Pfc. William J. Kerins was the second son of James A. & Cecelia
Kerins and was born on February 28, 1919. The family lived at 2937 South Canal Street in Chicago, Illinois,
and later in Berwyn, Illinois, at 6731 West Stanley Avenue. He left high school after three years and
worked as an engraver.
Bill enlisted in the Quartermaster Corps of the Illinois National Guard because he
wanted to fulfill his military obligation. The company was made up of men from Berwyn. In November of
1940, he was transferred to 33rd Tank Company, Maywood, Illinois, as it prepared to leave for federal duty at
Fort Knox, Kentucky, and going with meant he would complete his military obligation sooner.
When the 33rd Tank Company arrived at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, they were
joined by National Guard companies from Janesville, Wisconsin, Port Clinton, Ohio, and Harrodsburg,
Kentucky. Together, they would become the 192nd Tank Battalion. At Ft. Knox, Bill was trained as a
cook, baker and radio operator. He was also trained on halftracks. The battalion was stationed near
as OTC Center. The reason for this according to members of the battalion was that the army wanted to keep
the 192nd somewhat isolated from the regular army because they were Guardsmen.
In September of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana
on maneuvers. William believed that this training was beneficial to the men because it helped them adjust
to the climate of the Philippines. At Camp Polk, the men were informed that they were going overseas and
it would be for no less than six months and no more than six years. Since the battalion was being sent
overseas, each man received a ten day emergency leave home. When they returned, their old M-2 tanks were
replaced with M-3 tanks. It was also at this time that the men officially were informed that their
overseas orders were for deployment in the Philippine Islands.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.
Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the
soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from
service and replaced.
The battalion sailed, on the
U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott from San Francisco on Monday, October 27 for Hawaii as part of a three ship
convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2, and had a layover. The soldiers received
passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4, for Guam. When
the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained
on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20, the ships arrived
at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most
of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King, who welcomed them and made
sure that they had what they needed. He 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
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the sleeping quarters for the 192nd consisted of
tents. Each tent had eight men assigned to it. During the next seventeen days, Bill and the other
men spent most of their time loading live ammunition. They also spent a large amount of time going over their
equipment and preparing it for maneuvers. The battalion was on full alert from the day it landed in the
Philippines. During this time, the battalion's reconnaissance unit made recon patrols up to the
Lingayen Gulf. When they returned to Clark Field, they reported that it would be an excellent place
for the landing of troops.
The first week of December, 1941, the tankers were ordered to Clark Field to assigned
locations. At all times, two members of each tank crew or half-track crew had to remain with their tank
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese.
Bill heard the news as he was lining up for breakfast. The tanks were dispersed around the perimeter of
Clark Field in anticipation of Japanese paratroopers. A short time later, the members of his battalion
were informed that Japanese bombers were about 45 minutes away. The attack on Clark Field came at about
12:45 P.M. right after Bill had eaten lunch. All Bill and the other men could do was watch the high
altitude bombers drop their bombs. When the dive bombers came in, the tankers did their best to bring
them down with the weapons they had. After the initial attack was over, Bill's platoon moved closer
to the landing strip of Clark Field.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to
proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on
gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed
north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The
bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get
south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They
successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River
from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The
tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south
of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1st, 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.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6/7, the 192nd held its
position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the
192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that
were not designed for jungle warfare. The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of
protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along
Bataan's east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them
from attempting landings.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the
airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The
tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to
be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January 23 to February
17 - to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese
offensive was stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket
one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited
the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that
was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three
Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos
dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over
the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding
its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of
gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the
vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the
Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers
did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the
tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this
battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at
a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit
the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug "spider holes" among
the roots the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But
before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank
just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the
night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out,
the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put
back into use.
