|Pvt. Grover David
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 called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and 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 28th, 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. It is not known what specific training he received.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to 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 report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, 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, and replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
Traveling west over the southern train route, the company traveled through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and up the west coast to San Francisco, California. They were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, "I'd rather be here than go where you all are going." 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. Some men were simply replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, on Monday, October 27th as part of a three ship convoy. After the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two day layover. The soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island. They sailed again on Wednesday, November 5th, for Guam taking 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 up 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 before sailing for Manila. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. As they passed the island they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they would soon be at war. About 8:00 in the morning on Thursday, November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila later that day, it was three or four hours before the soldiers disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded buses and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila. Those assigned to trucks drove to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. 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. After making sure the men had Thanksgiving Dinner, King went to have his own dinner.
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.
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 half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the tank crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled 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 few weapons to be used against planes so they took cover in a dry latrine trench.
Of the attack, Grover said, "I had a pork-chop sandwich in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other when they came over the base. They caught everything we had on the ground, except the tanks, which were off to the side, hidden by bushes. The raid lasted for about an hour."
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the battalion's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. Anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, there was one air raid after another air raid. Since they did not have any foxholes, the men used the old latrine pit for cover. Being that it was safer in the trench than in their tents, the other men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. The next morning the decision was made to move the company into an tree covered area. Without knowing it, he had slept his last night on a cot or bed for the next three and a half years. From this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni 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. He also told them that from this point on, it was each man for himself. 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."
Most of the company remained in their bivouac for two days while others attempted to escape to Corregidor. The morning of April 11th, a Japanese officer and troops arrived in the bivouac and ordered the soldiers out onto the road that ran past the bivouac. Once there, they were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road and placed their possessions in front of them. The Japanese soldiers who were passing them, took whatever they wanted from the Americans. After a half a day, the soldiers drove their trucks to an area just outside of Mariveles.
Grover recalled, "We marched along a newly made road to join another company of the 192nd Tank Battalion, stopping to kill a mule. It was the strongest thing you ever tasted and the toughest to chew! That's were the Japs showed up." As they marched a Japanese plane strafed the column. The returned to their bivouac, since the Japanese had given orders not to move.
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 with their possessions in front of them. 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 soldiers, 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, while the 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 without food or water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little since they had no place to hide, and some POWs were killed. 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 and 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 pen 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 pen, 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, and they were marched to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights" because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Grover the last miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army 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, and to get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink. Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The Japanese finally acknowledged they needed to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan and sent the POWs who were considered healthy were sent there. The death rate dropped dramatically when the Japanese issued the POWs Red Cross packages.
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. The POWs built runways with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows at Nielsen 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 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.
The Hokusen Maru sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those who were out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten ship convoy, the ship sailed on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaben. The next day, it was at San Fernando, La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks, but this failed since, on October 6th, two ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers had been seen near Formosa, so they sailed for Hong Knog and received word American submarines were in the area. During this part of the trip, the ships were attacked by submarines which sunk two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While they were in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th, but the ship was not hit. It sailed again, on October 21st, arriving at Takao, Formosa, on October 24th.
The same day the ship 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 nearly 1800 POWs on the ship survived the sinking. The same day the ship 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 nearly 1800 POWs on the ship survived the sinking. The same day the ship arrived at Takao, the Arisan Maru, the ship the POWs were suppose to sail on, was sunk in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Of the nearly 1800 POWs on the ship, only nine survived its sinking.
The POWs were disembarked on November 8th from the ship and bathed. During their time on Formosa, they were held at Inrin Temporary camp which had been 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 the POWs disembarked. The POWs disembarked the ship on November 8th, and were bathed with fire hoses. At the same time, the ship's holds were washed down. The Japanese decided the POWs were too sick to continue the trip, so they were taken to Inrin Temporary Camp which had been opened just for them. Since they were in such bad shape, the Japanese did not require them to do any strenuous physical labor. Those POWs who could, worked in a sugarcane mill.
On January 24, 1945, 564 POWs were boarded onto a train and taken to Shirakawa, Formosa, and boarded the Enoshima Maru on January 25th. The ship sailed for Moji, Japan, arriving on January 23rd. The POWs disembarked and were taken to the Ugiusisawa Train Station and took a narrow cage train to Sendai #3. When they left the train, they had to walk the last miles, in deep snow, and arrived at the camp on January 28th.
At the camp. the POWs were used as slave labor in lead and zinc mining. The mine was operated by the Mitsubishi Mining Company. Grover remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 12, 1945.
Grove recalled, "In September '44, I went to the Island of Honshu to work in the mines. The Japs had a mine god. Every morning we had to bow to 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 started 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 fattened up, he sailed for the United States on September 23, 1945, on the U.S.A.T. General R. L. Howze and arrived at San Francisco on October 16, 1945. He was taken to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment. After being determined to be healthy, Grover returned home and later lived in Cornishville, Kentucky.
Grover D. Whittinghill passed away at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 7, 1980, and was buried in Section F at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.