Sgt. Morgan R. French was born on August 21, 1919, in Boyle County to Clifton & Mary Alice Smith-French. He had two brothers and six sisters. He joined the Kentucky National Guard in 1937 to, in his own words, “get a break from farming.” He was called to federal duty from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on November 25, 1940. With him in the National Guard Company was his brother, Edward.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28th and its tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving four hours later at 4:30 P.M.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. 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; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were 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.
The First Sergeant, Edwin Rue, – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed Hq Company. Many of the men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay.
D Company moved into its barracks in December 1940. The barracks were adjacent to the Roosevelt Ridge Training Area. The men assigned to the Hq Company still lived with the D Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 50 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom. The company shared its mess hall with A Company until that company’s mess hall was finished.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the captain’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to Hq Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned.
The biggest problem facing the unit was the lack of equipment. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. The companies received new trucks and motorcycles in the Spring of 1941.
The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
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. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. All classes they attended were under the command of the 1st Armored Division.
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 they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
Morgan attended mechanics school and became the crew chief of the maintenance section of the company. His job was to stay with the tanks. To do this, he rode a motorcycle.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
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.” Being a member of Hq Company, he worked to keep the tanks running, supplied, and performed administrative duties, but he did not actively participate in the maneuvers.
Morgan recalled that the battalion was pulled out of the maneuvers and ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks of the 753rd. The decision to send the battalion to the Philippines was made on August 15, 1941.
Morgan received a two-week furlough home. During the time, he went to Ft. Knox to see his brother who was in the hospital. His brother told him that they wanted to discharge him because he had a back problem but refused to take it. Edward went to Camp Polk and helped load the battalion’s trucks, tanks, and other equipment onto trains.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then 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 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, 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 about November 11th that they arrived at Wake Island to pick up food and water and drop off B-17 ground crew personnel.
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.
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 Colonel Edward P. King, who 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. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
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. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
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.
After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company. B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines. The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
On December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall.
Morgan recalled he had just left the mess hall and was looking at the motorcycle he rode as maintenance crew chief. At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. Someone said, “Oh, look at them Navy bombers.” He and the other men stood there watching and thinking how pretty they looked. They heard something whistling and when bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that planes were Japanese. Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, 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.
Morgan believed the Japanese had two objectives in their attack. One was to destroy the air corps; the other was to destroy the tanks. He believed the first bomb hit a large mess hall. He recalled seeing people, arms, and legs flying through the air.
Morgan found himself standing alone near the mess hall. He jumped on a motorcycle and rode off trying to reach the motor pool. As he rode, Japanese Zeros came after him. As he rode, bombs hit the fuel dump and it went up in flames. Smoke and fire were everywhere. He abandoned the motorcycle and dove into a ditch. There, he put on a gas mask because of the dust and odor. As he lay there, he shot at the planes with his .45 caliber handgun. In his own words, “I was so scared that I didn’t know my name, I don’t think. But after that day, as the time went along, I mean I was always leery, but I never was scared that much anymore.”
The attack lasted three or four hours. At one point, an old Filipino who was drunk passed Morgan. He looked at Morgan and said, “Oh! War games!” Morgan responded, “These aren’t games!” Morgan told the man to get down, but the Filipino just kept walking. Morgan believed that the man was never hurt.
After the attack, Morgan found the body of Robert Brooks who had been killed during the attack. Brooks had been hit by shrapnel which took off half of his head and part of his shoulder.
From that day on, the Japanese flew over daily. Morgan watched as they strafed and bombed. He recalled that there were bombs all over the airfield that had not exploded. Written on the side of the bombs were the words, “Rock Island Arsenal.” The United States sold the bombs to Japan before the war, and they were now being used on them.
One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Bataan but fought under the command of the 194th.
The 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard beaches. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climber to the top. On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, guns but were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf. They had received orders not to fire.
The tankers walked down the mountain and waited. They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end run to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
Christmas Day, the tankers spent in the night 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 tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. 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. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Romulus in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements,
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the food rations were cut in half.
During the withdrawal into Bataan, Morgan stated that the tanks fought for two or three miles at a time. They would then withdraw from each engagement. Morgan’s job, being maintenance crew chief, was to keep the tanks running.
