Search
Close this search box.

Kaplar, Pvt. Nick

Kaplar
Last updated on October 14, 2023

Very little is known about Pvt. Nick Kaplar. What is known is that he was born on May 29, 1915, in Chicago, Illinois, and had two sisters. It appears his father passed away and his mother, Cecelia, married Joseph Kohniak and the marriage resulted in Nick having four half-brothers. The family resided in the Lublin, Wisconsin, area. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, when the Selective Service Act took effect, named his step-father, Joe Kohniak, as his contact person, and indicated he worked as a farmhand. He was inducted into the U.S. Army in Withee, Wisconsin, on April 7, 1941, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training where he was assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion.

His basic training was two or three weeks long when he was selected to be trained as a medic. He received hands-on training from the battalion’s doctors since the Army believed this was the best type of training a medic could receive. Some classes were available – which appeared to cover administrative duties – but it is not known if he attended any of the classes. 

During their free time, the soldiers went to the movies, went to dances held every two weeks, went to the post library, went skating every weekend, and played basketball. In the spring and summer, they played volleyball and baseball. They also had a bowling league and competed against the companies of the battalion and against companies from other units. Men also participated in boxing. Men who lived within 50 miles of the fort were allowed to go home on weekends. The soldiers who remained on base went to Louisville 35 miles to the north of the base or Elizabethtown 16 miles to the south of the base. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M. 

At the beginning of June, a detachment of men went to Detroit, Michigan, to pick up 39 trucks for the battalion. The exact date they left is not known, but they spent the night at Patterson Field, Ohio, from there they went north through Springfield, Urbana, Bellefontaine, and Bowling Green, Ohio, before entering Michigan. It took the tankers two days to get to Detroit. While they were there, a large number of them crossed the Detroit River, visited Windsor, Canada, and mailed postcards home. It is known they were back at Ft. Knox before June 6th.

On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.

The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.

Another detachment of men was sent to Detroit in July. It is not known why they were sent there, but it is known they were there for 7 days. It was during this time the men began hearing the rumor that part of the battalion was being sent to South Carolina while part of the battalion would be going to Texas. They also heard that the battalion would be taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas and that after the maneuvers, the battalion was heading to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for six weeks before they were sent to the Philippines.

During August the battalion was involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie.

Congress on August 13, 1941, extended the time that federalized National Guard units serving in the regular army would serve by 18 months. The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, where they spent the night. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move.

On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating.  They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, the men, and trucks who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station.

The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army under the command of Gen George S. Patton. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators.

During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”  The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot. 

While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.

It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 2nd at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning –  after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment.  They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders, and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.

The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without their headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.

He and the other medics dealt with snake bites which were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man in the battalion was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.

There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long –  that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only strike if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them.  To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two-and-a-half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.

They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away. 

The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.

On one occasion, members of the detachment were receiving lunch when someone yelled, “Gas!” A number of the medics climbed into a duce and a half truck and laid down on the floor of its bed to hide from the umpires. They thought they were safe when the truck tipped a little and the major looked in the truck and yelled at them to get out of it. The umpires wrote “gas casualty” on their foreheads. They were taken to the hospital and for the next two days, they were carried around on stretchers. Many of the men thought it was the best two days of the maneuvers.

After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox but received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, who were 29 years old or older. or whose enlistments in the National Guard were about to end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. Officers too old for their ranks also were released. This included the 192nd’s commanding officer. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn from a hat. Both new and old members of the battalion were given furloughs home to say their goodbyes. When they returned to Camp Polk and prepared for duty overseas by putting cosmoline on anything that would rust. 

The battalion was scheduled to receive brand new M3 tanks but for some unknown reason, the tanks were not available. Instead, the battalion received tanks from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. The tanks were only new to the 192nd since many of these tanks were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour required maintenance. Peeps – later called Jeeps – were also given to the battalion, and the battalion’s half-tracks which replaced their reconnaissance cars were waiting for them in the Philippines.

The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 13, 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 than the other planes, noticed something odd. He took his plane down, identified a flagged buoy in the water, and saw another in the distance. Following the buoys, he came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. 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 covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

Many of the original men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks and the tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion during the maneuvers s the First Tank Group – during the maneuvers. Patton did praise the tank battalions for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence he had anything to do with them going overseas.

The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Two members of the battalion – one from Illinois and the other from Ohio – both wrote about the First Tank Group in January 1941 newspaper columns written for their local newspapers. One man identified every tank battalion in the tank group. During the maneuvers, they even participated as the First Tank Group. The tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, and documents show that the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines long before August 13th. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had 48-hour standby orders for the Philippines which were canceled on December 10th.

HQ Company left for the West Coast a few days earlier than the rest of the 192nd to make preparations for the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over at least three train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar, with equipment and spare parts, followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. HQ Company and A Company took the southern route, B Company went west through the middle of the country, and A Company went north then west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.

After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox but received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, who were 29 years old or older. or whose enlistments in the National Guard were about to end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. Officers too old for their ranks also were released. This included the 192nd’s commanding officer. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn from a hat. Both new and old battalion members were given ten-day furloughs home to say their goodbyes. When they returned to Camp Polk and prepared for duty overseas by putting cosmoline on anything that would rust. 

The battalion was scheduled to receive brand new M3 tanks but for some unknown reason, the tanks were not available. Instead, the battalion received tanks from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. The tanks were only new to the 192nd since many of these tanks were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour required maintenance. Peeps – later called Jeeps – were also given to the battalion, and the battalion’s half-tracks which replaced their reconnaissance cars were waiting for them in the Philippines.

