Pfc. William Nelson Kinler

    Pfc. William N. Kinler was born on June 17, 1912, in Pine River, Minnesota, to Robert Kinler and Jennie Mae Nelson-Kinler.  With his nine sisters and three brothers, he grew up in Pine River and attended school there.  In 1940, he was living with his sister and brother-in-law and working on their farm in Maple Township, Cass County, Minnesota, . 

    William was inducted into the U. S. Army in April 1941 and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington.  There, he was assigned to A Company, 194th Tank Battalion which had been a Minnesota National Guard tank company.  At Fort Lewis, Bill trained as a cook. 
    On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, 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 noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next morning, by the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    In September 1941, the battalion, minus B Company, traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. From there, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, they were ferried to  Fort McDowell on Angel Island and given physicals and inoculated.  Men who had medical conditions were held back and replaced.
    The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands.  To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
    After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, that was its escort.  During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke.  Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
    The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and reached Manila several hours later.  The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field.  The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, at 8:30, the planes of the the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky.  At noon the planes landed to be refueled, line up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch in the mess hall.  At 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Danny lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.
    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.
    That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.  They lived through two more attacks on December 10th.  The night of the 12th/13th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge.  Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th.

    For the next four months, William worked to feed the tankers as they fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.  It is known that he worked in the area of Carmen where A and D Companies were holding a defensive line along the Agno River. 

    A few days before the surrender, William was shot in his foot.  At the time it did not seem to be a big deal, he soon found out that it was.  On April 8th, William and the other men received the word that Filipino and American forces on Bataan would surrender to the Japanese the next day.  The tankers destroyed their tanks and weapons that the Japanese could use.

The POWs were ordered to the bivouac of the Provisional Tank Group.  It was from there that they were marched to join the main column of POWs on the march out of Bataan.
    On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road.  They quickly stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and sun-glasses.  They were taken to a trail and found that walking on the gravel trail was difficult.  They immediately witnessed "Japanese Discipline" toward their own troops.  The Japanese apparently were marching for hours, and if a man fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt.  If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
    The trial the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road.  The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men and counted them.  The POWs were left in the sun for the rest of the day wondering what was going to happen.  That night they were ordered north which was difficult, on the rocky road, in the dark since they could not see where they were walking.  Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
    The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks that was moving south.  At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before.  When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and they POWs began to feel the effects of thirst.   It was then that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese.  They realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.

    On the march, the heat was unbearable.  In addition, he was attempting to walk on his wounded foot.  Doing this was extremely painful and made the march even more difficult.
    When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river.  The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank.  Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O'Donnell.
    At Limay on April 11th, the officers with the tank of lieutenant colonel or above, were put into a school yard.  The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march.  At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination.  They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection.  During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag.  As punishment the POWs were not fed.  They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun being in the bag.  They reached Orani on April 12th at three in the morning.
    At Orani, the officers were put into a bull pen where they were ordered to lay down.  In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen.  At noon, they received their first food.  It was a meal of rice and salt.  Later in the day, other enlisted POWs arrived in Orani.  One group was the enlisted members of the tank group who had walked the entire way to the barrio.
    At 6:30 or 7:00 that evening, they resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace.  The guards also seemed to be nervous about something.  The POWs made their way to just north of Hormosa. where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the change of surface made the march easier.  When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
    The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks.  At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando.  The POWs put into a pen and remained there the rest of the day.
    At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station.  They were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors.  The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died.  They could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall.  The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM.  There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors.  The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army camp that was pressed into service by the Japanese as a POW camp.  There was only one water faucet for 12,000 POWs.  Men stood in line for days just to get a drink.  Conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as fifty POWs died each day.

    The Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.  William was sent to the new camp.  The POWs were fed rice twice a day.  The rice had worms in it.  Like the other men, William picked the worms out of the rice.  It was only after he realized that the worms were the only protein he would receive, he began to eat them.

    At this time it is known that William went out on the Las Pinas work detail on December 12, 1942. The POWs were used to construct runways at Nichols Airfield with picks and shovels.  To do this, they had to remove several hills by hand.  The rubble was pushed by hand to a swamp and dumped in a swamp as landfill for the runway. 

    On the detail, the POWs were housed at the Pasay School about a mile from the airfield.  They were awoken and had to do morning exercises and have breakfast.  Their meals were the leftovers from the Japanese kitchen.  It was while he was on the detail that his family received word he was a POW on March 14, 1943.
    The first sign that the American forces were returning to the Philippines was a dogfight between American and Japanese planes.  As the POWs watched, a Japanese plane was shot down crashing near the camp. The Americans cheered as the plane hit the ground.  Within days, the POWs heard the sounds of guns as the American invasion began.  It was at this time that the Japanese began transferring large numbers of POWs to Japan or other parts of their empire.

