Cpl. Elmer John Bensing Jr. was the son of Elmer J. Bensing Sr and Lenore Wilson-Bensing and was born on December 12, 1918, in Louisville, Kentucky. With his three younger brothers and two younger sisters, he resided at 1452 South Hemlock Street. He was a high school graduate and worked in payroll at Mengel Body Company. The Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, and he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. On January 22, 1941, Elmer was inducted into the army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
The battalion’s original housing was small unpainted temporary barracks since their barracks were not finished. Each man had a steel cot to sleep on. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 25 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom. Twenty-five men lived on each floor of the barracks. When men were assigned to the company from selective service, they lived in tents next to the company’s two barracks. The tents were on concrete slabs and had screened wooden walls and doors with canvas roofs. Each tent had a stove in the center for heat and electricity for lighting. The officers had their own barracks with private rooms for each officer. In addition, each officer had an orderly to clean his room.
The Army rushed his basic training which he completed in seven weeks. 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; week 7, was 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.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion on April 9. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 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, pistols, 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 to which they had been assigned, such as mechanics, tank driving, and radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. 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 they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. 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. It appears that he was sent to school and qualified as a clerk.
Many members of the battalion went home for Easter in April. The only men left on the base were those attending schools; in particular, those assigned to radio school. The men who remained behind also had performed all the duties expected of them, such as guard duty. While doing these things, they still started their day at 4:00 A.M. They also washed the tanks in Salt River which was 14 miles from their barracks.
It is known that in June a detachment of at least 39 men was sent to Fort Wayne, Detroit, Michigan to pick up trucks for the battalion. The exact date they left is not known, but they spent the night at Patterson Field, Ohio, from there they went north through Springfield, Urbana, Bellfontaine, and Bowling Green, Ohio, before entering Michigan. It took the tankers two days to get to Detroit. While they were there, a large number of them crossed the Detroit River, visited Windsor, Canada, and mailed postcards home. It is known they were back at Ft. Knox before June 6.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.
The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
At the end of June, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 A.M. until 8:30 A.M. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 A.M. One of the complaints they had about the firing range was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from it that their clothes felt like they had stood out in the rain. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, to be overhauled but were returned before the battalion went to Louisiana. Right after July 4, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver.
Another detachment of men was sent to Detroit in July. It is believed they picked up more trucks for the battalion. It is known they were there for 7 days. It was during this time the men began hearing the rumor that part of the battalion was being sent to South Carolina while the other part of the battalion would be going to Texas. They also heard that the battalion would be taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1 in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, 160 miles south of Ft. Knox. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, later that day, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station in the trucks.
The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, the men, and trucks who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest. What made the bivouac worse was that the rainy season started and the men found themselves living in it. On one occasion the battalion was bivouac near a canal and the next morning the men found themselves in water over their shoes trying to dig ditches for drainage. The members of B Company captured a medium size alligator in their bivouac and pulled it around at the end of a leash made from a rope.
What made the maneuvers worse was that the rainy season started and the men found themselves living in it. On one occasion the battalion was bivouac near a canal and the next morning the men found themselves in water over their shoes trying to dig ditches for drainage. The members of B Company captured a medium size alligator in their bivouac and pulled it around at the end of a leash made from a rope.
The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called “Iron Rations” – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Water was scarce and men went days without shaving and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
The tankers stated that they had never seen so many mosquitoes, ticks, and snakes before. Water moccasins were the most common snake, but there were also rattlesnakes. Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them.
To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two-and-a-half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it.
They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out for a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1 at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
After the maneuvers, there was a rumor they were going to be sent to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, but many of the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox. Instead, the battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, 29 years old or older, or whose National Guard enlistments were within months of ending were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn out of a hat.
Both new and old members of the battalion were given furloughs home to say their goodbyes. While he was home, on October 5, Elmer married Thelma Alease Weidner. After their furloughs the men returned to Camp Polk, where they prepared for duty overseas. Cosmoline was put on any weapon that possibly could rust while at sea. During this time, they once again living in tents. The battalion was scheduled to receive brand-new M3A1 tanks but there was a delivery problem and this could not be done. Instead, they were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. Many of these “new” tanks were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance and only new to the battalion.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the National Guard members of the battalion believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army to go overseas. It is true that Patton praised the battalion for its performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that he personally selected them for duty in the Philippines.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, they even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held there. It is known one of the two medium tank battalions had received orders for the Philippines and was on standby, but the orders were canceled on December 10 because the war with Japan had started. Some documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. He returned home to say his goodbyes and married Thelma A. Weidner on October 5, 1941. The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers.