The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 13, 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 than the other planes, noticed something odd. He took his plane down, identified a flagged buoy in the water, and saw another in the distance. Following the buoys, he came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. 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 covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

Many of the original men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks and the tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion during the maneuvers s the First Tank Group – during the maneuvers. Patton did praise the tank battalions for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence he had anything to do with them going overseas.

The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Two members of the battalion – one from Illinois and the other from Ohio – both wrote about the First Tank Group in January 1941 newspaper columns written for their local newspapers. One man identified every tank battalion in the tank group. During the maneuvers, they even participated as the First Tank Group. The tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, and documents show that the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines long before August 13th. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had 48-hour standby orders for the Philippines which were canceled on December 10th.

HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left for the West Coast a few days earlier than the rest of the 192nd to make preparations for the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over at least three train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar, with equipment and spare parts, followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. HQ Company, the Medical Detachment, and A Company took the southern route, B Company went west through the middle of the country, C Company went through the center of the country a bit further north than B Company and D Company went north then west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.

On the island, Nick was involved in giving physicals to the members of the battalion. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men who had been sent to the island as replacements. It is known that the 757th Tank Battalion was at Ft. Ord, California, and that men from the battalion joined the 192nd to replace men who failed their final physicals. It was also at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver became the commanding officer of the 192nd.

When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home 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 blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.

The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. Some men stated they rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg while other men stated they rode busses to the base.

On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th guarded the northern end of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern end where the two runways came together and formed a V. Two members of every tank crew remained with their tanks at all times, and meals were brought to them by food trucks. On Sunday, December 7th, the tankers spent a great deal of the day loading bullets into machine gun belts and putting live shells for the tanks’ main guns into the tanks.

Gen. Weaver on December 2nd ordered the tank group to full alert. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, Weaver appeared to be the only officer on the base interested in protecting his unit. When Poweleit suggested they dig air raid shelters – since their bivouac was so near the airfield – the other officers laughed. He ordered his medics to dig shelters near the tents of the companies they were with and at the medical detachment’s headquarters. On December 3rd the tank group officers had a meeting with Gen Weaver on German tank tactics. Many believed that they should be learning how the Japanese used tanks. That evening when they met Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, they concluded that he had no idea how to use tanks. It was said they were glad Weaver was their commanding officer. That night the airfield was in complete black-out and searchlights scanned the sky for enemy planes. All leaves were canceled on December 6th.

It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.

Most of the tankers heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor at roll call that morning. Some men believed that it was the start of the maneuvers they were expecting to take part in. They were also informed that their barracks were almost ready and that they would be moving into them shortly. News reached the tankers that Camp John Hay had been bombed at 9:00 a.m.

The medics had just had lunch and were in their tents taking naps. It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. At 12:45 p.m., they heard the sound of planes, since the sides of their tents were up for ventilation, men looked up at the formation of planes in the distance. Men commented about how beautiful the formation was, while other men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes; that was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways they knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated they took cover, but the planes were bombing Clark Field and not where they bivouacked. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.

The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters which sounded like angry bees as they strafed the airfield. The medics watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Only one P-40 got off the ground. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.

The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.

The Zeros strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the battalion’s half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As the planes flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.

While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.

Capt. Alvin Poweleit and an unknown number of medics drove to the airfield to see if they could aid the wounded and dying. When they got there, the hangers and barracks were destroyed, and the B-17s also were totally wrecked. As they were doing this, Japanese fighters began strafing the airfield. To avoid being hit, they hid in a bomb crater. After the planes were gone, the medics treated Filipino Lavenderos (women who did laundry) and a number of houseboys. They also treated officers and enlisted men and saw the dead, men with half their heads torn off, men with their intestines lying on the ground, and men with their backs blown out.

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, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had filled to capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. When the hospital ran out of room for the wounded, the members of the tank battalions set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded. The medical detachment was moved to an open field where the medics were ordered by Capt. Poweleit to dig a large foxhole. The foxhole became their new quarters.

The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion’s headquarters into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.

C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. That night, they heard bombers fly at 3:00 a.m. on their way to bomb Nichols Field. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men. The Japanese landed troops at Aparri on the 10th and Legaspi on the 11th.

B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau on December 12th so it could protect a highway bridge and railroad bridge against sabotage. At about 8:30 a.m. the elements of the battalion still at Clark Field lived through another attack. Since it was overcast, the bombers came in low and dropped their bombs which in many cases did not explode. 2nd Lt Albert Bartz, A Co., had been wounded in his shoulder and had a broken clavicle. That night the 194th was sent to Calumpit Bridge. Since the bombing was so close to where they were bivouacked, HQ Company and the medical detachment – which was attached to HQ Company – moved to a gravel pit and set up operations. If a bomb had landed near them the sand and gravel would have collapsed on them.

Around December 15th, after the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters was moved to Manila, Major Maynard Snell, a 192nd staff officer, stopped at Ft. Stotsenburg where anything that could be used by the Japanese was being destroyed. He stopped the destruction long enough to get five-gallon cans loaded with high-octane gasoline and small arms ammunition put onto trucks to be used by the tanks and infantry. The medical detachment on the 18th spent its time treating tankers who had contracted gonorrhea and others for syphilis. The men were able to send home radiograms on the 20th. The 192nd received orders to proceed north at 3 a.m. on the 21st. They were told that the Japanese did not have any heavy guns onshore. As it turned out, they were well-equipped.

On December 22nd, a platoon of tanks from B Company engaged Japanese tanks in the first tank battle of World War II involving American tanks. The tank platoon commander’s tank was disabled and the crew was captured by the Japanese. Another tank had an armor-piercing shell go through its turret. The tank commander survived because he had just bent over to talk to his driver moments before the shell hit the tank. A shell hit a third tank in its machine gun’s bow port and the concussion came in through the port and decapitated the gunner. The tank’s driver was covered in his blood. The tanks withdrew from the area. The remaining tanks withdrew through an area where a battle between the Japanese and the Philippine Scouts had taken place. It was stated there were dead horses, bodies, and body parts everywhere they looked. The tank group remained in Manila until December 23rd when it moved with the 194th north out of Manila.

