Thompson_J

 

Pvt. James C. Thompson


    Pvt. James C. Thompson was born on May 3, 1917, in Trigg, Kentucky, to Minnie Mathis-Thompson & Herbert E. Thompson, and known as "Curly" to his friends.  As a child, he grew up in Eddyville, Kentucky, with his five brothers and two sisters.  On January 22, 1941, he inducted into the U. S. Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky and assigned to D Company to fill-out its roster after men had been transferred to Headquarters Company.

    In September, the 192nd Tank Battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from the 1st through 30th.  After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas at part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours most men had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manial.  Men who were 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service and replaced. 

    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, whose plane was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water.  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, with a Japanese occupied island hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter on it.  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 night.
    The next day, another squadron of planes were sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way toward shore.  Since radio communication with the Navy was poor, the boat escaped without being intercepted.

    After a leave home to say goodbye, Curly returned to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  After loading their tanks, which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion, D Company boarded a train west for San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.   On the island, the tankers were given physicals, by the battalion's medical detachment, and those men with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  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.   They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, 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, the transport, S.S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, 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 16th, 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 20th, 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 Gen. 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.  He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
    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.
    After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company.  B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies of the battalion were sent to the Philippines.  The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
    On December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field.  All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch.
    At 12:45, two formations totaling 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew tha planes were Japanese.  Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the American Army Air Corps.
    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.
    One of the results of the attack was that transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed.  The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and Bataan.
    On December 13th, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and guard beaches.  They remained there until December 23rd, when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken.
    The companies were moved again on the 12th to south of San Fernando near the  Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M.  On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.  These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
    On December 22nd, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese.  The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
     Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove.  As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat.  From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units.  The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
    The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26th.  When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area.  One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
    At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank.  It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been destroyed.  The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan.  The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover.  This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.  At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
    The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.  It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each.  This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements,
    At Gumain River, on January 5th, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw.  The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
    The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.  At this time, the food rations were cut in half.
    General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
     A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa.  Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed.  The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed.  The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
    The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road.  While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month.  The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance.  It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon.  This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
    The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw.  Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed.  The mission was abandoned the next day.  Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
    The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry's command post.  On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
    The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts.  At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road.  When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men.  This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land troops.  The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban.  During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy.  At bight they were pulled out onto the beaches.  The battalion's half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
    For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill.  On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them.  While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area.  Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range.  He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's fire.  The Japanese were wiped out.
    Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major offensive on April 4th.  The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance.  On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew.  On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
    It was at this time that Gen. King knowing that the situation was hopeless sent officers to negotiate.  The tanks were instructed that they would hear the order "crash" on their radios, or that it would be given to them verbally.
    When the order was given, the tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front, opened up the gasoline cocks in the crew compartment, and drop hand grenades into each tank.

    On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  Each man made his own decision to surrender or attempt to continue to fight.  Having seen men killed by the Japanese while trying to surrender, James and other members of D Company decided that they would attempt to escape to Corregidor.  To do this, James made a raft from five gallon gasoline cans and a stretcher.  He then paddled it to Corregidor.

    After spending two days in the hospital on the island, James was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, of the Fourth Marines.  He was the number one man in a four man machine gun crew.  Two of the four men on the crew were killed during action against the Japanese the night of May 6.

    James became a Prisoner Of War when Corregidor was surrendered on May 7, 1942.  At this time, a Japanese soldier took his watch and four hundred pesos from him.  He was held on the island for another ten days.  Ten thousand men were confined to an area that was two blocks square.

    The prisoners were taken by boat to Manila.  James recalled there were at least five thousand men on it.  They were next transferred to landing barges which took them to within one hundred yards of the shore.  From there, they had to swim to shore.  Those men who could not swim were helped by those who could.  As far as James knew, no one drowned.

    Having heard the news of the death march, many feared the orders they received to march.  The destination was Bilibid Prison  As James and the other POWs marched, a Japanese officer would ride past them and whip them with his sword.  Those men who fell out, were bayoneted.  

    During his march, Curly was fed two meals and received two half canteen cups of water.  The Filipinos were not allowed to give the prisoners anything to drink.

