Pvt. Willis Elmer Lewis on July 29, 1918, in Nelson County, Kentucky, to Shelton Lewis and Mattie Kay-Lewis. With his two sisters and four brothers, he grew up on the family farm on RFD #1, Pendleton, Kentucky. It is known that he completed grammar school before he went to work as a farmhand. When the Selective Service Act became law on October 16, 1940, he registered and named his mother as his contact person. He was inducted into the Army on February 21, 1941, in Lousiville, Kentucky, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. Upon arrival at the base, he was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
Basic training was rushed and finished in seven weeks or less. 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 Armored Regiment of the First Armored Division and under the supervision of officers and enlisted men of the 192nd Tank Battalion. It was there that he was trained as a tank driver.
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, Lousiana, 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.
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 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 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, 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 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.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. It is not known if D Company ate with the 192nd or if they ate dinner with the 194th Tank Battalion since the company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th.
The members of the 192nd pitched ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. D Company may have moved into their 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 – a heavy material uncomfortable to wear in the heat – on base. 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 US. 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.
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. 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. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. 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 for both the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Bataan. 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 was sent, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. A few days later, D Company was sent out to a dam to protect it from saboteurs. It did this job until Japanese troops landed, then the company withdrew through Manila toward Bataan. As the tanks went through Manila, the city already showed damage from being bombed.
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.
Christmas Day, the tankers spent 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. On the night of December 26/27, D Company found that the bridge they were assigned to cross a river had been destroyed. The company commander made the decision to abandon the tanks and cross without them. Of this event, A.L. recalled that the 72 men disabled the tanks and crossed the river. They rode a truck in the dark to their own lines. The Japanese were able to get the tanks operating and used them in the Battle of Bataan. 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 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 of the 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. When the Japanese attacked the position at 2:30 A.M., they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The smoke they used to cover their advance blew back into them. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese and at 5:00 A.M. they broke off the attack. A.L. described many of the engagements against the Japanese as running battles since the tanks would drop back quickly after engaging the Japanese.
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 launched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
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.
Disease 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 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 flew over on their way to Java.
During this time, a tank had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free it. 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. At some point, A.L. was wounded and sent to the hospital.
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 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. 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.
According to a member of HQ Company, 194th, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. 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.
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.”
It was around April 5 that A.L. was sent to Hospital #2 suffering from malaria where he remained when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9. On April 22, 1942, the hospital was shelled when Corregidor returned fire from Japanese artillery. The artillery was set up next to the hospital buildings to use the POWs as a human shield. One building was hit resulting in the deaths of 22 POWs. During shelling on April 29, Ward 14 was hit resulting in the death of five POWs. When Gen. Wainwright learned where the Japanese guns were at, he ordered that no fire be returned.
On May 12, 1942, the hospital closed and the POWs were marched to Hospital #1 at Little Baguio. As they marched they saw the dead still lying along the sides of the road in the ditches since the carnage had not been cleaned up. The POWs were identified as in the Cabcaben Detachment on May 19, 1942, and remained at Little Baguio until May 26 when they were taken by a truck convoy to Bilibid Prison. and remained there for three days. They were put into what had been the prisoner’s hospital and slept on the concrete floor.
The POWs were organized into a detachment on May 30 and marched to the train station where 75 to 100 men were put into each steel boxcar for the ride to Cabanatuan. When they arrived at the barrio, they were marched 1¼ miles to a schoolyard where they spent the night lying in human waste. The next morning, they were told that they would have to march 18 miles and that anyone who fell would be shot.
In reality, they were marched 8.7 miles and those who fell were beaten with canes until they got up. If the man still did not get up, the guard raised his hand that had a flag in it, and a truck pulled up and the man was put on it. When the POWs saw this, many of them soon were collapsing to the ground. The detachment was marched 8.7 miles past Cabanatuan Camp #1 to Cabanatuan Camp #2 where the POWs were given showers. The next day, the detachment was marched back to Cabanatuan #1 where they were joined by the POWs from Camp O’Donnell.
