Pvt. Edward George Wills Jr.
| Pvt. Edward G.
Wills Jr. was the son of Edward G. Wills Sr. &
Susan Bell Mattingly-Wills. He was born in
Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on March 8, 1918, and was one
of the couple's nine children.
Little is known about his life in Harrodsburg. What is known is that he was called, "E.G." by his family and friends, and that one of his sisters died when he was 20 years old. He was working as a house painter when he joined the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg on August 1, 1940. The reason he did this was the draft act had been passed, and he knew he was going to be drafted. The tank company was scheduled to be federalized for one year of military service in the fall of 1940.
On November 25, 1940, the 38th Divisional Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard was designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. There, Edward trained with D Company until he was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was created in January 1941.
After taking part in maneuvers in Louisiana, Edward and the other members of the 192nd learned that they were being sent overseas. Their mission was to train the Philippine Army in tank usage.
By train, along the Gulf Coast, the soldiers
traveled to San Francisco through Texas, New
Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the
train stopped. Native Americans entered the
train cars and sold beads to the soldiers.
The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to
buy the beads. After the train pulled out of
the station, someone noticed that the genuine
Native American beads were made in
When they were told of the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they
laughed. 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 his
men to listen up because what he was telling
them the truth. He again told them that
Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they each
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.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not
much left of the airfield. Since the company'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. The fact was that
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. Since they did not have any foxholes, the men used the old latrine pit for cover. Since it was safer in the pit than in their tents, the 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, the soldiers had slept their last night on a cot or bed for the next three and a half years. From this point on, they slept in blankets on the ground.
The coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward Bataan Peninsula. As they withdrew, supplies and food - that could have aided in the fight against the Japanese - were often left behind.
During this time, the soldiers were bombed and strafed. The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to where HQ was bivouacked. That night the sky was lit by the fire of the burning ammunition dumps.
Word reached Edward and the other members of HQ
Company that the order had been given to surrender
the morning of April 9, 1942. The evening of April 8, 1942,
Bruni gave his
men the news
While informing the members
of the company
waved his arm
tanks and told
the men that
they would no
he spoke, his
He turned away
from the men
for a moment,
and when he
turned back he
He next told
should do to
that they all
He told the
that could be
used by the
The only thing
they were told
not to destroy
He also told
them that from
this point on,
it was each
The men waited
juice for what
he called, "Their last supper."
HQ Company made its way to Mariveles in their trucks. At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded and lined up for an inspection. The Japanese took the prisoners' jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.
As the soldiers stood facing the Japanese guards, it appeared that the Japanese were going to execute the prisoners. Out of the car climbed a Japanese officer, the officer gave orders to the soldiers that they were not to kill the POWs. After doing this, he got back into the car and it drove off.
Edward and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to kneel in the sun without food or water. They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. The American guns on the island began returning fire. Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs. The men had no place to hide and several were killed. Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.
It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that Edward began what would later become known as the death march. The first night the POWs were marched all night. What made things worse for Edward and the other prisoners was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells. It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water the POWS still went to the wells. This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The boxcars were small and could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly, that the dead remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
Edward made his way to Camp O'Donnell which was an
unfinished Filipino training base that had one
water faucet for 12,000 POWs. Men died
waiting for a drink, while others died from the
diseases that ran wild among the sick POWs.
The situation was so bad that the Japanese opened
a new camp at Cabanatuan. Being one of the
healthier POWs, Edward was sent to the new camp.
On February 17, 1950, the remains of Pvt. Edward
G. Wills Jr. were returned to the United
States. Since they could not be positively
identified, he was buried Section 78, Graves 1004,
1005, and 1006, with seven other POWs at Jefferson
Barracks National Cemetery in Saint. Louis,
Raymond J. Graham and Tec 5 Kent W. Hughes
Jr, who share the grave, were members of the
192nd Tank Battalion. The cemetery was selected
since the majority of families would have approximately
the same distance to drive to the grave.
In memory of Edward, his parents had a headstone placed at the Berea Christian Church Cemetery, off the Mackville Road, about four miles southwest of Harrodsburg.
It should be mentioned, that Edward's sister, Mary Lyle, flew two flags in front of her house in memory of her baby brother. She flew the flags both day and night, summer and winter. After she died in 1974, her family sold the house. The last thing to come down, from in-front of the house, were the flags.
The photo at the top of
the page is of Edward Wills and his nephew.