The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.
On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced by men sent to the island as replacements. It appears these men came from the 757th Tank Battalion at Ft. Ord, California.
The 192nd boarded 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 and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.” 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 four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made.
On Thursday, November 6, 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 U.S.A.T. 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.
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 soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. Each day 500 men reported to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and then painted the boats. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP. 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, they had beans left over from the 194th Tank Battalion. 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 from WW I and pretty ragged. 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. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worse part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. 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 them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
It is known that with the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion and 17th Ordnance. It was at that time that Elmer was one of 19 men, from all three units, known to have been transferred to the Headquarters Company of the tank group. It is believed he worked as a clerk.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to work on the tanks. The tankers followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX. What made this worse was that the uniforms they had been issued were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the two tank battalions were put on full alert and the tanks were ordered to their positions at Clark Field to protect the airfield from paratroopers. The 192nd was sent to a position north and east of Ft. Stotsenburg. The airfield’s two runways were shaped like a “V” and the Army Air Corps’ hangers and headquarters were at the point of the V. The tankers slept in sleeping bags on the ground under their tanks or palm trees and received their meals from food trucks. Two members of each tank crew remained with their tank at all times. On December 7, the tanks were issued ammunition and the tankers spent the day loading ammunition belts.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while Maj. Miller went and told his officers of the attack.
The officers went to their companies and informed the enlisted men that they were at war. Those men who were assigned to tanks joined the other members of their crews at the airfield. The battalion’s half-tracks joined the tanks and took positions next to them. The members of the Headquarters Company, Provisional Tank Group received their orders from Capt. Edwin Rue, its commanding officer, but it remained in its bivouac.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, as the tankers ate lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until they saw what appeared to be “raindrops” fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and take cover since they had few weapons to be used against planes. During the attack, 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. (It should be noted that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened at 1:55 A.M. on December 8 in the Philippines, so the attack on Clark Field was almost 11 hours later.) 89 of the planes that had been sitting along the runway at Clark Field were destroyed, and there were approximately 236 casualties.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks. Anything else that could carry the wounded was in use carrying the wounded. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
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 192nd remained at Clark Field with the exception of a platoon of B Company tanks that were sent to Dau to guard a railroad and road. There were two more attacks on the airfield on the 10th and 13th. 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 that were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
The battalion was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops on December 21. It was stated as they made their way north, they passed through a battlefield and the bodies of the dead were everywhere. When they arrived, the Japanese were landing troops. The company was near a mountain, so many of the men climbed to the top. On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, and 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 troops were withdrawn from the ridge and it was occupied by the Japanese. The Americans received orders to launch a counterattack to retake the ridge which failed. From this time on, HQ Company was on the front lines with the tank companies.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24 and 25, the tanks 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 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 Japanese liked to use snipers. The snipers would climb high into the tree. They then would tie themselves onto a large branch of the tree with a vine. On one occasion, being in an area where several soldiers had been shot, Elmer took his submachine gun and began shooting at a vine running up a tree. He followed the vine up the tree until he cut it with his fire. The Japanese sniper fell from the tree.
The tanks formed a new defensive that 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. Weeden 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, Capt. 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, which had not been abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. With the muzzle of the sergeant’s forty-five against the back of his head, the driver made it across the river. The sergeant received the Silver Star.
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 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. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and used smoke as a cover which blew back on them. But since they were wearing white t-shirts they were easy to see in the dark. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
On the night of January 6 the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over Culis Creek and entered Bataan. After it had crossed, the battalion covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the food rations were cut in half. It was at this time that the tank platoons 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.
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, but the Japanese never attacked 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 the tank companies were reduced to nine 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. While attempting to do this, two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but 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.
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.”
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. While doing this job, the tankers noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked. This time they were met with fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
B Company was defending a beach, along the east coast of Bataan, where the Japanese could land troops. One night while on this duty, the company engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve. To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
During some of the actions against the Japanese, the Japanese sent soldiers, carrying gasoline cans, against the tanks. The Japanese would attempt to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set them on fire. If the tankers could not machine-gun them before they got to the tanks, the crew of another tank would shoot them as they stood on the tanks. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crews inside the tanks. When the turrets were hit by machine-gun fire, the rivets would pop and ricochet inside the tanks. The rivets sparked when they hit the sides of the crew compartment. This situation was made worse by the loud sound of bullets from machine guns hitting the tank. The biggest danger from the rivets was the possibility that one could hit one of the tankers in the eye.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. the tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed, and at midnight Companies B and D, and A Co., 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.)
Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it and opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and 17th Ordnance and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.”
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived, and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. Shortly after this was done, the Prisoners of War witnessed “Japanese Discipline” toward their own troops. If a Japanese soldier fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted and was given aid.
The POWs were ordered to move and followed a trail out of their bivouac. When the trail reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men. The men were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
The POWs passed Filipinos who were even thinner than they were. They made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11, they were put into a schoolyard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination.
The enlisted men continued the march north. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery. The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road so Japanese troops being trucked south could pass. They were made to sit in the sun for hours. While they sat there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possessions the POWs had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese to ride past them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
On April 12 the group made up of men from the Provisional Tank Group reached Orani. They were placed in a bullpen where they were reunited with the tank group officers. They were ordered to form detachments and made their way north to Hermosa. It was there that the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Culis and Lubao. The guards appeared to the POWs to be nervous about the pace. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.
The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. If they were lucky, one POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine, and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
The POWs were organized into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw bananas, mangos, rice cakes, and sugarcane at the POWs. They also gave the POWs water. The guards did not stop them. From there, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell.
The Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When they arrived the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any blankets, knives, matches, and extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return them to the POWs. The Japanese 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. The camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. The prisoners were then allowed to go to their barracks.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many as 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including in the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
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. Many of these men returned to the camp from work details only to die. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
His parents received two letters from the War Department. The first arrived in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. T. Bensing:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Corporal Elmer J. Bensing Jr., 35,100,622, 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 if 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”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan #1 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known as Camp Panagatian.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks and divided into groups of ten men. This meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. In the camp, Elmer was assigned to Barracks 12.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. It was stated that 1,000 POWs worked in the construction of a runway and revetments. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. POWs worked in rice paddies. 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.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff antibiotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August.
On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp so that all the POWs witnessed the executions.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted the barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves without getting up. Most of those who entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. Since the water table was high, a POW held the body down in the grave with a pole until it was covered with dirt. The death rate remained at 9 POWs dying each day into November.
A POW was recaptured on September 17 who had escaped on August 7. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 27, a POW who had escaped on August 7 was recaptured. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.” Three POWs were executed, on September 29, by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten-man group would not be executed.
During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. At some point, 50 grams of mongo beans replaced some of the rice. In addition, sick POWs also received an additional 50 grams of meat. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner, but it does appear that meals improved during this time.
Fr. Bruttenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14 and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot while attempting to escape on November 16. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22. On November 23, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. The Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads as they left the shed. The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. 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.
Fr. Bruttenbruck returned on December 10 without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. He returned on December 24 with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
On January 11, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14 that had to be shared by four POWs. It was about this time that Elmer contracted malaria, beriberi, and dysentery. According to medical records kept at the camp, he was admitted to the camp hospital on January 14, 1943. So far, no discharge date has been found. On January 18, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24 which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27.
During this time multiple work details left the camp and returned each day. Some details were small while others had 1255 to 1450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7. The POWs watched a Marx Brothers movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12 that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
On January 2, 1943, his wife received a telegram from the War Department stating he was a POW.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR HUSBAND CORPORAL ELMER J BENSING JR IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his wife received the following letter:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Cpl. Elmer J. Bensing, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1, but what work they did is not known. Two POWs, PFC Nolan Stobaugh and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
During this time there was an incident between the Japanese and the camp band that in the camp. The band always tried to learn new songs to play for the POWs. One of the songs the band learned to play was “Paper Moon.” The only problem was that the song had not become popular until after the soldiers had become POWs. When the Japanese realized this, they knew the POWs had a radio hidden in the camp. The Japanese searched the camp vigorously to find the radio and tortured many men, but they never did find the radio.
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11, 1943, and was captured in a barrio. At about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, POWs described what they saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed as was the top of his skull, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum.
