Pvt. Lonnie L. Gray was born
September 15, 1921, in Garrard County, Kentucky to Floyd Gray
& Paralee Carmickal-Gray and resided in Burgin,
Kentucky, with his brother and sister. Lonnie like most
men his age knew that a federal draft act had been
passed, so he enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard.
On November 25, 1940, Lonnie's tank company was called to federal duty as D Company,
192nd Tank Battalion. He, with his company, traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for training. In
January 1941, Lonnie was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was formed.
While on leave home from the army, on April 5,
1941, Lonnie married Gertrude Bailey. The couple would
have three children. His oldest son Tony would
be born after his battalion left the United States for the
In the late summer of 1941, the
192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1
through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion
was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. None of the
members of the battalion had any idea why they were
there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they
were being sent overseas as part of Operation
PLUM. Those who were 29 years old or older were given the
opportunity to resign from federal service.
Within hours, many men had figured out what PLUM meant, and
that they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
The decision 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.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to
family and friends. They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco,
California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe
. On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's
medical detachment. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a
later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Gen. 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
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
and, another transport, the
S.S. President 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
Dateline. 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
Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men 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 received Thanksgiving Dinner, which was a
stew thrown into their mess kits, before he went to have
his own dinner.
Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be
released from federal service.
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, as they
prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were
ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against
paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded
the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded
the southern half. At all times, two members of
every tank and half-track crew remained with their
vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food
The morning of December 8,
1941, Lonnie heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl
Harbor. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, he
lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. With
the other men of the company, Lonnie took cover to
wait out the attack. Afterwards, they saw the damage
done by the Japanese.
Since Lonnie was assigned to HQ Company, he did not take part in any front-line
action. But, since there was no American Air Force, he lived with the constant strafing of Japanese
On April 3,
1942, the Japanese launched a 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. On April
7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by
tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese
infiltrators prevented this from happening. During
this action, one tank was knocked out but the
remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th,
was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks
It was the evening of April 8
that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance
was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were
healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last
one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000
troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he
feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that
night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order:
"You will make plans, to be communicated to
company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy
within one hour after receipt by radio, or other
means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat
vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios:
reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as
The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were
close to HQ Company's kitchen. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding
officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the
surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he
spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he
continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the
announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to
destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told
not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move.
Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called,
"Their last supper."
It consisted of pineapple juice and bread. He said to them as they ate that it was now every man
for himself. As they ate, the sky was red as the ammunition dumps were destroyed.
On April 11, the Japanese
arrived and a Japanese officer ordered the men out onto the road
that ran in front of their bivouac. It was on
this day that Lonnie became a Prisoner Of War. While on
the road, the POWs were ordered to kneel along the
sides of the road with their possessions in front of
them. As they knelt, passing Japanese troops
took what they wanted from the Americans. They remained along
the sides of the road for hours.
HQ Company drove their trucks, to Mariveles and were ordered out of them. At
Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded into field. The Japanese soldiers had the POWs lined up for an
inspection. The Japanese took the prisoners' jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.
As the soldiers knelt facing the Japanese guards, they saw what looked like a firing squad
forming. It appeared that the Japanese were going to execute them. A car pulled up, and out of the
car climbed a Japanese officer who gave orders to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got
back in the car and drove off. As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to put down their
Lonnie and the other POWs were
ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to sit
in the sun without food or water. Behind them
were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum
which had not surrendered. The American guns on
the islands began returning fire. Shells from the
American guns began landing around the POWs who had no
place to hide and several were killed. Three of the
four Japanese guns were also destroyed.
It was from Mariveles late in
the afternoon that Lonnie began what would become known as
the Bataan Death March. The first night the POWs
were marched all night. The first place that they
were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machine gun
nest. Corregidor was shelling the area and several of
the shells landed among the POWs killing them.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to
move. What made things worse, for the POWs, was as
they marched, they came across artesian wells and
watering holes, but they were denied their request for
water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away
from the wells. It got to the point that even though
the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the
water they still went to the wells. This resulted in
the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while
The lack of food and water had physical results; such as, the prisoners' mouths
swelling and their tongues splitting open. If the prisoners who did get water drank the water, they were
Lonnie made it to San
Fernando, where he and the other POWs were packed into small
wooden boxcars. The cars were known as "Forty or
Eights," since each car could hold forty
men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men
into each car and closed the doors. The POWs died
during the trip remained standing sicne they could not
fall to the floors. Only when the living left the cars at
Capas did the dead fall to the floors.
