Pvt. Bernard Willard Johnson was born on November 11, 1918, to Joseph M. Johnson and Mary E. Martin-Johnson in Wellsville, Ohio. With his two brothers, he grew up at 3200 Audubon Boulevard in Cleveland, Ohio, and at some point worked as an inspector at a federal building. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, named his mother as his contact person, and indicated that he was unemployed. He was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 28, 1941, and trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
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, while others appear to have come from the 3rd Amor Division also at Camp Polk. It is known that other men came from the 32nd Armor Regiment stationed at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, or he may have been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Knox.
The fact was that 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. 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 battalion had expected to receive brand-new tanks but for some unknown reason, it didn’t. Instead, the battalion received M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. Many of the tanks they received were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour maintenance which made them “new” only to the battalion.
Over four different train routes the battalion was sent west to San Franciso, California. Two companies went west through the southwestern states, two went west – over different train routes – through the middle of the country, and one went west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.”
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. Felix 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. During this part of the trip, 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. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made. 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. 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.
During this part of the voyage, 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. 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.
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. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – beans or stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, of the leftovers of the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched their tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worst part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. The members of D Company may have moved into barracks. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots also flew night missions.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, 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 were able to send 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.
It was also at this time that the process was started to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion. As part of the transfer, all the medical records of the company were organized and given to the medical detachment of the 194th.
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 actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It 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 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX.
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. Men were given the opportunity to be 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, Weaver appeared to be the only officer on the base interested in protecting his unit. When Poweleit suggested they dig air raid shelters – since their bivouac was so near the airfield – the other officers laughed. He ordered his medics to dig shelters near the tents of the companies they were with and at the medical detachment’s headquarters. 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. 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.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.
Most of the tankers heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor at roll call that morning. Some men believed that it was the start of the maneuvers they were expecting to take part in. They were also informed that their barracks were almost ready and that they would be moving into them shortly.
Captain Donald Haines told B Company about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ordered all the members of the tank crews to their tanks. Some sources state the half-tracks took up positions alongside the tanks while other sources state they remained in the battalion’s bivouac. Those men not assigned to the tanks or half-tracks remained in the company’s bivouac.
It was lunchtime and members of the tank battalion not assigned to tanks or half-tracks were allowed to go to the mess hall to eat. It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. At 12:45 p.m., as they stood in line to be fed at their food trucks, 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. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways 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.
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.
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. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.
The Zeros doing a figure eight strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As they flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had filled to capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. When the hospital ran out of room, the battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical 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 tents. 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.
Sgt. Robert Bronge, B Co., had his crew take their half-track to the non-com club. During the three weeks, the 192nd had been in the Philippines, Bronge had spent three months of pay on credit at the club. When they got to the club they found one side was collapsed from an explosion of a bomb nearby. Bronge entered the club and found the Aircorpsmen – assigned to the club – were putting out fires or trying to get the few planes that were left into the air. He found the book with the names of those who owed the club money and destroyed it. HIs crew loaded the half-track with cases of beer and hard liquor. When they returned to their assigned area at the airfield, they radioed the tanks they had salvaged needed supplies from the club.
On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which 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 with 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 Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the Southern forces could escape. At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. The smoke blew back into the Japanese and since they were wearing white shirts, they were lit by the moonlight. After taking heavy casualties they withdrew. That night, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. The 194th crossed the bridge covered by the 192nd and then covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge before it was destroyed by the engineers. The 192nd was the last unit to enter Bataan.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and the members of the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A Company, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. 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. Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self-Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as the American and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. On the night of January 6th, The 192nd held its position so that the 194th could cross a bridge and enter Bataan. After they did this, the 194th covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, noticed A Company 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 company the last American unit to enter Bataan.
A composite tank company was formed the following day under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks 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. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The 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 and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. 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 tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds a Japanese reconnaissance plane would be sent up to locate the guns. It wasn’t long after this that the Japanese would zero in on where the guns were located. The tankers and artillery crews learned how to “shoot and scoot” very quickly.
