Pvt. Ira Lee Jeffries was born on June 12, 1920, in Little Levels, West Virginia, to Millard F. Jefferies and Virginia S. Trainer-Jeffries. With his five sisters and five brothers, he grew up in Little Levels. He left school after completing eighth grade and enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 26, 1939, and did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. After completing his training he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion and in the late summer of 1941 was transferred to Camp Polk, Louisiana when the battalion was transferred there. While it was there, maneuvers were going on but the battalion did not take part in them.
The 192nd Tank Battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox but received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas, but the decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers.
According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 13, 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, 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 Taiwan which 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 covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original members of the battalion believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well during the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George S. Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army during the maneuvers including the 192nd and 191st tank battalions – to go overseas. Although Patton did praise the battalion’s performance, and the 191st’s performance, there is no evidence that he had anything to do with the battalion being selected to go overseas.
The National Guardsmen who were 29 years old or older, married with dependents, who had other dependents, or whose enlistments in the National Guard would end while the 192nd was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. Many of these men were replaced by men from the 753rd Tank Battalion, but other men who joined the 192nd came from the 3rd Armor Division, Camp Polk, and the 32nd Armor Regiment stationed at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. He may have joined the battalion from one of these units.
The battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, they even fought as part of the First Tank Group with the 191st Tank Battalion. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion while the 70th was a regular army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd Tank Battalion was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th Tank Battalion at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time and evidence shows that the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands but it was not the reason why they were sent there. It is known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When the battalion arrived in Hawaii, it was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – was on 48-hour standby orders for San Francisco and the Philippines.
The 192nd was sent west over four different train routes. When the 192nd arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried to Angel Island, where they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion later. Other men were simply replaced with men who had been sent to the island as replacements. He may have joined the 192nd on the island as a replacement. It is known that the 757th Tank Battalion was at Ft. Ord, California, and that some men from the battalion joined the 192nd to replace men who failed their final physicals. At this time, Col. James R. N. Weaver also became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men who had been sent to the island as replacements. Ira may have joined the 192nd on the island as a replacement. It is known that the 757th Tank Battalion was at Ft. Ord, California, and that men from the battalion joined the 192nd to replace men who failed their final physicals. It was also at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. The sea was rough during this part of the trip, so many tankers had seasickness and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.” It was stated that about one-tenth of the battalion showed up for inspection the first morning on the ship. Once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.
During this part of the trip, one of the soldiers had an appendectomy. A day or two before the ships arrived in Hawaii, the ships ran into a school of flying fish. Since the sea was calm, that night they noticed the water was a phosphorous green. The sailors told them that it was St. Elmo’s Fire. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a four-day layover. As the ship docked, men threw coins in the water and watched native boys dive into the water after them. They saw two Japanese tankers anchored in the harbor that arrived to pick up oil but had been denied permission to dock.
The morning they arrived in Hawaii was said to be a beautiful sunny day. Most of 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. They also noticed that the island residents were more aware of the impending war with Japan. Posters were posted everywhere. Most warned sailors to watch what they said because their spies and saboteurs on the island. Other posters in store windows sought volunteers for fire-fighting brigades. Before they left Hawaii, an attempt was made to secure two 37-millimeter guns and ammunition so that the guns could be set up on the ship’s deck and the tank crews could learn how to load them and fire them, but they were unable to acquire the guns.
On Thursday, November 6th, 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 U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. The ships headed west in a zig-zag pattern. Since the Scott had been a passenger ship, they ate in large dining rooms, and it was stated the food was better than average Army food. As the ships got closer to the equator the hold they slept in got hotter and hotter, so many of the men began sleeping on the ship’s deck. They learned quickly to get up each morning or get soaked by the ship’s crew cleaning the decks. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships crossed the International Dateline. Two members of the battalion stated the ship made a quick stop at Wake Island to drop off a radar crew and equipment.
During this part of the voyage that lasted 16 days, fire drills were held every two days, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning 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. The soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. Each day 500 men reported to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and then painted the boats. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP.
Two men stated that the ship made a stop at Wake Island, but this has not been verified. It is known that around this time, radar equipment and its operators arrived on the island. On Saturday, November 15th, 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.
Albert Dubois, A Co., stated that they were in a room on the ship and listening to the radio. Recalling the event, he said, “We were playing cards one day at sea. President Roosevelt’s speech to America was being piped into the room we were in. I still hear his voice that evening in November 1941. ‘I hate war, Eleanor hates war. We all hate war. Your sons will not and shall not go overseas!’ We were already halfway to the Philippines.”
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, 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 20th, 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 an enlisted man 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. Some men stated they rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg while other men stated they rode busses to the base.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had dinner – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his dinner. D Company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion so when they arrived at the fort, they most likely moved into their finished barracks instead of tents that the rest of the 192nd. The 194th had arrived in the Philippines in September and its barracks were finished about a week earlier. The company also received a new commanding officer, Capt. Jack Altman while the company’s original officers were put in other 194th companies.
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 many ham radio operators after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with ham radio operators in 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 the 192nd frequencies to use. Men sent messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion with the 17th Ordnance Company joining the tank group on the 29th. Both units had arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, and was promoted to brigadier general. Major Theodore Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
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,” meant they worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
During this time, the battalion members spent much of their time getting the cosmoline out of the barrels of the tanks’ guns. Since they only had one reamer to clean the tank barrels, many of the main guns were cleaned with a burlap rag attached to a pole and soaked in aviation fuel. It was stated that they probably only got one reamer because Army ordnance didn’t believe they would ever use their main guns in combat. The tank crews never fired their tanks’ main guns until after the war had started, and not one man knew how to adjust the sights on the tanks. The battalion also lost four of its peeps, later called jeeps, used for reconnaissance to the command of the United States Armed Forces Far East also known as USAFFE.
Before they went into the nearest barrio which was two or three miles away, all the newly arrived troops were assembled for a lecture by the post’s senior chaplain. It was said that he put the fear of God and gonorrhea into them.
It is known that during this time the tank battalions went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. They traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.
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 work on the tanks. The 194th Tank 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 – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX. Their tropical uniforms had been ordered but had not arrived.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Passes were given out and men were allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27th, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas, and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield and the bombs were haphazardly placed. On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
Gen. Weaver on December 2nd ordered the tank group to full alert. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, 192nd, Weaver appeared to be the only officer on the base interested in protecting his unit. On December 3rd the tank group officers had a meeting with Gen Weaver on German tank tactics. Many believed that they should be learning how the Japanese used tanks. That evening when they met Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, they concluded that he had no idea how to use tanks and would have thrown them away in battle. It was said they were glad Weaver was their commanding officer. That night the airfield was in complete black-out and searchlights scanned the sky for enemy planes. All leaves were canceled on December 6th. The next day Weaver visited every tank company of the tank group.
Although official reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were sent to the military command in the Philippines at 2:30 am, For the tankers, it was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th at 7:00 a.m. Gen. Weaver, Maj. Miller, Major Wickord, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance, read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed the officers of the 194th about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank crews were ordered to their tanks which were joined by the battalion’s half-tracks at their assigned positions at Clark Field.
