Sgt. James Francis McComas was born on June 6, 1920, in Brainerd, Minnesota, to Walter J. McComas and Elizabeth Koering-McComas. With his two sisters and three brothers, he grew up at 201 Third Avenue Northeast in Brainerd and graduated high school.
After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard General Headquarters tank battalions. The GHQ battalions were still considered infantry and created a “buffer” between the armor forces and infantry to protect the regular army tank battalions from being used by the infantry when they wanted tanks. This would allow the Armor Force to develop into a real fighting force. To do this the Minnesota National Guard was informed on September 1, 1940, that the tank company was being called to federal service for one year in November. It was on October 2nd, that Jim enlisted in the National Guard with his best friend, Ken Porwoll.
The tank company was scheduled to be called up on November 25th and serve for one year in the regular Army, but the date was postponed until January 6, 1941, because of a lumber strike in Washington State. In December, when it was known the battalion’s barracks would not be completed on time, the date was changed to February 10th. That morning, he was given a physical, passed, and then signed papers that transferred him from the Minnesota National Guard to the regular army as a private. After this was done, the men were issued clothing, field equipment, and barracks baggage. They also were issued tick bags, to be filled with straw and serve as mattresses. Bunks were set up in the armory on the main drill floor, the stage, and the second floor of the armory. Their first meal as members of the army was pork and beans, boiled potatoes, bread and butter, cabbage salad, cheese, apple pie, and coffee. Sgt. Russell Swearingen had the job of inspecting the company’s tanks and other equipment which was being shipped to Ft. Lewis, Washington, ahead of the company.
The soldiers’ second day of living in the armory was spent preparing for the trip to Washington State. Their first meal of the day was breakfast which was: stewed prunes, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, sweet rolls, milk, butter, and coffee. For lunch, they were fed boiled pork sausages, boiled potatoes, spinach, head lettuce, bread and butter, pie, and coffee. This was followed by a dinner of stewed chicken, mashed potatoes, celery and radishes, bread and butter, ice cream for dessert, and coffee.
The company’s two tanks, six trucks, reconnaissance car, tents, and tent stoves were sent to Ft. Lewis on a freight train on February 18th. Just before midnight on February 19, the soldiers arrived at the Northern Pacific Railway Station led by the Brainerd Ladies Drum and Bugle Corps. Although it was 20 degrees below zero, the platform was jammed with families and friends wishing them well on their trip to Fort Lewis, Washington. It was said that many teary-eyed mothers and soldiers could be seen in the crowd. The train was scheduled to leave at 12:19, but it was 15 minutes late and left at about 12:35. After it arrived the men got on and attempted to find their sleeping berths. The company had three sleeping cars, one kitchen baggage car, and a baggage car assigned to it. One man was too tall for his berth, so he spent the night sleeping in a chair. Another man couldn’t be found because he got tired of trying to find his berth and went to sleep in an empty one.
At 6:45 the next morning, the soldiers were awakened and had to attempt to get dressed in their berths. Their first breakfast on the train was oatmeal, bacon, bread, oranges, and coffee. The food was served to them in tubs that ran down the center of three train cars and had been cooked in the baggage car’s kitchen. They were served it in their mess kits and ate it in their mess kits on their laps as the train swayed side to side. One soldier, Pvt. Robert Swanson, lost his meal when the train suddenly jerked and his mess kit went flying off his lap onto the floor.
At Staples, Minnesota, the train cars were transferred to the Alaskan and the company had a six-hour delay because of a train wreck 25 miles outside of Fargo, North Dakota. The train was rerouted to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and from there was routed to Fargo. The train made a stop at Moorhead, Minnesota, and two of the company’s sergeants – who had orders to buy an ax – got off the train. Both men believed they had stopped at Fargo where the train had a ten-minute stop. As they got to the station, they saw the train pulling away. A truck driver drove them the short distance to Fargo, where they rejoined the company. The train reached Mandan, North Dakota, at 5:15 that evening and had a 15-minute stop. To stretch their legs, the men got off the train to look around. It was there that PFCs Kenneth and Ernest Gorden received a telegram that their father had died and they were allowed to board another train to return to Brainerd. They rejoined the company after the funeral.
