Sgt. Morgan R. French was born on August 21, 1919, in Boyle County to Clifton and Mary Alice Smith-French. He had two brothers and six sisters. He joined the Kentucky National Guard in 1937 to, with his brother, Edward, in his own words, “get a break from farming.” Since the company had been formed a few years earlier, it did not have an armory and met in a large hall above a store.
After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard GHQ tank battalions. The GHQ battalions were still considered infantry and created a “buffer” between the armor forces and infantry to protect the regular army tank battalions from being used by the infantry when they wanted tanks. This would allow the Armor Force to develop into a real fighting force. To do this the Kentucky National Guard was informed on September 1, 1940, that the tank company was being called to federal service for one year.
It was reported that men who did not want to go to Fort Knox, Kentucky, or men who were married with dependents were excused from federal service. At 7:00 A.M. on November 25, the remaining members of the company met in the large hall on the second floor of the D. L. Moore building at 122 South Main Street and were sworn into federal service. The company used the hall above the store for its drills since its armory was in the process of being built. The remaining members of the company were sworn into the Regular Army, given physicals, and some men inducted in the morning were released by noon the same day. A flatcar for the company’s two tanks and a passenger car for some of the soldiers were added to a train for transport to Ft. Knox. Most of the company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28 that left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving at Ft. Knox at 4:30 P.M.
Their first impression of the base was that it was a mud hole because it had rained continuously for days, and it continued to rain after they arrived. Someone at the base told them that at the fort, “You either wade to your ankles in dust, or mud to your knees.” When the entire battalion arrived at the base, it had a total of eight tanks. The biggest task at Ft. Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get used to the other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fistfights. As time passed, the fights ended and the members of the battalion became friends.
Unpainted temporary barracks were their first housing since their barracks were not finished. Each man had a steel cot to sleep on. 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 25 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. Twenty-five men lived on each floor of the barracks. When men were assigned to the company from selective service, they lived in tents next to the company’s two barracks. The tents were on concrete slabs and had screened wooden walls and doors with canvas roofs. Each tent had a stove in the center for heat and electricity for lighting. The officers had their own barracks with private rooms for each officer. In addition, each officer had an orderly to clean his room.
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.
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.
For Christmas, members of the company received 4½ day furloughs home while other men remained at Ft. Knox. The base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.
Since none of the letter companies wanted to give up their tanks, the War Department allowed the battalion to form an HQ Company and keep its four tank companies. 1st Sgt. Arch Rue was given the job of picking men to be transferred to the soon-to-be-formed HQ Company. The men assigned to the HQ company still lived with the D Company since their barracks were unfinished.
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. One hundred and forty-nine men from Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10.
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 lasted 13 weeks and consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, 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. Afterward, they attended the various schools to which they had been assigned on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, and radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms 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. 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. It was during this time that he resigned as an enlisted man and reenlisted as an officer. On 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.
During their free time, the soldiers went to the movies, went to dances held every two weeks, went to the post library, went skating every weekend, and played as members of the company’s basketball. In the spring and summer, the company had a volleyball team and a baseball team. They also had a bowling league and competed against the other companies of the battalion and against companies from other units. Men also participated in boxing. Men who lived within 50 miles of the fort were allowed to go home on weekends. The soldiers who remained on base went to Louisville 35 miles to the north of the base or Elizabethtown 16 miles to the south of the base. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
The battalion also had its first target practice at the 1st Cavalry firing range on the 7th. The men fired both the 30-caliber and 50-caliber machine guns. The next day, they fired the 45 automatic pistols. On the 9th almost every member of the company had a chance to drive a tank. On Friday, they went to the gas chamber which was filled with tear gas. After they entered with their gas masks on, they could not leave until they removed their masks. As soon as the gas hit them, tears flowed. All men who held the rank of Private First Class were ordered to report for motorcycle classes at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in the garrison and combat. Ten other men from the company were attending “trade” classes or radio school from 8 to 11:30 each morning.
The men also received their government-issued toiletries at this time and were issued a razor, savings and toothbrushes, and three towels. They also received another pair of pants for their uniforms which meant they had their full complement of clothing. The battalion also now eating from plates with silverware instead of from their mess kits.
