Pvt. Willard Rue Yeast
| Pvt. Willaard Yeast was
born on June 27, 1915, in
Mercer County, Kentucky, to John Yeast and Cordie
Gerling-Yeast. With his three sisters and
six brothers, he grew up on Calvary Road in Mercer
County. He worked on the family's
Willard joined the Kentucky National Guard's tank companuy, on October 7, 1940, in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. His reason for doing this is the company was about to be federalized as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and Willard knew it was a matter of time before he would be drafted into the Army. The tank company was scheduled to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky on November 25, 1940. His younger brother, Claude, was also a member of the tank company.
At Ft. Knox, the soldiers attended armor schools and trained in tank tactics and maintenance. In early 1941, Willard was transferred to Headquarters Company when it was created. It is not known what training Willard received while at Ft. Knox.
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 and that the tanks kept running. 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. The tankers worked to cosmoline their equipment to keep it from rusting.
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. Willard was healthy enough to be sent to the camp. The death rate among the POWs dropped after they received a Red Cross package. It is known from medical records kept at the camp, that Willard was hospitalized on August 21, 1942. The records do not indicate what his illness was or when he was discharged.
Willard went out on a work detail to Lipa, Batangas, on December 12, 1942, to build runways at Camp Murphy. The work was hard but got harder when they reached the hills about 400 yards from where they began. The Japanese expected the POWs to remove the hills by hand. Apparently he was returned to Cabanatuan due to illness. He was again hospitalized on March 23, 1943, but no illness or date of discharge were recorded.
At some point, Willard was sent to Palawan as a replacement for another POW who could no longer work. The work detail was to build an airfield with picks and shovels. He would remain at Palawan for almost two years. In July 1944, about half the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan.
On October 19, 1944, the POWs saw their first American planes in over two years. Seventeen B-24s raided the airfield. The planes returned on October 28th and strafed and bombed the airfield again. After the second air raid, the POWs were ordered to dig three air raid trenches. The trenches were five feet deep and four feet wide. Each trench could hold 50 men.
At some point, an American convoy was spotted approaching Palawan. The Japanese believed this was an invasion force heading to the island. On December 13th, two Japanese officers told the POWs that they were going to work early the next day. At noon the next day they were returned to the POW compound. At 2:00 P.M. on December 14th, the POWs knew something was going on. During lunch, there were two air raid warnings and the POWs went into the trenches. They noticed that extra guards were placed around the compound.
Around 2:00 P.M., another air raid warning was given. Since they had been through two false alarms that day, the POWs did not go into the trenches until forced to do so by the Japanese. Once the POWs were in the trenches, the Japanese armed their guns.
The Japanese approached the first trench, threw lit torches into it and one or two buckets of gasoline. which set the POWs on fire. Those who ran from the shelter were shot. Those who begged to be shot in the head were shot or bayoneted in the stomach. The Japanese laughed at the POWs. The guards fired into the other trenches and threw hand grenades into them.
The POWs who escaped were hunted down. Men who attempted to swim to safety were shot in the water. Those who hid in the crevices in the cliffs were killed when the Japanese dynamited them. The POWs who did survive manage to make the swim to another island at night. On the island, they were protected by Filipinos until rescued by American forces.
When American forces landed on Palawan Island, on February 28, 1945, they found personal items in the POW compound. The graves of the murdered POWs were exhumed between March 15th and 23rd. In all, the remains of 79 were found. Many of the skulls had bullet holes in them.
After the war, at the request of the families, some of the remains were returned to the families to be buried at the cemeteries of their choice. The remains of the other POWs, including Pvt. Willard R. Yeast, were reburied at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint Louis, Missouri on February 14, 1952 in Section 85, Site 14 - 66.