The next morning the train arrived at Livingston, Montana, and had a 15-minute stop. Again the soldiers left the train to see what they could see. It was there the train had to be held because Pvt. Arthur Thomas and Pvt. Raymond Fox had roamed too far from the depot – while looking for a present for someone – and did not get back to the station on time. Cpl. Kenneth Porwoll was caught by the men with KP and ended up on the crew cleaning up after the meal.
At 12:30 P.M. on February 22nd, the train arrived in Tacoma, Washington. From the station, they were taken by truck to Ft. Lewis. As they entered the base, they passed barrack after barrack and kept going. Many of the men wondered where they were being taken. When the trucks stopped, they found themselves in front of an area known as Area 12 with 200 brand-new barracks that were built among the fir trees. It was referred to as being scenic since they had a view of Mount Rainier to the east 70 miles away. The barracks were located at the south end of Gray Army Air Field. Their twelve two-story wooden barracks and recreational and supply houses were on both sides of the road and covered an area of four city blocks.
The barracks were long and low and could sleep, 65 men. The buildings had forced air heating, but two soldiers in each one had to take turns at night to feed the coal furnaces. The barracks had electricity and adequate showers and washrooms for the men. There was a battalion mess hall that allowed 250 men to be fed at one time. Located across the street from the barracks was a branch of the post exchange.
Their first lunch at the base was waiting for them and had been prepared by C Company, who had arrived at the fort ahead of them. They had to wait to eat for about an hour because their mess kits had not arrived at the fort from the train depot. After they ate, they got to work fixing their cots in their barracks. Each man was issued two sheets, a mattress, a comforter, and a pillow and pillow cover.
Sunday morning the men got up and many went to church. The church was described as very beautiful for an army base. Catholic services were at 9:00 followed by Protestant services at 10:45. After church, the men spent much of their day working in their barracks. One of the major jobs was cleaning stickers off the window panes.
The weather was described as being constantly rainy. This resulted in many of the men being put in the base hospital to stop the spread of colds. Meals, at first, were somewhat improvised because both company cooks were in the hospital with colds. It was noted by the members of the company that the members of the other two companies found the morning temperature hard to deal with while it was warm to them. The longer they were there, the weather improved.
Once off duty many of the men visited the canteen near their barracks or went to the theater located in the main part of the base. The movies shown were newer but not the latest movies. A theater near their barracks was still being built, but when it was finished they only had to walk across the street. Since they were off Saturday afternoons on weekends, the men went to Tacoma or Olympia by bus that was provided by the Army and cost 25 cents. Tacoma was a little over 11 miles from the base and Olympia was a little over 22 miles from the base. Many of the men went to see the remains of the Narrows Bridge which had collapsed on November 7, 1940. On base, they played football, basketball, and softball. Cpl. Walter Straka who was in charge of the team held practice every evening.
The uniforms they wore were a collection of various uniforms with some men wearing WWI uniforms, others denim work uniforms, while still others had the latest issue. One day three officers on horseback rode up to one of the companies and asked the sergeant in charge why the men were dressed the way they were. The sergeant explained they were a federalized National Guard tank battalion and what they were wearing is what they had. After this conversation, the three officers rode away. That afternoon, two trucks with new coveralls pulled up to the battalion’s barracks, and each man was issued a pair. Since they were the best clothing they had, many of the men wore them as their dress uniform. As it turned out, one of the three officers who had talked to the sergeant was Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower who had overseen tank training for the army at one time.
At the end of February, the first detachment of men was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for training as radio operators for 13 weeks. On March 5th, the soldiers were paid for the first time receiving pay for 18 days of service. It is known that a second detachment of men was sent to Ft. Knox the second week of March. Another detachment of men was sent to mechanics school and gunnery school at Ft. Knox the last week in March. It is believed he was one of the men. On March 10th, the company took a 3-mile hike with backpacks. When they returned they had to pitch their tents and there was an inspection. They took an 8-mile road march through the fir trees on March 14th. The next day they had a field inspection.