At the same time the company took part in the Battle of the Points on the west
coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan
points from January 23 to 29, the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the
Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The defenders successfully eliminated the points
by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th
Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over
the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them
out of them into the sea.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to
eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also
began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers'
rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on
them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture
had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles
except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations
were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of
tanks be sent to Corregidor.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and
aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the
volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line
open to the Japanese. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to
restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank
was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the
192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance
was futile, since 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
On April 9, 1942, Bill along with most of the members of the 192nd
Tank Battalion became Prisoners of War when the troops on the Bataan Peninsula were surrendered to the
Japanese. The men received the news of the surrender from their officers. They spent the remainder
of their time, as free men, destroying equipment to prevent it from being used by the Japanese.
On April 12, 1942, Bill and other members of his tank platoon were on
the beach near General Hospital #2. It was there that the death march started for Bill. Bill
recalled that the march was very slow under an extremely hot sun which resulted in high temperatures. If
the men wanted something to drink, they had to break out of the line for the wells along the road. When a
guard spotted a man who had done this, the guard would shoot at him. During the entire march, Bill and
the other prisoners received only three handfuls of rice and three rations of water. All along the route,
the Japanese sentries were sitting in their tents drinking soft drinks and taunting the POWs. Whenever
POWs dropped to the side of the road, they were shot, bayoneted or killed by sword.
The first camp Bill was held at as a POW was Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino 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
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 POWs were dying at such a high rate that the number dead could not be
counted. The food was horrible and so were the sanitary conditions. He was held there for about one
week when he was sent to Caluan south of Manila to repair bridges. Most of the men on this detail were
tank men. This was due in part to the fact that the ranking American officer was Lt. Col. Ted Wickord
commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion. While on this detail, Bill came down with malaria and was
sent to the new POW camp Cabanatuan which had been
the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on
Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was
closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when
Corregidor surrender were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the
surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only
entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. 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.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule. If one
man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were
beaten. Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed. It is not known
if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120
POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting.
Many quickly became ill. Tom was assigned to Barracks 7, Group II,which meant that the members of his
group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two
major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any
detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugaii" which meant
"wet rice." During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no
fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The farm detail was under a Japanese guard known as "Big Speedo" because he
was taller than most of the Japanese. He knew very little English and used the word
when he wanted the POWs to work faster. Overall, the POWs felt he treated them fairly and did not
abuse them. There was also a smaller Japanese guard known as "Little Speedo," who was fair to
the POWs. Smiley was another guard who the POWs quickly learned not to trust. He always had a smile
on his face, but he was mean and beat the POWs for no apparent reason.
The POWs cleared the area and planted comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various
greens. The Japanese used most of the food for themselves. When the POWs arrived at the farm, they
would enter a shed. As they came out, it was common for them to be hit over the heads by the guards.
The Japanese wanted an airfield for their fighters, so the POWs were given the job of
constructing it. The POWs leveled the land and moved dirt. At first, they used wheelbarrows to move
the soil, but when this became inefficient, mining cars and track were brought in, and the POWs loaded the cars
and pushed them to where the dirt was being dumped.
The POWs also worked planting rice. While doing this, one the favorite
punishments was for a guard to push a man's face into the mud. Once his head was in the mud, the guard
would step on his head to drive it deeper. Other details did go out, but usually lasted a few days.
Major details, of hundreds of men, left the camp and worked on projects that lasted years. When, due to
illness or death, details became depleted, more POWs left the camp for details as replacements.
The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the
Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a
fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were
two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the
lower platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves. Most of those who
entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of
four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in
graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. The death rate in the camp was nine men a day into November 1942, but
dropped once Red Cross packages were issued at Christmas. Medical records from the camp show that Bill
was admitted to the camp hospital on April 4, 1943. The records do not indicate why he was admitted or
when he was discharged from the hospital.
Bill remained at Cabanatuan until September 1943, when he was sent to Manila to be
boarded onto the Japanese freighter the
which was also known as the
Coral Maru, and sailed from Manila on September 20 and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on September 23.