The entire battalion on January 28, took part in a one-day problem that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 A.M. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. It was also at this time that each company had a tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their own tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews.
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 larger 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.
As the weather got warmer in April the topic became when would they receive their summer uniforms. The uniforms they had were a heavy material and would be uncomfortable in the Kentucky heat. During the month, the company was back in its tanks. It was on the 24th that the battalions tanks were proceeding in a column and one of the motorcyclists, from C Company, was showing off his riding skills and zoomed past the tanks. When he cut back into the column, he hit a rut of gravel and fell off the motorcycle about four feet in front of a tank. The tank crew was able to stop the tank before it ran over him.
At the beginning of June that a detachment of men went to Detroit, Michigan, to pick up 39 trucks for the battalion. The exact date they left is not known, but they spent the night at Patterson Field, Ohio, from there they went north through Springfield, Urbana, Bellfontaine, and Bowling Green, Ohio, before entering Michigan. It took the tankers two days to get to Detroit. While they were there, a large number of them crossed the Detroit River, visited Windsor, Canada, and mailed postcards home. It is known they were back at Ft. Knox before June 6.
On June 14 and 16, 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 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. 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. 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.
At the end of June, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 A.M. until 8:30 A.M. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 A.M. One of the complaints they had about the firing range was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from it that their clothes felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, to be overhauled but were returned before the battalion went to Louisiana.
Another detachment of men was sent to Detroit in July. It is not known why they were sent there, but it is known they were there for 7 days. It was during this time the men began hearing the rumor that part of the battalion was being sent to South Carolina while part of the battalion would be going to Texas. They also heard that the battalion would be taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas and that after the maneuvers, the battalion was heading to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for six weeks before they were sent to the Philippines.
During August the battalion was involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, 160 miles south of Ft. Knox. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, later that day, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station in the trucks.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchie National Forest, near DeRidder, Louisana, where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators. They described the land as swamps, woods, and shacks. They also heard they were going to North Carolina on October 6th.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called “Iron Rations” – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Water was scarce and men went days without shaving and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service. Instead, they were being sent overseas as part of “Operation PLUM.” Within hours, many of the members of the battalion believed that they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. There is no proof that this was true. Men who were married or 29 years old or older had the opportunity to resign from federal service. Replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
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 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 men 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 Gen. George Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. 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 at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 70th was regular Army and the 191st was National Guard. There was also 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 Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived at Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than go where you all are going.” Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
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.
The ship sailed for Guam, on November 5, 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, 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 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 ship 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 the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone 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. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenburg with the help of 17th Ordnance.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. 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 dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. It is not known if D Company ate with the 192nd or had dinner in the 194th’s mess hall since the company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion. Unlike the other companies, when they arrived at the fort, they moved into their finished barracks. The companies remaining the 192nd lived in tents.
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 the 192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
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 on the 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,” 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 tankers followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion 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 everywhere; 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.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the 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 Ernest Miller, the commanding officer of the 194th, Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, the commanding officer of the tank group, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 194th were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
All morning long on December 8, 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 the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. 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 since 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 suspended indefinitely. 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, they 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 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 been abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. The sergeant was later awarded the Silver Star.
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 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. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. When the Japanese attacked the position, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese. 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 withdrawal 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, to give other crews from both battalions rest.
On the night of January 6, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over Culis Creek and entered Bataan. It then covered the 192nd crossing of the bridge making the 192nd the last unit to enter 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 and then they would 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.
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 the 17th Ordnance Company. 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 Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. Attempting to do this resulted in two tanks being knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance. But the tanks were able to destroy a Japanese anti-tank gun. The tanks that were disabled were recovered and 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.
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.”
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 Morgan’s parents received a letter, written in pencil on a medical department form with the heading of “Progress Notes” which 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. . . .”
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor. Wainwright rejected the suggestion. For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. The newspapers in the United States reported both sides were strengthening their lines in expectation of an all-out attack. The reports stated that the Japanese did not have air support because their planes had been shifted south in the assault on Java. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over. During this time, 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 – on April 3, 1942 – an all-out attack 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. A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
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.