After hearing the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Altman called his company together and ordered the remaining members of the tank crews to their tanks. The half-tracks were also ordered to tank up positions next to the tanks. The members of the company not assigned to a tank or a half-track remained in the battalion’s bivouac.
News reached the tankers that Camp John Hay had been bombed at 9:00 a.m. All morning the sky above the airfield was filled with American planes. Men said no matter what direction they looked they saw planes. At 11:45 the American planes landed and were parked in a straight line – to make it easier for the ground crews to service them – outside the pilots’ mess hall. The men assigned to the tanks and half-tracks were receiving their lunches at food trucks. Gen. King put out a written order telling the unit commanders that the threat of being bombed was over and they could allow their men to return to the main base, in rotations, for rest, baths, and hot meals. It was lunchtime and members of the tank battalion not assigned to tanks were allowed to go to the mess hall to eat. Col. Miller ordered the men under his command to remain with their tanks and half-tracks.
It was reported that only two of the seven radar sets in the Philippines were operational and the dispatches the operators sent to Manila of approaching planes took an hour to reach Manila. One 194th half-track crew tuned into a Manila radio station and heard a news flash that Clark Field was being bombed. At about 12:45 p.m. an amphibious plane landed on a runway near the tankers and after it came to a stop, its passengers and crew got and and ran to the opposite side of the airfield.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up – near the pilots’ mess hall – in a straight line to be refueled. While the planes were being serviced, the pilots went to lunch. The members of the tank crews received their lunches from the battalion’s food trucks. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the company lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes 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 Japanese planes were 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. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.
After the attack, the soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else 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.
The tankers were receiving lunch from their food trucks and as they stood in line to be fed they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes. That was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings and then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. Maj. Miller shouted at his men to take cover and then bombs began exploding on the runways. It was then that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack and several tankers were wounded.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes 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 Japanese planes were 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. One member of the 192nd stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.
The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses since the unit’s fuse cutter was in Manila being repaired at the time of the attack. Many of the shells they fired fell to the ground without exploding.
The Zeros strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat and returned to strafe again. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. It was stated that the bodies of the dead lay on the runways since many were Air Corps ground crew members. It also appeared that everything was on fire from airplane hangers, automobiles, trucks, and airplanes. The runways of the airfield were pot-marked with craters from the bombs. The entire attack lasted about 45 minutes.
The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, on trucks, and in and on cars. Anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had reached its capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. The battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded. The battalion’s medics gave first aid to the wounded.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their barracks. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground. One result of the attack was D Company was never transferred to the 194th and remained part of the 192nd throughout the Battle of Bataan.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were 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 men from both tank battalions recovered the 50 caliber machine guns from the planes that had been destroyed on the ground and got most of them to work. They propped up the wings of the damaged planes so they looked like the planes were operational hoping this would fool the Japanese to come over to destroy them. When the Japanese fighters returned, the tankers shot two planes down. After this, the planes never returned. It was at this time every man was issued Springfield and Infield rifles. Some worked some didn’t so they cannibalized the rifles to get one good rifle from two bad ones. As they worked they heard Tokyo Rose say that the Japanese planes had destroyed both tank battalions.
After the attack 194th was sent to a bivouac three kilometers north of Clark Field at Mabalacat. They spent their time loading ammunition belts because they had fired so much during the attack on Clark Field. The tankers were issued Infield and Springfield rifles. Since the rifles were from World War I, one out of every two worked. The tankers cannibalized two of the same type of rifles to get one working rifle.
On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting the 40-mile move, without lights, at night was a nightmare and one tank overturned when it went off the road. They finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th and spent the rest of the day and the next night there. The tanks were in an area of few trees surrounded by rice paddies, meaning the furthest they could go off the road was a few feet. Because of this, the battalion was scattered in three locations. Japanese planes flew over but did not bomb or strafe them.
The tankers bivouacked near the barrio of Muntinlupa. There they had the job of attempting to defend against any invading troops. The battalion’s six reconnaissance half-tracks and 40 men were supposed to defend against any landings at Batangas Bay, Tayabas Bay, and Balayan Bay. The battalion remained there from Dec. 14th to Dec. 24th. During this time the tankers spent much of their time on reconnaissance patrols hunting down Fifth Columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day near ammunition dumps. An order had been issued that no lights could be used at night. On one occasion, they saw someone signaling with a flashlight from a building. The tanks opened fire on the building. When they entered the building, there was no one in it, but they also had no more problems with fifth columnists.
The tanks spent the night at Tagatay Ridge. The tankers slept on the ground in sleeping bags. During the night they were awakened when the gasoline truck sent to fuel the tanks exploded and lit the area like it was day. Someone had placed gasoline cans on the batteries and one battery sparked and the can exploded. The next day they continued their trip south and had to cross bridges with ten-ton limits. The tanks were fourteen tons but the bridges held. It was also stated the battalion was sent to Batangas in southern Luzon. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were manned by grounded Air Corps men and used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of tanks.
On December 22nd, A Company and D Company, 192nd, were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. C Company remained behind at Batangas. The tankers at 2:15 P.M. started the more than 150-mile movement north to meet the Japanese at an area 85 miles northwest of Manila. They soon discovered that without air cover it was unsafe to move during the day, so the tanks were moved at night to prevent them from being attacked by Japanese planes. It was stated that driving a tank at night was never safe, but something that a tank driver learned to do. One reason this was unsafe was that the tank crews never knew what lay ahead. George Chumley D Co., 192nd, stated that anyone who said he wasn’t afraid was lying and that they were always afraid. What happened is that the men became used to being afraid.
One of the tankers stated that as they went through Manila, on the balcony of his hotel suite, they saw Gen. MacArthur handing out medals to his staff officers. None of these officers had seen any combat. While going through Manila, one tank was going fast enough that when the driver had to make a turn, it slid on the pavement and took out a fountain.
When they got close to their objective, to protect the battalion from strafing, most of the battalion went to the left on Route 3 toward Tarlec and the river while A Company was sent down Route 5 toward Cabanatuan and San Jose and then along the river until it rejoined the rest of the battalion. When the tanks passed through the barrio of San Jose, they saw the dead bodies of Filipino men, women, and children who had mistaken Japanese Zeros for American planes. When they came out to wave at the planes, they were strafed.
When the battalion arrived at its destination near Lingayen Gulf, D Company’s tanks were near a ridge, so many of the tankers climbed to the top, where they found defending troops, ammunition, and guns. The soldiers were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the Gulf since they had received orders not to fire. The tankers walked down the ridge and waited until they received orders to drop back and let the Japanese occupy the ridge. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the ridge. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
The tank battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were about five yards apart. It was on the 26th that the Japanese artillery fire began landing near the tanks. The Self-propelled mounts of the Filipino Scout would take positions between the tanks fire several rounds and move to another position. Shells began landing around the tanks, so the crews buttoned themselves in their tanks. The tanks did not have anti-personnel shells to use against infantry, but the tankers used the tanks’ 37-millimeter guns against armored vehicles and their machine guns against infantry. The fire stopped the Japanese advance for a while but the Japanese brought up more artillery and resumed the attack. It was at this time that Sgt. Herbert Stobel – who was standing in the turret of his tank – was killed when a shell exploded above his tank.
