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 replaced.     
    The company boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands.  To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.

     After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer.  During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke.  Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
    The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26th, and reached Manila several hours later.  The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field.  The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.

    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 camp.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.  While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard.  Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
    The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards.  The ward for the sickest POWs was known as "Zero Ward," which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted.  Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each.  The sickest men slept on the bottom tier.   It was while a POW there that Bob came down with dysentery and admitted to the camp hospital.
    The daily meal for the POWs was 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  Because of the poor diet, the POWs suffered from malnutrition which prevented their bodies from fighting illnesses. 
    He  was selected for a work detail to Las Pinas.  The POWs on the detail built runways at an airfield with picks and shovels.  On September 21, 1944, the POWs heard planes approach the airfield.  These were the first American planes they had seen in over two years.  The planes bombed and strafed the airfield.  The Japanese ended the detail the next day.

    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, and the ship moved away from the pier but dropped anchor at a buoy.  The POWs went three days without 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 canteens.
    The ship sailed from the Philippines on the Hokusen Maru on October 4, 1944, and stopped at Cabcaban, the same day, and San Fernando, La Union, on October 5.  There it joined a convoy that sailed on October 6th and came under attack by submarines.  Two ships were sunk and, on October 7th, the decision was made for the ships to attempt to reach Formosa on their own.  As the Hokusen Maru made its way to Formosa, on October 9th, there was a false air raid warning, so the captain made the decision to go to Hong Kong.  
    During this part of the trip, the ships heading to Hong Kong ran into a Wolf Pack and two ships were sunk.  The ships made it to Hong Kong on October 10th.  Six days later, it was still in harbor when American planes bombed the harbor.  After the attack, the ship remained at Hong Kong until October 21st when it sailed.  After three days at sea, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 24th.
    After arriving at Takao, the Japanese made the decision to disembark the POWs, on November 8th, and send them to a POW camp on the island.  On Formosa, Earl worked at Inrin Temporary Camp where the POWs did light work.  The healthier POWs worked in a sugar mill. 

    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 Sendai #3 in February.  The POWs in the camp worked in a lead and zinc mine owned by Mitsubishi.
  The POWs marched to the train station and taken by train to POWs camps along the line.  In Earl's case, he was taken to Sendai #3.  In the camp the POWs worked mining lead and zinc in a mine owned by Mitshubishi Mining Company. 
    In the camp, the guards carried bamboo clubs which they hit the POWs with on a regular basis for various reasons.  When being punished, the POWs were ordered and forced to stand at attention, in the snow, in their inadequate clothing.  On several occasions they were forced to stand at attention with holding buckets of water at arms' length.
     What is known about the camp is that the hospital was a cold wooden barracks and that the medical equipment was poor.  Red Cross medicines and medical equipment arrived at the camp but were not issued to the POWs. The result was that fourteen POWs died in the hospital. 
The camp doctor was known to eat vitamin tablets from the packages in front of the POWs.  All the deaths were contributed to lack of clothing against the cold and inadequate heating of the barracks, and poor diet.  Even though POWs were certified as too sick to work, POWs were forced to work in the mines because a certain number of POWs had work each day.

    Those POWs who reported for sick call had to line up in the hallway to the Japanese doctor's office and take off all their clothes before they entered.  While in line, they were often slapped in the face.  The doctor made the POWs stand at attention, bow, and follow orders given to them.  Since this took so much time, most of the POWs were never examined and had to work.  Cold weather clothing and blankets from the Red Cross were never given out to the POWs who had to sleep in the poorly heated barracks in the winter. 
    Red Cross clothing was stored in a warehouse at the camp and never issued to the POWs.  The Japanese used blankets intended for the POWs as cushions for chairs in the camps offices.  They also wore the shoes and Red Cross clothing meant for the POWs.  If Red Cross packages were given to the prisoners, they had been previously opened and cigarettes and chocolate bars were missing.  Food also meant for the prisoners was eaten by the Japanese.
     The POWs were marched to and from the mine by Japanese civilians.  If they fell behind during the march, they guards beat them with their bamboo clubs.  While working in the mine, if a "Overseer," the name given to the civilian supervisors, thought a POW was not working hard enough, the POW received a whack with a bamboo stick.

    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, and they 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 in 1980.

    Earl M. Conover passed away on June 19, 2005, in Columbia, Kentucky, and was buried at Columbia Cemetery.



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