1st Lt. William Henry Gentry was born on November 19, 1918, to James T. Gentry and Harriet Renfro-Gentry. He had three sisters and one 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 because the tank company needed someone to work on the tanks. Two of his friends, Archibald Rue, and George Van Arsdall joined the National Guard with him. The company did not have an armory, so it met in a large hall on the second floor of the D. L. Moore Building at 122 South Main Street. The company’s tanks were stored in a building three blocks away or, at other times, in the barn of one of the members family. From January to June 1940, he attended communications school at Fort Benning, Georgia.
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.
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.
It was at this time that the 192nd Tank Battalion was activated. Capt. Bacon Moore – because of his seniority – became the battalion’s commanding officer. With the command came a promotion to the rank of Major. Lt. Arch Rue took command of D Company. Capt. Ted Wickord, B Co., became the battalion’s executive officer, and Lt. Fred Bruni, A Co., became the battalion’s maintenance officer. One of the four letter companies was scheduled to become the battalion’s Headquarters Company but none of the companies wanted to give up their tanks. The decision was made to create a separate HQ Company creating a battalion with five companies.
Their first housing was small unpainted temporary barracks 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 private 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 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 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. Since the area was new, one of the first things they did was take wheelbarrows and shovels and bring gravel to the barracks to create walkways for the barracks.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, 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 for specialist training. The classes 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. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms for retreat at 5:00 p.m. 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.
On December 2nd the men attended the tank schools that they had been assigned. The men assigned to tank maintenance were the first to start classes since part of their job was to get the 16 tanks the battalion got from the base’s junkyard running. Each company received four of the tanks. It was noted that the companies were scheduled to have three half-tracks, four motorcycles, 17 tanks, 2 motorcycles, 4 two and a half ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck.
For entertainment, they could go to the post library, attend escorted dances every two weeks, go skating on weekends, go to the movies nightly, or go bowling. Men also played on the company’s basketball and later on its baseball team. They also had a bowling league where the battalion’s companies played each other and companies from other units. On weekends the soldiers went to Louisville 35 miles to the north of the base or Elizabethtown 16 miles to the south of the base.
It also seemed to rain constantly during December, and it was said the mud around the barracks was two inches deep. On December 2nd, each company received four additional tanks that came out of the fort’s junkyard. Men who were selected to attend special training started their classes on December 9th. The remaining men took a six-mile hike in the mud and rain on the 13th.
For Christmas, members of the company received furloughs home from the 14th to the 26th while other men remained at Ft. Knox. Those men who remained on base were attending schools that were still meeting, had duties that required them to remain on base, or may have been among the members of the battalion hospitalized with what appears to have been the flu. It is not known if he went home or stayed on base.
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.
There was a shortage of officers at Ft. Knox and some second lieutenants were commanding as many as three companies. It was during this time that Bill signed up to take the examination for a commission that was open to the highest three enlisted ranks.
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 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. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. 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. 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. 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, 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. It should be mentioned that since the members of the battalion were federalized National Guardsmen, men whose enlistments ended, at any time, were either released from federal service or reenlisted in the regular army.
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. It was also in February that Bill resigned from the army as an enlisted man and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant on February 12.
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, 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.
It was also in August that Bill received the job – which came from the War Department – of requisitioning tanks from other units for the 194th Tank Battalion. The 194th had received orders it was being sent overseas. Bill was given a detachment of enlisted men who went from tank division to tank division requisitioning the tanks and getting them on flat cars to be sent to California. On several occasions, the detachment walked up to soldiers from other tank units preparing to unload brand-new tanks from flatcars. He announced that the tank or tanks were his, presented his orders, and requisitioned the tanks. Since they were on flatcars, he sent them west to San Francisco.
About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1 in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee. 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. During the trip, the convoy was involved in a number of accidents that appeared to involve the battalion’s motorcycles but no details are known.
Some of the members of the battalion left Ft. Knox for the maneuvers by train on September 4. It is known that the tanks had been loaded onto train cars and that the train had a kitchen for them to have meals. The time of departure for the train was 6:30 PM. and the arrival time in Tremont, Louisiana, was scheduled for around midnight the night of September 5, but the train did not arrive until 3:00 AM on the 6th. When they arrived at Tremont, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station. The tanks were unloaded in the dark while the men were eaten alive by mosquitos. That night they were allowed to go to Monroe, Louisiana, and it was said there were more soldiers in the town than civilians.
