Sgt. August Fidel Gillis was born in Bellaire, Ohio on September 19, 1918. He was the son of Giovanni T. Gillio-Tos & Victoria F. Moral-Gillio-Tos. He had five brothers, one sister, and two step-brothers. He was the brother of Cpl. Joseph Gillis and step-brother of Sgt. Emil Morello of C Company. The brothers grew up in Watsonville, California, and at some point, he and his brother moved to Castroville, California. In 1936, August joined the California National Guard’s 40th Divisional Tank Company at Salinas, California. His brother, Joe, joined the next year.
On February 10, 1941, August’s tank company was called to federal service as C Company, 194th Tank Battalion. They reported to Fort Lewis, Washington for eight months of training until they received orders for overseas duty.
On August 15, 1941, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the 194th received orders for duty in the Philippine Islands because of an event that happened during the summer. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and a second in the distance. The squadron followed the buoys and found that they lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, hundreds of miles away, which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron resumed its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late in the evening to do anything that day.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. The tankers were taken by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, and ferried on the U.S.A.T. Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations by the battalion’s medical detachment. The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8 at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship’s holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer that were its escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
On Tuesday, September 16, 1941, the ships crossed the International Dateline and it became Thursday, September 18. The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s trucks, jeeps, and tanks and reattach the turrets. They completed this job at 7:00 A.M. the next day.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed. They were met by General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed. On November 15th, they moved into their barracks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning, the sky was filled with American planes. At 12:30 the planes landed, to be refueled while the pilots went to lunch. Around 12:45, the tankers noticed planes approaching the airfield. Some of the soldiers commented about how pretty the planes looked. A few moments later, bombs began exploding on the runway destroying almost the entire American Army Air Corps.
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, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10. The night of the 12th/13th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13.
After the 194th was sent to Calumpit Bridge area. On December 12, the tankers found themselves attempting to make their way through an unknown area. One platoon of tanks took a wrong turn and ended up heading toward Bataan. They finally made their way south through Manila and joined up with the Southern Luzon Forces.
It was at this time that C Company was ordered to support forces in southern Luzon. The company proceeded through Manila. Since they had no air cover, most of their movements were at night. As they moved, they noticed lights blinking or flares being shot into the air. They arrived at the Tagaytay Ridge and spent time attempting to catch 5th columnists.
They remained in the area until December 24, when they moved over the Taal Road to San Tomas and bivouacked near San Paolo and assisted in operations in the Pagbilao-Lucban Area supporting the Philippine Army. One of the most dangerous things the tanks did was cross bridges with a ten-ton weight limit. Each tank weighed 14 tons, so they crossed the bridges one tank at a time. On the 30th, the company supported the withdrawal of the Philippine Army south of San Fernando on Route 3. They rejoined the battalion on December 31.
The tanks withdrew through San Fernando at 2:00 A.M. on January 2, and fell back to the Lyac Junction. The two tank battalions were holding a line between Culis and Hermosa. The tanks withdrew from the line the night of the 6th/7th. While doing this, the maintenance section of the battalions repaired abandoned trucks used to haul food and the gasoline caches they found and bring it into Bataan. That night, the 194th crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek, covered by the 192nd, and entered Bataan.
The company, with A Co., 192nd Tank Battalion, withdrew from the Guagua-Perac Line to Remedio where they established a new defensive line on January 5. That afternoon, C Company, supported by four self-propelled mounts stopped a Japanese advance which kept the road open for withdrawing forces.
The next night, the tanks were holding the line when the Japanese attempted to infiltrate under a bright moon. The tanks opened fire resulting in the Japanese losing half of their troops. In an attempt to cover their advance, the Japanese used smoke, to cover their attack, which blew back on them. The battle lasted until the Japanese broke off the attack at 3:00 in the morning. After this, there was a two-day lull in the fighting.
A composite tank company was formed from the tank battalions and given the job of protecting the East road north to Hermosa. This was a dangerous job since the tanks were in the range of Japanese artillery. The other tanks were ordered to a bivouac south of the Abubucay-Hacienda Line.
The tanks formed a new bivouac just south of the Pilar-Baggo Road and had a few days rest. While they rested, 17th Ordnance and the maintenance sections of the battalion did long overdue work on the tanks. Also around this time, the tank companies were reduced to ten tanks so that tanks could be given to D Company, 192nd, which had lost its tanks after a bridge had been destroyed before they had crossed it.
C Company and D Company, 192nd., were sent to the Cadre Road on the 12th but returned on the 13th because ordnance had planted landmines which made reaching the road impossible. C Company was sent to Bagac, on the 16th, to reopen the West Highway Road that had been cut by the Japanese, so troops trapped behind the roadblock could escape. A platoon of tanks at the Moron Highway and Trail 162 knocked out an anti-tank gun, and with the help of infantry, cleared the roadblock.
It was also sometime around this time that General Wainwright issued these orders. It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
Both tank battalions held a line along the Balanga-Cardre Road-Banobano Road so that other units could withdraw which was completed by midnight. They held the line until the night of the 26th/27th when they withdrew and formed a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Road.
At about 9:45 A.M., a Filipino civilian came down the road and warned the tankers that a Japanese force was on its way. The tanks, with four SPMs, opened up on the Japanese when they appeared. The fighting lasted 45 minutes when the Japanese withdrew having suffered 50 percent casualties. This action prevented the Japanese from overrunning the new defensive line which was still being formed.
The tank battalions were given beach duty so that the Japanese could not land troops behind the main line of defense. The half-tracks of the battalions patrolled the roads. At 2;50 A.M., a Japanese motorized unit was head coming down the road with the lead vehicle having dimmed headlights. The 194th had a roadblock in place with guns aimed at various angles. When they opened up, they caused heavy damage to the Japanese column.
It was also at this time that the tank battalions, without orders, took on the job of protecting three airfields. The airfields had been built so a rebuilt Air Corps would have places to land. About the same time, the fighting on Bataan came to a standstill since the Japanese troops were exhausted and suffering from the same tropical illnesses as the defenders. To end the stalemate, the Japanese brought in fresh troops from Singapore.
The Japanese launched an all-out offensive on April 3 breaking through the line of defense held by II Corps. The 194th moved its companies to support the defenders along the line from the East Coast Road and to the west. The tanks repeatedly were sent to areas where the Japanese had broken through which was difficult to do since the roads were clogged with retreating vehicles.
It was at this time that the tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
General Edward P. King announced at 10:30 that night that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6,000 sick and wounded and 40,000 civilians. He also estimated that less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue to fight and would hold out for one more day. He ordered his staff officers to negotiate terms of surrender.
Between 6:30 and 6:45 A.M. on April 9, 1942, the order “CRASH” was issued. The tankers destroyed their tanks and waited for orders from the Japanese. The members of the 194th were ordered the next day, to move to the headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group, which was at kilometer marker 168.2.
At 7:00 P.M. on the 10th, the POWs were ordered to march. They made their way from the former command post, and at first, found the walk difficult. When they reached the main road, walking became easier. At 3:00 A.M., they were given an hour break before being ordered to move again at 4:00 A.M. The column reached Lamao at 8:00 A.M., where the POWs were allowed to forage for food before marching again at 9:00.
During this part of the march to reach the main road out of Bataan, the POWs noted that they were treated well by the Japanese who were combat-hardened troops. Their guards were surprised that they had surrendered and treated them fairly well. It was at Limay that the treatment they received would change.
When the POWs reached Limay, officers with ranks of major or higher were separated from the enlisted men and the lower-ranking officers. The higher-ranking officers were put on trucks and driven to Balanga from where they march north to Orani. The lower-ranking officers and enlisted men reached the barrio later in the day having marched through Abucay and Samal.
At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given a few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
The men were marched until 4:00 P.M. when they reached San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbwire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the men up and organized them into detachments of 100 men. From the compound, they were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” Each boxcar could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that the dead could not fall to the floor. At Capas, as the living left the cars and those who had died – during the trip – fell to the floors of the cars. As they left the cars, the Filipino civilians threw sugarcane and gave the POWs water.
The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp.
The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
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.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. While on these details they 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. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Once the POWs received one of the few Red Cross packages they were allowed to receive, the death rate dropped dramatically.
It is known that on October 28, 1942, he was admitted into the camp hospital suffering from excessive dryness of the eyes. It appears he was discharged and readmitted on October 31 with a corneal ulcer of the eye.
Apparently, the Japanese believed August was not sick enough to be kept off a work detail In December 1942, he went out on the Las Pinas Detail. The POWs built a runway and revetments with picks and shovels. The runway they were expected to build was supposed to be 500 yards wide, and they literally removed a mountain, by hand, to build the runway. The POWs removed the debris with wheelbarrows, but when they became inefficient, mining cars and rail were brought to the site. Working in teams of four, the POWs had to fill mining cars with rubble and two men pushed each cart to a swamp and dumped the car. While they were doing this, the other two men were preparing the next load.
The Japanese were brutal in their treatment of the POWs. The POWs lived in Pasay School about a mile from the airfield and marched to and from the airfield. Meals consisted of leftover fish guts from the Japanese kitchen.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Capt. Kenji Iwataka was called the “White Angel” because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was the commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn’t four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, “Tell them I went down smiling.” There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The American captain told the other POWs what had happened. The White Angel to them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second-ranking Japanese on the detail was known as “the Wolf,” because the POWs thought he resembled a wolf. He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man’s arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion, a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man’s head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The welfare of the POWs was of no concern to the Japanese. They only concern they had was getting the runway built. If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and selected men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury. Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work.
In particular, “the Wolf” was hardest to convince that a man was sick. If a man’s arm or leg was bandaged, he would kick the man’s leg, in the spot, it was bandaged, and see how the man reacted. If the man showed a great deal of pain, he was not required to work. In one case, a man whose broken wrist was in a splint was twisted by the Wolf while the man trembled in pain.
Sometime in early 1943, August was sent to Biibid Prison with a corneal ulcer on his right eye. It is not known how long he was there, but it is known he was discharged, and returned to Las Pinas, on May 17, 1943. According to records, he was transferred on November 13, 1943, to Bilibid Prison again.