The 192nd received the order to withdraw and forwarded the order to the 194th. Only one tank had a long-range radio. It was said the commander acknowledged receiving the order, but he never forwarded the order to the rest of his battalion. The 192nd withdrew believing the 194th was doing the same.
That day, the tank battalions were also given the job of holding the line against enemy armor and major thrusts until 5:00 A.M. on December 27th. Col. Ernest Miller – being the senior officer – was given authority to withdraw both tank battalions before 5:00 A.M. if he felt it was necessary. The tanks held the line but withdrew at 7:30 P.M. before the bridges they needed to cross were blown up at 11:30 P.M. that night.
Two volunteers were needed to set up machine guns at the far end of the bridge to harass the Japanese. Pvt. Gerald Bell and Pvt. August Bender, who were assistant tank drivers, volunteered to take two antiaircraft machine guns from the tanks to the far end of the bridge and set up machine gun nests. It was stated that Bell and Bender held their position and died after being surrounded. The Japanese attempted to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops and knocking out three tanks with the support of two divisions of the Philippine Army. According to Capt. John Riley, most of the men had already concluded they would lose the battle for Luzon, but they also made the decision that they would tie up the Japanese as long as possible.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th. Arrangements had been made for the tanks to pick up their rations at Tarlac Depot. 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 tankers found their tanks being used as “mobile pillboxes.” The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
The two Filipino Army Divisions withdrew leaving the tank battalions alone to face the Japanese. The tankers held up the Japanese as long as possible before withdrawing. The 192nd received the order to withdraw and radioed the 194th, but for some unknown reason, the 194th tank commander whose tank had the long-wave radio did not forward the order to the other tanks of his battalion. The battalion finally was ordered to withdraw and 1st Lt. Harold Costigan informed the members of A Company, and D Company, 192nd, that they would have to fight their way out. The tanks fought their way through Carmen losing two tanks but saving the crews except for Capt. Edward Burke who had been hit by enemy fire. He was presumed dead but had been captured by the Japanese.
The tank battalions, on the 31st, were holding open two bridges at Calumpit so that the Southern Luzon forces could withdraw toward Bataan. It was noted that convoys of trucks would pass the tanks carrying absolutely nothing. It was then that Lt. Col. Miller sent out detachments of trucks to warehouses and had the men load them with ammunition, food, and high-octane fuel that was used by the tanks. It was stated that one detachment went all the way to Ft. Stotsenburg. The trucks returned carrying 6 tons of canned food and 12,000 gallons of fuel.
The 194th, at 2:00 am the morning of January 1st, crossed a bridge over the San Fernando River which was destroyed since all Filipino and American units had already crossed. They were now on the main road into Bataan. A defensive line was set up from Guagua to Porac to the swamps along Pampanga Bay. The bridge on a side road that ran from Guagua to Sexmoan and back onto Route 7 was destroyed. At 4:00 am, the battalion dug into new positions. They listened to Japanese troop movements and heard the sound of tanks. They watched 5 Japanese 89A medium tanks come into view in an open field. The tanks stopped because no reconnaissance had been done in the area. Within minutes, there were 5 destroyed Japanese tanks
That same day, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the 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 bridge, over the Pampanga River, about withdrawing from the bridge and half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd, the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon forces escaped. This included C Co., 194th, which rejoined the rest of the 194th.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd was again holding a road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. A Co. 192nd, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack having lost half of their troops.
The Japanese attacked on January 6th at Layac Junction. The defenders included the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the 31st Infantry Regiment, the 26th Cavalry, artillery, self-propelled mounts, and the tank group. The tanks were stopped and the crews were sleeping when the tanks came under small arms fire. The crews returned fire. Next came mortar fire. This was the first major battle in the defense of Bataan and the defenders halted the advance.
That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, 192nd, noticed A Co. 192nd, was missing and ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed which made the 192nd the last American unit to enter Bataan. Each tank platoon lost one tank at this time. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements. It was on the 7th, that the food ration was cut in half, and not too long after this was done malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.
A composite tank company was formed on the 8th 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 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.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.
The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire. The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers.
The tank companies also were given the job of protecting the artillery. The guns were mobile and hooked onto the tanks with a special carriage which allowed them to be moved. According to the tankers, it took a lot of preparation to set them up and a lot of preparation to take them down. The tankers didn’t like doing this job because minutes after the guns began firing, the Japanese sent up reconnaissance planes to find the guns. When they did find the guns, Zeros would appear and strafe the area. The gun crews quickly learned to “shoot and scoot.” After firing a few rounds the guns were quickly broken down and moved out of the area.
On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road in a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16th. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time: “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.”
During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officers in the area and that they could change the tank company’s orders. Most wanted the tanks to kill snipers or do some other job the infantry had not succeeded at doing. This situation continued until Gen Weaver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should hand the officer the order. When the officer looked up at the tank commander, the tank commander had his handgun aimed at the officer. Gen Weeaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.
On January 20th, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry. On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective because of landmines that had been planted by ordnance. The battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese was on their way. When they appeared the battalion and self-propelled mounts opened up with everything they had. The Japanese broke off the attack, at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men. It was also at this time that the Japanese ended the assault and waited for fresh troops to arrive.
The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks covered the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.
The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. 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.
One night, the Japanese attempted to land troops on a beach guarded by B Co., 192nd. There was a tremendous firefight, but the next morning not one Japanese soldier landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that the tanks were the reason why they attempted no other landings. While doing this job, the member of B Co. also noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast of Bataan they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place off the beach at a certain time and waited for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time when they arrived, they were met by machine gun fire from the PT 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 tanks were at the Abucay-Hacienda Line which on the east went from Manila Bay to the mountains in the center of Bataan and held by the 1st Corps. It then extended, on the west, from the mountains to the South China Sea and was held by the 2nd Corps. The mountains had no fortifications since it was believed they were impenetrable. The Japanese occupied them and were able to get the defenders to fire at their own men by setting off firecrackers between the units. Snipers were the biggest problem and the tanks often found themselves being ordered by an officer – who claimed to be the “immediate commander” because he was the highest-ranking officer in the area – to exterminate the problem. This situation got so bad that Gen Weaver gave each tank commander a written order that he handed to the officer. After reading it, the officer would look up at the tank commander who had his .45 pointed at the officer. Weaver’s order, ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer who attempted to change their orders.
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. 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.
Both battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. The defenders dropped back to the Pilar-Bagac Line which was a solid line from one side of Bataan to the other. To do this, the tanks held the old line and attempted to give the impression that a counter-attack was taking shape while the other troops withdrew. 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 in the day, 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 26th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.
