Cpl. Joseph Gillis
Cpl. Joseph Gillis was born
on September 18, 1920, in Wheeling, West
Virginia. He was the son of Giovanni T.
Gillio-Tos & Victoria F. Moral-Gillo-Tos, he
had five brothers, one sister, three half-brothers.
the younger brother of
Sgt. August Gillis of C Company. The
brothers grew up in Watsonville, California.
At some point, the two brothers moved to
Castroville, California, and enlisted in the 40th
Divisional Tank Company of the California National
On February 10, 1941, Joseph's tank company was federalized as C Company, 194th Tank Battalion. The company was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington state for eight months of training. During that time, he qualified as a tank driver.
In September 1941, the 194th was sent to the Philippine Islands as part of the attempt to strengthen the American Military Forces in the islands. A little over two months after arriving in the Philippines, Ed lived through the Japanese bombing of Clark Airfield.
The morning of December 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runway did the tankers know the planes were Japanese.
For the next four months Joseph and the others fought a delaying action against the Japanese. During this time, he was involved in engagements with the Japanese. On December 26th, the five tanks of Joe's platoon were sent to an area on the east coast of Luzon near Lucban. The Japanese had landed troops in the area, and the American Command wanted to see what the strength of the enemy was.
The tanks were ordered by a major to proceed up a trail, without reconnaissance. The tanks went down a narrow path. Joe's tank was the second tank in the column. Since the area was mountainous, the tanks had a hard time maneuvering. As the tanks went down the path, the drivers attempted to keep their spacing so that each driver could each see the tank in front of him. At one point, the tanks found that the trail made a sharp turn. Joseph made the turn with his tank and realized that he could not see the lead tank. In an attempt to find the lead tank, Joseph sped his tank up.
As it turned out, this maneuver by Joe saved the lives of the tankers since a shell exploded just to the rear of the tank. The shell had been fired by a Japanese 77 millimeter anti-tank gun. Joe increased the speed of his tank and zigzagged to prevent the gun from getting off another shot. He then drove the tank into the log barricade and crashed through it taking out the gun.
Joe continued to drive the tank up the trail until he reached an opening at a rice paddy. There, he turned the tank around and went back the way had just come. He did this because his tank's commander realized that the only way out of the situation was the same way the tank had come into it.
As they approached the destroyed barricade, Joe's tank crew saw the lead tank off to the side of the road. It had taken a direct hit from the gun his tank had knocked out. The fire from the gun had knocked the hatch coverings off the front of the tank. From what the tankers could see, the Japanese had machine-gunned the crew while they were still in the tank.
Believing they were safe, the members of Joe's crew took their tank began to congratulate themselves about getting out of a tough situation. Suddenly, the tank took a direct hit from another Japanese anti-tank gun. The hit knocked off one of the tracks and the tank veered off the road and went over an earthen embankment. The tank came to a stop in a rice paddy. They had no idea that their little reconnaissance mission had taken them straight into the main Japanese staging area.
As Joe and the other men in the tank played dead, the Japanese tried to open up their tank. Later in the day when a new group of Japanese soldiers came upon the tank, they too tried to get into the tank. The tankers sat quietly in the tank, without food or water, until seven the next morning. Knowing that it was safe to do so, they left their tank and attempted to make their way to the American lines.
The tank crew, with the help of Filipino guides, walked for the next six days attempting to reach their lines. At Nagcarlan, a Catholic priest gave them food. Since the Japanese were approaching the barrio, he also told them which trail to take to reach the coast.
Reaching the coast, the tankers were able to get a boat to take them to Manila. There, the tank crew caught the last boat leaving Manila for Corregidor. From Corregidor, the tankers were taken by boat to Mariveles.
On April 9, 1942, Bataan surrendered. Corregidor held out until May 6th when the Japanese lunched at all out attack on the island. It was on that day that Joe became a POW. The POWs were herded onto the beach in what became known as Corregidor POW Camp. They remained there for two weeks until they were transported by barge to near the coast of Bataan. They then had to jump into the water and swim ashore.
On land, they were used to repair a pier which had been damaged during the Japanese attack on the Philippines. When the work was done, they were ordered to create detachments of 100 men. Having heard about the march from Bataan many feared they were going to experience the same treatment. To their surprise, they were treated fairly well.
The POWs were march down Dewy Boulevard and taken to Bilibid Prison. They were transported by truck to Cabanatuan. What details Joe took part in from the camp is not known. Records kept by the medical staff at the camp hospital show that Joe was admitted on November 1, 1942, suffering from dysentery. The document also indicates that on Monday, November 23, 1942, Cpl. Joseph Gillis died from dysentery. A separate document shows his time of death at approximately 3:15 in the afternoon.
After the war, at the request of his family, the remains of Cpl. Joseph Gillis were returned to the United States. In 1950, he was buried at the Garden of Memories Memorial Park in Salinas.