|Lt. Col. Thaddeus Elmer
Lieutenant Colonel Thaddeus E. Smith was born on
November 14, 1901, in Tavares, Florida, to Thaddeus
Smyth & Martha Dykes-Smyth. It is known he
had two sisters and one brother.
Smyth enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private on July 20, 1916, and was assigned to Company H, 60th Infantry Division during World War I. On July 18, 1921, he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated on June 12, 1925, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army.
It appeared that Smyth was married three times. His first marriage produced two sons and one daughter. On July 1, 1926, he married Eleanor W. Gildart. The couple became the parents of a son. The couple would later divorce, and on May 13, 1941, he married Jessie M. Thomas.
As a second lieutenant, he was sent to Schofield Barracks, arriving in Hawaii on May 30, 1929, where he was in charge of training boxers for the 19th Infantry. On March 26, 1931, he was promoted to first lieutenant and on March 31st, transferred to Ft. Benning, Georgia, to attend infantry school. He sailed from Hawaii on June 9th. In 1932, he took an Officers' Course in tanks and later taught at the school at Ft. Benning. On April 30, 1933, he was transferred to Ft. Snelling, Minnesota, and assigned to the Sixth Tank Battalion. He was promoted on March 31, 1936, to captain. He was next stationed, transferred to Vancouver Barracks, Washington, on March 12, 1939. On February 10, 1941, he was promoted to major and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, as an officer with Company G, 7th Infantry Division, until he was transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion.
The battalion traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they boarded the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, which took them to Ft.MacDowell on Angel Island. On the island they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment and those men with medical issues were replaced.
On September 8th, they were boarded onto the U.S.S. Calvin Coolidge and sailed at 9:00 P.M. the same night. The morning of Saturday, September 13th, the ship arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii. The soldiers were allowed to go ashore but had to back on the ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. station and rode a train to Ft. Stotsenburg.
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, and an unknown destroyer which 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 Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26th, 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.
At the fort, the soldiers were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King who apologized that they had to live in tents. He made sure that they were settled in his bivouac before he left. The soldiers spent the next few months taking part in maneuvers and maintaining their weapons.
The morning of December 8th, the battalion was ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. At around 2:00 AM, the news had been received of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just ten hours earlier. The battalion was stationed at Ft. Stostenburg near Clark Field. It is believed that ir was at this time that Smyth was transferred to the Provisional Tank Group as the executive officer for the tank group.
That morning the sky was filled with American planes. At 12:30 PM, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. As the tankers watched, a formation of planes approached the airfield from the north. They saw what looked like tiny raindrops falling from the planes. When the bombs began exploding on the runways, they new the planes were Japanese. Little was left of the Army Air Corps.
In February 1942, Smyth was promoted to Lt. Colonel and transferred to the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters, but what specific duties he had is not known.
The Filipino and American troops fought the Japanese slowly losing ground. By March, they had fought to a standstill. It was at this time that the Japanese brought fresh troops into the battle and lunched an all out offensive.
The evening of April 8, 1942, the tankers received the order "crash." This meant they were to destroy their tanks and weapons and prepare to become Prisoners of War. The next morning Smyth and the rest of the tank group were Prisoners of War.
On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. It was at this time that Smyth witnessed "Japanese Discipline." If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
When the trial ended, the POWs were on reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separated the officers from the enlisted men. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier. The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a school yard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset. They were made to march as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12th at three in the morning.
At Orani, the POWs were put in a bull pen and ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 that evening, John resumed the march and wrote that this part of the march was different. The POWs were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs make their way to Hormosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete. John found that this change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets. John received one of these jabs.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain. John wrote the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13th, he arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a pen. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was a death trap since the POWs had no medicines to treat the sick. The death rate rose to as high as 55 men a day. The dead were carried in slings to the cemetery and buried in shallow graves since the water table was high. The POWs held the bodies down in the water with poles until they were covered with dirt. In the morning, when the men returned to bury more dead, they found that wild dogs had dog up the bodies or that they were sitting up in their graves. The Japanese finally opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan to lower the death rate.
