Pvt. Tansell E. Bruce was the
son of Connie & Mettie Bruce. He was
born in Lynnville, Kentucky on October 13,
1915. With his four sisters and brother, he
attended school in Fairbanks, Kentucky. He
attended high school, but he did not
graduate. After leaving high school, he
worked as a farmer. Tansell was known as
"Pete" to his family and friends.
On January 22, 1941, Tansell was inducted into
the United States Army. Upon arriving at
Fort Knox, he was assigned to D Company of the
192nd Tank Battalion. This was done since
the company had originated as a Kentucky
National Guard Tank Company from
Harrodsburg. He trained with the 192nd and
took part in the maneuvers of 1941 in
Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the
battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana,
where the soldiers learned that they were being
sent overseas. He received a leave home to
say his goodbyes to his family and friends.
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, whose plane was at a lower altitude,
noticed something odd in the water. He
took his plane down and identified a flagged
buoy in the water and a second in the
distance. The squadron followed the buoys
and found that they lined up, in a straight line
for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction
of an Japanese occupied island, hundreds of
miles away, which had a large radio
transmitter. The squadron resumed its
flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before
returning to Clark Field. By the time the
planes landed, it was too late in the evening to
do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron
was sent to the area and found that the buoys
had been picked up by a fishing boat which was
seen making its way toward shore. Since
communication between and Air Corps and Navy was
poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was
at that time the decision was made to build up
the American military presence in the
The battalion's new tanks
came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were
loaded onto flat cars, on different
trains. The soldiers also cosmolined
anything that they thought would rust.
Over different train routes, the companies were
sent to San Francisco, California, where they
were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank
M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel
Island. On the island, they were given
physicals by the battalion's medical detachment
and men found with minor medical conditions were
held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the
battalion at a later date. Other men were
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
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.
After arriving in the
Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D
Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had
left for the Philippines minus one
company. B Company of the battalion was
sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of
the battalion, were sent to the
Philippines. The medical clerk for
the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be
handed over to the 194th.
On December 1st, the tank
battalions were ordered to the perimeter of
Clark Field to guard against Japanese
paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company,
was assigned northern part of the airfield and
the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two
members of each tank and half-track crew
remained with their vehicles at all times and
received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8,
1941, just hours after the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full
strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.
All morning long, the sky was filled with
American planes. At noon, the planes
landed to be refueled and the pilots went to
lunch. The planes were parked in a
straight line outside the pilots' mess hall.
At 12:45, two formations,
totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from
the north. When bombs began exploding on
the runways, the tankers knew that planes were
Japanese. Being that their tanks could not
fight planes, they watched as the Japanese
destroyed the Army Air Corps.
When the Japanese were
finished, there was not much left of the
airfield. The soldiers watched as the
dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to
the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything
else, 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.
That night, most men slept
under their tanks since it was safer than
sleeping in their tents. They had no idea
that they had slept their last night in a bed.
One of the results of the
attack was that the transfer of D Company, to
the 194th, was never completed. The
company retained its designation of being part
of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and
the Battle of Bataan.
The 194th, with D Company,
was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area
south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge
arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December
13th, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from
Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard
beaches. On the 15th, the battalion
received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some
over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine
Scouts. These were used to test the ground
to see if it could support tanks.
The tank battalions were sent
to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The
company was near a mountain, so many of the
tankers climber to the top. On the
mountain, they found troops, ammunition, guns
but were just sitting there watching the
Japanese ships in the gulf. They had
received orders not to fire.
The tankers walked down
the mountain and waited. They received
orders to drop back from the mountain and let
the Japanese occupy it. They watched as
the Japanese brought their equipment to the top
of the mountain. The Americans finally
received orders to launch a counterattack which
On December 22nd, the
companies were operating north of the Agno River
and after the main bridge was bombed, on
December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of
the river and not be trapped by the
Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of
the river from west of Carmen to the
Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd
holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug
(northeast of San Quintin).
Christmas Day, the tankers
spent in the night in a coconut grove. As
it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to
eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942,
both day and night, all the tanks did was cover
retreats of different infantry units. The
tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and
The tanks formed a new
defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo
Tomas- San Jose line on December 26th.
When they dropped back from the line, all the
platoons withdrew, except one which provided
cover, as the other platoons from the
area. One tank went across the line
receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's
platoon lost a tank. It was at this time
that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks,
except one, because the bridge they were suppose
to cross had been destroyed. The company
commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring
himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the
Japanese repaired them and used them on
Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that
had not abandoned, found a place to ford the
river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
The tankers were at Santo
Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at
San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th
and 29th. On January 1st, conflicting
orders were received by the defenders who were
attempting to stop the Japanese advance down
Route 5. Doing this would allow the
Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward
Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of
the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's
chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there
was confusion among the Filipinos and American
forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga
River. Due to the efforts of the Self
Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and
a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion
the Japanese were halted. From January 2nd
to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San
Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces
At 2:30 A.M., the night of
January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus
in force and using smoke as cover. This
attack was an attempt to destroy the tank
battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese
withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6th/7th
the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the
192nd holding its position so that the 194th
Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross
the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw
over the bridge. The 192nd was the last
American unit to enter Bataan, before the
engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
It was at this time that the tank companies were
reduced to three tanks each. This was done
to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews
still without tanks were used as replacements,
At Gumain River, on January
5th, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given
the job to hold the south riverbank so that the
other units could withdraw. The tank
companies formed a defensive line along the bank
of the river. When the Japanese attacked
the position at night, they were easy to see
since they were wearing white t-shirts.
