Pvt. Lonnie L. Gray was born September 15, 1921, in Garrard County, Kentucky to Floyd Gray & Paralee Carmickal-Gray and resided in Burgin, Kentucky, with his brother and sister. Lonnie like most men his age knew that a federal draft act had been passed, so he enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard.
On November 25, 1940, Lonnie’s tank company was called to federal duty as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. He, with his company, traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for training. In January 1941, Lonnie was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was formed.
While on leave home from the army, on April 5, 1941, Lonnie married Gertrude Bailey. The couple would have three children. His oldest son Tony would be born after his battalion left the United States for the Philippine Islands.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Those who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Within hours, many men had figured out what PLUM meant, and that they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
The decision for this move – which had been made in August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion’s medical detachment. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner, which was a stew thrown into their mess kits before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance, as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Lonnie heard the news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. With the other men of the company, Lonnie took cover to wait out the attack. Afterward, they saw the damage done by the Japanese.
Since Lonnie was assigned to HQ Company, he did not take part in any front-line action. But, since there was no American Air Force, he lived with the constant strafing of Japanese planes.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to HQ Company’s kitchen. The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.
During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.” It consisted of pineapple juice and bread. He said to them as they ate that it was now every man for himself. As they ate, the sky was red as the ammunition dumps were destroyed.
On April 11, the Japanese arrived and a Japanese officer ordered the men out onto the road that ran in front of their bivouac. It was on this day that Lonnie became a Prisoner Of War. While on the road, the POWs were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, passing Japanese troops took what they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
HQ Company drove their trucks, to Mariveles and were ordered out of them. At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded into the field. The Japanese soldiers had the POWs lined up for an inspection. The Japanese took the prisoners’ jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.
As the soldiers knelt facing the Japanese guards, they saw what looked like a firing squad forming. It appeared that the Japanese were going to execute them. A car pulled up, and out of the car climbed a Japanese officer who gave orders to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. As he drove away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to put down their guns.
Lonnie and the other POWs were ordered to move to a schoolyard where they were made to sit in the sun without food or water. Behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. The American guns on the islands began returning fire. Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs who had no place to hide and several were killed. Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.
It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that Lonnie began what would become known as the Bataan Death March. The first night the POWs were marched all night. The first place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machine-gun nest. Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to move. What made things worse, for the POWs, was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells. It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they still went to the wells. This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.
The lack of food and water had physical results; such as the prisoners’ mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open. If the prisoners who did get water drank the water, they were often killed.
Lonnie made it to San Fernando, where he and the other POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars. The cars were known as “Forty or Eights,” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs died during the trip remained standing since they could not fall to the floors. The dead fell to the floors when the living left the cars at Capas. From there, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp and believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs.
When they arrived at the camp, the camp commandant told the Americans that they were not prisoners of war but captives. The Japanese also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried with them and refused to return it. The POWs were searched and anyone found with Japanese money was separated from the other POWs and sent to the guardhouse. These POWs were accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. Over several days, gunshots were heard coming from southeast of the camp.
There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2Ã‚Â½ to 8 hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guard in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason, and the next man in line would have to wait up to four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking food had to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess kits could not be cleaned. Since there was no water to wash their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
Since most of the POWs had dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in flies being everywhere in the camp including the camp kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant which also caused diseases to spread. When the ranking American doctor presented a letter with the medicines and medical supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another letter. He also said that the only things he wanted to know about the POWs were their names and serial numbers after they died.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese refused to let it into the camp. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a Japanese lieutenant that they could set up a 150-bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the lieutenant. Medicines sent to the camp by the Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own use.
The POWs called the hospital “Zero Ward” because most of the men who entered it never came out alive. The Japanese were so afraid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire fence up around it. The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed with knives from mess kits. Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough to perform his duties.
Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and placed them under the hospital building. To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the ground, put down lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the bodies had been. It took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk, went out on a work detail for the day such as the one collected wood for the POW kitchen. Some POWs went out on work details which lasted for months to get out of the camp. The worse detail a man could be put on was the burial detail. On this detail, two POWs carried a dead man to the camp cemetery.
Once there, they put the body in a grave and held the body down with a pole, since the water table was high, and covered it with dirt. The next morning, when the burials resumed, the dead were often sitting up or had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new POW camp.
On June 1, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and were marched to Capas, where they were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division’s home.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp One was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp Two did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp Three was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camps One and Three were later consolidated into one camp.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. What details Joe took part in from the camp is not known.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. In addition, the lack of proper bathrooms contributed to many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward,” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
Lonnie went out on a work detail to Ft. McKinley arriving there on October 1942. When the detail started, the POWs were issued coconut fiber hats and shoes. Both these items did not last long on the detail. Later, the hats were replaced by Red Cross hats and new shoes in the Red Cross packages the POWs received in November 1943. Although clothing was repeatedly issued, there was never enough given out.
The POWs lived in the barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts. Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on sawale floor mats and in ten men mosquito nets issued by the Japanese. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets. The meals for the POWs were cooked in four halves of 50-gallon oil barrows. They remained there until they were done cleaning up junk that had been left from the fighting.
