Pvt. William Archie Curtis Jr. was born on September 27, 1919, in Harris, Oklahoma, to William A. Curtis Sr. and Daphne Curtis. He was known as “Archie” to his family and friends. When Selective Service Registration became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. He also indicated he was self-employed and gave his address as Route #3 Box 117 Muskogee, Oklahoma. He was drafted into the U. S. Army on March 18, 1941, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training, where he qualified as a tank driver and was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion at Camp Polk, Louisana.
While the 753rd was at Camp Polk, the Louisiana maneuvers took place but the battalion did not take part in the maneuvers. After the completion of the maneuvers, the battalion surrendered its equipment to the 192nd Tank Battalion which had taken part in the maneuvers and was being sent overseas. Members of the 753rd were asked to volunteer or had their names drawn from a hat to replace National Guardsmen who had been released from federal service because they were 29 years old or older, married, or their enlistments were almost over. William volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion and was assigned to A Company. Doing this meant he went from living in a barracks to living in a tent. It is known that it rained many of the days and the men were so wet many did not bother to shower.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision 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 Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original members of the battalion believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks during the maneuvers – to go overseas because they performed well during the maneuvers. There is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, the battalion even fought as the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – both had been National Guard medium tank battalions – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
The battalion also received tanks and half-tracks from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division which were loaded onto flat cars to be sent west by train. One train carried the tankers while a second train following the first carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train were a freight car and a passenger car that some of the tankers rode. When they arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced with men sent to the island for that purpose.
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. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Thursday, November 6, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
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 that were hauling scrap metal.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as they left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks with the help of 17th Ordnance. The rest of the battalion rode a train to the base.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. Their bivouac 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 from the engines – as they flew over – was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sound of Japanese Reconnaissance planes flying over the airfield. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued were heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” that they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms including going to the PX.
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. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. Many men wrote home and told their families about how hot the weather was, the kind of food they were eating, about the countryside, and about the Filipinos.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers while HQ Company remained at the battalion’s bivouac.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. They were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that 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. That night they slept under their tanks for protection. Those not assigned to tanks slept on the ground in a dried-up latrine.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The company lived through another air raid on December 10.
A Company, on December 12, was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and guard them against sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. The rest of the battalion had been ordered north to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing. On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write, when a land mine exploded in his hands. Before he died, he asked that roses be placed on his grave, but since there were no roses, the men placed a native red flower on his grave. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. The tankers were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, 2nd Lt. William W. Read on December 30. Later that day on the road east of Zaragoza, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks. The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
The tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge, on December 31 and January 1, keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. Platoons from B and C Companies saw movement in the distance and opened fire. They later learned that they had knocked out five Japanese tanks.
While holding the bridge, they received orders – from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff – about whose command they were under and were told to withdraw from the bridge without Gen Johnathan Wainwright’s knowledge. Because of the order, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces and about half the defenders withdrew. When Gen. Wainwright became aware of the order, he countermanded it. 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 and the Southern Luzon forces escaped into Bataan.
From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. January that the food rations were cut in half. Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers.
A Company, on January 5, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. The company also was returned to the 192nd at this time. On the night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed. A Company was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd the next day. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks from attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. They were also to support the 31st Infantry. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
Sgt. Owen Sandmire of the A Company said that because of the jungle canopy the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.
At this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The 194th was sent to reopen the Morong Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. While attempting to do this, two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
It was at the Pilar-Bigac area on January 14, 17th Ordnance had the opportunity to do long overdue tank maintenance. Six carloads of parts, ammunition, and fuel for the tanks had been sent into Bataan in November which allowed the company to replace worn-out tracks and engine parts. The tanks were sent back into action as they became available. In addition, the tanks received ammunition. While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached. They held the position until the night of the 26 when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
While doing this job, the members of B Company noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked. This time they were met by fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
Part of the battalion took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion’s surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23 until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had been caught off behind the battleline. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket.
The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts, so he requested tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, tank platoons from A and C Companies were ordered to Anyasan and Quinauan Points where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. The C Company tank platoon commander did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time.
The Japanese, also in January, also launched an attack against the Orion-Bagac Line, but the advance was pushed back leaving two pockets of Japanese soldiers trapped behind the restored defensive line. The two pockets became known as Big Pocket and Little Pocket and tanks were sent in to help exterminate the pockets. The battle took place at the same time as the Battle of the Points and lasted from January 23 to February 17.
The tanks entered the pockets one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank that had been relieved exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and rested. The tanks of the company were replaced by the tanks of another company that had been held in reserve.
In the pockets, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank approached, the Japanese dove into the foxholes, and the tank went over the foxholes. As the tank passed over a foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle dragging the unpowered track and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks because of the rotting flesh in them.
The Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks who attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on the tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
In the pockets, C Company lost one tank that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that some of the crew were killed by a hand grenade thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, it was put on its side and it was found at least one member of the crew was still alive as the Japanese filled the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it.
