S/Sgt. Maurice Edward Wilson
S/Sgt. Maurice E. Wilson was
born on March 2, 1912, to Lester Wilson & Lula
Britton-Wilson in Mercer County, Kentucky.
He was raised, with his brother and six sisters,
on the family farm and in Harrodsburg, where he
attended school. He was known as "Jack" to
his family and friends.
Jack joined the Kentucky National Guard's tank
company, with his friend Marcus Lawson, which
was headquartered in a building in
Harrodsburg. He was called to federal duty
when the tank company was federalized on
November 25, 1940, and was now a member of D
Company, 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion.
Arriving at Ft. Knox, on November 28t Jack
trained on M2 tanks. Many of these tanks
were recovered from the scrap yard, at the fort,
and rebuilt by the members of the tank
According to Jack, the tankers spent days putting cosmoline on anything that would rust. After everything was loaded onto flat cars, the battalion left Camp Polk on October 18. It arrived at San Francisco, California,, and the soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment. Those found to have minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T.
Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on
Monday, October 27. 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.
It was at this time that D Company, was
scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank
Battalion. The morning of December 8, the
officers of the battalions met and were informed
of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours
earlier. The 192nd letter companies were
ordered to the perimeter of Clark
Airfield. Headquarters Company remained in
the battalion's bivouac.
A few days later, D Company was sent out to a
dam to protect it from saboteurs. Jack
recalled that once Japanese troops landed, his
company withdrew through Manila toward
Bataan. He recalled that as the tanks went
through Manila, the city already showed damaged
from being bombed. It was during this
withdraw, that a platoon of D Company would have
to abandon their tanks because they had no way
to cross a river.
During the Battle of Bataan, Jack was reassigned
from a tank commander to a mess sergeant.
The reason this was done was his commanding
officer feared that if he got something in his
good eye, he would be unable to command his
tank. As a mess sergeant Jack
attempted to feed the men of D Company with
anything he could find. He remembered
serving horse meat from the 26th U. S. Calvary
to the tankers.
When the order came for the Filipino and
American forces on Bataan to surrender, Jack and
fifteen other members of the company attempted
to escape to Australia. They found a boat
and got it running. As they approached
Corregidor, an American officer pulled out his
service revolver and ordered the boat to land on
the island. Once there, the soldiers were
not allowed to leave.
"Actually, we were going to try to
get to Australia. We found a boat,
but we stopped at Corregidor to let some
some of the men off, and they wouldn't let
us leave. They told us that Japanese
ships at the entrance of bay would blow us
out of the water."
A few days later, Jack volunteered to go to Ft. Drum. One reason for doing this was that the Corregidor was under constant shelling. This was an island which had been turned into a fortress. As long as it remained in American hands, the Japanese could not use Manila Bay. At Ft. Drum, Jack became a member of a gun crew. He also was given new clothes and the best meals that he had had in months.
He remained there until General Wainwright
ordered all forces to surrender on May 6.
The next day, after the Japanese arrived, the
men were taken to the Wawa Dam over the Marikina
River. The POWs worked in the area of the
dam repairing roads, moving large rocks, and
repairing a dock. They did this work until
the work ended on May 18, and they were sent to
Bilibid Prison. He remained there until
May 26, when he and the other POWs were marched
to the train station. From there, they
rode the train to Calumpit, disembarked, marched
to Cabanatuan #3.
On July 9, 1942, Jack went out on a work detail
to Pasay School. The POWs on the detail
were used to build runways at Nichols
Field. This was known as a "death detail"
because the Japanese abused and overworked the
POWs. In Jack's case, he got dust in his
eye. The Japanese continued to make him
work until the Japanese took him to Bilibid
Prison on March 18, 1943. The doctors
could do little for him since they had no
medicine to treat his eye with. On July 1,
1943, Jack was sent to the port area were he
loaded and unload ships.
In September 1943, Jack was selected for shipment to Japan and sent to Bilibid. From there, he was takne to Pier 7 and boarded onto the Taga Maru which sailed for Japan on September 20, 1943. The ship arrived at Formosa on the 23rd. While it was there, it came under attack by American planes. During the attack, the Japanese closed the hold's cover trapping the POWs below deck. The ship sailed for Japan, on October 26th, arriving on October 5, 1943, at Moji. On the ship with Jack were Kenneth Hourigan, Clyde Harlow, Richard Leake, and Charles Reed. After the POWs unloaded, they rode a train for seven or eight hours to Niigata, Japan. There, Jack was taken to Niigata 5-B.
In Japan, Jack worked as a stevedore. The
POWs would shovel coal into a net. After
it was pulled from the hold, other POWs would
shovel it onto a conveyor belt. The coal
would then be dumped into rail cars. If no
cars were there, the POWs would dump it onto the
ground before having to carry the coal in two
baskets that were attached to a pole that they
carried on their shoulders.
Food in Japan consisted of rice with scraps from the Japanese mess. When fish heads were served to the POWs, Jack recalled that the eyes rolled around in his mouth like kernels of corn. When grasshoppers were part of the meal, the burrs on the grasshoppers legs scratched his throat. As to show how bad the food situation was - during his time in the camp - Jack had found a kitten. One day he noticed it was missing. When he found the kitten, two sailors were eating it as a meal. The only time the POWs ever got a good meal was when the Red Cross representative came to the camp. The next day, the meals were back to normal.
When a POW died in the camp, the Americans would
nail together a coffin and put the body in
it. The box was put on a cart. The
POWs would take the cart and pile wood on
it. The cart was taken into Niigata and
the body was cremated. The ashes were put
into a small box, with the man's POW number on
it, and returned to the camp and given to the
Jack recalled that one day the guards were gone. The POWs painted Niigata #5-B on the roof of a building. American planes came over and, after seeing the name, returned to their carrier. Soon, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and medicine. The POWs learned that American troops were in Tokyo, so 300 of the POWs walked to the train station and rode a train there. Once there, American nurses had them take off their new clothes and throw them away. The former POWs were sprayed with D.D.T. to kill the lice, they took showers, and were issued new clothes. The real sick men were taken to a hospital ship. From Tokyo, the former POWs were flown to Manila. Ironically, the planes landed on a runway that Jack helped to build when he was a POW at Nichols Field.
The POWs remained at the airfield for ten
days. During that time, Americans came to
the camp and asked the former POWs if they could
give them the names of any Japanese who had
beaten, abused, or killed POWs. Jack
stated he had never bothered to learn the guards
real names and could only give nicknames.
Other men were able to give names and some of
the former guard received prison sentences of 10
to 25 years, while others were sentenced to
Jack married, Rosalyn Adkinson, and lived in
Harrodsburg for the rest of his life. One
of the lasting effects of his time as a POW was
that he would have to wear leg braces and a back
brace for the rest of his life.
Another effect of his time in the Army was Jack
lost the vision in his eye. He
worked as a cashier at the Farmers National
Bank and became the tank
company's official historian.
The photo at the top of the page was taken while
Jack was a POW in Japan. Maurice E. Wilson
passed away on May 2, 1985, and was buried in
Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.
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