Sgt. Marcus Arnold Lawson was from Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and born on March 4, 1922, to Raymond A. Lawson and Margaret Newby-Lawson. With his brother and three sisters, he grew up at 155 South Depot Street, Burgin, Kentucky. Marcus joined the National Guard on January 28, 1939, and was one of the original members of the Kentucky National Guard Company called to federal service. On November 25, 1940, the tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
The company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg and its tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving about four hours later at 4:30 P.M. He was promoted to corporal upon arrival at Ft. Knox. After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. 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; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were 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.
The First Sergeant, Edwin Rue, – on December 26 – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. Many of the men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay. One of those men was his best friend Elzie Anness.
The company spent a few weeks in tents, but it appears their barracks were finished in December. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space. The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the sergeant’s office, and one was in the commanding officer’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. It is known that they shared their mess hall with A Company until that company’s mess hall was finished sometime in December.
The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies. A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. While at Ft. Knox, he trained as a tank driver and assigned to a tank crew.
During this time, he attended automotive school to learn mechanics. He was in the course for three months and ended up never using what he learned. Marcus was made a tank commander and instructed other soldiers in driving tanks. His life during this time consisted of overnight maneuvers, hikes, and teaching machine gun maintenance.
Within three months he was made a sergeant. It was also at this time that all the companies had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the companies. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the companies in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. During the winter the companies formed basketball teams and played each other. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. Volleyball was also often played. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
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 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. 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.
From September 1 through 30, the tankers took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train. 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. Some felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot. During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
During their 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. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
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 to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
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. Also at night, 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.
Another major problem was snake bites. It appeared that every other man was bitten at some point by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snakebit 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 food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. 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.
At the end of the maneuvers, the tankers were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, without being given a reason for being sent there. They had expected to return to Ft. Knox at the end of the maneuvers. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. It was at this time, men 29 years or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. Morgan received a two-week furlough home. During the time, he went to Ft. Knox to see his brother who was in the hospital. His brother told him that they wanted to discharge him from the army because he had a back problem but he refused to take it. Edward went to Camp Polk and helped load the battalion’s trucks, tanks, and other equipment onto trains.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then 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.
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 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. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than go where you all are going.” Cecil believed he and the other men stayed on Angel Island for two days. 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. The ship 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, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. 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. 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 the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. 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 other companies of the 192nd ended up in tents at the end of a runway used by B-17s.
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. 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. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
It was around lunchtime and Marcus and the other men had gone to the food truck. One man was left with each of the tanks. At 12:45, planes appeared over the airfield. He and the other men thought the planes were American. When bombs began hitting the ground, they knew that the planes were Japanese. After the air raid, the tankers found Robert Brooks dead in front of a tank. Since Brooks had been his tank driver, Marcus took over his duties. 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. 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. One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed.
That night the tanks left Clark Field. Marcus and other tanks were sent to Maracot. The tanks were set up along the bank of a river. During this time, little happened, but the tankers were strafed a few times by Japanese 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 to guard beaches. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks. That night the tanks left Clark Field.
The battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers on the 15th but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These vehicles were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks. The 194th, with D Company, was sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf in support of the 192nd on the 21st. The tanks were near a ridge, so many of the tankers climbed to the top, where they found troops, ammunition, and guns. The soldiers were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the Gulf since they had received orders not to fire. The tankers walked down the ridge and waited. They received orders to drop back and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the ridge. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
The tanks formed a new defensive held 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 lost all its 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 disabled them believing they would be recovered. The Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant in command of one tank that had not abandoned found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. He was later awarded the Silver Star. The tankers fell back to the Pampanga River and lined up along the bank. They thought they were safe there. Other tanks pulled in behind them around midnight. It was sometime after their arrival that the shooting started. The tanks dropped back five miles while under fire. They remained under fire for the next several days. They once again found themselves in a hit and run game with the Japanese. Their main job was to serve as a rearguard covering the withdraws of the other units.
