Saccone_E

 

1st Sgt. Ero R. Saccone


    1st Sgt. Ero "Ben" R. Saccone was born March 3, 1912, in the Barbary Coast area of San Francisco.  He was the first generation American and the son of Italian immigrants.  In 1929, he joined the California National Guard's 40th Tank Company.  In 1939, Ben married Beatrice Tuttle and moved to 338 Church Street in Salinas.  He became the father of three children and worked at a service station.  

    On February 10, 1941, Ben was called to federal service when his tank company became C Company, 194th Tank Battalion.  At this time, he was a staff sergeant.  He would later be promoted to first sergeant which meant that Ben was the highest enlisted man in the company.  He with his company were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington for training. I
    On August 15, 1941, at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the 194th received orders for duty in the Philippine Islands because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
    The next morning, by the time another squadron was sent to the area the next day, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore.  Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    In September 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  Arriving, by train, at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, they were taken by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment.  Those men found with medical conditions were replaced.
    The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands.  To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13th at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
    After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, that and an unknown destroyer that were its escorts.  During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke.  Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
    The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18.  They entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later.  The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field.  The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.
    The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed.  They were met by  General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed.  On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
    On December 1, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field.  Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers.  The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November guarded the southern half.  Two crew men remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the battalion was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  Just hours early, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.  As the tankers guarded the airfield, they watched American planes flying in every direction.  At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch.  It was 12:45, and as the tankers watched, a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    The night of the 12/13, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge.  Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13.
    It was at this time that C Company was ordered to support forces in southern Luzon.  The company proceeded through Manila.  Since they had no air cover, most of their movements were at night.  As they moved, they noticed lights blinking or flares being shot into the air.  They arrived at the Tagaytay Ridge and spent time their attempting to catch 5th columnists.
    They remained in the area until December 24, when they moved over the Taal Road to San Tomas and bivouacked near San Paolo and assisted in operations in the Pagbilao-Lucban Area supporting the Philippine Army.  One of the most dangerous things the tanks did was cross bridges with a ten ton weight limit.  Each tank weight 14 tons, so they crossed the bridges one tank at a time.  On the 30, the company supported the withdrawal of the Philippine Army south of San Fernando on Route 3 and rejoined the battalion on December 31st. 
    The tanks withdrew through San Fernando at 2:00 A.M. on January 2, and fell back to the Lyac Junction.  The two tank battalions were holding a line between Culis and Hermosa. The tanks withdrew from the line the night of the 6/7.  While doing this, the maintenance section of the battalions repaired abandoned trucks to use to haul food and the gasoline caches they found and bring it into Bataan.  That night, the 194th crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek, covered by the 192nd, and entered Bataan.
    The company, with A Co., 192nd Tank Battalion, withdrew from the Guagua-Perac Line to Remedio where they established a new defensive line on January 5.  That afternoon, C Company, supported by four self-propelled mounts stopped a Japanese advance which kept the road open for withdrawing forces.
    The next night, the tanks were holding the line when the Japanese attempted to infiltrate under a bright moon.  The tanks opened fire resulting in the Japanese losing half of their troops.  In an attempt to cover their advance, the Japanese used smoke which blew back on them.  The battle lasted until the Japanese broke off the attack at 3:00 in the morning.  After this, there was a two day lull in the fighting.
    A Composite tank company was formed from the tank battalions and given the job of protecting the East road north to Hermosa.  This was a dangerous job since the tanks were in range of Japanese artillery.  The other tanks were ordered to a bivouac south of the Abubucay-Hacienda Line.
    The tanks formed a new bivouac just south of the Pilar-Bagao Road and had a few days rest.  While they rested, 17th Ordnance and the maintenance sections of the battalion did long overdue work on the tanks.  Also around this time, the tank companies were reduced to ten tanks so that tanks could be given to D Company, 192nd, which had lost its tanks after a bridge had been destroyed before they had crossed it.
    C Company and D Company, 192nd, were sent to the Cadre Road on the 12th but returned on the 13th because ordnance had planted landmines which made reaching the road impossible.  C Company was sent to Bagac, on the 16th, to reopen the West Highway Road that had been cut by the Japanese, so troops trapped behind the road block could escape.  A platoon of tanks at the Moron Highway and Trail 162 knocked out an anti-tank gun, and with the help of infantry, cleared the roadblock.
    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."
    Both tank battalions held a line along the Balanga-Cardre Road-Banobano Road, so that other units could withdraw which was completed by midnight.  They held the line until the night of the 26th/27th when they withdrew and formed a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Road.
    At about 9:45 A.M., a Filipino civilian came down the road and warned the tankers that a Japanese force was on its way.  The tanks, with four SPMs opened up on the Japanese when they appeared.  The fighting lasted 45 minutes when the Japanese withdrew having suffered 50 percent casualties.  This action prevented the Japanese from overrunning the new defensive line which was still being formed.
    The tank battalions were given beach duty so that the Japanese could not land troops behind the main line of defense.  The half-tracks of the battalions patrolled the roads.  At 2:50 A.M., a Japanese motorized unit was head coming down the road with its lead vehicle having dimmed headlights.  The 194th had a roadblock in place with guns aimed at various angles.  When they opened up, they caused heavy damage to the Japanese column.
    It was also at this time that the tank battalions, without orders, took on the job of protecting three airfields.  The airfields had been built so a rebuilt Air Corps would have places to land.  About the same time, the fighting on Bataan came to a standstill since the Japanese troops were exhausted and suffering from the same tropical illnesses as the defenders.  To end the stalemate, the Japanese brought in fresh troops from Singapore.
    The Japanese lunched an all out offensive on April 3rd breaking through the line of defense held by II Corps.  The 194th moved its companies to support the defenders along the line from the East Coast Road and to the west.  The tanks repeatedly were sent to areas where the Japanese had broken through which was difficult to do since the roads were clogged with retreating vehicles.
    It was at this time that the 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."
    General Edward King announced at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6000 sick and wounded and 40,000 civilians.  He also estimated that less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and would hold out for one more day.  He ordered his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender.
    Between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M. on April 9, 1942, the order "CRASH" was issued.  The tankers destroyed their tanks and waited for orders from the Japanese.  The members of the 194th were ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2.

