Yeast_C

 

Cpl. Claude Len Yeast


    Cpl. Claude L. Yeast was born to William Yeast & Cordie Gerling-Yeast on February 19, 1917, in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and had six brothers and three sisters.  He was the brother of Willard Yeast who was also a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  Claude worked on the family farm.

    In the fall of 1940, Claude was called to federal service as a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  For nearly a year, Claude trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  After this training he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana, from September 1 through 30, 1941.  It was after these maneuvers, at Camp Polk, that he and the other members of the 192nd learned that instead of being released from federal service they were being sent overseas.
    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 the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.   Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.    

    Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried, by the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island.  On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment.  Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen.  Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27, for Hawaii.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training at 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. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  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.
    After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company.  B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies of the battalion were sent to the Philippines.  The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
    On December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers learned about the attack.  That morning, the companies, at full strength,  were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers.

    Around noon, the tankers were told to send a couple members of each tank crew for lunch.  Since they were on guard duty, trucks were sent out to the tanks.  Claude was standing in line when planes appeared in the sky approaching the airfield from the north.  As Claude and the other tankers watched, what looked like confetti fell from the planes. It was only when the bombs began exploding on the runways did the soldiers know that the planes were Japanese.  During the attack, the tankers could little more than watch.  After the bombers, the airfield was strafed by Japanese Zeros. 

    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and 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, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
    One of the results of the attack was that transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed.  The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and Bataan.

    On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and guard beaches.  They remained there until December 23, when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken.
    The companies were moved again, on the 12, to an area south of San Fernando near the  Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M.  On the 15, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts.  These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
    The 194th, with D Company, was sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf in support of the 192nd.  The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climbed to the top, where they found troops, ammunition, and guns.  The soldiers were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf, since they had received orders not to fire.
    The tankers walked down the mountain and waited.  They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it.  They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain.  The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
    On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese.  The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
     Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove.  As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat.  From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units.  The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
    The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26.  When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area.  One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
    At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank.  It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been destroyed.  The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan.  The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.  On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover.  This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.  At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
    The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.  It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each.  This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements,
    At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw.  The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.  
    The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan.  This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.  At this time, the food rations were cut in half.
    General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
     A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa.  Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed.  The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed.  The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
    The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road.  While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month.  The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance.  It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon.  This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
    The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw.  Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed.  The mission was abandoned the next day.  Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
    The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry's command post.  On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
    The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts.  At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road.  When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men.  This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn't land troops.  The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban.  During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy.  At bight they were pulled out onto the beaches.  The battalion's half-tracks had the job of patroling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
    For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill.  On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them.  While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area.  Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range.  He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew's fire.  The Japanese were wiped out.
    Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major offensive on April 4th.  The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance.  On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew.  On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.

    It was at this time that Gen. King knowing that the situation was hopeless sent officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan.  The tanks were instructed that they would hear the order "bash" on their radios, or that it would be given to them verbally.
    When the order was given, the tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of their tank, opened up the gasoline cocks in the crew compartment, and dropped hand grenades into each tank setting them on fire.  It was at this time that Claude and other company members decided that they would attempt to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.  The men found a boat and made their way to Corregidor, where he was assigned to the 4th Marines.

    The night of May 5th, the Japanese landed troops on Corregidor in force.  The morning of May 6, 1942, Claude became a Prisoner of War when the island fortress was surrendered.  Claude remained on the island for almost two weeks.

    Claude and the other POWs were taken by boat back to Luzon.  Near the shore, they had to jump into the water a swim ashore.  The POWs were gathered on a road and then marched through Manila to Bilibid Prison.  Claude stayed in Bilibid for three days before he was taken to the barrio of Cabanatuan, where the POWs spent the night in a school.  From there, they were taken to Cabanatuan #3.  He remained in the camp for about five months before he was selected to go to Japan.
    800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6th, and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball.  After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M.  There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M.  The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M., and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
    From the train station, the men were marched to pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila.  Some of the Filipinos flashed the "V" for victory sign as they made their war to the pier.  The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M and were tired and hungry.  They were put in a warehouse on the pier for the night. 
    The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted.  They also were allowed to wash.  It was at this time, that Claude was reunited with Cecil Van Diver.  The two men both had thought that the other had died.
    Before boarding the ship on October 7th, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and thoseack POWs on deck were better off.  This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
    The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon.  In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship.  That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck.  Each day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals - which equaled one American loaf of bread - which most ate in one meal, but the men rationed their water.  The ship was at sea, when torpedoes fired at by an American submarine but the torpedoes missed the ship.  The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed.  A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine.  The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
    The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 12th, and the POWs were bathed on the dock.   They sailed again on October 16th at 7:30 A.M. but returned to Takao at 10:30 P.M. because of a storm.  At this time, the POWs were receiving two bags of hardtack and a meal of rice and soup each day.  The ship sailed again on October 18th and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M., where it remained anchored off the islands for several days.  During this time two POWs died, and their bodies were thrown into the sea.
    The ship sailed again on October 28th and returned to Takao the same day.  The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned.  They were again put into the holds and the ship sailed again on October 30th and arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands.  The ship sailed on October 31st, as part of a seven ship convoy.
    During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea.  On November 5th, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.  The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7th, but the POWs did not disembark until November 8th.  Most of the POWs were disembarked, but 400 men remained on the ship since they were going to Japan.

