1st Lt. William Henry Gentry was born on November 19, 1918, to James T. Gentry and Harriet Renfro-Gentry. He had two sisters and a brother. He was raised on Burgin Road in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and attended McAfee High School and attended the University of Kentucky for one year.
On December 21, 1936, Gentry joined the Kentucky National Guard at Harrisburg. His reason for doing this was that the tank company needed someone to work on the tanks. Two of his friends, Archibald Rue, and Jim Van Arsdall joined the National Guard with him. During this time, he attended Infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia.
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.
The new company was the largest company in the battalion and divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks that every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties. Men were also sent to specialty schools with training in areas like tank mechanic, radio, automotive mechanic, and small and large arms.
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.
On February 12, 1941, William resigned as an enlisted man and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. 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.
When the tank company was called to federal service on November 25, 1940, Gentry went to Ft. Knox as a staff sergeant. There, he trained as a tank commander. The one thing William noted about the year of training the tankers received is that they were never taught how to fight a defensive war with their tanks.
It was while he was at Ft. Knox that William took a test to become an officer. Since there was a shortage of qualified officers, the army was willing to test enlisted men. William passed the test, resigned from the army as an enlisted man, and was inducted into the army as a second lieutenant on February 12, 1941. After receiving his commission, he was assigned to Headquarters Company. As an officer with HQ Company, William was assigned the duty of the communications officer. He remained in the job until December 14, 1941.
After nearly a year of training, he and the rest of the battalion went on maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, at Camp Polk, Gentry and the other men learned they were being sent overseas. The reason for this decision was based on an event that happened earlier in the year.
The decision for this move – which had been made in August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Over different train routes, the companies were sent to Ft. Mason in 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, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. On 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.
While on the Hugh L. Scott, Gentry wrote this letter home on November 19, 1941.
Well, today I am twenty-three years old. I will never have another birthday at sea. Every day we look at water and exclaim “Why we went by here yesterday!” It all looks alike. I would not take any amount for my voyage but wouldn’t give a dime for another. Will write as soon as I know what our new address will be.
Your loving son,
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 before he left to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the 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.
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 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,” which they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th 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.
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 Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, just 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.
At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. 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.
Gentry recalled that after the attack the wounded were everywhere. When the hospital ran out of room for the wounded, cots were set up under trees and anything else that could provide shade for the wounded. According to official military records, with the attack, the transfer of D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion was suspended indefinitely, so the company remained in the 192nd Tank Battalion but was attached to the 194th.
On December 14, 1941, Gentry was assigned to C Company as the maintenance officer and a tank platoon commander. He was promoted to First Lieutenant on December 19. On December 22, C Company was sent north to Lingayen Gulf to support B Company. The companies were given the job of serving as a rearguard so that the 26th U.S. Cavalry could withdraw from its battle with the Japanese. The two tank companies repeated this job over and over again from Sison, Pozorrubbio, Asingan, and Tayug.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
At Cabu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese. The main Japanese line was south of Saint Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle. The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.
After this battle, C Company made its way south toward Cabanatuan. When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south. The tankers fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able to find a crossing over the river. C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that Gentry’s tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.
On December 31, 1941, 1st Lt. William Gentry, commanding officer of C Company, sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge. Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while the third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town’s church steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told Morley that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village. When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady’s tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.
Kennady held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time Bill’s unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
Gentry and the other tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.
It was at this time that he wrote a letter home that went out on a U.S. submarine.
Mail is going out. I will endeavor to put in a few words many thoughts. I am giving the Japs plenty, and have much more to pour out. Ed was killed the other day. It was a sad bit of news to me. The general awarded me the silver star for gallantry in action. I am sure hungry for some good American food.
Lots of love to all,
Gentry spaced his tanks about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.
Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire. They then used their 37 mm guns. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a 37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.
Gentry and his tank company were next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked. Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns.
After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across. The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.
In addition to serving as a rearguard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left behind. They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese.
In Gentry’s opinion, what did the Filipinos and Americans in was the lack of food. The troops first ate the horses of the 26th U.S. Cavalry. They next ate the mules. When these were gone, the soldiers searched the rice stacks for rice. The average soldier was down to 800 calories a day or the equivalent of one meal. When the Japanese broke through the final line of defense, they did so against troops who were so sick with malaria that they could not hold their guns up to fire them.
Gentry recalled that the enlisted men caught a monkey to eat, “The boys caught a tough monkey one day. They boiled him for 24 hours and roasted him for 12 hours. With considerable ceremony, they brought the roast to me on a platter. ‘Lieutenant,’ one of them said, ‘we have a roasted monkey for you. Do us the honor of taking the first helping.’
I knew perfectly well they wanted to test it out on me because it was the first old monkey we had tried to cook. But I kept a straight face. I tore off a leg and bit off out a chunk of meat. I chewed it for 30 minutes and finally swallowed it. When the boys saw it didn’t hurt me, they cut the meat into bits small enough swallow without chewing, and went ahead and ate it.”