It is not known when, but during this time, Capt. Fred Bruni who was the commanding officer of HQ Company was made A Company’s CO to replace Capt. Walter Write. Bruni had been one of the National Guardsmen from Janesville called to federal service. At the same time Capt. Robert Sorensen replaced Capt. Donald Hanes as commanding officer of B Company. Hanes was made commanding officer of HQ Company.
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.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self-Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
It was said that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground. 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.
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.
The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering 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.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. 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.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. 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 Bakanga-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. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio. The tanks held their position for six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn which prevented the Japanese from overrunning the defenders. On the morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it but tanks were still straggling in at noon.
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, 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 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese attempted several landings on Bataan. One night while on this duty, the B Company, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.
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 newspapers in the U.S. wrote about the lull in Bataan and the preparations for the expected offensive.
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 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left. The Japanese attacked the line held by American troops on April 8th. It was said that the Japanese made what the Americans called “A Bridge of Death” where the Japanese threw themselves on the barbed wire until there were enough bodies on it so the following troops could walk over it. The defenders were not only defending against a frontal attack, but they also were defending against attacks on their flanks and rear.
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, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack 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.”
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.” Capt. Robert Sorenson, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company. After arriving there, it was reported the half-tracks were driven off cliffs and a number of men attempted to reach Corregidor.
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company, realized that he had white 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 A.M. on April 9th, 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.”
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.” As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. Another jeep followed them – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
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.”
In May, his family received this message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. M. Johnson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Bernard W. Johnson, 35,020,992, 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”
To get out of the camp, he went out on a work detail that left the camp on May 21st for Clark Field. It is believed that he was in the original POW detachment that arrived at Clark Field on May 22nd. When they arrived, the POWs assigned as cooks had made their first meal from a rancid pig. The POWs ate it without complaint. Since the airfield had been an American base before the war, each of the POWs had a bunk and mattress. The POWs were used to repair the runways that had been bombed by the Japanese on the first day of the war. Men who were on the detail stated that somewhere around 700 POWs were on the detail, but only 630 were healthy enough to work each day.
The POWs spent about a year clearing junk and unexploded ordnance from the airfield. To do this, the POWs were broken into detachments under the command of a sergeant. While doing this, they were able to come up with bandages and some medicines that they could use. The only thing they did not find was quinine.
They were fed twice a day but the amount of food, two cups of rice, was inadequate. Once in a while, they got soybeans and greens The Japanese did not give the POWs any medical supplies, and if they had them it was because the POWs had scrounged them. There was no real medical facility at first. Those POWs who came down with malaria did not have to work since the Japanese knew the symptoms of malaria. POWs who had been injured while working also did not have to work. If they developed wet beriberi, the POWs were soaked in cold water to bring down the swelling.
Many of the POWs considered this the best POW camp in the Philippines. When they arrived, they were put into barracks that had been constructed for the Philippine Scouts. Each POW had his own bunk and while cleaning up the junk from the fighting, the POWs found mattresses and blankets They also had washrooms with toilets and sinks with running water. They also had a commissary where the POWs were allowed to purchase items. The POWs were paid and at the commissary, they could buy tobacco, mung beans, or brown sugar. All the items were measured with a canteen cup. They were also able to purchase salt that they could use as seasoning on their rice.
The barracks they lived in were surrounded by a single strand of barbed wire and escapes could have happened at any time since it would have been easy. The Japanese also put the POWs in “Blood Brother” squads. If one POW from their group escaped, the other nine men would be executed. It was stated that they chose not to escape since there was no place to go if they did, but that didn’t mean that POWs didn’t try.
The guards were from Formosa and POWs stated that they actually were pretty decent when Japanese officers were not around. The guards were combat veterans who didn’t care how much dirt the POWs moved. They liked the detail and wanted it to last as long as possible. All they expected from the POWs was that they looked busy. The only time the POWs were expected to work hard was when officers came around to expect the work. The one thing the POWs were not allowed to do was talk to each other while they worked.