In another incident, a tank from B Company became wedged between two trees after its driver was blinded by a flame thrower. The crew was ordered out of the tank and told to run. As they ran, the Japanese machine-gunned them. The tank commander was killed instantly, while the other three men made it into a sugarcane field. Only one of the three men was found the next day and was sent to the hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Another man was taken prisoner, while the last man was never heard from again and died from his wounds or was killed. It appears that this tank was also recovered. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
It seemed to the members of A Company that they always seemed to have the job of protecting the 155-millimeter howitzers that the Army used in batteries of six guns. The guns were mobile and could be hooked up to the tanks with a special vehicle and moved to another location. It was recalled that moving them took preparation and setting them up also took preparation. The tankers didn’t like this duty because the guns attracted Japanese fire. Whenever the guns started firing, the Japanese would send up Recon Joe to try to locate them. Shortly after this happened, the dive bombers came in and peppered the hell out of the position. On February 3, near Bambang, Limay, at KM 144, A Company’s bivouac was near a 155-millimeter artillery battery that was attacked by Japanese planes which came in low. During the strafing and bombing, Sgt. Ivan Wilmer was attempting to reach his tank when he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese bomb killing him instantly.
The Americans quickly learned that the strafing of the batteries could be prevented if the guns were set up on a temporary basis and fired as much as possible before being quickly moved to another position before the Japanese found them. The result of this was the damage done to the Japanese was limited, but it improved the defenders’ morale since it caused havoc with the Japanese who never knew where the guns were located.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack, on April 3, supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount 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. The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern part of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces. 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.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. the tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.)
Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. 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.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps 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 not 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 in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived, and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
The company remained in its bivouac for two days until the Japanese arrived on April 11 and ordered them to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan, where they were searched and stripped of anything the Japanese could use. He was placed into a detachment of 100 POWs that was guarded by six to eight guards and ordered to march. The first five miles were extremely hard because they were uphill. The beatings and killings started almost at the same time as the march started. One guard would beat a POW while five minutes later another guard would give the POW a cigarette.
The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace so they could finish their assigned distance. Those men who were sick had a hard time keeping up and if they fell out were bayoneted or shot. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The new guards also wanted to complete their part of the march as fast as possible, so the POWs once again found themselves marching at a fast pace.
As the POWs made their way north, the Filipinos filled containers with water and placed them along the road. The POWs could not stop but many were able to scoop water into their canteens. By doing this the Filipinos saved a great many lives. The POWs also could see them flashing the “V” for victory sign under their folder arms.
The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery. The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours. While they at there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese riding past them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.
The men were marched until they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were about thirteen feet long and ten feet wide and known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments had 100 men in each one, the Japanese put 100 men in each car and closed the doors. Since the POWs were packed in so tightly, men suffocated from the lack of air but could not fall to the floor since there was no room to fall. At Capas, the living left the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors as they left the boxcars and walked the 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.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many as 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals a day which were mainly rice. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including in the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The less sick from the hospital were required to dig latrines and were given a canteen of water that was expected to last three days. The sick who went out on work details came back to the camp and died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledged they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
It was at this time that his parents received a letter from the War Department in late May.
Dear Mrs. D. Curtis:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private William A. Curtis Jr., 38,020,515, 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 as Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where most of the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where most of those men captured on Corregidor were taken and was later consolidated into Camp 1 on October 30, 1942.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. He was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 2.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across 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 to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Another detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and known as Maniquis Airfield. The Japanese had the POWs build runways and revetments. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. Returning from details the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On 26 June 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
In July 1942, while he was a POW in Cabanatuan, his family received a second letter from the War Department. The following is an excerpt.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private William A. Curtis Jr. 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.”
The camp hospital was made up of multiple buildings. One was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. Since the water table was high, a POW held the body down in the grave with a pole until it was covered with dirt. The death rate remained at 9 POWs a day into November.
William was selected to go out on the Las Pinas Work Detail which was also known as the Pasay School Detail. It is believed he went on this detail in January 1943 as a replacement for a POW who had died or been sent to Bilibid for illness. The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms with 30 POWs 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 of using construction equipment to build it. 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. To be more efficient, 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.
A typical day started at 6:00 A.M. when the POWs had reveille. At 6:15 “bongo” (count) was taken 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, they have counted 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 were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the “White Angel” because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was the commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn’t four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, “Tell them I went down smiling.” The White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time.
The American captain told the other Americans what had happened. The White Angel told them that this was going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as “the Wolf.” He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man’s arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion, a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man’s head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in wooden boxes. With them, the Japanese had death certificates, signed by an American doctor, which had manufactured causes of death on them. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
On August 27, 1944, William was sent to Japan on the Noto Maru. After a stop at Takao, Formosa, on July 30, the ship sailed for the Island of Keelung the next day. The Noto Maru arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 4. In Japan, he was held as a POW at Sendai #6, which was also known as Hanawa, where 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi and under company supervision.