Morgan recalled that the hardest thing the soldiers dealt with was the lack of food. “We ate rice, monkeys, birds, bugs, leaves, and something that looked like an alligator.”
Since there was no air cover, the tanks moved at night and hid during the day. They quickly learned to remove anything that glittered to prevent the Japanese from spotting them. Meals for the tankers were held before dawn or after dusk to prevent the mess kits from reflecting lights.
On one occasion, the tankers were moving their tanks to a sugarcane field. They discovered that the field was filled with Japanese soldiers. The tankers opened fired and killed over 300 Japanese soldiers.
Morgan stated that the Japanese would send raiding parties into the Filipino and American lines at night. They would kill someone and then drop back. To prevent themselves from giving away their positions, the Americans had orders to use bayonets at night and not their guns.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time, “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.”
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never launched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving 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 ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. 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.
The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
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.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline against Japanese landings from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
It is known that the Morgan’s parents received a letter, written in pencil on a medical department form with the heading of “Progress Notes” was written by him and his brother, Edward, and dated February 11, 1942, P.I. Edward started the letter.
“Hello, Mom and Pop,
“Well, I am writing for both of us. We are getting along fine and how are things back home? When you get this letter, write, and tell everyone hello for us. We had a nice warm winter over here. Tell Gladys I said hello and that I will write to her later…..”
At this point in the letter, Morgan took over.
“I sure would like to know how the tobacco sold this year. I’ll bet you all had a cold winter, didn’t you? It seems funny over here. The sun shines right on just like it was summer all of the time . . . . Mom, I guess this letter seems short and silly, but this is all that we can say now, so write as soon as you can. . . .”
For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew’s fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3. The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew. On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
It was at this time that Gen. King knowing that the situation was hopeless sent officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan. The tanks were instructed that they would hear the order “bash” on their radios, or that it would be given to them verbally.
When the order was given, the tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of their tank, and opened up the gasoline cocks in the crew compartments. They dropped hand grenades into each crew compartment setting the tanks on fire. Later in the war, the Japanese dragged the tanks out of the jungle to send to Japan as scrap metal.
The morning of April 8, 1942, Morgan and the other tankers were informed that General King had gone to meet with the Japanese to negotiate a surrender. In his words, “He had no choice at all. We had no food, no ammunition, and no gasoline. He did the right thing.”
They received orders to destroy their tanks. After doing so, Morgan and other members of D Company decided that they would try to escape instead of surrendering. Morgan attempted to find his brother, Edward, but couldn’t. He assumed that Edward had already escaped. With Maurice Wilson, Morgan reached Corregidor on a boat they found in a cave.
After arriving on the island, Morgan heard that his brother, Edward, had been wounded and was in a hospital on Bataan. He had been hit in the neck and had both eardrums broken. Morgan recalled that they were ragged, dirty and tired. They had not eaten in two or three days and had not shaved for two or three weeks. He had not bathed in a month.
While on Corregidor, Morgan stayed in the Middleside Barracks. He and the other men hid under the pool table when the island was bombed by the Japanese. Deciding that this was not the place he wanted to be, Morgan and Jack Wilson volunteered to go to Ft. Drum. They were taken to the island on a barge.
The fort was built over a coral reef and seemed to be invincible. In Morgan’s opinion, the soldiers in the fort could have held out forever.
When Morgan arrived at Ft. Drum, he noticed that the soldiers stationed there did not even have sunburns. Being dirty, the first thing that he and the other volunteers did was to take showers, shave and get new clothes. During his time at Ft. Drum, he ate and slept well.
At some point, while Morgan was at Ft. Drum, he came down with malaria. Another American got him through the attack. As it turned out, this man would later be executed as a prisoner of war. Morgan witnessed the execution and could not do anything to help him.
While on Ft. Drum, Morgan watched as the Japanese shelled Corregidor. He also lived through the shelling of Ft. Drum. On one occasion, the Americans at the fort returned fire. Morgan later learned that one of their shells landed short of its target and hit the hospital that his brother was being held in. Morgan would later learn that fragments from the shell killed his brother and 25 other Americans.