When they arrived, the battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest. What made the bivouac worse was that the rainy season started and the men found themselves living in it. On one occasion the battalion was bivouac near a canal and the next morning the men found themselves in water over their shoes trying to dig ditches for drainage. The members of B Company captured a medium size alligator in their bivouac and pulled it around at the end of a leash made from a rope. Two days later the battalion made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army and fought with the 191st Tank Battalion as the First Tank Group.
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. Drinking 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.
The tankers stated that they had never seen so many mosquitoes, ticks, and snakes before. Water moccasins were the most common snake, but there were also rattlesnakes. 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 night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. 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. 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 the snake.
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.
During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, 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.
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 for 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. It was said that the clay at Ft. Knox was not as bad as the sandy soil in Louisiana. 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 to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1 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.
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.
Water was rationed, so the soldiers washed in streams after making sure there were no alligators or snakes nearby. If they took a bath, they did it in cold water. Men went days without washing their faces. The popular conversation during the maneuvers was where the battalion being was being sent next. Rumors flew that after the maneuvers they were going to Ft. Ord, California, Ft. Lewis, Washington, Ft. Benning, Georgia, or Ft. Mead, Maryland.
After the maneuvers, there was a rumor they were going to be sent to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, but many of the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox. Instead, the battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. At this time, Major Bacon Moore was relieved of command of the 192nd because of his age and Major Ted Wickord became the commanding officer of the battalion. On October 3, Wickord was ordered to Ft. Knox and received the orders to send the battalion overseas. After he returned to Camp Polk, on the side of a hill, the battalion learned that it had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, 29 years old or older, or whose National Guard enlistments were within months of ending were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn out of a hat. Three of the company’s officers were released from service, so it is believed that it was at that time that Everett resigned as an enlisted man and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant.
Both new and old members of the battalion were given furloughs home to say their goodbyes. After their furloughs, the men returned to Camp Polk, where they prepared for duty overseas. Cosmoline was put on any weapon that possibly could rust while at sea. During this time, they once again lived in tents. The battalion was scheduled to receive brand-new M3A1 tanks but there was a delivery problem and this could not be done. Instead, they were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. Many of these “new” tanks were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance and only new to the 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 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 covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the 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 National Guard members of the battalion believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army to go overseas. It is true that Patton praised the battalion for its performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that he personally selected them for duty in the Philippines.
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, they even fought as part of 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 – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was 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 and that 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 14, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held there. It is known one of the two medium tank battalions had received orders for the Philippines and was on standby, but the orders were canceled on December 10 because the war with Japan had started. Some documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. He returned home to say his goodbyes and married Thelma A. Weidner on October 5, 1941. The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. 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 some soldiers.
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 some 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 going where you all are going.” On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. 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 by men sent to the island as replacements. It appears these men came from the 757th Tank Battalion at Ft. Ord, California. Also waiting for the battalion was Col. James R. N. Weaver who was given command of the battalion.
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 U.S.A.T. 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 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. 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.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. 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 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. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, Bill had the men set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely
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 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.
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 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.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and 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 South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8.
Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
On the morning of December 8, all the tank crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion’s bivouac. When they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor they laughed. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed and lined up in a straight line to be refueled next to the pilots’ mess hall. The tankers were eating lunch when they saw planes approaching the airfield from the north. Many of the men believed they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes in formation. As they watched, what appeared to be raindrops – because they shimmered in the sun – appeared under the planes. With the thunderous explosions of the bombs exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese. The smoke and dust from the bombs blotted out the sun and made it impossible for the tankers to see more than a few feet. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to straf. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
Because there was a need for an officer in C Company, 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 Rosario, Sison, Pozorrubbio, Asingan, and Tayug. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to cross the Agno River over 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 shortcut 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, but 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 sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the barrio of Baliuag. 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.
The Japanese began moving troops 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 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.
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,
In another letter dated the 13th and most likely written on February 13, his parents received he said, “Have an extra moment or two and they say that the mail is now going out, and will endeavor to put in a few words and many thoughts. I have just returned from the hospital with a fever. Had a temperature of 105, but in splendid health now. I have received no mail since I have arrived here. Am now a First Lieutenant and maintenance officer with our company. The general awarded me the silver star medal for gallantry in action. I sure have a lot to tell when I get home. The boys are in the best of health and in high spirits, in spite of what we have been through. Tell all the fellows and girls and folks hello for me. I think of them and each of you in the family daily. Will write as often as possible, but that won’t be often. I have plenty to eat, really, but I am sure hungry for home food.”