The camp was approximately 200 feet wide by 350 feet long and had a 12-foot high wooden fence around it and was located at 4,000 feet. The POWs were housed in wooden barracks, with 30-foot ceilings, and two tiers of bunks, against each long wall, with straw matting and a mattress stuffed with straw for sleeping. They also had a 4″ by 4″ by 8″ block of wood for a pillow.
The floors of the barracks were packed dirt with a center aisle. There were covered walkways, without sides, that connected the barracks. To heat the barracks, there was a small potbelly stove. If they were lucky, the Japanese gave them enough wood for an hour’s heat. The POWs – who worked in the foundry – stole coal knowing that if they were caught they would be beaten. The barracks were not insulated and the heavy snow – which was as deep as 10 feet – served as insulation.
Other buildings in the camp were two buildings that served as a hospital for the POWs and an “L” shaped building that was the kitchen and POW bath. The latrines were three low buildings, and there was one building that served as the camp office. The POWs spent several days setting up the camp.
In the camp, 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi Mining Company and worked under company supervision. The POWs woke up at 5 A.M. and ate breakfast which was a small bowl of rice, barley or millet, and watery soup. Meals were brought to the barracks, in buckets, and the POWs ate at tables in the barracks. After breakfast, at 5:30, roll call was taken and the POWs and the POWs left the camp. They arrived at the mine at 7 A.M., had a half-hour lunch, and worked until 5:00 P.M. before returning to camp, usually after dark, and had supper. Afterward, they went to bed.
The clothing issued to the POWs was a combination of Japanese clothing, made of thin cloth and shoes, and captured American clothing. For the winter the POWs received a uniform made of burlap and long socks. Those who needed shoes were issued Japanese canvas shoes with webbing between two toes. They also received grass shoe covers so they could get through the snow.
Work details were set up for POWs who were machinists, electricians, and mechanics. Those who did not have these skills were assigned to work at a foundry or mining. The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi. Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine. To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them. It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
Each detail had a “honcho” who was employed by Mitsubishi and supervised the POWs. They carried a large stick which they used on the POWs when they felt they were not working hard enough. The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner received a carbide headlamp as his only lighting.
A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men was never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
Each detail had a “honcho” who was employed by Mitsubishi and supervised the POWs. They carried a large stick which they used on the POWs when they felt they were not working hard enough. The mine had been abandoned because it had become too expensive to extract the copper, but Mitsubishi believed it could make it profitable with the slave labor provided by the POWs.
To get to work, the POWs had to often walk through two feet of snow and climb up the side of a mountain and descend 472 steps into the mine. The POWs noticed that the guards never seemed to be winded when they arrived at the mine. They later learned that the Japanese had cut a ground-level entrance to the mine which the guards used to enter it.
The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner received a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men was never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding.
Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
Mitsubishi expected the Japanese Army to supply a certain number of POWs to work in the mine each day so men too sick to work were sent to work. The sick had to be carried between two healthier POWs to the mine. Since the Japanese found that the sick were too ill to work, the company came up with work for them to do in the camp like making nails or rope. If a POW still could not work, his rations were cut in half.
In the camp, the Japanese withheld the Red Cross packages from the POWs and took the canned meats, canned fruit, canned milk, and cheese for themselves. Blankets and clothing intended for the POWs were used by the guards. If a POW violated a rule, the grain ration, for all the POWs, was reduced by 20 percent. At one point, 49 POWs were lined up – because one POW had broken a rule – and beaten with leather belts.
One day the POWs lined up for work, but they were sent back to their barracks. The same thing happened repeatedly over the next several days. The POWs knew something had happened, but none of them had any idea what it could have been.
Finally, a Japanese officer stood on a box and announced the Japanese Empire and the United States were no longer enemies. He also told them that the camp was theirs. This was the first time the POWs received news on how the war was going.
Not too long after this, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped food to the prisoners. The Japanese townspeople helped the POWs carry the food to the camp. Since the material for clothing was scarce, they were interested more in the silk from the parachutes, for clothing, than the food in the drums.
One day, a jeep with American soldiers appeared and the soldiers told the former POWs to sit tight until the railroad line had been repaired. After the line was repaired, the prisoners took a train and an LST to Yokohama. There, the POWs were transferred to the U.S.S. Rescue where they were processed and it was determined where they would be sent. In William’s case, he remained on the Rescue. The ship sailed on September 19 at 5;41 A.M. for Guam where it stopped for the night on September 23. The next day it sailed for San Francisco and arrived there on October 10. While he was on his way back to the States, his family received a message from the War Department.
“Mr. & Mrs. William A. Curtis Sr.: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. William A. Curtis Jr. was returned to military control Sept. 4 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
In San Francisco, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital for additional medical treatment and promoted to Private First Class. From there he was sent to a Veterans Administration hospital closer to home. He was discharged on February 24, 1946.
William A. Curtis returned to Oklahoma where he resided in Muskogee. He married, Norma Jean Fricks, on November 10, 1945, and was the father of four daughters. William A. Curtis Jr. passed away on August 8, 2004, and was buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, in Section: 20 Site: 558.