KesterB

 



S/Sgt. Basil Blake Kester
Born: 16 November 1924 - Wyoming, West Virginia
Parents: Otis C. Kester & Bertha Marie Harmon-Kester
Siblings: 2 brothers, 1 sister

Home: Wyco, Wyoming County, West Virginia

Enlisted:
    - U.S. Army
        - 7 January 1941
            - 16 years old when he enlisted

Training: 

    - Fort Knox, Kentucky
        - 1st Armored Division

Units:

    - 19th Ordnance Company

       - later became 17th Ordnance
Note: In the late summer of 1941, the 194th received orders 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, whose plane was lower than the rest, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another one 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, hundreds of miles to the northwest, which had a large radio transmitter.
    The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, another squadron of planes were sent to the area, but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since radio communication between the Army Air Corps and Navy was poor, by the time a Navy ship was sent to the area, the fishing boat was gone.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

Overseas Duty:

    - Ft. Stotsenburg, Philippine Islands

Engagements:

    - Battle of Luzon

        - 8 December 1942 - 6 January 1942
            - maintained tanks under constant fire

    - Battle of Bataan

        - 7 January 1942 - 9 April 1942

            -Of this time he recalled, "We were eating 1918 beef and shooting 1918 ammunition, anything we could get.  We were only getting one

             meal a day before we collapsed."
            - 3 April 1942
                - Japanese launched major offensive
                - tanks sent into various sectors to stop Japanese advance
            - 8 April 1942
                - Gen. Edward P. King
                    - determined only 25% of his troops were healthy enough to fight
                    - troops would last one more day
                - feared that the 6,000 troops who were hospitalized and 40,000 Filipino civilians would be slaughtered
                - 10:30 P.M. - sent staff officers to meet with Japanese and negotiate surrender terms
Note:  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."
        - 11:40 P.M. - ammunition dumps blown up        -

Prisoner of War:

    - 9 April 1942

        - Death March

            - started march at Mariveles on the southern tip of Bataan
    - Bataan Airfield
        - the Japanese sat POWs down

        - Japanese artillery was firing on Corregidor
                - American Artillery returned fire
                    - knocked out three Japanese guns
    - of this he said, "Bataan field was just an emergency air field they had set up.  They (the Japanese) marched a whole bunch of us in there

      and sat us down, and they had artillery set up behind us. and they started shelling Corregidor.
          "They thought Corregidor wouldn't shell back, but Corregidor had it all bracketed in.  They started sending those 12- and 14 inch

       shells over there, and the Japanese couldn't hold us still.  We got up and went on."

    - On whether or not Americans were killed during the shelling, he said, "I imagine there would have been because they had Americans who

      dug the artillery in for them (the Japanese)."
            - San Fernando - POWs put into small wooden
boxcars
                - each car could hold eight horses or forty men
                - Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar
                - POWs who died remained standing
            - Capas - POWs leave boxcars - dead fall out of cars
                - walked last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell
    - Of the march he said, "I can't remember exactly how many days it lasted.  They all run together.  It was four or five days.
    "The march began with 17,000 (exact number not known) Americans and I don't remember how many Filipinos were there.
    "Along the way, if any water was to be drunk, it would be from mud holes.
    "In the Philippines there are a lot of artesian wells.  They'd march you right by one, and there'd be a guard standing there, the guard was there with a bayonet and would not hesitate to use it on you.

POW Camps:

    - Philippine Islands:

        - Camp O'Donnell

            - 1 April 1942 - unfinished Filipino training base Japanese put into use as a POW camp
                - Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs
            - POWs searched upon arrival at camp
                - those found with Japanese money were accused of looting
                - sent to guardhouse
                - over several days, gun shots heard southeast of the camp
                    - POWs who had money on them had been executed
            - Japanese took away any extra clothing from POWs as they entered the camp and refused to return it
                - since no water was available for wash clothing, the POWs threw soiled clothing away
                - clothing was taken from dead
                - few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing
            - POWs were not allowed to bathe
            - only one water spigot for entire camp
                - POWs waited 2 hours to 8 hours to get a drink
                    - water frequently turned off by Japanese guards and next man in line waited as long as 4 hours for water to be turned on again
                    - mess kits could not be cleaned
                - POWs had to carry water 3 miles from a river to cook their meals
                - second water spigot installed a week after POWs arrived
            - slit trenches overflowed since many of the POWs had dysentery
                - flies were everywhere including in camp kitchens and food
            - camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant
            - the senior POW doctor wrote a list of medicines he wanted to treat the sick and was told by the camp commandant, Capt. Yoshio
              Tsuneyoshi, never to write another letter
                - Tsuneyoshi said that all he wanted to know about the American POWs was their names and numbers when they died
                - refused to allow a truckload of medicine sent by the Archbishop of Manila into the camp
                - 95% of the medicine sent by Philippine Red Cross was taken by the Japanese for their own use
            - POWs in camp hospital lay on floor elbow to elbow
            - operations on POWs were performed with mess kit knives
            - only one medic out of six assigned to care for 50 sick POWs, in the hospital, was well enough to work
            - as many as 50 POWs died each day
                - each morning dead were found everywhere in the camp and stacked up under the hospital
                - ground under hospital was scrapped and cover with lime to clean it
                - the dead were moved to this area and the section where they had laid was scrapped and cover with lime
                - usually not buried for two or three days
            - work details: if a POW could walk, he was sent out on a work detail
                - POWs on burial detail often had dysentery and malaria
    - Of Camp O'Donnell, he said, "Some of them survived, (the march) but they started dying off as soon as they got in the prison camps 