From Capas, the POWs
walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell which was an
unfinished Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put
into use as a POW camp and believed the camp could hold
15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When they arrived at the
camp, the camp commandant told the Americans that they were
not prisoners of war but captives. The Japanese
also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried
with them and refused to return it. The
POWs were searched and anyone found with Japanese money were
separated from the other POWs and sent to the
guardhouse. These POWs were accused of looting the bodies of
dead Japanese soldiers. Over several days,
gunshots were heard coming from southeast of the camp.
There was only one water faucet
for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2Â½ to 8
hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guard in
charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason, and
the next man in line would have to wait up to four
hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking food had
to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess kits could
not be cleaned. Since there was no water to wash
their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled clothing
and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few of the
POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
Since most of the POWs had
dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in flies
being everywhere in the camp including the camp
kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no water,
soap, or disinfectant which also caused diseases to
spread. When the ranking American doctor presented a
letter with the medicines and medical supplies they
needed to treat the sick, the camp commander, Captain Yoshio
Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another
letter. He also said that the only thing he wanted to know
about the POWs were their names and serial numbers
after they died.
The Archbishop of Manila
sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but the
Japanese refused to let it into the camp. When a
representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a Japanese
lieutenant that they could set up an 150 bed hospital
for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the
lieutenant. Medicines sent to the camp by the
Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own
The POWs called the hospital
"Zero Ward" because most of the men who entered it
never came out alive. The Japanese were so
afarid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire
fence up around it. The POWs in the hospital lay
elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed
with knives from mess kits. Only one medic, out
of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough
to perform his duties.
Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and
placed them under the hospital building. To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the
ground, put down lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the
bodies had been. It took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk, went
out on a work detail for the day such as the one collected
wood for the POW kitchen. Some POWs went out on
work details which lasted for months to get out of the
camp. The worse detail a man could be put on was
the burial detail. On this detail, two POWs carried
a dead man to the camp cemetery. Once there,
they put the body in a grave and held the body down with a
pole, since the water table was high, and covered it
with dirt. The next morning, when the burials resumed,
the dead were often sitting up or had been dug up by
wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had
to do something to lower the death rate, so they
opened a new POW camp.
On June 1, the POWs formed
detachments of 100 men and were marched to Capas, where they
were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two
Japanese guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train
was switched onto a track that took it to
Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a
schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions
soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a
former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of
the 91st Philippine Army Division's home.
The camp was actually three
camps. Camp One was where the men who captured on Bataan and
taken part in the death march where held. Camp
Two did not have an adequate water supply and was
closed. It later reopened and housed Naval
POWs. Camp Three was where those men captured when
Corregidor surrender were taken. In addition,
men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender
came were sent to the camp. Camps One and Three
were later consolidated into one camp.
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. What details Joe took
part in from the camp is not known.
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. In addition, the lack of
proper bathrooms contributed to 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.
Lonnie went out on a work detail
to Ft. McKinley arriving there on October 1942. When
the detail started, the POWs were issued coconut fiber
hats and shoes. Both these items did not last long
on the detail. Later, the hats were replaced by
Red Cross hats and new shoes in the Red Cross packages the
POWs received in November 1943. Although
clothing was repeatedly issued, there was never enough given
The POWs lived in the barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts.
Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on sawale floor mats and in ten men mosquito
nets issued by the Japanese. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets. The meals for the POWs were
cooked in four halves of 50 gallon oil barrows. They remained there until they were done cleaning up junk that
had been left from the fighting.
The next place the POWs worked
was at Nielsen Field. The work started on January 29,
1943, and for the first six weeks the POWs marched 8
kilometers from Ft. McKinley to the airfield. They
were later moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in
Nipa huts that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had
been built for them and were taken to the airfield by
truck. There, the POWs worked at constructing a
northeast to southwest runway and building revetments.
At first tents were provided for
protection against the sun and rain, but many were stolen
by the Filipinos and the rest deteriorated until they
were useless. There was plenty of water for drinking
and adequate latrines were provided. The POWs
were divided into two groups. One group worked for a
hour while the other rested. This was later
reduced to two 15 minute breaks in the morning and
afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was
increased to three 15 minute breaks in the morning and
The POWs worked from 8:00 A.M.
to noon and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The POWs were
divided into two groups. While one group was working
for an hour, the other group rested. The work was hard
and called for the POWs to remove dirt and rock to the
area where the runway was being built. Wheelbarrows
were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective
and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to
work. The POWs received one day off a week.
Small mining cars were brought
in, and the POWs filled the cars with dirt and rocks before
they were pushed by five men down a track from 200
feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where
the material was wanted, they emptied the car.