The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
The night of January 6/7, the
194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge
over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.
This was the beginning of the Battle of
Bataan. At this time, the food rations
were cut in half.
General Weaver also issued
the following orders to the tank battalions
around this time. "Tanks
will execute maximum delay, staying in
position and firing at visible enemy until
further delay will jeopardize
withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized,
it will be fought until the close approach
of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew
previously taking positions outside and
continuing to fight with the salvaged and
personal weapons. Considerations of personal
safety and expediency will not interfere
with accomplishing the greatest possible
A composite tank
company was created on January 8th under the
command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company,
192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road
north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the
north road open and prevent the Japanese from
driving down the road before a new battle line
had been formed. The Japanese never
lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to
be formed. The tanks withdrew after they
began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks
were ordered to bivouac south of the
Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the
tank crews had their first break from action in
nearly a month. The tanks, which were long
overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th
Ordnance. It was also at this time that
tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with
three tanks in each platoon. This was done
so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen
the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces,
which were trapped behind enemy lines, could
withdraw. Attempting to do this two tanks
were knocked out by landmines planted by
ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese
anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission
was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda's
forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw
was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve
the 31st Infantry's command post. On the
24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda
Road to support infantry, but again could not
accomplish their mission because of landmines
planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a
position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac
Road on January 26th with four self-propelled
mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down
the road and warned the battalion that a large
Japanese force was coming down the road.
When they appeared the tanks opened up on them.
At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500
of 1200 men. This action prevented the new
line of defense from being breached.
On January 28th, the tank
battalions were given the job of guarding the
beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land
troops. The 194th guarded the coastline
from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day,
the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At
bight they were pulled out onto the
beaches. The battalion's half-tracks had
the job of patrolling the roads. At all times,
the tanks were in contact with on-shore and
For most of March, the
situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the
Japanese had been fought to a standstill.
On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in
the mud, and the crews were working to free
them. While they were doing this, a
Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt.
Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire
on the Japanese at point blank range. He
also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's
fire. The Japanese were wiped out.
On March 21st, the last major battle was fought
by the tanks.
Having brought in combat
harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese
lunched a major offensive on April 4th.
The tanks were sent to various sectors in an
attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th,
four tanks were sent to support the 45th
Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank
was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the
junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other
tanks withdrew. On April 8th, the 194th
was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
It was at this time that Gen.
King knowing that the situation was hopeless
sent officers to negotiate the surrender of
Bataan. The tanks were instructed that
they would hear the order "bash" on their
radios, or that it would be given to them
When the order was given, the
tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor
piercing shell into the engine of the tank in
front of their tank, and opened up the gasoline
cocks in the crew compartments. They
dropped hand grenades into each crew compartment
setting the tanks on fire. Later in the
war, the Japanese dragged the tanks out of the
jungle to send to Japan as scrap metal.
Between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M. on
April 9, 1942, the order "CRASH"
was issued. The tankers destroyed their
tanks and waited for orders from the
Japanese. The members of the 194th were
ordered the next day, to move to the
headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group,
which was at kilometer marker 168.2.
At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the
POWs were ordered to march. They made
their way from the former command post, and at
first found the walk difficult. When they
reached the main road, walking became
easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an
hour break before being ordered to move again at
4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00
A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for
food before marching again at 9:00.
During this part of the march
to reach the main road out of Bataan, the POWs
noted that they were treated well by the
Japanese who were combat hardened
troops. Their guards were surprised
that they had surrendered and treated them
fairly well. It was at Limay that the
treatment they received would change.
When the POWs reached Limay,
officers with ranks of major or higher, were
separated from the enlisted men and the lower
ranking officers. The higher ranking
officers were put on trucks and driven to
Balanga from where they march north to
Orani. The lower ranking officers and
enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day
having march through Abucay and Samal.
At 6:30 in the evening, the
POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100
men. Once this was done, they resumed the
trip north, but this time they were marched at a
faster pace and were given few breaks.
When they did receive a break, they had to sit
in the road until they were ordered to move.
When they were north of
Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made
the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they
received an hour break, but any POW who
attempted to lay down was jabbed with a
bayonet. After the break, they were
marched through Layac and Lurao. It was at
this time that a heavy shower took place and
many of the men opened their mouths in an
attempt to get water.
The men were marched until
4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando.