It was in the jungle that the tankers found out how inappropriate the M3 tanks were for use in the Philippines. Off the road, they had to travel with their turrets backward. If the tankers did not do this, the guns would get stuck in the jungle growth. The tanks were also restricted to the roads since they would get stuck in the mud of the rice fields. The high silhouettes and straight sides of the M3 also made the tanks easy targets for the Japanese.
The 194th’s tanks were ordered to withdraw. During the withdrawal, one of A Company’s platoon, under the command of 2nd Lt. Carroll Guin, had fallen behind another platoon and took the wrong turn where the roads came together as a “Y.” The road they went down went back to the front lines. The platoon was stopped by 1st Lt. Ted Spaulding who had seen them gone down the road, chased them down with his half-track, and then ran on foot to the lead tank stopping it about two miles from the front.
The tankers also found the engineers were ready to blow a bridge before the battalion had crossed it. Spaulding and 1st Lt. Charles Fleming ordered them to wait. Not long after this, the 194th under Lt. Col. Miller arrived and crossed. When it was believed all the vehicles had crossed, the engineers lit the fuses. Just then a half-track arrived carrying Capt. Fred Moffet began to cross the bridge when about halfway across he saw smoke. Moffet ordered his driver to back the half-track off the bridge which went up in an explosion seconds later. A board from the explosion hit Moffet and injured his leg.
The 194th set up its bivouac in a Mango grove. It was said that the trees made it impossible for the Japanese planes to see the tanks. A stream also ran through the grove which provided the tankers with the opportunity to bathe. For most of their time in the grove, things were quiet. They heard that the 192nd had been involved in two battles with the Japanese, the first involved Japanese Marines landing on points of Bataan, and the second was to eliminate two pockets of Japanese troops trapped behind the main defensive line when the attack was pushed back. They also heard that the 192nd had suffered several casualties.
The 17th Ordnance Company did work on the tanks to keep them running. In some cases, they cut down the barrels of the main guns so they could be used. They also reported that the rivets in the hauls popped when the tanks were hit by enemy fire, and the rivets injured the crews. The tank group command reported that the tanks’ suspension systems were failing. It was determined that the volute springs were freezing up because of their exposure to salt water. This information was sent to Washington D.C. which ordered that every vehicle using the volute spring suspension system be given new suspension systems. It also resulted in the M3 being redesigned. The front of the tanks was sloped removing the right angle, the hauls were welded, the doors in front of the driver and assistant driver were removed, and an escape hatch in the belly of the tanks was added.
The battalion was given beach duty to defend one of the two beaches on the east side of Bataan where the Japanese could land troops. The tank crews were also assigned guard duty. Their job was to prevent Japanese infiltrators. The tankers set up roadblocks along gravel roads and stopped and searched everyone coming down the road. The tankers ordered anyone coming down the road to halt and if the person didn’t they opened fire. The tanks also became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks. In one case, the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack. They were also involved in skirmishes with the Japanese, but the battalion was not involved in either the Battle of the Points or the Battle of the Pockets.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. The Japanese dropped surrender leaflets on the defenders that were printed on tissue paper. Most showed a scantily clad blond on them. Men stated that if the picture had been a hamburger and milkshake the Japanese may have had the results they wanted. The one good thing about the leaflets is that they made good toilet paper.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 a.m. and lasted until noon. 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. A Company was on beach duty that night and the Japanese brought up barges with artillery set up on them that began shelling the beach. The company returned fire which resulted in the barges withdrawing.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 6th – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. C Co. was attached to the 192nd and supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of the company was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail.
It was the evening of April 8th 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 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 on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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 Co., 192nd, 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. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo am on 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.” Col. Miller told his men of the surrender and the tankers were ordered to destroy their tanks. First, they fired armor-piercing shells into the engines of their trucks and then circled the tanks and did the same. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered. In a bit of irony, an officer from the Army Finance Corps showed up and each man was paid 15.00 dollars for four months of fighting. That evening they ate the best meal they had in months.
Capt. Altman told the tankers to destroy their sidearms. Ammunition was piled up and set on fire. The tank crews circled their tanks and each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. The crews opened the fuel cocks and dropped hand grenades into the crew compartments setting the tanks on fire.
According to a member of HQ Co., 194th, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of the 17th Ordnance Company and B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. 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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 a.m.the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the 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 had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed.
King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of 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.”
Lt Col. Miller presented himself so the Japanese knew that he was the commanding officer. He removed his hat so that they would know who he was with it on or with it off. The men were ordered to assemble, in the jungle, about three blocks from their disabled tanks. The area was near a hospital in Mariveles. The battalion cooks were ordered to collect all the food from the men so that a final meal of the battalion could take place. The battalion remained in its bivouac all day without seeing one Japanese soldier. During this time, they divided up the food and money from the company’s treasury.
At 7:00 P.M., the POWs were ordered to go out on the road near their bivouac. The POWs were put into detachments of 100 men with four men in each row and marched about one kilometer when they were stopped. The Japanese then began searching the POWs. The first thing they had the POWs do was to show their hands. The GI tank wristwatch he was wearing was easily seen. A guard noticed the ring on one man’s hand and asked, “Wife-oo” and the man nodded yes, and the guards moved on to the next POW. They went from man to man taking rings and watches. If a POW attempted to argue for the ring, the guards simply took their bayonets and cut the man’s finger off. A Japanese officer arrived and shouted at the guards who stopped searching the POWs. The POWs had started what they simply called “the hike” or “the march.” The POWs marched for three or four kilometers and then turned around and marched back to where they started. It was nearly dusk and more and more detachments of POWs kept arriving. The POWs were given enough space to lie down for the night.
The next morning the Japanese woke them and had them form ranks. As they made their way north toward the Lamao area of Bataan. They were joined by other POWs coming from side roads and trails. The Japanese had sent out detachments looking for stragglers. There were many more Filipino POWs than Americans and the two groups mixed. The road was hard to walk on because of the holes from the shelling and bombings. There was also destroyed equipment on it and the bodies of the dead. The POWs were moved to the side of the road whenever a Japanese convoy came by heading south. The Japanese soldiers tried to hit the POWs in their heads with their rifle butts as they passed them.
The guards were assigned a certain distance to cover and wanted to finish it as fast as possible so they moved the POWs at a faster pace which was hard for the POWs in worse shape. If a man fell, the guards did not want to stop the column so they shot or bayoneted the man. When the guards finished their assigned part of the march, the POWs were allowed to rest, but when the new guards took over, they also wanted to finish their part of the march as fast as possible, so the POWs once again were moved at a fast pace.
Some men stated that the Japanese, at first, did not stop them from getting water if they had canteens. It was only as time went on this was stopped and men were bayoneted or shot attempting to get water. This happened because the POWs broke ranks to run to the artesian wells and the Japanese wanted them to remain in columns.