Next 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 2 to 4, 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 at Remedios in force and used smoke to cover the advance. The smoke blew back into the Japanese and since they were wearing white t-shirts, they were easy to see in the moonlight. 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 tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast 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 launched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
On Bataan, Marcus’ tank platoon was assigned to beach duty near the 148th-kilometer marker. It was while on this duty that the main defensive line broke. His tank and the other tanks were sent north in an attempt to plug the hole. Marcus felt that the tanks really could not do much because the Japanese outnumbered them and had air superiority. They were constantly bombed and strafed. It was while attempting to plug the hole, that Marcus’ tank was knocked out by the enemy fire. He dropped back on foot toward Mariveles.
During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officer 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 Waver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should pull their revolvers and tell the officer that they have been ordered by him to shoot any officer who attempted to change their orders. This ended the problem. 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 ten 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 first two tanks’ tracks were damaged but the tanks were recovered.
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.
Diseases spread among the men because of malnutrition. 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 the air support because their planes had been shifted south in the assault on Java. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over. During this time, two tanks 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 a major offensive on April 3 that was 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. Edward P. 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 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. Company B, 192nd, D Company, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. 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. Phil Parish, 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. Marcus climbed into a truck and went to sleep. While he was sleeping, the nearby ammo dump was blown up, and at about the same time, an earthquake took place. Jumping to his feet from a sound sleep, he had a hard time standing since the two events happened at the same time. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. 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.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company, 192nd, and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer 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. 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.
Hearing the news of the surrender on the morning of April 9. “We had orders to surrender but we didn’t.” Marcus made the decision that he would attempt to escape to Australia. He met up with Morgan French and two Hungarians who had a boat. Morgan managed to get the engine working. It is known that nineteen members of D Company were on the boat. The men decided that they would not attempt to escape until after dark. As they waited, they were warned by a Filipino that there were Japanese on the cliffs above them.
Before they sailed, they picked up an American captain and three soldiers. They told the captain of their plan. He pulled out his handgun and told them that they were going to Corregidor. Being that he had them by gunpoint, they went to Corregidor. As they attempted to reach the island, the Japanese shelled them and planes dropped bombs at them. When they reached the island, they learned that they could not leave since the entrance to the bay was controlled by Japanese ships. Marcus was put on beach defense and given a gun. He was sent to Skipper Hill, which faced Bataan, with Charlie Quinn of D Company. The two men were now attached to the Fourth Marine Division.
Each evening a chow wagon was sent down to the soldiers. To get to them, the chow truck had to cross an open field. Since the Japanese were using observation balloons on Bataan, as soon as the truck made it to the field it came under fire. The attacks got so bad that this method of feeding the soldiers was abandoned. One day, Marcus and Doc Sparrow were sent out to get food. When they began crossing the field, shells began landing around them. In front of them was a member of the 31st Infantry. As he ran, he was hit by shrapnel from a shell which decapitated him. Marcus and Doc Sparrow did not let the man lay in the field but dragged his body to a bunker and sat him up. They then picked up his head and placed it on his lap. They left him leaning on the bunker.
As time went on, the soldiers could not go for food. Instead, Marcus and Doc went to the Malinta Tunnel to get it. While in the tunnel, they heard small arms fire. The two did not think anything of it. To them, it was a normal thing just a little heavier than normal. Marcus and Doc were told that the Japanese had landed on the island the night before. The two men said that they had just come from outside and had not seen any Japanese. They looked out the mouth of the tunnel and saw Japanese marching by fours toward them. Japanese tanks approached the tunnel at the same time, and snipers were also near the tunnel’s mouth. When a man attempted to get out, he was dead within eight or ten steps. In spite of these odds, the two soldiers decided that they would make a break for it. Just as Marcus and Doc were about to make their way out of the tunnel, they heard of the surrender. They remained in the tunnel and destroyed their guns.
The two men did get out of the tunnel and made their way to Queen’s Tunnel. In this tunnel, the two found canned food. They opened cans of peaches, sweet corn, and cream. They ate as much as they could. While they were eating, the Japanese arrived. Marcus and the others stood up at attention. The Japanese spoke English and wanted food. In particular, they wanted canned Pineapple. Within a few minutes, the tunnel was full of Japanese. Unlike the first Japanese, these soldiers took anything the Americans had. They took their watches, money, and wallets. They also began to beat the Americans. There was an old American civilian who had a pocket watch on a gold chain with a large fob on it. A Japanese soldier motioned to him to take it off. He refused. The soldier kicked him in the stomach and hit him in the face with the butt of his rifle and then took the watch. The other Americans could do little but watch. After the beating, they comforted him as he cried. It was not much later that Marcus saw General Wainwright as he came out of the tunnel. He was crying as he saluted them.
