Wilson_M

 

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 battalion.
    A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress.  Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30.  Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company.  The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
    At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M.  Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating.  At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30.  After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
    At some point, Jack became a tank commander.  One day while training, he was coaching men on firing the machine.  All day long, Jack was in the tank and sighting with his right eye.  When he came out of his tank, his eye was inflamed and red.  He ended up being sent to the base hospital where he spent the next 89 days.  When it became apparent that the army was going to release him from federal service, he fought to be reunited with his company.  His wish was granted, and he rejoined the company, at Camp Polk, as the battalion prepared for overseas duty.
    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, 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 that a large radio transmitter.  The island was hundred of miles away.  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 day.
    The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

    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.
    On Wednesday, November 5, 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. President Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9, 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 Dateline.  On Saturday, November 15, 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 16, 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 20, 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.

    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.
    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. Jack recalled that the bullets from the Zeros sounded like hail hitting the hauls of the tanks.  
    Recalling the event, he said, " We thought the planes were ours.  They were white and we figured they belonged to the Navy.  The bombers came at first.  Then the fighters dropping bullets like hail.  There wasn't a man among us who wasn't scared."  During the attack, he took cover under an command car.  Recalling this, he said, "I thought we were being gassed so I put on my gas mask, then I took it off because I couldn't see."

    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.
    As mess sergeant it was Jack's job to keep the tankers fed.  First, he served caraboo.  These water buffalo were used to plow the rice paddies.   On one occasion, he was given a leg of a horse with its hide still on it.  His first job was to get the hide off.  After he had removed the hide, he ground it up since it was too tough to eat.   Jack stated that one time he was expected to feed 70 men with four, one pound cans of salmon and a loaf of bread.

    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. 
    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3 against the defenders.  The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle and could not fight back.  The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
    On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan.  It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day.  In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred.  At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
    Tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."    

    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.
   Cabantuan was actually three camps.  Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held.  Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed.  It later reopened and housed Naval POWs.  Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken.  In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp.  Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
    Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp.  The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with.  To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp.  The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch.  It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    In the camp, the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule.  If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed.  POWs caught trying to escape were beaten.  Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed.  It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them.  The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting.  Many quickly became ill.  The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years.  A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M.
    Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant "wet rice."  During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit.  Once in awhile, they received bread.
    The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks.  The sickest POWs were sent there to die.  The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building.  There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building.  The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves.  Most of those who entered the ward died.
    The POWs had the job of burying the dead.  To do this, they worked in teams of four men.  Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.

    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.
    At some point while on the detail, Jack fell and was paralyzed.  He was sent to Bilibid where he was put in the Naval Hospital.  Of his time in the hospital he said, "Every night someone would die in sick bay.  I figured they'd let me die also if I didn't do something.  I looped a web belt around a rafter and lifted myself everyday to get the use of my legs back.  I finally got so I could walk, but I walked like I was drunk."

    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. 
    On one occasion while Jack was attempting to go to a washroom, another POW did not see him and pushed a cart into him.  Jack, who was too weak to get out of the way, fell off the trestle to the ground thirty-five feet below and was paralyzed for three months.  He did not know it, but he had shattered a vertebrae in his back.  Two other POWs made a stretcher and carried Jack three miles back to their POW camp.
    The hospital in the camp had no beds, so the POWs lay on the ground, and the British doctor had no medicine to treat the sick.  Jack recalled that men around him died every night.  Each morning the Japanese would enter the hospital and kick him to get up.  He finally had another POWs tie his belt to a rafter.  Recalling this, he said, "Every night someone would die in sick bay.  I figured that they'd let me die also if I didn't do something. I looped a web belt around a rafter and lifted myself everyday to get the use of my legs back.  I  finally got so that I could walk, but I walked like I was drunk."  He did this everyday for two or three weeks.  One day, he told the other POWs he was going back to his barracks to sleep. 
    When he was back in his barracks he worked as a janitor around the camp and cleaned the grounds of the camp.  To do this, he had to make a broom from long slivers of wood.  The Japanese guards gave him a nickname, "They called me Paddle Feet."  They called him this because they thought he walked like a duck.
    Jack described the barrack as a large barn with large doors at both ends.  The POWs slept along both walls, and each man's sleeping space was three feet wide. The POWs had cut a fifty gallon drum in half - down its length - to heat the barracks, but the Japanese would not provide coal.  The POWs resorted to stealing coal by hiding it in their coats.  If the Japanese did a search and a POW was caught with coal, he was severely beaten.

    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 camp commandant. 
    The POWs could see where the American planes had dropped mines into the water to sink Japanese ships.  The POWs also knew, by the increasing frequency of the beatings they received, that the Japanese were losing the war.
    The Japanese also placed an anti-aircraft gun on a hill not too far from the camp.  The POWs knew that if American planes attempted to bomb it, bombs would fall on the camp which explained why it was placed there.

    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 death.
    Jack was sent to Manila and boarded the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman. It took the ship eight to ten days to reach the United States on October 3, 1945.  When he returned to the United States, it was almost four years, to the day, that he had sailed for the Philippines.  Jack was put on a train, with beds on both sides of the cars.  Each car also had several nurses and a kitchen.  He rode the train to Saint Louis, Missouri, where, he was put on another train for Louisville, Kentucky.  In Louisville, he was put in a military hospital.  When the hospital was turned over to the Veterans Administration, Jack, because he still in the Army, was sent to another hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he was hospitalized for almost a year.  It was at this time that he was promoted technical sergeant.    
     On February 5, 1947, Jack was sent to Fort Custer, Michigan, and released from federal service with 100% disability.  When he got home, he tried farming but found the work to difficult because of his physical condition.  He said, "I'm the only one of the Harrodsburg Boys that made a hobby of working with the Veterans Administration doing service work."

    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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