The medical detachment was at Sison on the 23rd and was shelled and bombed. The medics left their trucks and ambulances and took cover. An officer came up to them and said to them that none of the shells were close to them. It was his first day under fire. A shell exploded in a tree top and took off his head. The detachment did not get the order to withdraw and soon found itself behind enemy lines. They made their way south and drove through the barrio of Urdaneta. When they went through, the barrio was on fire. On December 25th, they were south of Rosales and set up their aid station. The medics also checked up on the different companies which at times included tank companies from the 194th. Capt. Walter Write., A Co., was killed on the 26th. They remained there until the 27th when they moved to Santo Tomas. While there they were shelled and treated for minor wounds. General Douglas MacArthur on December 28th, ordered that medics should not carry guns. The officers and enlisted men of the medical detachment ignored the order.

The detachment was at Santo Tomas on December 28th and went through three hours of shelling. A few minor injuries were reported. The medics were ordered by Gen. MacArthur not to carry guns. On that same date, Capt. Alvin Poweleit, Sgt. Howard Massey, and Cpl. John Reynolds and PFC Curis Massey encountered a Japanese patrol. The three soldiers were in a streambed when they heard a twig snap. Carefully, they made their way back to their truck and hid in the brush. As they watched, a Japanese patrol made its way down the bed of the stream. Each of the medical detachment men aimed their guns at a specific member of the patrol. They opened fire and continued to fire until the patrol was wiped out. The battalion was ordered to fall back to San Isidro which was located south of Cabanatuan where they were shelled again resulting in one tank being flipped onto its side when a shell landed near it. The crew was taken to a field hospital with minor injuries, and the tank was uprighted and put back into use with a replacement crew. It was noted that the tank crews were physically in poor condition from lack of sleep, lack of food, and constantly being on alert.

The next morning, December 30th, 2nd Lt. William Read’s tank platoon was serving as a rearguard and was in a dry rice paddy when it came under enemy fire by Japanese mortars. Read was riding in a tank when one of the enemy rounds hit one of its tracks knocking it out. After escaping the tank, Read stood in front of it and attempted to free the crew. A second round hit the tank, directly below where he was standing blowing off his legs at the knees and leaving him mortally wounded. The other members of his crew carried Read from the tank and laid him under a bridge. Read would not allow himself to be evacuated since there were other wounded soldiers. He insisted that these men be taken first. He would die in the arms of Pvt. Ray Underwood as the Japanese overran the area.

The Japanese had broken through two Philippine Divisions holding Route 5 and C Company was ordered to Baluiag to stop the advance so that the remaining forces could withdraw. On the morning of December 31st, 1st Lt. William Gentry, commanding officer of a platoon of C Company tanks, sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way to cross the river into the town, Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge, while Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge hidden in huts in the barrio. The third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag, and 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.

Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge. Later that day, the Japanese assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.

Major John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts on the town’s church steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks’ positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told Morley that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village. When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady’s tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting. Kennady held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time C Company was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.

C Company withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops. The tanks were about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire which caused the rice stacks to catch fire. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a 37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.

The tank company was next sent to the Barrio of Porac to aid the Philippine Army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, they learned where the guns were located and attacked destroying three of the guns and chasing the Japanese destroying trucks, and killing the infantry. The tanks were ordered to fall back to San Fernando and were refueled and received ammunition. 

On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which 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 bridge over the Pampanga River with half of the defenders withdrawing. 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 and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.

On the top of a hill, the medics watched the 31st Infantry halt the Japanese advance with their Garand rifles. The trees had been stripped of vegetation because of the artillery fire. The medics dropped back to the Pilar-Bagac Road. Gen Douglas MacArthur visited the area on the 7th and commented that the soldiers he saw should be in the hospital. Capt. Alvin Poweleit asked him, “Who’d man the tanks?” MacArthur shook his head and walked away.

It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “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.”

From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the Southern forces could escape. The medics were at Culis on January 4th where they treated many of the 194th Tank Battalion’s wounded. When a Japanese plane came in very low to straf, it was hit by machine gun fire from a tank and crashed three or four miles away from where it was hit. The tankers were given a rest on the 6th. They were half-dead, half-fed, and half wore uniforms that were ragged. Most of the tank crew members were wounded in some way.

At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. The smoke blew back into the Japanese and since they were wearing white shirts, they were lit by the moonlight. After taking heavy casualties they withdrew. That night, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. The 194th crossed the bridge covered by the 192nd and then covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge before it was destroyed by the engineers. The 192nd was the last unit to enter Bataan.

The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and the members of the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.

The medics were at kilometer 142 on January 12th and fell back to Pilar and Balanga on January 18th.  The medics had a hard time sleeping because of the fear of Japanese snipers. The next day they dropped back to Orion and dropped back to kilometer 147 the next day. That afternoon the soldiers caught a pig and roasted it. The chow truck arrived at 6:00 p.m. and they ate their first “American” food in two days. The tanks on the 20th stopped a Japanese landing. The Japanese landed troops on a point protruding from the main peninsula of Bataan on the 23rd. The troops were quickly cut off, and when an attempt was made to reinforce them, the Japanese landed the troops on another point. It was noted that they were bombed and strafed repeatedly and that they were not fed.

