Arnold, Pvt. William L.

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Pvt. William L. Arnold was born on May 4, 1917, in Fishtail, Montana, to William C. & Margaret B. Arnold. He was the oldest of the couple’s six sons and four daughters. Since he could not afford the cost of getting to school, he dropped out of high school during his first year to help support his family by working on the family’s farm. He was one of the first Montana men to have his name selected to be drafted and was inducted into the Army on March 25, 1941. He was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for basic training.

After arriving, they spent the first weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.

The day started at 6:00 A.M. with the men showering, shaving, and making their cots, policing the grounds around their barracks, sweeping floors, and performing other duties. Breakfast was at 6:30 and drill at 7:30 which lasted until 11:30.  The men next had lunch which was followed by drill from 1:00 P.M. until 4:30 P.M. Evening mess was at 5;00 and the men were off duty, except for those men assigned guard duty. Six men were assigned this duty each night with two men on and four men off during the night.

A canteen was near the barracks which the men frequently visited. The camp also had a movie house in the main part of the base.

The men had Saturdays off and many went to Tacoma or Olympia. On Sunday, many of the men went to church at various times since each religion services took place at different times. They also went to town in the afternoon. Most at some point visited the site of the Narrows Bridge which had fallen into the Sound during the winter.

Many men were sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for specific training like tank mechanic and radioman It is known that Arnold was sent to Ft. Knox to radio operator school and qualified as a radio operator.

After radio school and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion. After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to Camp Polk. The battalion was there for two weeks before the tankers were informed that they were being deployed overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the men had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Since the battalion was made up of National Guard Tank Companies, those men who were 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. William either volunteered or had his name drawn, to join the battalion as a replacement and was assigned to D Company.

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 another squadron of planes went to the area but the buoys had been picked up and they spotted a fishing boat heading toward shore with a tarp covering something on its deck.  Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor the fishing boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

The battalion also received “new” tanks, which were new in the sense that they were new to the battalion. In reality, the tanks had come from the 753rd. The members of the 192nd put cosmoline on the guns so that they would not rust. The tanks and half-tracks were loaded on flatbed train cars.

Over different train routes, to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the battalion’s medical detachment gave inoculations and physicals to the tankers. Those men with minor medical issues were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.

The 192nd was boarded onto the I and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.

On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.  It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.

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, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.

When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.

At the fort, 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 – 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 ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They 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.

The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat. 

For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company. B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines. The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.

On December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.

The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall waiting to be refueled.

At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese. Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps. Of this, he said, “The Japanese hit us the same time they hit Pearl Harbor. The time difference is a day, so it was December 8 in the Philippines and December 7 in Pearl Harbor. I remember I was out there waiting for a ride into the village. I heard these planes come over. They were high flying bombers. I thought they were ours until I saw bombs dropping out of them.”

When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. He said, “We had nothing left but what we had on our backs.” The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.

That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.

One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Bataan.

The 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard beaches. On the 15, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.

The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climber to the top. On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, guns but were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf. They had received orders not to fire.

The tankers walked down the mountain and waited. They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.

On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end run to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).

Christmas Day, the tankers spent in the night in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.

The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.

At Bayambang, Lt. Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.

The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.

Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.

The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements,

At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.

The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the food rations were cut in half.

General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”

A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never launched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.

The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.

The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but the tanks were recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.

The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.

The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.

On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.

It was during the Battle for Bataan that he was taken to Field Hospital #2. About the hospital, he said, “It was just a bunch of beds set up in the jungle.” Since Bill was suffering from malaria and dysentery, he was in a military hospital when the surrender took place on April 9, 1942. This prevented him from taking part in the death march from Bataan.

The Japanese set up artillery near the hospital and fired at Ft. Drum and Corregidor which returned fire. Americans used by the Japanese as a human shield to protect the guns. when Gen. Wainwright learned what had been done, he ordered American artillery to cease firing.

Bill was transferred to Bilibid Prison as part of the Cabcaben POW Camp Detachment on May 19. Medical records kept at Bilibid show that he was suffering from malaria. He was sent to Cabanatuan and later taken to the Port Area of Manila to work as a stevedore loading and unloading ships. He remained on this detail until the summer of 1944 when the detail was dissolved and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison.

On August 25, 1944, the Bill and with the other prisoners were taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded the Noto Maru. The ship sailed as part of a ten-ship convoy on August 27. The ships sailed and spent the night in Subic Bay before sailing. He and the other POWs remained on deck since the ship’s holds were filled with dried coconuts.

They made the trip to Takao, Formosa, in two days and arrived there on August 30. It sailed for Keelung, Formosa, arriving the same day. The ship sailed again and arrived at Moji, Japan on September 4. He was taken to Osaka 5-D, but did not remain there long.

In Japan, Bill was held first at Osaka #4 which was known as Tanagawa. Of his time there, he said, “What we were doing is removing a mountain. We hauled all the rocks and dirt from the mountain and dumped it into the sea.” From Tanagawa, he was sent to Osaka #5-D where the POWs worked as stevedores. On May 11, 1945, the POWs were sent to Fukuoka #22 which opened in January 1945, where he worked in a coal mine. He recalled, “That was even worse. I had to go underground. It was dirty. You couldn’t hardly walk upright.”

He remained in this camp until he was liberated in September 1945. He recalled, “One morning, the Japanese didn’t take us to work, and all the guards disappeared. Finally, the camp commander came over and gave a little speech and told us the war was over.”
Not too long after this, American planes flew over and dropped supplies including canned food and chocolate bars. Some of the POWs ate too much and became ill. Arnold ate a canned of corned beef which was the first American food he had eaten in over three years.

On September 21, Bill and the other POWs were taken to Dejima Docks in Nagasaki, Japan. He was declared to be in good health and boarded onto a transport and returned to the Philippines. After being declared healthy, Bill sailed to the United States, on October 9, 1945, and arrived at Seattle, Washington, on October 28, 1945, on the M.S. Klipfonte, and spent two weeks in the hospital at Ft. Lewis. He was discharged from the army on March 25, 1946.

He returned to Montana and later moved to Billings where he worked in a wool warehouse and for a drug wholesaler. He later got a job with the state highway department and worked there until he retired in 1982. Bill married, Gertrude F. Holmes, in August 1950. Gertrude passed away in 1987, and he married Sadye Rutan in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1988. His second wife passed away in 2012.

Of his time as a POW, he said, “I never did dwell on it much. I never made a career of talking about it.” On surviving his time as a POW, he said, “I had a lot of luck all the way through.”

William L. Arnold passed away on October 14, 2017, in Billings, Montana, and was buried at Terrace Gardens Cemetery in Billings, Montana, and may have been the last surviving member of the 192nd Tank Battalion.

The photo at the bottom of the page was taken while William was a POW at Osaka #5-D.

Pvt. William L. Arnold - POW Photo