PFC Gerald James Bell was born on July 22, 1922, with his twin sister, Geraldine, in Township 134, Crow Wing County, Minnesota to James W. Bell and Vietta B. Barker-Bell. He was the sixth of eight children born to the couple> He had five sisters and two brothers. He left school attended Washington High School and left school after his sophomore year and worked for the Northwest Paper Company. It appears he enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard on February 5, 1941.
After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard General Headquarters tank battalions. The GHQ tank battalions – which were still considered infantry – were notified on September 1, 1940, that they were being called up to federal service. The belief was this would create a “buffer” between the armored forces and infantry protecting the regular army tank battalions from requests from the infantry for tanks and allowing the Armored Forces to develop into a real fighting force. If the infantry wanted tanks, the National Guard tank battalions were available to the infantry.
On February 10, 1941, he was given a physical, passed, and then signed papers that transferred him from the Minnesota National Guard to the regular army as a private. After this was done, the men were issued clothing, field equipment, and barracks baggage. They also were issued tick bags, to be filled with straw and serve as mattresses. Bunks were set up in the armory on the main drill floor, the stage, and the second floor of the armory. Their first meal as members of the army was pork and beans, boiled potatoes, bread and butter, cabbage salad, cheese, apple pie, and coffee. Sgt. Russell Swearingen had the job of inspecting the company’s tanks and other equipment being shipped to Ft. Lewis, Washington, ahead of the company.
The soldiers’ second day of living in the armory was spent preparing for the trip to Washington State. Their first meal of the day was breakfast which was: stewed prunes, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, sweet rolls, milk, butter, and coffee. For lunch, they were fed boiled pork sausages, boiled potatoes, spinach, head lettuce, bread and butter, pie, and coffee. This was followed by a dinner of stewed chicken, mashed potatoes, celery and radishes, bread and butter, ice cream for dessert, and coffee.
The company’s two tanks, six trucks, reconnaissance car, tents, and tent stoves were sent to Ft. Lewis on a freight train on February 18th. Just before midnight on February 19th, the soldiers arrived at the Northern Pacific Railway Station led by the Brainerd Ladies Drum and Bugle Corps. Although it was 20 degrees below zero, the platform was jammed with families and friends wishing them well on their trip to Fort Lewis, Washington. It was said that many teary-eyed mothers and soldiers could be seen in the crowd. The train was scheduled to leave at 12:19, but it was 15 minutes late and left at about 12:35. After it arrived the men got on and attempted to find their sleeping berths. The company had three sleeping cars, one kitchen baggage car, and a baggage car assigned to it. One man was too tall for his berth, so he spent the night sleeping in a chair. Another man couldn’t be found because he got tired of trying to find his berth and went to sleep in an empty one.
At 6:45 the next morning, the soldiers were awakened and had to attempt to get dressed in their berths. Their first breakfast on the train was oatmeal, bacon, bread, oranges, and coffee, served to them in tubs that ran down the center of three train cars and had been cooked in the baggage car’s kitchen. They were served it in their mess kits and ate it in their mess kits on their laps as the train swayed side to side. One soldier, Pvt. Robert Swanson, lost his meal when the train suddenly jerked and his mess kit went flying off his lap onto the floor.
At Staples, Minnesota, the train cars were transferred to the Alaskan and the company had a six-hour delay because of a train wreck 25 miles outside of Fargo, North Dakota. The train was rerouted to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and from there was routed to Fargo. The train made a stop at Moorhead, Minnesota, and two of the company’s sergeants – who had orders to buy an ax – got off the train. Both men believed they had stopped at Fargo where the train had a ten-minute stop. As they got to the station, they saw the train pulling away. A truck driver drove them the short distance to Fargo, where they rejoined the company. The train reached Mandan, North Dakota, at 5:15 that evening and had a 15 minute stop. To stretch their legs, the men got off the train to look around. It was there that PFCs Kenneth and Ernest Gorden received a telegram that their father had died and they were allowed to board another train to return to Brainerd. They rejoined the company after the funeral.
The next morning the train arrived at Livingston, Montana, and had a 15-minute stop. Again the soldiers left the train to see what they could see. It was there the train had to be held because Pvt. Arthur Thomas and Pvt. Raymond Fox had roamed too far from the depot – while looking for a present for someone – and did not get back to the station on time. Cpl. Kenneth Porwoll was caught by the men with KP and ended up on the crew cleaning up after the meal.