On March 28, the Japanese
instituted the "speedup program" to get the work done
quicker. The POWs did not know if it was because
they had fallen behind in the construction of the runway,
or if it was because the war was going badly for the
Japanese, and they needed the runway finished. This
lasted until July 4 when it was ended.
It appeared that Lonnie became ill and was returned to Cabanatuan. How long he
remained there is not known. Records show he was sent to the Port Area of Manila to work as a stevedore
loading and unloading in November 1943.
At some point, Lonnie was sent
to the Port Area of Manila to work as a stevedore on what
was known as the Port Terminal Detail. He was a
replacement for another POW who had become too ill to
work. On the detail he was reunited with his
friend Pvt. Marvin Taylor, who was also from
Harrodsburg. It was while he was on this
detail that on February 8, 1944, that his wife received word
that he was alive. This was because his friend,
Marvin Taylor, was allowed to make a shortwave broadcast
and mentioned him in it.
In July 1944, the detail ended
and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison to be transferred
to Japan. In August 1944, Lonnie was sent to
Pier 7 for transport to Japan. he remained there until
August 25th, when he was boarded onto the
, which sailed for Takao, Formosa, as part of a
convoy, on August 27. After leaving Manila, the
convoy stopped at Subic Bay for the night.
During the trip, the ship made it through a submarine
attack and arrived at Takao on August 30th and sailed
for Japan the on August 31 and arrived at Moji on September
Lonnie and the other POWs were
taken by train to Oasaka and marched through a subway to
another train. This train arrived at Nuttari,
Higashi Ward, Niigata Prefecture. The POWs were put on trucks
and driven to the POW camp which was designated as a
Niigata POW camp. The camp was located in
Nuttari, Higashi Ward, Niigata Prefecture. In
the camp, the POWs worked at a coal yard, the POWs were used
as slave labor and loaded and unloaded coal
cars. The winches in the camp were run by women. The
winches lifted the coal out of the ship's holds and
dropped it on conveyor belts that dumped it into coal
cars which the POWs pushed. The POWs also would
work on barges shoveling coal into a steam shovel which
lifted it and dropped it into coal cars.
In September 1945, Lonnie was liberated from the camp. His family received word of
his liberation on September 16, 1945. After being liberated, he was returned to the Philippines and
received medical treatment. When it was determined he was healthy, he was boarded onto the
U.S.S. Hugh Rodman
which arrived at San Francisco on October 3, 1945, and was taken to Letterman General Hospital before being
allowed to return to Kentucky and his wife.
When Lonnie returned home for
the first time, his wife introduced him to his son,
Tony. Tony, who was five, had never met his
father. He ran to the photo of his father that was
sitting on a desk in the house and said,
"No, No, this is my daddy!"
He would have nothing to do with the stranger standing in front of him.
Lonnie and Gertrude would have two more children. Lonnie re-enlisted in the army on
April 12, 1948, with the rank of corporal, and he returned to Japan, in September 1950, before serving in Korea during the Korean
War. When he was discharged, as a sergeant, in 1952, he returned to Harrodsburg and worked as a
Lonnie's life was not easy. His family recalled that he would wake up in the
middle of the night screaming. Lonnie was also admitted, several times, to the Veterans Administration
Hospital in Lexington because of his alcoholism.
The greatest impact Lonnie's alcoholism had his life was that Gertrude would divorce
him in 1965. Although she could no longer fight her husband's demons, she said she still loved
him. After the divorce, he remained in Harrodsburg for four years when he suddenly disappeared.
Lonnie's children had no idea if
he was alive or dead. In the fall of 1986,
Lonnie called his children and asked if one of them
would be willing to bring him home to Harrodsburg. For
the last fifteen years, he had been living in a
trailer in Florida and working as a tenant farmer. He had
been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to die in
Harrodsburg. To his surprise, all three of his children
went to Florida to get him.
Lonnie spent his last Christmas living with his son, Tony, and daughter-in-law,
Marilyn. He and his children reacquainted themselves with each other and found him easy to be with
him. They also found out that he had a great sense of humor.
In February 1987, Lonnie was
admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington,
Kentucky, and later moved to the Leestown Road VA
Facility and admitted to the terminal unit. It was at
this time that he began to share his memories of
Bataan with his family. Even at that time, he could hardly
bring himself to talk about his POW experiences in the
Philippines and Japan.
Lonnie Gray died peacefully from
a large tumor next to his aortic artery. The tumor
caused massive bleeding which resulted in him just
going to sleep. Lonnie L. Gray passed away on April 10,
1987, and was buried in Section I, Site 581, at Camp
Nelson National Cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky.