| 2nd Lt. Harry
Ricker Lafon Jr. was born in Virginia around 1919
and was the son of Harry R. Lafon Sr. &
Katherine Mallon-Lafon. He later lived in
Harriman, Tennessee, and Harrodsburg,
Kentucky. Harry met Helen Frankie McCamish
while they both were students at Lincoln Memorial
University in Harrogate, Tennessee. They
married on July 5, 1941, in Claiborne County,
It is not
known when, but Harry enlisted in the Kentucky
National Guard at Harrodsburg. On November
25, 1940, Harry was called to federal duty when
his tank company was federalized and traveled to
the fort on November 28th.
Harry went to
Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a corporal. In
early 1941, he was assigned to Headquarters
Company when the company was formed with men
from the four letter companies of the battalion
in January 1941. During this time he rose
in rank from corporal to sergeant.
training for nearly a year, in 1941, the
battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in
maneuvers from January 1st through 30th.
It was after the maneuvers, at Camp Polk, that
Harry and the rest of the
battalion learned that they were being sent
overseas. At that time, those men
who were 29 years old or older were given the
chance to resign from federal service and
replacements came from the 753rd Tank
Battalion. The 192nd also received the M3
"Stuart" Tanks from the 753rd.
for this move was an event that took place in
the summer of 1941. 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, with
a flag, in the water. He came upon more
flagged 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. When the planes
landed, it was too late to do anything that day,
so the next day - when a when planes were sent
to the area - the buoys had been picked up and a
fishing boat was seen making its way toward
shore. Since communication between the
planes and Navy was poor, nothing was done to
intercept the boat. It was at that time
the decision was made to build up the American
military presence in the Philippines.
Harry was sent to San
Francisco, California, along the southern route
through New Mexico and Arizona.
Arriving there, the
battalion was ferried to Camp McDowell on Angel
Island by the U.S.A.T. General Frank
M. Coxe. The tankers received physicals
and inoculations from the battalion's medical
detachment. Men with minor medical
conditions were held back on the island and
scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later
date. Some men were simply replaced.
It appear that it was at this time that Harry
was commissioned a second lieutenant when one of
the officers, of D Company, was reassigned to
Officer Candidate School. Harry was
assigned to D Company as a tank platoon
November 5th, 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, the transport, S.S. President Calvin
Coolidge. Sunday night, November
9th, 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 15th, 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 16th, 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 20th,
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 Colonel 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 live in tents. The fact was he had
not learned of their arrival until days before
they arrived. He made sure that they had
Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his
The members of the battalion
pitched the tents in an open field halfway
between the Clark Field Administration Building
and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set
up in two rows and five men were assigned to
each tent. There were two supply tents and
meals were provided by food trucks stationed at
the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the
much of their
spent a large
amount of time
The plan was
for them, with
the 194th Tank
take part in
It was at this time that D
the 194th Tank
of the company
to the 194th
C Company of
arriving in the Philippines, the process was
begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank
Battalion, which had left for the Philippines
minus one company. B Company of the
battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining
companies, of the battalion, were sent to the
Philippines. The medical clerk for
the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be
handed over to the 194th.
On December 1st, the tank
battalions were ordered to the perimeter of
Clark Field to guard against Japanese
paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company,
was assigned northern part of the airfield and
the 192nd guarded the southern half. 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, just hours after the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full
strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.
All morning long, the sky was filled with
American planes. At noon, the planes
landed to be refueled and the pilots went to
lunch. The planes were parked in a
straight line outside the pilots' mess hall.
At 12:45, two formations,
totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from
the north. When bombs began exploding on
the runways, the tankers knew that planes were
Japanese. Being that their tanks could not
fight planes, they watched as the Japanese
destroyed the Army Air Corps.
When the Japanese were
finished, there was not much left of the
airfield. The soldiers watched as the
dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to
the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything
else, 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.
One of the results of the
attack was that the transfer of D Company, to
the 194th, was never completed. The
company retained its designation of being part
of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and
the Battle of Bataan.
It is known
that Harry was thought of being a man of
courage. He was also well liked by the
enlisted men of D Company. Other members
of the company have stated that when he lead his
tanks into action, he stood up in the tank's
turret and did not close the hatch for
The 194th, with D Company,
was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area
south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge
arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December
13th, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from
Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard
beaches. On the 15th, the battalion
received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some
over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine
Scouts. These were used to test the ground
to see if it could support tanks.
