Capt. Alvin Charles Poweleit, M. D.
Captain Alvin C. Poweleit was
born June 8, 1908, to August Poweleit &
Caroline Yutze-Poweleit. His mother died and
his father remarried. He had two sisters and
one brother, a half-sister, and a
half-brother. Alvin married, Loretta
Catherine Thesing, on June 28, 1930, and attended
the University of Louisville. He graduated
from the university's medical school in
1936. After residency, he had a general
medical practice in Newport, Kentucky. His
wife and him lived at 327 East Park Avenue in
While in school, Alvin enlisted in the U. S. Army Reserve and received the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. He was trained in infantry tactics during the summers.
In January, 1941, Alvin was called to federal duty. Reporting to Fort Knox, he was assigned to the newly formed medical detachment of the 192nd Tank Battalion. During this time, Alvin and the other members of the detachment trained to operate the battalion's trucks, motorcycles, reconnaissance cars and tanks. They also learned to fire every gun used by the battalion. Alvin, in his own opinion was pretty good on the .50 machine gun.
In the late summer of 1941, Alvin and the medical detachment traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana for maneuvers. The medical detachment did not take part in the maneuvers, but they did treat the members of the battalion for injuries and snake bites.
After the maneuvers, the battalion members were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as was expected. At the fort, they learned that their battalion was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. The soldiers received furloughs home to say their goodbyes before they returned to Camp Polk.
The reason 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.
The battalion's new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. The soldiers also cosmolined anything that they thought would rust. Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was 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. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
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, 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 own dinner.
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 tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. Alvin and Ardell Schei, the company clerk, worked to organize the military records of the battalion. Part of the reason this was done was because D Company was going to be reassigned to the 194th Tank Battalion. This transfer would never take place.
On December 8, 1941, Alvin and the other members learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At 12:45 pm, just after lunch, bombs began to fall on Clark Field. Since the 192nd Tank Battalion were assigned to tents along the main road to Fort Stotsenburg, Alvin drove to the airfield to see if he could aid the wounded and dying.
As he was doing this, Japanese fighters came in to strafe the airfield. To avoid being hit, Alvin hid in a bomb crater. He recalled that the dead were everywhere. After the attack Alvin continued to give first aid to the wounded.
Since the American Army Air Corps was destroyed, Alvin and the other members of the medical detachment lived with strafing and bombing during the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula. Alvin and the other members of the battalion worked to provide adequate medical care for the letter companies of the battalion.
On December 21st, Alvin was with B Company when one platoon of its tanks were sent north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops. Alvin stated that Gen. Wainwright was advised, by Lt. Col. Wickord, that the tanks should not be sent into the area without reconnaissance. According to Alvin, Wainwright demanded the tanks be sent into the area. The result was that the tank platoon was lost.
One day while doing this job, Alvin, Sgt. Howard Massey, and Cpl. John Reynolds encountered a Japanese patrol. The three soldiers were in a stream bed when they heard a twig snap. Carefully, they made their way back to their truck and hid in the brush.
As they watched, a Japanese patrol made its way down the bed of the stream. Each of the medical detachment men aimed their guns at a specific member of the patrol. They opened fire and continued to fire until the patrol was wiped out.
According to Alvin, the reason Bataan held out for four months was because Gen. James Weaver was a good tactician. Weaver, by moving the tanks around, convinced the Japanese that the Americans had a greater number of tanks then they actually did. A Japanese officer, on Formosa, would later confirm this belief in a conversation with Alvin while he was a POW there.
On April 9, 1942, the medical detachment were given their order to surrender. They remained in their bivouac for two days until they received orders from the Japanese to report to Mariveles.
At Mariveles, the soldiers were searched. It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that Alvin started what became known as the death march.
As he marched, Alvin saw bodies of the dead lying along the road. He believed there were ten bodies for every mile. The bodies were bloated from lying in the sun and had maggots crawling on them. Alvin also witnessed three Filipinos have their heads cut off for giving rice to the Prisoners of War.
All these things built up in Alvin until he snapped. When a Japanese guard approached to hit a POW, Alvin grabbed him and snapped his neck. He and another POWs hid the guard's body and gun in the undergrowth. As he continued the march, he heard the guards call the missing guards name. As far as Alvin knew, the guard's body was never found.
At San Fernando, Alvin and the other prisoners were crammed into boxcars. They rode in the cars until they reached Capas. There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last six miles to Camp O'Donnell.
In Camp O'Donnell, Alvin and the other doctors attempted to provide medical services to the sick and dying. This was nearly impossible to do since the doctors had no medical supplies. The situation was so bad that the as many as 50 POWs died each day. The work detail to bury the dead worked endlessly.
On June 5, 1942, the Japanese opened Cabanatuan to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell. The healthier prisoners were sent to this new camp. Those too ill to move or too close to death remained behind at Cabanatuan. Alvin remained to administer medical aid to them.
Although most of the prisoners had been transferred to Cabanatuan, Alvin and some other POWs remained at Camp O'Donnell until January 1, 1943. It was on that date that Alvin was sent to Cabanatuan. He did not remain in the camp long, because he was sent to Bongabon on February 7, 1943. He remained there until October, 1943, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.
In September, 1944, Alvin and many of the other POWs were sent to Manila. There he was held at Bilibid Prison. After receiving a physical, it was determined that he was healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
The POW detachment Alvin was in was marched to the Port Area of Manila. Once there, the POW detachment waited to be boarded onto the Arisan Maru which was not ready to sail. Another ship, the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail, so the Japanese switched the POW detachments. Alvin's detachment of POWs were boarded onto the Hokusen Maru on October 1st.
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 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 Cabcaban. 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.
On Formosa, Alvin was held at Shirakawa and Taihoku POW camps. He would
remain there until the end of the war. He
and the other POWs learned of the end of the war
on August 10, 1945. Returning to the
Philippines, he received medical treatment and
boarded the U.S.S. Marine Shark and
arrived at Seattle on November 1, 1945.
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