    James was first held at Bilibid Prison where he was held from May 20th until May 23rd.  This was an old Spanish prison outside of Manila.  While there, the POWs received water and meals of rice twice.

    Curly was then transferred to Cabanatuan #3.  There, he was held from May 23, 1942, until August 1, 1942.  From there, he was sent to Palawan Island for a work detail.  While James was on the island, he received one of the worse beatings as a POW, when he was beaten with a four foot paddle by a Japanese guard.  He remained on the island until June 1943, when he was returned to Manila.  On June 12, 1943, his name appeared on the hospital ledger from Bilibid Prison.  It was recorded that he was admitted to the hospital there with a sprained back.

    On October 7, 1943, James was transferred from Palawan and sent to the Port Area of Manila.  He was boarded onto the Taga Maru for Japan.  There were 300 POWs in the ship's 20 by 40 foot hold.  During the voyage, the POWs were allowed on deck for one hour a day.

    In Japan, James was held as a POW at Niigata #5-B arriving there on October 7, 1943.  The first morning in the camp, the commandant had the men strip their clothes off.  The prisoners then stood in the cold for an hour and a half.  Once they began to turn blue, the commandant addressed them.  He said, "I want you people to know that you are prisoners of war, and you will be treated like prisoners of war and not like guests of Japan."

    While a POW in this camp, the POWs unloaded coal from ships onto a beach.  To do this, the POWs worked on high trestles to unload the coal from the ships into cars. The next day, the prisoners would unload the coal from the cars using baskets.  The POWs were often forced to work barefooted in the winter and in the rain which resulted in men having bruised, cut, and infected feet.  Once a month the prisoners would get one day off.

    Meals for the prisoners often consisted rice.  In the rice were small pebbles which damaged the POWs teeth.  The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks.  To get them to work, the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.James had gone from 160 pounds to 105 pounds.  He recalled that he and the other POWs never were fed enough and that he was always hungry.  

    During his time as a prisoner, James was affected by various diseases.  At one time or another, he had, beriberi or ulcers on his feet.  He also suffered from dysentery while a POW.
   Sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese need a a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks.  To get them to work, the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
    About a month before Curly arrived in camp, the Japanese had begun a routine of taking every fifth POW from morning roll call and making the men bow to the guards.  As they bowed, the guard kicked the men in their faces and hit them in the back of the neck with a club while they were bent over.  They continued doing this to the POWs until March 31, 1944.  The Japanese also created disturbances after the POWs had gone to sleep to deprive them of sleep.

    The International Red Cross visited the Niigata Camp twice.  To prevent the representatives from hearing about the conditions the POWs were living in and the treatment they were receiving, the Japanese would not let the representatives speak to the prisoners.
    The fact was that the Japanese used what was in the Red Cross packages for themselves.  This included medical supplies, bandages, and medicines sent to the POWs.  Only after having taken canned milk, canned meat, and chocolate from the packages, would they be given to the POWs.  The Japanese also used the clothing and shoes sent for POW use for themselves.

    During the three and one half years James was held as a POW, he received only three letters.  The letters were all given to him on the same day. 

    It was while James was a prisoner in this camp that he received another major beating.  In December 1943, James was beaten with a stick by a Japanese civilian who was called "Balmer Sahn".  This was the second major beating that he received while a POW.

    James was liberated on September 5, 1945, and was returned to the Philippines to receive medical treatment and fattened up.  James also was promoted to staff sergeant.  He returned home on the U.S.S. Langfitt at Seattle, Washington, on October 4, 1945.  He was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington.  He was discharged, from the army, on February 2, 1946.  

    James returned to farming after the war, but found that the physical effects of having been a POW made the work extremely hard for him to do.  On February 10, 1946, James married Lavern Thorp and together they raised two sons. He later served as a county sheriff and court judge.

    James C. Thompson passed away on October 10, 1997, in Princeton, Kentucky.  He was buried at Lamasco Baptist Church Cemetery in Lyon County, Kentucky. 

    The picture below was taken of James while he was a POW in Japan. 


 

 

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