In May, his family received their first message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. M. Lewis:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Willis E. Lewis, 35,100,579, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known as Camp Pangatian.
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. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
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 and divided into groups of ten men. This 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.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. The airfield detail was the largest detail at the time. The POWs worked at Cabanatuan Airfield which had opened before the war and had been the home for a unit of the Philippine Army Air Corps and was known as Maniquis Airfield. The POWs leveled the land and moved dirt. At first, they used wheelbarrows to move the soil, but when this became inefficient, mining cars and track were brought in, and the POWs loaded the cars and pushed them to where the dirt was being dumped. The POWs also worked planting rice. While working in the rice fields, one of the favorite punishments was for a guard to push a man’s face into the mud. Once his head was in the mud, the guard would step on his head to drive it deeper. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. Other details did go out but usually lasted a few days. Major details, of hundreds of men, left the camp and worked on projects that lasted years. When, due to illness or death, details became depleted, more POWs left the camp for details as replacements.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On 26 June 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. 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.
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, Private Willis E. Lewis 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.”
From medical records kept by the POWs, Willis was hospitalized in the camp hospital on Wednesday, July 1, with malaria and malnutrition and remained hospitalized until he was released on Thursday, September 24, 1942.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
He was again hospitalized on October 11, but nothing has been found to indicate why he was admitted. No date of discharge has been found. The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
Fr. Bruttenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14 and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot attempting to escape on November 16. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming is he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22. On November 23, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads. The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings.
Fr. Bruttenbruck returned on December 10 without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. He returned on December 24 with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
On January 11, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14 that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24 which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27.
During his time as a POW, his parents received a POW card from him. In the card, he asked for vitamins, clothing, canned food. While a POW at Cabanatuan, he became ill and was admitted to the camp hospital on Friday, February 5, 1943, and again on Saturday, April 10, 1943. No reason for his admittance or date of discharge was given.
Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1255 to 1450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12 that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22.
The camp had a rat and fly problem which helped to spread dysentery, so on March 3, an extermination program was started to get the population under control. To get the POWs involved, a quota was set and if a man turned in a rat or a milk can of flies, he received two biscuits and some cigarettes. During this time the POWs caught 320 rats and 12 million flies.
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
It is known that on June 7, 1943, his name was released on a list of men known as being held as POWs. His family had learned he was a POW weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE WILLIS E LEWIS 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 family 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. Willis E. Lewis, 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
Another POW, Conley, escaped from the garden detail on July 11, 1943, and was captured in a barrio. At about 11:00 PM, there was a lot of noise in the camp. The next morning, at the camp morgue, POWs described what they saw. Conley’s jaw had been crushed as was the top of his skull, his teeth had all been knocked out with a rifle butt, his left leg had been crushed, and he had been bayoneted in the eyes and scrotum. Also during July, the names of 500 POWs were posted on the list of POWs being sent to Bilibid Prison. On July 22, the POWs were issued new shoes, a suit of “Philippine Blues” and were 2 cans of corn beef, and 3 cans of milk. They were informed they would be taking a 21-day trip. The detachment left the camp that night. As it turned out, when they arrived in Manila, they were used in The Dawn of Freedom, a Japanese propaganda film, to show how cruel the Americans were to the Filipinos. After this, they were sent to prison and to Japan the next day.
He remained in the camp until July 28, 1943, when he was selected for transport to Japan. From Cabanatuan, he was taken to Bilibid Prison for processing. From Bilibid the POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded their ship. The ship, the Coral Maru, was also known as the Kohu Maru and left Manila on September 20. (The ship previously had been misidentified as the Taga Maru.) The ship sailed on September 20, 1942, and stopped at Takao, Formosa, arriving there about September 22, before sailing for Moji, Japan, about September 26, arriving there on October 5, 1942. This was a relatively quick trip. From there the POWs rode a train and arrived at Tokyo #5-B also was known as Niigata Camp. When they arrived the camp commandant said to them, “I want you people to know that you are prisoners of war, and you will be treated like prisoners of war and not like guests of Japan.”