In July 1944, a list of POWs was posted at Cabanatuan. At 8:00 P.M. on July 15, trucks arrived at the camp. The POWs were boarded onto the trucks and taken to Bilibid Prison. The POWs arrived at Bilibid seven hours later. Their dinner was rotten sweet potatoes. Since it was night, they had to eat in the dark. At 7:00 A.M. on July 17, the POWs were marched to Pier 5 in the Port Area and boarded the Nissyo Maru which appeared to be barely seaworthy to the POWs. Besides the POWs, the ship carried Japanese women and children who were being evacuated from the Philippines.
The POWs went to the rear of the ship and removed their shoes and dropped their bags through a hatch into hold number three. They then went down a narrow, wooden stairway that led into the dark hold. The Japanese attempted to put the entire POW detachment in the rear hold but failed. They finally admitted that all the POWs would not fit in the hold, so they opened the number two hold which was just forward of the bridge. About 900 POWs were put into the forward hold. The POWs were moved to it in groups of 50 men and each group was allocated a part of the hold. Since they were still crowded, no one could lie down. Each man sat on the floor with his knees drawn up in front of him. Another POW would sit between his knees with his head resting on the first man’s chest.
This left about 700 men in number three hold which could comfortably hold one hundred men. There were three sets of wooden tiers that lined the hold. One was 4 feet high and 10 feet wide. The guards packed the POWs into the tiers. The tiers filled but the guards kept shoving in more men. Those who could move their arms twirled their shirts above their heads to stir the air. The heat was oppressive and the POWs still on deck could feel it as they entered the hold. The guards beat POWs who refused to go into the hold. Inside the hold, fights broke out among the POWs for space and air. Men also began to pass out from suffocation.
The ship was moved to the breakwater and remained outside the breakwater from July 18 until July 23 while the Japanese attempted to form Convoy H168. Around 9 p.m. that evening, large wooden buckets of steamed rice were lowered into the hold. There was no organized system of distribution, so the sick POWs did not eat. Many POWs could not swallow the rice since their mouths were too dry. They did not receive their first ration of water until 30 hours after entering the hold with each man being allowed one pint of water a day. It was stated that each day they were fed rice and vegetables that had been cooked together and received two canteen cups of water. Some of the POWs dried to get water from the condensation that had formed on the walls of the holds. Still, others continue to drink urine while others cut the throats of men and drank blood.
The possessions of the POWs had been thrown below them onto coal in the lower part of the hold. In the possessions of the men who had worked on the Port Area Detail was food from their Red Cross boxes. In the evening, POWs would go down to the luggage and raid it in an attempt to find any food hidden in it. The Japanese ended the stealing when those caught reading the baggage were made to sit on the deck of the ship in the sun with their hands tied behind their backs. They were not fed for three days.
The convoy of 21 ships left Manila on July 24 at 8:00 A.M. and headed north by northeast for Formosa. The ships hugged the coast to avoid submarines, but the subs had a good idea where the convoy was located. At 2:00 A.M. July 26, the USS Flasher surfaced, made contact with the convoy, and radioed its position to the two other subs in its wolf-pack. At 3:00 in the morning, there was an explosion, flames flew over the open hatches of the holds where the POWs were, and lit the hold. The Otari Yama Maru, an oil tanker, had been hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher. As the ship sunk, the POWs said they heard a hissing sound as its hull which was red hot went under. Other torpedos were fired at the ship, but because it was so high in the water, they passed harmlessly under the ship and hit other ships. When the POWs realized they could die they began to panic in the holds, so the guards pointed machine guns down at them and threatened to shoot unless they quieted down. Maj. John L. Curran, a Catholic chaplain, said, “Now, there’s nothing we can do about this. So let’s go ahead and start praying.“He led the POWs in prayer. According to men on the ship, the wolf pack hunted the convoy for three days.
It was while he was being transported to Japan that his family received a POW postcard from him on August 18. On the card, he indicated that he was in good health. When they received it, his family believed he was still a POW in the Philippines.
The POWs were fed each day ¼ cup of potato, barley, greens, and an onion soup, which were cooked together. After four days, the POWs no longer received the soup. They also received one cup of water each day and attempted to catch rain in their mouths. POWs fainted and those who fell to the floor were trampled. The POWs passed the unconscious men above their heads forward to the hatch and up the stairs onto the deck. The POWs in the hold panicked and many were heard praying. Others cursed and their screams echoed off the steel walls of the hold. Those who were lucky enough to have water drank it to prevent their canteens from being stolen. Some men were so desperate that they drank their own urine.
