|Pfc. William Lee Peavler
Pfc. William L. Peavler was born on June 14, 1917,
in a log cabin, to William J. Peavler and Omie
Camden-Peavler in Washington
County, Kentucky, and had three
sisters and three brothers. When he was a child,
his parents divorced. After completing the
eighth grade, he left school and went to work as a
hired hand on a farm.
At some point, he joined the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg. In September 1940, the tank company was federalized and designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 28th the company was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where it was joined by three other National Guard Tank Companies to form the battalion.
In January 1941, instead of designating one of the letter companies as Headquarters Company, the army allowed the creation of totally new company. Men from each of the letter companies, including William, were reassigned to the company. It is not known what job he performed with the company.
From September 1st through 30th, the battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers. It was after these maneuvers that the George and the other members were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill that the battalion learned that they were not being released from military service but being sent overseas. He and the other men received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
The decision to send the 192nd overseas - 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 by train to San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion's medical detachment. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. 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. 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 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, another transport, the 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, but he had not learned of their arrival days before they arrived. After making sure they received Thanksgiving Dinner, he went and had his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the voyage. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. William and the other members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had no weapons to be used against planes, so the members took cover in a dried latrine near their tents.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. HQ, B, and C Companies received orders on December 21st 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. After the attack, the tanks were repeated sent on wild goose chases against factious Japanese paratroopers.
On December 23rd and 24th, 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, but they successfully crossed the river.
On December 25th, 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 27th, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing 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 bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing. 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 could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night 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.
The night of January 7th, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, "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."
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops. Three members of the company were killed.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd. On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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 evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ Company's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders. At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. Lawrence was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
Sitting, watching, and waiting, the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off,while the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, William's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two of the men were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks. They were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars and taken to Capas. The cars were known as "forty and eights," because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars since there was no place to fall. From Capas, they walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days, and many died while waiting for a drink. Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep graves. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or that the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they needed to do something about the death rate among the prisoners, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The POWs who were considered healthy were sent to the camp. William was one of the healthy POWs.
After arriving at the camp, William became ill. Medical records kept by the medical staff indicate he was admitted to the camp hospital on June 18, 1942, and remained in the hospital until August 25th.
On December 12, 1942, William went out on a work detail to Lipa, Batangas. The POWs on the detail were used to build runways for an airfield. He remained on the detail until September 23, 1944. A day or two before the detail ended, planes from a U.S. Naval carrier appeared over the airfield and strafed and bombed it.
The POWs on the detail were taken to the Port Area of Manila. The detachment that William was in was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru. Another detachment had not completely arrived, but their ship, the Hokusen Maru, was not ready to sail. The Japanese decided to swap the POW detachments so the ship could sail.
The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those who were out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaben. The next day, it was at San Fernando, La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong. 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 but somehow missed the ship. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
The POWs were disembarked on November 8th from the ship and bathed, and the decision was made to hold them on Formosa. During their time on Formosa, they were held at Inrin Temporary Camp which was opened for them. Since they were such bad shape, the POWs were not required to do any hard labor.
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 ship arrived at Moji, Japan, 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, and deloused. The POWs later were taken to the train station where they rode a train to various camps along the line.
In Japan, William was taken to the Uguisusawa Train Station. From there they took a narrow cage train to Sendai Camp #3. When they left the train, they had to walk the last miles, to the camp, in deep snow and arrived on January 28th. In the camp, the POWs were used as slave labor in lead and zinc mining. The mine was operated by Mitsubishi Mining Company.
Although the Japanese received Red Cross packages for the POWs, they were not given to the POWs. Red Cross medicines and medicals supplies that would help the prisoners were not given to them. The camp doctor was known to eat vitamin tablets from the packages in front of the POWs.
The sick POWs were forced to work in the mine when they were physically unable to work. Those who reported for sick call had to line up in the hallway to the Japanese doctor's office and take off all their clothes before they entered. While in line, they were often slapped in the face. The doctor made the POWs stand at attention, bow, and follow orders given to them. Since this took so much time, most of the POWs were never examined and had to work. Cold weather clothing and blankets from the Red Cross were never given out to the POWs who had to sleep in the poorly heated barracks in the winter.
William remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 12, 1945. About liberation, William recalled, "We were liberated by the 68th Airborne. I wrote my mom and dad a letter, caught a plane, flew to Okinawa, then to Clark Field. In eight days they called out my name. I was going home!" He sailed for the United States, on September 23, 1945, on the U.S.A.T. General R. L. Howze, which arrived in at San Francisco on October 16, 1945, nearly four years to the day that he had sailed from there.
William was discharged from the Army on February 27, 1946, and married Emogene Hoderman the same year. He became the father of a daughter and six sons and worked in construction as a laborer. William L. Peavler passed away on March 4, 1978, in McCreary, Kentucky, during an emergency appendectomy operation and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
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