On the 28th, Capt. Alvin Poweleit, Sgt. Howard Massey, Pvt. Curtis Massey, and Cpl. John Reynolds were making the rounds to the battalion’s aid stations in an ambulance. As night was falling, they came under heavy fire from Japanese artillery. To get out of the line of fire, they pulled off the road and camouflaged the ambulance. Sgt. Massey went down a slope to the bed of a creek. While there, he heard the sound of twigs cracking. He ran to the ambulance and told the other soldiers what he had heard, and each man gave his opinion of the situation. Believing that the noise was caused by the Japanese, the medics readied their guns. As medics, they were not supposed to be carrying since they were medics. Soon they saw eight camouflaged Japanese soldiers approaching. Sgt. Massey planned the method of attack. Capt. Poweleit would take the first man, Sgt. Massey would take the second, Cpl. Reynolds the third man, and Pvt. Massey took the fourth man. They would do the same with the remaining Japanese soldiers. The four men opened fire and wiped out the patrol. Knowing that more Japanese were in the area, they got in the ambulance and out of the area as fast as they could.

The medical detachment set up its aid station in thickets and hid it under trees. Since they were constantly falling back, they did this on almost a daily basis.

The battalions took on the job of guarding the airfields in Bataan in February which had been constructed because of the belief that aid would be coming by air. Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. The well-camouflaged tanks surrounded the airfield and had several plans on how they would defend the airfields from paratroopers.

After being up all night on beach duty, B Company, on February 3rd, was strafed by Japanese planes after one of its members pulled his half-track from under the jungle canopy, onto the beach, took a pot-shot at Recon Con Joe, and missed. Recon Joe was attempting to locate the tanks. Twenty minutes later Japanese planes appeared and dropped bombs on the company that exploded in the tree tops. Two men were killed in the attack and two others later died of their wounds.

The 192nd took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops on points sticking out of Bataan but they ended up trapped. When reinforcements were landed, they landed in the wrong places. One battle was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, a second battle was the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the last battle was the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.

C Company was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night.

The next day, another platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.

On February 4th, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that each tank could be ordered to where it was needed. John led as many as five attacks a day, into the pocket, to wipe out the Japanese. A few of the cleansing missions lasted for five hours. After several days of this, the pocket was completely cleared of enemy soldiers. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. When the attack resumed the next morning, the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the cliff’s edge out of view. They were forced out of the caves and into the sea. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd and the 45th mopped up the Japanese.

At the same time, the tank companies were involved in the Battle of the Pockets. Their job was to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The Little Pocket was on top of a hill a quarter mile behind the main line of defense. The Big Pocket was a half mile south of Trails 5 and 7. Fighting in the Big Pocket was stressful and the tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.

In the Big Pocket, C Company lost one tank, on February 2nd, that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that the crew – Sgt. Elmer Smith, Pvt. Vernor Deck, Pvt. Sidney Rattner, and Pvt. Robert Young – were killed by hand grenades thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, the battalion’s maintenance section removed the bodies which was a gruesome job. The bodies were so badly mangled that the only way to identify them was by matching personal possessions and clothing to the bodies. One man appeared to have been alive when the Japanese began to fill the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it since a handgun with a spent bullet casing was found in the tank. The tank was put back into service.

During the month the medics treated a number of men wounded during the Battle of the Pockets. It was on February 5th that a member of the medical detachment, Pvt. Curtis Massey was paralyzed and later died from wounds after being hit by shrapnel. 2nd Lt. Ed Winger died after being shot by a Filipino soldier who thought he was a German because of his blond hair. The men also lived with daily shelling from Japanese artillery. The medical detachment was at kilometer 218 on February 9th. It was during this time that the detachment began treating many of the men who were running fevers and showing signs of malnourishment. On February 11th, they dropped back to kilometer 201. On the 24th they were near the Pantingan River. During this time, the medics used Japanese hand grenades to catch fish. Sickness was now as big of a threat to the soldiers as the Japanese. 

While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.

In the Big Pocket, Cpl. Jack Bruce, A Co., was hit by enemy fire and an attempt was made to rescue him. On February 12th. during this recovery attempt, Sgt. John Hopple, HQ Co, was wounded by a sniper as he, Sgt. Owen Sandmire, A Co., and two other members of the battalion attempted to rescue Bruce. The four men crawled out to Bruce, while under fire, put him on the litter, and returned him to American lines. Three of the four rescuers were wounded. Sandmire drove Hopple and the others who had been wounded to the field hospital. To do this he drove down the west coast of Bataan, through Mariveles, and back up the east coast to the field hospital. Because of the tropical climate, infections set in quickly. Hopple succumbed to his wounds later in the day on February 18th at Hospital #1, Little Baguio, on Bataan. Cpl. Jack Bruce survived but later died as a Prisoner of War.

The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18th. But before this was done, one C Company tank that had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.

The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. The newspapers in the U.S. wrote about the lull in Bataan and the preparations for the expected offensive.

Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.

A Co. was attached to the 194th Tank Battalion and was on beach duty with A Co., 194th. When the breakthrough came, the two tank companies were directly in the path of the advance. When the Japanese attempted to land troops, their smoke screen blew into their troops causing them to withdraw.

On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left. The Japanese attacked the line held by American troops on April 8th. It was said that the Japanese made what the Americans called “A Bridge of Death” where the Japanese threw themselves on the barbed wire until there were enough bodies on it so the following troops could walk over it. The defenders were not only defending against a frontal attack, but they also were defending against attacks on their flanks and rear.

It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. 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 were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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.” 

It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company, realized that he had white bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. on April 9th, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender.  (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” 

That night as they attempted to sleep, the ground began to shake. They were experiencing an earthquake. They also heard the sound of explosions to the south of their bivouac. The rumor quickly spread that the Japanese had landed behind their position. In reality, they were hearing the ammunition dumps being blown up.

Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. Another jeep followed them – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.

At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed.

