Pvt. Reid Thompson Shewmaker
| Pvt. Reid T.
Shewmaker was born on June 7, 1914, in Washington
County, Kentucky, to James L. Shewmaker and Ina
Rae Sims-Shewmaker. It is known that he had
a half-brother, two brothers, and one
sister. Like many others of his time, he
left school, after eighth grade, and worked as a
In 1940, the draft act had been passed and Reid, like many other young men, wanted to fulfill his military obligation. In September 1940, the Kentucky National Guard's Tank Company that was headquartered in Harrodsburg received orders that it was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion for one year of military service. Knowing he was going to be drafted, Reid joined the tank company to fulfill his military obligation.
The company rode a train to Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28, 1940, where it joined three other National Guard Tank Companies to form the battalion. When the soldiers arrived at Ft. Knox, they lived in tents since their barracks had not been finished. It is not known what specialized school Reid attended, but it is known that in early 1941, he was transferred to the battalion's newly created Headquarters Company.
The battalion trained at the base for nearly a year before being sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. HQ Company's job was to repair tanks and supply them with fuel. At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, without being given a reason why they were being sent there. 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 old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion which 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 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, hundred of miles away, that had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way toward shore. Since, communication between the Air Corps and Navy were 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.
Traveling west over the southern train route, the company made its way 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.
After the train arrived in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where the tankers were immunized and given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some 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. 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 Colonel 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 live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. After making sure they had Thanksgiving Dinner, he left to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the day the National Guardsmen had expected to be released from federal service.
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.
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, all the members of the tank crews were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. 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, as the soldiers ate lunch, 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 could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelter since they had few weapons to 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.
The first contact HQ Company had with the Japanese was when a Japanese officer and soldiers entered their bivouac and ordered the Prisoners of War to go to the road that ran past their encampment. Once on the road, they were made to kneel on both sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted from the Americans. The POWs remained along the sides of the road for hours.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
Sitting, watching, and waiting the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and as he drove off, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Reid's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours without food or water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs, who could do little since they had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two of the POWs were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks and marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars that were known as "forty and eights," because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car, since they had no place to fall. From Capas, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. They believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When the POWs arrived at the camp, they were searched and anyone found with Japanese money were separated from the other POWs and sent to the guardhouse. These POWs were accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. Over several days, gunshots were heard coming from southeast of the camp as they were executed.
The Japanese also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried with them and refused to return it. Since there was no water to wash their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2½ to 8 hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guard in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason, and the next man in line would have to wait up to four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking food had to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess kits could not be cleaned.
Since most of the POWs had dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in flies being everywhere in the camp including the camp kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant which also caused diseases to spread. When the ranking American doctor presented a letter with the medicines and medical supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another letter. He also said that the only thing he wanted to know about the POWs were their names and serial numbers after they died.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese refused to let it into the camp. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a Japanese lieutenant that they could set up an 150 bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the lieutenant. Medicines sent to the camp by the Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own use.
The POWs called the hospital "Zero Ward" because most of the men who entered it never came out alive. The Japanese were so afarid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire fence up around it. The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed with knives from mess kits. Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough to perform his duties.
Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and placed them under the hospital building. To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the ground, put down lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the bodies had been. It took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk, went out on a work detail for the day such as the one collected wood for the POW kitchen. Some POWs went out on work details which lasted for months to get out of the camp. The worse detail a man could be put on was the burial detail. On this detail, two POWs carried a dead man to the camp cemetery. Once there, they put the body in a grave and held the body down with a pole, since the water table was high, and covered it with dirt. The next morning, when the burials resumed, the dead were often sitting up or had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new POW camp.
On June 1, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and were marched to Capas, where they were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division's home.
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 POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.
Reid was in the camp until June 30, 1942, when he was sent to the Port Area of Manila. There, the POWs were put onto an inter-island steamer. The ship sailed on July 1 and arrived at Lasang, Mindanao, on July 9.
The POWs were disembarked and waited three days until the Yashu Maru arrived. They were boarded onto the ship and arrived at Davao, Mindanao, on July 12th and taken to an experimental farming facility.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each of the barracks. In each barracks, there were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay which meant that 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Later, four cages were put in each bay and two POWs slept in each cage.
The discipline in the camp was poor, and the commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to the officers. The situation improved because of majority of the POWs knew they needed to have discipline if they were to survive.
At first the work details were not guarded, and the POW plowed, planted and harvested the crops unsupervised. Those POWs too sick to work in the fields made straw baskets. In 1943, this changed. Those POWs working the rice fields received the worst treatment and were beaten for not making quotas. There were frequent misunderstandings between the POWs and the guards, because the translator could not be trusted to tell the truth. While Reid was at Davao, in February 1943, his family learned he was a POW.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands, the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan, or other occupied countries, as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12 and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse, until they were returned to the dock and boarded onto an unnamed ship that arrived at Manila on June 25.
From the Port Area of Manila, the POWs were taken to Bilibid Prison. Those who were considered healthy were sent to Japan, while those considered sick, including Reid, were held at Bilibid. Medical records from the prison show that he was admitted to the hospital ward on June 26. They also indicate the medical staff believed he had tuberculosis.
Reid was still at Bilibid on February 4, 1945, when the the POWs in Bilibid were liberated by the 148th Infantry Regiment. According to the POWs, the Japanese commander of the prison told them that he and the guards were ordered to leave. He instructed them not to leave the prison for their own protection. The POWs posted guards and waited to see what would happen. Around 7:00 A.M., the sound of someone breaking into the prison was heard. When the soldiers entered, the POWs realized they were Americans. In a letter to his parents, he wrote about this event and said, "I have never been so happy in all my life. I can't express in words the way I felt when our armed forces came in. But I will long remember it."
The POWs were moved to a shoe factory for safety before they were taken to transported to a safer location. After receiving medical treatment and being fattened up, Reid returned to Harrodsburg and told the families of other members of D Company about life as a Japanese POW.
Reid was discharged on November 24, 1945, and he married Mabel L. Gritton on June 6, 1946. The couple of became parents of a daughter. After the war, he was employed by the Mercer County School District.
Reid Shewmaker passed away on September 1, 1983, in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. He was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.