On May 6, 1942, Morgan and the other soldiers at Ft. Drum learned of Corregidor’s surrender. They too were ordered to surrender. He and the other men didn’t expect the Japanese to take prisoners. They destroyed their equipment and waited until May 10th before the Japanese arrived to take control of the island.
The Japanese arrived on the island and set up machine guns. Morgan and the other men believed that they were going to be shot. The Japanese lined the prisoners up and took what they wanted from the men. They also were beaten. It was the worse day of Morgan’s life up to the time.
Morgan and the other Prisoners of War were put on small boats and taken to an area near Manila. There, they were held in sugarcane warehouse. Around 4:00 in the afternoon, they were lined up and put on a work detail. The POWs passed rocks all night, all day and night again. As they worked, the Japanese guarding them drank from buckets of water but made no effort to give any to the POWs.
After three days, Morgan and the other men were returned to the warehouse. They received food and water and then were loaded onto ships. They were taken to Manila, disembarked, and marched ten miles to Bilibid Prison. Anyone who fell out was left behind.
During the march, Morgan saw Filipino’s flash him and the other Americans the “V” for victory. Other Filipinos tried to give them coconuts. Those who were caught were beaten by the Japanese.
Morgan was held at Bilibid Prison for a short time and then taken to Cabanatuan #3, which was the camp that all POWs from Corregidor were taken. At some point, the Japanese moved all the POWs from Camp 3 to Camp 1. Cabanatuan #1 had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs worked on the camp farms from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier. While there, he became extremely ill. He was so ill that he dug his own grave. Knowing that Morgan was ill, another POW gave Morgan pills to take. He took two or three of them. The pills saved his life.
On November 1, 1942, the Japanese drew 1500 POW names of men who were being sent to Japan. When the names were drawn, the POWs had no idea what was happening. Many came to the conclusion on their own that they were being sent to Japan. At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with, which was a small issue of rice and what the Japanese termed “a large piece of meat.” The large piece of meat was two inches square and large next to a piece of meat they usually received at a meal.
After they arrived at the barrio, a Japanese officer lectured the POWs before they boarded train cars. 98 POWs were put into each car which allowed them to position themselves so they could move around. They remained on the train all day and arrived at Manila at 5:00 P.M. After they disembarked, they were marched to Pier 7 where they spent the night sleeping on a concrete floor in a building.
The POWs boarded the Nagato Maru at 5:00 P.M. on November 6. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold which the Japanese believed could hold 600 men without a problem. In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 600 men. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 550 and 560. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All the holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner. In the hold with him were Marcus Lawson, Doc Sparrow, and Elzie Anness, all original members of D Company.
The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts. The Nagato Maru sailed on November 7, 1942.
The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was at the on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line.
For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had stepped on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Formosa the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18. During this part of the trip, the POWs felt the explosions from depth charges.
The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship. As they disembarked, each POW received a chip of red or black colored wood. The color of the wood determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused, showered, and issued new uniforms.
By ferry, the POWs were taken to Shimonoseki, Honshu, where they were loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There, the prisoners were divided into two groups according to the color of the wood they had. In Morgan’s case, he was one of 500 POWs taken to Tanagawa Camp arriving there late in the evening of November 26.
The camp contained ten barracks with paper-thin walls that went down to six inches above the dirt floors. Each barracks housed 50 men. The barracks were very cold. There were two decks of bunks with a ladder going up every twenty feet to the second deck which was 8 to 10 feet off the ground. Shoes had to be taken off at the foot of the ladder. At the foot of each bunk were five synthetic blankets made out of peanut shell fiber and a rigid pillow in the shape of a small cylinder packed with rice husks.
In the camp they POWs, regardless of rank, were used to construct a dry dock for Japanese submarines in violation of the Geneva Convention. To do this, the POWs tore down the side of a mountain. To do this, the POWs worked in groups known as “sections.” If the section did not reach its quota, the POWs were beaten. The reason most could not meet the set quotas was that they were weak and hungry from lack of food.
