved to a breakwater in the harbor on July 18th and remained there for seven days. At 8:00 A.M. on July 28th, the ship moved again and dropped anchor at 2:00 P.M. at a point off Corregidor. The next day it sailed as part of a convoy which attempted to avoid American submarines by hugging the coast line of Luzon.
At 3:00 A.M. on July 26th, the convoy ran into a American submarine wolf pack amde up of the submarines U.S.S. Crevale, the U.S.S. Angler, and the U.S.S. Flasher. The Otari Yama Maru was hit by torpedoes from the U.S.S. Crevale. Since the hatch covers were not on the holds, the POWs saw the flames, from the explosion, shoot over the holds. The remaining ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, at 8:00 A.M., July 28th.
Later the same day at 7:00 P.M., the ships sailed again and sailed through a storm from July 30th until August 2nd. On August 3rd, the POWs were issued new clothing, before the ship docked at midnight of August 4th in Moji, Japan.
In Japan, Walter was sent to Oeyama Camp to work in a nickel mine which was nearly six miles from the camp. With a pick and shovel, he and the other POW's had to extract ore from the mine. When they loaded a car, they next had to push it to the railroad track that ran past the mine. The prisoners had to work in all types of weather. For Walter, working in snow as deep as six feet deep was the worst part of the experience. To protect the prisoners' feet from the elements, the Japanese supplied them with rubber boots. The pair Walter received had a hole in one of the toes which resulted in him having frozen feet.
Walter and the other POW's knew how the war was going because the Japanese interpreter would give them the news. They also began to see American B-29s in the sky above the camp.
On July 30th, B-29s bombed Miyazu. Since their bombing run went over the camp, two POWs were killed in the raid. Two weeks later the planes returned and bombed the town all night and half way through the next day. A short time later, many of the POWs witnessed the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.
One day at formation, the commanding officer announced to the POWs that the war was over. On September 9, 1945, the POWs were freed and returned to the Philippine Islands. On the Simon Bolivar, he returned to the United States, at San Francisco, on October 21, 1945. He was taken to Letterman General Hospital for further treatment. When he returned home, he married Dorothy Powers and became the father of three sons, but their marriage did not last.
Walter remained in the military and transferred to the U.S. Air Force, on January 26, 1946, and served on bases in Spain and the United States. After twenty years in the military, he retired at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Walter married, Yvonne McKinnon, and they resided in North Dakota for several years before moving to Eastland, Texas. Yvonne passed away in 1976 and he married Ida Lou Putmam, who also passed away. He next married Lavern Savage in 1999.
Walter L. Tucker passed away on May 3, 2005, on Eastand, Texas, and was buried at Old Gordon Cemetery, Gordon, Texas.