What is known is that the camp was under the camp commander, the POWs were denied Red Cross packages to the POWs, and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs. It was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call since many of the POWs did not have shoes. The food from the packages was given to the guards, his family, and friends. On one occasion, he had the American POW cooks cook the Red Cross food for him to eat. When flour and macaroni were sent to the camp, from the main camp, Nakamura gave the food to the guards to eat.
The first 300 POWs in the camp were from Dutch from Java, British POWs, and Canadians from Hong Kong, with the Americans, from the Philippines, arriving on October 7th. The entire camp was a two-story building with a courtyard and a smaller building. In the courtyard was a hand pump which was their only water supply, and the pump was located next to the POWs’ washroom. Thirty POWs were assigned to each room in the larger building and they barely had enough space to lie down. The building appears to have been unheated during the winter and no stoves for heat were provided. The camp kitchen was a small building next to the main building that had a stove. The building was owned by Niigata Kairiku Unso but the POWs were moved, on December 25, 1943, when another 350 POWs arrived at the camp. The new wooden barracks, that were built for the POWs, were of flimsy construction and soon became infested with lice, fleas, and rats, which also spread rapidly among the POWs. Each man had a 3 foot by 6-foot area to sleep in on a straw mat. One building collapsed during a storm on January 1, 1944, and killed eight POWs. One of the new barracks collapsed from the weight of snow on its roof on January 1st killing eight POWs. The other POWs had to dig them out. The Japanese decided the camp was a mistake and moved the POWs to another location. The major improvement was that the barracks had stoves for heat and the POWs could bring coal from the docks to keep the fires going. The kitchen that cooked the POWs’ food was two miles from where the POWs were housed, so the POWs seldom had a hot meal. There was also no water supply and water had to be brought to the camp in drums.
The camp had a British doctor, Major William Stewart, who attempted to keep the POWs alive without medical supplies. What served as a hospital was a room with cracks in its walls that wind and snow blew through in the winter. A Japanese medical corporal at the camp sent POWs too sick to work which resulted in some of them dying. When the POWs reported for sick call, they were beaten, hit, punched, and kicked in the face or stomach. Most of the deaths that took place in the camp were the result of men too ill to work being forced to work. From September 3, 1943, to December 31st, a guard jumped on or kicked the POWs suffering from beriberi and malnutrition. He ordered them to stand at attention and to bow. He was also known for appropriating the Red Cross packages sent to the camp for the POWs. Any POW who did get put on sick call had his food rations cut in half. The Japanese medical personnel sent sick and weak POWs to work. They also misappropriated medical supplies sent by the Red Cross for use by the Japanese personnel in the camp. In October 1943, he had those POWs suffering from dysentery brought to him. When they arrived, he poked them in their stomachs with a stick. He also hit them on the head and body with his hands, fists, and with a stick to get them to go to work since so many POWs were needed each day.
Punishment in the camp was extreme with POWs being beaten senseless and revived with cold water so they could be beaten again. Usually, the beatings took place because the POW had been caught stealing food while unloading a ship. After the POW was beaten to the Japanese satisfaction, he was thrown into the guardhouse. When he was released he went back to work. POWs caught stealing food a second time were put in the “extreme guardhouse,” after being severely beaten, without a blanket (regardless of season) without shoes, socks, or overcoat. The man’s food ration was also caught in half. When he was released the beatings continued. When two POWs were caught stealing Red Cross packages, they were beaten repeatedly over several days and tied up outside only in their underwear. They later died of exposure
It was also at this time that the Japanese announced the POWs would be receiving Red Cross Boxes, but there was a catch, The POWs had to allow Red Cross Boxes to be given to the camp staff. The POWs already knew that the Japanese were misappropriating the boxes because the guards were seen eating Red Cross sugar and cocoa. The Japanese also used canned food from the boxes as rewards so the POWs would work harder.