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 so it would catch fire and light up the enemy troops. 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 with their small arms. The engagement was such a rout that tank crews were using a single 37-millimeter shell to kill a single Japanese soldier. The tanks fought a three-hour battle with the Japanese and disengaged because they were running out of ammunition.
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.”
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. 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.
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 against 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. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.)
Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.”
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At 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 the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived, and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurance 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.”
C Company remained in its bivouac until April 11 when the Japanese made contact with them. Gentry and the other members of C Company were now officially Prisoners of War. With his men, he made his way to Mariveles where he would begin the death march. While assigned to HQ Company, Bill had become friends with 2nd Lt. Jacques Merrifield, the two men did the march together.
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, Merrifield carried Gentry most of this time. Being out of his head, Bill 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 eights” 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.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line 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 by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including 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 Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of POWs healthy 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. Many of these men returned to the camp from work details only to die. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria. When they buried the dead, the next morning many were found sitting up in their graves or that the dead had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
In 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 as Camp Pangatian.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The men were also put into ten men groups known as “blood brothers” if one man escaped the other ten would be killed. The Japanese logic was these men should have been able to stop the man. The men in the groups lived together in the same barracks, slept together, and went out on work details together. The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There were no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. Returning from details the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The worst detail was the latrine detail, where the POWs cleaned the latrines used by the Japanese. They weren’t given any tools to do this job, so they cleaned them with their bare hands. The feces was carried to 55-gallon drums and dumped into them. It appears it was then used as fertilizer.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff antibiotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On 26 June 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
Five POWs, in June, were caught receiving food through the fence from two Filipinos. All seven men were tortured before being executed on the 26th. The other POWs in their barrack had their food rations cut in half for three days. One POW escaped in July and 200 guards were sent out to capture him. It was said that the man’s body was found at the cemetery with over 50 bayonet wounds in it.
Four POWs in August managed to leave the camp to get food from friendly Filipinos. When they attempted to reenter the camp, they were caught. They were forced to stand at attention in the sun and were not fed or given water for three or four days. They were marched to a field, dug their own graves, and were shot.
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards prevented escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate, and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
From September through December, the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The Lima Maru sailed in September, but it is not known if POW numbers were assigned to the men on the ship. The first men known to receive POW numbers were the men on the Nagato Maru which sailed for Japan in September. It is not known when, but Bill received the number II-15 I-02107 which was his POW no matter where he was sent in the Philippines. The II-15 appears to indicate the number was assigned to him in Davao. The second “I” may have stood for Imperial or it simply may have indicated the POW was being held in the Philippines.
The Japanese needed 1,000 POWs to go on a work detail to Davao in October 1942. On October 24, 1942, the POWs were marched eight miles to the town of Cabanatuan. At the town’s railroad station, they were loaded into boxcars, and the townspeople came out to watch the POWs as they boarded the trains. From their faces, Ken could see that they had a great deal of sympathy for the Americans.
Unlike the trip to Camp O’Donnell, the doors of the boxcars were left open. This made the trip a great deal easier on the POWs. For whatever reason, the train stopped in several towns. When it arrived in a town, the Filipino people would come out. Many brought rice balls, fried chicken, bananas, and anything else they had with them. Because they were not allowed to approach the train, the Filipinos would throw food at the prisoners. When the train pulled into one town, the people gathered at the station. While the train set in the station, the Filipinos began to hum the song, “God Bless America.” They also called out to the POWs, “Mabuhay Joe,” which in English meant, “Long life Joe.”
When they arrived in Manila, they remained in the boxcars until after dark when they were marched two miles through the empty streets to Bilibid Prison. Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice. Bilibid had been built by the Spanish and had been a civilian prisoner before the war but the Japanese put it into use as a POW camp. The prison was a two-story mortar and brick building, that went out like spokes. surrounded by a high brick wall. At the entrance were two heavy iron gates.
Upon arrival at the prison, they were put in what had been the prison hospital and discovered that there were no beds in the prison. At night every prisoner slept on the concrete floor. The food was also of poor quality, but the one good thing about Bilibid was that the prisoners had more than enough water for drinking and washing.
Two days after arriving at Bilibid, the POWs were marched through the streets of Manila to the port area. Dewey Boulevard which had been the most modern street in the city was now lined with burnt-out empty buildings. Ashes were all that was left of the huts that had lined other streets in Manila.