POWs who committed a serious violation of a camp rule were put into the camp cooler. It was said it was designed to be uncomfortable and made of sheet metal with only one opening which was the door. It was too low for a man to stand up and too short for a man to lie down. The POW had to squat or curl up. It was placed in a location so the sun beat on it throughout the day. At night it cooled off but the mosquitos came out and continued the misery.
They also witnessed the execution of Filipinos who had been caught stealing sheet metal. The Filipinos’ hands were tied behind their backs and they were hanged so their feet were barely touching the ground. Some men stated the Filipinos were hanged until they died while others said the Japanese used them for bayonet practice. The worst thing for the POWs was that they had to walk past them on their way to and from work.
One POW escaped on April 1, 1943, and the Japanese responded by lining up the POWs in front of machine guns that were aimed at them. They also told them that they were going to be killed. The next time a POW escaped the POWs were not fed, they could not use the latrines, and they could not smoke. They also lost their commissary privileges.
After the guards were replaced, a typical workday started with breakfast at 6:00 AM which was usually a cup of steamed rice. Supper for the POWs was at 6:00 PM and was again a cup of steamed rice. On March 20, 1944, the POWs were broken into two groups, and work on the airfield started in earnest and the POWs built runways and revetments. One group built the airfield and the other dug rock from the ground for the base of the runway. One POW reported they built seven runways, that they built eight hundred revetments, and that they emplaced numerous anti-aircraft guns. A third POW escaped, on May 30th, and the remaining POWs were not fed and they sat in the sun without head coverings. The 19 POWs who were working with him received this treatment for three days. The Japanese also offered the Filipinos a 100-pound bag of rice for turning in escaped POWs.
Since no rock was available from a gravel pit, the POWs dug the rock out of the ground, with picks and shovels, and screened it. The POWs worked in squads of eight to ten men and were given a quota of how much rock they needed to collect that day. If they were lucky, they found a place where they could dig out the quota of rock by 4:00 PM, if they weren’t lucky, they worked until they reached their quota. It was said that at times squads worked until midnight. Some POWs stated that there were no days off while other men stated that if they completed their quotas by Friday, they got the weekends off.
At some point, Bernard was sent to Bilibid Prison because he was ill. Medical records indicate Bernard was admitted from Building 12 which had the designation of being “the Casual Group.” From Bilibid, he was returned to Cabanatuan. While he was ill, his parents received this message from the War Department in January 1943.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE BERNARD W. JOHNSON IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Bernard W. Johnson, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau”
It appears Bernard remained at Bilibid in the Casual Group until he was admitted to the hospital on September 1, 1944. Records show he was suffering from acute nephritis which is an inflammation of the kidneys. How long he was hospitalized is not known but it appears to have been a relatively short time.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs saw the first American planes fly over the prison. These were the first American planes they had seen in over two years. The planes returned daily, but when no troops arrived the POWs soon began to ignore them.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent to Japan. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 13th, the other POWs were awakened, and by 7:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men selected for transport to Japan. As it turned out, it took until 9:00 to finish this task.
From December 3rd through 13th, a typhoon prevented American planes from raiding Manila. During this time, the Japanese were able to get several ships into the harbor. On December 12th, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out and a list of names was posted. Those POWs selected to leave the Philippines were awakened at 4 a.m. on the 13th and once they were up they were fed. A roll call was taken at 7:30 a.m. which took 2 hours since there were 1,619 men in the draft. At 9:30 a.m., they were ordered to “fall out” and allowed to roam the prison. At 11:30, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men, fed, and marched 2 miles to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the streetcars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair. The Filipinos lined up along the street and gave the“V” for victory sign to the Americans when they thought the Japanese wouldn’t see them. They noticed there were bicycles, pushcarts, carts pulled by men or animals, and some Japanese cars and trucks on the street. Japanese soldiers seemed to be everywhere. They also noticed that grass along the street was now full of weeds and the street was also in terrible shape.
When the POWs reached Pier 7, which was severely damaged. In the water were hulks of burned-out Japanese ships. At the dock were three ships. One was an old run-down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship. The POWs were allowed to sit, and many of them fell asleep since they remained on the dock most of the afternoon while Japanese civilians and children were put on the ship. At 2:00 in the afternoon, the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru and put in one of the ship’s holds. The high-ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s forward hold while most of the other POWs were put in the aft hold. Very few POWs were put in the middle hold.
