Pvt. Otha Johnson was born on December 9, 1913, in Paducah, Kentucky, to George E. Johnson and Lola C. Jones-Johnson. With his two sisters and two brothers, he grew up at 527 South Third Street. He left school after completing eighth grade and went to work at the Clausser Hosiery Company as a knitter. His father passed away on December 7, 1936. According to census records, he married but his wife passed away. On October 16, 1940, he registered with Selective Service when the draft act became law and named his mother as his contact person. He married Edith I. Jacobs on January 19, 1941, and was inducted into the Army on January 22 and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.
When Otha arrived at Fort Knox, he was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, because it had been a Kentucky National Guard tank company and the army was filling the company’s roster with men from its home state. The men from Selective Service lived in six-man tents next to D Company’s barracks. The tents had walls and doors, canvas roofs, and electricity. In addition, each tent had a stove in its center for heat. The reason the draftees lived in tents was that the battalion was assigned to temporary barracks that were smaller than the normal barrack.
Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished in seven weeks. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd. After basic training, unless he was assigned to a tank, he attended a specialized training school.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion on April 9. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month.
A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly. Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed by calisthenics from 8 to 8:30. After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics. At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools. At 4:30, the tankers’ day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by an evening meal at 5:30. The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps were played.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
At the end of the month, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 A.M. until 8:30 A.M. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 A.M. One of the complaints they had about the firing range was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from it that their clothes felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4th, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. The battalion finally received all its tanks and the soldiers were told to, “beat the hell out of them.”
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, 160 miles south of Ft. Knox. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Louisiana, later that day, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station in the trucks.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchie National Forest, near DeRidder, Louisana, where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators. They described the land as swamps, woods, and shacks. They also heard they were going to North Carolina on October 6th.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called “Iron Rations” – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Water was scarce and men went days without shaving and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service. Instead, they were being sent overseas as part of “Operation PLUM.” Within hours, many of the members of the battalion believed that they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. There is no proof that this was true. National Guard battalion members who were married or 29 years old or older had the opportunity to resign from federal service. Replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of 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 – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
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, the battalion even fought as the First Tank Group. 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 – both had been National Guard medium tank battalions – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th 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, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. 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 for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived at Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. He returned home to say his goodbyes and married Thelma A. Weidner on October 5, 1941. The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan.
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. 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. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen, Hugh L. Scott, and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan. When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. 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 they 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.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
D Company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion so when they arrived at the fort, they moved into their nearly finished barracks. 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 on the 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.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The tankers followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, 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.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a large amount of radio equipment to set up a radio school. Within hours of arriving, they had an operational communications tent in contact with the U.S. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ernest Miller, the commanding officer of the 194th, Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, the commanding officer of the tank group, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 194th were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
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 in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he 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 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.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. 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.
One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd and appeared on the battalion’s day reports, and after the war, it was listed on the battalion’s unit citations. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
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 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and guard beaches. The battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts on the 15th. The carriers were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
At this time he was able to send a telegram home which was received around December 17. In it, he told her he was well. He also wrote a letter to her, on December 20, that she did not receive until the first week in April. For Christmas, she received a radiogram from him on the 24th.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, it made an end run to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug northeast of San Quintin. Christmas Day, the tankers spent the night in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
The tanks formed a new defensive line known as the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese. At Bayambang, Lt. Weeden Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Capt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not been abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. The tank commander received the Silver Star for saving the tank.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, 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 bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. But since they were wearing white t-shirts they were east to see in the dark. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the 192nd covered the 194th’s crossing of the bridge over the Culis Creek, Next the 194th covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the food rations were cut in half. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements.
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the West Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never attacked allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire. The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the 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 platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. While attempting to do this, two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but were recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment. The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
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.”
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline against Japanese landings from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols. During January he wrote two more letters home. One was undated while the other was written on January 29. His mother received the letters during the first week of April 1942.
Diseases spread among the men because of malnutrition during February. The soldiers by this time had eaten all the available meat which included horses and mules. Men killed monkeys to eat only to find they could not eat them because the faces looked too human. Most men were weak and jobs they had been able to perform with little effort now required them to exert themselves. The Japanese dropped surrender leaflets of naked women to the defenders urging them to surrender. The leaflets might have had the desired effect if the picture had been a hamburger and milkshake. In spite of all these things, the Japanese had been fought to a standstill.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor. Wainwright rejected the suggestion. For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. The newspapers in the United States reported both sides were strengthening their lines in expectation of an all-out attack. The reports stated that the Japanese did not have air support because their planes had been shifted south in the assault on Java. This meant there was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes flew over.
