Sgt. Forrest Kinder Knox
| Sgt. Forrest
K. Knox was born on November 29, 1917, in Monroe,
Wisconsin, to Ross V. & Nina Knox. Along
with his brothers, Henry and Ross, he was raised
at 1408 Third Street, Janesville, and later he
lived in Beloit, Wisconsin, at 2229 Riverside
Drive. He owned his own contracting
company and did carpentry work.
Forrest was always fascinated with planes and had built a model of one that he wanted to fly. Since the winter weather in Janesville was not conducive to flying the plane, Forrest used the auditorium in the Janesville Armory to fly it.
One day after flying the plane, he went into the basement of the armory and saw a guardsman working on a tank. At that moment, he decided that he wanted to learn how to drive a tank. This decision would lead him to joining the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard in January 1938.
Forrest believed that the National Guard was like a social club. The members got together for dances and other social activities. If a soldier wanted a promotion, all he had to do is attend a non-commissioned officer class one evening a week. The soldier then would be promoted to corporal and possibly sergeant. In addition, the soldier would earn sixty dollars a month.
In the fall of 1940, the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal duty as A Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. While at Fort Knox, the guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in newly built barracks. In Forrest's opinion, this was partially due to the fact that the soldiers of the regular army did not like the guardsmen because they drilled too hard and went on maneuvers two or three times a week. The regular army soldiers, in Forrest's opinion, viewed being in the army as a job. The one thing that Forrest believed the training at Fort Knox taught the members of the tank battalion was to never attack anti-tank guns straight ahead.
After training at Fort Knox, the 192nd was sent
on maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st
through 30th. From there, the 192nd was
sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where Forrest and
the other members of the battalion were informed
that they were being sent overseas.
The move to the Philippines was suppose to be "top secret," but it was posted all over the camp in the barracks' day rooms on bulletin boards. The notices stated that the 192nd was accepting volunteers for duty in the Philippine Islands. The reason for the notices was that those members of the battalion who had been considered "too old" had been released from federal service.
It was at this time that each letter company of
the 192nd received 16, M-3 Stewart tanks.
The tanks were "new" to the 192nd but came from
the 753rd Tank Battalion. The tanks were
loaded onto flat cars and the battalion arrived
in San Francisco, California, where they were
ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General
Frank M. Coxe, to Ft.
MacDowell on Angel Island. There, they
received their shots, from the battalion's
medical detachment, and were kept in quarantine
on the island. It was Forrest's opinion
that this "quarantine" was done to prevent the
soldiers from going AWOL. Those
members of the battalion who were found to have
treatable medical conditions remained behind on
the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion
at a later date, while other men were simply
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.
A. T. 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.
Forrest and his tank crew spent over two weeks
preparing their tank for use in the training
that had been promised. He recalled that
on the morning of the Japanese attack on Clark
Field, he had cleaned ten tank cannons of
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation
of 54 planes was spotted approaching the
airfield from the north. The tankers
believed the planes were American. As they
watched, raindrops fell from the planes.
When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew
the planes were Japanese. Forrest
stood on his tank and counted the planes three
times to make sure he had the number correct.
Forrest recalled that the members of the 192nd went into combat with no prior experience of firing their tanks' cannons. They also did not know how to adjust the gun sights. It was his belief that when they were issued the "new" tanks that no one expected that they would actually have to fire the guns.
Forrest took part in several engagements with the Japanese. Forrest recalled that one of the biggest problems with the tanks was the fact that they were riveted not welded. When the tanks took a hit from enemy fire, the rivets would "pop" and injure the crew. The hinges on the driver's door would also blow off and the door would end up in the driver's lap. After the Philippine and American defenders withdrew from their first line of defense, Forrest and other soldiers knew that the battle they were fighting would be lost.
During an engagement with the Japanese, Forrest witnessed how poorly the American tanks were built. A direct hit to the driver's door of a tank resulted in the door being blown off. While the crew was abandoning the tank, 1st. Lt. William Reed was killed by enemy fire.