It was 2:oo A.M. April 9, that 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.
According to a member of HQ Company, 194th, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. 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 the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
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.”
It was at this time that 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. The men wanted to go to Australia but were told that the Japanese ships at the harbor’s entrance would blow them out of the water.
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. On the island, they received their first decent meal in months.
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 and fight with the 59th Coast Artillery. 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, 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 10 before the Japanese arrived in small boats to take control of the island. When 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 them. 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 a sugarcane warehouse. Around 4:00 in the afternoon, they were lined up and put on a work detail. The POWs were put on small boats and taken to an area near Manila. There, they were held in a 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 for three days and nights made no effort to give any water to the POWs. When a new Japanese officer took over, he treated the POWs better. The next day, after the Japanese arrived, the men were taken to the Wawa Dam over the Marikina River. The POWs worked in the area of the dam repairing roads, moving large rocks, and repairing a dock.
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.
During this time, his parents received two letters from the War Department. The first arrived in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. M. French:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Sergeant Morgan R. French, 20,523,429, 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”
Morgan was held at Bilibid Prison for a short time and then taken to Cabanatuan #3, From the 26th to 29th, the POWs were formed into 2000 men detachments and marched to the train station. There, they were put into boxcars and rode trains to the barrio of Cabanatuan. Once there, they formed 100 men detachments and were told that if they fell they would be shot. They marched from the barrio past Cabanatuan #1 where the POWs captured on Bataan would be held. They passed Cabanatuan #2, which was closed because of a lack of water, to Camp #3 which had been opened for them and was six miles from Camp 1. After all the POWs arrived, there was a total of 6,000 POWs in the camp.
When they arrived the camp was not finished and there was no fence on the north side of the camp. Four POWs walked away from the camp on May 30. After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese. The Japanese tied them to posts and left them to hang in the sun. They also beat the POWs with boards. The Japanese also showed the men water but would not give them any to drink. The next day, while the POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating. They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water. They also offered blindfolds to the men. All the men took a blindfold except one. That man spat at the Japanese before they shot him. After they were shot, the men fell backward into the graves. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot him with his pistol. He next shot each man to make sure they were dead.
The first meal the POWs received was an onion soup that had no onions on it or carrots in it. After the initial meal, meals usually consisted of squash, mongo beans, rice, and the tops of a native sweet potato were used to make soup. Once a week the POWs received carabao meat. Other sources state a whistle weed soup with rice in it was the main meal.
It is known that since the POWs were in better shape than the men captured on Bataan they began being sent out on details within days of arriving at the camp. It is not known if Joe left the camp and if he did when he left the camp. It is known that on June 21 the Japanese initiated the “Blood Brother” rule. The POWs were placed in groups of ten men. The men worked together, lived in the same barracks, and slept together. If one man of the group escaped from the camp, the other nine would be executed.
It is known that since the POWs were in better shape than the men captured on Bataan they began being sent out on details within days of arriving at the camp. The American officers convinced the Japanese, on June 8, to allow them to hand out punishments for minor offenses. Four POWs working on a detail were wounded when it was attacked by Filipino guerrillas. One man later died from his wounds.
On June 21 the Japanese initiated the “Blood Brother” rule. The POWs were placed in groups of ten men. The men worked together, lived in the same barracks, and slept together. If one man of the group escaped from the camp, the other nine would be executed. To prevent escapes, the POWs organized a patrol that walked the inside perimeter of the camp fence.
The first church services were held in the camp on June 28. To improve morale among the POWs, on June 29, the officers organized activities for the men. Softball teams, basketball teams, volleyball teams, and ping-pong teams were formed as well as singalong groups to provide entertainment. The Japanese handed out a limited number of shoes, shirts, trousers, and blankets on July 17. It is not known how it was determined who would receive any of the clothing.
POWs during this time were sent out on details and returned to the camp. On July 14, 100 POWs were sent to Manila. 26 sick POWs were transferred to Camp 1 on July 20. 360 POWs left the camp, on July 24, for a work detail in Manila. Another group of 150 men was sent there on July 30.