At Pier 7, the POWs were boarded onto the freighter the Erie Maru. The hold was divided into box spaces and twelve men were assigned to each box. There was only enough room in a box for six men to sleep at a time. The POWs quickly became infested with bedbugs and lice. The hold smelled from the gasoline that was being stored in it and quickly was joined by the smell of human excrement. The hatches to the ship’s holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila Harbor.
Food for the prisoners was generous and well prepared, with each POW receiving a full mess kit of rice and a canteen cup filled with a thick cabbage soup containing pork. They even were given corn beef and cabbage one night.
The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo, Panay, and Cebu, Mindanao. At Iloilo, they buried one man who had died. The POWs arrived at Lansang on November 7. When they arrived at Lasang, they found another 1,000 POWs already in the camp who had been captured in the Wisayans Islands or on Mindanao. Unlike them, these POWs had been allowed to keep their possessions. At the encouragement of Capt. Albert LaFleur – who was in this group and their chaplain – they shared things with the new arrivals they did not need. The new POWs were in such bad shape that the ranking Japanese officer, Mayeda, ordered them fed. They ate pork and beef, rice cabbage pinch, squash onions, potatoes, and peanuts which were all produced on the farm. From the orchards, they were given fruit which included raw and cooked plantains. The sick were given medical treatment and there was enough water for drinking, bathing, and laundry. When the recuperation took too long, their diet was cut to rice and greens soup.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight wooden barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barrack. In each barrack, were eighteen single-deck bays with wooden decks. Twelve POWs shared a bay which meant that 216 POWs lived in each of the barracks. The number was reduced to 8 men in a cage. To prevent escapes, four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs. The roofs of the building were galvanized iron. Other buildings in the compound were Nipa barracks.
The camp discipline was poor and the American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke, however, they wanted to talk to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of the POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
Meals for the POWs were initially 550 grams of rice per man per day, but this did not last. Men who could not work received 450 grams, and men doing special duty received 530 grams. Those men suffering from malnutrition received 490 grams while the ordinary workers received 570 grams. The men assigned to work in the rice fields received 600 grams. Every POW received 400 grams of vegetables each day. In March 1943, this changed to 450 grams for non-workers and 600 grams for workers. The non-workers also had their vegetables reduced to 200 grams each day while the workers received 300 grams each day. It was stated by men that they also had received 12 pounds of shark meat for each group of 100 men. During the last six months they were in Davao, fish was issued 3 to 4 times a month. Fresh fruit which was available all around the camp was not issued and the POWs were not allowed to eat any of it so it rotted in the fields.
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.”
There were various details. 30 men were assigned to work as carpenters, 25 POWs worked in the orchards, 50 POWs made rope, 20 POWs worked the bodega (storeroom) detail, and for four months the POWs cut and picked coffee. There were smaller details that took from 2 to 35 men that lasted weeks or months, while other details were continuous, such as the farm detail that 250 to 300 POWs worked on plowing fields and harvesting crops. The POWs worked ten hours a day seven days a week.
One detail of 80 POWs was sent out each day to repair roads or build bridges between the Davao Penal Colony and the main highway to Davao City over which war materials and troops were moved. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. Other men worked in a quarry that contained a great deal of coral that cut their feet. What they dug out went to build the road. They also built machine gun revetments around the POW camp. The detail existed the entire time the camp was open and every POW worked on this detail at least one week each month.
The second detail was the farm detail where the POWs planted and grew food for the Japanese Army and did not benefit from their work. What made working on this detail worse was the POWs could see fruit growing on the trees that they were not allowed to eat. When they attempted to eat the fruit, they were severely beaten. Instead, it was left to rot.
Three hundred fifty to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all of the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
During this time, Bill 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.
350 to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
While working in the rice fields the POWs would catch as many as 15 to 20 cobras a day. “Every time a cobra stuck his head up in the rice field. eight or 10 men would bounce on it before you knew what was happening. We caught them bare-handed, knowing we had no antibody and that one bite meant sure death. But you must remember the boys were tough, as well as Hungary. They were not afraid of anything.
“I’ll never forget that one afternoon I saw a crowd 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 the cobra with one hand, and grabbed it around the hood with the other hand. The secret in catching them bare-handed is to move faster than the cobra can strike. I never saw or heard of a man dying from cobra bute.”
