Prater

 

Pvt. Lacy Lonzo Prater


    Pvt. Lacy L. Prater was born on August 10, 1914, in Floyd County, Kentucky, to William B. Prater and Rhoda Blakinship-Prater.  He and his four brothers and sister were raised in Abbot and Marion, Kentucky.  His youngest brother died as a child.   He joined Company H, Ohio National Guard in Ada, Ohio, on July 2, 1938, and was in the National Guard for nearly three years.
   Lacy was residing in Alger, Ohio, and was married and the father of a son, when he was inducted into the U.S. Army on February 5, 1941, at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio.  He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and was assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion as a tank driver.
    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  During the maneuvers, the 192nd, which was part of the Red Army,  broke through the defenses of the the Blue Army and was on its way to overrun the headquarters of the army when the maneuvers were suddenly cancelled.  The Blue Army was under the command of General George S. Patton.
  
  After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  On the side of a hill, they were informed that they were being sent overseas as part as operation "PLUM."  Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.  Those men 29 years or older were allowed to resign from federal service and replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion's M2A2 tanks and it's scout cars were replaced with M-3 tanks and half-tracks.
    The decision for this move -  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 company traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty 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, while other men were simply replaced.

    The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam. 
    When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King 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 love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    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.
    The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
    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.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    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.
    The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.  
   


    At Cabu, C Company's tanks were hidden in brush.  The Japanese troops passed the tanks for three hours without knowing that they were there.  While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing.  It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered.  The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.  They then fell back to Cabanatuan.

    C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks.  It was at Baluiag that C Company's tanks won the first tank battle victory of World War II against enemy tanks.  After the battle, C Company made its way south.  When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment.  The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.

    On December 31, 1941, the commanding officer of C Company sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag.  The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way.  Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, the company set up it's defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. 

    Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge.  The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks.  A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.  

    Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.  One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge.   Lt. Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.  

    Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag.  He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple.  The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.  Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.

     When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge.  The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks.  Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.

    Kennady's platoon held it's fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt.  The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them.  By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.  

    The tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group.  When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown.  Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river.  Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice.  This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.

    The tanks were spaced about 100 yards apart.  The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them.  The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.

    Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire.  They then used their .37 mm guns.  The fighting was such a rout that the the tankers were using a .37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.

    The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire.  From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked.  Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns. 

    After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across.  The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.

    In addition to serving as a rear guard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left behind.  They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese.  
 
  On January 28, the tank battalions 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.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    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.
    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 company took part in the Battle of the Pockets.  The Japanese had lunched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line.  Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line.  The tanks were sent in to the pockets to wipe them out.  One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon.  The tanks would do this one at a time. 
    The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole.  Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks.  Each man had a bag of hand grenades.  As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
    The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole.  The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese.  The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn't have to smell the rotting flesh.
    The lack of food was the greatest enemy they soldiers had.  Their rations were cut in half in early January 1945, and cut again in March 1945.  This resulted in men becoming sick.  Of this time, he said, "I personally helped kill and butcher two mules and ate dog and monkey meat.  Monkey meat was not bad."

    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 4 against the defenders.  On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening.

    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.
    On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan.  C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line.  They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.  Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
   It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since 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 morning of the April 9, 1942, at 6:45 the tankers received the order "crash" and destroyed their tanks.  When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to Mariveles where they started the death march.
    
From Mariveles, the members of C Company made their way north along the east coast of Bataan.  The first five miles of the march the were more difficult since the march was uphill.  The POWs also were denied food and received little water.  Those who attempted to get water from the artesian wells that flowed across the road were often killed.

    During the march, he recalled, "Charles Everett, of Logan, Ohio, and myself carried our captain, (Arthur Burholt) who had fallen from exhaustion, for nine kilometers to save him from being shot by the Japanese." 
  
  When the POWs reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull-pin. In one corner, was a trench that was used as a toilet by the POWs.  The surface was alive with maggots.
    At some point, the POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men, marched to the train station at San Fernando, and packed into small wooden
boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were known as forty or eights.  This was because each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  Since the detachments were made up of 100 men, the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car.  The POWs who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.