Marcus and the other Prisoners of War were taken to what was known as the 92nd Garage on Corregidor’s shore. There, they lived in makeshift barracks to keep dry since it was the rainy season. The POWs scavenged for rice and sugar. He and the other men went three days without water. Marcus and Doc Sparrow volunteered for the water detail. To get the water they went to the Malinta Tunnel to get water from a faucet. On their way to the tunnel, a little Japanese guard picked on a big Marine. While they were in the tunnel getting water, the Marine said that things were going to change on the way back. On the detail, were three guards. One in front, one in the middle, and one at the back of the detail. When they got to a cliff and were making their way along its edge, the Marine picked up the guard and threw him off it. Neither of the other guards saw what had happened and never made an issue of it.
About a week later, Marcus and many of the POWs left Corregidor. They were boarded onto small boats and taken to a larger one. This boat took them to an area near Manila. There, they were made to jump off the boat into the water. Marcus could not swim, but when he saw another American, who could not swim, hit and pushed into the water by a guard, he decided to take his chances. He jumped into the water, bobbed up, took a breath, and began walking along the bottom toward shore. He pushed himself up for air and continued to walk until his head was above water.
Marcus and the other POWs were taken to Bilibid Prison outside Manila. Once on shore, the POWs were ordered to form a detachment. Having heard of the march out of Bataan from men who had escaped, they feared they were about to experience the same thing. Instead, they were marched at a reasonable pace and given breaks. He remembered marching down a boulevard for ten miles on the way to the prison. He remained in the prison for a week before being sent to Cabanatuan.
His parents received two letters from the War Department. The first arrived in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. M. Lawson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Sergeant Marcus A. Lawson, 20,523,445, 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”
From May 26 to 28, the Japanese marched 2,000 POWs a day to the train station where they boarded freight cars. Each car held 75 to 80 men. In the cars, the POWs were taken to the the barrio of Cabanatuan where they lived in an old schoolhouse. The next morning they were marched to Cabanatuan #3. The camp was opened so that the POWs from Corregidor would not mix with the POWs from Bataan.
The march was 15 to 20 miles. The prisoners were told that anyone who fell out would be shot. When the first man fell out, a Japanese guard came up to him and aimed his rifle at him. The man got up and ran back to the column. Not too long later, another man fell out. A guard approached him and did the same thing. When the man did not get up, the guard raised a red flag. A Japanese truck pulled up and the man was placed on it. When the prisoners saw this, it wasn’t very long until many of them were falling out to get a ride to the camp.
After all the POWs had arrived at Camp 3, there were approximately 6,000 POWs in the camp. When they arrived, the camp was not finished and there was no fence on the northside of the compound. Four POWs walked away from the camp on May 30. After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese. The Japanese tied them to posts and left them to hang in the sun. They also beat the POWs with boards. The Japanese also showed the men water but would not give them any to drink. The next day, while the POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating. They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water. They also offered blindfolds to the men. All the men took a blindfold except one. That man spat at the Japanese before they shot him. After they were shot, the men fell backward into the graves. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot him with his pistol. He next shot each man to make sure they were dead.
The first meal the POWs received was an onion soup that had no onions on it or carrots in it. After the initial meal, meals usually consisted of squash, mongo beans, rice, and the tops of a native sweet potato were used to make soup. Once a week the POWs received carabao meat. According to Marcus, the main meal was rice and whistle weed soup.
It is not known how long Marcus remained in the camp since POW details were sent out almost from the time they arrived. One reason this happened was the POWs were in much better shape than the men captured on Bataan. Many POWs worked day details where they left the camp and returned the same day. On one of these details, four POWs working on a truck detail were wounded when it was attacked by Filipino guerrillas. One of the men died.