The tank battalions were sent
to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The
company was near a mountain, so many of the
tankers climber to the top. On the
mountain, they found troops, ammunition, guns
but were just sitting there watching the
Japanese ships in the gulf. They had
received orders not to fire.
The tankers walked down
the mountain and waited. They received
orders to drop back from the mountain and let
the Japanese occupy it. They watched as
the Japanese brought their equipment to the top
of the mountain. The Americans finally
received orders to launch a counterattack which
On December 22nd, the
companies were operating north of the Agno River
and after the main bridge was bombed, on
December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of
the river and not be trapped by the
Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of
the river from west of Carmen to the
Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd
holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug
(northeast of San Quintin).
Christmas Day, the tankers
spent in the night in a coconut grove. As
it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to
eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942,
both day and night, all the tanks did was cover
retreats of different infantry units. The
tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and
The tanks formed a new
defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo
Tomas- San Jose line on December 26th.
When they dropped back from the line, all the
platoons withdrew, except one which provided
cover, as the other platoons from the
area. One tank went across the line
receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's
platoon lost a tank. It was at this time
that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks,
except one, because the bridge they were suppose
to cross had been destroyed. The company
commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring
himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the
Japanese repaired them and used them on
Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that
had not abandoned, found a place to ford the
river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
The tankers were at Santo
Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at
San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th
and 29th. 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 2nd
to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San
Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces
At 2:30 A.M., the night of
January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus
in force and using smoke as cover. This
attack was an attempt to destroy the tank
battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese
withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6th/7th
the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the
192nd holding its position so that the 194th
Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross
the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw
over the bridge. The 192nd was the last
American unit to enter Bataan, before the
engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
It was at this time that the tank companies were
reduced to three tanks each. This was done
to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews
still without tanks were used as replacements,
At Gumain River, on January
5th, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given
the job to hold the south riverbank so that the
other units could withdraw. The tank
companies formed a defensive line along the bank
of the river. When the Japanese attacked
the position at night, they were easy to see
since they were wearing white t-shirts.
The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
The night of January 6/7, the
194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge
over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.
This was the beginning of the Battle of
Bataan. At this time, the food rations
were cut in half.
General Weaver also issued
the following orders to the tank battalions
around this time. "Tanks will execute maximum
delay, staying in position and firing at visible
enemy until further delay will jeopardize
withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it
will be fought until the close approach of the
enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously
taking positions outside and continuing to fight
with the salvaged and personal weapons.
Considerations of personal safety and expediency
will not interfere with accomplishing the
greatest possible delay."
A composite tank
company was created on January 8th under the
command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company,
192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road
north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the
north road open and prevent the Japanese from
driving down the road before a new battle line
had been formed. The Japanese never
lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to
be formed. The tanks withdrew after they
began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks
were ordered to bivouac south of the
Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the
tank crews had their first break from action in
nearly a month. The tanks, which were long
overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th
Ordnance. It was also at this time that
tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with
three tanks in each platoon. This was done
so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen
the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces,
which were trapped behind enemy lines, could
withdraw. Attempting to do this two tanks
were knocked out by landmines planted by
ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese
anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission
was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda's
forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw
was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve
the 31st Infantry's command post. On the
24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda
Road to support infantry, but again could not
accomplish their mission because of landmines
planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a
position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac
Road on January 26th with four self-propelled
mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down
the road and warned the battalion that a large
Japanese force was coming down the road.
When they appeared the tanks opened up on them.
At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500
of 1200 men. This action prevented the new
line of defense from being breached.
On January 28th, the tank
battalions were given the job of guarding the
beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land
troops. The 194th guarded the coastline
from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day,
the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At
bight they were pulled out onto the
beaches. The battalion's half-tracks had
the job of patrolling the roads. At all times,
the tanks were in contact with on-shore and
For most of March, the
situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the
Japanese had been fought to a standstill.
On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in
the mud, and the crews were working to free
them. While they were doing this, a
Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt.
Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire
on the Japanese at point blank range. He
also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's
fire. The Japanese were wiped out.
On March 21st, the last major battle was fought
by the tanks.
