Sgt. William C. Alford was born on October 1, 1921, to George Alford and Sadie May Miller-Alford in Danville, Kentucky. He attended school from kindergarten through eighth grade in Danville, but for high school, he traveled to Burgin, Kentucky.
In July 1939, he joined the Kentucky National Guard’s 38th Tank Company from Harrodsburg. His reason for doing this was that his best friend, Cecil Mills, was joining, and William liked the spending money he earned for drilling one evening each week for two hours. For each day he drilled, he earned a day’s pay. Since he was seventeen years old when he joined the Kentucky National Guard, his mother signed an affidavit stating that he was eighteen.
In 1940, the fall of William’s senior year of high school, he was called to federal service when his tank company was federalized as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He left high school to go with the company to Fort Knox, Kentucky. in all likelihood, he completed high school at Ft. Knox.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
When Headquarters Company was formed in January 1941, William was transferred to the company and assigned to the reconnaissance platoon. He recalled that he and the other men received ten weeks of intensive training. After the training was completed, the battalion received new equipment. It was also about this time that the battalion became receiving draftees to fill out its roster.
On June 14, 1941, the battalion left Ft. Knox on a three-day, technical road, march to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back which covered 225 miles. Part of the reason for this was so the soldiers learned to load, unload, and set up administrative camps as the 192nd took part in the Louisiana maneuvers.
From September 1st through 30th, the battalion took part in the Louisiana Maneuvers. William recalled that HQ Company really did not do much during the maneuvers. After the maneuvers, the 192nd was ordered to report to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Those men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day – when another squadron of planes was sent to the area – the buoys had been picked up – and a fishing boat was seen making its way toward shore carrying the buoys under a tarp. Since communication between the Navy and Air Corps was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
William received a one week leave home to say his goodbyes. While he and the other men were home, the army was bringing the battalion up to full strength by selecting men from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
After returning to Camp Polk, the soldiers boarded trains and headed for San Francisco, California. HQ Company took the southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and through California to San Francisco. There, they rode the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft.McDowell on Angel Island. What William remembered about Angel Island was receiving complete physicals and more needles. Men with minor medical conditions were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. The next day, when they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.
At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits- before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, William and his platoon were ordered to the end of the main runway at Clark Field. Since they had two half-tracks with machine-guns, their job was to join the tanks in guarding the field against Japanese paratroopers. As the tankers looked up, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed to be refilled and the pilots went to lunch.
William recalled that the planes at the airfield were parked wing-tip to wing- tip on both sides of the runway. There was no sign of activity on the ground or in the air. As he watched, planes approached the field around 12:45 in the afternoon. The tankers had enough time to count 54 planes in formation. When the bombs began exploding chaos broke out everywhere. About the attack, he said, “Eighteen days after we got there, they dumped on us and all hell broke loose. They bombed us at 12:29 P.M. Dec 8 – four hours after Pearl Harbor. They destroyed 89 planes and 236 were killed.”
After the attack, 89 of the planes that had been sitting along the runway were destroyed, and there were approximately 236 casualties. From this point out, William and his platoon guarded the airfield during the day against paratroopers, and at night they enforced blackouts in the villages around the airfield.
During the Battle of Bataan, it was William’s job as a reconnaissance sergeant to scout out positions for the tanks to hide in during the day when not engaged. It was also his platoon’s job to provide a perimeter guard for HQ Company. In the diary he kept he noted on December 25, “Plenty of bullets – no chow.”
The morning of April 9, 1942, William received word by a messenger from group HQ of the surrender at 1:00 A.M. His orders were to destroy everything except his vehicles. His platoon burnt everything they could and damaged everything else beyond use. At least he hoped the things could not be repaired and used by the Japanese. Of this, he said, “All dreams of help had faded, we knew we were waiting for ships that would never come. We had held the (Japanese advance) for more than four months – it’s more than the mission called for. After three months of hell, we felt a great relief. We didn’t know what would happen next…if only we knew.”
William’s platoon made its way to Mariveles where he started what became known as the death march on April 13. He started the march with many of the men from HQ Company, but as he marched he became separated from them. For William, the two hardest things about the march were the hunger cramps and the useless killings of men who could not keep up with the column. Those who could no longer walk were left behind.
“We were placed in columns of fours, 25 deep and ordered to march in this formation. Stragglers were beaten, kicked and bayoneted. We were allowed no water, although there were artesian wells every 200 to 300 yards along the way. After several days without water, the men would get so desperate that they would break ranks and run to the wells. The Japanese always sent advance guards ahead to guard the wells and the men were bayoneted when they tried to get some water. The men also broke ranks to break off sugarcane when they passed sugarcane fields. For this, they were shot. I was shot at myself, but never hit.”
He witnessed many men shot, bayoneted, or get their heads crushed because they no longer could keep moving. It took him nine days to complete the march. Of it, he said, “Those strong enough made it and those who weren’t didn’t. We lost thousands of men. I never once gave up hope. I got discouraged. But I made up my mind that if anyone was going to make it, I would.” One of those who was lost was Cpl. Emery Boardman of HQ Company. William witnessed his being bayoneted and after he died placed on a fence by other members of HQ Company.
