Curtis

 


Pvt. William Archie Curtis Jr.


    Pvt. William A. Curtis Jr. was born on September 27, 1919, in Harris, Oklahoma, to William A. Curtis Sr. & Daphne Curtis.  He was known as "Archie" to his family and friends.  He was drafted into the U. S. Army on March 18, 1941, and sent into Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training, where he qualified as a tank driver.  

    During the summer of 1941, the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana for further training.  While they were there, the Louisiana maneuvers took place.  The 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers, but after the completion of the maneuvers, the battalion surrendered its equipment to the 192nd Tank Battalion which was being sent overseas.  Members of the 753rd also were asked to volunteer, or had their names drawn, to replace National Guardsmen who had been released from federal service.  William volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion, and was assigned to A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. 
    The reason for this move -  which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance.  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 which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
     When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.   Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    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 simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27.  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.   The ship 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 5, 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, another transport, the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15, 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 16, 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 20, 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, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed, and that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
    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 worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance preparing to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion. 
    On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from a food truck.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, William and the other members of A Company were told about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most of the men believed that this was the start of the expected maneuvers.  The tankers returned to the perimeter of Clark Field.  In William's case, he was assigned to a half-track with Abel Ortega.  As they were eating lunch, the soldiers noticed planes approaching the airfield.  At first they believed the planes were American.  It wasn't until bombs began exploding that the soldiers knew that they were Japanese.

    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the battalion's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.  Anything 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. 

    The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, so it would could protect a highway and railroad from sabotage.  On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta with the rest of the battalion.  It was there, that the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River.  On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were asked to hold the position for ix hours; They held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.  A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.  The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
    The tankers were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.  A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read on December 30. 

    On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.  

    At Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south 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 Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance.  The wind blew the smoke into the Japanese.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.  On January 1, conflicting orders were received from the General MacArthur's chief of staff about who had command of the troops.  Gen. Wainwright was attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan and was unaware of the orders.
     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 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
    On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until the tank which was relieved left the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the opposite track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
    On March 2 or 3, during the Battle of the Points.  The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line.  The Japanese were soon cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.
   The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.

    The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    On April 9, 1942, William and the other members of the company were informed of the surrender by and ordered to destroy their equipment.  They remained two days in their bivouac before being ordered by the Japanese to go to Mariveles.

    A Company made their way to Mariveles, and it was from this barrio that William started the death march.  At San Fernando, William and the other Prisoners of War were packed into boxcars and taken to Capas. Those who died remained standing since they had no place to fall.   As the living climbed out of the cars, the bodies of the prisoners who died fell to the floors.  From Capas, William walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed 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 added.
    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 Japanese lieutenant.
    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.  The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
    On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas.  There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards.  At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan.  The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup.  From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
    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.  The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening.  Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them.Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
    The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men.  The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting.  The result was many became ill.
   Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call.  While they stood at attention, it wasn't uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads.  In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. 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.  The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die.  Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each.  Each man had a two foot wide by six foot long area to lie in.  The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.

    William was selected to go out on the Las Pinas Work Detail which was also known as the Pasay School Detail.  It is not known if he went on this detail when the POWs arrived in August 1942, or if he was a replacement for a POW who had died or been sent to Bilibid for illness.
    The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms  with 30 POWs assigned to a room.  The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy.   The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. 
    The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.  Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment to build it. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows.  The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942.  The work was easy until the extension reached the hills.  When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand.  To be more efficient, the Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill.  As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
    A typical day started at 6:00 A.M., when the POWs had reveille.   At 6:15 "bongo" (count) was taken in detachments of 100 men.  After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice.  After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
    After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again.  They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted.  At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again.  When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again.  Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs.  They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and counted one final time.  Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M. 

    The brutality shown to the POWs was severe.  The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the "White Angel" because he wore a spotless naval uniform.  He was commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months.  One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway.  Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up.  When he couldn't four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School. 
    At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible.  The other Americans were ordered to the school.  As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school.  The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots.  The American officer told the men that the POW had said,
"Tell them I went down smiling." The White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him.   As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.  The American captain told the other Americans what had happened.  The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
    The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf."  He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform.  Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up.  The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups.  If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
    On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway.  The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks.  When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head.  He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
    A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him.  He was dead by evening.
    The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes.  With them, the Japanese had death certificates, signed by an American doctor, which had manufactured causes of death on them.  The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened.  It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like.  These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.         

    On August 27, 1944, William was sent to Japan on the Noto Maru.  After a stop at Takao, Formosa, on July 30, the ship sailed for the Island of Kelung the next day.  The Noto Maru arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 4.  In Japan, he was held as a POW at Sendai #6, outside of Hanawa, which supplied slave labor for a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi. 

    One day the POWs lined up for work, but they were sent back to their barracks.  The same thing happened repeatedly over the next several days.  The POWs knew something had happened, but none of them had any idea what it could have been.

    Finally, a Japanese officer stood on a box and announced the Japanese Empire and the United States were no longer enemies.  He also told them that the camp was theirs.  This was the first time the  POWs received news on how the war was going. 

    Not too long after this, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped food to the prisoners.  The Japanese townspeople helped the POWs carry the food to the camp.  Since material for clothing was scarce, they were interested more in the silk from the parachutes, for clothing, then the food in the drums.   

     One day, a  jeep with American soldiers appeared and the soldiers told the former POWs to sit tight until the railroad line had been repaired.  After it was repaired, the prisoners took the train and a LST to Yokohama.  There, William was transferred to the U.S.S. Rescue and returned to the United States.  He was promoted to Private First Class and was discharged on February 24, 1946.

    After he was discharge from the army, William A. Curtis returned to Oklahoma where he resided in Muskogee.  He married, Norma Jean Fricks, on November 10, 1945, and was the father of four daughters.  William A. Curtis Jr. passed away on August 8, 2004, and was buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, in Section:  20  Site:  558.


 

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