King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.

Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”

The medical detachment was bivouacked in an area next to HQ Company, 192nd, on the west side of the Bataan Peninsula. Around 3:00 A.M. on April 9, 1942, the rest of the medical detachment was informed of the surrender. A rumor soon spread that they were going to be put on barges and taken to Australia. Instead, they were sent to C Company’s bivouac. They stayed in its bivouac for two days before the Japanese made contact with them. It wasn’t until 5:00 P.M., on the 11th that they were ordered to Mariveles. The members of the medical detachment boarded their trucks and began to drive to Mariveles. On their way to Mariveles, the trucks were stopped by Japanese soldiers who took their watches. The men continued to Mariveles and ran into two Japanese soldiers who did not know what to do with them, so one went to get their commanding officer. While they waited, the remaining Japanese soldiers began bragging about how Japan had conquered the Philippines and would conquer Australia and the west coast of the United States.

Later in the day, the men were ordered to move. They had no idea that they had started what they simply called, “the march.” Most of the men had dysentery, some malaria, and others were simply weak from hunger. The first five miles were uphill which was hard on the sick men. It was made harder by the Japanese guards who were assigned a certain distance to march and made the POWs move at a faster pace so that they could complete their distance as fast as possible. Those who could not keep up and fell were bayoneted. At one point they ran past Japanese artillery that was firing at Corregidor with Corregidor returning fire. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide and some of the POWs were killed by incoming shells. Corregidor did destroy three of the four guns.

The Americans were marched in groups of 100 with guns on them at all times. Each group was assigned six Japanese guards who would be changed at regular intervals. Since the guards had a certain distance to cover, they wanted to do it as fast as possible and made the POWs move as fast as possible. Men who fell were shot or bayoneted because the guards did not want to stop for them. When the guards were replaced, the POWs again found themselves moving at a fast pace because they also wanted to complete their assigned portion of the march as fast as possible.

The heat on the march was intolerable, and those who begged for water were beaten by the guards with their rifle butts because they had asked. Those who were exhausted or suffering from dysentery and dropped to the side of the road were shot or clubbed to death. Food on the march was minimal when it was given to the prisoners, each would receive a pint of boiled rice. The Filipino people seeing the condition of the prisoners attempted to aid them by passing food to the Americans. If the Filipinos were caught doing this, they were beheaded. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery.

During the 70-mile march, the Americans were seldom allowed to stop and were not fed until the fifth day. Those who stopped or dropped out were bayoneted. For the men, hearing other men who had fallen to the ground begging for help and not being able to stop to help them was one of the hardest things they experienced on the march. The POWs who continued to march and those who had fallen both knew that to do so meant death for both men.

The lack of water and food was extremely hard on the POWs. The POWs who ran to the water spigots of the artesian wells to fill their canteens with water were shot by the Japanese. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The POWs were amazed by the courage of the Filipino people who openly defied the Japanese by giving food and water to the POWs. It was said that every 200 or 300 yards were artesian wells, but the POWs were not allowed to drink from them. As men became more desperate, they would run to the wells only to find that the Japanese had sent advance teams ahead who shot or bayoneted those attempting to get water from them. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad some chose to drink the water, and many of these men later died from dysentery. The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they sat there, the guards would shake them down and take any possession they had that the guards liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese to ride past them in trucks and entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.

When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they marched through Layac and LubAt this time, that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march. Jim recalled that it felt like his skin was actually absorbing the rain.

The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.

At some point, the POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments and march to the train station in San Fernando. There, they were put into small wooden train cars known as “Forty or Eights” because each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each detachment had 100 men in it, the Japanese packed 100 men into each boxcar. Then they closed the doors. The heat was suffocating and those men who died could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall. When the living left the boxcars at Capas, the dead fell to the floors. As the POWs left the cars, the Filipinos threw food to the POWs. The guards did not stop the Filipinos.

At Camp O’Donnell, the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money or other items on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.

Each unit was assigned its own barracks with the 192nd, 194th, and 17th Ordnance in the same area. There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.

The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. Some men said it was slop and made men violently ill. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. Men stated that other men would push the food away and not eat and were gradually starving themselves. When they realized that they were dying they tried to eat but had completely lost their appetites for any food. By May 1st, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.

One of the biggest problems with the food was the cooks – regardless of unit – pilfered extra food for themselves. It was reported that some of the cooks looked healthier than the average POW. The cooks even sold the food to other POWs. When the cooks were replaced in an attempt to deal with the problem, the new cooks soon were doing the same thing.

There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.

There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.

The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.

The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.

The Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.

Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.

The dead were carried to the cemetery in litters and placed in a grave with four other POWs. It was not unusual for a POW working this detail to die and be put into the grave with the other dead. Before they were buried, the dead were stripped of their clothing, which was boiled in hot water and then given to another POW who needed clothing.

When the POWs returned to the cemetery in the morning to dig graves for the men who had died during the night, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them. The men would chase off the dogs, knock the arms and legs down, and rebury them.

A Japanese clerk, Mr. Nishimura, was in charge of giving work details assignments to the POWs. It was stated he was the camp interpreter and a member of the diplomatic corps. Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. 

Documents from after the war state that some of the Japanese assigned to the camp had drug problems which may have contributed to the abusive treatment of the POWs. POWs stated that they noticed that at times the guards had glassy eyes and seemed that their speech was slurred. It also was stated that the Japanese government ordered those soldiers caught abusing drugs be executed. The document also stated that the Japanese government went to great lengths to cover the problem up.

The Japanese finally acknowledged that they needed to do something to lower the death rate among the POWs so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Only the POWs who were considered too ill to be moved remained behind at Camp O’Donnell. Records show that most of those POWs died.