According to him, at one point on the march, the Japanese made the POWs stand in the sun for hours next to a stream, “We drank from every mud hole I could find – thanks to saving some chlorine powder – I managed to keep from getting sick.”
From Mariveles, William made his way to San Fernando where he arrived on April 22. He remained there for several days when the POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments. They were marched to the train station and were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “Forty or Eights” since each could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men in each car and closed the doors. Those men who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall to the floor. The POWs rode the train to Capas, where they climbed out of the cars. As they did the dead fell to the floors of the cars.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base which the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. He arrived at the camp on April 25. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from 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.
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 Japanese beat the ranking American officer with a broadsword after he asked for medicine, additional food, and materials to fix the leaks in the huts’ roofs.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic 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.
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 ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scraped and lime was spread over it.
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. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
Bill recalled that during his time in the camp, meals consisted of two watery cups of rice a day. Death was something that the POWs lived with since men were dying from sickness, starvation, and the stress of making the march. Being assigned to the burial detail, he estimated that 40 to 50 Americans and 200 to 300 Filipinos were buried each day. The dead were buried 30 to 35 men per grave. About the camp, he said, “Morale was pretty low all the time. Once in a while, someone broke a smile. I never thought about it being low morale. Every now and again a guy just gave up – but not very often.”
To get out of Camp O’Donnell, Bill went out on a work detail to go back to Bataan which was sent to San Fernando. The 150 POWs on this detail collected scrap metal to be sent to Japan. The POWs tied disable vehicles together with ropes and tied them all to an operating vehicle which pulled the other vehicles. A POW drove each disabled vehicle to San Fernando. From there, the vehicles were taken to Manila. He recalled, “I saw men beaten for not working hard enough or not doing their work in a manner to please the Japanese.”
The detail lasted until October 1942, at that time he was sent to Lubao. The detail ended on July 23, 1943, when he was one of 50 POWs sent to the motor pool near Manila for six months to work as a mechanic. This detail was known as the Bachrach Garage Detail. He remembered there were 22 tanks with red dots on top of them. “Six months after we got there only two were running. We sabotaged every one of them.”
At some point, he also worked on the docks at Manila. Of this, he said, “While in Manila, I helped unload two Red Cross ships, both full of Red Cross supplies. The ships were forced to anchor in the bay and their cargo was loaded aboard tugs. We unloaded and piled it on the docks. We were not permitted to touch anything. Boxes which had been broken open due to rough handling or the like were pilfered of the food by the Japanese and the remaining portions dumped into the bay. Mail unloaded from the ship was also dumped into the bay. These supplies were used by the Japanese troops in Manila.”
During his time on the detail, he lost his vision because of malnutrition. When he went out into the sunlight his eyes hurt, so he was sent to the hospital ward, run by the U.S. Navy at Bilibid Prison and spent six weeks in the hospital. “I was treated for blindness which I had contacted while in Manila. This blindness was caused by malnutrition. I was given vitamin pills for six weeks to cure my condition. I was treated by an American doctor and was scheduled to receive treatment for 90 days. However, at the end of six weeks, the treatments stopped and I could partially see again, I was sent to Cabanatuan.” Speaking of his time at Bilibid, he said there were 800 POWs there and in his own words, “There were four or five deaths due to disease while I was there.” When part of his vision came back, he was sent to Cabanatuan.
Cabanatuan had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagatan. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Of his time in the camp, he recalled, ” I saw many American prisoners beaten. A Japanese guard called ‘Moose,’ a three star private, about 5′ 11″ tall, weighing about 160-170 pounds, about 25 years of age, beat many POWs. I was never beaten by him. I was beaten by a guard called ‘Air Raid’ for stealing okra seed. He was about 5′ 5″ or 5′ 6″ tall. weighed about 120 pounds, and wore horn-rimmed glasses. On other occasions, I saw 3 American POWs tied hand and foot to a post, with their heads shaven and left in the hot sun for three days without food or water.”
The two main details were the farm detail and the airfield detail. The POWs on the farm detail grew camotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens, but this food went to the Japanese. The detail was under “Big Speedo” who was fair in his treatment of the POWs. He got his nickname because he said “speedo” when he wanted them to work faster. Another guard on the detail was called “Smiley” because he always smiled, but the POWs quickly learned not to trust him.
The airfield detail was given the job of building an airfield near Cabanatuan. The guard in charge was known as “Air Raid” who was unpredictable but usually fair with the POWs. Another guard was given the nickname “Donald Duck” because he talked fast and sounded like the cartoon character. He was unpredictable and known to beat POWs. The POWs cut grass, removed dirt, and leveled the ground. William worked on both of these details at some point. “I worked alternate days in the fields of a vegetable farm and as a laborer, building Cabanatuan Airport. I don’t believe the airport was ever finished. There were about 1000 men a day working on the airport. We worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week.”
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. one ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had.
During his time in the camp, he received one beating. “I was beaten by a guard named ‘Air Raid.’ for stealing okra seed. He was about 5′ 5″ to 5′ 6″ tall, weighed about 120 pounds, was around 25 years of age, and wore horned rimmed glasses.”