To prevent escapes, the Japanese instituted the “blood brother” rule on June 21. The POWs in the camp were placed in ten men groups and lived in the same barracks, slept in the same area, ate together, and worked together. If one man escaped, the other nine were executed since – according to Japanese logic – they should have been able to stop the man from escaping. The first church services were held in the camp on June 28. The next June 29, the officers organized activities for the POWs to improve moral. Teams were organized to play softball, basketball, volleyball, and ping-pong. In addition, sing-a-long groups were organized to entertain the POWs. On July 17, an organized effort started to catch flies in the camp since they spread dysentery. For a milk can filled with flies, a POW received two biscuits and some cigarettes.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Sergeant Marcus A. Lawson had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
POWs during this time were sent out on details and returned to the camp. 360 POWs left the camp for a work detail at Manila. Another group of 150 men was sent there on July 30. Followed by the third detachment of 198 men on September 1. The Japanese gave physicals to 344 POWs who they referred to as “producers” and were being sent to Japan. The term producer meant the POWs had training in areas that the Japanese wanted to exploit. 1oo POWs left the camp on a work detail on September 23, followed by another 100 POWs the next day. Another 32 men were sent to the detail at Manila on September 28 followed by 119 POWs the next day. On October 4, 374 POWs were sent to the Manila work detail and the next day another 676 POWs were sent there. On October 12 the POWs were organized into two groups. Group I was made up of all Army and Air Corps personnel, and Group II was made up of all Navy personnel.
The POWs remaining in the camp reorganized the POWs still there and created Group I made up of Army personnel and Group II made up of Navy personnel. It was at this time that the Japanese began the transfer of sick POWs to Camp 1 with 20 men being sent to the hospital there on October 14 and another 10 men being transferred there the next day. On October 21, 322 POWs, from Group I, were sent to Camp 1 followed by another 15 sick POWs on October 23. Another 297 POWs were sent to Manila to the work detail there o October 26. The POWs still at Camp 3 on October 27 received word that they were all going to be sent to Camp 1. The 74 sick POWs in the camp were sent to the hospital at Camp 1on October 28. On October 29, 1,126 POWs boarded trucks and rode to Camp 1. The next day, the remaining 775 POWs were taken by truck to the camp. Camp 3 officially went out of existence on October 30, 1942.
Camp 1 was about six miles from Camp #3. There, he was reunited with other members of D Company. Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. In the camp, the Japanese had also instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, they received bread.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major detail were the airfield detail and working in the rice paddies which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The Cabanatuan Airfield had opened before the war and home to units of the Philippine Army Air Corps. It was also known as Maniquis Airfield. The POWs worked on building runways and revetments.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
Marcus did not like the camp so he volunteered to go to Japan on the first ship. With him on the ship were Elzie Anness, Skip Rue, Morgan French, and Bill “Doc” Sparrow of D Company. There were also other members of his battalion on the ship with whom he had become friends at Ft. Knox.
At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with, which was a small issue of rice and what the Japanese termed “a large piece of meat.” The large piece of meat was two inches square and large next to a piece of meat they usually received at a meal.
After they arrived at the barrio, a Japanese officer lectured the POWs before they boarded train cars. 98 POWs were put into each car which allowed them to position themselves so they could move around. They remained on the train all day and arrived at Manila at 5:00 P.M. After they disembarked, they were marched to Pier 7 where they spent the night sleeping on a concrete floor in a building.
The POWs boarded the Nagato Maru at 5:00 P.M. on November 6. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold which the Japanese believed could hold 600 men without a problem. In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 600 men. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 550 and 560. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All the holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner.
The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts. The Nagato Maru sailed on November 7, 1942.
The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was at the on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line.
For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had stepped on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Formosa the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18. During this part of the trip, the POWs felt the explosions from depth charges.
The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship. As they disembarked, each POW received a chip of red or black colored wood. The color of the wood determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused, showered, and issued new uniforms.
By ferry, the POWs were taken to Shimonoseki, Honshu, where they were loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There, the prisoners were divided into two groups according to the color of the wood they had.
Upon arriving in Japan, Marcus’s eyes went bad. He also was suffering from dry beriberi. Because of his condition, he was selected for an experimental detail and taken to a Japanese Army Hospital. For seven or eight weeks Marcus and the other POWs were given different pills every day. No one died from the pills. The Japanese doctor told the POWs that their health problems were the result of their poor diets, but that there was little that he could do for them.
