McKeon_W

 


Cpl. William V. McKeon


    Cpl. William V. McKeon was born on May 5, 1905, and was the son of Michael and Alice McKeon.  He, with his three brothers and sister grew up at 1855 Portland Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

    It is not known when William entered the Army, but it is known that he was assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion as a medic.  Being from Minnesota, he was assigned to A Company as a medic.  This meant he lived with the members of the company at Fort Lewis, Washington.
    On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippine Islands 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 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  Arriving, by train, at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, they were taken by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment.  Those men found with medical conditions were 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., on September 26th, 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.
    The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed.  They were met by  General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed.  On November 15th, they moved into their barracks.
    On December 1st, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field.  Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers.  The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November guarded the southern half.  Two crew men remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.

    One day, he was with Harold Kurvers of A Company.  Bill made a statement to Kurvers that the Japanese would never attack the Philippines because they would be defeated within three weeks.  On December 8th, ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bill's words came back to haunt him, and he would hear about his prediction, from Kurvers, the rest of his life.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, the battalion was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  As the tankers guarded the airfield, they watched American planes flying in every direction.  At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.  It was 12:45, and as the tankers watched, a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
    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.
    The 194th was sent to Mabalcat December 10th, and it was at this time that C Company was sent to southern Luzon where the Japanese were landing.  On the 12th, the A and D Company, 192nd, were sent to a new bivouac south of San Fernando and arrived at 6:00 A.M.  They received Bren gun carriers on the 15th and used them to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank.
    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.
    Although the medical detachment did not in the front line, it was always near the area the tanks were assigned to cover.  Around December 22nd, the tanks were near Rosario, to slow the advancing Japanese who had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf.  On December 25th,  the tanks had taken positions west of Carmen.  When they began taking fire from a strong Japanese force, he ordered the tanks to open fire with their machine guns.  Realizing that they had a very good chance of being cut off, he ordered his tanks to withdraw through Carmen the evening of December 26th.
    The battalions were holding the Tarlec Line on December 28th and withdrew to form the Bamban Line the night of the 29th/30th which they held until they were ordered to +withdraw.  On January 2nd the battalions withdrew to Layac Junction with the 194th using highway 7.  The 194th, covered by the 192nd, withdrew across the Culis Creek into Bataan.  After the 192nd crossed the bridge, it was blown starting the Battle of Bataan.
    In January 1942, the tank companies were reduced to three tanks in each platoon.  This was done so that D Company, 192nd, attached to the 194th, would have tanks.  The company had abandoned its tanks after the bridge they were scheduled to use had been destroyed by the engineers before they had crossed.
    On January 20th, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry.  On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective because of landmines that had been planted by ordnance.
    The battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self propelled mounts.  At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese were on there way.  When they appeared the battalion, and self propelled mounts,  opened up with everything they had.  The Japanese broke off the attack, at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben.  The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.
    In March, the 194th was attempting to free two tanks that were stuck in the mud.  As the tankers worked to get them out, Japanese Regiment entered the area.  Lt. Col. Miller ordered the tanks to fire at point blank range and ran from tank to tank directing fire.  When they stopped firing, they had wiped out the regiment.
    At this time, Gen. Weaver also suggested to Gen Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.  This idea was rejected by Wainwright.  The Japanese brought fresh troops to Bataan, from Singapore, since the Americans and Filipinos with the help of tropical illnesses had fought the Japanese to a standstill.  On April 4th, the Japanese launched a major offensive.  In an attempt to stop them, the tanks were sent into various sectors.  It was also at this time that tanks became the favorite targets of Japanese planes an artillery.
    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 45,000 civilians who he believed would be slaughtered.  It was at that time he decided to send his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
    Somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 in the morning the tankers received the order "bash" and destroyed their tanks.  The tanks were circled and an armor piercing shell was fired into the engines of each tank.  Afterwards, the gasoline cocks were opened in the crew
    On April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash."  This meant they were to destroy their tanks.  After destroying their tanks, the tankers remained in their bivouac until receiving further orders.
    The company remained in its bivouac until April 10th when the Japanese arrived and ordered the medical detachment to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2.  They remained there until 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march.  They made their way from the former command post, and at first found the walk difficult.  When they reached the main road, walking became easier.  At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M.  The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
    When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher, were separated from the enlisted men and the lower ranking officers.  It was there that they joined the main march from Bataan.  The higher ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani.  The lower ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having march through Abucay and Samal.

    With him on the march were Bernard Fitzpatrick and Phil Brain.  During the march, a Filipino boy ran into the POWs and pushed a melon into Phil Brain's hands.  Since he couldn't open it, he and the other soldiers smashed it on a rock.  As Bill ate it, he asked if anyone had any salt.  Hearing this, they all broke into laughter.
    The men were marched until 4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando.  Once there, they were herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men.  One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among the  men.  Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
    At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men.  From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor.  At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died - during the trip - fell to the floors of the cars.  As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
    The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp.  There was one working water spigot for the entire camp.  POWs died waiting for a drink at the faucet.  As many as 50 POWs died each day.  Conditions in the camp were so bad that Bill volunteered to go out on a work detail.

    The work detail's job was to collect scrap metal for the Japanese.  Most of this metal was cars and trucks destroyed by the Americans as they fell back into Bataan.  Since these vehicles could not run on their own, the Americans tied them together with ropes behind a working vehicle.  Then each man drove a vehicle to San Fernando and left them in a large park.  From there, the vehicles were taken to Manila.

    While on this detail, William became ill with malaria.  He was sent to Pampanga and put in a Filipino hospital.  The patients in the hospital were mostly Filipino, Lawrence was one of a number of Americans in the hospital.  The patients were treated well and got all the water they wanted and three meals a day.  There was very little medicine to treat the patients.

     Bill was sent to Cabanatuan.  He remained there until he was selected to go on a work detail to the docks of Manila.  This detail became known as the Port Area Detail.  The POWs spent two years working the docks of Manila.

    On June 14, 1944, the work detail was ended and the POWs were taken to Manila where they were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru.  1600 POWs boarded the ship on July 17th. The ship sailed the same day. Instead of making its way to the open sea, it dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater.  It remained there until July 23rd when it moved to an area off Corregidor.  The next morning, July 24th, it sailed as part of a convoy.
    During the convoy's trip to Formosa it was attacked by an American submarine wolf pack.  Four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk.  Through the ship's hatches, the POWs saw the night sky light up when one of the ships exploded after being hit by a torpedo.  According to POWs, they heard a thud against the ship's haul.  They presume it was a torpedo that did not explode.
    The convoy arrived at Takao on July 28th and sailed the evening of the same day but dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater.  The POWs were not fed for almost a day and a half.  On July 23rd, the ship was moved to a position off Corregidor where it spent the night.  The next morning it sailed as part of a convoy.
    During the trip Bill stole extra food and hid it in his socks.  Conditions in the holds were bad. At night, some POWs slashed other POWs' throats and drank their blood.  The POWs were fed rice and vegetables twice a day and received two canteen cups of water a day.
    One night the ships ran into an American wolf pack.  Some POWs stated they heard a thud against the haul of the ship.  They presumed it was a torpedo that did not detonate.  One ship, when it was hit, exploded so violently, that the POWs could see the flames shoot over the open hatchways. 
    On July 28th at 9:00 A.M., the ships reached Takao, Formosa.  They remained in harbor for the day and sailed at 7:00 P.M.  As they made their way toward Moji, Japan, they sailed through a storm.  The ships arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 3, 1944, at midnight. 
    The next morning the POWs disembarked the ship at 9:00 A.M. and taken to a movie theater.  After sitting in the dark, they were divided into detachments of 200 men and taken to the train station.  From there they rode trains to the POW camps.

    In Japan, Bill was taken to Osaka #3-B or Oeeyama Camp where the POWs worked in a nickel mine.   With a pick and shovel, he and the other POW's had to extract ore from the mine.  When they loaded a car, they next had to push it to the railroad track that ran past the mine.  The prisoners had to work in all types of weather and in snow as deep as six feet deep.  To protect the prisoners' feet from the elements, the Japanese supplied them with rubber boots.
    The prisoners unloaded food, coal, and coke from ships for a nickel refinery at the Miyazu docks.  The food they unloaded was bound for the Japanese army, so the POWs would steal a couple of pocketful of beans everyday.  In addition, the POWs worked inside the Hachidate Branch Nickel Refinery doing common labor and also worked at the nickel mine almost six miles from the camp.  It is also known one group of POWs did carpentry work.
    The Japanese enforced collective discipline in the camp.  Sometimes work groups would be punished, other times larger groups of POWs were punished, and there were times all the POWs were punished.  On one occasion a work group of twelve POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours before they were forced to swallow rope which caused them to throw up.  This was done because the Japanese believed they had stolen rice.  When none was found, the Japanese fed the POWs rice and sent them to their barracks.
    On December 6, 1944, the entire camp was placed on half rations because one POW had violated a rule.  The entire camp again was put on half rations on January 7.  At various times a portion of the POWs were put on half rations.  80 to 90 POWs were put on half rations on March 7, 1944, while 60 POWs were put on half rations on April 7 and made to stand at attention in a heavy rain.
    Since a certain number of POWs had to report for work everyday, illness was not an excuse for getting out of working.  The camp doctor's recommendation that POWs not work, because they were too ill, was ignored and men suffering from dysentery or beriberi were sent to work.
     Red Cross packages were withheld from the POWs and the Japanese raided them for canned meats, canned milk, cigarettes, and chocolate.  The clothing and shoes sent for POW use was also appropriated by the Japanese.

    Bill returned to the Philippines for medical treatment.  He was boarded on the S.S. Simon Bolivar, and arrived at San Francisco on October 21, 1945, and taken to Letterman General Hospital for additional medical treatment.
    Bill returned to Minnesota and was discharged, from the army, on May 24, 1946.  On January 2, 1947, Bill was a member of the wedding party at the marriage of Philip Tripp.  Bill married, Blanche Brabec, in 1948 and would later open up a home repair business in Fargo, North Dakota, with his brother.  When he retired, he moved back to the Minneapolis area and lived in Hopkins, Minnesota.

    William V. McKeon passed away on March 22, 1993, at the Veterans Administration Hospital at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota.  He was buried in Section Y, Site 1590, at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery in South Minneapolis, Minnesota.


 

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