    The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.  The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base which was put into use by the Japanese as a POW Camp.  There was only one water spigot for the entire camp.  The POWs had to stand in line for hours to get a drink.  The guards often turned off the water because they could.  Disease ran wild among the POWs, because they had no medicine to treat the sick.  As many as 50 men died each day.
    Being considered healthy, Lacy was sent to Cabanatuan when the camp was opened by the Japanese to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.  It is not known if he was sent to the camp when it opened. According to him, he was in multiple place in the Philippines on work details. 
    While he was out on one detail, the Japanese instituted the Blood Brother Rule.  The POWs were put into groups of ten men.  If one escaped, the other nine POWs were killed because they had not stopped him.  One member of his group tried to escape, the remaining members of his group were put into a barbed wire enclosure until he was found.  "He was brought into camp full of bullet and bayonet holes with bullets all over his body."
    Medical records from the camp show that he was admitted on April 8, 1943.  Why he was admitted and when he was released were not recorded on the records.  Two things happened at this time, his mother died, and his wife learned he was a POW on July 1, 1943.
     Lacy was selected to be sent to Japan.  On July11, 1944, trucks arrived at the camp and took selected POWs to Manila and Pier 7.  The POWs, at 8:00 A.M., were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru on July 17th and forced into the number one hold.  When the Japanese realized they could not get all the POWs into the hold, they opened the second hold.  After midnight, the morning of July 18th, the ship was moved from the pier but dropped anchor in the harbor, near a breakwater, and waited for a convoy to form.  After over 24 hours in the holds, the Japanese finally gave the POWs water and food.

    The ship moved again on July 23rd, at 8:00 A.M., and dropped anchor at 7:00 P.M. off Corregidor. On July 24th, a convoy was ready and the ship sailed as part of it.  At 3:00 A.M. on July 26th, the convoy came under attack from an American Wolf Pack made up of the U.S.S. Crevale, the U.S.S. Angler, and the U.S.S. Flasher.  One ship, the Otari Yama Maru, was  hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher which was a part of a three submarine wolf pack.   The POWs saw the flames from the explosion shoot over the hatches of the holds.
    One of the worst things to happen during this part of the voyage was several POWs were murdered by other POWs.  The remaining ships in the convoy made it to Takao, Formosa, arriving at 9:00 A.M. on July 28th.  They remained in harbor all day and sailed at 7:00 P.M.

    From July 30th until August 2nd, the ships sailed through a storm.  They were issued new clothing on August 3rd before the ship arrived at midnight, August 4th at Moji.  At 8:00 in the morning, they disembarked and were marched to a darkened movie theater.  They remained there until they were formed into detachments and taken to the train station.  They boarded a train and rode it to various camps along the line.  In Lacy's case, he was taken to Osaka Camp #3-B , which was also known as Oeyama.  The POWs in the camp worked in a nickel mine and at a smelter owned by Nippon Yakin Kogyo and  at the Hachidate Branch Nickel Refinery as laborers. They also were marched nearly six miles to another nickel mine.  He stated the camp had a POW population of 650 POWs.  400 hundred of the POWs were British and the remaining POWs were American. 
    The sand fleas were a greater enemy to the POWs than the Japanese.  "When you awaken in the morning your body looked as if you had a chicken pox from the bites of the insects."

    With a pick and shovel, he and the other POW's had to extract ore from the mine 10 to 12 hours a day.  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.

    In May 1945, the first B-29s appeared over the camp.  The bombings became more frequent.  On July 30th, B-29s bombed Miyazu which was a nearby town were the POWs worked on the docks.  Since the bombing run ran over the camp, two POWs were killed.  About two weeks later, a massive air raid on the town took place and lasted all night until it ended about midday.   
    Lacy remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 2, 1945.  When he was liberated, he 100 pounds.  He also learned that while he was a POW, his mother had died. 
    He returned to the Philippines and promoted to Private First Class and later Sergeant.  It was on the U.S.S.Tryon that he returned to the United States, at San Francisco, on October 24, 1945.  Of the trip home, he said, "I came all the way from Yokahoma to Santa Fe, (New Mexico), is pajamas."  It was almost four years to the date that he had sailed to the Philippines.  He was discharged from the Army on October 10, 1946.
    Lacy Prater passed away on July 25, 1990, in Florida.  He was buried at Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell, Florida, in Section 301, Site 1301.


 

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