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.
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.
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 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.”
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 in Davao. “I was so thin, I could wash my shirt without taking it off, using my ribs for a washboard.”
The Japanese commanding officer ordered and allowed collective punishment of all the POWs if one man broke a rule. The punishment was usually issued to groups of 10 POWs and it was common to have the POWs kneel for hours and deprive them of sleep. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep. Beatings were common, and the guards usually slapped the POWs in their faces. On occasion, there were severe beatings. This occurred if the Japanese suspected the POWs were planning an escape. When a Japanese officer, Lt. Hashimoto, discovered a pair of tin snips in the barracks and tortured all the POWs by putting a lighted cigarette to their pinuses.
It is known that in February 1943, each POW received 2½ Red Cross boxes. It is not known if the boxes were full or if the Japanese had gone through them and taken what they wanted from them.
After the escape of Capt. William Dyess, LTC Melvyn McCoy, Maj. Stephen Mellnik, Maj. Michael Dobervitch and another POW on April 4, 1943, moved the remaining POWs from their barrack and moved to another compound. They had their rations reduced to one-third and were confined to quarters but could not sit down during the day. They also were put to work in the rice fields at Camp Mactan.
Major Mayeda ordered a group of 200 men put into the guardhouse. It was stated they were fed salt and rice while they were in the guardhouse. The POWs had to stand for 45 minutes every hour in the guardhouse. They remained in the guardhouse from April 11 to May 8 or 9. He also ordered and allowed the collective punishment of all the POWs. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep.
When two POWs escaped from the rice planting detail on October 25, 1943, the Japanese believed someone had helped them escape. Twenty-one POWs from the detail were put into the guardhouse for ten days. They were made to stand at attention all day in the cells. The cells were eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide. Eleven prisoners were put into each cell. At night they were beaten with sticks when they attempted to lie down. They were fed one meal a day of rice with a little salt. The remaining POWs had to work without pants or shoes. Three officers from the detail were sent to the Japanese headquarters where they had their feet placed in buckets of water. For a half hour, the Japanese applied electric current to the water to get them to talk.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the 650 POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944, to build runways and revetments at an airfield that was used for training by the Japanese Army and Navy. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong.
While the POWs were working at the airfield, the POWs from the other details received word they were being returned to Manila. The night before they left, the POWs ate all the cats and dogs they raised. The first group of POWs left the camp at 3:00 AM. As they got ready to leave Decapol, they removed their shoes, were put into detachments of 10 rows with four men in each row, and were tied together with rope around their waists. Each POW had to wear a blindfold and put his hands on the shoulders of the man in front of him. They walked almost 22 miles over rough roads to Lasang and then spent the day on the dock. It was reported that many of the POWs were sick.
The POWs finally were boarded onto the Yashu Maru – which had been the S.S. Kearny – with 1237 men in one hold that was about 100 feet long and 30 feet to 50 feet wide. As they boarded, they were able to count 3 cruisers, 5 or 6 destroyers, 6 seaplanes, two tankers, and several freighters in the harbor.
As the POWs sat in the hold they heard the sound of planes flying over at night. One American plane bombed and strafed the ship and the POWs felt the ship shake from the exploding bombs. They were fed two meals of rice and stew a day and were allowed on deck to use the latrines that had been set up on it. To do things, the POWs lined up in separate lines. There was one line to eat, a second line to defecate, a third line to urinate, a fourth line for water, and a fifth line for smoking. The only shade available to them was inside the hold. While on the ship on June 8, the Japanese gave each POW a Red Cross box. Since there was no way to protect the boxes stealing took place. If the thieves had been caught, they most likely would have been killed.
On the night of June 11, 300 Japanese soldiers boarded the ship. In all, there were somewhere between 700 to 900 Japanese troops on the ship. It was noted that the ship was also carrying dynamite and black powder.
The ship sailed on the 13th at 3:00 AM and hugged the coastline of Mindanao. It was noted that almost all the POWs wanted the ship to be sunk. During the trip, men stated that their meals consisted of nine heaping spoonfuls of rice twice a day and three-quarters canteen of water. At 7:00 PM, the ship dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindanao, for two days. The night of the 14th while anchored, Lt. Col. John H. McGee escaped, but they had no idea if he made it to shore. As punishment, the remaining 1236 POWs were not allowed out of the hold and their food ration was cut by 20 percent.
