Pvt. Woodrow Wilson Cravens was born on December 11, 1915, in Christian County, Kentucky, to Richard Cravens and Addie Young-Cravens. He was one of the couple’s three sons.
Woodrow was inducted into the U.S. Army on February 21, 1941, in Louisville, Kentucky, and 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.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana and took part in maneuvers there. It was after the maneuvers that it was ordered to remain at the base 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.
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 came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and 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.
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, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
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.
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.
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 wheel barrows 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 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. The POWs also would work on barges shoveling coal into a steam shovel which 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 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.