| Pvt. Ernest L. Sampson Jr. was born on October 21, 1914, in Mercer County, to Ernest L. Sampson Sr. and Eva E. Brown-Sampson. It is known that he had three sisters and three brothers. He left school after his second year of high school to go to work as a farmhand. In 1940, he enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard to fulfill his one year of military service. |
In September 1940, the tank company that Ernest was a member of was designated as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and prepared to be inducted into the Army. The company reported to Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28, 1940. There, they joined three other National Guard tank companies to form the 192nd Tank Battalion. In early 1941, Ernest was transferred to Headquarters Company when it was formed in January 1941.
The unit trained at the base for nearly a year before being sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers. HQ Company's job was to keep the tank companies supplied. At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk without being given a reason. They had expected to return to Ft. Knox.
On the side of a hill at Camp Polk, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. It was at this time, men 29 years, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Those who did resign were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. This battalion had been sent to the fort but had not taken part in the maneuvers. The M3A1 "Stuart" tanks, from the battalion, were also given to the 192nd.
By train, along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, the soldiers traveled to San Francisco, California. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped, and Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station. someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan.
The train made its way north along the Pacific Coast arriving in San Francisco, where the soldiers were taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. The men received physicals and inoculations, and those determined to have minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The battalion was
boarded onto the U.S.A.T.
Hugh L. Scott which sailed on Monday, October 27th, as part of a three ship convoy. After many of the members of the battalion got over their seasickness, they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The
ships arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and the
soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Wednesday, November 5th, the ships sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.
During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam, 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 would soon be at war. The
ships entered Manila Bay at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later in the day. At 3:00 P.M. the soldiers disembarked and most were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those assigned to trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section of the battalion remained at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance, while preparing to take part in maneuvers with the 194th TankBattalion.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.
The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, all the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion's bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as "raindrops" appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The members of HQ Company, who had been having lunch, could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had few weapons that could be used against planes.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ Company's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.
He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
The soldiers proceeded to pile up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. They stayed in their bivouac and waited for orders. At the same time that they were sad, they were also kind of excited and wondered what was going to happen to them.
was at this time that Ernest made the decision to attempt to reach Corregidor.
He and other members of the company made their way to the coast. They found a boat, got the engine running, and convinced the owner, at gun point, to take them to Corregidor. As they approached the island, they signaled it with a flashlight. They finally received a response which told them how to get through the island's mine field.
On the island, Ernest was assigned to an anti-aircraft gun. The Japanese landed, on the island, on May 6th in an all out invasion. It was on that day the he became a Prisoner of War. The men were herded onto a beach which was designated Corregidor POW Camp. He remained there for about a week when the Japanese began moving the POWs to Manila by barge.
The barge took the POWs to a point about 100 yards from the shore. At that point, the POWs jumped into the water and swam to shore. Once on shore, they were taken to a pier which had been damaged during the fighting and filled the holes in the pier with pieces of concrete. After they finished, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and ordered to march.
Having heard from men who had escaped the march out of Bataan what it was like, they feared they would have the same experience. To their surprise the POWs were not abused as badly, and they were marched at a reasonable rate. They marched up Dewey Boulevard in Manila to Bilibid Prison where they remained until they were transferred to Cabanatuan. Ernest remained in the camp for two years.
In Cabanatuan, Ernest was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 3. In the same barracks was Heze Sallee from Harrodsburg.
He was also given the POW number of 8341.
In early 1943, Ernest was selected to go a work detail to an airfield. He became ill and admitted to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison on April 22, 1944. According to the records kept at the hospital, he had been injured and had a contusion on his right knee. He was discharged and returned to the detail.
On July 10, 1944, Ernest was again admitted to Bilibid and admitted to hospital ward from what the medical staff called the "Army Air Group." The records show that he had a contusion on his right knee. He was treated and discharged on July 13th and sent back to the Army Air Detail.
When the detail ended, the POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila and put into the holds of the Nissyo Maru. The ship was boarded on July 17th and moved into the harbor the same day and dropped anchor. It sat in the harbor, at the breakwater, for a week. During this time, the haul of the ship became hot, from the sun, raising the temperature inside the hold to over 100 degrees.
On July 24th, the ship sailed as part of a convoy as part of a convoy. On the 26th, the ships were attacked by three American submarines. That night, there was a huge explosion and the POWs saw the flames shoot over the hatch since the hold was not covered. The ships arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27th. After an overnight stay, the ships sailed, the next day, arriving at Moji, Japan, on August 3rd. The POWs were disembarked on the pier and formed into 100 men detachments before being marched to the train station. There they boarded trains and were taken to, in Ernest's case, Narumi
The POWs in the camp were used as slave labor for the Daido Electric Steel Company and manufactured wheels for Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company. The POWs did manual labor, but those who could operate lathes or milling machines were given jobs using those skills.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in barracks that were 25 feet wide by 140 feet long. Each prisoner had a sleeping space of six feet. The POW food varied and sometime was hulled rice, hulled wheat, and hulled koliang.
To get to the plant, the POWs had to ride a train with the Japanese civilians. The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars which the POWs collected. The POWs who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts to make smoke.
The common punishment given to the POWs was to be beaten and kicked while standing at attention. Having their clothing stripped from them, and being made to stand at attention for long periods of time. Since a certain number of POWs were needed to work each day, the sick POWs who could stand were forced to work.
It was also at this camp that Ernest witnessed a prisoner put to death for stealing. One night, the man crawled into the camp kitchen to steal food. For whatever reason, the man did not get out. Realizing he would be caught, he attempted to kill himself. The Japanese allowed the man to heal and then made him stand naked in front of the other POWs. The Japanese then proceeded to starve the man to death.
In the little free time that the POWs had, they would sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. This was one of the things that Ernest believed helped him to survive as a POW. Some POWs even wrote down the meals into cook books.
As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp. As they went to work, the POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from the air raids. One air raid destroyed the train station. As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters.
One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in, but no prisoners were killed because the attack came at night. It was not too long after this that the POWs heard that they were going to be moved to another camp.
One day, the POWs heard that the emperor was going to speak to his people on the radio over loudspeakers. Through the interpreter, the POWs learned of the surrender when he told them "Between your country and mine we are now friends." The camp was turned over to the POWs and the guards vanished. The guards left behind their weapons so the POWs posted guards to protect themselves against any possible attack. The POWs also marked the camp with "PW" so that it could be spotted by American planes. The B-29s began dropping fifty gallon barrels of supplies to the former prisoners on September 2, 1945.
The strangest experience for the former prisoners was the fact the Japanese now insisted on bowing to them. It also seemed a little strange to them that the Japanese brought all the food dropped by the B-29s to them without taking anything for themselves. This was strange to the men, because they knew that the Japanese civilians did not have much more to eat than the former POWs.
American troops entered the camp on September 4th, and on September 12th, the former POWs received orders to move south. They boarded trains and went to southern Japan, where they boarded the USS Rescue for medical treatment.
Ernest was returned to the Philippines were he received additional medical treatment. After it was determined he was healthy, he was returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Admiral Hughes which sailed in September 1945 and arrived at Seattle, Washington on October 9, 1945. From there was taken to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis for more medical treatment. He returned to Harrodsburg and was discharged on April 8, 1946. Ernest married Sadie McRay and became the father of two sons and worked as a farmer.
Ernest Sampson passed away on December 1, 2001, in Mercer County and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.