Dysentery was a real problem in the camp and to slow the spread of dysentery, a program was started to catch flies on August 17. Any POW who turned in a full milk can of flies received two biscuits and a few cigarettes. They also dug deep latrines, which were 18 feet deep, to slow the spread of disease.
On September 1, 198 POWs were transferred to the Manila detail which was followed by another 120 men on September 8. Also on that date, 120 returned to the camp from Field Labor Detail. Another detachment of 198 men on September 1 was sent to Manila. 1oo POWs left the camp on an unnamed work detail on September 23, followed by another 100 POWs the next day. Another 32 men were sent to the detail at Manila on September 28 followed by 119 POWs the next day. On October 4, 374 POWs were sent to Manila and were joined by 526 POWs from Camp 1.
The Japanese gave physicals to 344 POWs who they referred to as “producers” and were sent to Japan. (The term producer meant the POWs had training in areas that the Japanese wanted to exploit.) Before they left the camp, Col. Mori, the Japanese Commanding Officer of the camp gave a speech to them and said, “You men will be taken to a better place, will have better food, and you will meet your friends from Wake and Guam Islands.”
On October 5, 1942, another 676 POWs were transferred to Manila. They marched to Camp 1 and were joined by 123 men from that camp. From available information, it appears that a total of 1700 POWs were sent to Manila. The Japanese intended to give each man 2 bananas, 2 egg sandwiches, 5 biscuits, 2 rice balls, and 1 roll. The only problem was they did not have enough to go around. The POWs were taken to Manila to be sent to Japan. Another 322 POWs were transferred to Camp 1 on October 21.
In an attempt to improve the food ration of the POWs, a letter was sent on October 20 to Col Mori from Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C., American commanding officer at Cabanatuan #3. It stated that at the time 65% of the POWs in the camp were suffering from a dietary deficiency which increased in number and severity each day. He also noted there were 100 cases of pellagra in the camp and they too were getting worse each day. The number of cases of beriberi was at 450 and increasing each day ending in death for the worse cases. There were 130 cases of xerophthalmia due to the lack of vitamin A which appeared in the camp at the start of October. Many of these POWs had corneal ulceration, keratitis, and panophthalmitis, rational degeneration leading to blindness. He also stated there were 300 men who had symptoms of both beriberi and pellagra. He noted that those suffering from dysentery, malaria, and diarrhea were not included.
From this time on, small numbers of men were sent to Camp 1. Another detachment of 297 POWs was sent to the Manila Labor Detail on October 26. The next, October 27, Beecher was informed by Mori that all the POWs were being transferred to Camp 1. That day 74 sick POWs were transferred to the hospital at Camp 1. On October 29, 1,126 POWs boarded trucks and were driven to Camp 1. The next day, October 30, the remaining 775 POWs in the camp were taken by truck to Camp 1 and Cabanatuan officially closed.
At Cabanatuan #1, to prevent escapes from the camp, 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. The men in the barracks were again divided into detachments of ten men and were “blood brothers.”
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 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 and 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. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with him, 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. At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan where a Japanese officer lectured them 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 in 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 next day the POWs boarded what would become known as a hell ship. They boarded the Nagato Maru on November 6, at 5:00 P.M. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold. The hold was 40 feet wide and 50 feet long and the Japanese believed it could hold 1000 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 1000 men so 200 to 300 POWs were moved to another hold, and according to one member of the tank group that was on the ship, they put 800 POWs in it. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, by 2 inches.
All three holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner. 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, but even this was not organized. The POWs apparently called the ship the “Maggot Maru.” In the hold with him were Marcus Lawson, Doc Sparrow, and Elzie Anness, all original members of D Company.
The ship sailed on November 7, 1942. The bodies of those who died were left in the holds for days before the Japanese allowed them to be removed. It is believed 27 POWs died on the ship. The holds soon began to rise in temperature because of the number of men in them. During the trip, the two boards that were left off the hatch opening for ventilation during the day were put in place at night and a tarp was put over the boards. This made the holds hotter.
Since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious this was 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 which resulted in the deck being covered in human feces.
