T/Sgt. Johnnie William Bottoms Sr. was born on September 23, 1915. With his brother, he was raised in Harrodsburg and Richmond, Kentucky, by his grandparents. He was known as “Johnnie” to his family and friends. It is known that he was married to Anna Mae Spoonamore and was the father of a son, John William Bottoms Jr. When he was called to federal service, he was working as a truck driver and farm worker.
It was in Harrodsburg that he joined the Kentucky National Guard’s 38th Tank Company which was called to federal service on November 25, 1940. Johnnie trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, as a member of D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He was reassigned to Headquarters Company when the company was created in January 1941, with men from the four letter companies of the battalion.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
In September 1941, Johnnie took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st through 30th. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill that he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. Being that he was married, he was given the opportunity to resign from federal service. He chose to remain with the battalion and go overseas. He received leave home to see his family and say goodbye before returning to Camp Polk.
The 192nd Tank Battalion received orders for duty, in the Philippines, because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen but it was too late to do anything about it that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was making its way toward shore. Since communications between the Air Corps and Navy were poor, the boat escaped without being stopped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Over the southern train route through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, HQ Company traveled to San Francisco, California, and were taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. At the fort, the men received physicals and inoculations for overseas duty. Those men found to have minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The early afternoon of December 8, 1941, Johnnie lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. Although Johnnie did not take part in any front-line action, he did live with the constant bombing and strafing by Japanese planes. The night of April 8, 1942, he and the other members of HQ Company were informed of the surrender to the Japanese by Capt. Fred Bruni.
He called them together told the tank crews how to destroy their tanks. As he spoke he turned away and his voice trembled. He next created a meal with all the food they could find and held what the company members called, “Our last supper.”
HQ Company remained in its bivouac for two days. The third morning a Japanese officer and soldiers arrived and ordered the Americans onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac. Once on the road, they were ordered to kneel with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers marching past them took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They were now officially Prisoners of War.
The members of the company boarded trucks and made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. They left the trucks and were ordered into a schoolyard. They remained in the schoolyard for hours.
As they sat and watched, the members of his company noticed that Japanese soldiers with rifles were organizing themselves into a formation. It soon became apparent to the Americans that this formation was a firing squad, and they watched and waited to see what was going to happen.
It was about this time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car and got out. He called a sergeant over to him and said something to him. When he was done talking to the sergeant, he got back into the car and drove off. As the officer drove off, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
The members of HQ were ordered to move and had no idea they had started the death march. The first few miles out of Mariveles were uphill. At one point, the Prisoners of War were ordered to rest in front of Japanese artillery that was firing on Corregidor and Fort Drum, and the American guns returned fire. Shells began to land among the POWs. One group of POWs, who attempted to hide in a small shack, was killed when it took a direct hit. The Americans did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The members of HQ Company were ordered to move again. When he reached San Fernando the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each boxcar could hold eight horses or forty men, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. Those men who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall.
At Capas, the POWs disembarked the cars, and the dead fell to the floors as they living left. It had taken HQ Company six days to complete the march. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The ranking American officer was beaten with a broadsword after asking for medicine, additional food, and materials to repair the leaking roofs of the huts.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. To get out of the camp, Johnnie went out on a work detail to rebuild bridges that had been destroyed weeks before by the Filipino and American forces as they retreated.
The first barrio that the work detail went to was Calauan. Johnnie like the other POWs was weak and susceptible to illness. In his case, he came down with malaria. According to Phil Parish, of A Company, Sgt. Johnnie Bottoms died from malaria on Thursday, May 28, 1942, at Calauan. His death bed was a wet concrete floor. T/Sgt. Johnnie Bottoms was buried in Calauan’s small but neat cemetery.
Parish stated that several days after Johnnie’s burial, a Japanese guard was escorting the POWs as they left to work on the detail. As the detail passed the front of the cemetery, the guard ordered the POWs to halt and pointed to Johnnie’s grave. He then called out in English “Attention” and the POWs and the guard saluted. After saluting Johnnie, the guard and detail continued on their way. Later, the Japanese allowed the POWs to put a fence around Johnnie’s grave and the grave of Cpl. Thomas Davenport, C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
After the war. T/Sgt. Johnnie W. Bottoms the remains were returned to Kentucky as requested by his wife, and family. On October 21, 1948. A service was held the next day at Harrodsburg Baptist Church. His pallbearers were Virgil and Edwin Elliott, Jack Wilson, Kenneth Hourigan, M/Sgt. Joe Anness, and T/Sgt. Morgan French. The last four men had been members of D Company.
Sgt. Johnny W. Bottoms was buried in Richmond Cemetery in Richmond, Kentucky. Today, he lies next to his wife, who never remarried after his death.