In July 1944, while still at Bilibid, William was selected for shipment to Japan and taken to the Port Area of Manila. On July 4, 1944, he was boarded onto the Canadian Inventor which sailed but returned to Manila for boiler repairs. On July 16, the ship sailed again, but this time it fell behind the other ships in the convoy until it was left behind.
Of this, he said, “There were 800 in this hold and 200 – 300 hundred in another hold. The hold containing 800 men was about 40 ‘ by 50’ and had a shelf about four feet from the floor and around all four sides. We were allowed on deck but only a few at a time in the evening. When we were allowed to smoke, we were made to stand within three feet of water filled cans. If we moved away from these cans, we were beaten and slapped. We were given only two-thirds of a canteen of rice and one pint of hot water a day.” This had been ordered by the camp commandant Lt. Wada.
He also recalled a different punishment given to other POWs. “On another occasion, Five men were placed in the guard house. They were beaten regularly, both at morning and evening roll call. They were confined for stealing food.” He also stated that they never received a Red Cross package while he was in the camp and that they knew the Japanese were appropriating the Red Cross Boxes because they always smoked American cigarettes.
The Canadian Inventor arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 23, and remained in port for ten days while salt was loaded. On August 4, it sailed along the west coast of Formosa for Keelung Harbor arriving there the next day. It remained there for twelve days while more repairs were made to its boiler.
On August 17, the ship sailed and dropped anchor at the Ryukyu Islands, north of Formosa, it once again had boiler problems. This time it made its way to for Naha, Okinawa. Again repairs were made before the ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 1.
After arriving at Moji, the POWs disembarked. As they left the ship, they were given chips of wood that had colors on them. The color a POW received determined what camp he was sent to. William was sent to Fukuoka #5-B which was also known as Omine Machi. The POWs in this camp worked in a coal mine. William did not work in the mine but repaired coal cars. “We worked from twelve to twenty hours a day. The men in the mine worked without adequate equipment or safety precautions. For the most part, the Japanese allowed us to do the work our own way. We were given a definite quota of coal cars to load and as long as that was done, little was said.” POWs whom the Japanese believed were not doing enough work were slapped.
Punishment for not working hard enough was also administered to the POWs. “I saw POWs slapped and beaten for not doing enough work. but I don’t recall any particular names of the prisoners or of the Japanese who committed the acts.” The food in the camp was inadequate. “We were supposed to get 350 grams of barley a day, but by the time the Japanese got done stealing from us, we only had about 150 grams.”
The POWs only received three Red Cross packages while in the camp which had been opened and mixed so that they had no idea how much should be in the box. What little food received in the boxes was not enough to have an impact on their health. Those boxes were already there when they arrived, but he did notice that the Japanese guards always smoked American cigarettes. He recalled that during his time in the camp there were always filled with rumors of how the war was going. At times, the guards were the ones who started the rumors. In his opinion, the best information came from Korean civilians working in the mine.
On the night of August 13, 1945, the camp guards vanished. William and the other POWs knew that something was up. The POWs raided the storehouse and took all the food. For the next several days, nothing happened. Then, B-29s flew over the camp and dropped food, medicine, and leaflets to the men telling them that the war was over. Remembering the event he said, ” Three B-29s flew over the camp. And if you ever had the hair on your back stand up, that was it.”
The POWs received more food from food drops and used a lamp to flash Morse Code to the planes. The crews of the planes told them to remain in the camp until American troops made contact with them. William and other POWs decided to leave the camp after three weeks in spite of the continued food drops. One reason was they really needed medical treatment. Before he left the camp, he went to the commandant’s office and took his POW picture off the wall.
The POWs took over a train and rode it a day and a half until they arrived at the port area south of Tokyo. They were greeted by Allied personnel, deloused and fresh clothing. The clothing that had been dropped to them from the planes was burnt. When he was liberated, he weighed 95 pounds. He remained in Japan for another four or five weeks.
After William was liberated, he was taken to Wakayama, Japan, and returned on the U.S.S.Hopping to Manila. In the Philippines, he was promoted to First Sergeant. He sailed, from the Philippines, on the U.S.S. Marine Shark and arrived back in the United States on November 1, 1945, at Seattle, Washington. It was a little over four years since he had left the United States.
On the trip home, he said he had one thought, “All the time I just kept thinking of home – and how big the steak was going to be when I got there.” William remained in the army until April 7, 1949, when he was discharged at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
William married Mary Ellen Lucas and became the father of two children. He later moved to New York State to work as a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealer in Trumansburg, New York, owned by his wife’s brother. He resided in Trumansburg for the rest of his life.
Of his time as a POW, he said, “I’ve always been able to talk about it, but most people never understand about these things. I’d like for people to know what went on and not to forget about it, so we’re able to learn about our mistakes.” He did admit that there were times that at times talking about his time as a POW, “Causes certain things to come back.”
William C. Alford passed away on January 14, 2006, at a hospice in Ithaca, New York, and was buried at Grove Cemetery in Trumansburg, New York.
The photo at the bottom of this page was the one he took from the wall of the office of the camp commandant at Omine Machi.