    William's name appeared on a list of POWs leaving Las Pinas.  They were taken to Bilibid Prison.  At 4:00 in the morning on December 12th, the POWs were awakened and fed.  They were marched to Pier 7 in Manila.  The Japanese boarded civilians onto the ship while the POWs watched.  The 1,619 POWs were the last group to board the ship.

    The Oryoku Maru set sail for Takao, Formosa, as part of convoy  MATA 37 on December 13th.  The morning of the 14th, the POWs were being fed breakfast.  Suddenly, they heard the sound of planes in the distance.  Next, the ship's anti-aircraft guns opened fire.  From the change in the sound of the planes' engines, the POWs knew that they were attacking.

    Bombs began exploding around the ship.  The prisoners still on deck scrambled to get into the ship's holds.  As they did, bullets ricocheted around them.

    In the holds, William and the other POWs huddled together and shook with each explosion.  Dust from the bombs clouded that air, and rust from the holds' ceilings fell on them.  Father Duffy, a Catholic priest, prayed, "Father forgive them.  They know not what they do."

    William and the other POWs lived through seventeen attacks by American planes.  Every time a bomb exploded near the ship, it bounced like a toy in the water.  By that evening, most of the other ships in the convoy had been sunk or had departed the area.

    The night of the December 14th, the POWs were held by Japanese guards in the holds.  As the POWs sat in the holds, the buckets for human waste began to overflow.  The POWs also heard the sound of the lifeboats being loaded and lowered into the water.  They believed that the Japanese intended for them to die in the ship's holds.

    On the morning of December 15th, American planes returned to finish off the job of sinking the Oryoku Maru.  The Japanese had grounded the ship in Subic Bay a few hundred yards from shore.  The ship again was attacked by the planes.  The pilots of the planes had no idea that the POWs were on the ship.

    The remaining Japanese guards gave the order for the POWs to leave the holds and swim to shore.  When the pilots saw the large numbers of men leaving the holds and jumping into the water, they stopped the attack.  For the first time, they knew that they had been attacking a POW ship.

    The surviving POWs, swam to shore near Olonga, Subic Bay.  As they swam, the Japanese shot at them with machine guns.  Once on shore, they were herded onto tennis courts.  The Japanese took roll call to determine how many POWs were still alive.  It was discovered that 329 of the POWs had been killed during the attack

    The POWs remained on the tennis courts for several days.  A Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid.  Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck.  They were taken into the mountains and were never seen again.  They were buried in a nearby cemetery.

    On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains.  The widows of the train were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible.  From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and later on a beach at San Fernando, La Union.  During this time, they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water.  The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater.   Many of these men died.

    The remaining prisoners were taken to a nearby beach were they were boarded onto "Hell Ships" the Enoura Maru and Brazil Maru.   William was boarded onto the Enoura Maru, The POWs were held in three different holds.  Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards. 

    The POWs were taken to Formosa.  There, on January 9, 1945, William once again came close to death when the ship was bombed by American planes from the U.S.S. Hornet while it was docked. 

    William recalled, "The American planes dropped four bombs.  Three of them went into our hold.  One hit the deck.  You could see them coming. You just had to wait to see where they hit."  William dove into the water and was later fished out by the Japanese.

    On January 14, 1945, William was boarded onto his third "hell ship" the Brazil Maru which left Formosa and arrived in Moji, Japan, on January 29, 1945.  Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan.  

    As a POW in Japan, William was held at Fukuoka #4.  William was picked by Gerald Foley, of the 194th, to go on a work detail.  Foley was allowed to select his own workers.  He picked WIlliam because he was ill.  The POWs were fed better and received medicine and medical care.  William believed that Foley saved his life.

    When William returned to Fukuoka #4, he and the other POWs were used as stevedores on the Nagasaki docks.  William recalled that one day, his group of POWs had just finished their shift and were being marched back to their camp.  About six miles outside of Nagasaki, they saw a bright flash and felt a huge explosion.  They had no idea that they had just survived and witnessed the atomic bomb that had bee dropped on Nagasaki.  Afterwards, the guards took them back into the city where they were made to look for survivors.  

    William was liberated in September 1945.  He was promoted to corporal and returned to the Philippine Islands for medical treatment.  Boarding the U.S.S. Marine Shark, he sailed for the United States arriving at Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945.  From there, he was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis. 
    He returned to Minnesota and was discharged on May 12, 1946.  William married Bernice Bogart and was the father of two daughters and a son.  He worked as a member of a road crew and for fifteen years as a heavy equipment operator at a mine.

   William N. Kinler passed away on May 9, 1995, in Mount Vernon, Washington, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.




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