During this time, the Japanese lowered what were called “benjo buckets” into the holds to be used as toilets. The buckets were lowered into the holds in the morning, but they soon were overflowing, and when they were removed from the holds in the evening, the feces in them fell onto the POWs below. In addition, many of the POWs had dysentery and could not even reach the buckets. The floor was soon covered in human waste as deep as the POWs’ ankles. The POWs finally organized lines to use the buckets since an aisle to reach them was available.
On July 27, the POWs held a boat drill where the POWs went to lifeboats. It was noted by them that the Japanese were jumpy after the sinking of the tanker. The next day the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, docked at 9:00 A.M. and was loaded with food while the POWs remained in the holds with the hatch covers on them. The ship sailed at 7:00 P.M. the same day and continued its northward trip for the next two days. On July 30, the ship ran into a storm which finally passed by August 2.
The death of a second POW was recorded on August 2, clothing was issued to the POWs on August 3, and the ship arrived at Moji on August 4 at midnight. The entire voyage to Japan took seventeen days because the convoy was attempting to avoid American submarines. At 8:00 in the morning, the POWs disembarked the ship and were taken to a theater and held in it all day. That night they were put into detachments of 200 men and taken to the train station. From there, the POWs boarded different trains. The POW detachment Elmer was in took a two-day trip to Omuta, Kyushu, Japan. From there, the POWs were taken to Fukuoka #3-B which was near the Japanese town of Tobata.
The camp commander made it clear to the POWs that they were in a work camp. There were ten barracks of flimsy construction that could hold 150 POWs with each POW having a three-foot by six-foot living space, with a straw mat and three thin blankets for warmth, to sleep in. There were no stoves for heat but each had a charcoal pit for heat but no fuel was given to the POWs to use them. If they had used them, there were no flues to vent the smoke. Each building had two platforms for sleeping on both sides of the barracks running the length of the building. The lower tier was six inches off the ground and the upper tier was six feet from the ground and was reached by ladders. There were also shelves above each tier for the POWs to store their possessions. The floors were concrete and the roofs were tiled. Lighting was provided by meager light bulbs. The barracks were infested with lice, bedbugs, and fleas. The Japanese refused to give the POWs any supplies to kill the pests. At the end of the barracks were latrines with 6 wooden stalls, 1 urinal, and 4 sinks. The POWs were given one gallon of lime for use in each of the latrines.
Food for the POWs consisted of a main dish of rice, wheat, wheat flour, corn, and, Kaoliang, a millet. The POWs carried their lunches, which were millet, to work in small bento boxes. It was estimated that each POW received about 150 grams of rice and barley and 200 grams of bread each day. It was said, those working received 750 grams a day and 550 grams for non-workers. They also received a soup made from seaweed that was pretty much hot water and seaweed. To supplement their diets, the POWs in the camp would hunt rats at night for meat. There was a camp garden, but the Japanese took all the vegetables and left the POWs with the leaves and stalks. On the two occasions, the POWs had meat, the meat that was given to them was rotten shark, whale, or fish. The POWs went to the garbage dump to look for food. The unsanitary conditions in the kitchen resulted in many POWs having diarrhea. For Christmas, each POW received a tangerine, and they ate the fruit but also the peels.
The hospital had steam pipes installed, but the building was heated only part of the night during the winter, so the patients had to wear heavy overcoats during the day to keep reasonably warm. This building was always overcrowded and understaffed. A second hospital was built but the POWs were denied its use, and it remained unoccupied until Oct. 1944. The sick lay in bunks with straw mats. The original hospital could hold from 50 to 60 patients but usually, there were 120 patients. The rear of each barracks contained a washroom equipped with concrete sinks and contaminated running cold water. The men were warned against drinking this water.
When they arrived they were issued one set of “seaweed” clothes resembling heavy mosquito netting. Clothing was handed out by a Japanese supply sergeant who would hold clothing inspections on the POWs’ day off. It was during these inspections that the POWs were supposed to present their worn-out clothing to him for new clothing. Before he would issue new clothing to the POWs he would beat them with a club and hit them with his fists. The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beatings which resulted in men developing pneumonia and dying. On January 1, 1945, each POW received an overcoat. After the war, 1500 work uniforms were found in a warehouse. In addition, the POWs went barefoot in the winter instead of receiving new shoes. The CO of the camp claimed they didn’t have any shoes for the POWs. The Japanese stated that they issued 3,000 to 4,000 working suits, 700 pairs of rubber-soled footwear, 3,000 pairs of gloves, 500 pairs of socks, and 1,500 towels. It is known the POWs received towels. After the war in the camp’s warehouse the POWs found, 100 pairs of Japanese leather shoes, 250 pounds of shoe repair leather sent by the Red Cross, 500 pairs of socks, and 1300 work uniforms.
