Pvt. Woodrow Wilson Cravens was born on December 11, 1915, in Gracey, Kentucky, to Richard Cravens and Addie Young-Cravens. He was one of the couple’s three sons. When Selective Service Registration became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his neighbor, Mrs. Ida Lee, as his contact person. He also indicated he was unemployed and gave his address as RR #3, Russellville, Kentucky. He was inducted into the U.S. Army on February 21, 1941, in Louisville, Kentucky, and gave his address as 816 West Tenth Street, Owensborough, Kentucky. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. During his basic training, he was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. It is knot known what specific training he received during his basic training.
Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished 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. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.
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, 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 late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new 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 June 14th and 16th, 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 16th. 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. 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.
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.
In the fall of 1941, the battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that 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 and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
It was after the maneuvers that it was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. The soldiers had no idea why they had been ordered to remain at the fort. About two weeks later, on the side of a hill, the soldiers were informed they were being sent overseas. Those who were married or 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 192nd received the 753rd’s tanks.
The decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 1941 – 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 a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island 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 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 battalion’s new tanks were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. The soldiers also put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust. Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where 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 and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto 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, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd 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, the transport, S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers. At this time, D Company was supposed to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion, but the transfer was never completed, so the company remained under the command of the 192nd.
On the morning of December 8, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At exactly noon the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. To get their lunch three tankers from each tank were allowed to go to the food truck that had been sent to the airfield to feed them. Most of the soldiers were in line at the truck when they saw planes approaching. No one was alarmed by this since they did not believe that the Japanese would attack. It was only when bombs began exploding that they realized they were wrong.
After the attack, D Company was ordered to Mabalac on Delores Road. They remained there until December 10. They were next sent to Calumpit to look for paratroopers. While there, they guarded a large bridge against saboteurs. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers to do reconnaissance and guard beaches. They remained there until December 23, when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken.
Christmas Day, the tankers spent 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 tankers were next assigned to guarding the Bataan and Cabcaban Airfields. They also guarded against beach landings and paratroopers. They would continue this duty until April 7. On April 8, the tankers were sent Trail 10 and Mount Samat. The lines had broken. They fought there until receiving the news of the surrender.
During the withdrawal from the Abucay-Hacienda Road, the tankers were ordered to hold a position as long as possible. If a tank was disabled, its crew was to continue fighting until it became apparent that they had to abandon their tank. The crew was then to abandon the tank after destroying it.
On the morning of April 9, about 6:45 in the morning, the tankers received the order, “crash.” They destroyed their equipment and tanks. Some of the members of the D Company took off for the hills but were picked up later. Others made it to Corregidor and volunteered to be sent to Ft. Drum. He remained there until Corregidor surrendered on May 6, 1942, when he was returned to Corregidor and held on the beach.
About two weeks after the surrender, the POWs were taken by barge to a point off Luzon. They were marched to Manila and Bilibid Prison before they were sent to Cabanatuan. At some point, Woodrow was sent on the work detail at the Pasay school. The POWs on this detail built runways at Nichols Field. The POWs on the detail were brutalized by the Japanese.
The POWs on the detail were housed in a school at Pasay School in eighteen rooms. 30 POWs were assigned to a room. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills. When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheelbarrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and “bongo,” or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and a half to the airfield.
After arriving at the airfield, the Japanese counted the POWs again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again. When they arrived back at the school, the POWs were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
It was while he was there that Cravens was sent to Bilibid Prison suffering from a foot problem and admitted to the hospital on December 6, 1942. Records kept at the prison indicate that he was discharged on January 17, 1943, and sent to Cabanatuan.
During his time at Cabanatuan, Woodrow was selected to go out on a work detail in January 1943 to Lipa Batangas. The POWs on the detail built runways with picks and shovels at Lipa Airfield. It appears that Woodrow was returned to Cabanatuan before the detail ended because of illness.
In September 1943, Woodward was selected to be sent to Japan. The POWs were marched to the barrio of Cabanatuan on September 18 and taken to Manila by train. There, they were boarded onto the Taga Maru on the ship sailed on the 20th. It arrived at Takao, Formosa, on September 23 and remained until the 18th when it sailed as part of a nine or ten ship convoy. The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5. Japanese doctors boarded the ship and gave physicals to the POWs. The POWs were disembarked and marched to the train station.
On October 6, the POWs arrived at Osaka and marched through a subway to another train. This train arrived at Nuttari, Higashi Ward, Niigata Prefecture at 3:30 P.M. on October 7. The POWs were put on trucks and driven to the POW camp. When they arrived at the camp, there were about 300 Canadian and Dutch POWs already in the camp. The Americans seeing these men commented on how bad they looked. At this time, there were no officers in the camp.
The next day, the Americans formed for assembly. At this time, their watches, jewelry, mess kit knives, and scissors were taken from them. It was noted by the POWs that the camp commandant was very interested in their watches and jewelry.
On October 9th, the Americans went to work for the first time. They were used as slave labor in a coal yard. The winches in the camp were run by women. The winches lifted the coal out of the ship’s holds and dropped it on conveyor belts that dumped it into coal cars. The POWs’ job was to push the coal cars or work on barges shoveling coal into a steam shovel that lifted it and dropped it into coal cars.
Woodrow remained in the camp until he was liberated in September 1945. He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment and promoted to sergeant. He was boarded onto the U.S.S. Yarmouth and arrived at San Francisco on October 8, 1945. After further medical treatment, he returned to Kentucky, reenlisted, this time in the Air Corps, on February 21, 1946, and was discharged on April 1, 1946.
On November 7, 1950, Woodrow W, Cravens was killed when he fell from a freight train that he was attempting to hitch a ride on. According to his death certificate, he suffered multiple injuries while the train was crossing the Gumm Lick Trestle. He was buried at the Fort Donelson Cemetery, Dover Tennessee, in Section B, Site 747, on November 10, 1950.