Pvt. Earl Ray Simpson
Pvt. Earl R. Simpson was born on November 27, 1917, to Percy H. Simpson & Myrtle A. Leap-Simpson in Ashland County, Kentucky. It is known that he had a twin sister, and that he was called “Ray” by his family and friends. With his three sisters and six brothers, he grew up in Ashland, Kentucky. Like many others of the time, he left school after the eighth grade. He worked as an automobile mechanic. On August 9, 1939, he married to Wanda Workman and became the father of a daughter.
On January 30, 1941, Ray was inducted into the U.S. Army in Huntington, West Virginia and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. After basic training, he was assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion as a tank mechanic.
At some point after Ray was assigned there, A Company of the battalion was designated as the 17th Ordnance Company. Ray became a member of the new unit. The company trained on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
In the late summer of 1941, the decision had been made to build up the American forces in the Philippines. The company was sent by train to San Francisco and then ferried to Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated. Any man found unfit for overseas duty, was transferred out of the company and replaced.
On September 8th, the ship sailed for Hawaii. It arrived there on the September 13th and the soldiers were given day passes. At 5:00 P.M. on the same day, the ship sailed for the Philippines.
The ship was escorted by a cruiser, the USS Astoria on this part of the trip. The ships also sailed a southerly route to avoid the normal shipping lanes. It arrived in Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. on September 26th.
After the ship docked, it was 17th Ordnance job to unload the tanks, of the 194th Tank Battalion, from the ship. The members of the company had to attach the turrets to the tanks. They had been removed because the tanks could not fit into the hold with them on the tanks.
When the members of the company arrived at Ft. Stotsenburg, they found themselves living in tents between the fort and Clark Airfield. After they arrived at the fort, they helped the members of the 194th ready their tanks for use. On December 8, 1941, the tanks of the 194th and the 192nd Tank Battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard it against Japanese paratroopers. This was just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The members of 17th Ordnance remained in the battalion’s bivouac.
At 12:45 in the afternoon, planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. Ray and the other members of the company took cover since they were not equipped to fight planes. After the attack, which lasted about 15 minutes, they saw the damage that had been done.
For the next four months, Ray and the other members of 17th Ordnance worked to keep the tanks running. This. at times, meant that they had to cannibalize tanks that could not be repaired. The longer the Americans held out, their food rations were cut further.
The night of April 9, 1942, the soldiers heard the order "crash." This meant that the company was to destroy their ammunition and anything that the Japanese could use. After this was done, the soldiers waited until the Japanese made contact. When they made contact, Ray and his company were officially Prisoners of War.
It is not known when the Japanese arrived in the bivouac of 17th Ordnance and on what date they made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It is known that the company made its way north toward San Fernando. The first five miles of the march were uphill which was extremely hard on underfed, sick men.
When the members of the company arrived at San Fernando, they were put into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars, known as forty and eights, could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese put 100 POWs into each car which meant they had no room to move. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From Capas, the POWs made their way to Camp O’Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. The death rate among the POWs increased the longer the POWs were in the camp. It reached the point that even the Japanese realized that something had to be done. They opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
Being a healthier POW, Ray was sent to Cabanatuan. He remained in the camp until the late 1944. One day, his name appeared on a list of POWs who were being sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila. On October 14th, Ray was sent to Bilibid.
Rumors stated that a detachment of POWs was going to be sent out. On December 8th, a list of names was posted. These POWs were given physicals. On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 A.M. the morning of December 13th, the other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men who had been selected for transport to Japan. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
At the harbor, the POWs saw that American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a rundown ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered that one of the two nicer ships was theirs.
The POWs were allowed to sit. Many fell asleep and slept to around 3:45. About 5:00 P.M., the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. It is not known in which hold Warren was held in, but the sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around the diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it.
The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water.
The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 that afternoon. Meals of the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water. Three fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs.
The prisoners had just eaten when they heard the sounds of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill. The waves caused by the explosions caused the ship to rock.
It is not known when, but Ray died during the attack on the Oryoku Maru. He may have been killed in the ship's hold from ricocheting bullets or from shrapnel from exploding bombs. He may have been killed by Japanese fire as he swam to shore. Whatever was the cause of his death, Pvt. Earl R. Simpson was reported to have died on December 15, 1944, during the sinking of the Oryoku Maru at Olongapo, Philippine Islands.
After the war, the name of Pvt. Earl R. Simpson was placed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.