Sgt. Aaron Clyde Hopper
Sgt. Aaron C. Hopper was born on January 25, 1918, in Carroll County, Tennessee, to Allen P.
Hopper and Effie J. Pendergrass-Hopper, and lived in Carroll County with his four sisters and two brothers. He
was known as "Clyde" to his family and friends.
He was a graduate of West Tennessee Business College and was working as an office worker in Gilbertsville, Kentucky, when he was drafted into the Army. On March 11, 1941, in Louisville, Kentucky, and was scheduled to go to Ft. Hood, Texas, but his paperwork was lost, so he was sent to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where he remained for six weeks while the Army attempted to find his paperwork.
After his paperwork was found, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and attended classes on military supplies. He rose in rank quickly and held the rank of sergeant by the late summer of 1941 and was the company's supply sergeant.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd participated in maneuvers in Louisiana, as part of the First Armor Division. At one point, the battalion broke through the defenses of the 2nd Armor Division and was on its way to overrun the division's headquarters when the maneuvers were cancelled. Afterwards, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill that the members of the 192nd learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were given the chance to resign from federal service, while many of the remaining men received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
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.
The companies of the battalion traveled by train, over different train routes, to San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe , to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island and received inoculations and physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind 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 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 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, 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 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 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 Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner 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. It is not known if D Company lived in tents or assigned to barracks since they were scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion.
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. It was at this time that D Company was scheduled to reassigned to the 194th Tank Battalion so that both tank battalions would have three letter companies.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed by food trucks.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941, Clyde lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Since he was in supplies, he was in the tank battalions bivouac on the road between the airfield and Ft. Stotsenburg.
That morning, about 8:30, all the American planes took off and filled the sky. In any direction the tankers looked, there were planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and were lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north, and the tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes. When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and 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 attack also destroyed the paperwork, for the members of D Company, that was needed to officially transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion. Since the United States was now at war, the company was never transferred to the battalion but only attached to it.
That night, the tankers slept under their tanks since it was safer then sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one half years.
On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers to do reconnaissance and guard beaches. They remained there until December 23rd, when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken.
The companies were moved again on the 12th to south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
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 by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
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.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company,
For the next four months, William worked to keep D Company supplied. Of this he recalled , "We were outnumbered and no provision made for us on Bataan. We had to exist on white rice and mangoes. Occasionally, we killed a water buffalo for meat, but eventually we had to eat the cavalry horses."
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time , "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry's command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At bight they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion's half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's fire. The Japanese were wiped out.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major offensive on April 3. The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew. On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
The tankers were next assigned to guarding the Bataan and Cabcaban Airfields. They also guarded against beach landings and paratroopers. They would continue this duty until April 7. On April 8, the tankers were sent Trail 10 and Mount Samat. The lines had broken. They fought there until receiving the news of the surrender.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. 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 accomplished."
The early morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers heard the order "crash " which meant that they should destroy all their weapons, including tanks. It was at that moment that Clyde made the decision to attempt to reach Corregidor with another member of D Company.
Recalling this, he said , "Two of us tied empty five gallon cans onto each end of a hospital stretcher and pushed it five miles across the bay. We had to swim across the tide, and it took us ten hours, from 4 A.M. till two in the afternoon." After arriving on the island, he volunteered with other members of D Company, to be sent to Ft. Drum the concrete battleship. While there he manned a sandbagged .50 caliber machine gun and shot down a Japanese plane. He also hit two other planes.
When Corregidor was surrendered on May 6, 1942, Ft. Drum was also ordered to surrender. After they did, the Prisoners of War were returned to Corregidor where he remained when the other POWs were taken by barge to Luzon. The detail he was on filled the crater holes created by the Japanese shelling the island. "We worked continuously, from noon Thursday to Sunday night, in the tropical sun with no water, food, or sleep, and with no shirt or head cover.