During this time, a tank had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew’s fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched – on April 3, 1942 – an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount 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 counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – 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. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. B and D Companies, 192nd, and A Company were preparing for a suicide attack in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that 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. A truck driver for A Company, 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, 192nd and A Company received the order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. At 6:45 A.M., the order “Crash” was sent out and the tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to a member of HQ Company, 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 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.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, 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 line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances 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.”
On April 10, the Japanese arrived and ordered the Prisoners of War onto the road. They quickly stripped the POWs of their watches, pens, and sunglasses. The POWs were taken to a trail and found that walking on the gravel trail was difficult. They immediately witnessed “Japanese Discipline” toward their own troops. The Japanese apparently were marching for hours, and when a man fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and left him alone.
The trial the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road. The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men and counted them. The POWs were left in the sun for the rest of the day wondering what was going to happen. That night they were ordered north which was difficult, on the rocky road, in the dark, since they could not see where they were walking.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks which were moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was at this time that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. Looking at them, they realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.
Of the march, he said, “The only water we had was what we could get from ditches along the way. There were several artesian wells along the route but we were clubbed and beaten whenever we would try to leave the column to get a drink. Twelve of our boys died on that trip.” (Fewer than ten members of the entire tank group died on the march.)
When the men crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The air corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell. At Limay on April 11, the officers with the rank of major or above were put into a schoolyard. The officers were told that they would be driven the rest of the march. At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. It was there that the lower-ranking officers and the enlisted men joined the main column of POWs being marched out of Bataan. For the first time, they began to witness the abuse of POWs as they walked through Balanga to Orani.
At Orani, the men were put into a bullpen where they were ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, they received their first food. When they resumed the march they were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. The POWs made their way to an area just north of Hermosa. where the road went from gravel to concrete, and the change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great and many men attempted to get drinks. When they arrived at San Fernando, the POWs were put into another bullpen and remained until they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. At some point marched the POWs were marched to the train station, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” They were called this since each car could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and shut the doors. The heat in the cars was unbearable and many POWs died but could not fall to the floors since there was no room for them to fall. The POWs rode the train to Capas where they disembarked the cars. As they left the cars, the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
Once in the camp, they 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 on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. The Japanese also took away any extra clothing the POWs had brought with them and refused to return it. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, 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 only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This was often done so the Japanese could bathe and wanted more water. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who found the piping and dug the trench for the waterline. When the Japanese turned the water off, the POWs had the ability to turn it back on again without the Japanese knowing.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men but those who did sleep in one slept in a barracks it was with as many 80 to 120 men. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The ranking American officer asked the Japanese for medical supplies, additional food, and materials to repair the roofs because they were leaking. This resulted in his being beaten with a broadsword. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. The Japanese Red Cross sent a truck of medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. A second truck was sent by the Red Cross with medical supplies, but it was turned away at the gate of the camp.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, the bodies of 80 dead POWs lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
He went out on the work detail to Clark Field 22 days after arriving at Camp O’Donnell. Many of the POWs sent there believed it was the best work detail in the Philippines. When they arrived, they were put into barracks that had been constructed for the Philippine Scouts. In the barracks, each POW had a bunk. The POWs were divided into 8 to 10 men squads to work, but they did not start working for three days. During this time they cleaned up the junk around the airfield that had been left from the fighting. While they were cleaning the grounds, they found mattresses and blankets that they were allowed to put on their bunks. Every POW had a mattress and blanket. There were also washrooms with toilets and sinks and running cold water.
His mother received a letter from the War Department in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. L. Johnson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Otha Johnson, 35,100,596, 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”
When they finally started working, the workday started at 6:00 A.M. with breakfast which was mostly rice. This was followed by roll call before the POWs went to work. The original guards were combat veterans and soon realized that this was an easy detail and wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. As the POWs worked they did not force them to work at a fast pace.
At first, the POWs made repairs to the runways that had been damaged during the fighting by filling in craters. When this was done, they built revetments and a runway. The Japanese realized that the work was progressing slower than expected, so they changed the guards. When the guards were changed, the climate changed and the POWs found themselves working faster harder pace. A base was needed for the runway, so the POWs went to a quart and mined rock with picks and shovels. When the quarry ran out of rock, the POWs began digging rocks out of the ground and screened the rock to get rid of the dirt. If the POW squad met its quota for the day, they were allowed to return to their barracks early. If they did not meet their quota by the end of the workday, they worked until it was met. When rock became hard to find, the Japanese decided to use sand as the base. The result was that the first time a Japanese bomber landed on the runway it flipped over onto its back when its landing gear sank into the concrete supported by the sand. The POWs who witnessed this happen wanted to cheer but remained silent. The POW workday ended at 6:00 P.M. roll call was taken, and they had dinner which again was mostly rice.
He said, “We worked from 6 A.M. to 7 P.M. every day and the only food we were given was a little rice and less soup. They also gave us a considerable amount of slapping and beating around.”
The Japanese did not give the POW medical personnel any medicine. Like so much in the camp, the POW scrounged up medicine while they were cleaning up the debris. The Japanese did not make POWs who had malaria work, and they allowed the injured to rest too. But, they regularly checked the POWs to sure that they were sick or injured and could not work.
At first, if a POW escaped, they made the remaining POWs stand at attention in formation for hours. On one occasion, the POWs stood at attention until 4:00 A.M. when they were dismissed. Shortly after this, reveille was held and they went to work. To stop escapes, the Japanese instituted the “blood brother” rule since several POWs escaped from the detail. If one man escaped, the other nine men in the group would be executed. Men were often thrown into a small metal shack made from corrugated steel that had no windows and had only enough room for the man to squat. Anyone put into it had his rations cut and received very little water. The POWs witnessed the execution of two Filipinos who were caught stealing corrugated sheet metal. They were tied to poles and used for bayonet practice by the Japanese. In addition, there were also the daily punishments like being hit over the head with a saber by one Japanese lieutenant. Other men were beaten with a golf club.
While the POWs were working at Clark Field, two Filipinos were caught stealing corrugated metal from the airfield. The Japanese tied them to posts and used them for bayonet practice while the POWs were forced to watch. If a POW broke a rule, he was put into a sheet metal shack that the Japanese built as punishment. There were no openings and it was out in the sun so it became extremely hot. The POWs who were put in it were not fed or given water, and it was low enough where they could not stand in it so they squatted or curled up. When one POW escaped, the remaining men had to stand in the sun at formation.
Of his time in the camps, he said, “We could only live from day to day. Weeks and months and dates meant nothing to us. The first two years were very hopeless to most of us because it seemed that help would never come.”
On June 18, 1943, his mother received a telegram from the War Department.
‘=MRS L JOHNSON
2510 ADAMS ST PADUCAH KY
“=REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE OTHA JOHNSON IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
“=ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.=”
Within days of receiving the first message, his wife received the following letter.
“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. Otha 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
His mother received a POW postcard from him on September 7, 1943.
“I am in Camp 10C. My health is excellent and I am under no treatment of any kind. Don’t worry about me. Everything is O.K. Give my regards to all my friends.”
During November or December 1943, he was allowed to send home another postcard. He wrote, “I hope you all are well.” He also said, “A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” His mother received the card in August 1944
He remained at Clark Field until August 1944 when the detail was ended and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison. It appears he was hospitalized while there, but it is not known why.
The POWs left the prison and went to Pier 7. According to some POWs, they were taken by barges to the Noto Maru. The POWs boarded the ship and they were sent down into one of its holds which was extremely hot. Another company of POWs arrived by barge and were also put into the ship’s hold. The last two companies also entered the hold. According to men who were on the ship they boarded and disembarked the ship two more times. The last time they boarded the ship was on August 25th. Some men believed this happened because American submarines had been seen in the area. After they were in the hold, the Japanese removed the ladder. The ship finally sailed on August 27th, but it spent the night in Subic Bay.
Since all the POWs were in one hold, there was no place for anyone to lie down to sleep. The POWs either stood or squatted. The POWs lost their tempers with each other at times, but it appeared they understood they were all in the same situation and there were no major fights.
A large barrow cut half length-wise was below the hatch was supposed to serve as the latrine but it was almost impossible to get to it. To get to it the POWs had to crawl over other men. When the man was finished, he found someone else had taken his place. Many men simply could not make it to the tub, so the floor of the hold was soon covered with human waste. When the half barrow was hoisted out of the hold, human feces fell on the men below in the hold. The smell coming out of the hold was so bad that the Japanese covered the hatch which made the hold get hotter and made the smell worse.
He said of the conditions in the hold, “We had a little fish once a day, also once a day we were given a drink of water from an old bucket. I would estimate that each man in that hold had about 16 inches of space to stretch out in. The only way we could rest was to lay on each other to have room to stretch out, and the only toilet facility we have during the trip was a barrel lowered from the main deck by the guards by means of a rope.”
The ship remained in the bay until three other ships were ready to sail. The ship finally sailed as part of a convoy on August 28th. Once at sea the convoy was hunted by American submarines. The POWs chanted for the subs to sink the ship. At least two torpedos were fired at the ship, but since they ran deep, the torpedos went under the ship. It is known that several other ships in the convoy were sunk. He said, “Even though we weren’t allowed to see daylight, several times we could feel explosions going off around us.”
