What is known about 1st Lt. William Lucas Cockrum is that he was born on October 25, 1910, and was the youngest of two sons of William Monroe Cockrum & Mary Jackson-Cockrum. As a child, he lived in Brown, Arkansas.
It is known that William was called up to active duty on July 5, 1941, while working as a salesman. He was assigned to Hq Company, 194th Tank Battalion. It appears he was the commander of tanks assigned to Hq Company. This may have taken place as the battalion prepared for duty overseas.
On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippines because of an event earlier in the year. 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 in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy and saw another one 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 a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron returned to 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 of planes 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 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.
The 194th, minus B Company, was sent to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, and ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, were the members of the battalion were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
On September 8, 1941, the battalion was boarded onto the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9:00 P.M. that night. The ship arrived at Hawaii on September 13, remained in port most of the day, and sailed at 5:00 P.M., but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was joined by the heavy cruiser the U.S.S. Astoria and the U.S.S. Guadalupe – a replenishment oiler – which were its escorts.
During the voyage, on several occasions, smoke from unknown ships was seen on the horizon. The cruiser revved up its engines and intercepted the ships. On each occasion, it turned out that the ship belonged a friendly country. On Tuesday, September 16, the ships crossed the International Dateline and the date became Thursday, September 18.
On September 26, they arrived at Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. but did not reach Manila until later in the morning. The soldiers did not disembark until 3:00 P.M. The maintenance section of the battalion helped 17th Ordnance unload the tanks and reattach the turrets.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and was taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort had learned of their arrival only days earlier. They remained in the tents until November 15th when they moved into their barracks.
The barracks’ outside walls were opened and screened from the floors to three feet up the wall. Above that, there was woven bamboo. This design allowed air to pass through the barracks. Sanitation facilities appeared to have been limited and a lucky man was one who was able to wash by a faucet with running water.
The tankers’ day started at 5:15 with reveille. After washing, breakfast was at 6:00 A.M. The soldiers worked from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was at noon. They went back to work at 1:30 P.M. and worked until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work. According to members of the battalion the term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon. At 5:10, they ate dinner and were free afterward.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming.
Off the base, the soldiers went to Mt. Aarayat National Park and swam in the swimming pool there that was filled with mountain water. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. They also went to canoeing at Pagsanjan Falls in their swimsuits and described the country was described as being beautiful.
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 fatigues to do the work on the tanks. When they were discovered working in their fatigues, the soldiers were reprimanded for not wearing dress uniforms while working. The decision was made by Major Ernest Miller to continue wearing fatigues in their barracks area to do their work but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they were expected to wear dress uniforms. This included going to the PX.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there. The members of Albert’s tank crew were Jim Bogarts, Bernard Fitzpatrick, and Kenny Gorden.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the battalion was ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Just hours early, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. As the tankers guarded the airfield, they watched American planes flying in every direction. At 12:45 in the afternoon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
At 12:45 P.M., the tankers were having lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, some men commented they must be American. They counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
The 194th was sent to Mabalcat on December 10, and it was at this time that C Company was sent to southern Luzon where the Japanese were landing and put under the command of Brigadier General Albert M. Jones. To avoid Japanese planes, the company tried to cover the distance at night. They were successful and going 40 miles during the night but had to make a run for it during the day. They were successful and reached Muntinlupa and made it to Tagatay Ridge on December 14th.
The tanks remained at Tagatay until December 24th doing reconnaissance and hunting for fifth columnists who would signal planes with mirrors during the day near ammunition dumps resulting in the dumps being bombed and shelled. At night, the fifth columnists shot off flares near the ammunition dumps. The activity ended, when the company shot up native huts suspected as being used by the fifth columnists.
At 2:00 A.M. on December 24th, the Japanese landed 7,000 troops at Lamon Bay. The Japanese began advancing in the direction of Lucban. The company took a position to aid the 1st Infantry Regiment, Philippine Army, that was fighting the Japanese.
One platoon of five tanks – on December 26 – was ordered to advance down a trail in an area where the Japanese were known to be. A major ordered the tanks to advance even though no reconnaissance had been done. The trail made a sharp turn, and when the tanks made the turn, the first was knocked out by a Japanese anti-tank gun killing the platoon commander and the driver of the tank. The other two crewmen escaped into the jungle. The remaining four tanks were also knocked out by enemy fire resulting in two more men being killed.
From this point on the tanks fell back toward Bataan and were serving as the rear guard for Gen. Jones’ troops when they withdrew past Manila. C Company at one point saw 100 to 150 trucks belonging to the Philippine Army pass warehouses full of food and other supplies.
It was at this time that the 192nd Tank Battalion and A Company, 194th Tank Battalion were fighting to keep the roads open so that the troops withdrawing from southern Luzon would not be cut off.