Meals on the ship consisted of rice and a watery soup but the sickest POWs did not eat. The amount of water given to the POWs was almost non-existent. Many POWs were so sick that they could not eat.
During the trip, the two boards that were left off the hatch opening for ventilation were put in place at night and a tarp was put over the boards. This made the holds hotter. The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious this was 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, Japan, 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 Osaka #4 which was also known as Tanagawa arriving there late in the evening of November 26.
The camp covered an area of approximately 10,640 feet and contained ten barracks with paper-thin walls that went down to six inches above the dirt floors. Each barrack housed 50 men. 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. There was a room in each barracks that served as the officer quarters. In winter the barracks were warmed by drum-can stoves which burned wood or sawdust, but the barracks were always cold. Japanese guards patrolled through the barracks at regular intervals. There was also a building that served as a hospital, a camp kitchen, a shoe repair shop, and warehouses. The Japanese had their own barracks and administrative office. The camp was surrounded by a high wooden wall with barbed wire on top. There also were two guard towers at the corners.
In the camp, the 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.
Morgan did recall that the POWs, in the camp, were fed rice three times a day. Once in a while, they received a fish head, a piece of beef, or a piece of pork in the rice. 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 of 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 during morning muster or evening muster while the POWs were at attention. The POWs were punched, slapped, clubbed, kicked, and 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. One guard beat the POWs so severely and often, that he was required to sign a statement that he would not 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.
It was on March 7, 1943, that Morgan’s name appeared on a list of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. His parents received word that he was a POW weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON SERGEANT MORGAN R FRECH IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his wife received the following letter:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Sgt. Morgan R. French, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau
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. Those who were admitted to the hospital received little help because the POW doctor had no medicine to treat them.
The POWs had the job of building a drydock and were divided into work groups known as “sections.” When the POWs in a section did not load the expected number of train cars, the Japanese beat them. The POWs worked seven days a week and were given one day off in warm weather. In spite of the fact that it was so cold in the winter that the water remained frozen from December 1942 until March 1944, the POWs continued to work. The POWs worked on this detail for two years until the Japanese ended it after discovering that the dry dock was too short to be used. According to one story, while working in the office for the Japanese, one POW somehow managed to alter the blueprints for the dry dock. In all likelihood, it was simply designed too short.
The doctor also could do 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.
Doc Sparrow’s family received a letter from him in December 1943. In the letter, he asked his parents to tell Morgan’s parents that he was “all right.” Sparrow also told his parents that Morgan and he were in the same camp.
One day, April 25, 1945, without any prior notice, the POWs were told they were being moved to another camp, but no specifics as to where they were being sent were given. Many of the POWs believed that this was just an excuse and that they were going to be killed. The prisoners were transferred to Osaka #5-B on March 20, 1945, where the POWs were used as stevedores. They were housed in a condemned two-story customs house on the docks. The building was 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.
Newspapers from the time stated that Morgan’s parents received a POW postcard from him in January 1945. The card was the first word they had that he was still alive.
In the camp, the day after every air raid 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. He said, “We’d been through so much, being scared or dying didn’t mean anything to us.”
The POWs worked in the railyards. Since the Japanese saw the prisoners as slaves, they attempted to get them to unload bombs. If food was in the cars, they stole and ate what they could. 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. Neither the Japanese nor the POWs 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 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.
On one occasion, American planes bombed the camp 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 that 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. On July 13, 1945, the POWs were forced into their barracks and remained in them during the air raid. It was reported that POWs were injured and the barracks were destroyed.
It was Morgan’s belief that the atomic bomb 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 POWs received a day off which had never happened before. The next day was also followed by a day, and then when they were given a third day off they were told that there was no more work for them to do.
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. On August 28, an American plane, Ready Betty, dropped fifty-gallon drums of food and clothes to the POWs. The Leaflets had warned the Japanese civilians not to take any of it under pain of death. Morgan ate so many Hershey bars that he became ill. From the silk of the parachutes, the POWs made an American flag that they flew over the camp.
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. A group of POWs made their way to the local radio station and crowded around a radio monitor on Sept. 2 and listened to the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri.
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.