While at a roadblock at Urdaneta, Forrest's tank crew watched as Filipino troops pulled up in buses. The officer in command was having trouble getting the men to leave he buses. A shot rang out and within moments the buses were empty.
Another problem Forrest witnessed was that supplies were often left behind by those assigned to move them. The truck drivers often drove their trucks into Bataan empty. The tankers had enough ammunition, almost enough gas, but they did not have enough food or quinine. He believed that the Japanese could have just sat at the north end of the Bataan Peninsula and watched the Filipinos and Americans starve to death. By doing this, the Japanese would have saved themselves casualties. For the Bataan defenders, the worst thing they had to deal with was the constant harassment by the Japanese. The defenders simply could not get away from it.
To prevent the Japanese from landing troops
behind American lines, A Company and the other
tank companies were put on coast watching
duty. At night, he would ride up and down
the coastline, in Abel Ortega's half-track,
looking for Japanese troops attempting to land.
Bataan, in Forrest's opinion, was no place for people to live because of the diseases found there. American soldiers would not take the quinine they were given because it tasted bad. They ended up with malaria and died from it.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve
kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on
the China Sea. By this point, the tankers
knew that there was no help on the way.
Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L.
Stimson on short wave. When asked about
the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men
must die." The
soldiers cursed in response because they knew
that the Philippines had already been lost.
Forrest and the other members of A Company started the death march at Miraveles. Fearing retribution because their tanks had been used to wipe out pockets of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Bataan, Forrest and the other tankers would not identify themselves as tank battalion members. On several occasions, Forrest said that he was a cook.
Forrest would always try to march near the front of the column. His reason for doing this was that as he grew weaker the longer he marched, the column would gradually start to pass him. By the time he had fallen to the end of the column, he had regained his strength and was able to continue marching. He believed that doing this saved his life on the death march.
The column that Forrest was in marched ten days before they received their first food. The rice being fed to the prisoners was being given out from a large pot as the Americans marched passed. Right before Forrest reached the pot the Japanese ran out of rice. They went to the side of the road to refill the pot, but by the time they returned to their position, Forrest was ten men beyond their position.
Forrest also believed that the Japanese intentionally caused many of the POWs to get ill from drinking water from the ditches alongside the road. The Japanese would kill anyone who attempted to get water from the artesian wells along the march. But, they never stopped or attempted to kill a prisoner who took water from a ditch.
At San Fernando, Forrest and the other POWs were crammed into boxcars. They were packed in so tightly that when a man died, he would continue standing even though he was dead.
Forrest was first held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell. It seemed that one of the guards had it out for Forrest. The guard would single him out and hit him across the knees. Why the guard did this was somewhat of a mystery to Forest until he realized that the guard could speak English. The beatings were in response to his cursing at the guard.
Forrest went out a work detail to retrieve destroyed American equipment as scrap metal. The POWs tied the vehicles together and drove them to San Fernando. From there the vehicles were shipped to Manila.
When this detail ended, Forrest was sent on a detail to Manila. On this detail, he drove a truck carrying building supplies to POWs who were rebuilding the bridges, airfields and roads. With him on the detail were Lloyd Richter, Owen Sandmire and Alva Chapman. The POWs were treated fairly well on the detail and lived in a shoe factory.
When this detail ended Forrest was sent to Cabanatuan Camp #1 when the detail ended sometime in 1943. After returning to the camp, according to medical records, he was hospitalized on April 5, 1943, but no date of discharge was given.
In September 1943, Forrest was sent on a detail digging trenches and building an airfield at Nichols Field. His POW detachment brought the number of POWs on the detail up to 800 men. He recalled that men on this detail often paid other prisoners a pack of cigarettes to break their arms or to injure them in some way. In his opinion, this was the worse camp he was held in. "It was run by the same bunch who had charge of Nichols Field and Camp O'Donnell. After awhile the Japs stopped being completely unmerciful. They discovered that if you put a man in the hospital , he can't work any more."
