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 renlisted 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. With A Company, he traveled by train to Angel Island. There, Ray and the rest of the battalion were given physicals and inoculated for duty overseas.
Arriving in the Philippine Islands, after stops in Hawaii and Guam, Ray and the other members of the A Company were assigned to tents along the main road between Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Airfield. On the morning of Dec. 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, A Company heard the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor from Captain Walter Write. Ray and the other members of the company were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field by Write. This was to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, as the tankers were getting lunch, Japanese 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.
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.