Thomas_C

 

T/Sgt. Clarence Harry Thomas


    T/Sgt. Clarnece H. Thoms was born in Hartline, Washington, on march 18, 1918.  As a child his family moved to Salinas, California, where he attended local schools.  He was a 1937 graduate of Salinas High School.  In 1936, while he was still in high school, he joined the California National Guard in Salinas.  He was a produce farmer and lived at 105 East Gabilan Street, Salinas.  On February 10, 1941, Clarence was called to federal service when the Salinas tank company became C Company, 194th Tank Battalion.  After induction, the company was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington for training.

    On August 15, 1941, the decision was made, at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, that the 194th would be sent to the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over the Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots - whose plane was lower that the others - 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 flagged buoys that lined up with a Japanese held island - hundreds 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.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
   
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area the buoys had been picked up, and a fishing boat, carrying the buoys, was seen heading toward shore.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not stopped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

    On September 9, 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, rode a train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands.  They were ferried to Ft. McDowell, Angel Island by the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, and received physicals and inoculations 
    The battalion boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands.  To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks.  They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
    After leaving Hawaii at 5:00 P.M., 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 that 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 ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date became Thursday, September 18.  They entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, 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.
    The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed.  They were met by  Colonel Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed.  On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
    Being assigned to HQ, he remained behind in Manila, with the company, to unload the tanks.  Because the hold was not very high, the turrets of the tanks had been removed so they would fit into the hold.  This job was not completed until 9:00 A.M. the next day.
    The M-3 tanks that the battalion had were new to them.  The fact they arrived in the Philippines, in late September, allowed the tank crews to learn about their tanks.  What also helped was 17th Ordnance had worked on the tanks while training at Ft. Knox. The tank battalion was still training at Ft. Stotsenburg the first week of December 1941.
    On December 1st, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field.  Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers.  The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November, guarded the southern half.  Two crew men remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. 
    The morning of December 8, 1941, ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the Provisional Tank Group were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At 12:30 the planes landed and their pilots went to lunch.
    Clarence was assigned to HQ Company Headquarters as a clerk.  Around 12:45 in the afternoon, he looked outside and suddenly became excited.  He shouted to 1st Lt. Ted Spaulding to look at all the planes and commented that whoever said they had no planes was wrong.  The two men were counting the planes when they heard the sound of a bomb falling and heard the explosion.  When the bombers were finished, they were quickly followed by Japanese fighters from an aircraft carrier.
    The tanks of the 194th were ordered  to Mabalacat.  They remained there until December 12, when A Company was sent north to the Agno River area.  C Company was sent south of Manila to southern Luzon.

    For the next four months, Clarence spent the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands.  When it became apparent to Gen. Edward King that the situation was hopeless, he sent this staff officers to negotiate surrender terms with the Japanese.  The tankers received the order "bash," sometime between 6:30 and 6:45 on April 9th, and destroyed anything that had military value for the Japanese.  To destroy their tanks, they circled them, fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of each tank, opened the gasoline cocks in the crew compartments, and dropped hand grenades into them.  Once this was done, they were ordered to Provisional Tank Group Headquarters and ordered to remain there.
    The company remained in its bivouac until April 10th when the Japanese arrived.  Ben now was officially a Prisoner of War.  HQ Company was ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2.  At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march.  They made their way from the former command post, and at first found the walk difficult.  When they reached the main road, walking became easier.  At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M.  The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
    When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher, were separated from the enlisted men and the lower ranking officers.  The higher ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani.  The lower ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having march through Abucay and Samal.
    At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.  Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given few breaks.  When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
    When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier.  At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet.  After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lurao.  It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
    The men were marched until 4:00 P.M., when they reached San Fernando.  Once there, they were herded into a bull pen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men.  One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and received a box of rice that was divided among the  men.  Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
    At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men.  From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights."  Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor.  At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died - during the trip - fell to the floors of the cars.  As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.

