Sgt. Joseph Blum Matheny was born in Logan, Ohio, on February 17, 1922. He was the son of Ervin Matheny & Hazel Blum-Matheny and grew up at 72 Hill Street in Logan, Ohio, with his two brothers. He was known as “Joe” to his family and friends. His family later moved to Zanesville, Ohio, and resided at 2530 Oakwood Avenue. He graduated from Logan High School in 1940.
While living in Zanesville, he enlisted in the U. S. Army on January 24, 1941, and was scheduled to be sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The reason he did enlisted was the draft act was about to effect and he knew he would be drafted. Instead of going to Camp Shelby, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and was assigned Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
Joseph attended tank school at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and rose in rank from private to sergeant. He took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941. It was after these maneuvers that he and the rest of the battalion learned the 192nd was being sent overseas.
Traveling west by train, Joseph and the rest of the 192nd arrived in San Francisco. From there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals and received shots for overseas duty.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down 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 a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island 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 members of the battalion were given furloughs home so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Fort McDowell on Angel Island, where the soldiers were inoculated and given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those who had medical issues were replaced or scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27, for Hawaii. 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 and 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 S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. On Sunday, November 9, the ships crossed the International Dateline so the soldiers went to bed Sunday and woke up Tuesday morning.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke was seen on the horizon from an unknown ship. The Louisville revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off after the unknown ship. As it turned out the unknown ship belonged to a friendly nation.
The next day, Sunday, November 16, the ships arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables, before sailing the next day for Manila. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 7:30 A.M., on Thursday, November 20 and docked at Pier 7 at Manila later that day. The soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King. King 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 remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern part. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion’s bivouac.
On December 8, 1941, the battalion heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and the tank companies were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield. That morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45. 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding, they knew the planes were Japanese. For the members of HQ Company, the most they could do was take cover in a dried-up latrine near their tents.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything 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 tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
During the Battle of the Philippines, Joseph was assigned, as a sergeant, to one of the tanks assigned to HQ Company. With his tank, he was supposed to provide reconnaissance information for the battalion.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two more weeks living through several more air raids. On December 21, they were ordered to the area around Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able to find a crossing over the river.
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion’s tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River about withdrawing from the bridge with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night 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.
The night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks because of the rotting flesh it the tracks.
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. It is known that Joseph was wounded at this time.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. Edward King decided that further resistance was futile. 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. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. Joe with members of C Company decided that they were going to try to escape to Corregidor instead of surrendering to the Japanese. The soldiers, with other members of the 192nd, found a boat and were able to get the engine working. They made it to Corregidor and were assigned to units on the island.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on the island on May 6. The American forces surrendered when it became apparent that they were going to overrun the island. The POWs were held on the beach with no shade a little water. Men volunteered to bury the dead since doing this allowed them to hunt for food and water. Joseph remained on the island for two weeks before the Prisoners of War were taken by barge to a pier outside of Manila. The POWs had to jump into the water and swim to shore. Once they were on shore, they were used as laborers to repair the damage done to the dock.
After the work was done, the POWs were ordered to march. Having heard of the march out of Bataan, many feared they would be killed. As it turned out, the POWs were allowed to march at their own pace. They also were marched down Dewey Boulevard in Manila.
The POWs were taken to Bilibid Prison in Manila. Joseph and the other POWs were later taken to Cabanatuan. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured on Corregidor were held. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese 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.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail 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. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another 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. 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.
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. 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.
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 awhile, they received bread.
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.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
After arriving in the camp, Joseph was admitted into the camp hospital on Sunday, June 14, 1942, with malaria. He remained in the hospital until he was released on Saturday, August 8, 1942. According to other records, he was in the hospital again on September 11, but no date was given for discharge. Joseph was readmitted to the hospital on Monday, September 28 with a migraine. He was discharged a second time on Monday, December 7, 1942.
In October, he was selected to go on a work detail to Lipa Batangas. The POWs on this detail built runways for a Japanese airfield. It was while he was a POW on this detail that his parents learned he was a POW on April 17, 1943. It was later the same year that they received a POW postcard from him in August 1943. Three weeks later, they received a second postcard on September 7, 1943. He remained on this detail for nearly two years until he was taken by ship to Manila.
On July 17, 1944, Joseph was put in the hold of the hell ship, Nissyo Maru and taken to Japan. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27, 1944. The next day the ship sailed for Japan. It arrived at Moji, Japan on August 3, 1944.
Joseph was taken to Fukuoka #7 which was located near Futase, Japan. The POWs in this camp were used as slave labor in coal mines of the Honko & Shinko Mining Company. In the mines, the POWs worked 11 to 14-hour shifts. He remained in this camp until August 15, 1945. On September 21, 1945, Joseph was taken to Dejima Docks in Nagasaki and returned to the Philippines to receive medical treatment. His parents learned of his liberation on October 3, 1945.
Joseph was returned home on the ship S.S. Klipfontain, which sailed from Manila on October 9, 1945, and arrived at Seattle on October 28. From there, the former POWs were taken to Ft. Lewis, Washington, and Madigan General Hospital for additional treatment. One of the concerns Joseph and Forest Richeson – also a member of the 192nd and from Barnesville, Ohio – had was that they would be considered cowards, but both were happy to learn they were viewed as heroes. He was discharged from the Army in May 1946 at Ft. Atterbury, Indiana.
Joseph married, Shirlee Lowe, on May 5, 1946, in Zanesville., and became the father of two sons. He was discharged on May 20, 1946. Among the places, the family resided was El Dorado, Kansas, since his job required the family to move. He worked as a radio engineer until he retired in 1985.
On May 4, 1991, in Memphis, Tennessee, Joseph became the National Commander of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor. Joseph B. Matheny passed away on November 17, 1993, in Newark, Ohio, and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Zanesville.