At an unknown time on the morning of June 15, the ship sailed, and a second POW, Lt. Donald H. Wills, escaped off the coast of Misamis, Mindanao. The POWs in the hold heard numerous rifle shots, but they believed that he had not been hit. The Japanese tightened their security and the 1,235 remaining POWs were kept in the ship’s hold. Rice was sent down to the POWs in buckets and from that time on, a tub was also lowered into the hold for the prisoners to use as a toilet. With the heat inside the hold and the smell from the waste, the next ten days were almost unlivable. As the ship continued sailing, the POWs were allowed on deck 20 at a time. Near Zamboanga, it passed Japanese ships heading south that were carrying about 18 to 20 thousand troops. It was estimated by the POWs that the convoy had between 7 to 21 ships in it. It was also stated that each evening the POWs sang songs to show the Japanese they were not getting to them.
The Japanese had cavalry near the POWs in a park but the next morning, June 19, the unit was gone leaving behind the flies from the horses. It was noted that the horses did not look very well. The longer they were in the old fort the sanitary situation got worse and so did the flies. It was at this time that a 300-man detail went to the dock to unload their baggage from the Yashu Maru which had returned to the harbor.
At 2:00 PM on the 20th, the POWs left the fort, returned to Pier 1, and boarded a new ship – used to carry coal – that was much larger than the previous one but they were still crowded into one hold. The POWs gave the ship the name Singoto Maru. The ship pulled away from the dock at 4:15 PM and it was noted that the trip to Manila would take 36 hours. The POWs were accused of not cooperating on June 21st, so they were not fed on the 22nd. The ship docked in Manila at 10:30 PM that night, but the POWs did not disembark until later in the morning of the 28th. From the dock, trucks took the POWs to Bilibid Prison where they were searched and personal items were taken from them. The POWs in the prison stated that the men from Davao looked horrible.
At 5:00 AM on June 29, many of the POWs were marched to the train station and rode boxcars to the Barrio of Cabanatuan. Those who remained at Bilibid had already been scheduled to be sent to Japan. 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. Medical records kept on Cabanatuan show that 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 Amebic dysentery, It is also known that during his time in the camp, he was beaten on two occasions. The exact reasons are not known.
As more and more POWs were shipped out of the Philippines to other parts of the Japanese Empire the officers at Cabanatuan were put to work. It was the largest detail and every POW in the camp worked on the detail at some point. From what is known, any excuse was used to beat the POWs. They were beaten for failing to follow orders, for not working hard enough or fast enough, for breaking a sweet potato vine off longer than 8 inches, and for squatting or kneeling on one knee while weeding. If an Apex leave was found in a picked food, the POW was hit over the head with a pick handle or stick.
It was said a squad of guards known as the “Stick Detail” walked behind the POWs with poles and would hit them for no reason. On one occasion, 100 POWs were lined up and slapped across their faces. After this was done, they were forced to stand on anthills in their g-strings while the angry ants bit them. The guards laughed. For some unknown reason, 20 officers on the detail were made to kneel on a gravel road for two hours without head coverings in the sun. While they knelt, a Japanese guard walked up and down and hit each man in the face with a bamboo stick.
One of the few things known about Bill working on this detail was that he and a guard called “Laughing Boy” were working with pitchforks on some sort of stack. It is not known what Bill did, but he apparently did something wrong because the guard began hitting him across his head with the club the guard carried. The beating continued until Bill was knocked unconscious.
Life in the camp was monotonous, and the POWs continued to go out on work details. Food once again became a concern for the POWs. On September 21, 1944, the POWs saw their first American planes. Not long after this in October, 150 guards who had been at the camp awhile left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The Japanese began sending large numbers of POWs to Japan and other occupied countries. This was done so that the POWs would not be liberated by the advancing American troops. His two friends, Jack Merrifield and Leroy Scoville were selected to be sent to Manchuria and left the camp between October 16 and 18, but he appeared to have been considered too sick to be sent to Japan.
The POWs heard a rumor from the guards that Americans were on Mindanao Island. It turned out the rumor was false. The POWs heard and saw explosions from the heavy bombing of Clark Field on October 29. From a map in a Japanese paper – on October 30 – they learned that American troops were on southern Luzon. In addition, American planes flew over the camp that night. The Japanese guards admitted, on November 2, to the POWs that American troops were on Leyte and Mindoro. On November 5, American bombers flew over the camp all day long. To see how close the Americans were, the POWs looked for land-based planes but saw none. The next day, the POWs watch two planes circle the camp. As they watched, the planes strafed and bombed Cabanatuan Airfield. The airfield was bombed and strafed three times that day.
