Richeson

 

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, 1841, 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. 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. 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.
    In addition to replacements, the battalion's M2A2 tanks and scout cars were replaced with M3 tanks and half-tracks from the 753rd.  The tanks and half-tracks were loaded onto flatcars and, over different train routes, the battalion was sent, on the U.S.A.T Hugh L. Scott, to San Francisco.  Once there, they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island were they received physicals and were inoculated.   Any man who was found with a medical condition was replaced.  Those men with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
   
The battalion sailed 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 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 21st 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 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.    
    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.

    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. 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.  It is known that on the march Merle helped to carry a member of D Company so that the man would not be killed.

    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.
    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.  The death rate among the POWs rose to as many as 50 POWs a day.  To lower the death rate, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
    Forest was 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 hopelessness.
    On this detail the POWs worked at Pier 7 as stevedores and lived in the Custom House.  The housing was inadequate, poorly lighted and ventilated.  The toilets were outside and filthy as were the so called shower facilities. The camp kitchen was over 200 yards away and out in the open. There was no medical facilities so the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison for medical treatment until medical officers joined the detail.  The work was hard and at times required the POWs to work 24 hours a day.  The POWs committed acts of sabotage as they worked and stole food as often as possible.  Speaking of how he survived in the camps, he said, "I guess I kept alive because I like rice so well.  I still do.  When my wife tells me we are going to have Spanish rice for dinner I nearly drool."

    Forest 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."
    On July 17, 1944, the detail was ended and most of the POWs were sent to Japan on the Nissyo Maru.  Forest was a member of the small detachment of POWs who remained behind at the Port Area.  He later was sent to Bilibid Prison and selected to be sent to Japan on the Noto Maru.
    
The POWs were boarded onto the Noto Maru on August 25th, and packed into one hold.  The ship sailed, as part of a four ship convoy, on the 27th but dropped anchor off Bataan.  On its trip to Formosa depth charges were dropped since American submarines were believed to be in the area of the ships.  The ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 30th.  The convoy sailed again on August 31st and arrived at Moji, Japan, September 4th. 
    During the trip to Japan, the POWs were packed into the ship's hold so tightly that they could not use the the half barrel that was suppose to be the toilet.  The floor of the hold was covered in human waste since most of the men were suffering from dysentery.  The smell got so bad that the Japanese covered the hatch of the hold.  The POWs received water twice a day and were fed once a day. 

    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.  The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi.  Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine.  To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them.  It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
    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.

    The POWs would wake up at 5 a.m.and eat a breakfast of a small bowl They would arrive at ready at 7 A.M. The POWs worked under Mitsubishi supervision.  The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death.  They had a 30 minute lunch break and worked to 5:00 P.M.  The POWs returned to camp, usually after dark, had supper, then went to bed.
    The miners had the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner was furnished a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men were never enough.  The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
    When the Japanese surrendered, the camp commandant announced to the the POWs that he was turning over the camp to the American officers.  An American Naval plane flew over the camp.  The pilot dropped a note to the POWs and told them to paint one stripe on the roof of a barrack if they needed medicine, two stripes if they needed food, and three stripes if they needed clothing.  The POWs painted one stripe on one barrack, two stripes on another barrack, and three stripes on a third barrack. 
    When the plane returned. he dropped another note saying that there was no way for him to drop everything, so B -29s would have to drop the supplies.  The POWs had no idea what the pilot was talking about.  When the B-29s appeared over the camp, the POWs had never seen anything so large in the sky.  The POWs received so much food and clothing that they shared it with the Japanese civilians who had been kind to them. 
   
One day, a  jeep with American soldiers appeared and  the soldiers told the former POWs to sit tight until the railroad line had been repaired.  After it was repaired, the prisoners took the train and then an LST to Yokohama.  After a few days, they were returned to the Philippines for more medical treatment.  Forest was boarded on the Dutch ship, S.S. Klipfontein, on October 9, and returned to the United States at Seattle on October 28, 1945.  From there, he was taken to Madigan Hospital Center at Ft. Lewis, Washington, for additional medical treatment. 
    Forest married Lois Marie Firestone on April 16, 1946, and was discharged from the Army on May 8, 1946.  He and his wife resided in the Dayton, Ohio, area and became parents to a son.  They divorced on March 3, 1952, and Forest married Evelyn Mae Jones.  The couple resided in Dayton, and he became the father of a son and daughter.  He worked at National Refrigeration and then Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as a clerk.

    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. 
    Forest E. Richeson passed away in Dayton, Ohio, on September 14, 1975.  He was buried at Dayton National Cemetery in Section 17, Row 9, Grave 11, on September 17, 1975.


 

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