Wilson_M

 

S/Sgt. Maurice Edward Wilson


    S/Sgt. Maurice E. Wilson was born on March 2, 1912, to Lester Wilson & Lula Britton-Wilson in Mercer County, Kentucky.  He was raised, with his brother and six sisters, on the family farm and in Harrodsburg, where he attended school.  He was known as "Jack" to his family and friends.

    Jack joined the Kentucky National Guard's tank company which was headquartered in the Harrodsburg with his friend Marcus Lawson.  Jack was called to federal duty when the tank company was federalized on November 25, 1940.  He was now a member of D Company, 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion.  During his time at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Jack trained in M2 tanks.  Many of these tanks were recovered from the scrap yard and rebuilt by the members of the tank battalion.
    Jack was a tank commander.  During training one day, he was coaching men on firing the machine.  All day long, Jack was in the tank and sighting with his right eye.  When he came out of his tank, his eye was inflamed and red.  He ended up being sent to the base hospital where he spent the next 89 days.  
When it became apparent that the army was going to release him from federal service, he fought to be reunited with his company.  His wish was granted, and he rejoined the company as they prepared for overseas duty.  When he was discharged, he was made a mess sergeant.

    According to Jack, the tankers spent days putting cosmoline on anything that would rust. After everything was loaded onto flat cars, the battalion left Camp Polk on October 18th.

    Jack and the other members of D Company traveled west by train to San Francisco.  In his opinion , the reason why the companies were sent over different train routes, to San Francisco, was the government did not want to give the impression that the United States was about to go to war.  The battalion arrived in San Francisco on October 24th.  A ferry took the tankers to Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations.  After a three day stay, they sailed for the Philippine Islands. 
    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. Sotsenburg 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.

    It was at this time that D Company, was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion.  The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  Headquarters Company remained in the battalion's bivouac.
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. Jack recalled that the bullets from the Zeros sounded like hail hitting the hauls of the tanks.  

    A few days later, D Company was sent out to a dam to protect it from saboteurs.  Jack recalled that once Japanese troops landed, his company withdrew through Manila toward Bataan.  He recalled that as the tanks went through Manila, the city already showed damaged from being bombed.  It was during this withdraw, that a platoon of D Company would have to abandon their tanks because they had no way to cross a river.
    As mess sergeant it was Jack's job to keep the tankers fed.  First, he served caraboo.  These water buffalo were used to plow the rice paddies.   On one occasion, he was given a leg of a horse with its hide still on it.  His first job was to get the hide off.  After he had removed the hide, he ground it up since it was too tough to eat.   Jack stated that one time he was expected to feed 70 men with four, one pound cans of salmon and a loaf of bread.

    During the Battle of Bataan, Jack was reassigned from a tank commander to a mess sergeant.  The reason this was done was his commanding officer feared that if he got something in his good eye, he would be unable to command his tank.  As a mess sergeant Jack attempted to feed the men of D Company with anything he could find.  He remembered serving horse meat from the 26th U. S. Calvary to the tankers.  

    When the order came for the Filipino and American forces on Bataan to surrender, Jack and fifteen other members of the company attempted to escape to Australia.  They found a boat and got it running.  As they approached Corregidor, an American officer pulled out his service revolver and ordered the boat to land on the island.  Once there, the soldiers were not allowed to leave.

    A few days later, Jack volunteered to go to Ft. Drum.  One reason for doing this was that the Corregidor was under constant shelling. This was an island which had been turned into a fortress.  As long as it remained in American hands, the Japanese could not use Manila Bay.  At Ft. Drum, Jack became a member of a gun crew.  He also was given new clothes and the best meals that he had had in months. 

    The morning of May 6, 1941, Jack and the other soldiers received the news of the surrender to the Japanese.  They were taken by boat close to the shore and made to swim to shore.  The Prisoners of War were later marched down Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison.  A number of days later, they were taken by train to the barrio of Cabanatuan.  Their barracks in the town was the school house.  Finally, the POWs arrived at Cabantuan POW Camp #3.

    On July 9, 1942, Jack went out on a work detail to Pasay School.  The POWs on the detail were used to build runways at Nichols Field.  This was known as a "death detail" because the Japanese abused and overworked the POWs.  In Jack's case, he got dust in his eye.  The Japanese continued to make him work until the Japanese took him to Bilibid Prison on March 18, 1943.  The doctors could do little for him since they had no medicnie to treat his eye with.  On July 1, 1943, Jack was sent to Cabanatuan and held there until September 18, 1943.

    In September 1943, Jack was selected for shipment to Japan.  He was boarded onto the Taga Maru which sailed for Japan on September 20, 1943.  The ship arrived at Formosa, where it came under attack by American planes.  During the attack, the Japanese closed the hold's cover trapping the POWs below deck.  The ship sailed for Japan arriving on October 5, 1943, at Moji.  On the ship with Jack were Kenneth Hourigan, Clyde Harlow, Richard Leake, and Charles Reed.  After the POWs unloaded, they rode a train for seven or eight hours Niigata, Japan.  There, Jack was taken to Niigata 5-B.

    In Japan, Jack worked as a stevedore.  The POWs would shovel coal into a net.  After it was pulled from the hold, other POWs would shovel it onto a conveyor belt.  The coal would then be dumped into rail cars.  If no cars were there, the POWs would dump it onto the ground.  They then had to carry the coal in two baskets attached to a pole that they carried on their shoulders. 
    On one occasion while Jack was attempting to go to a washroom, another POW did not see him and pushed a cart into him.  Jack, who was too weak to get out of the way, fell of the trestle to the ground thirty-five feet below.  Jack was paralyzed for three months.  He did not know it, but he had shattered a vertebrae in his back.  Two other POWs made a stretcher and carried Jack three miles back to their POW camp.  He did not know it at the time, but he had broken a vertebrate in his back.
    The hospital in the camp had no beds, so the POWs lay on the ground.  The British doctor had no medicine to treat the sick.  Jack recalled that men around him died
every night.  Each morning the Japanese would enter the hospital and kick him to get up.  He finally had other POWs tie his belt to a rafter.  Each day, other POWs helped him get up and as he held onto the belt he tried to lift his legs.  He did this everyday for two or three weeks.  One day, he told the other POWs he was going back to his barracks to sleep.   He compared his way of walking to someone who was drunk.  When he could walk again, he could barely lift his feet.  The Japanese guards began to call him "Paddlefeet" because he walked like a duck.  This condition would affect him the rest of his life.  Since he could no longer work on the docks, the Japanese made Jack clean the grounds of the camp.  To do this, he had to make a broom from long slivers of wood.
    Jack described the barrack as a large barn with large doors at both ends.  The POWs slept along both walls, and each man's sleeping space was three feet wide. The POWs had cut a fifty gallon drum in half down its length to heat the barracks, but the Japanese would not provide coal. The POWs resorted to stealing coal by hiding it in their coats.  If the Japanese did a search and a POW was caught with coal, he was severely beaten.

    Food in Japan consisted of rice with scraps from the Japanese mess.  When fish heads were served to the POWs, Jack recalled that the eyes rolled around in his mouth like kernels of corn.  When grasshoppers were part of the meal, the burrs on the grasshoppers legs scratched his throat.  As to show how bad the food situation was, during his time in the camp, Jack had found a kitten.  One day he noticed it was missing.  When he found the kitten, two sailors eating it as a meal.  The only time the POWs ever got a good meal was when the Red Cross representative came to the camp.  The next day, the meals were back to normal.

    When a POW died in the camp, the Americans would nail together a coffin and put the body in it.  The box was put on a cart.  The POWs would take the cart and pile wood on it.  The cart was taken into Niigata and the body was cremated.  The ashes were put into a small box, with the man's POW number on it, and returned to the camp.
    The POWs could see where the American planes had dropped mines into the water to sink Japanese ships.  The POWs knew by the increasing frequency of the beatings they received that the Japanese were losing the war.
    The Japanese also placed an anti-aircraft gun on a hill not too far from the camp.  The POWs knew that if American planes attempted to bomb it, bombs would fall on the camp.

    Jack recalled that one day the guards were gone.  The POWs painted Niigata #5-B on the roof of a building.  American planes came over and returned to their carrier.  Soon, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and medicine.  They learned that American troops were in Tokyo, so 300 of the POWs walked to the train station and rode a train there.  Once there, American nurses had them take off their new clothes and throw them away.  The former POWs were sprayed with D.D.T. to kill the lice, they took showers, and were issued new clothes.  The real sick men were taken to a hospital ship.  Jack and the other POWs were flown to Manila.  Ironically, the planes landed on a runway that Jack helped to build when he was a POW.

    The POWs remained at Nichols Field for ten days.  During that time, Americans came to the camp and asked the former POWs if they could give them the names of any Japanese who had beaten, abused, or killed POWs.  Jack stated he had never bothered to learn the guards real names and could only give nicknames.  Other men were able to give names and some of the former guard received prison sentences of 10 to 25 years. Still others were sentenced to death.
    Jack was sent to Manila and after medical treatment boarded the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman. It took the ship eight to ten days to reach the United States on October 3, 1945.  When he returned to the United States, it was almost four years, to the day, that he had sailed for the Philippines.  Jack was put on a train, with beds on both sides of the cars.  Each car also had several nurses and a kitchen.  He rode the train to Saint Louis, Missouri.  There, he was put on another train for Louisville, Kentucky.  In Louisville, he was put in a military hospital.  When the hospital was turned over to the Veterans Administration, Jack, because he still in the Army, was sent to another hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he was hospitalized for almost a year. 
    On February 5, 1947, Jack was sent to Fort Custer, Michigan and released from federal service.  Being that he was a staff sergeant, he was promoted technical sergeant.

    Jack married and lived in Harrodsburg for the rest of his life.  One of the lasting effects of his time as a POW was that he would have to wear leg braces for the rest of his life.  This injury also prevented him from holding down a job.  Another effect of his time in the Army was Jack lost the vision in his eye.

    The photo at the top of the page was taken while Jack was a POW in Japan.  Maurice E. Wilson passed away on May 2, 1985.


 


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