Dear Mrs. C. Kohniak:

        According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Nick Kaplar, 36,206,144, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the  Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender. 

        I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter.  In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department.  Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines.  The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war.  At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war.  Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information. 

        The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received.  It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date.  At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war.  In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired.  At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.

        Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months;  to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held;  to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress.  The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records.  Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.

                                                                                                                                                                    Very Truly yours

                                                                                                                                                                           J. A. Ulio (signed) 
                                                                                                                                                                      Major General
                                                                                                                                                                  The Adjutant General
  

It is known that from September to December the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The first to receive numbers were the POWs who left the Philippines on the Tottori Maru on October 8th. During this time, Nick was assigned POW number 1-06957. This was his POW number as long as he remained in the Philippines.

The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.

The work day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.  

The POWs were organized in groups on November 11th. Group I was made up of all the enlisted men who had been captured on Bataan. Group II was the POWs who had come from Camp 3, and Group III was composed of all Naval and Marine personnel from both Camps 1 and 3 and any civilians in the camp. It was also at this time that an attempt was made to stop the spread of disease. The POWs dug deep drainage ditches, and sump holes for only water, and the garbage began to be buried, and the grass in the camp was cut. Fr. Antonio Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs.

One hundred POWs worked on Sunday, November 15th digging latrines and sump holes. Since Sunday was a day off, Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, USMC, made sure each man received 5 cigarettes. On November 16th, Pvt. Peter Laniauskas was shot trying to escape. Two other POWs were tried by the Japanese for being involved in the escape attempt. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement and the other 30 days. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20th, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd. On November 23rd, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.

Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away.  He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 24th with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work. It should be mentioned that Fr. Buddenbroucke was executed after he was caught snuggling messages to the POWs and from them.

Each month on the eighth, the Japanese read the Japanese declaration of war on the United States to the POWs. This usually got them wound up and the POWs knew that the number of beatings they received would increase. On January 11th, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18th, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. Twelve hundred POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th. 

The Japanese installed a radio in the hospital so the POWs could hear their version of the war. During February they heard that the Russians were driving the Germans from Russia but Japan would continue to fight on its own. They also heard the Allies were winning the European War and that there had been a battle in the Marshall Islands between the Japanese and Americans.

Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1,255 to 1,450 POWs on them. Men who worked near the camp came back at about 11:30 AM for a tin of rice and then returned to work again to finish out a 10-hour day. After they had supper, there wasn’t much for the POWs to do. The Red Cross had sent books, but the Japanese censors took them away a few days after they arrived. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7th. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them, but it is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued blankets by the Japanese on February 22nd. A program was started by the POWs to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3rd, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.

One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worst beatings was considered the best detail to be on. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside were 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.

During February, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila. 

After arriving in the camp, the POWs were able to set up an underground mail network with Filipinos who served as couriers. Those POWs involved had code names so if the mail was intercepted they would be hard to identify. It appears that for almost two years the mail flowed into and out of the camp on a regular basis. The Japanese discovered underground mail on May 1, 1944, and the 23 POWs believed to be involved in the network were taken by the Kempi Tai to Manila. For one week, the POWs were tortured before 10 of the POWs, all officers, were later returned to the camp but segregated from the other POWs for a month. They sat on benches during the day and slept on the ground at night. The abuse also continued.

During this time, Nick was selected to be sent to Japan. On July 15, 1944, he was one of the POWs who boarded between 25 to 30 trucks for Bilibid Prison. The POWs left the camp at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid at 2:00 in the morning. 

At 8:00 in the morning, the POWs disembarked the ship and were taken to a theater and held in it all day. That night they were put into detachments of 200 men and taken to the train station. From there, the POWs boarded different trains and taken to their camps. The POWs took a two-day trip to Fukuoka #3-B which was near Nakanaru, Kokura City on the Tobata Line of the West Railroad Company. The camp commander made it clear to the POWs that they were in a work camp and would be expected to work.

In the camp there were ten barracks, of flimsy construction, that could hold 150 POWs with each POW having a three-foot by six-foot living space, with a straw mat and three thin blankets for warmth, to sleep in. There were no stoves for heat but each had a charcoal pit for heat but no fuel was given to the POWs to use them. If they had used them, there were no flues to vent the smoke. Each building had two platforms for sleeping on both sides of the barracks running the length of the building. The lower tier was six inches off the ground and the upper tier was six feet from the ground and was reached by ladders. There were also shelves above each tier for the POWs to store their possessions. The floors were concrete and the roofs were tiled. Lighting was provided by meager light bulbs. The barracks were infested with lice, bedbugs, and fleas. The Japanese refused to give the POWs any supplies to kill the pests. At the end of the barracks were latrines with 6 wooden stalls, 1 urinal, and 4 sinks. The POWs were given one gallon of lime for use in each of the latrines.

Food for the POWs consisted of a main dish of rice, wheat, wheat flour, corn, and, Kaoliang, a millet. The POWs carried their lunches, which were millet, to work in small bento boxes. It was estimated that each POW received about 150 grams of rice and barley and 200 grams of bread each day. It was said, those working received 750 grams a day and 550 grams for non-workers. They also received a soup made from seaweed that was pretty much hot water and seaweed. To supplement their diets, the POWs in the camp would hunt rats at night for meat. There was a camp garden, but the Japanese took all the vegetables and left the POWs with the leaves and stalks. On the two occasions, the POWs had meat, the meat that was given to them was rotten shark meat, rotten whale meat, or rotten fish. The POWs were so hungry that they went to the garbage dump to look for food. The unsanitary conditions in the kitchen resulted in many POWs having diarrhea. For Christmas, each POW received a tangerine, and they ate the fruit and also the peels.

