Pvt. Edward George Wills Jr.
Pvt. Edward G. Wills Jr. was the son of Edward G. Wills Sr. & Susan Bell
Mattingly-Wills. He was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on March 8, 1918, and was one of the couple's nine
Little is known about his life in Harrodsburg. What is known is that he was called, "E.G." by his family and friends, and that one of his sisters died when he was 20 years old. He was working as a house painter when he joined the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg on August 1, 1940. The reason he did this was the draft act had been passed, and he knew he was going to be drafted. The tank company was scheduled to be federalized for one year of military service in the fall of 1940.
On November 25, 1940, the 38th Divisional Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard was designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. There, Edward trained with D Company until he was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was created in January 1941.
After taking part in maneuvers in Louisiana, Edward and the other members of the 192nd learned that they were being sent overseas. Their mission was to train the Philippine Army in tank usage.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an
event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf,
in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, 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 buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese
occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron
continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed. Having been in the Philippines
for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. The company commander,
Capt Fred Bruni, told his men to listen up because what he was telling them the truth. He again told them
that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they each were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this,
they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the
company's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, The soldiers watched as the dead,
dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. The fact was that 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, there was one air raid after another. Since they did not have any foxholes, the men used the old latrine pit for cover. Since it was safer in the pit than in their tents, the men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. The next morning the decision was made to move the company into an tree covered area. Without knowing it, the soldiers had slept their last night on a cot . From this point on, they slept in blankets on the ground.
The coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward Bataan Peninsula. As they
withdrew, supplies and food - that could have aided in the fight against the Japanese - were often left behind.
During this time, the soldiers were bombed and strafed. The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to where HQ was bivouacked. That night the sky was lit by the fire of the burning ammunition dumps.
Word reached HQ Company that the order had been given to surrender the morning of April 9,
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni gave his men the news of the surrender.
While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men
that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a
moment, and when he turned back he continued.
HQ Company made its way to Mariveles in their trucks. At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded and lined up for an inspection. The Japanese took the prisoners' jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.
As the soldiers stood facing the Japanese guards, it appeared that the Japanese were going to execute the prisoners. Out of the car climbed a Japanese officer, the officer gave orders to the soldiers that they were not to kill the POWs. After doing this, he got back into the car and it drove off.
Edward and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to kneel in the sun without food or water. They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. The American guns on the island began returning fire. Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs. The men had no place to hide and several were killed. Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.
It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that Edward began what would later become known as the death march. The first night the POWs were marched all night. What made things worse for Edward and the other prisoners was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells. It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water the POWS still went to the wells. This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The boxcars were small and could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly, that the dead remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
Edward made his way to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that
had one water faucet for 12,000 POWs. Men died waiting for a drink, while others died from the diseases that
ran wild among the sick POWs. The situation was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at
Cabanatuan. Being one of the healthier POWs, Edward was sent to the new camp.
On February 17, 1950, the remains of Pvt. Edward G. Wills Jr. were returned to the United
States. Since they could not be positively identified, he was buried Section 78, Graves 1004, 1005, and 1006,
with seven other POWs at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint. Louis, Missouri.
Cpl. Raymond J. Graham
Tec 5 Kent W. Hughes Jr
, who share the grave, were members of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The cemetery was selected since the
majority of families would have approximately the same distance to drive to the grave.
In memory of Edward, his parents had a headstone placed at the Berea Christian Church Cemetery, off the Mackville Road, about four miles southwest of Harrodsburg.
It should be mentioned, that Edward's sister, Mary Lyle, flew two flags in front of her house in memory of her baby brother. She flew the flags both day and night, summer and winter. After she died in 1974, her family sold the house. The last thing to come down, from in-front of the house, were the flags.
The photo at the top of the page is of Edward Wills and his nephew.