From Corregidor the POWs were taken by boat to Manila and Bilibid Prison. From the prison, they were taken by train to San Fernando. From there, the POWs were taken to Cabanatuan #3. The camp held POWs captured on Corregidor and who were hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. In September 1942, Camp #1, where the POWs from Bataan were held, and Camp #3 were merged. While a POW in the camp he came down with dysentery, but he was never sick enough to be admitted to the camp hospital.
During his time at the camp he went out on work details. One detail that Clyde was on was the wood detail. "Occasionally, they sent us out on work details to cut wood for cooking. The Japanese put us in ten men squads. If one escaped, the other nine would be shot." Meals in the camp were mostly rice but Clyde remembered , "Sometimes they gave us raw, dry fish to eat. Often the fish had maggots, but we were so hungry that we would shake the maggots out and eat the fish anyway."
After six months in the camp, Clyde was selected to be taken to another part of the Japanese Empire. On October 5, he was one of 800 POWs who were lined up four abreast and forced to double-time it to San Fernando, which was twelve miles away. The guards with them rode horses. Any POW who fell behind was bayoneted.
The POWs were put into boxcars at San Fernando and taken to Manila. They disembarked and were marched to the Port Area of Manila where they were housed in a warehouse on Pier 7. There, on October 7, they were boarded onto the Tottori Maru with 500 POWs put in the front hold and the 1461 POWs put in the rear hold.
The ship sailed on October 8 at 10:00 A.M. and passed Corregidor at noon. The meals for the POWs consisted of three small loaves of bread that were the equal to one American loaf of bread. Of this, he said , "The first thirteen days on the ship, we were given three hamburger buns a day as food ration. Then they gave us a half a cup of rice once or twice a day for the rest of the trip.
On October 9, an American submarine fired two torpedoes at the ship, and at 9:00 A.M., it sailed past a mine that the submarine had laid. The ship continued its voyage and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11 and remained in the port until the 16th when it sailed again but returned to Takao at 10:00 P.M. that night. Two days later, on the 18th, the ship sailed a second time. This time it dropped anchor off the Pescadores Islands, north of Formosa, the same day and remained there for several days. By this time, the POWs had been in the holds for nine days, Clyde said , "We could not sleep in the hold without coming into contact with human excreta."
While off the islands, two POWs died and were taken on deck and thrown into the sea. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked food stuffs were again loaded onto the ship.
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned. They were again put into the holds and the ship and remained there until the ship sailed on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands. During this time the POWs were fed two meals of day of rice and soup. The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven ship convoy. During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea. On November 3, three more POWs died. On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.
On November 7, the ship reached Fusan, Korea, where the POWs disembarked on the 8th. The remains of any POW who died were taken ashore, cremated, and the ashes were placed in white boxes. Those POWs who were too ill to continue the trip to Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan. Those who died were cremated and had their ashes placed in small white boxes which were sent to Mukden. The 400 POWs still on the ship were sent to Japan.
As they marched, the civilians in the town spit on them, hit them, and made fun of the POWs. The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box which contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish. They were sent on a two day train trip north.
At Mukden , the POWs were held at Hoten Camp. When they first got there, they lived in dugouts and were later moved to a two story barracks that were divi ded into 10 sections. Five were on the groun d floor and five on the second floor. Each section was divi ded into four double - decked sleeping bays which could sleep ei ght men each. 48 POWs slept in each in each section which were heated by "petchka" stoves . The enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover themselves with at night. The officers got one blanket and a mattress. The barracks were in fested with fleas, lice, and bedbugs.
For breakfast they had cornmeal mush and a bun. Lunch was maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun. Since they were underfed, the POWs trapped wild dogs to supplement their meals of soy beans which usually came in the form of soup. They continued to trap dogs until, while marching to work, they saw one eating a dead Chinese.
The POWs worked either at a machine shop or a saw mill from 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day. The machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese. Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese. To prevent the production of weapons, they committed acts of sabotage like pouring sand into the machine oiling holes. The Japanese usually blamed these acts of sabotage on the Chinese in the plant because they believed the Americans were not smart enough to commit the sabotage.