    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino military camp that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.  The Japanese estimated that the camp could hold from 15,000 to 20,000 POWs.  When the men arrived at the camp they were searched and those found to have any Japanese items on them were separated from the other POWs and accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers.  They were taken to the guardhouse and held there until they were taken to as area southeast of the camp and shot.
    The other POWs had any extra clothing taken away from them and the Japanese did not return it to them.  Since there was no water available for washing clothes, since the POWs could not bathe and their clothing became soiled, they threw it away.  They also stripped the dead of their clothing before they were buried.  Most of those who were ill and in the camp hospital had little to no clothing.  In addition, there was no water to wash the mess kits.
    The only water in the camp came from one spigot which the Japanese guards would arbitrarily turn off.  If it was turned off, the next man in line for a drink could wait as long as 4 hours for it to be turned on again.  The average wait for one drink of water was from 2 to 8 hours.  For cooking rice, the water was carried from a river located 3 miles from the camp.  The Japanese installed a second water spigot which made things better.
    The POW bathrooms were slit trenches which quickly overflowed since most of the POWs had dysentery or diarrhea.  Flies from the latrines where everywhere in the camp including the kitchens and on the food which caused disease to spread.
    The camp hospital had no soap or disinfectant.  When senior ranking American doctor wrote a letter to the Japanese commandant of the camp, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, stating the medical supplies he needed, he was told never to write another letter, and that the only thing that he wanted from the hospital were the names and serial numbers of the dead.
    When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross offered a 150 bed hospital for the POWs in the camp, a Japanese second lieutenant slapped him in the face.  When the Catholic Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medicine to the camp, the Japanese turned the truck away.  Medicine sent by the Philippine Red Cross was appropriated by the Japanese for use on their troops.  The medical staff at the hospital did surgery with mess kit knives since their were no medical supplies.  For every six medics assigned to work in the hospital, only one man was healthy enough to perform all his duties.
    The death rate in the camp rose to 50 men dying each day.  Each morning, the POWs collected the bodies of the dead, which were found all around the camp and carried them to the camp hospital.  There, the bodies were placed under the hospital awaiting burial which usually took two to three days.  To clean the dirt under the hospital, the POWs moved the dead, scrapped the ground and spread lime on the soil.  They moved the bodies back into the area and repeated the process where the bodies had lain while they were cleaning the other area.
    A burial detail worked daily to bury the dead.  Two POWs carried a body, in a sling to the camp cemetery and placed it in a shallow grave.  The graves were shallow because the water table was high, and as they dug the graves, the graves would quickly start to fill with water.  To hold the body down in the grave a POW used a pole while the other men threw dirt on the body.
    Daily work details left the camp to cut fire wood for the POW kitchen and to perform other duties for the Japanese.  Long term work details also were sent out, and many of the POWs volunteered to go out on them so that they could escape the camp.
    The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so the opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  The morning of June 1, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched out of the camp to Capas.  As the POWs marched, the Filipinos gave them small bundles of food.  The Japanese guards did not stop the Filipinos.  At Capas, the POWs were put in steel boxcars and rode the train to Calumpit, where it was switched to the track to Cabanatuan.  
    The POWs disembarked the train and were put into a school yard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup.  Afterwards, they marched to Cabanatuan POW Camp.  The new camp had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army and was previously known as Camp Panagaian.
    The camp was actually three separate camps.  Camp #1 was were those men who had been POWs at Camp O'Donnell were sent.  Camp #2 was four miles away from Camp 1, and because of its water problem closed quickly.  It was later reopened and house Naval POWs.  Camp #3 was six miles from Camp 2 and later housed the POW from Corregidor, from the hospitals on Bataan, and those who had been at Camp 2.  These POWs were generally in better shape then the men who had taken part in the march.  Frank was assigned to Barracks 10 at Camp 1.
    Details at Camp 1 went out daily to cut wood for the camp kitchens, plant rice, and farm.   Each morning, when the POWs lined up for roll call, it was common practice, of the Japanese guards, to kick the POWs in their shins with their hobnailed boots.  They also, for no apparent reason, frequently hit the POWs, as they stood at attention, with a pick handle as they counted off.
    The POWs who went out on the rice planting detail had to get their tools from a tool shed.  As they left the shed, it was the common practice of the guards, to hit the POWs, on the top of their heads.  If a guard on the detail decided that a POWs was not working hard enough, he was beaten.  They also would push the man's face into the mud and stepped on his head to force it down deeper.  The POWs returning from the details often were able to smuggle food, medicine, and tobacco into the camp.
    The POWs were underfed and typical meal was 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn.  This resulted in many becoming ill since they could not fight off illnesses.  The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards which each holding 40 men.  It was more common for them to have 100 men in them.  A ward had two tiers of bunks with the sickest POWs lying on the lower bunk.  Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in.  A hole was cut into the platforms so that those suffering from dysentery could relieve themselves without leaving the tier.
    Zero Ward, which is where those who had little or no hope of recovering, were sent.  It got its name because it was missed when the wards were being counted.  The Japanese were so afraid of becoming ill from being near the building that they put up a fence around it and would not go near it.