Gentry was named the battalion’s maintenance officer on April 6, but he never took the position. On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
Gentry and his tanks continued to fight until they were ordered to surrender on April 9, 1942. It was not until the 11th of April that Gentry and the other members of C Company became Prisoner of Wars. With his men, he made his way to Mariveles where he would begin the death march.
On the march, Gentry and the other POWs were put into groups of 100 to 150 men. It took him eleven days to complete the march. Gentry believed that the Japanese intentionally left him and other POWs sitting in the sun when they could have been marching. During this time, Gentry only had one ball of rice the size of a baseball and two stalks of sugar cane to eat. He also had very little to drink.
Gentry witnessed a number of incidents of Japanese brutality. He recalled that the Japanese took great pleasure in hitting Americans wearing World War I style helmets across the top of their heads. The reason was that at the top of the helmet was a rivet that would tear into the scalps of the men. Many Americans got rid of the helmets which proved to be a bad decision because of the sun.
Somewhere along the march, Gentry watched as POWs were forced to dig their own graves and then shot. They were then pushed into the graves and buried.
It took Merrifield and Gentry 12 days to complete the march. “I saw dead men all along the side of the road. When we got to camp, I got a little spot of ground inside the fence. I had a pair of coveralls, a pair of shoes, a canteen, cup, and spoon. I had no socks, no toothbrush. That’s all I had until someone died.”
At some point on the march Gentry had an attack of malaria, during this time, he was carried for three or four days by his fellow tankers. In particular, 2nd Lt. Jacques Merrifield, of B Company, carried Gentry most of this time. Being out of his head, he did not remember much else of events along the march.
At San Fernando, the POWs were put into a bullpen, but how long they remained there is not known. At some point, the Japanese ordered them to form detachments of 100 men and marched them to the train station. The boxcars that the Japanese packed them in were known as “forty or eight” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since there were 100 men in each detachment, they put 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors.
The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing because they could fall to the floors. When the living left the boxcars at Capas, those who had died fell to the floors of the cars. From Capas, they walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the dead were moved to one area, the ground was scraped, and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. In his opinion, the lack of latrines may have contributed to this because those who were sick unintentionally spread their illnesses to others. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
During May, his family received a letter from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. Harriet Gentry:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if First Lieutenant William H. Gentry, O,404,976, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known 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 in the fields 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. On June 6, Gentry arrived at Cabanatuan and assigned to Barracks #29 which was an officers’ barracks.
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.
At Cabanatuan, the number of POWs dying each day was high. In the morning and afternoon, the dead were carried out. The next morning, those who had carried out the dead the day before were carried out to be buried. One reason Gentry believed that the death rate dropped was that the Japanese sent the POWs out in work details. Since they were no longer together in one place, the number of cases of dysentery decreased.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, First Lieutenant William H. Gentry had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
In Gentry’s case, on October 27, 1942, he was sent to the Philippine Experimental Farm on the Island of Mindanao. The camp was about 36 miles from Davao City. There, the prisoners from Bataan and Corregidor were joined by POWs taken in the Southern Philippine Islands. Altogether, there were 2200 POWs on the island. On the island, the POWs cut wood for lumber, grew coffee beans, grew rice, and grew hemp for rope.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
Food was one of the main topics at the camp. When talking about the men in the camp, he said, “Two-thirds of the men thought about food two-thirds of the time. No sooner than we’d finish one meal we would start worrying about where the next one was coming from.”
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because all the majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
During this time, Gentry was put in charge of the POW detail that grew rice on 1,600 acres. He said, “Rice was the main crop and I was in charge of a group of farm laborers, with the entire operation under the supervision of the Japanese.”
Gentry and the other POWs attempted to grow as little rice as possible. Gentry like the other POWs would drop the rice stalks in the mud and “unintentionally” step on them.
When harvesting the rice, the POWs would “miss” the collection baskets spilling the rice onto the ground. At the threshing machine, the POWs made sure that as much of the rice as possible was blown away with the chaff. They would also “forget” to push the rice carts into the warehouse when it rained which caused the rice to get moldy.
Although they did these things, most of the rice still made it to the warehouse. Once piled inside, the prisoners often poked holes into the roof directly above the rice. When it rained, the rice would get wet and moldy.
While at Davao, Gentry came up with a way to process sugar with a press and several old kettles. It took about six hours to make a supply of sugar. The Japanese figured out what the POWs were doing and began to store the sugar in a warehouse. So that the Japanese Army could not get any sugar, Gentry reduced the number of POWs working to the point that they would only make enough sugar for the guards and POWs. “We were determined,” he said, “to produce nothing that could be used by the Jap Army.”
The War Department, on December 21, 1942, released the names of officers known to be held as Prisoners of War by the Japanese government in the Philippines. Gentry’s name was on the list. His family had been informed he was a POW weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON FIRST LIEUTENANT WILLIAM H GENTRY 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:
“1st Lt. William H. Gentry, 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”
During his time in the camp. Gentry came down with scurvy. One of the results was his two front teeth became loose. To keep his teeth, he chewed on a native tobacco every day for one week. When he stopped, his teeth were stronger and there was only a small gap between them.