Men stated that the Japanese did not feed them, but they also did not stop the Filipinos who were standing along the sides of the road giving out food to them. The problem again was that there were POWs who broke ranks and ran ahead of other POWs to get the food. Since the Japanese wanted the POWs in columns of four men, they soon stopped the Filipinos from giving food to the POWs. The Japanese had tired of reorganizing the POWs into columns and began to shoot POWs to make the point they were to remain in columns. It was stated that they saw few bodies when they began the march, but the bodies became more common as they got further north.
The guards were changed at predetermined spots and small compounds surrounded by barbed wire were set up to put the POWs in while the guards were changed. The compounds having been used by other POWs were covered in human excrement since many of the POWs were sick. The Japanese also had not set up latrines for the POWs to use. If a man sat down he sat in human waste. If a POW did not want to continue with his detachment, he could remain in the compound.
At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they marched faster and were given very few breaks. The new guards were not combat-harden troops, and they also expected the POWs to move at a faster pace and did not care about their physical condition. The guards were assigned a certain distance to cover and wanted to finish it as fast as possible so they moved the POWs at a fast pace which was hard for the POWs in worse shape. If a man fell the guards did not want to stop the column so they shot or bayoneted the man. When the guards finished their assigned part of the march, the POWs were allowed to rest, but when the new guards took over, they also wanted to finish their part of the march as fast as possible, so the POWs once again were moved at a fast pace. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
The Japanese provided no water to the POWs. Since it was dark, men were able to fill their canteen cups at artesian wells since the guards could not see them. At a small barrio, Filipinos appeared with buckets of water for the POWs. The Filipinos were gone by the time the guards arrived to see what was going on among the POWs. The POWs were left in the compound for the day, and no cover from the sun beating down on them. The Japanese gave enough water to the men to wet their tongues. The POWs did not know it, but they were receiving the sun treatment. Some men went out of their heads and drifted into comas. At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they marched faster and were given very few breaks. When they received a break, they had to sit on the road but they could not lie down. If they tried to lie down, they were jabbed with bayonets. When they were ordered to move, they made their way through Orion and Pilar. At various times they were rested so that the guards could be changed.
The POWs made their way to Balanga where they were searched again. North of the barrio they were herded into a field. The POWs were forced to sleep on top of each other. The next morning the POWs were ordered to assemble and those who had died continued to lie on the ground. The large crows circled the field. The POWs finally received their first meal. It was also at this time that the Filipinos were separated from the Americans and the officers rejoined the march. The POWs marched through Abucay, Samal, and Orani.
When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. At Lubao, they were put into a bullpen the size of a football field.
The next morning the POWs marched 13 kilometers to San Fernando, Pampanga, and were put into groups of 200 men in another bullpen that appears to have been a schoolyard surrounded by barbed wire. Again, they were not fed because the Japanese did not get around to feeding them. They remained there only a few hours before they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. They then were marched to the train station where small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane were waiting for them.
The cars were known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese had organized the POWs into detachments of 100 men, so they wanted all 100 men in one car. The POWs were packed into the cars until all were inside and then the doors of the boxcars were closed. They were packed into the cars so tightly that those who died – most men suffocated from lack of air – remained standing because they could not fall to the floors. If a man defecated, he defecated on himself and the men around him.
The train arrived at Capas and those POWs who were still alive climbed out of the boxcars. The bodies of those who had died fell to the floors of the cars as the living climbed out of them. Once out of the cars, the Filipinos threw food to the POWs. The guards did not stop them from throwing the food. They again formed detachments and were marched from the train depot to Camp O’Donnell.
At Camp O’Donnell, the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money or other items on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. Some men said it was slop and made men violently ill. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. Men stated that men would push the food away and not eat gradually starving themselves. When they realized that they were dying they tried to eat but had completely lost their appetites for any food. By May 1st, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
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 situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out 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.
The Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.
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 bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
The dead were carried to the cemetery in litters and placed in a grave with four other POWs. It was not unusual for a POW working this detail to die and be put into the grave with the other dead. Before they were buried, the dead were stripped of their clothing, which was boiled in hot water and then given to another POW who needed clothing.
Each morning the POWs would return to the cemetery to dig graves for the men who had died during the night. When they got there, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them. The men would chase off the dogs, knock the arms and legs down, and rebury them.
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. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The only POWs who remained at Camp O’Donnell were those who were too ill to be moved. Most of these men would die in the camp.
In May, his parents received their first message from the War Department.
Dear Mrs. M. Cummins:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Ira L. Jeffries, 06,994,446, 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 Camp #1 which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of the healthier POWs to the camp was completed on June 4th.
The camp was three camps. Cabanatuan #1 housed most of the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Cabanatuan #2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed most of the POWs from Corregidor and was closed on October 30th and the POWs were sent to Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before they were executed while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
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 double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POW was “trying to escape.”
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. The platform was covered in feces which was made worse by the excrement from the higher platform dripping down onto it. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was 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.
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 antibiotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. For those POWs with tuberculosis who were in the hospital, their rations were reduced to 240 grams of rice, camote (made from camote peelings), and powdered dried fish. In addition, the POW doctors were given four twelve-ounce cans of milk for every 39 patients with malaria.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men that carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. The water table was high so when the bodies were put into the graves, POWs held them down with poles until they were covered with dirt. The next day when the burials continued, the dead were often found sitting up in their graves or dug up by wild dogs.
From September through December, the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The first men known to receive POW numbers were the men on the Tottori Maru which sailed for Japan on October 8th. It is not known when, but Ira received the number 1-05916 which was his POW no matter where he was sent in the Philippines.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
The work day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.
The POWs were organized in groups on November 11th. Group I was made up of all the enlisted men who had been captured on Bataan. Group II was the POWs who had come from Camp 3, and Group III was composed of all Naval and Marine personnel from both Camps 1 and 3 and any civilians in the camp. It was also at this time that an attempt was made to stop the spread of disease. The POWs dug deep drainage ditches, and sump holes for only water, and the garbage began to be buried, and the grass in the camp was cut. 100 POWs worked on Sunday, November 15th digging latrines and sump holes. Since Sunday was a day off, Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C., made sure each man received 5 cigarettes. On November 16th, a Pvt. Peter Laniauskas was shot trying to escape. Two other POWs were tried by the Japanese for being involved in the escape attempt. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement and the other 30 days.
Fr. Antonio Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14th and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peter Lankianuskas was shot while attempting to escape on November 16th. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20th, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd. On November 23rd, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 24th with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work. It should be mentioned that Fr. Buddenbroucke was executed after he was caught snuggling messages to the POWs and from them.
Each month on the eighth, the Japanese read the Japanese declaration of war on the United States to the POWs. This usually got them wound up and the POWs knew that the number of beatings they received would increase. On January 11, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18th, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. Twelve hundred POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th.
Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1,255 to 1,450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7th. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22nd. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
Medical records at Cabanatuan show that Ira was admitted to the hospital side of the camp on February 5th and discharged. On March 24th, he was admitted again, this time with pulmonary tuberculosis. He was assigned to Group I-6 in Ward 12. Additional records show that he was still in the hospital on March 24th but apparently, he had chronic malaria. No record of discharge has been found and another record appears to indicate that he may have been hospitalized for the duration of his time in the camp. During his time as a POW, his parents received a POW card from him. In the card, he asked for vitamins, clothing, and canned food.
