Underwood

 

 

Pvt. Ray Collin Underwood


    Pvt. Ray C. Underwood was born on his family's small hill country farm on April 31, 1917, in the Bounds Crossroads Community in Itawamba County, Mississippi.  He was the son of Garvin Underwood and Mattie Lorene Buchanan-Underwood.  With his four sisters, he grew up on the family farm which was east of Fulton, Mississippi.  By 1930, the family was living on Bean Street at Garvin in Fulton, Mississippi, since his father was serving the county as the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

     Ray was inducted into the U. S. Army in November 1938, and relisted on December 12, 1940.  It is known that he did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.   After basic training he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.  In the summer of 1941, his battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  

    When National Guardsmen from the 192nd Tank Battalion were released from federal service, Ray volunteered to join the battalion.  He was assigned to A Company which originally was as a Wisconsin National Guard tank company. 
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.  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.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
    At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
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.
   

    Around 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, as the tankers were getting lunch,  planes approached the airfield.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the airfield that they knew the planes were Japanese.  The bombers were followed by fighters which strafed the area.  

    Being that the tankers had no weapons of use against the planes, all they could do was watch.  After the attack, the tanks of A Company were ordered to guard a dam against sabotage.  On December 22nd, A Company was sent to north to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing troops.  Their job was to support B Company.

    For the next two months, the tanks of the 192nd served as the rear guard as the Filipino and American forces fell back toward the Bataan Peninsula.  The tank company was east of Concepcion, when it came under enemy fire.  A shell hit Ray's tank and disabled it.  Lt. William Reed having escaped from the tank was working to evacuate the other members of the tank crew, through the turret, when a second shell hit the tank below where he was standing.  He was mortally wounded.

    In an attempt to save Lt. Reed's life, Pvt. Jack Bruce went for help.  When he did not return, Pvt. Eugene Greenfield also went to find help.  Ray sat with Lt. Reed and cradled him in his arms as Reed lay dying.  As he sat holding Reed, the Japanese overran the area.  On December 30, 1941, Lt. Reed died in Ray's arms.  It was on that day that Ray became a Prisoner Of War.

    It is not known where Ray was first held as a POW.  What is known is that the Japanese officers were impressed with the loyalty that Ray had shown Lt. Reed and treated him very well.  It was only when the officers were not around that Ray was beaten by the Japanese enlisted men.

    When Cabanatuan was opened, Ray was sent there.  He actually was "fat" compared to the other POWs.  Medical records from the camp's hospital show that Ray was hospitalized on April 6 1943.  No reason for his hospitalization or date of release is recorded on the records.
    At some point, Ray was sent to Clark Airfield where POWs were extending the runways.  Since his name is not on the original POW draft, he appears to have been a replacement for a POW who could no longer work.  How long he was on the detail is not known, but it is known that he was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison and admitted on May 22, 1944, suffering from conjunctivitis.  After three days in the ward, he was discharged on May 25th and sent to what was called "the sick hospital." 
Later the same day, he was readmitted to the hospital with beriberi.    
    Ray was again admitted to the hospital ward at Bilibid on July 27th, with beriberi, and discharged the same day.  He apparently was readmitted and stayed in the hospital until August 2nd and sent to Building #18 at Bilibid. 

    On August 17, 1944, Ray was given a physical and determined to be healthy enough to be sent to Japan.  Ray was boarded onto the Noto Maru.  This ship and others became known as a "Hell Ships".  The ship sailed on August 27, 1944.  During the voyage, the ship stopped at Takao and Keelung, Formosa, before arriving at Moji, Japan on September 4, 1944.

    Ray was assigned to Sendai #6 on the Island of Honshu.  The POWs there worked in a copper mine, owned by Mitsubishi, that had been determined, by the Japanese, to be too dangerous to mine.

    While a POW there, Ray developed pneumonia.  On Thursday, February 15, 1945, Pvt. Ray C. Underwood died of pneumonia at the camp hospital at Hanawa Camp #6.

    After his death, the Japanese held a Shinto funeral service for Ray.  His remains were taken to a crematorium.  After the cremation, Ray's ashes were given to the camp commandant who held them to the end of the war.

    Ray's family requested that his remains be returned to Mississippi in 1949.  Pvt. Ray Collin Underwood was buried at Mount Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery just east of Tremont, Mississippi.


 

 

 

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