The southern Luzon force with C Company serving as its rearguard crossed the Calumpit Bridge on January 1st. After the company crossed the bridge was destroyed. the tanks went through San Fernando and formed roadblocks to keep the junction of Routes 3 and 7 open.
Also on January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders of the northern force who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. The orders came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff and told the units holding open the bridges to withdraw. General Wainwright – who was in command – was unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and half of the defenders had withdrawn. When Gen Wainwright became aware of what was going on, he countermanded the orders. 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 allowing the southern forces – including C Company – to escape.
Both tank battalions ordered to withdrawal to Lyac Junction on January 2, 1942, with the 194th withdrawing there on Highway 7. On January 5, 1942, C Company and A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, withdrew from Guagua-Porac Line and moved into position between Sexmoan and Lubao. At 1:50 A.M., the Japanese attempted to infiltrate their line in bright moonlight which made them easy to see. It also helped that the Japanese wore white shirts which reflected the moonlight. The tanks opened fire and in an attempt to cover their advance, the Japanese lay down smoke which blew back into them. It was 3:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the engagement having suffered 50% casualties.
C Company was with the 31st Infantry on January 5 ambushed between 750 to 800 Japanese troops resulting in the Japanese suffering 50 percent casualties. When the company withdrew, the barrio of Lubao was in flames. A small skirmish took place on January 6 resulting in two members of C Company being wounded. One man died from gas gangrene.
A new defensive line was formed at Remedios along a dried creek bed. They fell back from this position and the tank battalions flanked the Layac Bridge over the Culo River. The night of January 6, the 194th crossed a bridge covered by the 192nd. The 192nd crossed the bridge becoming the last unit to enter Bataan. After it crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
For the first time in a month, both battalions bivouacked south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road giving long overdue maintenance work to be done on the tanks by the battalions’ maintenance crews and 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that rations were cut in half and tank platoons were reduced to three tanks each. One reason this was done was to give D Company, 192nd tanks since it had lost all its tanks but one when a bridge had been destroyed before they had crossed it.
A composite tank company made up of tanks from the 192nd and 194th sent to protect East Coast Road north of Hermosa. Their job was to keep the East Road open north of Hermosa and to prevent the Japanese from driving into Bataan before the main battle line had been formed. The remainder of tanks ordered to bivouac for night south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road. The tankers had been fighting for a month without rest and tanks also needed long overdue maintenance by 17th Ordnance. It was at this time that all tank companies reduced to ten tanks or three per tank platoon.
A platoon of tanks from C Company was sent to reopen Moron Road so General Segunda’s forces could withdraw. The tanks ran into an anti-tank gun that fired at the lead tank, but the shell went over the turret of the tank. The tank returned fire and destroyed the gun before it got off its next round. Two tanks hit landmines disabling them and were abandoned but later recovered. The mission was abandoned. Gen. Segunda’s troops escaped using the beach but lost their heavy equipment.
C Company, with D Company, 192nd, sent to Cadre Road on January 12 which was a forward position with little alert time. On January 13, 1942, mines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching Cadre Road so the tanks returned to the battalions.
The tanks on January 26, held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts with the battalion. At 9:45 A.M., they were warned by Filipino that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When the enemy appeared, the battalion opened up with all it had on the Japanese. At 10:30 A.M., the Japanese broke off the engagement and withdrew after losing 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new defensive line that was being formed from being breached.
The tanks from both battalions were given beach duty on January 28, 1942, with the tanks of the 194th given beach duty protecting southern beaches from Limay to Cabcaben with the half-tracks patrolling the roads. The tanks maintained radio contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
Sometime in March 1942, two tanks were bogged down in the mud and the tankers were working to get them out when a Japanese Regiment entered the area. Lt. Col. Ernest Miller ordered tanks and artillery to fire at point-blank range to fire on the enemy troops. Miller ran from tank to tank directing fire and wiped out the Japanese regiment.
Sometime during this period, William was transferred to the 192nd Tank Battalion and assigned to C Company as a tank platoon commander. The roster of the 194th compiled by Capt. Quinton Quinlen of the 194th – while he was a POW – and the post-war roster for the 192nd Tank Battalion both show that William had been transferred to the battalion.
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. 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 a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger and a milkshake since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
Also in March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor which Wainwright denied.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3 and broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack. On March 30, 1942, his wife received a letter from him that was written on January 20. In it, he said he was well and in good spirits.
The Japanese brought fresh troops to Bataan since the Americans and Filipinos with the help of tropical illnesses had fought the Japanese to a standstill. On April 3, the Japanese launched a major offensive. 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. In an attempt to stop them, the tanks were sent into various sectors. It was also at this time that tanks became the favorite targets of Japanese planes and artillery.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. 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.
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 and the white flag was bedding from A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.) 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 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.”
The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also 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.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. 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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
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 Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances 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.
Somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 in the morning the tankers received the order “crash” and destroyed their tanks. The tanks were circled and an armor-piercing shell was fired into the engines of each tank. Afterward, the gasoline cocks were opened in the crew.