The detail was under the control of the Japanese Navy and welfare of the POWs was of no concern to them. They only concern they had was getting the runway built. If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and select men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury. Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work.
The POWs were divided into two detachments. The first detachment drained rice paddies and laid the ground work for the runway, while the second detachment built the runway. When most of the work was done in July 1944, most of the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan. Forrest was one of 300 men that remained at the airfield.
On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were working, they saw American diver bombers. This was the first time they had seen American planes since the surrender of Bataan. Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused the POWs to cheer. The next day the detail was ended. Forrest and the other prisoners were sent to Bilibid Prison to prepare for transport to Japan. In his own words, "The Yank planes followed us all the way from the Philippines. Shortly after we left Los Banos in September 1944, the yanks moved in; we got to Formosa and the big fellows came over, and finally they were over Tokyo itself."
On October 1, 1944, Forrest was sent to
the Port Area of Manila as part of Company
II. The ship they were scheduled
to sail on, the Arisan Maru,
wasn't ready to sail. Another ship, the Hokusen
Maru was ready to sail but not all
the POWs scheduled to sail on it had arrived at
the pier. So that the ship could sail, the
Japanese flipped POW detachments. The
original ship, the Arisan Maru,
that Forrest was scheduled to sail on was sunk
in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea on
October 24, 1944. Only nine POWs on the
ship, out almost 1800, survived.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa so they sailed for Hong Kong. On the trip there, they received word that American planes were in the area. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th. Forrest recalled of the trip, "Of 18 transports which began the trip six got to Formosa, and we were on-board one of the lucky ones."
On November 8th, the POWs were taken off the ship and sent to Toroku POW Camp on Formosa. At the camp, Forrest and the other POWs worked in rice fields. In the water, were microscopic freshwater snails. If the snails got into a man's bloodstream, they would lodge in the brain. The POWs who were infected with the snails would scream in agony. The other POWs would fight to hold them down until the man passed out. Any soldier who had these symptoms died within 24 hours.
Forrest was held on Formosa for three months. During this time, he also worked in a sugar mill and on a farm. In his opinion, this was the easiest work he did as a prisoner. He recalled that the guards on this detail were reasonable and treated the POWs decently. "I wasn't able to find out, in my nine weeks there, what they were doing with the sugar, they just kept shifting it back and forth."
On January 25, 1945, he was boarded onto the Enoshima
Maru. During the trip, the POWs were
in a hold with a cargo of hemp. Some of
the POWs discovered that beneath the hemp were
bags of sugar and cans of tomatoes. The
men helped themselves to the tomatoes.
The worst part of the trip was the stench in the hold of the ship which was terrible and many prisoners died or went crazy. Those who died suffocated because they were too weak and could not stand up. Forrest believed what saved his life was that he cooled himself down by using his army hat as a fan. Over the years, he would never forget this experience; He simply learned to tolerate it.
Forrest arrived in Japan at the City of Moji on
January 30th and the POWs were taken to a
schoolhouse. Outside the school, the POWs
stripped off their clothes because they were
infested with lice. The Japanese deloused
Forrest remained a prisoner in Japan until he
was liberated by American troops occupying Japan
at the end of the war. According to
were working when the big news came.
You could see by the looks on the Japs'
faces that it was true and that they were
glad enough to quit." He
was sent back to the Philippines were he was
reunited with his brother, Henry. This was
the first time the two brothers had seen each
other in three and one half years.
Forrest spent much of 1946 at Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, because the army had a difficult time of curing him of his hookworm. He was discharged from the army on November 11, 1946. For the rest of his life, he carried anger toward the military for what he saw as betrayal which led him to be a POW.
Forrest returned to Wisconsin and married and worked as a mechanic to support his family of six children. The "ghosts" from his POWs days remained with him his entire life. He divorced, remarried, and lived in Janesville the rest of his life. He passed away on September 5, 1985, in the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville.