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. His 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, and went to work at Crain Ford as a car salesman. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, named his aunt as his next-of-kin, and indicated he worked at Fowler’s Service Station. He was inducted into 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, but it is known that he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, after completing his 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 in maneuvers that were going on at the fort.
After the maneuvers, the 192nd Tank Battalion -which was made up mainly of National Guardsmen – was ordered to Camp Polk. The members of the battalion had no idea why they were being sent to the base. It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, 29 years old or older, or whose enlistments in the National Guard were within months of ending 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 and either volunteered or had his name drawn from a hat to join the battalion. 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.
The battalion’s new tanks – which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and 3rd Armor Division – were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. The tanks were new to the 192nd but many were within 5 miles of their required 100-mile maintenance. The soldiers also put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. On each route, there was one train, that carried the soldiers, that was followed by a second train with each company’s tanks on it. The last two cars of the second train were a boxcar and a passenger car with a small detachment of soldiers. They arrived at Ft. Mason and were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.
On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced by men sent to the island as replacements. These men could have come from the 757tank Battalion which was stationed at Ft. Ord, California.
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 2, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made.
On Thursday, November 6, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes and a blackout was enforced at night. It was at this time the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. The ships headed west following a zig-zag pattern. The night of Sunday, November 9, the ships crossed the International Dateline, and when the soldiers awoke it was Tuesday, November 11.
During this part of the voyage, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters and sunned themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. In addition, there was always KP. 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home 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 blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.
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 the base.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I 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 from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sound of Japanese reconnaissance planes flying over the airfield.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they 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.
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” that 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 do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX. 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.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, and baseball, or they 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. Many men wrote home and told their families about how hot the weather was, the kind of food they were eating, about the countryside, and about the Filipinos.
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. The194th guarded the northern half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of each tank remained with their tanks and were fed from food trucks.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th guarded the northern end of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern end where the two runways came together and formed a V. Two members of every tank crew remained with their tanks at all times, and meals were brought to them by food trucks. On Sunday, December 7, the tankers spent a great deal of the day loading bullets into machine gun belts and putting live shells for the tanks’ main guns into the tanks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s 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. At six in the morning on December 8, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to bring the tank crews up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. It was at this time that the battalion’s half-tracks took up positions around the airfield with the tanks.
On the morning of the 8th, the tankers watched as the sky was filled with American planes. It was said that no matter in what direction a man looked planes could be seen. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and were lined up in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall to be serviced. While the refueling was taking place, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, they saw “raindrops” falling from 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. The members of the company not assigned to tanks took cover in a dried-up latrine near their bivouac. The first thing the bombers took out was the control tower and radio station cutting off all power and communication and then the hangers, barracks, and mess halls were hit. 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 B17s were lined up on the runways fully fueled and loaded awaiting the order to bomb Formosa. The fighters went after them. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their P-40s 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 few planes that did make it into the air could do little against the onslaught of Japanese planes. The Japanese planes flew 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 strafe. 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 most, if not all, the tankers slept in the dried latrine since their many of their tents were riddled with bullet holes. They believed sleeping in the open was the wiser choice. The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw mangled bodies lying on the ground and the bodied of pilots who had been caught asleep – because they had flown night missions – in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
On December 21, the 192nd was ordered to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts. HQ Company moved with the other companies to them. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on fuel. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough fuel for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry. It was there that the first tank battle was fought on Dec. 22 by a platoon of B Co. tanks. One tank was knocked out and its crew members became Prisoners of War. The remaining tanks were damaged and reported lost, but all were back in service within days. From this time on, HQ Co. could be found wherever the tank companies were fighting.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27 and fell back toward Santo Tomas.
Just south of the river 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, 1st Lt. William Gentry sitting on the front of his tank 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.
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.
C Company made its way south to Cabanatuan. When the company entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. For three hours, the tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south. They were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. It was reported at this time in local papers that one of the tank commanders stated, “During our many sallies into enemy territory, those Filipinos just rushed in front of our tanks to get at the Japs. Hell. What do they think our tanks are here for?” It was said that the Japanese tanks attacked followed by their troops, against the tanks, resulting in them suffering heavy casualties.