Eight hundred POWs were put into the hold. Those who were the first ones into the hold would suffer many deaths. The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.” The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it.
Their evening meal was fish and rice. Very little water was given to them and those who did have water drank all of it. The only ventilation was the air blowing in through the open hatch, so the officers attempted to have the men rotate so everyone got air. Those nearer to the hatch used whatever they could find to fan air to the men further back in the hold. Not long after this, these men attacked and killed other men to drink their blood.
The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”
At 3:30 A.M. the ship was bound for Takao, Formosa, as part of MATA-37 a convoy. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold them for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.
As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. It is known that 25 POWs died in the forward hold on the first night. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who were out of their minds into it. On the walls of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.
The POWs received their first meal at dawn consisting of a little rice, fish, some water, and three-fourths of a cup of water that was shared by 20 POWs. Those further back from the opening got nothing. It was noted that one American plane flew over the ships at 6:00 A.M. At 8:30 A.M., the convoy was off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill. At first, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play-by-play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us.”
The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock. Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day. Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan.
In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only its 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship. At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worst and last attack on it. The POWs felt the ship shake as it was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs that came through the hatch. Some bombs exploded near the ship throwing water spouts over the ship. The POWs actually rooted for the bombs to hit the ship. During the attack, Chaplain William Cummings – a Catholic priest – led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the hull, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.
At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened was that the ship’s rudder had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered. Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. They could hear boats being rowed, people shouting and the sound of children and babies crying until about 3:00 A.M. They also heard the voices of the men in the forward hold shouting and the words “quiet” and “at ease men” over and over.
During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded men, women, and children were everywhere. The ship steamed closer to the beach at Subic Bay and at 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark in one or two hours at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold; most had suffocated.
It was December 15th and the POWs were sitting in the ship’s holds when Mr. Wada, the translator, shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. They were told all they could take were their mess kits, canteens, shoes, and any clothing they had, and if they were caught carrying anything else they would be shot. The POWs selected 35 wounded and sick to be evacuated when planes appeared at 8:00 A.M. The POWs took cover but the planes circled around and did not attack. Since there was no ack-ack fire from the ship and no movement on deck, the POWs guessed that the pilots believed the ship had been abandoned. Three men who tried to go up the ladder without permission were shot and killed. About a half-hour later, they were ordered to send up the wounded. Ten minutes later a guard shouted that the next 25 men should be sent up. As the POWs were coming up, the guard suddenly looked up and motioned to them to get back into the hold. He shouted, “Planes, many planes!” As the POWs were abandoning the ship the planes returned and continued the attack.
The POWs quickly realized that this attack was different. From the explosions, they could tell the bombs were heavier and all aimed at the ship which bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs felt the ship shake every time a bomb hit it. There was a tremendous explosion when the aft hold was hit by a bomb. Small holes appeared in the hull and when a bomb fell near the ship water came into the holds through the holes. The stem of the ship was hit by a bomb which also allowed water to enter the holds. In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold, a Catholic priest, Chaplain John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned the ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs in his limited English that they needed to get off the ship to safety. Of abandoning ship Lt. Walter Scott said: “However, we did not get off it before the bombers had come back again and scored a direct hit on the middle hold of the ship.” The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, which was about a mile away, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns to prevent them from escaping.
Around 9:30 or 10:00 A.M. as the POWs waited a Japanese guard who had been at Cabanatuan yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. The POWs scrambled up the ladders and stairway. As they left the holds they knew that there was a good chance they would have to swim to shore. When they got on deck they found that the ship was parallel to the shore and about 400 to 500 yards away from it. They also saw on the deck large containers of corned beef, powdered milk, and butter from the Red Cross that were never given to them.
The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned the ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. They also found that it was a sunny day and the sky and water were blue. The water toward shore was filled with swimming Americans and Japanese all headed toward shore while Japanese machine guns fired on the POWs to prevent them from escaping. The ship was still floating okay, except the stern was sitting lower in the water and was listing. Another bomb hit the ship. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air.”