The hospital had steam pipes installed, but the building was heated only part of the night during the winter, so the patients had to wear heavy overcoats during the day to keep reasonably warm. This building was always overcrowded and understaffed. A second hospital was built but the POWs were denied its use, and it remained unoccupied until Oct. 1944. The sick lay in bunks with straw mats. The original hospital could hold from 50 to 60 patients but usually, there were 120 patients. The rear of each barracks contained a washroom equipped with concrete sinks and contaminated running cold water. The men were warned against drinking this water.

When they arrived they were issued one set of “seaweed” clothes resembling heavy mosquito netting and two blankets. Clothing was handed out by a Japanese supply sergeant who would hold clothing inspections on the POWs’ day off. It was during these inspections that the POWs were supposed to present their worn-out clothing to him for new clothing. Before he would issue new clothing to the POWs he would beat them with a club and hit them with his fists. The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beatings which resulted in men developing pneumonia and dying. On January 1, 1945, each POW received an overcoat. After the war, 1500 work uniforms were found in a warehouse. In addition, the POWs went barefoot in the winter instead of receiving new shoes. The CO of the camp claimed they didn’t have any shoes for the POWs. The Japanese stated that they issued 3,000 to 4,000 working suits, 700 pairs of rubber-soled footwear, 3,000 pairs of gloves, 500 pairs of socks, and 1,500 towels. It is known that the POWs received towels. After the war in the camp’s warehouse was found, 100 pairs of Japanese leather shoes, 250 pounds of shoe repair leather sent by the Red Cross, 500 pairs of socks, and 1300 work uniforms. 

On a few occasions, the POWs did receive Red Cross boxes. It was noted that the canned meat and other food were missing from the boxes. On several occasions, the POWs saw the Japanese guards eating stew that came from the cans. One POW stated that if 100 Red Cross boxes arrived at the camp, the POWs got 75 of them. Some of the guards were seen wearing Red Cross clothing sent to the camp for the POWs and smoking American cigarettes. One guard during one winter was seen wearing fourteen different pairs of Red Cross shoes.

Each day after work, the sick call was held. The POW doctors would diagnose cases and determine what medicine was needed to treat the POW. A Japanese doctor or orderly was always present to tell the POW doctor if the POW would be allowed to be treated. To meet quotas for workers, the sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it. The Japanese camp doctor made the sick stand out in the cold for hours. He also beat them and allowed the guards to beat them. He also withheld the medicine that the POW doctors requested for the sick. Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross, the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages. Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with hacksaw blades and crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools to the camp. The first Japanese doctor was replaced by a second doctor who liked to make the POWs, who were shivering from fevers, stand outside and pour water on them. The hospital was built for 50 POWs, but on an average day, there were 200 POWs in it. If POWs were allowed to stay in the camp, they had to police the grounds or work in the camp garden. It appears pneumonia was one of the major killers in the camp. One Japanese orderly was known to say when a POW died, “he was not worth a damn anyway.” It was noted by the British POWs that the Americans were already malnourished when they arrived at the camp. Records show that 65 Americans, 13 British, 49 Dutch, 25 Indian, and 6 POWs of other nationalities died in the camp.

The POWs could not understand the interpreter which resulted in them being beaten for failing to follow orders. The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for violating camp rules, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water. The camp commander was said to carry a stick that he used to hit the POWs across the top of their heads. In one incident an entire barracks was slapped in the face, by the guards, because some POWs had smoked in the barracks. During the winter, POWs who were being punished often had water thrown on them. A group of about 60 POWs was made to crawl on their hands and knees, while carrying other POWs, on their backs. As they crawled, they were hit with bamboo sticks, belts, and rifle butts. There were two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time. All POWs who died were reported to have died in the camp hospital. Another incident involved an American soldier who traded with the Japanese. The war was almost over and Japan was about to surrender. The soldier traded for roasted beans. As it turned out, the beans had been tainted with arsenic. The soldier died the next day. After going through all he had suffered, the soldier died when freedom was almost his. If a POW attempted to escape, he dug his own grave and was shot.

One POW stated, “The men were beaten with sticks, clubs, rifle butts for no reason at all. This was a daily affair. In some cases, men were beaten for violating camp orders; such as getting caught smoking out of hours. The guard would take the men up to the guardhouse beat them up with their fists, stripped them of their clothes, and then threw them outside in a water tank. This usually happened in the wintertime. After about two or three hours of this kind of torture, they would be sent back to the barracks the men would most always be given some form of punishment; such as in being unable to get the next issue of cigarettes.”

It was in May 1943, that his parents received another message from the War Department. 

“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PVT NICK KAPLAR IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.”

A few weeks after receiving this message, the family received another message from the War Department.

“Cecelia Kohniak
Withee Wi

The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:

“It is suggested that you address him as follows:

“Pvt. Nick Kaplar
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York

“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.

“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.

                                                                                                                                               
“Sincerely

                                                                                                                                               Howard F. Bresee
                                                                                                                                               Colonel, CMP
                                                                                                                                               Chief Information Bureau”

The POWs worked in a steel mill that had been built by an American company before the war. They worked seven days a week and had one day off a month that was used for house cleaning and inspection. After that, these things were done they had a half-day off. Each man was issued a towel for the purpose of wiping off the sweat while working. Their workdays started at 5 A.M. when they woke. They had breakfast and fell out for work call at 6:30. They worked from 7:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. and received a half-hour lunch. Other documents indicated they worked from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM with a half-hour lunch and two ten-minute breaks; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It also stated they received three days off each month. The POWs stated that during the winter, they never saw daylight.