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1st, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
The Japanese allowed the POWs, on May 30th, to hold a memorial service to honor the nearly 2,600 men who had died. (This number is the total number of deaths at both Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan.) At 9:00 AM, the POWs marched to the camp cemetery which was slightly over a half-mile from the camp. The services were conducted by Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant chaplains. The Japanese camp commandant presented a wreath. The POWs choir sang several hymns, the POWs were called to attention, and taps were blown as they saluted.
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11, 1943, and was captured in a barrio. At about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, POWs described what they saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed as was the top of his skull, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum.
The POWs organized shows for the other prisoners as a way to break the monotony of camp life. During his time in the camp, there was an incident with the camp band at Cabanatuan. The band always tried to learn new songs to play for the POWs. One of the songs the band learned to play was “Paper Moon.” The only problem was that the song had not become popular until after the soldiers had become POWs. When the Japanese realized this, they knew the POWs had a radio hidden in the camp. The Japanese searched the camp vigorously to find the radio and tortured many men, but they never did find the radio.
Also during July, the names of 500 POWs were posted, and on July 21st, the POWs were issued new shoes, a suit of “Philippine Blues” and were 2 cans of corn beef and 3 cans of milk. They were informed they would be taking a 21-day trip. The detachment left the camp that night. As it turned out, when they arrived in Manila, they were used in the Japanese propaganda film The Dawn of Freedom to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos. After this, they were sent to Japan on the Clyde Maru.
From a guard tower, a drunk Japanese guard shot 2nd Lt. Robert Huffcutt while he was working in his garden. After shooting him from the tower he went into the garden and shot him a second time. The guard claimed Huffcutt had tried to escape although he was nowhere near the camp fence.
Any POW who was healthy worked on the airfield detail or on the farm detail which had started in November 1942. The POWs cleared the area that they called “the farm” and planted camotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens. The Japanese used most of the food for themselves. When the POWs arrived at the farm, they would enter a shed. As they came out, it was common for them to be hit over the heads by the guards. Although the Japanese told the POWs what they grew would supplement their meals, they took most of what was grown for themselves. The POWs ate the tender tips of the sweet potato plants which angered the Japanese since it stopped the plants’ growth.
The POWs had breakfast a half hour before dawn and at dawn, the men went to work. 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. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings. Another guard, “Smiling Sam” would tell the POWs he was taking a break and then turned his back to them. While he was on his break, they could rest or steal food. Before he ended his break he warned them that his break was over and when he turned around, they were all working.
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 punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean 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 with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it.
The second in command was a guard the POWs called “Donald Duck” because he talked constantly and was described as being unpredictable and would beat POWs at a whim. He knew the POWs called him Donald Duck and they told him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star. One day, he saw a Donald Duck cartoon while in Manila and came looking for the POWs who used the name. The POWs stated they stayed out of his way for days.
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. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings. Beatings were a frequent occurrence and the POWs were hit with sticks, rifle butts, punched, slapped, and kicked. This was done because the guards believed the men were not working hard enough or because the guards simply felt like beating the POWs. From June 1942 until August 1944, it was a common practice for a dozen POWs on the farm detail to be randomly picked out and beaten with a hoe or pick handle.
Almost every POW in the camp worked on the detail at some point. Weeds were removed from the fields by hand, and the POWs were required to bend over and pick them. If a POW was tired and went down to one knee or squatted, he was hit with a club. The hits always were across the spine or on the ribs.
In August, the rainy season had started, and all the extra food was long gone. The Japanese planned to move the hospital to the same area as the healthy POWs to reduce the size of the camp so they could reduce the number of guards. On September 22nd, the hospital was moved. The POWs also were ordered to stop cooking their food. For the sick, this was bad news since meals for them were being cooked individually. The POWs adopted a system where a group placed an order for food 24 hours before they wanted the food. The supplies were debited from that group’s supplies.
Some sources state it was in September 1943 while others state it was in January 1944 that a new detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and had been known as Maniquis Airfield. The airfield was seven miles southeast of the camp and the POWs marched to it and from it each day. It was reported that 1,500 POWs were used on the detail in the construction of runways and revetments. Those POWs working on the airfield dug dirt and moved it to where the Japanese wanted it with wheelbarrows and small mining cars. The POWs worked at the airfield until March 1944 when the detail ended. A guard the POWs called “Air Raid” was in charge of the detail. It was said that the POWs had to watch him but that he was usually fair.
Some sources state it was in September 1943 while others state it was in January 1944 that a new detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and had been known as Maniquis Airfield. The airfield was seven miles southeast of the camp and the POWs marched to it and from it each day. It was reported that 1,500 POWs were used on the detail in the construction of runways and revetments. Those POWs working on the airfield dug dirt and moved it to where the Japanese wanted it with wheelbarrows and small mining cars. The POWs worked at the airfield until March 1944 when the detail ended. A guard the POWs called “Air Raid” was in charge of the detail. It was said that the POWs had to watch him but that he was usually fair.
An order was issued on October 3rd that all good khaki garments, hats, rifle belts, and field bags they had must be turned over to the Japanese. The next day, the Japanese sent 1300 POWs to Bongabong in captured U.S. trucks. On one of the front bumpers of a 6 by 6 truck were the markings “Hq 192nd.” The POWs were back in the camp by 8:00 P.M. and to the surprise of the other POWs, their possessions were returned to them. It turned out that the Japanese were still shooting the movie, and the POWs were used as extras in the movie. Also during the month, the POWs noted that the food they were growing on the camp farm was being sent to Manila. On October 18th, 103 telegrams were brought to the camp but only 21 men present in the camp received them. It appeared that other men were out on work details. Four days later, 175 telegrams arrived at the camp, but only 65 were distributed. It was noted that some had been received in Tokyo that same month.
One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worst beatings was considered the best detail to be on. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside were 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.
During February, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila.
When the POWs first arrived in the camp in 1942, they had set up an underground mail network with Filipinos who served as couriers. Those POWs involved had code names so if the mail was intercepted they would be hard to identify. It appears that for almost two years the mail flowed into and out of the camp regularly. The Japanese discovered underground mail on May 1, 1944, and the 23 POWs believed to be involved in the network were taken by the Kempi Tai to Manila. For one week, the POWs were tortured before 10 of the POWs, all officers, were later returned to the camp but segregated from the other POWs for a month. They sat on benches during the day and slept on the ground at night. The abuse also continued. It is known that Fr. Buddenbroucke who had brought food and medicine to the POWs was executed for smuggling messages. On June 15th, the Japanese announced that 1,000 POWs would be sent to Japan.
The food situation in the camp also had grown worse during the month and POWs resorted to gutting down papaya trees to eat the trunks which had no nutritional value. Doing this made the man feel full and the worst effect was some diarrhea or an upset stomach. Cutting down the trees, preparing them for cooking, then eating them gave them something to do and temporary pleasure. Their rations continued to be reduced.
