Pvt. Charles Cleo Harmon was one of the twin sons born on August 5, 1916, on the family’s farm three miles east of Alfalfa, Oklahoma, to Arthur L. Harmon and Lola May Luper-Harmon. In addition to his twin, he had two sisters and two more brothers. They were raised in Alfalfa, until the family moved to Loco, Oklahoma. His mother passed away on January 1, 1923, when he was six, so he and his siblings lived with their grandparents.
Charles father remarried and moved the family to Augusta, Kansas. Charles was unhappy, so he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt in Carnegie, Oklahoma. He went to work at Crain Ford as a car salesman. He was inducted in the U.S. Army in Oklahoma City, on March 20, 1941.
Charles was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. What exact training he received is not known. What is known is that he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, after completing basic training and assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk in the late summer but did not take part maneuvers that were going on at the fort.
After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to remain at Camp Polk. The members of the battalion had no idea why they were remaining at the fort. It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas. Those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Once this was done, replacements were sought from the 753rd. Charles was one of the replacements. He was assigned to C Company.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, whose plane was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd in the water. 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, with a Japanese occupied island hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter on it. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that night.
The next day, another squadron of planes was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way toward shore. Since radio communication with the Navy was poor, the boat escaped without being intercepted.
After loading their tanks – which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion – on flatcars, D Company boarded a train west for San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the tankers were given physicals, by the battalion’s medical detachment, and those men with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, 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 all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. Ironically, November 20th 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. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He and the other tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.
Around 12:45 P.M., the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield. When bombs began exploding they knew the planes were Japanese. Although they did the best they could, the tankers did not have the right type of weapons to fight the planes.
Charles spent the next four months taking part in a delaying action against the Japanese. During the withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula, the tanks were often the last unit to disengage from the Japanese.
At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked. Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
During the Battle of the Pockets the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back. According to members of the battalion, they resorted two ways to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades. When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would explode.
The second method was simple. The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole. The driver spun the tank on one track. The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
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.”
At 6:45 A.M. on the morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the order “crash.” They destroyed their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them. When they did, they ordered the members of the company to make their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
From Mariveles, the POWs made their way north to San Fernando. They received little food and almost no water. At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into a bullpen. In one corner was a slit trench that was used as a washroom. The surface moved from the maggots that covered it.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men. They were marched to the train station and put into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses and known as “Forty or Eights.” The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies 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 lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. 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 and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs 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.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
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.
In early September, his name appeared on a roster of POWs being sent to Japan. The POWs were taken by truck to Manila. At Bilibid, they were given a physical and taken to the Port Area for transport to Japan.
The POWs were boarded onto the Coral Maru which was also known as the Taga Maru. It sailed from Manila on September 20 and arrived at Takao, Formosa, around September 23. It spent two or three days in port before sailing about September 26. The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5.
The POWs were disembarked and organized into detachments of 100 POWs. They were taken by train to various POW camps. In Charles’ case, he was taken to Tokyo #5-B, also known as Niigata #5 -B, arriving on October 7, 1943. The first morning in the camp, the commandant had the men strip their clothes off. The prisoners then stood in the cold for an hour and a half. Once they began to turn blue, the commandant addressed them. He said, “I want you people to know that you are prisoners of war, and you will be treated like prisoners of war and not like guests of Japan.”
The POWs were used as stevedores at the Niigata docks and loaded and unloaded ships. It appears that most of what was unloaded was coal for the Rinko Coal Company, but it is known they also unloaded foodstuffs. Other POWs from the camp worked in a foundry.
To unload the coal, the POWs worked on high trestles to unload the coal from the ships into cars. The next day, the prisoners would unload the coal from the cars using baskets. POWs were often forced to work barefooted in the winter, and in the rain, which resulted in men having bruised, cut, and infected feet. Once a month the prisoners would get one day off.
Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles which damaged the POWs teeth. The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks. To get them to work, the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
About a month before he arrived in camp, the Japanese had begun a routine of taking every fifth POW from morning roll call and making the men bow to the guards. As the men bowed, the guard kicked the men in their faces or they were hit on the back of the neck with a club while they were bent over. They continued doing this to the POWs until March 31, 1944.
At one point, a guard took the boots away from the POWs during the winter and made them work barefooted on the trestle in cold and wet weather. He also knocked the POWs down and kicked them. The result was that their feet were bruised and cut up from the coal.
A Japanese medical corporal at the camp sent POWs too sick to work which resulted in some of them dying. When the POWs reported for sick call, they were beaten, hit, punched, and kicked in the face or stomach. From September 3, 1943, to December 31, a guard jumped on or kicked the POWs suffering from beriberi and malnutrition. He ordered them to stand at attention and to bow. He was also known for appropriating the Red Cross packages sent to the camp for the POWs. In October 1943, he had those POWs suffering from dysentery brought to him. When they arrived, he poked them in their stomachs with a stick. He also hit them on the head and body with his hands, fists, and with a stick.
The International Red Cross visited the Niigata Camp twice. To prevent the representatives from hearing about the conditions the POWs were living in and the treatment they were receiving, the Japanese would not let the representatives speak to the prisoners.
The fact was that the Japanese used what was in the Red Cross packages for themselves including medical supplies, bandages, and medicines sent to the POWs. Only after having taken canned milk, canned meat, and chocolate from the packages, would they be given to the POWs. The Japanese also used the clothing and shoes sent for POW use for themselves, and all the Japanese in the camp slept with Red Cross blankets on their beds.
Charles remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 5, 1945, and the POWs were taken by train to Yokohama. The POWs were returned to the Philippines for medical treatment. The next morning at 7:00 A.M., the former POWs left the camp and made their way to the train station to board a train.
On their way to their repatriation location, their train was stopped because of a train accident. The Japanese train personnel were afraid that they would get in trouble because the POWs did not get to the location. Instead of getting upset, the POWs left their train and provided aid to those Japanese civilians injured in the accident.
Charles returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Rescue on October 10, 1945, at San Francisco. He was on the first ship to bring the former POWs home. After arriving the men were sent to Letterman General Hospital. He was next sent to Bruns General Hospital to recover.
It was while he was there that he met his future wife, Mary Ann Huelsmann. The couple married on October 9, 1946. Charles worked in automobile sales at different car dealers in Norman, Oklahoma, and later opened his own car dealership where he worked until he retired in 1998.
Mary Ann passed away in May 1990, and Charles, in 2006, married Huiging Ying in China. She was known as Jean. Charles C. Harmon passed away on May 30, 2016, in Norman, Oklahoma, and was the last known surviving member of C Company.