Nights in the camp were a nightmare of insects. He saw men grow weak because of the loss of blood from insect bites. “We considered it lucky to find a place with the combination of lice, bedbugs, and red ants. The bedbugs ate the lice, the red aunts ate the bedbugs, and all we had left to fight were the red ants. They are so small you can hardly see them, but if one gets on your foot you think red hot coal has hit you.”
It was at this time that Gentry and the other POWs learned to catch cobras to eat. The cobras were caught in the rice paddies. If one was spotted the POWs would jump on it. Remembering this he recalled. “I’ll never forget that one afternoon I saw a crowd outside of the building in the camp. A cobra was in the middle of the crowd. A soldier named Bill said ‘Watch me, boys, I’m good.’ He passed at the cobra with one hand and grabbed around the hood with the other hand. The secret in catching them barehanded is to move faster than the cobra can. I never heard of a man dying from a cobra bite.”
The one good thing that happened to Gentry and the other POWs on this detail was that they were given Red Cross packages. The medicine in the packages also helped to bring the number of cases of malaria and dysentery under control. The Japanese kept the small sizes of shoes that were sent in the Red Cross packages, but the POWs soon learned how to cut down a larger pair to a smaller size. They also cut pants that were too long into shorts and used the leftover material as a thread to patch holes in their worn-out uniforms.
Gentry learned to roll cigars while at Davao since a native tobacco plant was plentiful. “Give me your specifications as to color and size, and I can roll you as good as good cigars as you can buy.” His weight also dropped from 210 to 138 while at Davao. “I was so thin, I could wash my shirt without taking it off, using my ribs for a washboard.”
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindanao, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship’s front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25.
From Manila, he was returned to Cabanatuan where he was reunited with 2nd Lt. Leroy Scoville and 2nd Lt. Jacques Merrifield of the 192nd. The officers became bunkmates and watched out for each other. After he returned to Cabanatuan, the Japanese stepped up the shipment of POWs to Japan and other countries far from the advancing Americans. All prisoners determined to be healthy were sent to Japan or an occupied country.
Medical records kept on Cabanatuan show that after William returned from Davao, he was admitted to the camp hospital. On August 12, 1944, he was transferred from Division II, Building #15 to Hospital Building #3 suffering from dysentery, It is also known that during his time in the camp, he was beaten on two occasions. The exact reasons are not known.
Only the sick and dying remained in the Philippines by January 1945. The reason Gentry was not sent to Japan was that he still had dysentery, and those with dysentery were put into Zero Ward. Since the Japanese would not go near the hut, to account for the prisoners, the Japanese stood on the outside of the wire fencing that surrounded the ward and call-out the prisoners’ POW numbers.
As time went on, Gentry and the other POWs began to see more and more American planes flying overhead on their way to bomb Manila and Japanese military bases. The prisoners knew it was just a matter of time before American forces landed on Luzon. They also knew that the Japanese had no intention of allowing them to be liberated by American forces. One of these Americans was his brother, Staff Sergeant Richard Gentry, who had joined the Army to liberate his brother.
It was on the night of January 30, 1945, that Gentry and the other prisoners were liberated when Rangers of the United States Army raided Cabanatuan to prevent the Japanese repeating the execution of prisoners that had taken place on Palawan Island. Gentry and the other former POWs were lead through enemy lines to American lines. When he liberated, he was weight was down to 70 pounds.
He recalled the officers had a pool on when they would be liberated. About 20 minutes before the raid, he was ready to sell his chance at guessing the time of liberation. “But when the Rangers came I won $190—not to mention my freedom.”
He also recalled that during the raid he was in a ditch during the firing and that he saw American soldiers at the gate but thought they were prisoners leaving the camp. He went to join them and a Ranger thrust .45 into his hand and said, “Come on, buddy, we’ll lead the parade.”
About the raid, he said, “I am eternally grateful to the Rangers. And it wasn’t luck, but pure science, that was responsible for the success of the mission. It was a miracle, though —and the movies will never be able to duplicate it.”
About three weeks after liberation, Gentry returned to the United States. He spent the next several months in the hospital. He was also promoted to captain on February 18, 1945. William returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General A. E. Anderson which sailed on February 11, 1945, from Tacloban, Leyte, Philippine Islands. The ship had a two-day layover at Hollandia, New Guinea, from February 18 to 20, before it sailed for the U.S. arriving at San Francisco on March 8, 1945.
When he first got home, he and the other former POWs denied the mistreatment of the POWs by the Japanese. This would appear to be an attempt by the government to protect the men still in Japanese hands. He also toured Kentucky to get people to buy war bonds and remained in the reserves until he was discharged on April 1, 1953.
One of the first things Gentry wanted to do when he got back to the U.S. was to drive a car. In San Francisco, he borrowed a friend’s car and drove it around the city.
Gentry returned to Harrodsburg and married Katherine Poor, on June 27, 1945, and became the father of a daughter and two sons. He was employed by the Corning Glass Company. William Gentry later moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, near his son. His wife passed away in April 1999.
Capt. William H. Gentry was awarded two Silver Stars for gallantry, one Bronze Star for bravery, one Purple Heart, one Expeditionary Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal. He passed away on April 25, 2000, in Blacksburg and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, next to his wife.