After a three day stay, the ship sailed on the 26th and arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5. These
transports became known as "Hell Ships" due to the living conditions the POWs endured on the
After arriving in Japan, Bill was sent to one of the
#5-B. 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."
The POWs were used as stevedores at the Niigata docks and loaded and
unloaded ships. It appears that most of what was unloaded was coal for the Rinko Coal Company, but it is
known they also unloaded food stuffs. Other POWs from the camp worked in a foundry.
To unload the coal, 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 the men bowed, the guard
kicked the men in their faces or they were hit on the back of the neck with a club while they were bent
over. They continued doing this to the POWs until March 31, 1944.
At one point, a guard took the boots away from the POWs during the winter and made them work
barefooted on the trestle in cold and wet weather. He also knocked the POWs down and kicked them.
The result was that their feet were bruised and cut up from the coal.
A Japanese medical corporal at the camp sent POWs too sick to work which resulted in
some of them dying. When the POWs reported for sick call, they were beaten, hit, punched, and kicked in
the face or stomach. From September 3, 1943 to December 31st, a guard jumped on or kicked the POWs
suffering from beriberi and malnutrition. He ordered them to stand at attention and to bow. He was
also known for appropriating the Red Cross packages sent to the camp for the POWs. In October 1943, he
had those POWs suffering from dysentery brought to him. When they arrived, he poked them in their
stomachs with a stick. He also hit them on the head and body with his hands, fists, and with a stick.
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.
On April 1, 1944, he was transferred to
Tokyo 15-B and again was working in a steel mill. What is known is that the two camps - at different
times - were under the command of Tomoki Nakamura, who had been educated in the United States. During his
time at each camp, he denied Red Cross packages to the POWs which would have supplied them with food, clothing,
and shoes. Nakamura and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs.
He also wore shoes that were sent by the Red Cross for the POWs and handled them out to the guards. It
was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call, since many of the POWs did
not have shoes.
For food, the Japanese had the POWs raise rabbits, but when the
rabbits became large enough to eat, the Japanese did not allow them to slaughter them and the rabbits were
allowed to starve to death. When the prisoners received meat, each POW received a piece the size of a
thumb nail. Three times a year the POWs received fish three times in 1945. In place of
vegetables, the POWs were given a flour made from tree roots which was impossible to eat, so most of the POWs
wouldn't even take it.
POWs reported that he used the Red Cross parcels for his own use and gave the
food to the guards for their mess. He was known to have raided the parcels for the food, and on
occasion, had the American POW cook it for him to eat. When flour and macaroni was sent from the
main camp for the POWs, Nakamura gave it to the guards to eat.
About one month before the surrender, there was a noticeable change in
the attitude of the guards. The POWs had no idea that the war had ended until a week after the official
surrender took place. Before the surrender, the guards at the camp were replaced with guards who
spoke more English and appeared to be trying to "soft-soap" the POWs.
At the same time, the area was being bombed and strafed by American
planes on a daily basis. One day, an American plane came in low over the camp without any ground
fire. A few hours later an American pilot came into the camp in a Japanese command car and informed the
POWs that the war was over. Bill and the other POWs remained in the camp for about a week and then took a
train into Tokyo. It was there that Bill first saw American troops.
Bill was sent back to the Philippines to be fattened up. After passing a final
Pvt. Bill Kerins returned to the United States on the
U.S.S. Hugh Rodman on October 3, 1945, at San Francisco. After a stay at Letterman General Hospital
in San Francisco, he returned to Chicago where he married Marqurite Mary Dom in Oak Park, Illinois, in
1947. They were the parents of a son and daughter.
William J. Kerins would later move to Sparta, Wisconsin, in 1967, and Lebanon, Oregon, in
1987. He worked as a civilian personnel director for the U.S. Army and Navy. He passed away in
Lebanon, on March 22, 1991, and was buried at Sand Ridge Cemetery in Lebanon, Oregon.
The photo below was taken in 1943 while William Kerins was a POW in