For the next six months, the battalion trained at Fort Lewis, Washington. A typical day started at 6:00 AM with the first call. At 6:30 they had breakfast. When they finished they policed the grounds of their barracks and cleaned the barracks. This was followed by drill from 7:30 until 9:30 AM. During the drill, the men did calisthenics and marched around the parade grounds. At 9:30, they went to the barrack’s day rooms and took classes until 11:30 when they had lunch. The soldiers were free so many took naps until 1:00 PM when they drilled again or received training in chemical warfare. They often took part in work details during this time. At 4:30 PM, they returned to their barracks to get cleaned up before retreat at 5:00 PM. At 5:30 they had dinner and were free afterward. During this time many played baseball or cards while other men wrote home. The lights out were at 9:00 PM. but men could go to the dayroom.
The battalion at one point had more men at Ft. Knox than at Ft. Lewis, so they were given the job of garbage collection and distributing coal to buildings for the coal-fired furnaces. To train with their tanks, Major Ernest Miller, the commanding officer of the battalion had those still on the base train on the weekends. A Company reported for its weekly field inspection on April 20th, and there were only 20 men left in the company. A few days later, seven more men were sent to Ft. Knox, and those left behind wondered how they would be able to get all the jobs expected of the company done.
The entire battalion on April 23rd went on an all-day march, having dinner out in the woods, brought to them by cooks in trucks. It was a two-hour march each way and covered about 10 miles total. They stopped at noon in a beautiful spot in a valley where there was an old deserted apple orchard in bloom, the blossoms were like small yellow sweetpeas and it was just a mass of yellow. The other hill in the back of the valley was thickly covered with woods, many of the trees were flowering dogwood and the many other flowers and strange plants made the soldiers conscious of the fact they weren’t in Minnesota. The company also received twelve motorcycles and every man in the company had to learn to ride them. The entire battalion on April 30th, except ‘the selectees,’ who didn’t have shelter halves, went on their first overnight bivouac together. They left at noon and returned before noon the next day. Part of the reason they did this was to practice pitching tents and for the cooks, it gave them the chance to supply food to the men out in the field.
In May, seventeen “selectees” joined the company but lived with the headquarters company. Their basic training was condensed down to six weeks under the direction of Sgts. Nelson, Hyatt, Goodrich, and Paine. The sergeants lived with them and dealt with all their problems or directed them to someone who could help them. They supervised the selectees’ calisthenics and drill, besides holding classes in all the different subjects they needed to be trained as tank battalion members.
The battalion during June trained under what was called “wartime conditions.” On one date, orders they received orders at 2:00 A.M. to move out as soon as possible to the attack position. They found themselves in dense woods in pitch-black conditions. For the tanks to move, a soldier guided them with a small green flashlight. The soldiers were expected to have their gas masks with them and had to use them if ordered to do so.
The company on June 10th, celebrated the fifth anniversary of its being mustered into the Minnesota National Guard. The soldiers had a large banquet dinner with a few cases of beer to make the celebration more festive. Major Ernest Miller gave a talk about the company’s history since it was formed in Brainerd. Many felt this was done for the benefit of the men from selective service. After dinner, they went to the theater that was located by their barracks and watched the official training film of the University of Minnesota football team. Ironically, the Golden Gophers’ official photographer’s son was in C Company.
The battalion, in July, still had only the eight M2 tanks that came with the companies to Ft. Lewis. It received some single turret tanks in late July that had been built in 1937, and a few beeps (later known as “jeeps”). It was the only unit at the base with them. On August 1st, the battalion was told it was losing B Company. The company was detached from the battalion and issued orders to Alaska. The rest of the battalion took part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis and learned it was being sent overseas.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, 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 Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. 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 buoys on its deck covered by a tarp – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a regular army tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd was at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Major Ernest Miller was ordered to Ft. Knox by plane arriving the next day August 14th. That afternoon he received the battalion’s overseas orders. During the meeting, one of General Jacob L. Dever’s staff officers – Dever was the commanding officer of Ft. Knox – let it slip that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. On August 18th, Miller stopped in Brainerd to see his family after receiving the battalion’s orders. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. Miller later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis. Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The fact there were only three “overseas” locations the tanks could be sent which were Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines, and Alaska was already eliminated because B Company was being sent there. Ironically, a week before this, the wife a 194th officer, from St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote him a letter and asked her husband, “Is it true that your unit is going to the Philippines?”
Documents show that the entire First Tank Group was scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. The 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some military documents from the time show the tank group in the Philippines was scheduled to be made up of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Other documents show the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines was also called the First Provisional Tank Group. At the same time, the men in the Philippines referred to the tank group as the First Tank Group.
Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The reality was there were only three places where the tanks could be sent; Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines. Alaska was already eliminated since B Company was being sent there. The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Besides the 194th, the tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st medium tank battalions at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 70th was a regular Army tank battalion while the 191st had been a National Guard tank battalion. The 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, were also part of the tank group. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had received standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
It was at this time men whose enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas, who were 29 years old or older and/or married with dependents were allowed to be transferred from the battalion. On September 4th, 1941, the 194th, without B Company, was sent to Ft. Mason, north of San Francisco, by train and arrived at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated. Those men with medical conditions were replaced with men who had never trained in tanks.
The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort on flatcars and were about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west by train and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason.
The tanks fit fine in the ship’s first and second hold, but the deckhead in the ship’s third hold was too low, so 19 tanks had to have their turrets removed to fit them in the hold. So that the turrets went on the tanks they came off of, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets. The ship’s captain also ordered that all ammunition, fuel, and batteries be removed from the tanks. He stated they would be sent later, but it appears the batteries were sent to the Philippines with the tanks.
The soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9 PM. The enlisted men found themselves assigned to bunks in the ship’s holds with the tanks. Those men with lower bunks found them unbearable to sleep in because of the heat and humidity. Soon, most men were sleeping on deck but learned quickly to get up early because the crew hosed down the deck each morning. Many of the men had seasickness during this part of the voyage. The soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. At 5:00 PM that evening the ship sailed.
The next morning, the members of the battalion were called together and they were informed the battalion was going to the Philippines. On the next leg of the voyage, the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a replenishment oiler. The heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer were the ships’ escorts. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge for a personnel transfer. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck as an attempt was made to make the transfer. When it became apparent that a small boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to the other, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline the night of Tuesday, September 16th, and the date became Thursday, September 18th. A few days past Guam, the soldiers saw the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed south along the east coast of Luzon, around the southern end of the island, and up the west coast. On Friday, September 26th, the ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were bused to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with the 17th Ordnance Company, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets.
The maintenance section and 17th Ordnance reinstalled the batteries, but they needed aviation fuel for the tanks’ engines to get them off the docks. 2nd Lt. Russell Swearingen went to the quartermaster and asked him for the fuel. He was told that they did not have any at the port so he would have to go to the Army Air Corps to get it. When he arrived at the Air Corps command, he was informed that they couldn’t give him the aviation fuel without a written order. It took two weeks to get the tanks off the docks. While all this was going on, the battalion’s half-tracks arrived as well as motorcycles. The battalion’s reconnaissance detachment had Harley-Davidsons at Ft. Lewis but the new motorcycles were Indian Motorcycles with all the controls on the opposite side of the bikes. The reconnaissance section also had peeps (later known as jeeps), but many of these were taken by high-ranking officers for their own use since they were new to the Army.
Upon arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that they had to live in tents and receive their meals from food trucks until their barracks were completed on November 15th. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18th, the barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali This allowed the men to dress. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived, and although it was warm when they went to sleep by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them while wearing blindfolds. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful. It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos. Many men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency.
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 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd Tank Battalion’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th, read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed his officers of the attack. He also ordered his officers to have the half-tracks join the tanks at Clark Field. Their job was to engage Japanese paratroopers. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. It is known that the members of his tank crew were Joseph Bernardo, August Bender, and Gerald Bell. 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. 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. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.
The tankers lived through two more attacks on December 10th and 12th. On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th. It was also stated the battalion was sent to Batangas in southern Luzon for about two weeks. During this time, little happened, but the tankers were strafed a few times by Japanese planes. The tanks spent much of their time doing reconnaissance and hunting down fifth columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day to show Japanese planes where ammunition dumps were located. They were ordered back north to the Agno River. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were manned by grounded Air Corps men and used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of tanks.
On December 22nd, A Company and D Company, 192nd, were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. C Company remained behind at Batangas. The tankers at 2:15 P.M. started the more than 150 mile movement north to meet the Japanese at an area 85 miles northwest of Manila. When they got close to their objective, to protect the battalion from strafing, most of the battalion went to the left on Route 3 toward Tarlec and the river while A Company was sent down Route 5 toward Cabanatuan and San Jose and then along the river until it rejoined the rest of the battalion. When the tanks passed through the barrio of San Jose, they saw the dead bodies of Filipino men, women, and children who had mistaken Japanese Zeros for American planes. When they came out to wave at the planes, they were strafed.
