Pvt. Ray Collin Underwood

    Pvt. Ray C. Underwood was born on his family's small hill country farm on April 31, 1917, in the Bounds Crossroads Community in Itawamba County, Mississippi.  He was the son of Garvin Underwood and Mattie Lorene Buchanan-Underwood.  With his four sisters, he grew up on the family farm which was east of Fulton, Mississippi.  By 1930, the family was living on Bean Street at Garvin in Fulton, Mississippi, since his father was serving the county as the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

     Ray was enlisted in the U. S. Army in November 1938, and relisted on December 12, 1940.  It is known that he did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.   After basic training he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.  In the summer of 1941, his battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  

    After the maneuvers that were taking place in Louisiana, the 192nd Tank Battalion received orders that it was being sent overseas.  When National Guardsmen from the battalion were released from federal service, Ray either volunteered, or had his name drawn, to join the battalion.  He was assigned to A Company which originally was as a Wisconsin National Guard tank company. 
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered but once they recovered they spent much of the time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KPhey spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP 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 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, the 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, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 
Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    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 worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared for maneuvers.
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle at all times and received their meals from food trucks.  
    On December 8th, during lunch, the "replacements" were ordered to stay with the equipment while the original members of the battalion went to eat.  Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers heard the sound of planes approaching Clark Field from the north.  As they watched the sky, they felt good about the planes in the sky and the protection they were providing them.  "Raindrops" began falling from the planes.  When raindrops began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  Being they had few weapons that could be used against planes. they could do little more than watch the attack. 
    After the bombers were through, Japanese Zeros followed and strafed the airfield.  To the amazement of the tank crews, most of the planes did not attack their tanks.  The few that did had their bombs land between the tanks.
    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, the tankers lived through several more air raids.  Most 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 for the next three and one half years.

    After the attack, the tanks of A Company were ordered to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12th, to protect a road and railway from sabotage.  On December 22nd, A Company was sent to north to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing troops.  Their job was to support B and C Companies which had been sent to the Ligayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the battalion made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but  successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to a line from on the night of December 27th and 28th.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. 
The tank company was east of Concepcion, when it came under enemy fire.  A shell hit Ray's tank and disabled it.  Lt. William Read, having escaped from the tank, was working to evacuate the other members of the tank crew, through the turret, when a second shell hit the tank below where he was standing and mortally wounded him.

    In an attempt to save Lt. Read's life, Pvt. Jack Bruce went for help.  When he did not return, Pvt. Eugene Greenfield also went to find help.  Ray sat with Lt. Read and cradled him in his arms as Read lay dying.  As he sat holding Read, the Japanese overran the area.  On December 30, 1941, Lt. Read died in Ray's arms.  It was on that day that Ray became a Prisoner Of War.

    It is not known where Ray was first held as a POW.  What is known is that the Japanese officers were impressed with the loyalty that Ray had shown Lt. Read and treated him very well.  It was only when the officers were not around that Ray was beaten by the Japanese enlisted men.

    When Cabanatuan was opened, Ray was sent there.  He actually was "fat" compared to the other POWs.  Medical records from the camp's hospital show that Ray was hospitalized on April 6, 1943.  No reason for his hospitalization or date of release is recorded on the records.
    At some point, Ray was sent to Clark Airfield where POWs were extending the runways and building revetments.  Since his name is not on the original POW draft, he appears to have been a replacement for a POW who could no longer work.  Ray became ill and was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison and admitted on May 22, 1944, suffering from conjunctivitis.  After three days in the ward, he was discharged on May 25th and sent to what was called "the sick hospital." 
Later the same day, he was readmitted to the hospital with beriberi.  It is not known when he was discharged.    
    Ray was again admitted to the hospital ward, at Bilibid, on July 27th, with beriberi, and discharged the same day.  He apparently was readmitted and stayed in the hospital until August 2nd and sent to Building #18 at Bilibid. 

    On August 17, 1944, Ray was given a physical and determined to be healthy enough to be sent to Japan.  Ray was boarded onto the Noto Maru.  This ship and others became known as "Hell Ships".  The ship sailed on August 27, 1944, as part of a convoy that hugged the coast of Luzon to avoid American submarines.  This did little good since the convoy was attacked resulting in the sinking of several ships.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, late on August 30th and sailed on August 31st for Keelung, Formosa, and arrived the same day.  The ship sailed again, on September 1st, and arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 4, 1944.

    Ray was assigned to Sendai #6 on the Island of Honshu, where the POWs worked in a copper mine, owned by Mitsubishi, that had been determined, by the Japanese, to be too dangerous to mine.

    While a POW there, Ray developed pneumonia.  On Thursday, February 15, 1945, Pvt. Ray C. Underwood died of pneumonia at the camp hospital at Hanawa Camp #6.

    After his death, the Japanese held a Shinto funeral service for Ray, and his remains were taken to a crematorium.  After the cremation, Ray's ashes were put in a small wooden box and given to the camp commandant who held onto them to the end of the war.

    Ray's family requested that his remains be returned to Mississippi in 1949, where Pvt. Ray Collin Underwood was buried at Mount Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery just east of Tremont, Mississippi.




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