|Pvt. Wilfred R. Willis
| Pvt. Wilfred Willis was born on April
23, 1917, in Monroe County, Ohio, to William Willis
and Eva Ross-Willis. With his sister, he grew up
in Sunbury, Ohio. His father passed away during
The family was living in Beallsville, Ohio, when he was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, on January 29, 1941. He was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. This was done because the Army was bringing the company up to strength. Since it had been an Ohio National Guard Tank Company, the Army filled out the company with men from Ohio. What training he received at Ft. Knox is not known.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the 192nd, which was part of the Red Army, broke through the defenses of the the Blue Army and was on its way to overrun the headquarters of the army when the maneuvers were suddenly cancelled. The Blue Army was under the command of General George S. Patton.
After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill, they were informed that they were being sent overseas as part as operation "PLUM." Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years or older were allowed to resign from federal service and replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion's M2A2 tanks and it's scout cars were replaced with M-3 tanks and half-tracks.
The battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived in San Francisco. They were taken by ferry to Angel Island where they given physicals and inoculated. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam.
When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila. The maintenance section remained behind to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward 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 love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. King remained with the tankers until they had Thanksgiving Dinner and afterwards went for his own dinner.
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.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack, the wounded and dead were everywhere.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at 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 tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.
At Cebu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese. The main Japanese line was south of Santa Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle. The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese. They then fell back to Cabanatuan. C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that Gentry's tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.
After this battle, C Company made its way south. When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.
On December 31, 1941, Company was sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.
By the afternoon, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in a rice field on the north end of the barrio. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge. Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.
When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.
Kennady's platoon held its fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown. The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. The tank battalions , on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
C Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
The morning of the April 9, 1942, at 6:45 the tankers received the order "crash" and destroyed their tanks. When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to Mariveles where they started the death march.
From Mariveles, the members of C Company made their way north along the east coast of Bataan. The first five miles of the march the were more difficult since the march was uphill. The POWs also were denied food and received little water. Those who attempted to get water from the artesian wells that flowed across the road were often killed.
When the POWs reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull-pin. In one corner, was a trench that was used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface was alive with maggots.
At some point, the POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men, marched to the train station at San Fernando, and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as forty or eights. This was because each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments were made up of 100 men, the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. The POWs who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base which was put into use by the Japanese as a POW Camp. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. The POWs had to stand in line for hours to get a drink. The guards often turned off the water because they could.
Disease began to run wild among the POWs. Since the medical staff had no medicines, they could do little to help the sick. As many as 50 POWs died each day. While he was a POW in the camp, Jim came down with dysentery. The death reached the point that the Japanese realized they had to do something to lower it, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The healthier POWs were sent to the camp. Jim remained behind at Camp O'Donnell.
After arriving at Camp O'Donnell, Wilfred became ill with malaria and dysentery. He was out in "Zero Ward" which was the POW name given to the camp hospital. Most of the POWs who entered the hospital died since the medical staff had no medicine to treat the sick.
According to the report kept by the medical staff, Pvt. Wilfred R. Willis died on May 2, 1942, at approximately 2:00 P.M. and was buried in the camp cemetery in Section C, Row 3, Grave 9. His date of death was confirmed by the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion written by 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifield of the battalion after the war.
Pvt. Wilfred Willis' remains were positively identified by the U.S. Remains Recovery Team after the war. He was also post-humorously promoted to Technician 5, which was the equivalent to the rank of corporal. It should be mentioned that his grandmother, Mrs. Ella Willis, received word of his death on October 8, 1945.
At the request of his family, T/5 Wilfred R. Willis' remains were returned home on the U.S.A.T. Sgt. Morris E. Crain arriving in the United States on September 28, 1948. He was buried at Beallsville Cemetery in Beallsville, Ohio, in October 1948.
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