He was one of 500 POWs taken to Tanagawa Camp arriving there late in the evening of November 26. The camp contained ten barracks with paper-thin walls that went down to six inches above the dirt floors. Each barracks housed 50 men. The barracks were very cold. There were two decks of bunks with a ladder going up every twenty feet to the second deck which was 8 to 10 feet off the ground. Shoes had to be taken off at the foot of the ladder. At the foot of each bunk were five synthetic blankets made out of peanut shell fiber and a rigid pillow in the shape of a small cylinder packed with rice husks. To reach the upper bunks the POWs used ladders.
It was not too long after arriving at Tanagawa that Pvt. Elzie Anness became extremely ill from dysentery. Being that Elzie was Marcus’s best friend from childhood and had grown up across the street from him, Marcus did what he could for his friend.
One night, the American medic in charge of the ward came to Marcus’s quarters and told him Elzie was near death. Marcus and the other man dodged the camp searchlight and made their way to the camp hospital. Marcus held Elzie and got him to eat some food. Before he left, the medic in charge of the ward told him that it wouldn’t be too long before Elzie would die. Marcus left the ward and returned to his barracks. The next morning Marcus was told that Elzie Anness had died.
Marcus could not bring himself to be present when Elzie was cremated. Instead, Morgan French watched the cremation. After he had been cremated, Elzie’s remains were given to the camp commandant.
In the camp they POWs, regardless of rank, were used to construct a dry dock for Japanese submarines in violation of the Geneva Convention. To do this, the POWs tore down the side of a mountain. To do this, the POWs worked in groups known as “sections.” If the section did not reach its quota, the POWs were beaten. The reason most could not meet the set quotas was that they were weak and hungry from lack of food.
When the POWs did not load the expected number to train cars, the Japanese beat them. The prisoners also retaliated against the Japanese by committing acts of sabotage. One of the easiest acts of sabotage to commit was to mix the concrete for the dry-dock walls to thin. The POWs would make the concrete soupy and mostly water. They did this so the walls of the dry-dock would start to crumble after it was completed.
The Red Cross boxes sent to the camp for the POWs were misappropriated by the Japanese. They took a great portion of the food from the boxes and were seen walking around the camp eating American chocolate and smoking American cigarettes. Empty cans from American meats, fruit, and cheese were seen by the POWs in the Japanese garbage.
Being ill was not an excuse to get out of work. The POW doctor had a sick call each morning and created a list of men who were too ill to go to work. After he created it, a Japanese medical clerk took the list and decided who was sick enough to stay in camp and who had to go to work. One day, while working on the docks, the POWs were ordered to load bombs into railroad boxcars. They refused to do so since it was in violation of the Geneva Convention. They were beaten until they loaded the bombs.
One man’s beriberi was so bad that his feet began to turn black. The Japanese told them that they were going to remove his feet at the ankles. Instead, they removed the flesh leaving only the bone.
Corporal punishment was common in the camp and done for the slightest reason or for no reason. One guard in the camp, Tsunesuke Tsuda, beat the POWs the most because he wanted to break their spirit and humble them. Most of the beatings took place during the morning muster or at the evening muster while the POWs were at attention. The POWs were punched, slapped, clubbed, kicked, hit with shoes and belts, and even furniture was used on the POWs as they stood at attention. Some POWs were hit in the throat which resulted in their not being able to speak for a week. He beat the POWs so severely and often, that he was required to sign a statement not to beat the POWs under penalty of death. Individual beatings were also common in the camp.
When a POW was beaten, he frequently had to hold a heavy object like a log or rock, or a bucket of water, over his head as he stood at attention. POWs were also slapped, or hit with a rifle butt because, during muster, they failed to bow to the guard at the right angle. From January 5, 1943, until March 21, 1943, the POWs were made to run excessive distances. On one occasion, in March 1943, they were forced to run 4 to 5 miles in the rain without shirts.