At 12:30 P.M. on February 22nd, the train arrived in Tacoma, Washington. From the station, they were taken by truck to Ft. Lewis. As they entered the base, they passed barrack after barrack and kept going. Many of the men wondered where they were being taken. When the trucks stopped, they found themselves in front of an area known as Area 12 with 200 brand-new barracks built among the fir trees. It was referred to as being scenic since they had a view of Mount Rainier to the east 70 miles away. The barracks were located at the south end of Gray Army Air Field. Their twelve two-story wooden barracks and recreational and supply houses were on both sides of the road and covered an area of four city blocks.
The barracks were long and low and could sleep, 65 men. The buildings had forced air heating, but two soldiers in each one had to take turns at night to feed the coal furnaces. The barracks had electricity and adequate showers and washrooms for the men. There was a battalion mess hall that allowed 250 men to be fed at one time. Located across the street from the barracks was a branch of the post exchange.
Their first lunch at the base was waiting for them and had been prepared by C Company, who had arrived at the fort ahead of them. They had to wait to eat for about an hour because their mess kits had not arrived from the train depot. After they ate, they got to work fixing their cots in their barracks. Each man was issued two sheets, a mattress, a comforter, and a pillow and pillow cover.
Sunday morning the men got up and many went to church. The church was described as very beautiful for an army base. Catholic services were at 9:00 followed by Protestant services at 10:45. After church, the men spent much of their day working in their barracks. One of the major jobs was cleaning stickers off the window panes.
The weather was described as being constantly rainy. This resulted in many of the men being put in the base hospital to stop the spread of colds. Meals, at first, were somewhat improvised because both company cooks were in the hospital with colds. It was noted by the members of the company that the members of the other two companies found the morning temperature hard to deal with while it was warm to them. The longer they were there, the weather improved.
Once off duty many of the men visited the canteen near their barracks or went to the theater located in the main part of the base. The movies shown were newer but not the latest movies. A theater near their barracks was still being built, but when it was finished they only had to walk across the street. Since they were off Saturday afternoons on weekends, the men went to Tacoma or Olympia by bus that was provided by the Army and cost 25 cents. Tacoma was a little over 11 miles from the base and Olympia was a little over 22 miles from the base. Many of the men went to see the remains of the Narrows Bridge which had collapsed on November 7, 1940. On base, they played football, basketball, and 16-inch softball.
The uniforms they wore were a collection of various uniforms with some men wearing WWI uniforms, others denim work uniforms, while still others had the latest issue. One day three officers on horseback rode up to one of the companies and asked the sergeant in charge why the men were dressed the way they were. The sergeant explained they were a federalized National Guard tank battalion and what they were wearing was what they had. After this conversation, the three officers rode away. That afternoon, two trucks with new coveralls pulled up to the battalion’s barracks, and each man was issued a pair. Since they were the best clothing they had, many of the men wore them as their dress uniform. As it turned out, one of the three officers who had talked to the sergeant was Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower who had overseen tank training for the army at one time.
At the end of February, the first detachment of men was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for training as radio operators for 13 weeks. Gerald was one of these men. The training was intense and it was stated that the men received fewer furloughs and often attended classes on weekends.
For the next six months, the battalion trained at Fort Lewis, Washington. A typical day started at 6:00 AM with the first call. At 6:30 they had breakfast. When they finished they policed the grounds of their barracks and cleaned the barracks. This was followed by drill from 7:30 until 9:30 AM. During the drill, the men did calisthenics and marched around the parade grounds. At 9:30, they went to the barracks’ day rooms and took classes until 11:30 when they had lunch. The soldiers were free so many took naps until 1:00 PM when they drilled again or received training in chemical warfare. They often took part in work details during this time. At 4:30 PM, they returned to their barracks to get cleaned up before retreat at 5:00 PM. At 5:30 they had dinner and were free afterward. During this time many played baseball or cards while other men wrote home. The lights out were at 9:00 PM. but men could go to the dayroom.
The battalion at one point had more men at Ft. Knox than at Ft. Lewis, so they were given the job of garbage collection and distributing coal to buildings for the coal-fired furnaces. To train with their tanks, Major Ernest Miller, the commanding officer of the battalion had those still on the base train on the weekends. A Company reported for its weekly field inspection on April 20th, and there were only 20 men left in the company. A few days later, seven more men were sent to Ft. Knox, and those left behind wondered how they would be able to get all the jobs expected of the company done.
