Roberts_E

 


Pvt. Elmer Marion Roberts


   
    Pvt. Elmer M. Robert was born on September 7, 1925, in Saint Louis, Missouri, to Jesse and Effie Roberts.  His parents divorced when he was a child and he resided, with his mother, at 1506 South Tenth Street in St. Louis, Missouri. 
    When Elmer was fifteen, he lied about his age, giving his birthday as September 7, 1923, and enlisted into the U.S. Army on January 28, 1941, at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.  He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.
    After completing basic training, Elmer was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The battalion was sent to Camp Polk in the late summer of 1941, but it did not take part in the maneuvers that were taking place at the base.
    After the maneuvers the 192nd Tank 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. Elmer was one of these men and assigned to C Company.  The battalion's M2A2 tanks and it's scout cars were replaced with M-3 tanks and half-tracks from the 753rd.
    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.
    Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends.  They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe.  On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join 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 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.   They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 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 Date Line.  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 1 to guard against paratroopers.  Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. The morning of December 8, 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. 
    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.         
    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 31, 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.

    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3 against the defenders and broke through the main line of defense on April 7.  The tanks were a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they 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 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 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.
      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 which 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 looting.
    There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink.  The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again.  This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
    There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled.  In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed.  The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery.  The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
    The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant.  When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.  When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp.  When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
    The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them.  When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
    Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it.  The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria.  To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it.  The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
    Work details were sent out on a daily basis.  Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work.  If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work.  The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
    To get out of the camp, Elmer went out on a scrap metal detail to San Fernando.  On this detail, the POWs tied vehicles - that the been disabled by the Americans when they surrendered - together with rope.  POWs sat in the driver's seat of each vehicle which were then towed to San Fernando by an operational vehicle.  He remained on the detail for several months.  When the detail ended, Elmer was sent to Cabanatuan.  This camp had been opened by the Japanese to lower the death rate among the prisoners.

    The camp was actually three camps.  Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held.  Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed.  It later reopened and housed Naval POWs.  Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken.  In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp.  Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
    Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp.  The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with.  To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp.  The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch.  It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    In the camp, the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule.  If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed.  POWs caught trying to escape were beaten.  Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed.  It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them.  The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting.  Many quickly became ill.  The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
    The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years.  A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until  5:00 P.M.  The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools.  As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
    The detail was under the command of "Big Speedo" who spoke very little English.  When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs "speedo."  Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair.  Another guard was "Little Speedo" who was smaller and also used "speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster.  The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.  "Smiley" was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted.  He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason.  He liked to hit the POWs with the club.  Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it.  Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it.  Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
    Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud.  Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
    Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant "wet rice."  During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit.  Once in awhile, they received bread.
    The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks.  The sickest POWs were sent there to die.  The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building.  There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building.  The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves.  Most of those who entered the ward died.
    The POWs had the job of burying the dead.  To do this, they worked in teams of four men.  Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.  The death rate was still as high as nine men a day into November and only dropped after Red Cross Packages were issued at Christmas and other changes were made in the camp.
    How long Elmer spent at Cabanatuan is not known.  It is known that he was selected to go out on a work to Lipa, Batangas.  He and the other POWs were used as slave laborers and built runways with picks and shovels.  He remained on the detail until he was selected to be sent to Japan in September 1943.

    Medical records show that Elmer arrived at Bilibid Prison on September 30, 1943.  He received a physical which determined he had ulcers on his left leg and was not sent to Japan.  It is not known if Elmer remained at Bilibid or if he was returned to Cabanatuan.
    In July 1944, Elmer's name appeared on another POW draft to Japan.  The POWs were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru on July 17 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 dark the ship was moved from the pier but dropped anchor in the harbor and waited for a convoy to form.  After over 24 hours in the holds, the Japanese finally gave the POWs water and food.
    On July 24, a convoy was ready and the ship sailed as part of it.  The worst thing to happen during this part of the voyage was several POWs were murdered by other POWs.  The convoy also ran into American submarines which sank several of the ships before arriving at Takao, Formosa, on July 27.  After an overnight stay at Takao, the convoy sailed again and arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 3rd.  The POWs were disembarked and taken to a pier and allowed to rest.
    The POWs were broken into detachments and marched to the local train station and boarded a train.  Along the train line, they were dropped off at POW camps.   In Elmer's case, he was taken to Fukuoka Camp #3 which located in Tobata on the Island of Kyushu.  The POWs worked in the Yawata Steel Mills which was located about a half hour from the camp.  They shoveled iron ore, rebuilt the ovens, and were sent into the ovens to clean out the debris.  Since the ovens were hot, because the Japanese would not let them cool off, the POWs worked faster on this detail.  Many of the products from the mill helped the Japanese war effort.  If an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel.  Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters.
    The POWs lived in ten barracks; each barrack could hold 150 men.  In each barrack were two tiers of bunks running along the walls.  Meals for the POWs were small portions of millet at all three meals.  At breakfast, they also received dikon soup.  There was a hospital without any medical supplies.

    Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages.  Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools.  The sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it.
     Three days a month, the POWs were allowed to exchange their worn out clothing for new clothing, but a Japanese guard beat POWs attempting to exchange their clothing.  The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beating.  This resulted in men developing pneumonia.  Some of these POWs died.
    The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water.  During the winter, they often had water thrown on them.  There were two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time.
    Elmer remained in the camp until the end of the war when the camp was liberated on September 11, 1945.  He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment and sailed for the United States on the Simon Bolivar on October 21, 1945.  He was also promoted to Private First Class and Corporal. 

    Elmer reenlisted on January 28, 1946, and served in Korea and Vietnam.  He rose in rank to Sergeant First Class and retired from the Army on July 31, 1972.  He moved to Las Vegas and lived at 2900 South Valley Boulevard.
    Elmer M. Roberts passed away on June 19, 2000, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was buried at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery Boulder City in Section J, Site 1114.


 

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