    Claude and the other men, who left the ship, received new clothes and marched in the streets of Fuson where the Koreans spit on them and hit them.  They also made fun of the POWs about how they looked.  When the POWs reached the train station, they boarded a train and were given a little box which contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish.

     The POW camp was opened on November 8, 1942, with the arrival of the prisoners. Claude worked in a machine shop, where the POWs were suppose to manufacture weapons for the Japanese war effort, but in his opinion, they never made any weapons that the Japanese could use.

    About a year and a half after arriving in Manchuria, Claude was selected to be sent to Japan.  He and the other men were put on a series of small ships that hugged the coast.  They arrived in Japan on May 29, 1944, where Claude was taken to Kamioka #1-B POW Camp. The POWs, from the camp, were used to mine zinc and lead.  Claude worked in the mine running a jackhammer.
    The POW diet in the camp was cooked rice.  Every two weeks they would receive three ounces of fish.  Once a month each man received one once of meat, and every three weeks, if they were being rewarded for working hard, they received five ounces of soy beans.  The Japanese did not treat the sick or injured well and withheld medicine from the POWs even though it was in the Red Cross packages.  Most of the POWs never received one letter, from home, while in the camp.
     The Japanese treatment of the POWs was brutal.  If one POW broke a rule, all the POWs would be beaten, clubbed, or burned.  When the Japanese heard news of an air raid by the Americans, they selected eight or ten POWs and punished them.  Afterwards, they threw them into the guardhouse where the men were forgotten.  The POWs also learned that when the Japanese called them out in the middle of the night for an inspection, it meant that the Japanese had suffered another defeat and that the Americans were getting closer.
    The POWs slept 24 men to a barracks, and their beds were straw mats.  The blankets they received were not much protection against the cold.  The barracks were heated by coal burning stoves, but only two handfuls of coal were issued each day.  To prevent the buildings from collapsing in the winter, the POWs had to clear the roofs of snow each time it snowed.
    Since a certain number of POWs were needed for work each day, the sick, who could walk, were forced to work.  Those who refused were beaten.  In addition, the Japanese set a limit on the number of POWs who could be in the hospital at any time.  At the same time, the Japanese refused to give the POWs the medicine and medical supplies sent by the Red Cross.
    The sick POWs were put on "light duty."  To the Japanese "light duty" was going up a mountain and hauling green muck.  As it turned out, this muck was contaminated and even the Japanese guards kept away from it.  The prisoners noticed that nothing would grow where the muck was dumped.  The prisoners worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week.  Every two weeks they would get one day off.
    This detail was not bad during the summer because the old supervisor would allow two of the six prisoners to look for edible plants.  During the winter, the prisoners had to climb the mountain through snow that was four to five feet deep.  Since the Japanese did not issue the shoes that were sent by the Red Cross, to protect their feet from frostbite, the POW's made socks from blackout curtains to put inside their canvas shoes.  The prisoners also were never warm and slept in pairs to share body heat and blankets.
    The camp was sixty miles from Nagaski.  When the atomic bomb was dropped, the camp shook.  The day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the Japanese were angry and made the POWs do close drill before going off to work.  The POWs had no idea why this was done.  When they got to the mine, they noticed a guard in the tower.   The guard was a "spotter" looking for American bombers.  

    One day while Claude was working the ground shook. It was the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.  According to Claude, "I was working 2000 feet into the mountain in a lead mine the day the atomic bomb struck and thought nothing of the reverberation.  The next day, the Japanese said it was a holiday. The rumors starting flying that the war was over.  The Japanese handed over their guns and walked out of camp.  We ate two horses in two weeks.  One day I said, 'Damned if there isn't a sheep in the house.' and, sure enough, there was that dude up there cooking away." 

    The next day, the Japanese were angry and made the POWs do close drill before going off to work.  The POWs had no idea why this was done.  When they got to the mine, they noticed a guard in the tower.  The guard was a "spotter" looking for American bombers.  The next day, the prisoners did not have to work.  They were told it was the birthday of the wife of the mine owner.  When the POWs finally learned that the war was over, they remained in the camp for several weeks.  They finally sent out three men to find the Americans. It wasn't until September 7, 1945, that the POWs were officially liberated.

    The former POWs finally were taken to Yokohama and boarded a hospital ship.  It was only after he had been liberated that Claude learned that his brother, Willard, had been burned to death by the Japanese on Palawan Island.  This was done to prevent him, and the other POWs, from being liberated by advancing American forces.

    Claude returned to the United States and married.  He lived rest of his life in Harrodsburg where he and his wife raised a son and daughter.  Claude Yeast passed away on November 17, 1967.


 

Return to Company D

Interview

Next