From talking to the guards, the POWs learned that there are only about 1,000 American POWs left in the Philippines. The rest had been sent out on ships for Japan or other parts of the empire. The POWs knew there were about 500 POWs at Cabanatuan so the remainder had to be at Bilibid Prison outside Manila. By November 13, the POWs were no longer excited by American planes flying over the camp. What they wanted to know was where the troops and tanks were. On November 24, a large convoy of Japanese trucks passed the camp at night heading north. The POWs also received mail that was postmarked May and June 1944 which was the fastest they had ever received mail before. During this time the meals got worse and they received less rice. Instead of fish, they were given fish powder. The POWs’ breakfast was plain lugao. To supplement their meals they ate dog soup. From November to December food was the main focus of the POWs.
American planes again appeared over the camp on December 14 and bombed to the north and west of the camp. For the first time, the POWs believed the planes were land-based. The next day before dawn, American planes flew over on their way to bomb Clark Field. The POWs heard and saw anti-aircraft fire as the planes attacked Later that day, they saw more planes fly over and bombed the Cabanatuan Airfield twice in one day. The next night, December 16, the POWs were sleeping when explosions from six bombs from an American plane dropped on a Japanese convoy on the road that ran past the camp woke them. At first, the POWs thought the camp was being bombed and took cover. A few days later the POWs heard that 38 Japanese soldiers had been killed and 20 wounded during the attack. That same day at 8:00 P.M., the Japanese moved some tanks, armored trucks, and small artillery pieces into the camp and stored them in old barracks and mess halls that had been abandoned.
The Japanese camouflaged the camp with nets, ropes, wires, and tree branches on December 18, and the next day the POWs heard the news that Americans had landed on Mindoro Island south of Luzon. It was at this time that two truckloads of Japanese troops and equipment entered the camp, as well as, several truckloads of lumber and supplies were brought into the camp. Approximately 100 Japanese troops with full combat gear entered the camp after dark. Food again was an issue, and the POWs noted their food was radish tops and some meat. When they received fish, the dried fish issued to them was mostly scales and bones since worms had eaten the meat.
The POWs watched heavy American bombers attacked by a single Japanese plane on December 22, and one plane crashed. The POWs hoped that it was the Japanese plane. A few days later, on December 24, 21 American bombers flew over the camp on their way to bomb Clark Field. In the distance, the POWs heard the ack-ack fire from the Japanese anti-aircraft guns. As the planes flew over the camp on the way back from the bombing, the POWs counted that all 21 planes had survived the mission. It was during this time that his mother received a POW card from him, on it he wrote, “keep the porch light on and the meat box filled.”
On Christmas Day, the POW watched American fighters and bombers attack Clark Field. Again, they heard the bombs exploding the fire from the anti-aircraft guns. The next day they heard a rumor that all the POWs at Bilibid had been sent to Japan. Two days later, on December 28, the POWs were awakened by the sound of Japanese tanks and trucks passing the camp. Someone was able to see that the Japanese soldiers were dressed as Filipino civilians.
On the morning of January 7, 1945, the Japanese abandoned the camp and told the POWs that they were no longer prisoners of war. Before they left, the camp commander told them that if they stayed in the camp they would be safe but if they went beyond the fence they would be shot. The POWs wondered if the Japanese were going to return to kill them.
During this time, the prisoners raided the camp warehouse for food and clothing. Retreating Japanese soldiers spent the nights in the camp but did not bother the POWs. Ironically, they asked the POWs for food. The POWs on January 9, heard shelling from American guns in the distance. Many wondered when the troops and tanks would reach them. The next day, Japanese troops returned to the camp and posted guards who had been wounded in combat. They also returned the POWs to the hospital area of the camp. It was at this time that it was recorded that Bill still was suffering from Amebic dysentery and was assigned to Ward 5.
On January 20, 1945, it was reported that Bill’s parents had received a POW postcard from him. His card was one of eight cards received at that time by families in Harrodsburg.