Men from the Selective Service Act joined the company to fill out its roster. Their basic training was condensed down to six weeks under the direction of Sgts. Glen Nelson, Boyce Hyatt, Wallace Goodrich, and Donald Paine. The sergeants lived with them and dealt with all their problems or directed them to someone who could help them. They supervised the selectees’ calisthenics and drills, besides holding classes in all the different subjects they needed to be trained as tank battalion members. In May, seventeen “selectees” joined the company but lived with Headquarters Company.
The entire battalion on April 23rd went on an all-day march, having dinner out in the woods, brought to them by cooks in trucks. It was a two-hour march each way and covered about 10 miles total. They stopped at noon in a beautiful spot in a valley where there was an old deserted apple orchard in bloom, the blossoms were like small yellow sweetpeas and it was just a mass of yellow. The other hill in the back of the valley was thickly covered with woods, many of the trees were flowering dogwood and the many other flowers and strange plants made the soldiers conscious of the fact they weren’t in Minnesota. The company also received twelve motorcycles and every man in the company had to learn to ride them. The entire battalion on April 30th, except ‘the selectees,’ who didn’t have shelter halves, went on their first overnight bivouac together. They left at noon and returned before noon the next day. Part of the reason they did this was to practice pitching tents and for the cooks, it gave them the chance to supply food to the men out in the field.
Some sources state the battalion received twelve additional tanks in May, while other sources state that in July, the battalion still had only the eight M2 tanks that came with the companies to Ft. Lewis. It received some single turret tanks in late July that had been built in 1937, and a few beeps (later known as “jeeps”). It was the only unit at the base with them. On August 1st, the battalion was told it was losing B Company. The company was detached from the battalion and issued orders to Alaska. The rest of the battalion took part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis.
The battalion trained under what was called, “wartime conditions” in June. On one date, they received orders at 2:00 A.M. to move out as soon as possible to the attack position. They found themselves in dense woods in pitch-black conditions. For the tanks to move, a soldier guided them with a small green flashlight. The soldiers were expected to have their gas masks with them and had to use them if ordered to do so. The company on June 10th, celebrated the fifth anniversary of its being mustered into the Minnesota National Guard. The soldiers had a large banquet dinner with a few cases of beer to make the celebration more festive. Major Ernest Miller talked about the company’s history since it was formed in Brainerd. Many felt this was done for the benefit of the men from selective service. After dinner, they went to the theater located by their barracks and watched the official training film of the University of Minnesota football team. Ironically, the Golden Gophers’ official photographer had a son in C Company.
On August 1st, the battalion was told it was losing B Company. The company was detached from the battalion and issued orders to Alaska. The rest of the battalion took part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis to await orders.
The battalion, in July, still had only the eight M2 tanks that came with the companies to Ft. Lewis. It received some single turret tanks in late July that had been built in 1937, and a few beeps (later known as “jeeps”). It was the only unit at the base with them. It was on August 1st, Maj. Miller learned that B Company of the battalion was being sent to Alaska. This was being done to build up the military presence there.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Major Ernest Miller was ordered to Ft. Knox by plane arriving the next day August 14th. That afternoon he received the battalion’s overseas orders. During the meeting, one of General Jacob L. Dever’s staff officers – Dever was the commanding officer of Ft. Knox – let it slip that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. On August 18th, Miller stopped in Brainerd to see his family after receiving the battalion’s orders. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. Miller later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis. Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The fact there were only three “overseas” locations where the tanks could be sent which were Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines, and Alaska was already eliminated because B Company was being sent there. Ironically, a week before this, the wife of a 194th officer, from St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote him a letter and asked her husband, “Is it true that your unit is going to the Philippines?”
It should be mentioned that a sergeant from the 192nd Tank Battalion, stationed at Ft. Knox, wrote a letter to his parents the second week in August. In the letter, he told his parents that his battalion had heard a rumor that they were being sent to the Philippines but that the orders were changed. Instead, the 194th Tank Battalion was being sent. The man stated he knew men from the 194th since they attended school at Ft. Knox and were in the same classes with 192nd men. He mailed the letter home before Miller received his “secret” orders.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 1941, which was two days after National Guard units’ federal service was extended. He believed the decision resulted from an event in the summer of 1941. In the story, a squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down, identified a flagged buoy in the water, and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest – in the direction of Formosa. The island 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 buoys on its deck covered by a tarp – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. Miller believed that it was at that time the decision was made to send the 194th to the Philippines.
Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The reality was there were only three places where the tanks could be sent. They were Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Alaska was already eliminated since B Company was being sent there. That left two places. The fact was the battalion was part of the First Tank Group headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational long before June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a regular army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd Tank Battalion was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd Tank Battalion was at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. The 192nd and 191st took part in the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941 under the name of the First Tank Group.
The 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – was on standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th after the Pacific War had started. Some military documents from the time show the tank group in the Philippines was scheduled to be made up of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Documents show the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines was also called the First Provisional Tank Group. At the same time, the men in the Philippines referred to the tank group as the First Tank Group. The buoys being spotted by the pilot in the Lingayen Gulf in the summer of 1941 may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, with only the 194th and 192nd reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines.
After receiving orders to report to Ft. Mason, California, men with dependents, men with other dependents, men 29 years old or older, or men whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas were replaced. The replacements came from the 41st Infantry Division and other units stationed at Ft. Lewis. They had absolutely no training in tanks. The remaining members and new members of the battalion – on September 4th – traveled south from Ft. Lewis, by train, to Ft. Mason north of San Francisco arriving at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the USAT General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated and given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men with medical conditions were replaced. These replacements appear to have come from units stationed at Ft. Ord, California. It is known that the 757th Tank Battalion was at Ft. Ord.
The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort and were on flatcars and about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west, by train, and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason, California.
The tanks fit fine in the ship’s first and second hold, but the deckhead in the ship’s third hold was low, so 19 tanks had to have their turrets removed to fit them in the hold. So that the turrets went on the tanks they came off of, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets. The ship’s captain also ordered that all ammunition, fuel, and batteries be removed from the tanks. He stated they would be sent later, but it appears the batteries were sent with the tanks.
The soldiers boarded the USAT President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9 PM. The enlisted men found themselves assigned to bunks in the ship’s holds with the tanks. Those men with lower bunks found them unbearable to sleep in because of the heat and humidity. Soon, most men were sleeping on deck but learned quickly to get up early because the crew hosed down the deck each morning. Many of the men had seasickness during this part of the voyage. The soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. At 5:00 PM that evening the ship sailed.
The next morning, the members of the battalion were called together and they were informed the battalion was going to the Philippines. On the next leg of the voyage, the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a replenishment oiler. The heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer were the ships’ escorts. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge for a personnel transfer. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck as it attempted to make the transfer. When it became apparent that a small boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to the other, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline the night of Tuesday, September 16th, and the date became Thursday, September 18th. A few days past Guam, the soldiers saw the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed south along the east coast of Luzon, around the southern end of the island, and up the west coast. On Friday, September 26th, the ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were bused to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with the 17th Ordnance Company, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets.
The maintenance section and 17th Ordnance reinstalled the batteries, but they needed aviation fuel for the tanks’ engines to get them off the docks. 2nd Lt. Russell Swearingen went to the quartermaster and asked him for the fuel. He was told that they did not have any at the port so he would have to go to the Army Air Corps to get it. When he arrived at the Air Corps command, he was informed that they couldn’t give him the aviation fuel without a written order. It took two weeks to get the last tanks off the docks. While all this was going on, the battalion’s half-tracks arrived as well as motorcycles. The battalion’s reconnaissance detachment had Harley-Davidsons at Ft. Lewis but the new motorcycles were Indian Motorcycles with all the controls on the opposite side of the bikes. The reconnaissance section also had peeps (later known as jeeps), but many of these were taken by high-ranking officers for their own use since they were new to the Army.
Upon arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that they had to live in tents and receive their meals from food trucks until their barracks were completed. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. It rained the first night in the tents flooding many of the tents. They also quickly learned not to leave their shoes on the ground or they became moldy.
After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18, the barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali This allowed the men to dress. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man could find shade it was cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived so when they went to bed it was hot but by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers, the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50-caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them while wearing blindfolds. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons and loading ammunition belts for their machine guns. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there. It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos. Many men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency.