Meals in the prison consisted of a half to three-quarters of a mess kit of rice twice a day. The food was often contaminated which resulted in the prisoners getting dysentery. Since they were hungry, the POWs often ate garbage from scrap cans and pig troughs. Wood, to cook their meals, came from trees they cut down or from wooden buildings inside the prison that they tore down. Many POWs starved to death.
They slept on the concrete floors, since there were no beds, without mosquito netting. Many came down with malaria. There were only three showers for the POWs and clothing consisted of each man having two g-strings and two pairs of socks. There were never enough medical supplies or medicine to treat the sick, and it seemed that there was just enough medicine to prolong a man’s suffering.
At some point, he was returned to Cabanatuan where he remained the rest of his time as a POW in the Philippines. When his half-brother, Sgt. Emil Morello, was selected for transport to Japan, he gave August the company guidon – which was sewn into a small pillow – to protect. August did not have it very long when he was selected to be sent to Japan. He, in turn, gave it to a Navy seaman named Harvey who kept it until the end of the war.
August was selected for shipment to Japan. On July 17, 1944, at 7:00 A.M. the POWs left Bilibid for the Port Area of Manila. They were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru. The Japanese attempted to put all the POWs in the rear hold. When this didn’t work 900 POWs were put in the forward hold with the remaining 600 staying in the rear hold.
The ship sailed the same day and dropped anchor at the breakwater and remained there until July 23. The POWs did not receive food or water for a day and a half. After they were fed, they received each day, two meals of rice and vegetables and two canteen cups of water. When the ship sailed again, it dropped anchor off Corregidor and remained off the island overnight. The next morning, July 24, it sailed as part of a convoy for Formosa.
During this portion of the trip the POWs were so thirsty that, at night, some cut other men’s throats and drank their blood. During one night, the ships ran into an American wolf pack. Four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk. Men commented that there was a huge explosion that lit the night sky. Others reported there was a thud against the side of the ship’s haul. Apparently, the ship had been hit by a torpedo that failed to detonate.
The remaining ships reached Takao, Formosa, on July 28 at 9:00 A.M. and remained in the harbor until that evening when it sailed again at 7:00 P.M. During this part of the trip, the ships sailed through a storm before reaching Moji, Japan, the night of August 3rd at midnight.
The POWs were disembarked at 8:00 A.M. the next morning and put in a pitch-black movie theater. They remained in the theater until the Japanese divided them into detachments of 200 men. August was sent to Fukuoka #4-B, where the POWs were housed in a former YMCA building in the North-eastern section of the city of Moji, Kyushu, Japan. There were British, Dutch, and American POWs in the camp, with the Americans being the largest group. In August 1944, another building began being used as a mess hall and officers quarters. A third building became the camp hospital.
The POWs in the camp worked as stevedores on the docks of Moji, loading and unloading ships. The company that used the POWs as stevedores, on the docks, was the Kanmon Stevedoring Company. In addition, the POWs worked in the warehouse district around the Sothohama Railway Station in Moji.
The Japanese corporal in charge of clothing, Nagakura Seiso, refused to issue new clothing or repair the POWs’ old clothing. The POWs worked barefooted in the cold weather resulting in many developing coughs, lung conditions, and pneumonia. The Japanese guards were seen wearing Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs.
At some point Frank became ill. According to other POWs, the sick stayed in the POW barracks while being treated. Their daily ration of food was also cut. If they became sicker, they were moved to the Moji Military Hospital.
After being liberated, he and the other POWs were taken to Dejima Docks at Nagasaki and boarded onto transport for the Philippines. While receiving medical treatment in there, he wrote home.
September 26, 1945
“I got your letter the other day; was going to write right away, but had a lot of other things to do, so am making up for lost time now…
I was sure glad to hear that Johnny and Frankie are O.K. I’d sure like to see them and the rest of the family also. I may get to see John when we stop at Hawaii. I have been here five days and may leave in three or four days. Emile (His step-brother) left two days ago. I would have like to have gone with him, but I came in after he did so have to wait my turn.
“How is the ranch, do you have any chokes left?
“It’s so darn hot here that I almost melt, but I’ve been in hotter places and didn’t so I guess I’ll make it. Well, I haven’t much else to write about, so I’ll close with God bless you.
“P.S. I wanted to bring home some souvenirs, but was so darn glad to be free that I didn’t have time.”
August was promoted to staff sergeant and sailed on the S.S. Simon Bolivar on either September 29 or 30 for San Francisco and arriving there on October 21, 1945. From there, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital for additional medical treatment. He was discharged, from the army, on April 7, 1946. After he returned home, he married and became the father of a daughter. At one point, he owned Frenchie’s Ice Cream Shop in Salinas which was named after his step-brother, Emil.
It should be mentioned that in late January 1949, a package was mailed to him from Harvey. When he opened it, he found the company’s guidon.
August F. Gillis passed away in Salinas, California, on December 4, 2006. He was buried at San Joaquin National Cemetery in Santa Nella Village, California.