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 which was headquartered in the
Harrodsburg with his friend Marcus Lawson.
Jack was called to federal duty when the tank
company was federalized on November 25,
1940. He was now a member of D Company,
192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion. During his
time at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Jack trained in M2
tanks. Many of these tanks were recovered
from the scrap yard and rebuilt by the members
of the tank battalion.
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 18th.
Jack and the other members of D Company traveled
west by train to San Francisco. In his
opinion , the reason why the companies were sent
over different train routes, to San Francisco,
was the government did not want to give the
impression that the United States was about to
go to war. The battalion arrived in San
Francisco on October 24th. A ferry took
the tankers to Angel Island where they received
physicals and inoculations. After a three
day stay, they sailed for the Philippine
It was at this time that D Company, was
scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank
Battalion. The morning of December 8th,
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.
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.
The morning of May 6, 1941, Jack and the other soldiers received the news of the surrender to the Japanese. They were taken by boat close to the shore and made to swim to shore. The Prisoners of War were later marched down Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison. A number of days later, they were taken by train to the barrio of Cabanatuan. Their barracks in the town was the school house. Finally, the POWs arrived at Cabantuan POW Camp #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. He was boarded onto the Taga
Maru which sailed for Japan on September
20, 1943. The ship arrived at Formosa,
where 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 arriving
on October 5, 1943, at Moji. On the ship
with Jack were Kenneth Hourigan, Clyde Harlow,
Richard Leake, and Charles Reed. After the
they rode a train for seven or eight hours
Niigata, Japan. There, Jack was taken to
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. They then had to carry the coal in
two baskets 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 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.
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 returned to their carrier. Soon, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and medicine. They 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. Jack and the other POWs were flown to Manila. Ironically, the planes landed on a runway that Jack helped to build when he was a POW.
The POWs remained at Nichols Field 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. Still others were sentenced to
Jack married 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 for the rest of his
life. This injury also prevented him from
holding down a job. Another effect of his
time in the Army was Jack lost the vision in his
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.
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