Since it was a two-mile walk to the docks, the POWs were most likely awakened sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. Their breakfast was usually a potato with what they called “greens.” They also had a soup once in a while that was made from seaweed which tasted pretty good. They also received grasshoppers cooked in soybean sauce once in a while. Their workday started in the dark at 5:00. At noon they received lunch which was a cold potato or soups made from radishes. Once in a great while, they received fish. The food rations for the POWs were determined by the jobs they performed. The POWs working in the factories received 600 grams a day, while those assigned to the docks received 700 grams. A typical meal consisted of rice or soybeans and the tops of daikon which were Japanese radishes. The POWs would receive a watery soup once in a while. Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles that damaged the POWs’ teeth. To supplement their meals, the POWs would smuggle food into the camp. The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks. It is known that Red Cross packages sent to the camp, for the POWs, were misappropriated by the Japanese and sold on the Black Market.
It was raining the first day the POWs went to work on the docks and they shivered since their clothing was meant for the tropics. Many of the POWs were assigned to work the docks unloading coal for the Rinko Coal Company and it is known they also unloaded foodstuffs. The Japanese supervisor had the nickname “Whiskers” and was brutal to the POWs. Under Whiskers were former Japanese soldiers who had been wounded in China and were no longer able to fight. These “Honchos” actually treated the POWs fairly well because they viewed them as combat veterans like themselves. Those Honchos who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often would scream at the POWs and beat men up for no reason. To get them to work, the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
The POWs would push coal cars – that could hold half of a ton of coal – along rails on a trestle that was 30 feet above the ground. At different places, they dumped it on the dock. Since there weren’t enough cars, many POWs had to carry the coal on their shoulders in baskets attached to poles. At one point, a guard took the boots away from the POWs during the winter and made them work barefooted on the trestle in cold and wet weather. He also knocked the POWs down and kicked them. The result was that their feet were bruised and cut up from the coal. The guards would often help the POWs push the coal cars and it wasn’t unusual for the guards who mistreated the POWs to have accidents. Sometimes while pushing the cars the handle was pushed and the coal fell onto the guards. The guards also accidentally slipped and fell off the trestle, but so did some of the POWs at times. When the POWs got back to their barracks after working, they were wet and could not dry themselves. They also were covered in coal dust and the only way for them to clean themselves was at the hand pump in the courtyard.
On April 1, 1944, he was transferred to Tokyo 15-B and again was working in a steel mill. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and an electrified fence. Well-armed guards also patrolled the perimeter of the camp. Inside the fence were two, two-story barracks for the POWs. The two floors were divided into rooms that slept eight POWs each. The rats were so bad in the barracks that the POWs tucked their covers in tightly to prevent them from biting, but they felt them running across the blankets at night.
The camp was under the commandant denied Red Cross packages to the POWs which would have supplied them with food, clothing, and shoes. Nakamura and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs. He also wore shoes that were sent by the Red Cross for the POWs and handled them out to the guards. It was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call since many of the POWs did not have shoes. The POWs reported that Nakamura used the Red Cross parcels for his own use and gave the food to the guards for their mess. He was known to have raided the parcels for the food, and on occasion, had the American POW cook it for him to eat. When flour and macaroni were sent from the main camp for the POWs, the commandant gave the food to the guards to eat.
In November 1944, 200 Red Cross boxes arrived at the camp. The camp’s commanding officer came and took 50 of the boxes. Another 27 Red Cross boxes of food were also taken from the POWs and eaten by the camp commander and the guards. Red Cross shoes sent to the camp that would have protected the POWs’ feet were never distributed even though the snow in the Winter of 1944 was the heaviest it had been in years. Blood could be seen in the snow when the POWs stood for roll call in the mornings and evenings. The camp commander said that only good workers would be issued shoes and clothing. Those POWs confined to the camp hospital did not receive anything from the Red Cross.
