Pvt. Wando Amos Hart was born on November 15, 1913, Chaires, Florida, to Wayne & Virginia Hart. He was the second oldest of the couples’ five children and grew up in unincorporated Chaires, Florida. He left school after his first year of high school, and in 1940, Wando was living in Sparta, Georgia.
On September 11, 1940, Wando enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. He did his basic training at the fort and was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Maneuvers were going on at Camp Polk, but the 753rd did not take part in them.
The 192nd Tank Battalion, which did take part in the maneuvers, performed exceptionally well. After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had trained, the battalion remained at Camp Polk. None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there.
On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. It was at that time that Wando joined the 192nd and was assigned to A Company. He was known as “Curly” to the other members of the battalion.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled west over different train routes – A Company went through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona – and arrived at Ft. Mason in San Francisco and was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. Once they recovered they spent their time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the 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 Colonel 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 what they needed and that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
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.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers returned to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. At 8:30 that morning, American planes took off and filled the sky. The planes landed at noon, to be refueled, and were parked, in a straight line, in front of the mess hall.
At about 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
A Company, on December 12, was ordered to the Barrio of Dau to protect a road and railroad from sabotage. They remained there until they received orders, on December 21, to join the other companies of the battalion which were on their way to the Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed at 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.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31 and January 1. Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep. It was that night that the Japanese launched an attack to cross the river.
As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers. The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks. To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smokescreen. Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
A Company was next sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken by the Filipinos to be Japanese, and the 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks. The company rejoined the 194th west of Guagua and was returned to the 192nd in early January 1942.
From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.
The tanks were often the last units to disengage from an enemy and form a new defensive line as American and Filipino forces withdrew from Bataan. The night of January 7, A Company was awaiting orders to cross the bridge over the Culis Creek into Bataan. The engineers were waiting to blow the bridge, but the 192nd’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered them to wait until he had a chance to see if the company was anywhere in sight. He crossed the bridge and found the tankers asleep in their tanks. He woke the tank crews and ordered them across the bridge. For some reason, they had never received the order to cross. As soon as they crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. They also took part in the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese 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 and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese 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 a 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. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
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.
It was during the Battle of the Pockets that Wando was wounded. According to Zoeth Skinner of the 194th Tank Battalion, a thermite bomb was planted on the breach of the assistant driver’s gun exploding and severely burning Hart’s left leg. At the U.S. General Hospital #1, Little Baguio, Bataan, it was determined that his leg needed to be amputated. It was reported that his left leg was removed at Hospital #2 at Limay, Bataan. He was still in the hospital when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese and was transported by truck to Bilibid Prison.
It was at this time in late May or early June 1942, that his parents received a letter – like this one – from the War Department:
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Pvt. Wando A. Hart who according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to give you more information. 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 of other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese government has indicated its intentions of conforming to the terms of the Geneva convention with respects 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 the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is hoped that the Japanese government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At this time you will be notified by this office in the event his name (Wando A. Hart) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
According to records kept at the U.S. Naval Hospital Unit at Bilibid Prison, Wando was admitted on June 19, 1942. Being that he was unfit to work, he remained at the prison, his name was still on the roster at the hospital during October 1942, showing he was assigned to Ward 9.
His parents received a second letter from the War Department. This is an excerpt from the letter.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Pvt. Wando A. Hart 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.”
Zoeth Skinner, 194th Tank Battalion, stated that Wando developed a tooth abscess. Skinner stated that Wando was a fighter and lived in spite of the fact the doctors believed he should have died. The tooth, Number 32, was removed on January 11, 1944. He received sulfathiazole, but because of a drop in white blood cells, the treatment was stopped. The doctors at the prison gave him three blood transfusions in an attempt to save his life. Wando showed signs of improvement from February 10 to February 21.
Chaplain Perry O. Wilcox kept a diary in the diary for February 16, 1944, he wrote, “Wando A. Hart made a profession of faith last night. I baptized him at this bed tonight. He was born 15 November 1913, to Robert Wayne Hart and Virgie McDaniel, his wife at Woodville, Florida, who is now living in Sparks, Georgia. Hart has his left foot amputated due to a wound received in action on Bataan (The amputation is entirely healed, but he is suffering from a very mysterious disease which greatly puzzled the doctors and some days it seemed as though there are no hopes for him, and then he would strangely rally and seemed to be amazingly improved only to once more sink down very low.”
On February 22, Wando was reported to have a fever of 105º and was given another blood transfusion. The next day his fever rose to 107º and he became mentally confused. The medical staff reported that Wando developed jaundice. It also was recorded that he became weaker and mentally confused. Chaplain Wilcox wrote on this day, “Hart worse today.”
On February 23 he wrote, “Hart very bad. He is a mystery to the doctors and seems to lack the capacity to make blood. He had seven transfusions. Dr.(James D.) Boone (USN) is with him constantly.” He said on February 24, “Hart better today.” and the next day he wrote, “Hart better; Dr. (Donald H.) Smith says he never saw a case like it.”On February 27, his entry said, “Hart very low but recognized me. Yesterday, he was not rational.
Zoeth Skinner recorded that Pvt. Wando A. Hart died from blood poisoning on March 4, 1944, at approximately 8:15 P.M. Chaplain Wilcox wrote, “Hart died.” The next day he added this entry to his diary, “It has been ascertained that Hart’s death was caused by a heart abscess.” He was buried at the Bilibid Hospital Burial Plot in Row 4, Grave 20.
In August 1944, Pvt. Wando Hart’s family received this telegram:
“Report now received for the Japanese government through the International Red Cross states that your son, Pvt Wando A. Hart, died in a prisoner of war camp in the Philippine Islands as a result of pneumonia and septicemia. The secretary of war extends his deep sympathy. Letter follows.”
Chaplain Perry Wilcox sent home a letter which described Wandos medical care and burial. Much of it was a form letter he used for many POWs after they died.
“Bilibid prison hospital was staffed by American naval doctors and hospital corpsman of excellent skill and they rendered the best services that they could do to all patients considering their limitations as to equipment and medicines.
“I may also say that all burials in Bilibid were made in individual graves, well marked with heavy plank crosses on which the name and date of death were carved with a chisel. The cemetery was well cared for, the grass mowed and flowers growing in large flower beds about the cemetery. None of the graves suffered any damage in the battle of Manila.”
After the war, Wando’s remains were positively identified since he was buried in his own grave. At the request of his parents, Pvt. Wando Hart’s remains were returned home. His remains arrived on the U.S.A.T. Sgt. Perry H. Barker which at San Francisco on September 22, 1948. After his remains were returned to Georgia, a memorial service was held on October 21, 1948, at Andersonville National Cemetery, in Andersonville, Georgia. He was buried in Section A, Site 13854.