Having brought in combat
harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese
lunched a major offensive on April 4th.
The tanks were sent to various sectors in an
attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th,
four tanks were sent to support the 45th
Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank
was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the
junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other
tanks withdrew. On April 8th, the 194th
was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
It was at this time that Gen.
King knowing that the situation was hopeless
sent officers to negotiate the surrender of
Bataan. The tanks were instructed that
they would hear the order "bash"
on their radios, or that it would be given to
When the order was given, the
tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor
piercing shell into the engine of the tank in
front of their tank, and opened up the gasoline
cocks in the crew compartments. They
dropped hand grenades into each crew compartment
setting the tanks on fire. Later in the
war, the Japanese dragged the tanks out of the
jungle to send to Japan as scrap metal.
When Bataan surrendered to
the Japanese, the tankers became a Prisoners of
War. 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 Prisoners of War onto
the road. They quickly stripped the POWs
of their watches, pens, and sun-glasses.
The POWs 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 when 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
The POWs made their way north
against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and
trucks which were 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 the POWs began to
feel the effects of thirst. It was
at this time that the POWs saw a group of
Filipinos being marched by the Japanese.
Looking at them, they realized that they had
been hungry, but the Filipinos had been
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 11, the
officers with the rank of major 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. It
was there that the lower ranking officers and
the enlisted men joined the main column of POWs
being marched out of Bataan. For the first time,
they began to witness the abuse of POWs as they
walked through Balanga to Orani.
At Orani, the men 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.
When they resumed the march
they 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. When they arrived at San
Fernando, the POWs were put into another bull
pen and remained until they were ordered to form
detachments of 100 men.
At some point marched the
POWs were marched to the train station, where
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, but the Japanese packed 100 men
into each car and shut the doors. The heat
in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died
but could not fall to the floors since there was
no room for them to fall. The POWs rode
the train to Capas were they disembarked the
cars. As they left the cars, the dead fell
to the floors. The POWs walked the last
eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell.
The camp was
an unfinished Filipino training base which 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
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. When
the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of
medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused
to allow the truck into the camp. When the
Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to 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. The POWs were assigned to barracks
which meant that the members of their group
lived together, went out on work details
together, and would be executed together since
they were Blood Brothers.
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 "lugow" which meant
"wet rice." During their time in the camp,
they received few vegetables and almost no
fruit. Once in awhile, they received
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.
In October 1942, Harry was
selected for transport to the Davao Penal Colony
on the Island of Mindanao to work on a labor
detail. The POWs on the detail worked in
rice patties on a farm. and later built runways
At the camp, the POWs were
housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet
long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot
wide aisle ran down the center of each
barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen
bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216
POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were
later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp discipline was
poor. The American commanding officer
changed frequently. The junior officers
refused to take orders from the senior
officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke
anyway they wanted to, to the officers.
The situation improved because all majority of
POWs realized that discipline was needed to
At first, the work details
were not guarded. In Harry's case he was a
member of what was called the plowing
POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the
crops and lived in on the farm.
In April 1943, the POWs working conditions
varied. Those working the rice fields
received the worst treatment. They were
beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings
between the POWs and guards, and a translator
who could not be trusted to tell the truth. The sick POWs made
sent to Davao on February 29, 1944, to work on a
runway building detail. He and other POWs
joined 100 POWs who were building an airfield
south of Davao. One
night the POWs heard the sound of a
plane. It was the first American plane
they had heard in over two years.
On June 6,
1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila,
while the remainder of the men remained on the
island, at Lasang, until August 19, 1944.
Over the next
two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield
changed. The Japanese posted guards
with bayonets on their rifles by the POW
barracks as air raids became daily. The
Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their
planes in revetments. The POWs heard
rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.
time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup
of rice a day. The POWs were now so hungry
that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for
remnants of vegetables. Many ate the weeds
that grew inside the camp until it was bare.
soon were nightly events. Japanese planes
flying out of the airfield were loaded with
bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks.
Finally, all work on the airfield was
stopped. On that day, the POWs were lined
up by fours. The outside men had rope tied
to their wrists to prevent escape. They
were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier and
arrived there at noon. They were
packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru.
400 POWs were in the first hold while the
remaining 350 POWs were put in the second
hold. In addition, several tons of
Japanese baggage were packed into the
hold. Around six that evening, the ship
As the ship
made its way north it swayed in the waves.
