Humphrey_A

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 notice. 
    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.
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 8, 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 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers to do reconnaissance and guard beaches.  They remained there until December 23, 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 5, 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 5 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.

    A.L. 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 Detachment.  Medical records kept at the camp show that A.L. was admitted to the camp's hospital on May 29  suffering from malaria.  The records do not show when he was discharged. 
    A. L. stated that the POWs were each given a bunk.  The sicker a man got, the further back in the hospital he was placed.  If a man was in one of the last two rows of bunks, he was not expected to live. 
   Medical records again show he was readmitted to the hospital on June 25 and remained in the hospital until October 17. 
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."  
    He was hospitalized again and his weight dropped from 160 pounds to 78 pounds.  A.L. was moved further and further back in the hospital.  He made it all the way to the second to last bunk suffering from beriberi.  His one testicle reached the size of a grapefruit and burst.  He recalled that he was in the hospital until May or June 1943.  His weight went from 160 pounds down to 78 pounds.
    POWs in the hospital were fed twice a day.  Since the Japanese viewed them as not being useful, they only received two thirds of a mess kit of rice at each meal.  This cut in rations simply made them sicker.

    J.C. Garrett, A. L.'s friend from D Company, worked in the Japanese Officers Mess.  He stole raw rice for A.L. to eat.  If Garrett had been caught, he would have been killed.

      After being released from the hospital, A.L. worked at the camp farm.  The POWs planted rice and grew vegetables.  Most, if not all, went to the Japanese mess.  The POWs received the leftovers that the Japanese would not eat.
    Beatings of POWs were common.  A.L. recalled that the Japanese often beat POWs with pine or bamboo pole for breaking a rule or an imaginary rule.  Often, the beatings took place because the guards just felt like beating up a POW.
    The worse thing A.L. saw was when the Japanese tied a POW, whom he described as a "smooth faced boy"  to a post for breaking a camp rule.  The POW was left tied to the pole all night.  The next morning the guards began beating the POW with a pole until he died sometime around noon.  After he died, the POWs had to bury him.  Years later, the boy's screams still haunted him.
    In September 1943, A.L. was sent by train to Bilibid Prison,  There, he was given a physical and was deemed healthy enough to be sent to Japan.  On the 18th, he and the other POWs were boarded onto the Coral Maru which was also known as the Taga Maru.  Taga in Japanese means "slow." 

    A.L. 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.
    During the trip to Japan, the ship sailed through a typhoon.  A.L. went topside during the storm to relieve himself when the ship was hit by a fifteen foot wave.  He was carried down the deck by the wave.  What saved him was that he was able to grab a cable.  After the wave subsided, he found himself fifteen feet about the deck.  To get down, he simply let go.  When he hit the deck, he broke an ankle.  The ship arrived at Moji on October 5th.
    In Japan, A.L. was taken by train to
Sakurajima POW Camp.  He recalled that the they were housed in unheated wooden barracks.  The walls were lined with double-decked bunks.  Of his time in the camp, he said, "In Japan, the weather often was cold, and we slept on straw mats and cover with three thin blankets, or maybe the reverse, or most anyway we could get any degree of warmth."
    At the same time, A.L. said that the camp commandant actually made sure that the POWs had enough to eat and allowed the POWs to organize a softball team.  The reason was he had lived in the United States and liked Americans. 
    The POWs in the camp built ships and machinery.  On one occasion, a POW who was part of  a riveting crew got into an argument about hos good a pair of rivet tongs were.  The POW showed the guard that stamped on the tongs was "Made in Akron, Ohio."  The guard grabbed the tongs and really beat the POW with them.  A.L. and the other POWs could do nothing but watch.
   The POWs worked thirteen days on and one day off.  Each work day was nine hours long.  On their day off, the POWs had to clean their barracks.  The Japanese guards were never happy with how they did it and beat the POWs. 
    After the POW camp was destroyed in an air raid on May 17, 1945, all the POWs were transferred to
Akenobe Camp where the POWs worked in a copper mine.  A. L. recalled that on August 13, 1945, the POWs did not have to go to work.  This was when the POWs knew the war was over.  A.L. was liberated on August 25, 1945. 
    On September 12th, A.L. boarded an American hospital ship for the Philippines.  After arriving there, he remained in the hospital for several days. 
He was also promoted to staff sergeant.  In October, he sailed for the United States, on the U.S.S. Marine Shark, on November 1, 1945, at Seattle. 

    A. L. was discharged on August 15, 1946.  On October 3, 1946, he married Doris Ripley and resided in Comanche, Texas.  The couple became the parents of a daughter and three sons.  He named his daughter "Shirley."
    In the U.S., A.L. was once again hospitalized and declared 100% disabled.  As the years went on, his disability was reduced to 50%.  By the 1970s, his disability was back to 100%. 
The one lasting affect of A.L.'s time as a POW was that his thumb nails always would split in half.     

    A.L. Humphrey spent the rest of his life in Comanche, Texas, and passed away on May 2, 2001.   


 

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