When the POWs did not load the expected number of train cars, the Japanese beat them. The prisoners also retaliated against the Japanese by committing acts of sabotage. One of the easiest acts of sabotage to commit was to mix the concrete for the dry-dock walls to thin. The POWs would make the concrete soupy and mostly water. They did this so the walls of the dry-dock would start to crumble after it was completed.
The Red Cross boxes sent to the camp for the POWs were misappropriated by the Japanese. They took a great portion of the food from the boxes and were seen walking around the camp eating American chocolate and smoking American cigarettes. Empty cans from American meats, fruit, and cheese were seen by the POWs in the Japanese garbage.
Corporal punishment was common in the camp and done for the slightest reason or for no reason. One guard in the camp, Tsunesuke Tsuda, beat the POWs the most because he wanted to break their spirit and humble them. Most of the beatings took place at morning or evening muster while the POWs were at attention. The POWs were punched, slapped, clubbed, kicked, hit with shoes and belts, and even furniture was used on the POWs as they stood at attention. Some POWs were hit in the throat which resulted in their not being able to speak for a week. He beat the POWs so severely and often, that he was required to sign a statement not to beat the POWs under penalty of death.
Individual beatings were also common in the camp. When a POW was beaten, he frequently had to hold a heavy object like a log or rock, or a bucket of water, over his head as he stood at attention. POWs also were slapped, or hit with a rifle butt, because during muster, they failed to bow to the guard at the right angle. From January 5, 1943, until March 21, 1943, the POWs were made to run excessive distances. On one occasion, in March 1943, they were forced to run 4 to 5 miles in the rain without shirts.
Being ill was not an excuse to get out of work. The POW doctor had a sick call each morning and created a list of men who were too ill to go to work. After he created it, a Japanese medical clerk took the list and decided who was sick enough to stay in camp and who had to go to work.
Morgan and the other men worked seven days a week. They were given one day off in warm weather. It was so cold in the winter, that the water remained frozen from December 1942 until March 1944. One POW somehow managed to alter the blueprints for the dry-dock. Morgan and the other men worked this detail for two years until the Japanese ended it after discovering that the dry-dock was too short to be used.
The doctor also could little to help the sick since medicines and medical supplies were withheld from the POWs. Elze Anness became extremely ill. According to Morgan, Elzie worked hard even after he showed signs of being sick. His friends tried to get him to stop working so hard, but he continued to do so. Morgan and Marcus Lawson put Elzie in the Zero Ward in their barracks. He recalled that Elzie just stared and did not blink. When Elzie died, Morgan volunteered to work the burial detail. The POWs took Elzie’s body to a crematorium and watched as Elzie’s remains were reduced to ash. Morgan attempted to get Marcus Lawson – who had been Elzie’s best friend since grade school – to volunteer for the detail, but Marcus could not bear to watch the cremation.
Morgan did recall that the POWs, in the camp, were fed rice three times a day. Once in awhile, they received a fish head, a piece of beef, or a piece of pork in the rice.
The prisoners were once transferred to Osaka #5-B on March 20, 1945, when the camp closed. There Morgan and the others were used as stevedores. The POWs were housed in a condemned two-story customs house on the docks which were filled with fleas, lice, rats and other vermin. Each POW had a six-foot-long by 30-inch wide area to sleep in. The building had been condemned since it was close to the docks and could possibly be hit during an air raid.
In the camp, whenever there was an air raid, the next day when the POWs took their places for roll call, every POW who was number 29 in his detachment was beaten. This happened several times in the next several months.
While working, the POWs stole as much food as they could as they worked. The prisoners stole food for themselves to supplement their meager rations. An average meal for the POWs was soybean and rice. The POWs carried 100-pound burlap sacks of soybeans. To get extra food, the POWs would tear holes into the bags and drop beans into their pockets. The pockets had holes to allow the beans to fall down their legs and settle in pouches around their ankles. This prevented the Japanese from finding them when they searched the POWs when they returned to camp.
One guard, Yukinaga Kimura, would use a club, that looked like a baseball bat, to beat the POWs. He used it any time he believed a POW had disobeyed an order. Sometimes, he forced the POWs to drop their pants and beat them until they were black and blue and began to bleed. Most of the time, he beat them on the head and body and on one occasion broke a prisoner’s eardrum. One civilian member of the camp medical staff slapped POWs who reported themselves as being sick and unable to work. The beatings were so common that the POWs could not recall them all.
