Pvt. Forest Elsworth Richeson
| Pvt. Forest
Elsworth Richeson was born on March 7, 1917, in
Cambridge, Ohio, to Lewis V. Richeson and Libbie
Lightfoot-Richeson. His father passed away
when he was an infant. It is known he had
three sisters. As a child, his mother and
him lived with her parents at 327 West Main Street
in Barnesville, Ohio. He left school after
the seventh grade.
On January 21, 1941, at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio, Forest was inducted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky for basic training and assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion which had been an Ohio National Guard tank company from Port Clinton. What specialized training he received at Ft. Knox is not known.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. During the maneuvers the battalion, which was part of the Red Army, broke through the Blue Army's defensive line. The battalion was about to overrun the Blue Army's Headquarters when the maneuvers were cancelled. The Blue Army was under the command of General George S. Patton.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. None of the men had any idea why they were being sent to the fort. It was on the side of a hill that the members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Those men 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service and replacements came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. Within hours. the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for "Philippines, Luzon, Manila."
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 battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived at Ft. Mason in San Francisco and were ferried. on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island where they given physicals and inoculated by the battalion's medical detachment. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. 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 5, 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 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. On Saturday, November 15, 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 16, 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 20, 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 Gen. 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 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 tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The tankers returned to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. Forest had been assigned KP duty that day and remained in the battalion's bivouac when the Japanese began bombing. "That's the reason so many fellows were killed. They were in the mess hall eating."
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.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was 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.
On December 23 and 24, 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 25, 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 27.
The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.
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 Baluiag. 2nd 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
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
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. The Japanese allowed the POWs to sit in
the sun for hours.
The POWs walked
the last miles to Camp O'Donnell was an
unfinished Filipino training base that was
pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1,
1942. When they arrived at the camp, the
Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the
POWs had and refused to return it to them.
They searched the POWs and if a man was found to
have Japanese money on them, they were taken to
the guardhouse. Over the next several
days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of
the camp. These POWs had been executed for
sent to the new camp after it opened, but
it is not known if he was sent to the camp when
it opened or after he came back from the work
detail. While in the camp he worked on the
farm where the POWs grew food for the
Japanese. He told of how he was beaten
when he was caught with a beat he had stolen
from the farm. He also told of how one of
his friends, who had an infection in his jaw,
was hit in the jaw with the butt of a
rifle. He watched as friends died from
around him from dysentery, brutality, and utter
stated that not all the Japanese were bad and
that one commanding officer of a camp actually
showed compassion for the POWs. "He was human. He saw
that we had plenty to eat. He provided
baskets, volleyballs, and let us organize a
softball team. You see he had lived in
America. he understood American
ways. But I wasn't there for long."
As the ship made its way to Japan men died of sickness and starvation. With each death, there was more room in the ship's hold. The bodies of the dead were hosted out of the hold by ropes and dumped in the sea. The suction of the ship's propellers pulled the bodies into them and resulted in the bodies being cut up. The Japanese finally decided that the only way to deal with the smell coming from the hold was to bring the POWs on deck and wash them down with seawater. They also washed down the floor of the hold at the same time.
Once at Moji, the POWs were broken into two groups. Forest's group of POWs were marched to the train station and taken by train to the camps along the line. Forest's POW detachment was taken to Sendai Camp #6, arriving at the camp on September 4th. In the camp, he was designated POW #472. The POWs were housed in barracks with two tiers of bunks. They were issued Japanese clothing made of thin cloth and shoes with webbing between two toes. Within weeks it snowed. The area received as much as ten feet of snow which, since the barracks were unheated, served as insulation against the cold. The POWs barely survived the winter.
POWs would wake up at 5 A.M. and eat
breakfast. They would arrive at ready
at 7 A.M. and worked until 5:00 P.M. and
returned to camp, usually after dark, had
supper and went to bed. To get to
work, the POWs had to often walk through two
feet of snow and climb up the side of a
mountain and descend 472 steps into the
mine. The POWs noticed that the guards
never seemed to be winded when they arrived
at the mine. They later learned that
the Japanese had cut a ground level entrance
to the mine which the guards used to enter
When asked what kept the POWs alive in the
camps he said that they thought of home,
food, wives, and jobs. The POWs dreamed of
these things and it kept many of them sane
while driving others insane.