    It is not known when Clarence was selected to leave Cabanatuan, but he was sent to Davao, Mindano.  It should be noted that two ships transported POWS to Davao.  The first, the Interisland Steamer left Manila for Davao on July 1, 1942.  The ship arrived at Davao on July 9th with 200 POWs.

    The second ship which Clarence may have been a POW on was the Erie Maru.  The ship sailed for Davao on October 28, 1942.  After stops at Iloilo and Cebu City, the ship arrived at Lasang, Mindanao on November 11th.

     Clarence spent almost two years at Davao. The POWs built runways at an airfield and worked on a farm.  During that time, American forces were making their way toward the Philippines.  Bombings of Japanese installations became a daily occurrence.  It was at this time that the Japanese decided to move the 750 POWs at Davao back to Manila.

    The POWs were taken to Lasang and boarded onto the Yashu Maru.  The ship sailed on June 12, 1944 for Cebu City.  There, the ship waited for the arrival of the Teiryu Maru.  After the second ship's arrival, the POWs were transferred to the ship.  The ship sailed for Manila on June 21, 1944 and arrived on June 24.

     From Manila, the POWs were taken to Cabanatuan when the Japanese began to transfer large numbers of POWs to Japan, Clarence was returned to Cabanatuan.  The POWs were later transferred back to Bilibid Prison and examined to determine which prisoners were too ill to be sent to Japan.  Those POWs remained at Bilibid.

    In early July 1944, Clarence and 1009 other POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Canadian Inventor.  On July 4, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa.  The ship also made stops at Keelung, Formosa and Naha, Okanawa before arriving at Moji, Japan on September 1, 1944.  Six POWs died during the trip.

    In Japan, Clarence was first held at Nagoya #5 POW Camp.  The POWs in this camp worked in a factory manufacturing Sulphuric Acid.  Clarence remained in this camp until June 1945 when he was transferred to Toyama Camp.  He arrived in this camp on June 6, 1945.  At this second camp, Clarence and the other POWs worked at a scrap metal smelter.  He remained in this camp until the POWs were liberated on September 5, 1945.
    Clarence was returned to the Philippine for medical treatment.  When it was determined he was healthy, he boarded the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman and arrived at San Francisco on October 3, 1945.  After arriving, he was sent to Letterman General Hospital. 

    After the war, Clarence remained in the army.  He attended school at Ft. Holabird and the Salinas Language School.  He was stationed at various cities in the United States as a CIC Agent. He returned to Japan, did two tours of duty in Korea, and served on Okinawa.  In December 1960, he retired from the army as a Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class.

    Clarence worked for the State of California and the U. S. Post Office.  He married and became the father of two daughters.  He was a resident of Turlock, California.  In 1979, he received a Bachelors Degree from Stanislaus State University.

    Clarence H. Thomas passed away on May 19, 1999, in Turlock, California.  He was buried at San Joaquin National Cemetery in Plot:  3   Row:  0   Grave:  649.


 

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