Pvt. Abner Lee Humphrey Jr.
| Abner L.
Humphrey Jr. was born on September 12, 1919, in
Comanche, Texas, to Abner L. Humphrey Sr. and
Repty Humphrey. He grew up on the family
farm with his three sisters and left high school
after completing his junior year. He worked
as a construction worker building Camp Bowie near
Fort Worth, Texas, when he received his draft
On March 13, 1941, A. L. was inducted into the U.S. Army after receiving his draft notice. He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. It was there that he was trained as a tank driver. After basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and joined the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion was sent there from Ft. Benning, Georgia, but did not take part in the maneuvers that were taking place there.
After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion had expected to return to Ft. Knox. Instead, they received orders to remain behind at the fort. It was on the side of a hill that the tankers learned that they were being sent overseas. It was at that time men 29 years old or older or married were allowed to resign from federal service.
It was at this time that A.L. volunteered, or had his name drawn, to replace a National Guardsman who had been released. He was assigned to D Company which had been a Kentucky National Guard tank company. The tank he was assigned to was named "Shirley" after the wife of its commander. A.L. received leave home for two weeks.
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 battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived at Ft. Mason in San Francisco and were ferried. on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island where they given physicals and inoculated by the battalion's medical detachment. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found 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. President 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, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 8th, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had no weapons to be used against planes.
On December 13th, 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.
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 night of December 26/27, D Company found that the bridge they were assigned to cross a river had been destroyed. The company commander made the decision to abandon the tanks and cross without them. Of this event, A.L. recalled that the 72 men disabled the tanks and crossed the river. They rode a truck in the dark to their own lines. The Japanese were able to get the tanks operating and used them in the Battle of Bataan.
At Gumain River, on January 5th, D Company and C Company of the 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese. A.L. Described many of the engagements against the Japanese as running battles since the tanks would drop back quickly after engaging the Japanese.
The tankers were next assigned to guarding the Bataan and Cabcaban Airfields. They also guarded against beach landings and paratroopers. It was around April 5th that A.L. was sent to Hospital #1 suffering from malaria. When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9th, he was still in the hospital. When the Japanese took over, the doctors still had medicine, but it quickly ran out.
recalled that the Japanese set up artillery
near the hospital and fired on
Corregidor. The Americans did not
return fire because they knew the artillery
was near the hospital. He remained
there until he was sent to Bilibid Prison
until he was sent to Cabanatuan in
what was called the the Cabcaben
records kept at the camp show that
A.L. was admitted to the camp's
hospital on May 29th suffering
from malaria. The records do
not show when he was
A.L. recalled that as many as 33
POWs died each day. The worst
day was when 49 men died from
malaria, tuberculosis, beriberi, and
diphtheria. He recalled, "Those of us
who were able, or barely able,
were forced to carry the bodies
of our dead to a common grave
and then covered them."
recalled climbing down a steel ladder
into the hold. Once in the hold, it
didn't take too long for the floor to be
covered in human waste and vomit.
The ship sailed on September 20th and
arrived at Takao, Formosa, on September
23rd. It sailed for Moji, Japan,
on September 26th.
A.L. Humphrey spent the rest of his life in Comanche, Texas. He passed away on May 2, 2001.