The POWs were fed boiled barley once a day and given water once or twice a day. A POW was lucky if he received a tablespoon of water. As the ship made its way to Japan men died of sickness and starvation. With each death, there was more room in the ship’s hold. The dead were hoisted from the hold by rope and thrown into the sea. The suction of the ship’s propellers pulled the bodies into them and resulted in the bodies being cut up.
The ship arrived at Takao on August 30. While it was docked, the smell from the hold was so bad that the POWs who could walk were brought up on deck, taken ashore, and hosed down with saltwater. The Japanese also washed down the hold to clean out the waste on the floor. After the POWs went back into the hold, the temperature dried the water off them but left a layer of salt on their skin.
It arrived in Moji, Japan on September 4, and the POWs were given a piece of colored wood as they left the ship. The color of the piece of wood determined what camp the POWs were going to be sent to. When the POWs left the ship, the Japanese civilians held their noses to show them how bad they smelled. As they left the ship, they took a colored piece of wood which determined which POW camp they were sent to.
From Moji, some of the POWs were later sent to Aishio Camp – also known as Tokyo #9 – which was located on the side of a mountain. Living conditions in the camp were atrocious. The camp had a limited amount of water because the water line was broken. This meant the POWs could not wash after working and there was little water for cooking. The POWs kitchen was 40 feet from the latrines resulting in flies being everywhere in the kitchen and in the food since the Japanese did not supply lids for the cooking utensils. The Japanese guard in charge of the POWs’ mess stole food for himself that was meant for them. The POWs reported he was seen carrying sacks of rice and sugar, assigned to them, from the camp.
Meals were always the same. It was a mixture of barley, maize, Indian corn, and rice. Once in a while, the Japanese gave them fish heads to eat. Once a month the Japanese slaughtered a horse for the civilian workers, and the POWs got the bones which they cooked for days to soften them. They divided the hones among the POWs.
In the camp, the POWs were housed in two barracks that were inadequately heated. During the nights, the POWs only had thin blankets to cover themselves with. The beds in the barracks were two platforms that went around the perimeter of the barracks, one above the other, with ladders to the upper platform. Each POW had a straw mat to sleep on, but the mats were infested with lice and bedbugs.
The Japanese misappropriated the Red Cross packages for themselves and stored them in a warehouse near the camp. Red Cross blankets sent to the camp for the POWs were issued to the guards to use. They also took chocolate, canned meats, fruit, milk, and clothing meant for the POWs. They also used the medicine and medical supplies sent to the camp by the Red Cross.
Being sick was no excuse for not working. Since a certain number of POWs had to work each day, the Japanese medic in charge of the sickbay sent men to work who were too sick to work. Medicine was given out on a limited basis. He said, “We had a doctor in our group and he gave such treatment to us as he cold without medicine, and I’ve seen the Japanese guards slap him many times when he would ask them for medical supplies.”
The POWs worked in the Ashio Copper mine which had been closed but reopened because of the war. When they entered the mine or left it, they had to bow to the mine god. Many said their own prayers since the mine was in poor condition. Safety regulations were almost nonexistent and the POWs were frequently injured. The POWs used sledgehammers to break large rocks into smaller ones so they could be loaded into the mine cars. A Japanese medic determined who was healthy enough to work each day.
It was a common practice in the camp for the POWs to be hanged by their legs and arms from the rafters, with ropes, in a building with their backs to the ground. This lasted for 20 minutes then they were lowered to the ground for ten minutes to rest. They then were hung again by their arms and legs. When one POW was caught stealing food, all the POWs in his detachment were made to stand at attention all night. The next morning they were sent to the mine. Otha was beaten with a rifle butt because he and another POW began to hum an American song while walking back to the camp. During the beating, his nose was broken.
On August 30, 1945, the Japanese camp commanders received an order- from Gen. Douglas MacArthur – that the following statement had to be read by them, or a translator, in English.
After being liberated, the former POWs were taken by train to Yokohama. It took the train 14 hours to make the 90 mile trip to the city. When they arrived at the station, Gen. Robert Eichelberger, commander of the Eighth Army, was waiting to meet them and threw his arms around them. As they rushed from the train and hugged the American soldiers there.
When the POWs made contact with American troops, Otha weighed 88 pounds. The former POWs rode a train to docks where they were given medical exams. From there, they flew to Manila for further medical treatment. At some point, he telegrammed his mother and said, “Still in Manila. Expect to leave anytime. Do not worry. Will be home soon.”
At some point, he was promoted to Staff Sergeant. He returned to the United States and remained in the Army until he was discharged at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, on May 18, 1946. He never emotionally recovered from his time as a POW, but he never complained or felt anything was owed to him.
He and his wife became the parents of two daughters and three sons. The couple made their home in Paducah. He passed away on January 19, 1967, and was buried at Johnson Cemetery in McCracken County, Kentucky.