The company remained in its bivouac until April 10 when the Japanese arrived. Albert now was officially a Prisoner of War. HQ Company was ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2. At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march. They made their way from the former command post, and at first, found the walk difficult. When they reached the main road, walking became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
William took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. There, he and the other POWs were boarded into boxcars and road to Capas, and were packed in so tightly that
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed 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 Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to 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 lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In May or early June 1942, his parents received a message from the War Department:
“Dear Mrs. M. Cockrum:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of First Lieutenant William L. Cockrum, O, 370, 593, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
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 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. 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.
The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building.
In July, his family received a second message from the War Department. The following are excerpts from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, First Lieutenant William L. Cockrum had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
Sometime during William’s imprisonment, he was sent to Bilibid Prison near Manila. How long he was held as a prisoner there. In early December, the Japanese ordered the American medical staff at the prison to put together a list of POWs healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
On the morning of December 12, 1944, roll call was taken and the names of the men selected were read to the POWs. William’s name was called. That evening the POWs were allowed to say goodbye to their friends. At 4 a.m., the POWs were waked and fed breakfast. 1,619 POWs were marched to Manila’s Pier 7.
As the POWs stood on the dock, Japanese women and children were boarded onto the ship. In addition, Japanese seamen who had survived the sinking of their ships were boarded. It was not until that evening that POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru. The ship was part of MATA-37 convoy.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was an old run-down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many fell asleep and slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. At about 5:00 PM the POWs boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
The high ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s aft hold. Being the first one meant that they would suffer many deaths. Around the perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.” The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
The ship sailed and became a part of a convoy that moved without lights. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died.
One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”
The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.
As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who out of their minds into it.
On the side of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
The POWs received their first meal at dawn. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, some water, and three-fourths of a cup of water that was shared by 20 POWs. It was 8:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill.
At first, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play by play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us.”
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties.
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes were running out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only its .30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship.
At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. It was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs.
During the attack Chaplain William Cummings – a Catholic priest – led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the haul, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship’s had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere.
The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning and steamed closer to the beach where its anchor was dropped. At 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark at daybreak at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.
It was December 15 and the POWs sat in the ship’s holds for hours after dawn. The first 35 POWs were taken out of the hold and went into the water. At 8:00 A.M. as the other POWs waited, the sound of A Japanese guard yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” He shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated before looking up and saying, “Planes, many planes!” As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fell, hit near the stern hatch, and debris goes flying up in the air.”
In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold another chaplain, Major John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.” The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs in his limited
English that they needed to get off the ship to safety. The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns, to prevent them from escaping.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically at the planes so they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilots dipped their wings to show that they knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks.
The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened upon them.
Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape. The POWs were gathered together and marched to the tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court.
While the POWs were at Olongapo Naval Station, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. They were buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed. Those POWs who died were buried in a bomb crater on the beach.
The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days. During their time on the courts, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
On the evening of December 16, the Japanese brought 50-kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of the holes. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, “No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid.” The guard knew as little as the POWs.
On December 21st, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
December 23, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a schoolyard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25 until the 26. The POWs were held in a schoolhouse. On the morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another “Hell Ship” the Brazil Maru.
The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they would use ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterward, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.
During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31 and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six-inch-long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1 through the 5, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6, the POWs were moved from the Brazil Maru to the forward hold of the Enoura Maru. It was also on this day that they began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes on the morning of January 9. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day when the sound of ship’s machine guns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb hit the ship and exploded outside the corner of the forward hold killing 285 POWs. A second bomb fell through the open cargo hatch and exploded. The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. The survivors soon stacked the bodies of the dead directly below the hatch so that they would be the first thing the Japanese saw when they looked in.
On January 20, the Japanese organized a POW detail to remove the dead to a barge which had been brought alongside the ship. The barge took the bodies to shore, but the POWs were too weak to carry them. Ropes were tied to the legs of the dead and the bodies were dragged to the grave that had been dug and buried in a mass grave on a beach. Afterward, the Japanese finally sent medics into the hold to help with the treatment of the wounded.
On January 13, the POWs were moved to the Brazil Maru. The next day the ship sailed as part of a convoy. On the ship, the POWs found that they had room and were actually issued life jackets. The ship sailed on January 14 as part of a convoy. During the trip, it towed one or two other ships that had been damaged during attacks. As many as 50 POWs died each day before the ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 29, 1945. Of the original 1619 POWs who had boarded the ship, only 459 had reached Japan.
Upon arriving in Japan, William was sent to Fukuoka #4 and later Moji Military Hospital. He died at the hospital on February 3, 1945, and his body was cremated and his ashes given to the camp commandant. It is not known when his family learned of his death.
After the war, the remains of 1st Lt. William L. Cockrum were reburied at the Corning Cemetery in Corning, Arkansas.