When the Japanese transferred all the generals to Manchuria, Smyth was of the tank group. As it turned out, he would give up the command to Lt. Col. Ernest B, Miller who had been commissioned before him. Smyth was held at Cabanatuan until August 1944 when he was sent to Bilibid Prison where he remained until December 13th.
The morning of December 12th, the POWs heard rumors that the POWs who had been selected to be transported from the Philippines. The Japanese were attempting to evacuate as many POWs as possible so they could not be liberated by advancing American forces.
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 AM the morning of December 13th, Smyth and the other POWs were awakened. By 8:00 AM, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. 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.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay.
It was at this time that the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship's afthold. Being the first on meant that they would suffer many deaths. Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, "The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air." The POWs who were closer to the hold's hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, "Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, 'Have some of this chow? It's good.' I smelled of it, it was not chow. 'All right' he said, 'If you don't want it. I'm going to eat it.' And a little later I heard him eating it , right beside me."
At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for awhile. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As light began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold, put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrap it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
The POWs received their first meal at dawn. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three fourths of a cup of water was shared by 20 POWs. It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
At first it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit, had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, "I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us."
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes' engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties.
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, "There's a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there." Barr would never reach Japan. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes were ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterwards, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only .30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs. During the attack Chaplain Cummings, a Catholic priest, led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship's had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped. At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15th and the POWs sat in the ship's holds for hours after dawn. The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water. At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, "All go home; speedo!" He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. Suddenly, he looked up and shouted, "Planes, many planes!" As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, "I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air."
In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold a Catholic priest, Father Duffy, began to pray, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship's captain remained on board. He told the POWs - with his limited English - that they needed to get off the ship to safety. The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened up on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water, but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court. The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end. They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man. When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again.
The POWs were held on the tennis court from December 15th until December 20th. During this time they received little to no food and water. Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched the attacks. The POWs watched the planes go into dives, release their bombs, and hit their targets. Some of the planes dove over the POWs and released their bombs. The POWs watched them float past the tennis courts and hit the intended target.
Twenty-two trucks arrived the morning of December 20th, and the POWs were loaded into the trucks arriving at San Fernando, Pampanga, between four and five the next evening. After they disembarked the trucks, they were housed in a dark movie theater.
On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando. Pampanga. The doors were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and, later, on a beach at San Fernando, La Union. During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of these men died.
The remaining prisoners were returned to Manila where they boarded another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru, or the Brazil Maru, on December 27th. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and dropped anchor, in the harbor, around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942.
During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal a day which resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6th, the POWs on the ship were transferred to the forward hold of the Oryoku Maru. The POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The POWs on the ship were taken to Formosa. There, the ship was tied to a buoy next another Japanese ship. On January 9, 1945, the POWs had just eaten their first meal when American planes from the U. S. S. Hornet attacked the Enoura Maru. Being next to another ship made it a desirable target. During the attack, a bomb exploded in the hold Harley was being held in. The explosion killed and wounded over 438 of prisoners. The dead remained in the hold for several days, until the Japanese organized a burial detail which put the bodies on a barge that took them to shore. The POWs were too weak to lift the dead, so ropes were tied to their legs and the bodies were dragged to shore and buried on a beach at Takao.
On January 14, 1945, Smyth was boarded onto the "hell ship" the Brazil Maru which left Formosa and arrived in Moji, Japan, on January 30, 1945. Once the ship had docked, Smyth was sent to Fukuoka #1. On Monday, March 5, 1945, he was reported to have died from malnutrition and was buried in the camp cemetery.
After the war, the remains of the POWs who died had Fukuoka #1 were returned to the United States. On September 27, 1949, the remains were buried in Plot 82, Site 1B - 1D at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Of the original 1619 men who boarded the Oryoku Maru in the Philippines, under 500 POWs survived to the end of the war. Major Thaddeus Smith was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Return to HQ Company