Since the Japanese saw the prisoners as slaves, they attempted to get them to unload bombs. The POWs went on strike instead of doing this. In an attempt to break the strike, the Japanese made the men stand at attention for 24 hours. The POWs realized that the Japanese were not going to give in, so they decided that they would unload the bombs, but attempt to damage them. They were able to do this since the Japanese were afraid to go near the bombs. They had no idea that the bombs were not armed.
Once again, the Japanese misappropriated the Red Cross Boxes sent to the camp for the POWs for their personal use. Red Cross clothing and shoes were not given to the POWs. Red Cross food was seen by the POWs in the Japanese officers’ quarters. Instead, the POWs were issued Japanese summer uniforms and set fatigues to be worn while working in the mine. Some of the POWs still had their GI shoes, but most wore canvas shoes issued by the Japanese. Medicines sent to the camp were also misappropriated as well as food.
In May 1945, 48 POWs were beaten by guards with fists and clubs, while in June 70 POWs were beaten with a garrison belt for no apparent reason. In another incident in June, the Japanese paymaster entered the mess hall while the POWs were eating. He made a comment about the food and for no apparent reason, no one had said anything back to him, he took off his belt and hit the POWs sitting near where he was standing in their faces with the belt. By the time he finished, he had hit all 200 POWs in the mess hall. From there, he went to the barracks that housed Naval personnel and Marines and hit all 200 men inside with his belt. The welts from the beating could be seen on their faces for days afterward.
As the war went on, American planes began to appear in the sky. On one occasion, the planes bombed the camp Morgan was at with incendiary bombs. The reason for this was that the Japanese had identified the camp as a factory. What kept the camp from burning down was it was raining. Morgan noted that after the rain, the Japanese guards left the camp to look for their families. The town near the camp was destroyed in the air raid.
It was Morgan’s belief that the atomic bomb was saved him and the other POWs from being killed by the Japanese. One day while Morgan was outside he saw a mushroom cloud. He did not know it, but he had witnessed the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
The ranking American officer was told by the Japanese camp commander that had American troops landed on Honshu, he had orders to kill his prisoners. In Morgan’s opinion the Japanese had never let killing the prisoners bother them before, so why would this order bother them.
Morgan knew that the war was over when American planes appeared over the camp and began dropping pamphlets saying so. The POWs also were instructed to put out a banner saying what they needed. The planes reappeared and dropped fifty-gallon drums of food and clothes. Morgan ate so many Hershey bars that he became ill.
The former prisoners took the guns away from the guards who surrendered them without a fight. The men remained in the camp because they were unsure how safe they would be outside of it.
On September 9, 1945, Morgan and the other men took a train to Yokohama. The next day, they were officially liberated and boarded a transport for the Philippines. It was at this time that Morgan saw a nurse and could not believe that women were in the army. The nurse asked him where he was from. When he said Harrodsburg, Kentucky, she hugged him. It turned out that she was from Somerset, Kentucky.
Morgan and the other men were disinfected, shaved and given new clothes. They were processed and returned to the Philippines. In Manila, they were given anything that they wanted. After receiving medical treatment, Morgan returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze arriving in San Francisco on October 16, 1945. He was sent to Letterman General Hospital for further treatment.
One night, he and several other former POWs snuck out of the hospital and made their way to a local bar. When the patrons of the bar learned that they had been Japanese POWs, for almost four years, they bought them round after round of drinks.
Morgan returned to Harrodsburg. He remained in the army and did two tours of duty in Korea. After he returned home, he married, Maxine Milby, in 1954, and raised a family. He retired from the Army in 1962 and went to work as a civilian tank instructor at Ft. Knox until he retired in 1984.
Morgan French passed away on February 24, 2012, in Plano, Texas. He was the last surviving National Guard member of D Company and was buried at North Hardin Memorial Cemetery in Radcliff, Kentucky.
On October 12, 2012, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the U.S. Army named its new barracks for the Warrior Transition Unit after Morgan French. As far as it is known, he was the last surviving National Guard member of D Company.