On a few occasions, the POWs did receive Red Cross boxes. It was noted that the canned meat and other food were missing from the boxes. On several occasions, the POWs saw the Japanese guards eating stew that came from the cans. One POW stated that if 100 Red Cross boxes arrived at the camp, the POWs got 75 of them. Some of the guards were seen wearing Red Cross clothing sent to the camp for the POWs and smoking American cigarettes. One guard during one winter was seen wearing fourteen different pairs of Red Cross shoes.
Each day after work, the sick call was held. The POW doctors would diagnose cases and determine what medicine was needed to treat the POW. A Japanese doctor or orderly was always present to tell the POW doctor if the POW would be allowed to be treated. To meet quotas for workers, the sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it. The Japanese camp doctor made the sick stand out in the cold for hours. He also beat them and allowed the guards to beat them. He also withheld the medicine that the POW doctors requested for the sick. Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross, the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages. Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with hacksaw blades and crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools to the camp. The first Japanese doctor was replaced by a second doctor who liked to make the POWs, who were shivering from fevers, stand outside and pour water on them. The hospital was built for 50 POWs, but on an average day, there were 200 POWs in it. If POWs were allowed to stay in the camp, they had to police the grounds or work in the camp garden. It appears pneumonia was one of the major killers in the camp. One Japanese orderly was known to say when a POW died, “he was not worth a damn anyway.” It was noted by the British POWs that the Americans were already malnourished when they arrived at the camp. Records show that 65 Americans, 13 British, 49 Dutch, 25 Indians, and 6 POWs of other nationalities died in the camp.
The POWs could not understand the interpreter which resulted in them being beaten for failing to follow orders. The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for violating camp rules, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water. The camp commander was said to carry a stick that he used to hit the POWs across the top of their heads. In one incident an entire barracks was slapped in the face, by the guards, because some POWs had smoked in the barracks. During the winter, POWs who were being punished often had water thrown on them. A group of about 60 POWs was made to crawl on their hands and knees, while carrying other POWs, on their backs. As they crawled, they were hit with bamboo sticks, belts, and rifle butts. There were two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time. All POWs who died were reported to have died in the camp hospital. Another incident involved an American soldier who traded with the Japanese. The war was almost over and Japan was about to surrender. The soldier traded for roasted beans. As it turned out, the beans had been tainted with arsenic. The soldier died the next day. After going through all he had suffered, the soldier died when freedom was almost his. If a POW attempted to escape, he dug his own grave and was shot.
One POW stated, “The men were beaten with sticks, clubs, rifle butts for no reason at all. This was a daily affair. In some cases, men were beaten for violating camp orders; such as getting caught smoking out of hours. The guard would take the men up to the guardhouse beat them up with their fists, stripped them of their clothes, and then threw them outside in a water tank. This usually happened in the wintertime. After about two or three hours of this kind of torture, they would be sent back to the barracks the men would most always be given some form of punishment; such as in being unable to get the next issue of cigarettes.”
On a few occasions, the POWs did receive Red Cross boxes. It was noted that the canned meat and other food were missing from the boxes. On several occasions, the POWs saw the Japanese guards eating stew that came from the cans. One POW stated that if 100 Red Cross boxes arrived at the camp, the POWs got 75 of them. Some of the guards were seen wearing Red Cross clothing sent to the camp for the POWs and smoking American cigarettes. One guard during one winter was seen wearing fourteen different pairs of Red Cross shoes.
The POWs worked in a steel mill that had been built by an American company before the war. They worked seven days a week and had one day off a month that was used for house cleaning and inspection. After that, these things were done they had a half-day off.
Each man was issued a towel for the purpose of wiping off sweat while working. Their workdays started at 5 A.M. when they woke. They had breakfast and fell out for work call at 6:30. They worked from 7:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. and received a half-hour lunch. Other documents indicated they worked from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM with a half-hour lunch and two ten-minute breaks; one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It also stated they received three days off each month. During the winter, they never saw daylight.