Many of the POWs in the camp worked at the MKK Machine Shop which was attempting to produce copies of American weapons. To prevent this from happening, the POWs committed acts of sabotage. Many POWs believed that they never manufactured one usable weapon. It is known that while Clyde was in the camp he was caught trying to smuggle food to a POW in the guardhouse which resulted in him being beaten.
C yde was next assigned as a mechanic at a textile mill that 150 POWs were assigned to work. A shift for the POWs lasted twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Clyde's job, with Manchurian mechanics, was to keep twelve textile machines running , "When some of the machines broke down, I learned what was causing it and began to help it along. I was able to keep some of the machines disabled most of the time."
Winters in the camp were brutal, and 400 men died the first winter. Since it was too cold to bury them, the bodies were stacked like wood in a warehouse , "The temperature would sometimes get down to forty below zero and the ground was so hard we couldn't bury them. We had to wait until spring to bury them." By the next winter, the food was better since they were being fed soybean soup, which was more nutritional than cabbage and rice soup, which helped the death rate among the POWs to drop.
The PO Ws in the camp laid concrete to install machinery. While doing this job they committed acts of sabotage by dropping parts of the machine into the newly poured concrete. The Japanese could not figure out what happened to the parts of the machines sin ce they did not believe the POWs were s mart enough to commit the sabotage.
On on e occasion the men in one barracks were believed to have traded for cigarettes with the Chinese. All the POWs were forced out into the cold and snow and made to strip when the Japanese searched for contraband in the barracks. Most of the POWs stood barefooted in snow as they watched the Japanese search the 700 men from the barracks.
Punishment was given for any infraction. It was not uncommon for POWs to be hit and kic ked until t hey were knocked out for violating a camp rule. At other times, the camp's food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. They would also withhold Red Cross packages and force the POWs go to work. If the POWs did receive the Red Cross boxes, they were looted.
On one occasion, Lt. Murado entered a barracks and ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with his own shoes. When three POWs escaped t he camp and were recaptured, they were b rought back to the camp and beaten with a stick a round their heads, shoulders and back. Another Japane se, Eiichai Nada, who was born and raised i n Berkley, California, and went to Japan for school, would beat the POWs , at morning assembly until they fell to the ground. Once they were on the ground, he said , " Get up, you yellow, white son of a bitch."
Some POWs in the camp were sel ected to be experimented on by U n it 731. They were injected with diseases, had parts of their bodie s frozen , and dissected whil e a live.
While he was at the camp, his parents received two POW postcards from him and he was allowed to make a shortwave broadcast, in July 1944, which was picked up by shortwave radio operators. His message was as follows:
"Dear Mama, How is everybody? I am in good health. Your letters did not mention Mae. Where are Edward and Jamie? And how are they? How is Papa? Enjoyed the package. Belated birthday greetings to Edward and James Allen. Your loving son Clyde."
It needs to be mentioned that Clyde's brother, Edward, had been Killed in Action in North Africa on July 23, 1943.
During his time in the camp received one letter from home. The POWs were also so isolated that they did not know much news from the outside world. When B-29s began making bombing runs on Mukden, they had a good idea that the Allies were winning the war.
On August 18, 1945, an American Recovery Team from the OSS parachuted into the camp and entered the commandant's office. They later told the POWs that the war was over. Clyde was officially liberated by the Russian Army, who made the Japanese surrender in front of the POWs.
After being liberated, the former prisoners were taken by train to Darien, China, where they boarded ships and were taken to Okinawa. From there, they were flown to Manila for medical treatment.
As it turned out, Clyde needed more intense medical treatment and was boarded on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze in September 1945. He arrived at San Francisco on October 16th, which was almost four years since he had left San Francisco for the Philippines. In San Francisco, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital. From there, he was sent to Moore General Hospital in Swannanoa, North Carolina, and hospitalized for five months.
Clyde was discharged from the Army on March 8, 1946. He married and became the father of a daughter and son. Lasting effects of his time as a POW was excessive nervousness and dietary problems.
Aaron Clyde Hopper died on January 11, 2000, in Jackson, Tennessee and was buried in Ridgecrest Cemetery. Aaron Clyde Hopper's Story is available on-line at the National Archives.