Pvt. Willard Rue Yeast
Willaard R. Yeast was born on June
27, 1915, in Mercer County, Kentucky, to John
Yeast and Cordia Gerling-Yeast. With his
three sisters and six brothers, he grew up on
Calvary Road in Mercer County, and worked on the
Willard joined the Kentucky National Guard's tank company, 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 28, 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 January 1941, Willard was transferred to Headquarters Company when it was created. It is not known what specific duties he did with the company.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th. 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.
The decision to send the 192nd overseas - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Traveling west over the southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and up the west coast, the company arrived in San Francisco,California, and was ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on 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 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered 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, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them 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. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
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.
On December 1st, the tank battalions were sent to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th was given the northern part of the airfield to defend and the 192nd had the southern half to protect. At all times, each tank or half-track had to be manned by two members of its crew. Those on duty were fed by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac. 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. Capt Fred Bruni, the company commander, 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 early afternoon when this belief was blown away.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. recalled looking up and seeing a lot of planes approaching. Having heard the rumor that Clark Field was going to be reinforced the soldiers thought nothing about the planes approaching the airfield. The men got up and began counting the planes. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appear to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The men dove into a ditch that was near their bivouac and took cover and remained there for the entire attack. 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.
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." It was at this time that Bruni told them that it was every man for themselves.
The men took their ammunition and weapons and put them in piles in the last tank and half-track they had. They poured gasoline into the tank and on the half track. Both were set both on fire.
The next morning they were suppose to join up with other troops and surrender together. When they attempted to do so, they were strafed by a Japanese plane, so they returned to their bivouac.
The first contact HQ Company had with the Japanese was when a Japanese officer and soldiers entered their bivouac. They ordered the Americans to go to the road that ran past their encampment, and 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. The POWs remained along the sides of the road for half a day.
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, and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. While he was driving away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles and 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. 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 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 of the men 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 POWs 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 boxcars known as "forty or eights," because they could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car, since they could fall to the floors. From Capas, Grover walked the last 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. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line for days to get 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 graves. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered with dirt. The next day, when the POWs on the detail returned, they 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, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Willard was healthy enough to be sent to the camp when it opened. In July, the death rate among the POWs dropped after they received Red Cross packages. 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, since medical records show 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 over a year. In July 1944, about half the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan since most of the work on the airfield was done.
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. The officers had a smaller trench.
At some point, an American convoy was spotted approaching Palawan, and 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. They went to work, but at noon they were returned to the POW compound.
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. As they entered into the trenches, they noticed that extra guards had been 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 as they killed them. The guards also 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 by Japanese soldiers in boats. 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 123 were found. Many of the skulls had bullet holes in them.
Willard's family did not receive official word of his death until September 11, 1945. After the war, at the request of the families, some of the remains of men who could be identified were returned to the families and buried at the cemeteries of their choice. The remains of the remaining 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.