The POWs received a small potato for breakfast and a cup of green tea. Lunch was a small bowl of rice covered with potato tops and they received the same meal for supper. The Japanese had the POWs raise rabbits, but when the rabbits became large enough to eat, the Japanese did not allow them to slaughter them. Instead, the rabbits were allowed to starve to death. When the prisoners received meat, each POW received a piece the size of a thumbnail. Three times a year the POWs received fish three times in 1945. In place of vegetables, the POWs were given flour made from tree roots which were impossible to eat, so most of the POWs wouldn’t even take it. The daily meal averaged 700 calories.
The POWs were beaten daily in the camp. POWs who were caught with food were tied to posts naked and left standing in the snow for an hour. After they were untied, they were sent to their barracks to dress. Once dressed they were beaten and kicked. The POWs were also hit with sticks. The POWs were also beaten at the steel mill by the civilian guards who apparently selected one POW each day to be beaten. It was said that the guards seemed to particularly like to beat POWs who were sick and could not do their assigned work.
The Japanese medic in charge of the camp hospital would line the sick POWs up after roll call and have them show their two bowls for food. If a POW was missing one, he would slap, beat or use a stick on the man. According to the POWs, these beatings took place four times every week. Being sick was also no reason to be excused from work so the sick found themselves performing tasks they were too ill to do.
The POWs worked at a Shentetsu Steel Mill that was two and a half miles from the camp. There, the POWs fired furnaces and cleaned them. They also lifted heavy pieces of steel much too heavy for them and stacked them in piles. They also cleaned slag from the furnaces and castings.
About one month before the surrender, there was a noticeable change in the attitude of the guards. The POWs had no idea that the war had ended until a week after the official surrender took place. Before the surrender, the guards at the camp were replaced with guards who spoke more English and appeared to be trying to “soft-soap” the POWs.
It was August 15, 1945, and the camp commandant followed by guards came out of his office. They went to the gate where a small radio was and listened to a voice that was identified as the emperor. He told them that Japan was surrendering and that they had to endure the unendurable. The commandant went into his office and shot himself.
The guards fled the camp on the 19th. The next day American Navy planes flew low over the camp and the pilots waved to the POWs and gave them the thumbs up. The POWs wondered how they knew where the camp was located. One plane dropped a note attached to a wrench. It said, “War over. Happy days are here again. Paint the roofs of your buildings with large POW letterings. Wait for supplies to arrive by B-29s. God bless every one of you.” Two days later B-29s – with their bomb bays open – dropped 55-gallon drums attached to parachutes. Two of the drums went crashing through the roofs of the barracks but no one was hurt. A couple of parachutes got tangled in the trees and the civilians attempted to take them but were driven off by the POWs. The planes kept dropping food to the POWs that they left it behind when they left the camp.
The POWs remained in the camp for about a week when an American officer and Marines entered the camp. The Marines began to cry when they saw the POWs. The officer came forward and said in a strong voice, “Men, the war is over. Welcome to freedom. The first thing we have to do is to fatten you up with good food and vitamins. You will be traveling by train in a few days to Yokohama and from there … home, back to your loved ones. The sick will be the first priority to move out of here. Now, I strongly urge each one of you not to stray too far from the camp as there are still hostile Japs out there who do not believe in defeat and surrender. Anow, men, God bless you all and WELCOME TO FREEDOM AND LIBERTY.” The POWs crowded around the Americans before they left the camp and hugged them. Tears were everywhere.
The Americans were the first to leave the camp on August 26 followed by the British, and the Canadians the next day. Each group rode the train to Yokohama. Once there, they stripped off the clothing dropped to them and it was thrown into burning drums. They were spread with DDT and then took showers. They received new clothing and shoes and boarded a hospital ship for medical examinations.
Willis was liberated in September 1945 and returned to the Philippines. He sailed for the United States on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman. The ship arrived in San Francisco on October 9, 1945. From there, he was taken to Letterman General Hospital and later transferred to a hospital closer to home. He was discharged from the Army on January 12, 1946, and owned a flooring store. He passed away on April 23, 2008, in Mount Washington, Kentucky, and was buried at Resthaven Memorial Cemetery, in Louisville, Kentucky.