Pvt. Lewis H. Kirby was born July 13, 1921, in Big Chimney, West Virginia, to James
Kirby and Lula Darlington-Kirby in Gallipolis, Ohio. The family resided at 108 Third Ave in
Gallipolis. He was inducted into the U.S. Army on January 28, 1941, at Camp Atterbury, Columbus,
Indiana. He was sent to Fort Lnox, Kentucky, for basic training and assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank
Battalion. The company had been an Ohio National Guard Tank Company from Port Clinton. It is not
known what training he received at the fort.
The 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers in the late summer of
1941. According to members of the battalion, they, as members of the Red Army, broke through the Blue
Army's defensive and were on their way to capture it's command center when the maneuvers were suddenly
canceled. The commanding general of the Blue Army was George S. Patton.
After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to
remain behind at Camp Polk. None of it's members had any idea why they this order had been
issued. It was on the side of a hill that the members of the battalion received the news that they were
being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many had determined that PLUM stood for
Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal
service. They were replaced with volunteers from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
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.
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. 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. The ship 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 5, 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, another transport, the
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, 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 15, 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 16, 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 20, 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 General 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 love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days
before they arrived. He remained with the tankers until they had eaten their Thanksgiving Dinner.
Afterwards, he went for 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 tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese
paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their
tank at all times. The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the
perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the
planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.
The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the
planes were Japanese. After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.
They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 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 fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and
December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the
Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.
At Cabu, C Company's tanks were hidden in brush. The Japanese troops passed the tanks for three
hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio
describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the
brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens
and opened up on the Japanese. They then fell back to Cabanatuan.
C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese
troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that C Company's tanks won the first tank battle victory of
World War II against enemy tanks.
After the battle, C Company made its way south. When it entered Cabanatuan, it
found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the
equipment as it could before proceeding south.
On December 31, 1941, the commanding officer of C Company sent out reconnaissance patrols
north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans
that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town
and to cross the river, the company set up it's defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the
bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese
tanks began crossing the bridge.
Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on
the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to
the southeast of the bridge. Lt. Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third
platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag
2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and
was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple. The guard became
very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.
Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.
When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on
the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and
drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was
Kennady's platoon held it's fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon
and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village,
through buildings and under them. By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy,
they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
The tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank
Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the
tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the
Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through
the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.
The tanks were spaced about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew
that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops
were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.
Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire. They then used
their .37 mm guns. The fighting was such a rout that the the tankers were using a .37 mm shell to kill
one Japanese soldier.
The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was
having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns
were and attacked. Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns.
After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until
all the troops were across. The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the
Japanese up for a few days. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.
In addition to serving as a rear guard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left
behind. They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on
Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land
reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known
as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton
A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks
from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the
Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the
area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of
the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a
Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out
that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision
was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front
line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gun fire. As they moved forward,
members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left
side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so
they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver.
Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made by to bring in a radio car so
that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were
assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each
tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so
that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to
where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for
The attack resumed the next morning the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to
the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks
were released to returned to the 192nd.
The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets. The Japanese had lunched an
offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line. Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped
behind the line. The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out. One platoon of tanks would
relieve another platoon. The tanks would do this one at a time.
The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a
foxhole. Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks. Each man had a bag of hand
grenades. As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the
The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole, and the driver spun the tank around by
giving power to the other track. The tank spun on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping
out the Japanese. The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn't have to smell the rotting
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on
Bataan. C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line. They were
ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started
up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating
Filipino and American forces.
The evening of April 8, 1942, Gen. Weaver determined that only 25% of his troops were
healthy enough to continue to fight, and if they did, they would last only one more day. He had almost
6,000 men who were wounded or sick, and an additional 40,000 civilians who he believed would be
slaughtered. It was at that time he decided to send his staff officers to negotiate surrender
terms. Later that night, the ammunition dumps were blown up.
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."
The morning of the April 9, 1942, at 6:45 the tankers received the order
and destroyed their tanks. When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to
Mariveles where they started the death march.
Lewis made his way north on the march to San Fernando. There, the POWs were herded
into a bull-pin. In one corner, there was a trench that was for use as a toilet. The surface of the
pit moved from the maggots on its surface. They remained in the pin until the Japanese ordered them to
form detachments of 100 men. Once the groups were formed, the men were marched to the train station.
The POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane and known as
"Forty or Eights," since the each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed
100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living left the
cars at Capas. From Capas, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that 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 Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to
do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to
Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was
switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a
schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to 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. Camps 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.
It is known that he was admitted to the camp hospital on Monday, June 1, 1943. The
reason for his admittance or the date he was discharged were not recorded. He was still in the camp when
he was selected to be transported to Japan.
Trucks appeared at the camp and drove the POWs to Manila and boarded the
Canadian Inventor on July 2, 1944. The ship sailed on July 4th but returned to Manila on the 5th
because of boiler problems. It remained in port until it sailed on July 16th. The ship sailed
through a hurricane and finally reached Takao, Formosa, on July 23rd. The ship sailed again on August 4th
and arrived the same day at Keelung, Formosa, because of additional boiler problems. On the 17th, the
ship sailed again but had addition boiler problems near Naha, Okinawa. It stayed there for six days
before sailing for Moji, Japan. The ship finally arrived at Moji on September 1st. The POWs disembarked
on September 2nd and taken to stables.
Detachments of 100 POWs were formed and they were taken to the train station. Lewis was
. The POWs worked in a coal mine which had been condemned as unsafe before the war. If the
Japanese believed the POWs were not working hard enough, the POWs were beaten.
The camp guards stole items from Red Cross packages and withheld the packages from July
1, 1944, to September 2, 1945. The Japanese intentionally opened packages and mixed up contents so that the
ranking Allied officer would not know how much should be in each package. When they were given to the POWs
they were often contained less than what had been sent and the amount of food in the boxes had no real
nutritional value. In addition, when Red Cross packages arrived, they were withheld from POWs from three to
seven months after arriving.
This was also the "propaganda" POW camp, so the POWs were treated better.
Lewis remained in the camp until he was liberated in September 1945. The POWs were taken to Okinawa on the
U.S.S. Consolation before being flown to the Philippines for further medical treatment. He returned
to the U.S. on, the Dutch ship, the
S.S. Klipfontein which sailed from Manila on October 9 and arrived in Seattle, Washington, on October 28,
1945. He was sent for more medical care at Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington, and remained
in the Army until discharged on September 17, 1947.
Lewis Kirby married and became the father of four daughters and worked for Facemire Cab
Company as a driver. He and his wife later divorced. He passed away on March 5, 1972, in Gallipolis,
Ohio. After services at Halley-Wood Funeral Home, he was buried at Pine Street Cemetery in Gallipolis.