Harmon

 


Pvt. Charles Cleo Harmon


    Pvt. Charles C. Harmon was one of twin sons born on August 5, 1916, on the family's farm three miles east of Alfalfa, Oklahoma, to Arthur L. Harmon and Lola May Luper-Harmon.  In addition to his twin, he had two sisters and two more brothers.  They were raised in Alfalfa, until the family moved to Loco, Oklahoma.  His mother passed away on January 1, 1923, when he was six, so he and his siblings lived with their grandparents.
    Charles father remarried and moved the family to Augusta, Kansas.  Charles was unhappy, so he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt in Carnegie, Oklahoma.  He went to work at Crain Ford as a car salesman.  He was inducted in the U.S. Army in Oklahoma City, on March 20, 1941. 
    Charles was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  What exact training he received is not known.  What is known is that he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, after completing basic training and assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk in the late summer, but did not take part maneuvers that were going on at the fort.
    After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to remain at Camp Polk.  The members of the battalion had no idea why they were remaining at the fort.  It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas.  Those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  Once this was done, replacements were sought from the 753rd.  Charles was one of the replacements.  He was assigned to C Company.
    The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water.  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, with a Japanese occupied island hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter on it.  The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that night.
    The next day, another squadron of planes were sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way toward shore.  Since radio communication with the Navy was poor, the boat escaped without being intercepted.
    After loading their tanks - which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion - on flatcars, D Company boarded a train west for San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.   On the island, the tankers were given physicals, by the battalion's medical detachment, and those men 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. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  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.   They 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 5th, 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, the transport, S.S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, 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 16th, 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 20th, 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 Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.  Ironically, November 20th 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.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers learned of the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor.  He and the other tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
    Around 12:45 P.M., the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield.  When bombs began exploding they knew the planes were Japanese.  Although they did the best they could, the tankers did not have the right type of weapons to fight the planes.
    Charles spent the next four months taking part in a delaying action against the Japanese.  During the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula, the tanks were often the last unit to disengage from the Japanese.
    At Gumain River, 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.  It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.   The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.     
    Charles took part in the Battle of the Points.  The Japanese lunched an offensive and broken through the defensive line on Bataan and were pushed back.  This resulted in two pockets of Japanese troops trapped behind American and Filipino lines.  During this battle, the tankers drove over the Japanese foxholes and soldiers sitting on the tanks dropped hand grenades into the foxholes.  In a matter of days, all resistance was wiped out.
    Another method the tankers used to wipe out the pockets was to park a tank with one track over the Japanese foxhole.  The crew would then spin the tank on one track while the other track dug into the ground.
    At 6:45 A.M. in the morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  They destroyed their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them.  When they did, they ordered the members of the company to make their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  


   From Mariveles, the POWs made their way north to San Fernando.  They received little food and almost no water.  At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into a bull pin.  In one corner was a slit trench that was used as a washroom.  The surface moved from the maggots that covered it.
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men.  They were marched to the train station and put into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses and were known as "Forty or Eights."  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water faucet for the entire camp.  As many as fifty POWs died each day.  Disease spread quickly among the POWs.  To get out of the camp, POWs volunteered to go out on work details.
    Charles most likely went out on a work detail, but at this time, it is not known which one.  It is known that he was a POW in Cabanatuan in 1943.  In early September, his name appeared on a roster of POWs being sent to Japan.  The POWs were taken by truck to Manila.  At Bilibid, they were given a physical and taken to the Port Area for transport to Japan. 
    The POWs were boarded onto the Coral Maru which was also known as the Taga Maru.  It sailed from Manila on September 20th and arrived at Takao, Formosa, around September 23rd.  It spent two or three days in port before sailing about September 26th.  The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5th.
    The POWs were disembarked and organized into detachments of 100 POWs.  They were taken by train to various POW camps.  In Charles' case, he was taken to
Tokyo Camp #5-B, also known as Niigata #5-B, arriving on October 7, 1943.  The first morning in the camp, the commandant had the men strip their clothes off.  The prisoners then stood in the cold for an hour and a half.  Once they began to turn blue, the commandant addressed them.  He said, "I want you people to know that you are prisoners of war, and you will be treated like prisoners of war and not like guests of Japan."
    While a POW in this camp, the POWs unloaded coal from ships onto a beach.  To do this, the POWs worked on high trestles to unload the coal from the ships into cars. The next day, the prisoners would unload the coal from the cars using baskets.  POWs were often forced to work barefooted in the winter and in the rain which resulted in men having bruised, cut, and infected feet.  Once a month the prisoners would get one day off.
    Meals for the prisoners often consisted rice.  In the rice were small pebbles which damaged the POWs teeth.  The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks.  To get them to work, the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
    About a month before he arrived in camp, the Japanese had begun a routine of taking every fifth POW from morning roll call and making the men bow to the guards.  As they bowed, the guard kicked the men in their faces and hit them in the back of the neck with a club while they were bent over.  They continued doing this to the POWs until March 31, 1944.  The Japanese also created disturbances after the POWs had gone to sleep to deprive them of sleep.
    The International Red Cross visited the Niigata Camp twice.  To prevent the representatives from hearing about the conditions the POWs were living in and the treatment they were receiving, the Japanese would not let the representatives speak to the prisoners.
    The fact was that the Japanese used what was in the Red Cross packages for themselves including medical supplies, bandages, and medicines sent to the POWs.  Only after having taken canned milk, canned meat, and chocolate from the packages, would they be given to the POWs.  The Japanese also used the clothing and shoes sent for POW use for themselves, and all the Japanese in the camp slept with Red Cross blankets on their beds.
    Charles remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 5, 1945, and the POWs were taken by train to Yokohama.  The POWs were returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.
    Charles returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Rescue on October 10, 1945, at San Francisco.  He was on the first ship to bring the former POWs home.  After arriving the men were sent to Letterman General Hospital.   He was next sent to Bruns General Hospital to recover.  It was while he was there that he met his future wife, Mary Ann Huelsmann.   The couple married on October 9, 1946.  
    Charles worked in automobile sales at different car dealers in Norman, Oklahoma.  He later opened his own car dealership and worked until he retired in 1998.

    Mary Ann passed away in May 1990, and Charles, in 2006, married Huiging Ying in China.  She was known as Jean.  Charles C. Harmon passed away on May 30, 2016, in Norman, Oklahoma, and was the last known surviving member of C Company.


 

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