Sgt. William Clinton Alford
Sgt. William C. Alford was born on October 1, 1921, to George Alford and Sadie May Miller-Alford in Danville, Kentucky. He attended school from kindergarten through eighth grade in Danville, but for high school he traveled to Burgin, Kentucky.
In July 1939, he joined the Kentucky National Guard's 38th Tank Company from Harrodsburg. His reason for doing this was that his best friend, Cecil Mills, was joining, and William liked the spending money he earned for drilling one evening each week for two hours. For each day he drilled, he earned a day's pay. Since he was seventeen years old when he joined the Kentucky National Guard, his mother signed an affidavit stating that he was eighteen.
In 1940, the fall of William's senior year of high school, he was called to federal service when his tank company was federalized as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He left high school to go with the company to Fort Knox, Kentucky. in all likelihood, he completed high school at Ft. Knox.
When Headquarters Company was formed in January 1941, William was transferred to the company and assigned to the reconnaissance platoon. He recalled that he and the other men received ten weeks of intensive training. After the training was completed, the battalion received new equipment. It was also about this time that the battalion became receiving draftees to fill out its roster.
On June 14, 1941, the battalion left Ft. Knox on a three day technical road march to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back which covered 225 miles. Part of the reason for this was so the soldiers learned to load, unload, and setup administrative camps as the 192nd took part in the Louisiana maneuvers. From September 1st through 30th, the battalion took part in the Louisiana Maneuves. William recalled that HQ Company really did not do much during the maneuvers. After the maneuvers, the 192nd was ordered to report to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Those men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. 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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
After returning to Camp Polk, the soldiers boarded trains and headed for San Francisco, California. HQ Company took the southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and through California to San Francisco. There, they rode the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M Coxe, to Ft.McDowell on Angel Island. What William remembered about Angel Island was receiving complete physicals and more needles. Men with minor medical conditions were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
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.
The morning of December 8, 1941, William and his platoon were ordered to the end of the main runway at Clark Field. Since they had two half-tracks with machine-guns, their job was to join the tanks in guarding the field against Japanese paratroopers. As the tankers looked up, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed to be refilled and the pilots went to lunch.
William recalled that the planes at the airfield were parked wing-tip to wing- tip on both sides of the runway. There was no sign of activity on the ground or in the air. As he watched, planes approached the field around 12:45 in the afternoon. The tankers had enough time to count 54 planes in formation. When the bombs began exploding chaos broke out everywhere. About the attack he said, "Eighteen days after we got there, they dumped on us and all hell broke loose. They bombed us at 12:29 P.M. Dec 8 - four hours after Pearl Harbor (Actually, ten hours after Pearl Harbor) . They destroyed 89 planes and 236 were killed."
After the attack, 89 of the planes that had been sitting along the runway were destroyed, and there were approximately 236 casualties. From this point out, William and his platoon guarded the airfield during the day against paratroopers, and at night they enforced blackouts in the villages around the airfield.
During the Battle of Bataan, it was William's job as a reconnaissance sergeant to scout out positions for the tanks to hide in during the day when not engaged. It was also his platoon's job to provide perimeter guard for HQ Company. In the diary he kept he noted on December 25th, "Plenty of bullets - no chow."
The morning of April 9, 1942, William received word by a messenger from group HQ of the surrender at 1:00 A.M. His orders were to destroy everything except his vehicles. His platoon burnt everything they could and damaged everything else beyond use. At least he hoped the things could not be repaired and used by the Japanese. Of this, he said, "All dreams of help had faded, we knew we were waiting for ships that would never come. We had held the (Japanese advance) for more than four months - it's more than the mission called for. After three months of hell, we felt a great relief. We didn't know what would happen next...if only we knew."
William's platoon made its way to Mariveles, from there he started what became known as the death march on April 13. He started the march with many of the men from HQ Company, but as he marched he became separated from them. For William, the two hardest things about the march were the hunger cramps and the useless killings of men who could not keep up with the column. Those who could no longer walk were left behind.
According to him, the Japanese made the POWs stand in the sun for hours next to a stream, "We drank from every mud hole I could find - thanks to saving some chlorine powder - I manged to keep from getting sick."
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base which the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. He arrived at the camp on April 25. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
Bill recalled that during his time in the camp, meals consisted of two watery cups of rice a day. Death was something that the POWs lived with since men were dying from sickness, starvation, and the stress of making the march. Being assigned to the burial detail, he estimated that 40 to 50 Americans and 200 to 300 Filipinos were buried each day. The dead were buried 30 to 35 men per grave. About the camp, he said, "Morale was pretty low all the time. Once in awhile someone broke a smile. I never thought about it being low morale. Every now and again a guy just gave up - but not very often."