At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful.
On Nov, 26th, the 192nd arrived in the Philippines. The battalion brought with it a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had many ham radio operators. Within hours after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with ham radio operators in the United States. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave the 192nd frequencies to use. Men sent messages home to their families.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 194th, the tank group contained the 192nd. The 17th Ordnance Company joined the tank group on the 29th. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. The exact makeup of the First Tank Group in the US. Col. James R. N. Weaver who had been put in charge of the 192nd in San Francisco, was appointed head of the tank group and promoted to brigadier general. Major Theodore Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
It is known that during this time the battalions went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. They traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firings ranges at the base.
The tanks also took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night was a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position below Watch Hill was among drums of 100-octane fuel and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield. The next day the tanks were ordered back to the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers after reconnaissance planes reported Japanese transports milling about in a large circle in the South China Sea. The 194th’s position was moved to an area between the two runways below Watch Hill. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
Gen. Weaver on December 2nd ordered the tank group to full alert. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, 192nd, Weaver appeared to be the only officer on the base interested in protecting his unit. 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 and would have thrown them away in battle. 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. The next day Weaver visited every tank company of the tank group.
Although official reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were sent to the military command in the Philippines at 2:30 am, For the tankers, it was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th at 7:00 a.m. Gen. Weaver, Maj. Miller, Major Wickord, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance, read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed the officers of the 194th about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank crews were ordered to their tanks which were joined by the battalion’s half-tracks at their assigned positions at Clark Field.
The 194th was in its new positions on the north and east sides of Clark Field. Sgt. Byron Veillete ran through their positions shouting that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Many of the tankers did not believe that the war had started. They were expecting to take part in maneuvers and some believed this was just the start of them. From the battalion’s positions, they watched as the P-40 fighters took to the air. It was said that no matter what direction a man looked, American planes could be seen. The tankers got most of their news about the attack from listening to radio dispatches being received on a big radio on what was the command half-track.
News reached the tankers that Camp John Hay had been bombed at 9:00 a.m. All morning the sky above the airfield was filled with American planes. Men said no matter what direction they looked they saw planes. At 11:45 the American planes landed and were parked in a straight line – to make it easier for the ground crews to service them – outside the pilots’ mess hall. The men assigned to the tanks and half-tracks were receiving their lunches at food trucks. Gen. King put out a written order telling the unit commanders that the threat of being bombed was over and they could allow their men to return to the main base, in rotations, for rest, baths, and hot meals. It was lunchtime and members of the tank battalion not assigned to tanks were allowed to go to the mess hall to eat. Col. Miller ordered the men under his command to remain with their tanks and half-tracks.
It was reported that only two of the seven radar sets in the Philippines were operational and the dispatches the operators sent to Manila of approaching planes took an hour to reach Manila. One 194th half-track crew tuned into a Manila radio station and heard a news flash that Clark Field was being bombed. At about 12:45 p.m. an amphibious plane landed on a runway near the tankers and after it came to a stop, its passengers and crew got and and ran to the opposite side of the airfield.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up – near the pilots’ mess hall – in a straight line to be refueled. While the planes were being serviced, the pilots went to lunch. The members of the tank crews received their lunches from the battalion’s food trucks. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the company lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. 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.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers 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. 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. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.
After the attack, 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.
Maj. Ernest Miller told his officers that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Capt. Ed Burke went to A Company and told them that they were at war. The tanks crew members not with their tanks were ordered to them. The battalion’s half-tracks took up positions next to the tanks. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track did their jobs in the battalion’s bivouac.
The tankers were receiving lunch from their food trucks and as they stood in line to be fed they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes. That was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings and then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. Maj. Miller shouted at his men to take cover and then bombs began exploding on the runways. It was then that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. 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 and several tankers were wounded.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers 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. 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 member of the 192nd 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 since the unit’s fuse cutter was in Manila being repaired at the time of the attack. Many of the shells they fired fell to the ground without exploding.
The Zeros strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat and returned to strafe again. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. It was stated that the bodies of the dead lay on the runways since many were Air Corps ground crew members. It also appeared that everything was on fire from airplane hangers, automobiles, trucks, and airplanes. The runways of the airfield were pot-marked with craters from the bombs. The entire attack lasted about 45 minutes.