It was at the time that the bridge over the Pampanga River that the tanks were supposed to use was destroyed, but they were able to find a crossing through the river. At this time, C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baliuag. When the tanks arrived at Baliug on the evening of the 30th, the company discovered a narrow-gauge railroad bridge had not been destroyed. The next morning 1st Lt. William Gentry, commanding officer of a platoon of C Company tanks, sent out reconnaissance patrols north of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way to cross the river into the town, Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge, while Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge hidden in huts in the barrio. The third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag, and 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a crossing to attack the Japanese from behind.
Early on the morning of the 31st, 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 had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.
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 on 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 Lt. 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 C Company was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
B and C Companies tanks were holding a bridge when the tankers noticed movement in the distance. The tankers opened fire which resulted in the destruction of six Japanese tanks. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese who were advancing down Route 5. Holding the bridge would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the conflicting orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and used smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties. On the night of January 6, the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks from attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tankers stated that because of the jungle canopy the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground as the Japanese got close to the tanks. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested, the tanks received the required maintenance, and ammunition was issued. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls. The tanks were sent back into action as they became available.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
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.”
On January 24, the tank battalions were ordered to cover all forces withdrawing to the Pilar-Bigac Line. The 192nd covered the withdrawal in the Abucay area. The battalions prevented the Japanese from overrunning their position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
On the morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point-blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
While doing this job, the members of B Company noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked. This time they were met by fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
Part of the battalion took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion’s surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23 until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had been caught off behind the battleline. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket.
The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. 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, so he requested tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, tank platoons from A and C Companies were ordered to Anyasan and Quinauan Points where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. The C Company tank platoon commander 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 Japanese, also in January, also launched an attack against the Orion-Bagac Line, but the advance was pushed back leaving two pockets of Japanese soldiers trapped behind the restored defensive line. The two pockets became known as Big Pocket and Little Pocket and tanks were sent in to help exterminate the pockets. The battle took place at the same time as the Battle of the Points and lasted from January 23 to February 17.
The tanks entered the pockets one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank that had been relieved exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and rested. The tanks of the company were replaced by the tanks of another company that had been held in reserve.
In the pockets, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank approached, the Japanese dove into the foxholes and the tank went over the foxholes. As the tank passed over a foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded. The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle dragging the unpowered track and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks because of the rotting flesh in them.
The Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks who attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on the tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
In the pockets, C Company lost one tank that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that some of the crew were killed by a hand grenade thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, it was put on its side and it was found at least one member of the crew was still alive as the Japanese filled the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it.
In another incident, a tank from B Company became wedged between two trees after its driver was blinded by a flame thrower. The crew was ordered out of the tank and told to run. As they ran, the Japanese machine-gunned them. The tank commander was killed instantly, while the other three men made it into a sugarcane field. Only one of the three men was found the next day and was sent to the hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Another man was taken prisoner, while the last man was never heard from again and died from his wounds or was killed. It appears that this tank was also recovered. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
The tanks were given the job of protecting the 155-millimeter howitzers that the Army used in batteries of six guns. The guns were mobile and could be hooked up to the tanks with a special vehicle and moved to another location. It was recalled that moving them took preparation and setting them up also took preparation. The tankers didn’t like this duty because the guns attracted Japanese fire. Whenever the guns started firing, the Japanese would send up Recon Joe to try to locate them. Shortly after this happened, the dive bombers came in and peppered the hell out of the position.
The Americans quickly learned that the strafing of the batteries could be prevented if the guns were set up on a temporary basis and fired as much as possible before being quickly moved to another position before the Japanese found them. The result of this was the damage done to the Japanese was limited, but it improved the defenders’ morale since it caused havoc with the Japanese who never knew where the guns were located.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack 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. 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. 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.”
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, and at midnight Companies B and D, and A Co., 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 and 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 17th Ordnance and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “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.
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 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. No Japanese officer arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
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 assurances 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.”
After the Japanese made contact with C Company, the members of the company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. They were now officially Prisoners of War. At Mariveles, the Japanese took blankets and other items from the POWs that they could use. The tankers striped anything from their uniforms that indicated that they were tankers. They heard the rumor that the Japanese were looking for them.
From Mariveles, the members of C Company made their way north along the east coast of Bataan. The first five miles of the march were more difficult since the march was uphill. The POWs also were denied food and received little water. Those who attempted to get water from the artesian wells that flowed across the road were often killed. The guards had a specific distance to march, so they wanted to get it done as fast as possible and made the POWs march at a fast pace. Those men who were ill often fell out and were killed.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks which were moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier, but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was at this time that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. Looking at them, they realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.
When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell.
At Limay, the officers with the rank of major or above were put into a schoolyard. The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. It was there that the lower-ranking officers and the enlisted men joined the main column of POWs being marched out of Bataan. For the first time, they began to witness the abuse of POWs as they walked through Balanga to Orani.
At Orani, the men were put into a bullpen where they were ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, they received their first food.
When they resumed the march they were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. The POWs made their way to an area just north of Hermosa. where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks. When they arrived at San Fernando, the POWs were put into another bullpen and remained until they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. They were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors. The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died but could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall. The POWs rode the train to Capas where they disembarked the cars. As they left the cars, the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers 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 for 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 was often done so the Japanese could bathe and wanted more water. 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. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who found the piping and dug the trench for the waterline. When the Japanese turned the water off, the POWs had the ability to turn it back on again without the Japanese knowing.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men but those who did sleep in one slept in a barracks it was with as many as 80 to 120 men. 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 in 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 ranking American officer asked the Japanese for medical supplies, additional food, and materials to repair the roofs because they were leaking. This resulted in his being beaten with a broadsword. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. The Japanese Red Cross sent a truck of medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. A second truck was sent by the Red Cross with medical supplies, but it was turned away at the gate of the camp.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic 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 ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, the bodies of 80 dead POWs 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 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. 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 Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
It was in May that his family received a message from the War Department.
Dear Mrs. L. Harmon:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Charles C. Harmon, 38,020,769, 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.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and it was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered the camp 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 barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks and divided into groups of ten men. This meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, they received bread. If they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He liked to punish the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, 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.
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.
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 anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. From medical records kept at the camp, John was reported in the camp hospital on June 23, but no illness was given, on the report, nor was a date of discharge given. On June 26, 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.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. 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. 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. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing and the man would be buried naked. The dead man’s clothing would be washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
In July, his family received a second letter from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Charles C. Harmon had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
It is not known when his family learned he was a Prisoner of War.
In early September, his name appeared on a roster of POWs being sent to Japan. The POWs were taken by truck to Manila to Bilibid Prison where 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.”
According to the POWs, the barracks were similar to chicken coops and 100 men lived in each structure. The walls were lined with platforms that the POWs slept on without any form of mattresses. Each POW received five blankets during the winter which was reduced to two blankets in the summer. The blankets were not made from cotton or wool but from plant fiber. A dirt aisle ran down the center of the barracks.
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. The POWs on average worked 14 to 16 hours a day, but it was common for them to work 20 days. 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, hit with clubs, hit with rifle butts, and hit with iron bars.
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.
Some POWs from the camp worked at a clothing mill and operated sewing machines that made shorts for the Japanese Navy and underwater for women. They also worked at brick factories, carpenter shops, and other jobs.
Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles which damaged the POWs’ teeth. The POWs stated that their meals were stale unsalted steamed barley and fish heads. There was no salt, sugar, milk, coffee, tea, butter, or bread.
The POWs stated that at some point, every POW was beaten for breaking a rule. They quickly learned that if they fell to the ground, the Japanese seemed to go crazy and beat them beyond recognition.
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.
From September 3, 1943, to December 31, a guard jumped on or kicked the POWs suffering from beriberi and malnutrition and 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 a stick.
At some point, Charles was so ill that he was sent to Hakodate which was what the Japanese considered to be a hospital. According to records kept in the camp, he was suffering from a severe case of tuberculous. It is not known when he was discharged but he was returned to the camp.
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 the POW to use, and all the Japanese in the camp slept with Red Cross blankets on their beds that had been sent for the POWs.
The camp had a British doctor, Major William Stewart, who attempted to keep the POWs alive without medical supplies. What served as a hospital was a room with cracks in its walls that wind and snow blew through in the winter. 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. Most of the deaths that took place in the camp were the result of men too ill to work being forced to work. From September 3, 1943, to December 31st, 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. Any POW who did get put on sick call had his food rations cut in half. The Japanese medical personnel sent sick and weak POWs to work. They also misappropriated medical supplies sent by the Red Cross for use by the Japanese personnel in the camp. 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 to get them to go to work since so many POWs were needed each day.
Punishment in the camp was extreme with POWs being beaten senseless and revived with cold water so they could be beaten again. Usually, the beatings took place because the POW had been caught stealing food while unloading a ship. After the POW was beaten to the Japanese satisfaction, he was thrown into the guardhouse. When he was released he went back to work. POWs caught stealing food a second time were put in the “extreme guardhouse,” after being severely beaten, without a blanket (regardless of season) without shoes, socks, or overcoat. The man’s food ration was also caught in half. When he was released the beatings continued. When two POWs were caught stealing Red Cross packages, they were beaten repeatedly over several days and tied up outside only in their underwear. They later died of exposure.
It was also at this time that the Japanese announced the POWs would be receiving Red Cross Boxes, but there was a catch, The POWs had to allow Red Cross Boxes to be given to the camp staff. The POWs already knew that the Japanese were misappropriating the boxes because the guards were seen eating Red Cross sugar and cocoa. The Japanese also used canned food from the boxes as rewards so the POWs would work harder.
Since it was a two-mile walk to the docks, the POWs were most likely awakened sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. Their breakfast was usually a potato with what they called “greens.” They also had a soup once in a while that was made from seaweed which tasted pretty good. They also received grasshoppers cooked in soybean sauce once in a while. Their workday started in the dark at 5:00. At noon they received lunch which was a cold potato or soups made from radishes. Once in a great while, they received fish. The food rations for the POWs were determined by the jobs they performed. The POWs working in the factories received 600 grams a day, while those assigned to the docks received 700 grams. A typical meal consisted of rice or soybeans and the tops of daikon which were Japanese radishes. The POWs would receive a watery soup once in a while. Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles that damaged the POWs’ teeth. To supplement their meals, the POWs would smuggle food into the camp. 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. It is known that Red Cross packages sent to the camp, for the POWs, were misappropriated by the Japanese and sold on the Black Market.
It was raining the first day the POWs went to work on the docks and they shivered since their clothing was meant for the tropics. Many of the POWs were assigned to work the docks unloading coal for the Rinko Coal Company and it is known they also unloaded foodstuffs. The Japanese supervisor had the nickname “Whiskers” and was brutal to the POWs. Under Whiskers were former Japanese soldiers who had been wounded in China and were no longer able to fight. These “Honchos” actually treated the POWs fairly well because they viewed them as combat veterans like themselves. Those Honchos who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often would scream at the POWs and beat men up for no reason. To get them to work, the POWs were punched and hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
The POWs would push coal cars – that could hold half of a ton of coal – along rails on a trestle that was 30 feet above the ground. At different places, they dumped it on the dock. Since there weren’t enough cars, many POWs had to carry the coal on their shoulders in baskets attached to poles. 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. The guards would often help the POWs push the coal cars and it wasn’t unusual for the guards who mistreated the POWs to have accidents. Sometimes while pushing the cars the handle was pushed and the coal fell onto the guards. The guards also accidentally slipped and fell off the trestle, but so did some of the POWs at times. When the POWs got back to their barracks after working, they were wet and could not dry themselves. They also were covered in coal dust and the only way for them to clean themselves was at the hand pump in the courtyard.
On April 1, 1944, he was transferred to Tokyo 15-B and again was working in a steel mill. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and an electrified fence. Well-armed guards also patrolled the perimeter of the camp. Inside the fence were two, two-story barracks for the POWs. The two floors were divided into rooms that slept eight POWs each. The rats were so bad in the barracks that the POWs tucked their covers in tightly to prevent them from biting, but they felt them running across the blankets at night.