Once there, they were herded into a bull pen,
surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of
200 men. One POW from each group went to
the cooking area which was next to the latrine,
and received a box of rice that was divided
among the men. Water was given out
in a similar manner with each group receiving a
pottery jar of water to share.
At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese
woke the men up and organized them into
detachments of 100 men. From the compound,
they were marched to the train station, where
they were packed into small wooden boxcars known
as "forty or eights." Each boxcar could
hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese
packed 100 men into each car and closed the
doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly
that the dead could not fall to the floor.
At Capas, as the living left the cars and those
who had died - during the trip - fell to the
floors of the cars. As they left the cars,
the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave
the POWs water.
The POWs marched eight
kilometers to Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an
unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.
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.
There was only one water
faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in
line from two to eight hours waiting for a
drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet
would turn it off for no reason and the next man
in line would stand as long as four hours
waiting for it to be turned on again. This
situation improved when a second faucet was
There was no water for
washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out
their clothing when it had been soiled. In
addition, water for cooking had to be carried
three miles from a river to the camp and mess
kits could not be washed. The slit
trenches in the camp were inadequate and were
soon overflowing since most of the POWs had
dysentery. The result was that flies were
everywhere in the camp including the POW
kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no
soap, water, or disinfectant. When the
ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a
letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio
Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was
told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent
a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the
Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck
into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross
sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took
95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital
lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of
the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs
was healthy enough to care for them. When
a representative of the Philippine Red Cross
stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for
the camp, he was slapped in the face by a
Each morning, the bodies of
the dead were found all over the camp and were
carried to the hospital and placed underneath
it. The bodies lay there for two or three
days before they were buried in the camp
cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from
dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the
ground under the hospital, the ground was
scraped and lime was spread over it. The
bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and
the area they had been laying was scrapped and
lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on
a daily basis. Each day, the American
doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of
the POWs who were healthier enough to
work. If the quota of POWs needed to work
could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs
who were sick, but could walk, to work.
The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men
dying a day.
Tansell described Camp O'Donnell as being a
series of wooden huts with bamboo floors.
He and the other POWs slept on the floors of the
huts. According to him, at night the
mosquitoes would eat the men alive, while the
heat was unbearable during the day.
Tansell was next held as a POW at
this time, his family had no idea that he
was alive. They had been told by the
army that he was Missing in Action. It
was only when they received POW postcards
from him that they knew he was alive.
On September 1, 1943, Tansell
received a beating while on the farm work
detail. He was working on two plots when a
guard began beating him for no apparent
reason. Documentation also shows he
remained standing at attention during the
beating until he fell to the ground. Once
he was down, the Japanese guard kicked
It is known that he as
selected to go out on a work detail that was
given the designation of "Army Air
Detail." It appears the POWs built runways
and revetments at an airfield. While on
the detail, he was sent to the hospital ward at
Bilibid on March 1, 1944 for a Fundus
Exam. He was discharged on March 3rd and
returned to the work detail.
In August, 1944, the work
detail Tansell was on ended and he was sent to
Bilibid Prison. After receiving a
physical, he was sent to the Port Area of Manila
and boarded onto the Noto Maru on August
25th. The ship sailed on August 27, 1944,
for Subuc Bay, where it spent the night.
It sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving there on
August 30th. Later in the day it sailed
for Keelung, Formosa, arriving late in the
day. The ship sailed again and arrived at
Moji, Japan, on September 4th.
Tansell remembered the trip to Japan. He
recalled that 500 men were packed into the
ship's hold. They were packed in so
tightly that no one could sit down. The
trip to Japan took from July 23, 1943 until July
7, 1944. The POWs disembarked the ship at
Moji and taken to Omine
Machi. Of the POW camps, this was
the camp the Japanese showcased as a "model"
The camp guards stole items
from Red Cross packages and withheld the
packages from July 1, 1944, to September 2,
1945. The Japanese intentionally opened
packages and mixed up contents so that the
ranking Allied officer would not know how much
should be in each package. They also took
much of the food in the packages. When
they were given to the POWs they were often
contained less than what had been sent. In
addition, when Red Cross packages arrived, they
were withheld from POWs from three to seven
months after arriving.
The POWS in the camp worked in a coal
mine. Cave-ins were a common
occurrence. Tansell remained at Omine
Machi until he was liberated on September 15,
1945. The next day he and the other POWs
were taken to Wakayama, Japan, and boarded onto
the U.S.S. Consolation. records
kept at the time show that he was not ill but
malnourished. He was returned to the
Philippine Islands until it was determined that
he was healthy enough to return to the United
States. He sailed on the U.S.S. Marine
Shark arriving at San Francisco on
November 1, 1945. He was discharged, from
the army, on April 11, 1946.
After the war, Tansell returned to Kentucky,
married, Helen Foy, and became the father of two
children. He also returned to
farming. According to his family, he
never spoke to anyone, except his father, about
what he had gone through as a POW.
Tansell E. Bruce passed away in April 22, 1982,
in Sedalia, Kentucky. He was buried at
Lynnville Baptist Church Cemetery in Lynnville,