The U.S. 6th Rangers left on the mission to liberate the camp on January 27, and at 2:00 P.M. the Rangers crossed into Japanese territory. They stealthily made their way through enemy lines covering 29 miles until they reached an area just north of the camp in the late afternoon of the 29th It was at that time that the Rangers learned that there were 1000 Japanese troops bivouacked in the camp, so the decision was made to wait until the 30th to attack. The next day the Japanese troops pulled out of the camp. The Rangers reached the camp at 5:45 P.M. and broke into two detachments. The first group took nearly two hours to crawl into position behind the camp. The second group crawled for an hour and a half to get into position for a frontal attack on the main gate. By 7:30 P.M., all the Rangers were in position.
The initial shot that started the assault was made by the Rangers who had taken positions beneath the rear guard tower. The shot killed the guard in the tower and bedlam broke out. At 7:40 P.M. the Rangers opened fire on the guard tower. Another Ranger was about to shoot the lock off the main gate when his ammunition clip fell to the ground. He reached for his pistol, but the guard at the gate had recovered from his initial shock and knocked it from his hand. The Ranger recovered the gun killed the guard and shot off the lock.
The Rangers poured through the main gate while the second group of Rangers came through the rear gate. The Rangers who came through the main gate came upon a guard tower but didn’t see anyone, so 18 Rangers continued moving. As the last men went past, a guard, in perfect English yelled “Stop,” but he didn’t fire. One Ranger stayed behind. The Rangers reached the Japanese barracks and opened fire. One Japanese soldier came to the door and fell face-first to the ground. They never saw any others. The one Ranger who remained at the guard tower killed the guard. Another Ranger detachment cleared out a pillbox at the corner of the camp with four rockets from a bazooka. 150 Japanese who were leaving the camp in a convoy were killed in a shed when it was hit by bazooka fire.
Bill recalled that when the firing started he was outside and took cover in a ditch during the firing. He saw American soldiers at the gate but thought they were prisoners leaving the camp so he made his way toward the gate. On his way there, he ran into a Ranger who thrust a 45 into his hand and said, “Come on, buddy, we’ll lead the parade.”
The POWs had just bedded down for the night but quickly woke up. Many believed it was the Japanese returning to kill them. The Rangers shouted, “We’re Yanks!” They also yelled that the POWs should go toward the main gate. Seven minutes after the start of the raid, the first ragged POWs made it through the gate. 15 minutes after the start of the raid all the POWs had made it through the gate, but the Rangers searched the barracks to make sure no one was left behind. By 8:15 P.M. the camp was secured and the POWs had been rescued without any POW casualties. Two POWs later died because of health issues.
Hearing the commotion, 800 Japanese troops came rushing down the road from Cebu, shouting and firing as they ran. The Filipino guerrillas held their fire until the Japanese were in range, then opened fire resulting in Japanese bodies piling up on the road. It was estimated the guerrillas had killed 400 of the Japanese before Japanese tanks arrived pinning down the guerrillas. It was 8:40 when the signal was given that all the POWs had been rescued and the guerrillas should withdraw. In all, 21 guerrillas and two Rangers were killed. Two other Rangers were wounded.
According to the POWs, the entire operation took 27 minutes. The Rangers carried the sick POWs two miles to 20 waiting for carabao carts. One Ranger carrying a POW began crossing what he thought was a river when he slipped and fell to his knees. he realized, from the smell, it was the drainage ditch and began to swear. The POW said to him, “Please don’t be angry. I’m a Catholic priest, Lt Hugh Kennedy.” The Ranger asked Kennedy to forgive him for swearing. Kennedy said, “Son, you are forgiven because there is a time and place for everything — and this is the time and place.” The Rangers and former POWs reached Plateros at 10:00 P.M. and a radio message was sent that all POWs had been rescued. The fact was one POW who had hidden during the attack had been left behind.
At 11:30 P.M. the column left Plateros for American lines with the Japanese in pursuit until they reached the Pampanga River where the pursuit ended. The trip was hard because the carabao became tired and had to be driven, pulled, and helped across streams. The former POWs not in the carts were barefooted and the Rangers also had to drive them to keep them moving. Between the column and the Japanese were Filippino guerrillas protecting the column’s flank. The good news was the American line had moved forward by ten miles. During the day, American planes protected the group which successfully reached American lines on February 1, 1945. As the column of Rangers and former POWs neared Sibul they passed through long lanes of American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas who stood at rigid attention presenting their arms. Ambulances were waiting for the former POWs. Once behind American lines, the former POWs were given cigarettes, coffee, and a meal of eggs, meat, grapefruit, biscuits, and jam. When he was liberated, Bill’s 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.”
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 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. 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.
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.
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.