T/Sgt. Johnnie William Bottoms Sr.
T/Sgt. Johnnie W. Bottoms Sr. was born on September 23, 1915. With his brother, he was raised in Harrodsburg and Richmond, Kentucky, by his grandparents. He was known as "Johnnie" to his family and friends. It was in Harrodsburg that he joined the Kentucky National Guard's 38th Tank Company which was called to federal service on November 25, 1940. It is known that he was married to Anna Mae Spoonamore and was the father of a son, John William Bottoms Jr. When he was called to federal service, he was working as a truck driver and farm worker.
Johnnie trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He was reassigned to Headquarters Company when the company was created in January 1941, with men from the four letter companies of the battalion.
In September 1941, Johnnie took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st through 30th. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of hill that he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. Being that he was married, he was given the opportunity to resign from federal service. He chose to remain with the battalion and go overseas. He received leave home to see his family and say goodbye before returning to Camp Polk.
The 192nd Tank Battalion received orders for duty, in the Philippines,
because of an event that happened during 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, in the direction of an Japanese
occupied island. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen. By the time a Navy ship was
sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the
American military presence in the Philippines.
The early afternoon of December 8, 1941, Johnnie lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. Although Johnnie did not take part in any front-line action, he did live with the constant bombing and strafing by Japanese planes. The night of April 8, 1942, he and the other members of HQ Company were informed of the surrender to the Japanese by Capt. Fred Bruni its Commanding Officer. He called them together with all the food they could find and held what the company members called, "the last supper."
HQ Company remained in its bivouac for two days. The third morning a Japanese officer and soldiers arrived and ordered the Americans onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac. Once on the road, they were ordered to kneel with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers marching past them took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They were now officially Prisoners of War.
The members of the company boarded trucks and made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. They left the trucks and were ordered into a schoolyard. They remained in the schoolyard for hours.
As they sat, the members of his company noticed that Japanese soldiers with rifles were organizing themselves into a formation. It soon became apparent to the Americans that this formation was a firing squad, and they watched and waited to see what was going to happen.
It was about this time that a Japanese officer pulled up in car and got out. He c alled a sergeant over to him and said something to him. When he was done talking to the sergeant, he got back into the car and drove off. As the officer drove off, the he sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
The members of HQ were ordered to move and had no idea they had started the death march. The first few miles out of Mariveles were uphill. At one point, the Prisoners of War were ordered to rest in front of Japanese artillery that was firing on Corregidor and Fort Drum, and the American guns returned fire. Shells began to land among the POWs. One group of POWs, who attempted to hide in a small shack, was killed when it took a direct hit. The Americans did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The members of HQ Company were ordered to move again. When he reached San Fernando the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each boxcar could hold eight horses or forty men, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. Those men who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall.
At Capas, the POWs disembarked the cars, and the dead fell to the floors as they living
left. It had taken HQ Company six days to complete the march.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an
unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1,
1942. 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.
The first barrio that the work detail went to was Calauan. Johnnie like the other POWs was weak and susceptible to illness. In his case, he came down with malaria. According to Phil Parish, of A Company, Sgt. Johnnie Bottoms died from malaria on Thursday, May 28, 1942, at Calauan. His death bed was a wet concrete floor.
T/Sgt. Johnnie Bottoms was buried in Calauan's small but neat cemetery. Parish stated that several days after Johnnie's burial, a Japanese guard was escorting the POWs as they left for a work detail. As the detail passed the front of the cemetery, the guard ordered the POWs to halt and pointed to Johnnie's grave. He then called out in English "Attention" and the POWs and the guard saluted. After saluting Johnnie, the guard and detail continued on their way. Later, the Japanese allowed the POWs to put a fence around Johnnie's grave and the grave of Cpl. Thomas Davenport, C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
After the war. the remains, of T/Sgt. Johnnie W. Bottoms Sr., were returned to Kentucky as
requested by his wife, and family, on October 21, 1948. A service was held the next day at Harrodsburg
Baptist Church, and his pallbearers were Virgil and Edwin Elliott,
Jack Wilson, Kenneth Hourigan, M/Sgt. Joe Anness, and T/Sgt. Morgan French. The last four men had been
members of D Company.