The tank battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were about five yards apart. It was on the 26th that the Japanese artillery fire began landing near the tanks. The Self-propelled mounts of the Filipino Scout would take positions between the tanks fire several rounds and move to another position. Shells began landing around the tanks, so the crews buttoned themselves in their tanks. The tanks did not have anti-personnel shells to use against infantry, but the tankers used the tanks’ 37 millimeter guns against armored vehicles and their machine guns against infantry. The fire stopped the Japanese advance for a while but the Japanese brought up more artillery and resumed the attack.
Two volunteers were needed to set up machine guns at the far end of the bridge to harass the Japanese. Pvt. Gerald Bell and Pvt. August Bender, who were assistant tank drivers, volunteered to take two antiaircraft machine guns from the tanks to the far end of the bridge and set up machine gun nests. It was stated that Bell and Bender held their position and died after being surrounded. The Japanese attempted to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops and knocking out three tanks with the support of two divisions of the Philippine Army. According to Capt. John Riley, most of the men had already concluded they would lose the battle for Luzon, but they also made the decision that they would tie up the Japanese as long as possible. Men stated that the U.S. had asked them to hold out for six months.
It was at this time that Jim’s tank blew one cylinder in its engine. The tank and crew were sent to the rear echelon to get work done on the tank. Recalling the event, Russell Swearingen said, “We were on the Agno River, north of Bataan when it happened. Shellfire was heavy and the top cylinder of one of the tank airplane engines was knocked off. The pieces laid scattered. But the tank continued to run. I know mechanics, but every mechanic knows that one cylinder out will completely stop the motor. The tank continued to run, though, and went several miles into the back lines before pulling to a halt. When shut off, the engine block froze immediately.”
The two Filipino Army Divisions withdrew leaving the tank battalions alone to face the Japanese. The tankers held up the Japanese as long as possible before withdrawing. The 192nd received the order to withdraw but for some unknown reason, the 194th did not receive the order. The battalion finally was ordered to withdraw and 1st Lt. Harold Costigan informed the members of A Company, and D Company, 192nd, that they would have to fight their way out. The tanks fought their way through Carmen losing two tanks but saving the crews except for Capt. Edward Burke who had been hit by enemy fire. He was presumed dead but had been captured by the Japanese.
D Company found the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed and abandoned their tanks. The company commander had them disable the tanks, but he hoped they would be recovered, but they were captured and put into use by the Japanese. One tank commander found a crossing and – at gunpoint – got his driver to take the tank across the river. The tank commander received the Silver Star for saving the tank. According to different men, A Company lost from four to seven tanks in the same incident.
The tank battalions, on the 31st, were holding open two bridges at Calumpit so that the Southern Luzon forces could withdraw toward Bataan. It was noted that convoys of trucks would pass the tanks carrying absolutely nothing. It was then that Lt. Col. Miller sent out detachments of trucks to warehouses and had the men load them with ammunition, food, and high-octane fuel that was used by the tanks. It was stated that one detachment went all the way to Ft. Stotsenburg. The trucks returned carrying 6 tons of canned food and 12,000 gallons of fuel.
