Holt_V

 


Tec 4 Virgil J. Holt


    

    What is known about T/4 Virgil J. Holt is that he was the son of Allie Holt and was born in 1916 in Raleigh County, West Virginia.  His father died and his mother remarried.  It is known he had a brother, sister, and half-sister.  His step-father also died, so he and his brother went to work as coal miners. 

    Virgil was inducted into the army on January 1, 1941, at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, and assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion.  A Company of the battalion was later reorganized as the 17th Ordnance Company. and received orders for overseas duty.
    On August 15, 1941, orders were issued, to the company, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
    The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    On September 1, 1941, the company rode a train to Ft. Mason, San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  Arriving on September 5, the company was ferried, on 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.
    The company spent three days removing the turrets of the 194th Tank Battalion tanks, spray painting the tank's serial number of its turret, and readying the battalions guns for transport to the Philippines.  The men 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.  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, that was one of its escorts.  The other was 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.
    The company arrived at Ft. Stostenburg and were housed in tents since their barracks had not been finished.  The men would not get into their barracks until November 15th. When the 192nd Tank Battlion arrived in the Philippines, the company's members helped to unload the tanks and ready them for service.
    On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Virgil lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  Since the company had no weapons to use against planes, the men took cover.  He spent the next four months servicing the tanks of the the tank group.
    On April 9, 1942, Virgil became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.  There, the POWs were boarded onto small wooden boxcars that could hold forty men.  One hundred men were packed into each car.  The dead remained standing until the living left the cars. 

    The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.  The Japanese pressed the camp 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.  The trip was not as bad since the POWs had more room in the boxcars.  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.
    The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O'Donnell.  Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply.  It was later reopened and held Naval POWs.  Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2.  It housed the POWs fro Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered.  The camp was later closed and the POWs were sent to Camp 1. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O'Donnell.  Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply.  It was later reopened and held Naval POWs.  Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2.  It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered.  Camps 1 and 3 were later consolidated into one camp.
    The barracks were built for 50 men, but most had 60 to 120 men in them.  Each man had a are two feet wide by six feet long to sleep in.  The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, bedding, and mosquito netting.  Disease soon spread quickly.
    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 1 hospital was made up of 30 wards.  Zero ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of "Zero Ward."  The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent.  The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building.   Inside the buildings were two rolls of wooden platforms along the walls.  The sicker POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into them.  This allowed the POWs to relieve themselves without having to get off the platform.  When Red Cross packages were given out, and other changes were made, the death rate dropped.

    On October 26, 1942, Virgil was selected for a work detail to be sent to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs were sent by train from Cabanatuan to Manila.  They were held in Bilibid Prison for two days before being boarded onto the Erie Maru.  The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao.  Virgil arrived on the Island of Mindanao  on November 7th.  Virgil was one of 650 POWs who built an airfield at Lasang, while 100 POWs built an airfield south of Davao.

     The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944.  The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong.  The barracks of the POWs were only 400 yards from the runway.  The POWs believed that this was done so that American planes would kill their own countrymen.

    The POWs either built runways or were sent to a quarry to mine coral for the runways.  The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it until trucks that were driven to the airfield.  For their work, they enlisted men received five cents for twelve hours of work.  The POWs simply slowed down to slow down the work.  The Japanese resorted to torture to get the POWs to work harder. 

    One night the POWs heard the sound of a plane.  From the sound of the engine, they knew it was American.  It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years.  As the plane dove on the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated silently.  On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men stayed on the island until August 19, 1944.

    Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed.  The Japanese posted guards  with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily.  The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments.  The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.

    During this time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup of rice a day.  The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables.  Many ate the weeds that grew inside the camp until it was bare.

    Air raids soon were nightly events.  Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks.  Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped.

    On that day, the POWs were lined up by fours.  The outside men had rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape.  They were marched shoe-less to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon.   They were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru.  400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold.  In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold.  Around six that evening, the ship sailed.

    As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves.  Many of the prisoners became seasick.  They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs.   The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane.  An American plane flew over the ship.  Moments later bombs exploded near the ship.  The sound of machinegun fire was heard by the POWs.  The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air.  Over the next three days, there were several more alerts.  Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.

    On August 24th, the ship arrived in Zamboanga where it waited for ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived.  The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship's holds were terrible.  The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste.  In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse.  During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with salt water.

    It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga.  Someone misinterpreted the order as saying the ship would be transporting "750 troops" instead of "750 prisoners of war" to Manila.  The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.  

   On September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru.  250 POWs were put in the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were put into its larger hold.   That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking an shaking it.  The POWs prayed for the ship to be hit.

    The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 a.m.  Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below.  The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines.  The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076. 

    The POWs were no longer allowed on deck.  Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship.  For the next two days the ship made good time.  It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes.  Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.

    At 7:37 p.m. the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point.  It fired two torpedoes at the Shinyo Maru.  The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold.  Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship.  Some of the POWs were blown out of the hold and into the water by the explosion.  There was a gapping hole in the ship's side.  Those POWs still alive saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water. 

    The surviving POWs found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion.  As the water level rose, they were able to climb out.  Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles.  As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off.  The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water.  Others escaped the ship through the hole in the side of the hold.

     The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits.  But, the hold remained dry.  Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore.  As they swam, they were fired upon by the same seven Japanese officers.

    According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize.  There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle and split in two.  It then sank into the water.

    Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine.  When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them.  The planes stopped strafing when they realized that there were Japanese in the water with the POWs.  The one good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs.

    A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water.  The ship had intentionally been run aground.  The Japanese quickly set up machine-guns on its bridge and fired on the POWs.  Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water.  If they found a man, they shot him.  What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them. 

    The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion.  About 30 men gave up after hearing this.  According to one man who escaped after surrendering, the POWs had their hands tied to the ship's rail, and the Japanese shot each POW in the back of the head.  They then pushed the bodies overboard.

   Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped.  One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerrillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944.  Tec 4 Virgil Holt was not one of these men.

    Tec 4 Virgil Holt is listed as dying on Thursday, September 7, 1944, during the sinking of the Shinyo Maru.  On December 31, 1944, the United States acknowledged that the sinking of the Shinyo Maru was a result of the content of a radio message being misinterpreted.

    Since T/4 Virgil J. Holt was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.






 

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