The commandant denied Red Cross packages to the POWs which would have supplied them with food, clothing, and shoes. Nakamura and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs. He also wore shoes that were sent by the Red Cross for the POWs and handled them out to the guards. It was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call since many of the POWs did not have shoes.
The POWs reported that he used the Red Cross parcels for his own use and gave the food to the guards for their mess. He was known to have raided the parcels for the food, and on occasion, had the American POW cook it for him to eat. When flour and macaroni were sent from the main camp for the POWs, the commandant gave the food to the guards to eat.
The POWs received a small potato for breakfast and a cup of green tea. Lunch was a small bowl of rice covered with potato tops and they received the same meal for supper. The Japanese had the POWs raise rabbits, but when the rabbits became large enough to eat, the Japanese did not allow them to slaughter them. Instead, the rabbits were allowed to starve to death. When the prisoners received meat, each POW received a piece the size of a thumbnail. Three times a year the POWs received fish three times in 1945. In place of vegetables, the POWs were given a flour made from tree roots which were impossible to eat, so most of the POWs wouldn’t even take it. The daily meal averaged 700 calories.
The POWs worked at a Shentetsu Steel Mill that was two and a half miles from the camp. There, the POWs fired furnaces and cleaned them. They also lifted heavy pieces of steel much too heavy for them and stacked them in piles.
About one month before the surrender, there was a noticeable change in the attitude of the guards. The POWs had no idea that the war had ended until a week after the official surrender took place. Before the surrender, the guards at the camp were replaced with guards who spoke more English and appeared to be trying to “soft-soap” the POWs.
It was August 15, 1945, and the camp commandant followed by guards came out of his office. They went to the gate where a small radio was and listened to a voice that was identified as the emperor. He told them that Japan was surrendering and that they had to endure the unendurable. The commandant went into his office and shot himself.
The guards fled the camp on the 19th. The next day American Navy planes flew low over the camp and the pilots waved to the POWs and gave them the thumbs up. The POWs wondered how they knew where the camp was located. One plane dropped a note attached to a wrench. It said, “War over. Happy days are here again. Paint the roofs of your buildings with large POW letterings. Wait for supplies to arrive by B-29s. God bless every one of you.” Two days later B-29s with their bomb bays open dropped 55 gallon drums attached to parachutes. Two of the drums went crashing through the roofs of the barracks but no one was hurt. A couple of parachutes got tangled in the trees and the civilians attempted to take them but were driven off by the POWs. The planes kept dropping food to the POWs that they left it behind when they left the camp.
Bill and the other POWs remained in the camp for about a week when an American officer and Marines entered the camp. The Marines began to cry when they saw the POWs. The officer came forward and said in a strong voice, “Men, the war is over. Welcome to freedom. The first thing we have to do is to fatten you up with good food and vitamins. You will be traveling by train in a few days to Yokohama and from there … home, back to your loved ones. The sick will be the first priority to move out of here. Now, I strongly urge each one of you not to stray too far from the camp as there are still hostile Japs out there who do not believe in defeat and surrender. Anow, men, God bless you all and WELCOME TO FREEDOM AND LIBERTY.” The POWs crowded around the Americans before they left the camp and hugged them. Tears were everywhere.
The Americans were the first to leave the camp on August 26 followed by the British, and the Canadians the next day. Each group rode the train to Yokohama. On their way to their repatriation location, the train carrying the Americans was stopped because of a train accident. The Japanese train personnel feared they would get in trouble because the POWs did not get to the location on time. Instead of getting upset, the POWs left their train and provided aid to those Japanese civilians injured in the accident.
Once at the docks in Yokohama, the former POWs stripped off the clothing that had been dropped to them by the B-29s and it was thrown into burning drums. They were then spread with DDT and afterward took showers. They received new clothing and shoes and boarded a hospital ship for medical examinations.
Charles was back to the Philippines for additional medical treatment and then returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Rescue on October 10, 1945, in 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 buried at Carniege Cemetery in Carniege, Oklahoma. He was the last known surviving member of C Company.