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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
#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
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
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
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,
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.