Pvt. Grover David Whittinghill
| Pvt. Grover D.
Whittinghill was born on July 28, 1918, in Mercer
County, Kentucky, to Lillian Hendren-Whittinghill
and James Whittinghill. With his two
brothers he grew up on Calvary Road in Rural
Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and was a high school
graduate. After high school in worked at a
unskilled textile job.
In September 1940, the local Kentucky National Guard tank company was re-designated as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and would be called to federal service for one year.. The company sought men to fill-out its roster. Grover, knowing that since he was going to be drafted, enlisted in the tank company so that he could fulfill his one year of military service.
The tank company traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 25th, where they joined three other National Tank companies to form the battalion. During Grover's time at the base, he was transferred to HQ Company when it was formed in early 1941.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers. HQ company did not actively take part in the maneuvers but made sure the letter companies had the supplies they needed. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of the soldiers had any idea why they were remaining at the base.
On the side of a hill, the battalion was informed that their time in the Army had been extended from one to five years. They also learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, most had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from military service.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam.
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. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King 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 love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
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.
The morning of December 8th, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had no weapons to be used against planes.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. The morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, commander of HQ Company, informed his men of the surrender. Bruni somehow came up with enough food for the men to have what he called, "Their last supper." The meal consisted of bread and pineapple. Bruni told his men that from this point on it was each man for himself. Most of the company remained in their bivouac for two days while others attempted to escape to Corregidor.
The first contact HQ Company had with the Japanese was when Japanese officers entered their bivouac. They ordered the Americans to go to the road that ran past their encampment. Once on the road, they were made to kneel on both sides of the road. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs 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.
Sitting, watching, and waiting the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Grover's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese. The men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pin that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pin, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks. They were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars were known as "forty and eights" because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. From Capas, Grover the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink. The death rate among the POWs was as high as fifty men a day. Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that the death rate at the camp had to be dealt with. They opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Grover was healthy enough to be sent to the camp. The death rate among the POWs dropped after they received a Red Cross package.
On December 12, 1942, Grover was selected to go out on a work detail to Camp Murphy. With him on the detail was William Peavler, another Kentucky National Guardsman assigned. The POWs built runways with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows at Nelson Field. From what is known, the POWs were abused by the guards. He remained on the detail until September 1944. A day or two before the detail was ended American fighters appeared over the airfield and strafed and bombed it.
The POWs on the detail were taken to the Port Area of Manila. The detachment that Grover was in was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru. The entire detachment had arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail. Another ship, the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail, but all the POWs assigned to it had not arrived at the port. The Japanese decided to swap the POW detachments so the ship could sail.
Grover's detachment was boarded onto the Hokusen Maru on October 1st and it sailed on October 3rd and tied to a buoy. The ship finally sailed as part of a convoy after three days. Sailing along the coast, the ships were attacked by an American submarine. Two were hit by torpedoes and sunk. The POWs heard the torpedoes as they passed the ship. Avoiding submarines, the ship did not reach Hong Kong on October 11th. Only four ships from the convoy had survived the trip.
The ship remained at Hong Kong for five days. During this time American planes bombed the port. The ship sailed again on October 21st and took three days to reach Takao, Formosa. It arrived at the port on October 24th.
The same day it arrived at Takao, the ship the POWs had been scheduled to sail on, the Arisan Maru, was sunk by an American submarine in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Only nine of the 1803 POWs on the ship survived the sinking.
The POWs were disembarked on November 8th from the ship and bathed, They remained on Formosa. During their time on Formosa, they were held at Inrin Temporary camp. The camp was opened for them. Since they were such bad shape, the POWs were not required to do any hard labor. On January 14, 1945, 564 POWs were boarded onto the Enoshima Maru. It arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 23rd and disembarked.
In Japan, Grover was taken by Uguisusawa Train Station. From there they took a narrow cage train to Sendai Camp #3. When they left the train, they had to walk the last miles to the camp in deep snow and arrived there on January 28th. In the camp the POWs were used as slave labor in lead and zinc mining. The mine was operated by Mitsubishi Mining Company. Grover remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 12, 1945.
Grover recalled, "In September '44, I went to the island of Kyushuto to work in the mines. The Japs had a mine god. Every morning we had to bow to the gentleman so that he would hold up the ceiling for us. When we came out at night, we had to bow to the gentleman again, to thank him. One morning, we were on our way to the mine, the air raid alert blew. Four Navy fighter planes came over the mountain and starting diving. We ran into the mine which was filled with Japanese civilians. We didn't stop to bow to that gentleman that day."
After liberation, Grover was returned to the Philippines. After receiving medical treatment and being fatten up, he sailed for the United States, on September 23, 1945, on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze. He arrived at San Francisco on October 16, 1945, and was taken to Letterman General Hospital for addition medical treatment. Grover returned to home and lived in Cornishville, Kentucky.
Grover D. Whittinghill passed away at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 7, 1980. He was buried in Section F at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.