           because the Japanese didn't feed us and they wouldn't let us get water.  I was determined.  There were too many of my buddies that

           gave up.  What kept me going was to get home.  I guess. You'd be surprise how strong the human body is when you're determined, but

          how week it is when you just give up and don't think there's any hope of anything." 

        - Cabanatuan
            - hospitalized - Saturday - 27 June 1942 - malaria & avitaminosis

            - credited a doctor with saving his life by smuggling sugar and a little quinine to him
                - discharged - Wednesday - 16 December 1942
                - as for his time in the hospital, he said, "It made me more determined, and I never, never, never, never

                  despaired.  Those are the ones who died."
Hell Ship:
    - Hokusen Maru
        - Boarded: 21 September 1944
            - moved to buoy and dropped anchor
                - POWs start  going insane from heat in holds
               - Japanese threaten to shoot POWs unless they are silenced
               -POWs kill insane
        - Sailed: Manila - 4 October 1944
            - stopped at Cabcaban, Philippine Islands
            - stopped 5 October 1944 - San Fernando, La Union, Philippine Islands
                - joined convoy
            - 6 October 1944 - convoy attacked by submarines
                - two ships sunk
            - 9 October 1944 - airplane scare - convoy broke up
                - sailed for Hong Kong
                - ran into wolf pack - ship sunk
        - Arrived: Hong Kong - 11 October 1944
            - attacked by American planes while in port
        - Sailed: 21 October 1944
        - Arrived: Takao, Formosa - 24 October 1944
        - Disembark: 8 November 1944
            - POWs in such bad shape that Japanese decided to leave them on Formosa
        - of this time in the camps, he said, "Out of my outfit, there were 150 men and 32 of us got back (in reality 81

           men survived). A lot of them were killed on these death ships.  They'd put you on there and they wouldn't

           mark them that they were prisoners of war or anything on them, and American submarines were sinking

           them left and right.  The convoy I was in started off with eight ships and ended up with three...This was

          September 1944.  When (the Americans) started bombing the Philippines, the Japanese started moving

          American prisoners out to Japan for labor."
POW Camp:

    - Formosa:

        - Toroku Camp

            - Work: sugar cane cutting and processing
Hell Ship:
    - Melbourne Maru

        - Sailed: Takao, Formosa - 14 January 1945

        - Arrived: Moji. Japan - 23 January 1945
POW Camp:

    - Japan

        - Sendai #8-B

            - Work: copper mining

            - About the camp, he said, "We were wearing Japanese summer uniforms and tennis shoes.  Our barracks was about 40 feet long and

              20 feet wide, and they had a stove in there that was maybe 3 feet long and 18 inches wide and they gave us three pieces of wood a day

              to heat the daggone thing."
Liberated:

    - 11 September 1945
        - weighed 95 pounds

        - taken to Okinawa

        - while waiting to fly to the Philippines, he wrote this letter:

"Dear Dad, Mom and Sis,
    Well I am at an airfield waiting to fly to the Philippine Islands.  I am O.K. and think I will be home soon.  My health is pretty good, all I need is rest and good food.  I can't write, spell, or do anything now.  I saw my first Yank troops on the 15th of this month and they sure looked good.  I would write more but I am so excited I can't think straight.  Tell everyone hello and I will be seeing them soon."

        -  Note: this was the first letter his parents received from him since the start war

        - flown to the Philippine Islands
            - of his recoverey, he said, "Three months after I got out, I weighed 169 pounds. We'd go out eating and

              drinking all night.  I'd have a spaghetti dinner and a chicken dinner, and a quart of rum and a case of

              beer a night."

Promoted: Staff Sergeant
Transport:
    - U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes
        - Sailed: Manila - not known
        - Arrived: Seattle, Washington - 9 October 1945
            - taken to Madigan General Hospital - Ft. Lewis, Washington

Discharged: 4 April 1946

Reenlisted: 6 February 1947

Discharged: 31 January 1950

Married:

     - Ernestine Jett - 22 April 1947

        - her family lived across the road from his family
        - passed away in January 1988

     - Louise Rufus
        - married: December 1999
        - he had dated her before he enlisted in the Army

Occupation:
    - worked in coal mines when he first got home

    - electrician - New Process Gear - Syracuse, New York

        - worked for company for 30 years

        - retired in 1987
Children:
    - 1 son, 2 step-sons, 2 step-daughters
Residence:
    - Syracuse, New York
    - Auburn, New York
Died
    - 26 May 2001 - Auburn, New York

        - lung cancer
Buried: St. Joseph's Cemetery - Auburn, New York



 

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