To get out of Camp O'Donnell, Bill went out on a work detail to go back to Bataan which was sent to San Fernando. The 150 POWs on this detail collected scrap metal to be sent to Japan. The POWs tied disable vehicles together with ropes and tied them all to an operating vehicle which pulled the other vehicles. A POW drove each disable vehicle to San Fernando. From there, the vehicles were taken to Manila. He recalled, "I saw men beaten for not working hard enough or not doing their work in a manner to please the Japanese."
At some point, he also worked on the docks at Manila. Of this, he said, "While in Manila, I helped unload two Red Cross ships, both full of Red Cross supplies. The ships were forced to anchor in the bay and their cargo was loaded aboard tugs. We unloaded and piled it on the docks. We were not permitted to touch anything. Boxes which had been broken open due to rough handling or the like, were pilfered of the food by the Japanese and the remaining portions dumped into the bay. Mail unloaded from the ship was also dumped into the bay. These supplies were used by the Japanese troops in Manila."
The two main details were the farm detail and the airfield detail. The POWs on the farm detail grew comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens, but this food went to the Japanese. The detail was under "Big Speedo" who was fair in his treatment of the POWs. He got his nickname because he said "speedo" when he wanted them to work faster. Another guard on the detail was called "Smiley" because he always smiled, but the POWs quickly learned not to trust him.
In July 1944, while still at Bilibid, William was selected for shipment to Japan and taken to the Port Area of Manila. On July 4, 1944, he was boarded onto the Canadian Inventor which sailed but returned to Manila for boiler repairs. On July 16, the ship sailed again, but this time it fell behind the other ships in the convoy until it was left behind. Of this he said, "There were 800 in this hold and 200 - 300 hundred in another hold. The hold containing 800 men was about 40 ' by 50' and had a shelf about four feet from the floor and around all four sides. We were allowed on deck but only a few at time in the evening. When we were allowed to smoke, we were made to stand within three feet of water filled cans. If we moved away from these cans, we were beaten and slapped. We were given only two-thirds of a canteen of rice and one pint of hot water a day." This had been ordered by the camp commandant Lt. Wada.
He also recalled a different punishment given to other POWs. "On another occasion, Five men were placed in the guard house. They were beaten regularly, both at morning and evening roll call. They were confined for stealing food." He also stated that they never received a Red Cross package while he was in the camp, and that they knew the Japanese were appropriating the Red Cross Boxes because they always smoked American cigarettes.
After arriving at Moji, the POWs disembarked. As they left the ship, the were given chips of wood that had colors on them. The color a POW received determined what camp he was sent to. William was sent to Fukuoka #5 which was also known as Omine Machi. The POWs in this camp worked in a coal mine. William did not work in the mine but repaired coal cars. "We worked from twelve to twenty hours a day. The men in the mine worked without adequate equipment or safety precautions. For the most part the Japanese allowed us to do the work our own way. We were given a definite quota of coal cars to load and as long as that was done, little was said." POWs whom the Japanese believed were not doing enough work were slapped.
The POWs only received three Red Cross packages while in the camp which had been opened and mixed so that they had no idea how much should be in the box. What little food received in the boxes was not enough to have a impact on their health. Those boxes were already there when they arrived, but he did notice that the Japanese guards always smoked American cigarettes. He recalled that during his time in the camp there were always filled with rumors of how the war was going. At times, the guards were the ones who started the rumors. In his opinion, the best information came from Korean civilians working in the mine.
On the night of August 13, 1945, the camp guards vanished. William and the other POWs knew that something was up. The POWs raided the store house and took all the food. For the next several days nothing happened. Then, B-29s flew over the camp and dropped food, medicine and leaflets to the men telling them that the war was over. Remembering the event he said, "Three B-29s flew over the camp. And if you ever had the hair on your back stand up, that was it."
The POWs received more food from food drops and used a lamp to flash Morse Code to the planes. The crews of the planes told them to remain in the camp until American troops made contact with them. William and other POWs decided to leave the camp after three weeks in-spite of the continued food drops. One reason was they really needed medical treatment. Before he left the camp, he went to the commandant's office and took his POW picture off the wall.
The POWs took over a train and rode it a day and a half until they arrived at the port area south of Tokyo. They were greeted by Allied personnel, deloused and fresh clothing. The clothing that had been dropped to them from the planes was burnt. When he was liberated, he weighed 95 pounds. He remained in Japan for another four or five weeks.
William married Mary Ellen Lucas and became the father of two children. He later moved to New York State to work as a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealer in Trumansburg, New York, owned by his wife's brother. He resided in Trumansburg for the rest of his life.
Of his time as a POW he said, "I've always been able to talk about it, but most people never understand about these things. I'd like for people to know what went on and not to forget about it, so we're able to learn about our mistakes." He did admit that there were times that at times talking about his time as a POW causes, "Causes certain things to come back."