Pfc. Earl Maurice Conover
| Pfc. Earl M. Conover was the son of
Wyatt Conover & Ila Epperson-Conover. He
was born on September 17, 1917, in Adair County,
Kentucky. With his two sisters, he grew up on
Jamestown Street in Columbia, Kentucky. He was
a 1935 graduate of Columbia High School.
After high school, Earl opened a jewelry shop where he repaired watches. Knowing that it was just a matter of time until he was drafted into the army, he enlisted in January 1941. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky to train with the newly formed 17th Ordnance Company. Ironically, Earl sold his shop to another jeweler who was from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, the hometown of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
During Earl's training at Ft. Knox, he and the other
members of 17th Ordnance trained on the tanks of the
192nd Tank Battalion. In September 1941, Earl
with his unit received orders that they were being
sent overseas. Arriving,
by train, at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, they were
taken by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe,
to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they
received physicals and inoculations from the
battalion's medical detachment. Those men
found with medical conditions were
Arriving in the Philippines in late September, Earl with his company prepared to work on the tanks of the newly formed Provisional Tank Group. The tank group was completed in November 1941, with the arrival of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Earl and his company watched the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. Being that his company were a few miles from the airfield, they watched the Japanese planes strafe and bomb the field. As they watched, the Japanese planes would bank and turn around above their position. They would then continue the attack on the airfield.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back to Bataan, Earl's company's job was to keep the tanks of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions running. This often meant that they had to retrieve tanks which had been knocked out by the Japanese. These tanks were used for spare parts to keep other tanks running.
Being that 17th Ordnance was not on the front lines, Earl never saw action against the Japanese. However, Earl lived with the constant bombing and strafing by Japanese planes. During these raids, Earl manned a machine gun and fired at the planes.
On April 9, 1942, Earl became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. At San Fernando, he and the other POWs were packed into boxcars and rode to Capas. The bodies of the dead fell out of the cars as the living climbed out of the train cars.
From Capas, Earl walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell. After Earl arrived at Camp O'Donnell, Earl was selected to go out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges that the Americans had destroyed during the withdraw into Bataan. The POWs on the detail were divided into two detachments. One rebuilt the bridges while the other cut the lumber at a sawmill. Earl was sent to the sawmill.
While on the detail, Earl witnessed the execution of ten POWs. One night, a POW escaped into the jungle. The Japanese had instituted "the blood brother rule." If a POW escaped, the five men who slept to his right and left would be executed. The Japanese were true to their word.
A member of the 192nd Tank Battalion, Ralph Hite, became ill, after eating "Pony Candy" and developed dysentery. He died within four days. The Japanese allowed the POWs to build a coffin for Hite, and Earl was given the job of building the coffin.
When the detail ended, Earl was sent to Cabanatuan -
which had been the headquarters of the 91st
Philippine Army Division as Camp Panagaian
- and assigned to Barracks 2, Group 3.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that
patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason
this was done was that those who did escape and were
caught, were tortured before being executed, while
the other POWs were made to watch. It is
believed that no POW successfully escaped from the
Earl and the other POWs were sent to Bilibid
Prison. There, they were selected for
shipment to Japan. The POWs boarded the Hokusen
Maru on October 1, 1941, The ship moved away
from the pier but dropped anchor at a buoy.
The POWs went three days withour water and the
temperature in the holds rose to over 100
degrees. Men began going crazy and began
screaming. The Japanese threatened to cover
the holds unless those screaming stopped. To stop
these men from screaming, the POWs killed them by
strangling them or beating them to death with
In January 1945, Earl was selected to be sent to
Japan. He and other POWs were put on the
"Hell Ship" Melbourne Maru, which sailed
on January 14th and arrived at Moji, Japan, on
January 25th. Next, Earl was boarded onto
a train, and after transferring to another
train, he arrived at
Earl remained at Sendai #3 until he was liberated on September 12, 1945. He returned to the Philippines and received medical treatment. He was boarded onto the U.S.S. General R.L. Howze and sailed, from Manila, on September 23, 1945, and arrived at San Francisco on October 16, 1945. At a later date, he returned home and was discharged on January 16, 1946 at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville.
Earl married Clara Matthews in Columbia on October 9, 1950. The couple became the parents of two children. He became a volunteer firefighter and worked in the State of Kentucky's Fire Marshall's Office. He retired from state government in 1980.
Earl M. Conover passed away on June 20, 2005, in Columbia, Kentucky, and was buried at Columbia Cemetery.