The next place the POWs worked was at Nielsen Field. The work started on January 29, 1943, and for the first six weeks, the POWs marched 8 kilometers from Ft. McKinley to the airfield. They were later moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in Nipa huts that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had been built for them and were taken to the airfield by truck. There, the POWs worked at constructing a northeast to southwest runway and building revetments.
At first, tents were provided for protection against the sun and rain, but many were stolen by the Filipinos and the rest deteriorated until they were useless. There was plenty of water for drinking and adequate latrines were provided. The POWs were divided into two groups. One group worked for an hour while the other rested. This was later reduced to two 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was increased to three 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon.
The POWs worked from 8:00 A.M. to noon and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The POWs were divided into two groups. While one group was working for an hour, the other group rested. The work was hard and called for the POWs to remove dirt and rock to the area where the runway was being built. Wheelbarrows were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to work. The POWs received one day off a week.
Small mining cars were brought in, and the POWs filled the cars with dirt and rocks before they were pushed by five men down a track from 200 feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where the material was wanted, they emptied the car.
On March 28, the Japanese instituted the “speedup program” to get the work done quicker. The POWs did not know if it was because they had fallen behind in the construction of the runway, or if it was because the war was going badly for the Japanese, and they needed the runway finished. This lasted until July 4 when it was ended.
It appeared that Lonnie became ill and was returned to Cabanatuan. How long he remained there is not known. Records show he was sent to the Port Area of Manila to work as a stevedore loading and unloading in November 1943.
At some point, Lonnie was sent to the Port Area of Manila to work as a stevedore on what was known as the Port Terminal Detail. He was a replacement for another POW who had become too ill to work. On the detail, he was reunited with his friend Pvt. Marvin Taylor, who was also from Harrodsburg. It was while he was on this detail that on February 8, 1944, his wife received word that he was alive. This was because his friend, Marvin Taylor, was allowed to make a shortwave broadcast and mentioned him in it.
In July 1944, the detail ended and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison to be transferred to Japan. In August 1944, Lonnie was sent to Pier 7 for transport to Japan. he remained there until August 25th, when he was boarded onto the Noto Maru, which sailed for Takao, Formosa, as part of a convoy, on August 27. After leaving Manila, the convoy stopped at Subic Bay for the night. During the trip, the ship made it through a submarine attack and arrived at Takao on August 30th and sailed for Japan the on August 31 and arrived at Moji on September 4.
Lonnie and the other POWs were taken by train to Osaka and marched through a subway to another train. This train arrived at Nuttari, Higashi Ward, Niigata Prefecture. The POWs were put on trucks and driven to the POW camp which was designated as a Niigata POW camp. The camp was located in Nuttari, Higashi Ward, Niigata Prefecture. In the camp, the POWs worked at a coal yard, the POWs were used as slave labor and loaded and unloaded coal cars. The winches in the camp were run by women. The winches lifted the coal out of the ship’s holds and dropped it on conveyor belts that dumped it into coal cars which the POWs pushed. The POWs also would work on barges shoveling coal into a steam shovel which lifted it and dropped it into coal cars.
In September 1945, Lonnie was liberated from the camp. His family received word of his liberation on September 16, 1945. After being liberated, he was returned to the Philippines and received medical treatment. When it was determined he was healthy, he was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman which arrived at San Francisco on October 3, 1945, and was taken to Letterman General Hospital before being allowed to return to Kentucky and his wife.
When Lonnie returned home for the first time, his wife introduced him to his son, Tony. Tony, who was five, had never met his father. He ran to the photo of his father that was sitting on a desk in the house and said, “No, No, this is my daddy!” He would have nothing to do with the stranger standing in front of him.
Lonnie and Gertrude would have two more children. Lonnie re-enlisted in the army on April 12, 1948, with the rank of corporal, and he returned to Japan, in September 1950, before serving in Korea during the Korean War. When he was discharged, as a sergeant, in 1952, he returned to Harrodsburg and worked as a carpenter.
Lonnie’s life was not easy. His family recalled that he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming. Lonnie was also admitted, several times, to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington because of his alcoholism.
The greatest impact Lonnie’s alcoholism had his life was that Gertrude would divorce him in 1965. Although she could no longer fight her husband’s demons, she said she still loved him. After the divorce, he remained in Harrodsburg for four years when he suddenly disappeared.
Lonnie’s children had no idea if he was alive or dead. In the fall of 1986, Lonnie called his children and asked if one of them would be willing to bring him home to Harrodsburg. For the last fifteen years, he had been living in a trailer in Florida and working as a tenant farmer. He had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to die in Harrodsburg. To his surprise, all three of his children went to Florida to get him.
Lonnie spent his last Christmas living with his son, Tony, and daughter-in-law, Marilyn. He and his children reacquainted themselves with each other and found him easy to be with him. They also found out that he had a great sense of humor.
In February 1987, Lonnie was admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and later moved to the Leestown Road VA Facility and admitted to the terminal unit. It was at this time that he began to share his memories of Bataan with his family. Even at that time, he could hardly bring himself to talk about his POW experiences in the Philippines and Japan.
Lonnie Gray died peacefully from a large tumor next to his aortic artery. The tumor caused massive bleeding which resulted in him just going to sleep. Lonnie L. Gray passed away on April 10, 1987, and was buried in Section I, Site 581, at Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky.