Bataan Project

Pvt. Ernest Logan Sampson Jr.

    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 two 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 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. 

    A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress.  Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30.  Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company.  The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
    At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M.  Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating.   At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30.  After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
    The unit trained at the base for nearly a year before being sent to Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30.  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.
    After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning 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.

    The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf 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 that a large radio transmitter.  The island was hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
    The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.   

    By train, along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  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.

    Arriving at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island.   At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment.  Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.  
    The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 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 Dateline.  On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.    

    At the fort, 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 20 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 Tank Battalion.    
    On Monday, December 1, 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 8, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl harbor was given to the tank platoon officers.  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.   Many hid in the dried latrine which was next to their tents.    
    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.
    That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.  They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.

    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.   
    It 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, where he remained in the camp for two years.

    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.
  Ernest was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 3 with Heze Sallee from Harrodsburg.   He was also given the POW number of 8341.    
    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 nine men a day into December and only dropped after the Japanese issued Red Cross Packages at Christmas.  In addition, the POWs changed the latrines from slit trenches to box latrines which slowed the spread of disease.
    In early 1943,
he was selected to go a work detail to an airfield on what was known as the Av. Bu Detail.  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 13 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 17 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 24, 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 27.  After an overnight stay, the ships sailed, the next day, arriving at Moji, Japan, on August 3.  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 Camp #2-B which was also known as Nagoya #2.
    The camp was built on the side of a hill with local lumber with a 8 foot fence around it.  The building - which was 40 feet long and 25 feet wide - was new but poorly built and during the winter the building was cold since it was not insulated and the wind blew though it.  There were three fire pits and two stoves for heat, but the stoves were broken and never were used.  The POWs lived in groups of four men with one man receiving the food ration for the men at each meal.  The POWs slept on straw mats which were 3 feet wide and 6 feet long, and their pillows were canvas stuffed with rice husks.
    At first, the POWs meals seemed to be adequate, but this changed the nearer the end of the war got.  This resulted in the POWs, in the little free time that the POWs to sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home.  He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
    The POWs were used to manufacture wheels for railroad cars at the Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company which was also known as the Daido Electric Steel Company.  One of the things Alva found amazing was that both the Japanese guards and officers found the Americans interesting.  The officers, in particular, were extremely interested in the United States.  Since the Japanese feared punishment, they would seldom show their interest publicly.  If they did show it, they would only do so when there were no other Japanese around the POWs.
    To get to and return from the mill, the POWs rode an electric train - with Japanese civilians - which took a half hour to and from the mill.  The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars.  The Americans who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts.  At the mill, most of the POWs did common labor, but those who had machinist skills were put to work at finishing the wheels. The POWs worked from 6 to 8 hours a day.  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.  He and the other prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
    In December 1944, the area was bombed by B-29s with one bomb hitting the camp and killing a guard.  The roof of the barracks was damaged and the Japanese never repaired it.  Overnight, the treatment of the POWs changed.  The Japanese became extremely brutal with the POWs, especially those caught stealing food.  The common punishment given to the POWs was to be beaten, kicked, hit with sticks, clubs, and rifle butts, while standing at attention outside the guardhouse without food or water from hours to days.  POWs also would be tied with rope, in a crouching position, and left in it for as long as 24 hours.  During the winter, they also had their clothing stripped from them and made to stand at attention for long periods of time in the cold and were denied food and water.
    The clothing the POWs wore was the clothing they were given when they arrived at the camp.  Red Cross clothing sent to the camp was misappropriated by the Japanese who were seen wearing it.  This also was true for Red Cross medical supplies.  The camp doctor, who was a POW, worked with a Japanese enlisted man.  The Japanese soldier had control of all medicines and overruled the doctor on which POWs were too sick to work.  Sick POWs were sent to work since they were needed at the mill.
    As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp.  The POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from air raids to knock out 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.  No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night.  After the attacks, all work was stopped.  Most of the POWs were put to work cleaning debris up at the mill.
    James 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 by hanging himself.  The Japanese allowed the man to heal and than made him stand naked in front of the other POWs.  As he stood there, the Japanese proceeded to starve the man to death.
    In another incident, four POWs who were caught stealing food were beaten with broom handles.  After one bombing, the Japanese wanted the POWs to sign a complaint against the U.S. to the International Red Cross.  Most of the POWs refused so the Japanese slappedthem in their faces with rubber shoes.  This still did not get the POWs to sign the letter.
    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.  
     When the POWs learned of the surrender, they pulled their earnings so the could purchase a bull that the Japanese had used as a work animal.  The negotiated with the Japanese, who let the former POWs have the bull for the equivalence of $5000.00.  They ate the meat for six meals, which was tough, but they refused to share it with the guards.  
    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 U.S.S. 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.


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