Many of the men, climbed onto the railings and jumped into the water – which was somewhere between 30 feet and 50 feet below them – feet first. Many of the POWs lost their canteens and mess kits when they entered the water which revived them. The better swimmers helped the weaker swimmers get to anything that floated. The stronger swimmers kept an eye out for anyone having problems swimming. As they swam away from the ship, for the first time they saw how badly it had been damaged. An entire section of the stern had been blown away and the ship looked like a pile of scrap metal. The entire ship was pitted, bent by bullets, or twisted or bent. The POWs in the water shouted to those on deck to get off the ship because it only had about 2 to 3 minutes more before it went under. It was noted that the fire was raging on the ship. As they reached shore and the water was shallow, they were able to walk.
Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically and shouted at the planes so they would not be strafed. One of the planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilot dipped his wings to show that he knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship’s stern began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks. The stronger swimmers returned to the ship and encouraged the poor and non-swimmers to jump into the water. Once in the water, they made sure they had a plank to float on and make it to shore. The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. If they believed the men were attempting to escape they shot at them. Jack had been on the Proviso swim team and went out several times to help POWs who could not swim. This resulted in him being bayoneted by a guard when he returned to shore. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed that as many as 30 men died in the water.
There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape. When they looked at the water, it was full of dead fish of many sizes killed by the bombs. The men ate salted beans that were in a tub that had been looted from the ship.
The POWs were gathered together and marched to a grove of shady trees about 200 yards from the beach where they sat down and dried out the few possessions they had left. That afternoon they were moved to a single tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court, and roll call was taken. It was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs who had boarded the ship had died.
It is not known if Bernard was killed inside the hold from ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from one of the rockets that hit the ship. One document shows that he was shot while attempting to swim to shore. What is known is that Pvt. Bernard Johnson died on December 15, 1944, at Olongapo Naval Station, Subic Bay, Philippine Islands.
His family received a letter from the War Department sometime around June 1945.
“Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Johnson
3200 Audubon Boulevard
“From information available, it appears that 1,619 prisoners of war were embarked 13 December 1944 on a Japanese vessel, presumably for transfer to Japan. The ship was bombed and sunk in Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 15 December 1944. After considerable delay there has been received from the Japanese government a confirmatory report of this sinking, with partial official lists of those lost and of survivors. Nine hundred and forty-two of the prisoners of war, among them your son, are officially reported by the Japanese to have lost their lives at the time. Of the survivors remaining in the hands of the Japanese fifty-nine are reported to have died and others to have been later transferred to Japan. Only two of the prisoners of war aboard are known to have evaded recapture and returned to our forces.
“I regret that the known circumstances and reports received offer no hope that your son survived this catastrophe. He will be carried on the records of the War Department as killed in action 15 December 1944. However his pay will terminate and his accounts will be closed as of 25 July 1945, the evidence of his death having been received in the Was Department on that date.
“Please know that you have my heartfelt sympathy.
“Edward F. Witsell (signed)
Edward F. Witsell
On July 23, 1945, his mother received this telegram.
“MRS. MARY E. JOHNSON=
“3200 ADOUBON BLVD CLEVELAND OH=
“THE SECRETARY OF WAR DEEPLY REGRETS TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON PVT JOHNSON BERNARD W WAS KILLED IN ACTION IN THE PACIFIC AREA 15 DECEMBER 44 WHILE BEING TRANSPORTED ABOARD A JAPANESE VESSELL=
CONFIRMING LETTER FOLLOWS=
=EDWARD F. WITSELL ACTING ADJUTANT GENERAL OF THE ARMY
Since not all the POWs died on December 15th, two additional letters were sent to families correcting or confirming the dates of death as information became available. His parents on October 13, 1945, had a memorial mass for Bernard at St. Catherine Catholic Church and had a headstone placed at St. Elizabeth Cemetery in Wellsville, Ohio. Pvt. Bernard Johnson’s name was also placed on the Walls of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery in Manila.
Continue B Co.