To get to the mill, the POWs walked downhill through the town and rode a train to the mill which was about 18 miles from the camp. They rode in flat cars with low sides which were on hinges. Sometimes these sides would be fastened in place by only one pin, but despite the fact that prisoners were so crowded into them that they were forced to press against the sides; there was no instance in which the sides gave way. Sometimes they sat in cars with a heavy layer of soot on the floor and also in cars containing glowing clinkers. Being open, the cars offered no protection against the weather, and many times I was compelled to sit out in the rain or snow for long periods before the cars were moved.
Some of the prisoners worked in the nearby steel factories of Tabata, while the rest worked in the Seitetsu Steel Mills at Yawata. The POWs loaded and unloaded ships, worked in the pipe shops, worked in machine shops, worked at brick making, worked in the motor car repair shop, worked at tool making, and some had to chip cast iron with hammers. Much of the POW work was to shovel iron ore and rebuild the ovens and were sent into the ovens to clean out the debris while the ovens were hot because the Japanese would not let them cool off. To get out of the ovens POWs worked fast. Hand grenades and shell casings from the mill helped the Japanese war effort. If an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel. They got one day off a month for house cleaning and half of the day was completely free from work. They worked from 8:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. and received a half-hour lunch.
There was a second interpreter at the mill who the POWs liked. He had been to the States and could speak English fluently. He was never known to have abused a POW. When he saw a POW being beaten, he would attempt to help the POWs and find out what the problem was. He made the guard stop hitting the POWs if he found that there was no reason for the abuse. The POWs believed he tried to help them as much as he could.
On August 20, 1944, the second air raid in the area took place. The first took place in July before the POWs arrived. During the air raid, the POWs kept working in the mill and were forbidden to stop working. After four or five air raids, the Japanese allowed the POWs to take cover. When an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel. Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters. Those POWs too far away from the train or shelters simply had to ride out the air raid. On one occasion, the POWs were put into shelters, but when the Japanese realized it was a major air raid, they made the POWs run a mile and a half to the tunnel. Air raids began occurring as many as five times a day and they began to take place at night. It was indicated that at the camp there were adequate air raid shelters for the POWs.
One POW recalled, “During Allied air raids on the steel mill, prisoners were allowed to go to the safety of a nearby railway tunnel, while guards with fixed bayonets chased and beat us all the way.” When the air raids took place while the POWs were in the camp, he said, “During night raids at the prison compound, there was the ha;f-shelter of bamboo and dirt huts, with bamboo poles covering the top to prevent American prisoners from cheering the American bombers that flew overhead. We were warned we would be executed if we even looked up at the planes while going to nearby shelters.”
The majority of POW officers in the camp were sent to Korea in April 1945. The beatings of the POWs also seemed to increase and they were beaten for playing cards, failing to salute, or failing to follow a camp rule. Collective beatings also seemed to increase when the Japanese suffered another military defeat.
When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the prisoners were returned to the camp early. They did not return to work for days. When they did go back to the mills, they again came back to the camp early. As it turned out Kokura – three miles from the Yawata Steel Mill – was the primary target for the second atomic bomb, but since the sky was extremely overcast, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It was at this time, that the POWs saw Japanese workers facing the direction of radio speakers with their heads bowed. The Americans thought that the emperor had passed away. The truth was that the second atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki, and the emperor was announcing Japan’s surrender. An American ensign, who could read and speak Japanese, saw a newspaper with the announcement of the surrender. He was the first person to inform his fellow POWs that the war was over. They were then told the same news by a Japanese officer. The camp was officially turned over to the POWs on August 20, 1945. It was at that time the POWs found 350 large Red Cross boxes with four smaller boxes in each one. The camp was officially turned over to the POWs on August 20, 1945. It was at that time the POWs found 350 large Red Cross boxes with four smaller boxes in each one.
On September 20, 1945, the former POWs were rescued by American troops. Elmer was returned to the Philippines. It is not known when his family learned he had been liberated. He was returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Marine Shark and arrived in San Francisco on November 1, 1945. His journey back to the U.S. had ended where it began a little over four years earlier. Elmer was awarded several medals. Among them were the purple heart and bronze star.
Elmer was discharged on February 26, 1946. He returned to Thelma and the couple raised a son and daughter. To support his family, he worked as a payroll clerk at K.A. Barker Construction Company. The couple celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1991. Elmer J. Bensing passed away on December 23, 1998, in Louisville, Kentucky. After a memorial service at Chapel Hill United Church of Christ, he was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville.