Cpl. Claude Len Yeast
| Cpl. Claude L.
Yeast was born to William Yeast & Cordie
Gerling-Yeast on February 19, 1917, in
Harrodsburg, Kentucky. He was the brother of
Willard Yeast who
was also a member of the 192nd Tank
Battalion. He also had five additional
brothers and three sisters. Claude worked on
the family farm.
In the fall of 1940, Claude was called to federal service as a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. For nearly a year, Claude trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky. After this training he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers, at Camp Polk, that he and the other members of the 192nd learned that instead of being released from federal service they were being sent overseas.
After receiving a furlough home, Claude returned to Louisiana where is company traveled by train to San Francisco. Upon arrival in San Francisco, the Claude and the other members of the battalion were ferried to Angel Island. On the island they received physicals and shots.
Sailing for the Philippine Islands, Claude and his battalion arrived there on November 20, 1941, which was Thanksgiving Day. Upon arrival, the tankers were taken to Fort Stotsenburg. There, they were housed in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to ready their tanks for maneuvers. They de-Cosmo lined their tanks guns and loaded ammunition belts.
The morning of December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers learned about the attack. That morning, they were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers.
Around noon, the tankers were told to send a couple members of each tank crew for lunch. Since they were on guard duty, trucks were sent out to the tanks. Claude was standing in line when planes appeared in the sky approaching the airfield from the north. As Claude and the other tankers watched, what looked like confetti fell from the planes. It was only when the bombs began exploding on the runways did the soldiers know that the planes were Japanese. During the attack, the tankers could little more than watch. After the bombers, the airfield was strafed by Japanese Zeros.
The tankers remained at Clark Field for three more days when D Company, which was now attached to the 194th Tank Battalion, was sent to southern Luzon. The rest of the 192nd remained at Clark Field until they were sent north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops.
A few days after the rest of the 192nd was sent north, D Company and the 194th were sent to Lingayen Gulf to reinforce the 192nd. The job of the two tank battalions was to serve as a rear guard. It while doing this job that D Company found itself behind enemy lines.
D Company spent three days attempting to find a crossing over a river since all the bridges had been blown by the retreating Filipino and American forces. When it became apparent that there was no way to get the tanks across the river, the tankers left 21 tanks and two halftracks on a road. The members of the company were used as replacements in other tank crews.
For the next four months, Claude fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. When the word came of the surrender, Claude and other members of D Company made their way to Corregidor by boat. On Corregidor, Claude was assigned to a Marine unit.
The night of May 5th, the Japanese landed troops on Corregidor in force. The morning of May 6, 1942, Claude became a Prisoner of War when the island fortress was surrendered. Claude remained on the island for almost two weeks.
Claude and the other POWs were taken by boat back to Luzon. Near the shore, they had to jump into the water a swim ashore. The POWs were gathered on a road and then marched through Manila. From there, they were taken to Bilibid Prison. Claude stayed in Bilibid for three days. He then was taken to the barrio of Cabanatuan. The POWs spent the night in a school. From there, Claude was taken to Cabanatuan #3. He remained in the camp for about five months before he and other POWs were moved by train back to Manila.
On October 5th Claude and the other POWs were awakened and taken by train to Manila. There, they were housed in a warehouse on Pier 7 for two days. During this time, he was reunited with Cecil VanDiver. The prisoners, was boarded onto the Tottori Maru on October 7th. The ship was also loaded with scrap metal bound for Korea. The ship sailed for Formosa.
The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck. This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed. Many POWs died during the trip.
While out at sea, the Tottori Maru survived an attack by an American submarine. Two torpedoes were headed right at the ship, but the captain maneuvered the ship so that the torpedoes passed alongside of it. At another point, the ship barely missed a mine that had been laid by a submarine.
The ship continued its voyage arriving at Takao, Formosa on October 12th. On October 16th the ship sailed from Takao but returned when the Japanese thought that American submarines were in the area. The ship remained in harbor for two more days.
On October 18th, the ship sailed again. When it reached the Pescadores Islands, it dropped anchor. It remained off the islands until October 27th when it returned to Takao. The POWs were ordered off the ship. They were lined up and sprayed with fire hoses. After this was done, they were put back into the holds of the ship.
The ship finally sailed on October 30th and went to Makou, Pescadores Islands. When they sailed again, the ship was attacked by an American submarine. The submarine shot torpedoes at the ship, but they all missed. During this trip, the ship was caught in a typhoon which took five days to ride out.
After 31 days on the ship, the Totori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea on November 7th. 1300 POW's got off the ship and sent on a four day train trip north to Mukden, Manchria. Claude was one of the POWs unloaded from the ship. Another group of POWs remained on board and sent to Japan.
Claude and the other men received new clothes. They were then marched down the street. The civilians in the town spit on them and hit them. They also made fun of the POWs. The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box which contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish.
In Manila, Claude was reunited with Cecil Van Diver. The two men both had thought that the other had died. They spent the night on Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. On October 8, 1942, they were boarded onto the Tottori Maru. The ship sailed and stopped at Takao, Formosa before continuing onto Pusan, Korea. From Pusan, the POWs were put on a train and taken north to Manchuria. The bodies of those POWs who had died during the trip were taken to Manchuria where they were buried.
The POWs were held at Hoten Sub-camp #1 near Mukden, Manchuria. The camp opened on November 8, 1942 with the arrival of the prisoners. Claude worked in a machine shop. The POWs were suppose to manufacture weapons for the Japanese war effort, but in his opinion, they never made any weapons that the Japanese could use.
About a year and a half after arriving in Manchuria, Claude was selected to be sent to Japan. He arrived there on May 29, 1944. In Japan, Claude was taken to Kamioka #1-B POW Camp were the POWs were used to mine zinc and lead. Claude worked in the mine running a jackhammer.
One day while Claude was working the ground shook. It was the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. According to Claude, "I was working 2000 feet into the mountain in a lead mine the day the atomic bomb struck and thought nothing of the reverberation. The next day, the Japanese said it was a holiday. The rumors starting flying that the war was over. The Japanese handed over their guns and walked out of camp. We ate two horses in two weeks. One day I said, 'Damned if there isn't a sheep in the house.' and, sure enough, there was that dude up there cooking away." When the POWs finally learned that the war was over, they remained in the camp for several weeks.
They finally were taken to Yokohama and boarded a hospital ship. It was only after he had been liberated that Claude learned that his brother, Willard, had been burnt to death by the Japanese on Palawan Island. This was done to prevent him, and the other POWs, from being liberated by advancing American forces.
Claude returned to the United States and married. He lived rest of his life in Harrodsburg where he and his wife raised a son and daughter. Claude Yeast passed away on November 17, 1967.