As more and more POWs were sent to Manila for shipment to another part of the Japanese empire, the officers were put to work on the camp farm with the enlisted men. In August 1944, the POWs found themselves working to move the hospital to the same area as the POW barracks. The reason was that the Japanese wanted to reduce the size of the camp so they would need fewer guards. The POWs were keeping their gardens and growing their food, but the Japanese now insisted that the POWs stop cooking their food. The POWs adopted a group cooking policy where the POWs in a group placed an order 24 hours before they wanted it, and it was deducted from that group’s food stock. The POWs were also able to purchase coffee. They noticed that the Japanese attitude also had changed and that they wanted the POWs more involved in the running of the camp.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs were finishing work for the day when they heard the sound of planes, but the sound of these planes was different from the sound of Japanese planes. They looked up and saw a formation of 80 planes fly over, but the planes were too high for them to see what insignias were on the planes. The planes seemed to agitate the Japanese so the POWs whispered to each other that they may be American. After entering the camp, they got their answer as they watched a dogfight directly above the camp. Some of the planes flew low over the camp and on the planes they saw the U.S. Navy insignias. A loud wild cheer came out of the mouths of thousands of POWs. When one of the Japanese planes involved in the dogfight crashed to the ground in flames, another wild cheer went up. As they watched, wave after wave of American planes flew over the camp. Even the hospital patients crawled out of their beds to look at the planes. Next, they heard the explosions of anti-aircraft shells over Clark Field and Manila. After the attack ended many of the POWs sobbed. Many of the POWs believed this would end the transfer of the POWs to Japan. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places. The POWs heard a rumor from the guards that Americans were on Mindanao Island, but it turned out the rumor was false.
The POWs heard a rumor from the guards that Americans were on Mindanao Island. It turned out the rumor was false. The POWs heard and saw explosions from the heavy bombing of Clark Field on October 29th. From a map in a Japanese paper – on October 30th – they learned that American troops were on southern Luzon. In addition, American planes flew over the camp that night. The Japanese guards admitted, on November 2nd, to the POWs that American troops were on Leyte and Mindoro. On November 5th, American bombers flew over the camp all day long. To see how close the Americans were, the POWs looked for land-based planes but saw none. The next day, the POWs watch two planes circle the camp. As they watched, the planes strafed and bombed Cabanatuan Airfield. The airfield was bombed and strafed three times that day.
The POWs learned that there were only about 1,000 American POWs left in the Philippines from talking to the guards. The rest had been sent out on ships for Japan or other parts of the empire. The POWs knew there were about 500 POWs at Cabanatuan so the remainder had to be at Bilibid Prison outside Manila. By November 13th, the POWs were no longer excited by American planes flying over the camp. What they wanted to know was where the troops and tanks were. On November 24th, a large convoy of Japanese trucks passed the camp at night heading north. The POWs also received mail that was postmarked May and June 1944 which was the fastest they had ever received mail before. During this time the meals got worse and they received less rice and instead of fish, they were given fish powder. The POWs’ breakfast was plain lugao. To supplement their meals they ate dog soup. From November to December food was the main focus of the POWs.
American planes again appeared over the camp on December 14th and bombed to the north and west of the camp. For the first time, the POWs believed the planes were land-based. The next day before dawn, American planes flew over on their way to bomb Clark Field. The POWs heard and saw anti-aircraft fire as the planes attacked Later that day, they saw more planes fly over and bomb Cabanatuan Airfield twice in one day. The next night, December 16th, the POWs were sleeping when explosions from six bombs from an American plane dropped on a Japanese convoy on the road that ran past the camp woke them. At first, the POWs thought the camp was being bombed and took cover. A few days later the POWs heard that 38 Japanese soldiers had been killed and 20 wounded during the attack. That same day at 8:00 P.M., the Japanese moved some tanks, armored trucks, and small artillery pieces into the camp and stored them in old barracks and mess halls that had been abandoned.
The Japanese camouflaged the camp with nets, ropes, wires, and tree branches on December 18th, and the next day the POWs heard the news that Americans had landed on Mindoro Island south of Luzon. It was at this time that two truckloads of Japanese troops and equipment entered the camp, as well as several truckloads of lumber and supplies were brought into the camp. Approximately 100 Japanese troops with full combat gear entered the camp after dark. Food again was an issue, and the POWs noted their food was radish tops and some meat. When they received fish, the dried fish issued to them was mostly scales and bones since worms had eaten the meat.
The POWs watched heavy American bombers attacked by a single Japanese plane on December 22nd, and one plane crashed. The POWs hoped that it was the Japanese plane. A few days later, on December 24th, 21 American bombers flew over the camp on their way to bomb Clark Field. In the distance, the POWs heard the ack-ack fire from the Japanese anti-aircraft guns. As the planes flew over the camp on the way back from the bombing, the POWs counted that all 21 planes had survived the mission.
On Christmas Day, the POW watched American fighters and bombers attack Clark Field. Again, they heard the bombs exploding the fire from the anti-aircraft guns. The next day they heard a rumor that all the POWs at Bilibid had been sent to Japan. Two days later, on December 28th, the POWs were awakened by the sound of Japanese tanks and trucks passing the camp. Someone was able to see that the Japanese soldiers were dressed as Filipino civilians.
On the morning of January 7, 1945, the Japanese abandoned the camp and told the POWs that they were no longer prisoners of war. Before they left, the camp commander told them that if they stayed in the camp they would be safe. The POWs wondered if the Japanese were going to return to kill them. When they did leave, they would not tell the POWs where they were being sent. Before they left the camp, the Japanese told them there were about 30 days of rations in the warehouse and that if they wanted food they must help themselves. The gardens that the Japanese grew their vegetables in were also turned over to the POWs. The prisoners raided the camp warehouse for food and clothing. They also told them they were no longer prisoners but that they should not leave the camp or they would be shot.
The POWs wondered if the Japanese were going to return to kill them. Retreating Japanese soldiers spent the night in the camp but did not bother the POWs. The POWs could see things were not going well for the Japanese since they were using horse-drawn vehicles to move materials and there seemed to be a lack of motorized vehicles. Ironically, the Japanese soldiers asked the POWs for food. The POWs on January 9th, heard shelling from American guns in the distance. Many wondered when the troops and tanks would reach them. Ken Gorden, A Co. 194th, stated many of the Japanese were using American shelter halves – which were a green color close to the green of Japanese uniforms – to make uniforms. The next day, Japanese troops returned to the camp and posted guards who had been wounded in combat. They also returned the POWs to the hospital area of the camp.
The U.S. 6th Rangers left on the mission to liberate the camp on January 27th, and at 2:00 P.M. the Rangers crossed into Japanese territory. They stealthily made their way through enemy lines covering 29 miles until they reached an area just north of the camp in the late afternoon of the 29th It was at that time that the Rangers learned that there were 1,000 Japanese troops bivouacked in the camp, so the decision was made to wait until the 30th to attack. The next day the Japanese troops pulled out of the camp. The Rangers reached the camp at 5:45 P.M. and broke into two detachments. The first group took nearly two hours to crawl into position behind the camp. The second group crawled for an hour and a half to get into position for a frontal attack on the main gate. By 7:30 P.M., all the Rangers were in position.