To get to the mill, the POWs walked downhill through the town and rode a train to the mill which was about 18 miles from the camp. They rode in flat cars with low sides which were on hinges. Sometimes these sides would be fastened in place by only one pin, but despite the fact that prisoners were so crowded into them that they were forced to press against the sides; there was no instance in which the sides gave way. Sometimes they sat in cars with a heavy layer of soot on the floor and also in cars containing glowing clinkers. Being open, the cars offered no protection against the weather, and many times I was compelled to sit out in the rain or snow for long periods before the cars were moved.

Some of the prisoners worked in the nearby steel mills of Tabata, while the rest worked in the Seitetsu Steel Mills at Yawata. The POWs loaded and unloaded ships, worked in the pipe shops, worked in machine shops, worked at brick making, worked in the motor car repair shop, worked at tool making, and some had to chip cast iron with hammers. Much of the POW work was to shovel iron ore and rebuild the ovens. They were sent into the ovens to clean out the debris while the ovens were hot because the Japanese would not let them cool off. To get out of the ovens fast, the POWs worked fast. Hand grenades and shell casings from the mill helped the Japanese war effort.

There was a second interpreter at the mill who the POWs liked. He had been to the States and could speak English fluently. He was never known to have abused a POW, and when he saw a POW being beaten, he would attempt to help the POWs and find out what the problem was, and he made the guard stop hitting the POWs if he found that there was no reason for the abuse. The POWs believed he tried to help them as much as he could.

On August 20, 1944, the second air raid in the area took place. The first took place in July before the POWs arrived. During the air raid, the POWs kept working in the mill and were forbidden to stop working. After four or five air raids, the Japanese allowed the POWs to take cover. When an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel. Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters. Those POWs too far away from the train or shelters simply had to ride out the air raid. On one occasion, the POWs were put into shelters, but when the Japanese realized it was a major air raid, they made the POWs run a mile and a half to the tunnel. Air raids began occurring as many as five times a day and they began to take place at night. It was indicated that at the camp there were adequate air raid shelters for the POWs.

A POW recalled, “During Allied air raids on the steel mill, prisoners were allowed to go to the safety of a nearby railway tunnel, while guards with fixed bayonets chased and beat us all the way.” When the air raids took place while the POWs were in the camp, he said, “During night raids at the prison compound, there was the ha;f-shelter of bamboo and dirt huts, with bamboo poles covering the top to prevent American prisoners from cheering the American bombers that flew overhead. We were warned we would be executed if we even looked up at the planes while going to nearby shelters.”

The majority of POW officers in the camp were sent to Korea in April 1945. The beatings of the POWs also seemed to increase and they were beaten for playing cards, failing to salute, or failing to follow a camp rule. Collective beatings also seemed to increase when the Japanese suffered another military defeat. One POW guessed that of the 1200 POWs in the camp, at most there were only 50 POWs in camp who had never been beaten.

POWs stated that on August 6th, the POWs heard the sound of planes. The Japanese fled and took cover in the air raid shelters and bombs from the planes began exploding around the POWs so they took cover. As they hid, bombs from the second wave of bombers hit the mill. After the attack, the POWs returned to the camp. It was on that same day that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the prisoners were returned to the camp early. They did not return to work for days. When they did go back to the mills, they again came back to the camp early.

On the morning of August 9th, it was overcast and raining when the POWs at the steel mill heard the sound of a single B-29 approaching. To their amazement, the Japanese fled and took cover in the air raid shelters while they continued to work. It was stated that the plane flew over several times before flying off in the direction of Nagasaki. As it turned out the City of Kokura – three miles from the Yawata Steel Mill – was the primary target for the second atomic bomb, but since the sky was extremely overcast, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. George Garman, C Co., 192nd who was in the camp stated, “I saw the bomb go off 60 miles away. The blast filled the sky with dust all day, and the dust swirled around in the sky like a giant hurricane.”

The POWs noticed that the attitude of the guards toward them had changed. A few days later, the POWs saw Japanese workers facing the direction of radio speakers with their heads bowed. This was the first time that the prisoners suspected that the war may be over. The Americans thought that the emperor had passed away. The truth was that the emperor was announcing Japan’s surrender. An American ensign, who could read and speak Japanese, saw a newspaper announcing the surrender. He was the first person to inform his fellow POWs that the war was over. A day or two later most of the guards disappeared.

The POWs were then told the war was over by a Japanese officer. The camp was officially turned over to the POWs on August 20, 1945.  It was at that time that the POWs found 350 large Red Cross boxes with four smaller boxes in each one. Later that day, a B-29 appeared over the camp and dropped leaflets telling them to paint the letters “POW” on the roof of a building. The planes returned and began dropping food and clothes to the POWs. For the first time in three years, the men had more food than they could have imagined. They ate so much that many became ill.

Nick remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 13, 1945, when he was liberated. After he was liberated, his family received another message from the War Department.

Mrs. Kohniak: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. Nick Kaplar was returned to military control Sept. 13 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.

E. F. Witsell

Acting Adjutant General of the Army

He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment. When it was determined he was healthy enough, he returned to the United States on the S.S. Klapfontein arriving at Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1945. He was discharged, from the army, on April 12, 1946.

Nick Kaplar returned to Wisconsin where he married, Lila Oberbillig, in Loyal, Wisconsin, on January 19, 1947. The couple had met at the general hospital at Camp Pickett, Virginia, where he was sent to recover from his POW experience and she was the mess sergeant for the hospital. He became the father of a son and spent the rest of his life in Wisconsin. It is known that one of his hobbies was fishing.

Nick Kaplar died on October 7, 1968, in Eau Clare, Wisconsin at the age of 53 and was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Eau Clare.

Default Gravesite 1

Continue Medical Detachment

Leave a Reply

A note to our visitors

This website has updated its privacy policy in compliance with changes to European Union data protection law, for all members globally. We’ve also updated our Privacy Policy to give you more information about your rights and responsibilities with respect to your privacy and personal information. Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our updated privacy policy.