The 194th, at 2:00 AM the morning of January 1st, crossed a bridge over the San Fernando River which was destroyed since all Filipino and American units had already crossed. They were now on the main road into Bataan. A defensive line was set up from Guagua to Porac to the swamps along Pampanga Bay. The bridge on a side road that ran from Guagua to Sexmoan and back onto Route 7 was destroyed. At 4:00 AM on January 1, 1942, A Co. dug into new positions. They listened to Japanese troop movements and heard the sound of tanks. They watched 5 Japanese 89A medium tanks come into view in an open field. The tanks stopped because no reconnaissance had been done in the area. Within minutes, there were 5 destroyed Japanese tanks
That same day, 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 bridge, over the Pampanga River, about withdrawing from the bridge and half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon forces escaped.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the Southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. On January 3rd a platoon of C Company tanks were driven back to Guagua from Betis and Guagua began receiving fire from Japanese artillery. When enemy fire became too intense the battalion dropped back. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese south of Guagua on January 5th. That night, the tank battalion was holding a position north of Lubao. It was about 2:00 in the morning when one of the battalion’s outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be a 500 man Japanese battalion with artillery. When they attacked, the Japanese were mowed down by the guns of the tanks. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located and charged toward the tanks, through an open field and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks. It was estimated they had lost half their troops.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese at Guagua on January 5th. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. That night, the tank battalions were holding a position near Lubao. It was about 2:00 in the morning when one of the battalion’s outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be Japanese. When they attacked, the Japanese were mowed down by the guns of the tanks. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located. They then charged toward the tanks, through an open field, and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the Bataan peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. Once the 192nd crossed the bridge, the engineers destroyed the bridge at 6:00 AM ending the Battle of Luzon.
January 8th, 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 up, 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 had long past their 400-hour overhauls.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.
The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and actually made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire. The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers. The tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds it didn’t take the Japanese long to zero in on where the guns were located. It didn’t take long for the gun crews to learn how to “shoot and scoot.”
On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road in a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry.
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 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
That night, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. During this time, on the 26th, the 194th was attempting to recover a tank that had gone off the road and gotten stuck. A verbal battle took place between Col. Miller and Tank Group Headquarters. A tank wrecker was supposed to be sent but none had arrived by the next morning. At the time, the battalion got into a fight with Japanese infantry. Pvt. Roy Nordstrom spotted a Japanese officer and enlisted man down the road and fired his machine gun at them. Both men fell to the ground. Fire from the Japanese came from the west where the Japanese had landed troops behind the main line of defense. The tanks began picking the troops off when they appeared in the open. At noon the tanks disengaged and withdrew, apparently leaving the marooned tank behind, crossing a bridge that was destroyed after they crossed it.
On January 20th, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry. On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective because of landmines that had been planted by ordnance. The battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese was on their way. When they appeared the battalion and self-propelled mounts opened up with everything they had. The Japanese broke off the attack, at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men. It was also at this time that the Japanese ended the assault and waited for fresh troops to arrive.
The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.
The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules.
The tanks were near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th. 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 31st at the Calumpit Bridge.
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 Weaver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should hand the officer the order. When the officer looked up at the tank commander, the tank commander had his handgun aimed at the officer. Gen Weeaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.
Jim spoke about how a tank was going down a trail when a Japanese soldier planted magnetic thermite on the tank deck along with the turret. The bomb burned through the steel deck and dropped into the ammunition tray. With shells exploding, the tank continued on its way for a short distance out of town and then stopped. The crew members piled out and no one was injured although the ammunition had completely exploded.
The battalions took on the job of guarding the airfields in Bataan in February which had been constructed because of the belief that aid would be coming by air. Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. The well-camouflaged tanks surrounded the airfield and had several plans on how they would defend the airfields from paratroopers.
The Battle of the Points also took place at this time. The Japanese landed Marines behind the main line of defense in an attempt to cut the supply lines from Mariveles to Baguio. After they had landed they were quickly trapped on a point sticking out into the China Sea. When the Japanese attempted to reinforce the point, they landed on another point, and the second group was quickly trapped. The Army Air Corps men converted to infantry, the 45th and 57th Philippine Scouts. and companies from the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalion were involved in the elimination of the points. When the Japanese attempted to send in a third detachment of reinforcements, the last three P-40s appeared and strafed the barges. The strafing ended the Japanese attempt to reinforce their troops. Through a coordinated attack by the infantry and the tanks, the Japanese were pushed back to the caves below the points before being wiped out.
Tanks parts were rare and 17th Ordnance made repairs however they were able to make them. Tanks that had damaged main guns often had the barrels cut down – similar to a sawed-off shotgun – to keep them firing. 17th Ordnance also provided anti-personnel by converting WWI shells from the Philippine Ordnance Department so that they could be fired by the tanks. The company also had to deal with the fact the tane tanks’ suspension systems were locking up after being near or in salt water. The information was sent to the War Department which replaced the suspension system on all vehicles using it.
On March 1st, the soldiers had their rations cut in half again and the men were starving. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. 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. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to the Dutch East Indies. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined this suggestion.