    At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march.  They made their way from the former command post, and at first found the walk difficult.  When they reached the main road, walking became easier.  At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M.  The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
    During this part of the march to reach the main road out of Bataan, the POWs noted that they were treated well by the Japanese who were combat hardened troops.   Their guards were surprised that they had surrendered and treated them fairly well.  It was at Limay that the treatment they received would change.
    When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher, were separated from the enlisted men and the lower ranking officers.  The higher ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani.  The lower ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having march through Abucay and Samal.
    At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.  Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given few breaks.  When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
    When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier.  At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet.  After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lurao.  It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
    The men were marched until 4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando.  Once there, they were herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men.  One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among the  men.  Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
    At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men.  From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor.  At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died - during the trip - fell to the floors of the cars.  As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
    The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base.  The Japanese pressed the camp 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.
    The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp.  When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies 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.  Since the death rate at the camp was extremely high, Ben volunteered to go out on a bridge building detail to get out of the camp.

    This detail was also under the command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  The detail was composed of 300 Prisoners of War whose job it was to rebuild bridges that had been destroyed during the American retreat.  150 of the POWs were selected to work at a sawmill to produce the lumber that would be needed to rebuild the bridges.  Ben was given the job of mess sergeant on the detail. 

     Ben first worked at Calaun.  There the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication.  They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.

    The detail was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge.  Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed.  Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.

    During his time on the detail, Ben became friends with the Japanese soldier who was in charge of the mess for the Japanese engineers. Pvt. Son made sure that Ben received extra meat in his meals.

    While working on the detail, a POW at the sawmill escaped.  Since the Japanese had instituted the "blood brother" policy, ten POWs were selected to be executed.  The Japanese picked the five POWs who slept on both sides of the escaped man.  Lt. Col. Wickord was sent to the sawmill to watch the execution and then tell his men what he had seen.

    The next bridge the POWs were sent to build was in Candelaria.  Once again, the people of the town did what ever they could to help the Americans.  An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner.  Wickord selected the twelve sickest POWs to attend the meal.

    When the detail ended in September, Ben was sent to Cabanatuan which as Camp Panagaian had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division.  This camp was opened to relieve the conditions that had existed at Camp O'Donnell.  During his time in the camp, he worked in the camp farm.  He was also given the job of being military supervisor of the civilian barracks in the camp. 

    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.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  Other POWs worked in rice paddies.  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.  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.  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. 
    The hospital in the camp was amde up of 30 wards, the one for the sickest POWs was known as "Zero" ward.  It got this name because the Japanese forgot to count the building.  The name soon came to mean that any man who was sent there was not going to come out alive.  The Japanese were so afraid of the sick POWs that they put up a fence around the building and would not go near it.

    At some time during 1942, he was hospitalized, but no information was given on medical records kept at the camp.  Ben remained at Cabanatuan until March 5, 1944.

    Ben was taken to Manila and boarded onto the Taikoku Maru.  The ship sailed on March 24th for Takao, Formosa.  After a stop at Formosa, the ship sailed for Japan on April 3rd.  He arrived at Osaka, Japan on April 9th.  The POWs disembarked on April 10th.   From Osaka, Ben was sent to Tokyo #8B.  During his time, he worked in a copper mine owned by Hitachi.  On August 14, 1944, Ben was one of 230 POWs sent to Aisho #8-D.  In this new camp, Ben once again worked in a copper mine.

    Ben remained at Aisho until he was liberated on September 4, 1945.  He returned to the United States and remained hospitalized until September 1947.  He married, Beatrice, and was the father of two daughters and a son.

    Ben took a job with the U. S. Army's medical department.  He was sent to Europe, where he worked in U. S. Hospitals in Germany and France.  He spent six years working at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D. C. and then Letterman Army Hospital.   He retired from the Army on January 1, 1961, as a Chief Warrant Officer Fourth Class.

    Ben returned to California and was involved in veteran affairs.  He resided in San Jose.  Edward R. Saccone passed away at his grandson's home in Fresno, California, on February 16, 2007.  He was buried at Garden of Memories Memorial Park in Salinas, California.


 

 

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