The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, on trucks, and in and on cars. Anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had reached its capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. The battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded. The battalion’s medics gave first aid to the wounded.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their barracks. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground. One result of the attack was D Company was never transferred to the 194th and remained part of the 192nd throughout the Battle of Bataan.
The next day, 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 men from both tank battalions recovered the 50 caliber machine guns from the planes that had been destroyed on the ground and got most of them to work. They propped up the wings of the damaged planes so they looked like the planes were operational hoping this would fool the Japanese to come over to destroy them. When the Japanese fighters returned, the tankers shot two planes down. After this, the planes never returned. It was at this time every man was issued Springfield and Infield rifles. Some worked some didn’t so they cannibalized the rifles to get one good rifle from two bad ones. As they worked they heard Tokyo Rose say that the Japanese planes had destroyed both tank battalions.
After the attack 194th was sent to a bivouac three kilometers north of Clark Field at Mabalacat. They spent their time loading ammunition belts because they had fired so much during the attack on Clark Field. The tankers were issued Infield and Springfield rifles. Since the rifles were from World War I, one out of every two rifles worked. The tankers cannibalized two of the same type of rifles to get one working rifle.
On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare and one tank overturned when it went off the road. They finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th and spent the rest of the day and the next night there. The tanks were in an area of few trees surrounded by rice paddies which meant the furthest they could go off the road was a few feet. Because of this, the battalion was scattered in three locations. Japanese planes flew over but did not bomb or strafe them.
The tanks headed south of Manila and it was also stated the battalion was sent to Batangas in southern Luzon for about two weeks. During this time, little happened, but the tankers were strafed a few times by Japanese planes. The tanks spent much of their time doing reconnaissance and hunting down fifth columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day to show Japanese planes where ammunition dumps were located. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were manned by grounded Air Corps men and used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of tanks.
The tank battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were about five yards apart. It was on the 26th that the Japanese artillery fire began landing near the tanks. The Self-propelled mounts of the Filipino Scout would take positions between the tanks fire several rounds and move to another position. Shells began landing around the tanks, so the crews buttoned themselves in their tanks. The tanks did not have anti-personnel shells to use against infantry, but the tankers used the tanks’ 37-millimeter guns against armored vehicles and their machine guns against infantry.
Two volunteers were needed to set up machine guns to harass the Japanese at the far end of a bridge. The fire stopped the Japanese advance for a while but the Japanese brought up more artillery and resumed the attack. Gerald and Pvt. August Bender, a member of his tank crew, volunteered. When the Japanese attacked, they took heavy casualties from the machine gun. According to available information, Gerald and Bender were surrounded and killed by machine gun fire.
In May 1942, his family received a message from the War Department.
Dear Mrs. V. Bell:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Privates First Class Gerald J. Bell, 20, 700, 206, 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)
The Adjutant General
His family received another message from the War Department in 1943.
Dear Mrs. Bell:
The records of the War Department show your son, Private First Class Gerald J. Bell, 20, 700, 221, Infantry, missing in action in the Philippine Islands since May 7, 1942.
All available information concerning your son has been carefully considered and under the provisions of Public Law 490, 77th Congress, as amended, an official determination has been made continuing him on the records of the War Department in a missing status. The law sited provides that pay and allowances are to be credited to the missing person’s account and payment of allotments to authorized allottees are to be continued during the absence of such persons in a missing status.
I fully appreciate your concern and deep interest. You will, without further request on your part, receive immediate notification of any change in your son’s status. I regret that the far-flung operations of the present war, the ebb and flow of the combat over the great distances in isolated areas, and the characteristics of our enemies impose on us the heavy burden of uncertainty with respect to the safety of our loved ones.
Very Truly Yours,
J. A. Ulio
The Adjutant General
After the war, his parents still did not know what had happened to Gerald. It was on October 12, 1945, that his parents received a telegram from the War Department that informed them he was dead.
VIETTA BELL TOWNSHIP 134 RANGE 29 MN
THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEPEST REGRET THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE FIRST CLASS GERALD J BELL WAS KILLED IN ACTION ON TWENTY EIGHT DECEMBER NINETEEN FORTY ONE IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER TO FOLLOW
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL
Several days later, his family received a notification letter verifying his death.
Since his final resting place is not known, his name appears on the Walls of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery, Manila, Philippine Islands.