Many of the prisoners became seasick. They
retched when they tried to throw up since there
was no food in their stomachs. The
next day, the POWs heard the sound of a
plane. An American plane flew over the
ship. Moments later bombs exploded near
the ship. The sound of machinegun fire was
heard by the POWs. The Japanese once again
tied down the hatch covers cutting off the
air. Over the next three days, there were
several more alerts. Each time the hatch
covers were battened down leaving the POWs in
arrived in Zamboanga, on August 24th, where it
waited for ten days until the Shinyo
Maru arrived. The POWs were
not allowed out of the holds and the conditions
in the ship's holds were terrible. The
holds were hot and steamy and the floors were
covered with human waste. In addition, the
longer the POWs were in the holds the stench
became worse. It was during this time, the
POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with salt
It should be
noted that the United States had intercepted the
order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru
to Zamboanga. Someone misinterpreted the
order as saying the ship would be transporting
"750 military personnel" instead of "750
military prisoners" to Manila. The
U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to
intercept the ship.
4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo
Maru. 250 POWs were put in the
ship's smaller hold while 500 POWs were put into
its larger hold. That night, bombs
from American planes landed alongside of the
ship rocking and shaking it. The POWs
prayed for the ship would be hit.
The ship sailed on September 5th
at 2:00 a.m. Before the ship sailed, the
hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could
not lift them from below. The ship headed
north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid
submarines. The ship was now part of a
convoy designated as C-076. U.S.
submarines began to pick off the ships one at a
The POWs were no longer allowed
on deck. Their lips and throats were
covered with dust from cement that had
previously been hauled by the ship. For
the next two days the ship made good time.
It was at this time that the Japanese guards
threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came
under attack by American planes. Since the
POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they
assumed that they were safe.
At 7:37 p.m.,
on September 7, 1944, the U.S.S Paddle
spotted the convoy off the west coast of
Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two
torpedoes at the ship. The first torpedo
hit the ship in its main hold. Moments
later, a second torpedo hit the ship.
There was a gapping hole in the ship's
side. Those POWs still alive saw the
bodies of the dead floating in the water as the
hold filled with water. Some POWs were
blown out of the hold through the hole during
surviving POWs found that the hatch cover had
been blown off the hold by the explosion.
As the water level rose, they were able to climb
out. Seven Japanese officers were on the
bridge with rifles. As the POWs emerged
from the hold, they picked them off. The
lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove
into the water.
POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from
the torpedo hits. But, the hold remained
dry. Many of these POWs also were able to
make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to
shore. As they swam, they were fired upon
by the same seven Japanese officers.
the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru
began to capsize. There was a tremendous
crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend
upward in the middle. The ship split in
two and sunk into the sea.
seaplanes dropped depth charges in an
attempt to sink the American submarine.
When they spotted the POWs in the water, they
strafed them. They stopped strafing when
they realized that there were Japanese in the
water too. The good thing about the depth
charges was that they kept sharks away from the
tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled
oil and gasoline into the water. The ship
ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up
machineguns and fired on the POWs. Boats
from the other ships in the convoy attempted to
hunt down the POWs swimming in the water.
If they found a man, they shot him. What
saved many lives was that with dusk it became
harder for the Japanese to see them.
announced to the Americans that if they
surrendered that they would be treated with
compassion. About 30 men gave up after
hearing this. According to one man who
escaped after surrendering, the POWs had their
hands tied to the ship's rail, and the Japanese
shot each POW in the back of the head.
They then pushed the bodies overboard.
Of the 750
POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs
survived its sinking. One man died on shore
while the remainder were rescued by Filipino
guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October
1944. 2nd Lt. Harry Lafon Jr. was not one
of these men.
It is not
known if 2nd Lt. Harry R. Lafon Jr. died when
the ship was hit by the two torpedoes, or if he
was one of the POWs who was shot by the Japanese
while trying to escape from one of the ship's
holds, or if he was killed while attempting to
swim to shore. What is known is that 2nd
Lt. Harry R. LaFon Jr. died on Thursday,
September 7, 1944, in the sinking of the Shinyo
Since 2nd Lt. Harry
Lafon Jr. was lost at sea, his name appears on
the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military
Cemetery at Manila.