On April 14, 1943, the War Department released a list of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. Marcus’ name was on the list. His parents had learned he was a POW weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON SERGEANT MARCUS A LAWSON 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:
“Sgt. Marcus A. Lawson, 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
When this detail was disbanded, Marcus was sent to Osaka #1. The camp was located in Osaka and the POWs worked as stevedores unloading ships. While they worked, they stole as much food as they could. They stole soybeans and salt and once in a while, they got some sugar.
On one occasion, the prisoners were unloading a ship hauling sugar and alcohol. When they were given their green tea, many of them poured out half of their tea and filled the cup with alcohol. They also stirred in sugar. At the end of the day when the POWs were done working, many of them were drunk. The Japanese civilians were afraid of what would happen if the guards found out. So they sobered the men up by making them shower.
Marcus remained at Osaka #1 until the camp commandant was transferred. It was at that time that it was discovered that he had been sent there by mistake, so he was returned to Tanagawa #4-B. Upon arriving in the camp, Marcus was reunited with Doc Sparrow and Morgan French and went back to work building the dry-dock.
In 1945, during an inspection of the POW barracks a charcoal burner, beans, and other foods were found. The POWs from the barracks were ordered outside and called to attention. As they stood there, they were hit with belts, hands, and scoop shovels. The beating lasted the entire day until the POWs were ordered to kneel at attention for several hours.
One night, Marcus could not sleep. While he was laying on his mat, he heard the sound of American B-29s. This was the first time he heard them. The bombers bombed the shipyard. He would later say, “The Americans bombed me out of about three prison camps. They worked us all the time.”
Within a few months, the camp was broken up and Marcus and the other prisoners were sent to a graphite factory at Osaka #5. Across from the factory, there was an airfield and behind it was an oil refinery. The camp was surrounded by 27 smokestacks. “They (the Japanese) put us where they knew the Americans were going to bomb.”What amazed Marcus was that the POW Camp was never hit by the American bombers.
Marcus, Morgan French, and Doc Sparrow were selected for a work detail to Tsurguga Camp. There, they once again worked as stevedores unloading ships. The POWs at this camp lived in a two-story barracks.
One day, the Japanese expected the POWs to unload a ship loaded with bombs. The POWs refused on the basis that the bombs would be used against other Americans. To get the prisoners to work, the Japanese brought in what Marcus called the “baseball brigade.” The POWs were beaten with bats because they would not unload bombs from the ship. Even after repeatedly being beaten, the POWs still refused to unload the bombs.
On another occasion, the POWs were unloading beans and placing them in boxcars. Each boxcar held 170 to 180 sacks of beans. The POWs Marcus was working with got the idea to just put a few bags in the center of the car and then load the rest in front of the door to make the car look filled. The POWs got away with this for about a week.
One evening while Marcus and the other POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese pulled in a string of cars. They then threw all the bean bags out the door of one of the cars. Since the car had the number of the POW group that loaded it, the Japanese lined them up and beat them with baseball bats. When the POWs fell to the ground the guards jumped on them.
Marcus was the last man in line. When the guards got to him, they hit him twice with the bat and he fell to the ground. The guard kicked him in the ribs two or three times and that was it.
While working, Marcus broke his shoulder blade from carrying too much weight on it. He was in the camp hospital. One night, he heard American planes approaching and the bombs as they came down. The bombing lasted three hours. The next day the POWs could see that almost the entire town had burnt down.
About two weeks later, the POWs were taking a break on the dock. Suddenly, they saw three Navy Hellcats approaching. The POWs ran to a warehouse that had been bombed out. Each plane dropped three bombs. About five minutes later, sixty more Hellcats came over the docks and bombed and strafed the area. Any ships in the port were attacked and bombed.
During the attack, the POWs’ barracks were hit. After the attack, the POWs slept on concrete until the Japanese moved them to a building across from a textile mill. Marcus recalled that most of the workers in the textile mill were women and children.
The POWs lived in this building for a couple of months. In the building was a kiln. Some of the POWs were put to work on it. Every morning, a B-29 would fly over doing reconnaissance. One morning the air raid siren went off, but the POWs ignored it. They thought it was another reconnaissance flight. The plane dropped a blockbuster in the middle of the textile mill killing many women and children.