The initial shot that started the assault was made by the Rangers who had taken positions beneath the rear guard tower. The shot killed the guard in the tower and bedlam broke out. At 7:40 P.M. the Rangers opened fire on the guard tower. Another Ranger was about to shoot the lock off the main gate when his ammunition clip fell to the ground. He reached for his pistol, but the guard at the gate had recovered from his initial shock and knocked it from his hand. The Ranger recovered the gun killed the guard and shot off the lock. Ken Gorden, A Co. 194th, said, “I was standing inside the stockade lighting a cigarette when the attack came which freed us.” Another Ranger was about to shoot the lock off the main gate when his ammunition clip fell to the ground. He reached for his pistol, but the guard at the gate had recovered from his initial shock and knocked it from his hand. The Ranger recovered the gun killed the guard and shot off the lock.
The Rangers poured through the main gate while the second group of Rangers came through the rear gate. The Rangers who came through the main gate came upon a guard tower but didn’t see anyone, so 18 Rangers continued moving. As the last men went past, a guard, in perfect English yelled “Stop,” but he didn’t fire. One Ranger stayed behind. The Rangers reached the Japanese barracks and opened fire. One Japanese soldier came to the door and fell face-first to the ground. They never saw any others. The one Ranger who remained at the guard tower killed the guard. Another Ranger detachment cleared out a pillbox at the corner of the camp with four rockets from a bazooka. 150 Japanese who were leaving the camp in a convoy were killed in a shed when it was hit by bazooka fire.
Gunnery Sergeant Harry Arnold, U.S.M.C. said, “We were sitting around batting the breeze when shots rang out thru the camp. We thought the Japs were going to murder every prisoner in the camp.
“Then I raised my head in time to see a big guy come tearing across the yard. Jees, he was tall — he must have stood at least seven feet.
“As he neared us he shouted ‘We’re Yanks!’ All of you Americans get the hell out of here!
“Needless to say, we didn’t waste time clearing out.”
The POWs had just bedded down for the night but quickly woke up and hit the floor believing the gunfire was the Japanese performing one last grandiose act by trying to kill them. Then they heard voices speaking English yelling, “We’re Yanks!” They also yelled that the POWs should go toward the main gate. Seven minutes after the start of the raid, the first ragged POWs made it through the gate. 15 minutes after the start of the raid all the POWs had made it through the gate, but the Rangers searched the barracks to make sure no one was left behind. By 8:15 P.M. the camp was secured and the POWs had been rescued without any POW casualties. Two POWs later died because of health issues.
Hearing the commotion, 800 Japanese troops came rushing down the road from Cebu, shouting and firing as they ran. The Filipino guerrillas held their fire until the Japanese were in range, then opened fire resulting in Japanese bodies piling up on the road. It was estimated the guerrillas had killed 400 of the Japanese before Japanese tanks arrived pinning down the guerrillas. It was 8:40 when the signal was given that all the POWs had been rescued and the guerrillas should withdraw. In all, 21 guerrillas and two Rangers were killed. Two other Rangers were wounded.
It was said that the entire operation took 27 minutes. The Rangers carried the sick POWs two miles to 20 waiting carabao carts. One Ranger carrying a POW began crossing what he thought was a river when he slipped and fell to his knees. he realized, from the smell, that it was the drainage ditch and began to swear. The POW said to him, “Please don’t be angry. I’m a Catholic priest, Lt Hugh Kennedy.” The Ranger asked Kennedy to forgive him for swearing. Kennedy said, “Son, you are forgiven because there is a time and place for everything — and this is the time and place.” The Rangers and former POWs reached Plateros at 10:00 P.M. and a radio message was sent that all POWs had been rescued. The fact was one POW who had hidden during the attack had been left behind.
The Rangers recalled that the freed POWs rushed up to them and kissed them on their cheeks. Of the rescue Pvt. LeRoy Myerhoff of the Rangers stated that a POW said to him, “Don’t leave me for I may need your help.” The Rangers were well supplied with cigarettes and gave them out freely to the rescued men. One Ranger gave a freed POW a canteen full of coffee which was the first the man had in almost three years. He drank about half the canteen and then broke down and cried.
At 11:30 P.M. the column left Plateros for American lines with the Japanese in pursuit until they reached the Pampanga River where the pursuit ended. The trip was hard because the carabao became tired and had to be driven, pulled, and helped across streams. The former POWs not in the carts were barefooted and the Rangers also had to drive the POWs to keep them moving. Between the column and the Japanese were Filippino guerrillas protecting the column’s flank. Gorden said, “During the march back to American lines our column of prisoners was never under attack but the Americans and guerrillas did find opposition from Jap troops.” The good news was the American line had moved forward by ten miles. During the day, American planes protected the group which successfully reached American lines on February 1, 1945. As the column of Rangers and former POWs neared Sibul they passed through long lanes of American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas who stood at rigid attention presenting their arms. Ambulances were waiting for the former POWs and they were taken to the 92nd Evacuation Hospital. Once behind American lines, the former POWs were given cigarettes, coffee, and a meal of eggs, meat, grapefruit, biscuits, and jam.
Charlie Quinn, D Co., 192nd, recalled, “We were 30 miles behind the Jap lines so the Rangers marched us all night to get out of the danger. We were told to keep as quiet as we could They gave us food and water and I finally got a cigarette. All the time I could hardly believe it—I thought maybe I’d gotten sick and passed out. I had never thought that I’d see American soldiers again.”
The one POW who had been left behind was also rescued. The next morning, he found the camp empty when he went looking for the other POWs. He returned to his barracks, gathered his possessions together, and left the camp through the main gate. In the jungle, he was found by Filipino guerrillas who took him to the American lines.
Of the rescue, Staff Sgt. Charles W. Brown of the Rangers said, “It was a moot question whether we or the prisoners were the happiest. I know that I was happier than I have ever been before to see those prisoners when they knew they were free at last.”
It is not known when, but Ira learned that his brother, William, who was a member of the Co. G, 20th Infantry Regiment, was Killed in Action on Luzon on January 20, 1945. About three weeks after liberation, Ira was returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General A. E. Anderson. The ship sailed on February 11, 1945, from Tacloban, Leyte, Philippine Islands, and had a two-day layover at Hollandia, New Guinea, from February 18th to 20th, before it sailed for the U.S. arriving at San Francisco on March 8, 1945. There, he was sent to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment before being sent to Ashford General Hospital, White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, which was a converted resort.
After returning home, he married Dortha Tyree on April 27, 1945. He was discharged from the Army on October 7, 1945. It is known that the couple became the parents of a daughter and a son. Nothing else is known about his life after the war. Ira L. Jeffries passed away on April 23, 1973, in Charleston, West Virginia, and was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Marlinton, West Virginia.