The prisoners knew that the Americans were getting closer by reading the civilian newspapers. One day the POWs were working, suddenly the guards stopped them and told them that it was too hot to work. The POWs knew something was up because this story just did not sound right. Some of the POWs said that the war had to be over because it had never been too hot to work before. Marcus was among those who were skeptical that the war had ended.
The next morning the POWs got up again and were told that they did not have to work that day. It was on this day that some of the prisoners heard a Japanese radio broadcast that said the Japanese were attempting to negotiate for peace.
The Japanese then came around and gave each prisoner a cigarette ration. The POWs had not seen cigarettes in months. Next, the Japanese gave the POWs new split-toe shoes and new POW uniforms.
Marcus was sick with a 106-degree temperature. The camp doctor could do little for him because he had no medicine. When a Japanese soldier came to the hospital and gave the men knew shoes and clothes, Marcus knew that the war was over.
Doc Sparrow came to see him. Marcus got out of bed with a temperature of 105 degrees. The two friends went into the town to trade the shoes and clothes for saki. They then got drunk.
Knowing that the war was over, Marcus and the other POWs moved to a building with nicer quarters. Marcus had a thick mattress to sleep on for the first time in years. The POWs also painted a big “POW” on the roof of a building. American planes dropped food, medicine, and clothing to them, but no Americans appeared at the camp.
Marcus and another American made the decision to go find the Americans. They gathered a group of 62 POWs to go with them. The ranking American officer in the camp asked them where they were going. When they told him, he ordered them to remain in the camp. “We liberated ourselves. We were told we could be court martial-ed.” But this threat did not stop them.
The men made their way to the train station. At the station, a Japanese guard attempted to stop them, but another POW pushed him off the train station platform. The men got onto the train when it pulled into the station. They rode it to Tokyo.
When they got to Tokyo, they lined up and started marching down the street looking for Americans. They never saw any Americans. The POWs were wearing new uniforms dropped to them from the planes. At this time a jeep came around the corner with Americans in it. Being the former POWs were wearing new uniforms, the men did not know that Marcus and the other men had been POWs. The jeep stopped and the men in it told the former POWs that Tokyo was off-limits.
When the men in the jeep learned that Marcus and the other men had been POWs in Japan for over three years, they jumped out of the jeeps and took pictures. It turned out that the men were correspondents from an American magazine. The reporters than told the former POWs that American troops were in Yokohama near Tokyo. The men got onto a streetcar and rode it to Yokohama. They got off and were passed by American trucks.
The men saw a GI kitchen and went up to it and asked for food. Lawson recalled, “They told us to go eat with our own unit. We told them we didn’t have a unit; we had been prisoners of war for 3½ years. The cooks gave them food and a lot more. When one of the men said that they had been in Japan for over three years and that they couldn’t find anyone to report to, the cooks began giving them as much food as they wanted.”
The freed POWs were taken by truck to Benevolence Hospital Ship. They were deloused before they were allowed on the ship. Each man had to be brought onto the ship by stretcher. When they reached the deck, they would jump off of the stretcher and run.
About a week later, Marcus saw a line on the ship. He asked someone what was going on. He was told that the men in the line were signing up to fly home. Marcus got in line and signed up to go home. A few days later he was taken to an airfield and flown to Okinawa. He stayed there for four or five days and next was flown back to the Philippines. While he was in the Philippines, sometime around September 20, his parents received a message from the War Department.
He was finally put on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman and sailed for San Francisco arriving on October 3, 1945. There, he stayed at Letterman General Hospital until it was decided what Veterans Administration Hospital he would be sent to a VA hospital closer to home. Marcus was sent to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Even though he wanted to travel by train, he was put on an airplane.
Marcus landed at Westover Field, Massachusetts, and spent the next ten months at the VA Hospital. His discharge papers were all filled out, but after an examination by a doctor, it was determined that he should go to an eye hospital in Avon, Connecticut. He stayed there for three or four months until he was discharged on November 5, 1946, as a Staff Sergeant.
Marcus returned to Kentucky and married Helen Crews and became the father of two sons. The one lasting effect of his time as a POW was vision problems.
Marcus A. Lawson passed away in Florida on August 6, 2005, and was buried at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.