During this time, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew’s fire and wiping out the Japanese. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. A Company was on beach duty that night and the Japanese brought up barges with artillery set up on them that began shelling the beach. The company returned fire which resulted in the barges withdrawing.
Miller called his tank commanders and radio men together and told them that they would launch a counterattack. When asked by 1st Lt. Ray Bradford where they would form a second line, Miller said, “There is no second position. We are going to stop the Japs and form a new line of defense.”
C Company was attached to the 192nd and the company had only seven tanks left. A counter-attack was launched – on April 6th – 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. Other tanks of C Company tanks were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of Company C was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail.
It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. At about 6:30 P.M., tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. A truck driver for A Company, 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company received the order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.)
Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. At 6:45 A.M., the order “CRASH” was sent out and the tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At 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 the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
Col. Miller gathered the members of all the companies together and told them of the surrender. He stated that Gen. King surrendered because he wanted to prevent the needless slaughter of his men. He then instructed them to destroy their tanks and half-tracks. An officer from the finance department showed up and each man received about $15.00 in pesos as partial payment for the last four months, Men gamble it away while others made wisecracks about how they were going to spend it.
The Japanese arrived on the morning of April 10th and ordered the Prisoners of War to the trail that ran near the headquarters. The trial the POWs were on ended when they reached the main road. The first thing the Japanese did was to separate the officers from the enlisted men. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The members of the 194th did receive orders to march until around 7:00 P.M. and were marched until 3:00 in the morning. At that time, the marchers were given a one-hour break. At 4:00 A.M., they began to march again. They reached the barrio of Lamao at around 8:00 A.M. on the morning of April 11. There the POWs were allowed to try to find food, but little was found.
The POWs again were ordered to move at 9:00 A.M. and reached Limay at noon. It was at this time the Japanese put officers, with the rank of major and higher, in trucks and drove them to Balanga. These officers were then marched to Orani. For the lower-ranking officers and enlisted men, Limay was where they really started the death march. Up to this time, the guards, regular combat soldiers, had shown a great deal of respect for them. As they got further north, and the guards were changed, the treatment got worse.
Jim – on the second day of the march – found himself with Walter Straka, Ken Porwoll, Sidney Saign, and Byron Veillette. They all agreed to keep an eye out for each other and help any one of them who needed help. Not long after this, Jim had an attack of malaria and shook with chills. The other four men took turns helping him walk which tired them since he was 200 pounds and 6′ 3″.
After 2½ to 3 hours, the four men had a talk. They were exhausted and could not continue to carry Jim any longer. Jim even suggested that they drop him off in a ditch. The men refused to do this because they had already seen other POWs bayoneted and shot. Jim insisted that they leave him behind. The other men finally agreed with him that if they continued to try to carry him, they would all die. He said to them, “You must let me pick the spot.” When he called it, they dropped him in the ditch. After they dropped him, the four men did not look back or talk to each other for the rest of the day.
They marched north through Orani and arrived there on the 12. There, at 6:30 P.M., the higher-ranking officers rejoined the march. The men noticed they were being marched at a faster pace and that the guards seemed nervous. The POWs made their way north to Hermosa, where the road went from gravel to pavement. The change in the surface made the march easier on the men. When they were allowed to sit, those who attempted to lie down were jabbed with bayonets.
It took the company about eight days to reach San Fernando and found themselves in a bullpen surrounded by barbed wire. After arriving they went to sleep. Porwoll woke up the next morning, he found himself staring into the eyes of Jim who was laying beside him. Porwoll asked Jim how he got there and Jim said he walked. It turned out that when he was dropped into the ditch there was a culvert in the spot he had picked and he crawled into it and went to sleep for the night and half the next day. When his malaria attack was over, he resumed the march with the next detachment of POWs as they passed the culvert.
They next made their way to the train station. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station, and packed them into boxcars that could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. The POWs rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 A.M. They disembarked from the cars and walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell an unfinished Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. They believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals a day which were mainly rice. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little when the Japanese began issuing a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. The ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter – asking for medical supplies – to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of POWs healthy enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. Many of these men returned to the camp from work details only to die. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. May 27th was the worst day in the camp with 471 Filipinos dying on the Filipino side of the camp and 77 American dying on the American side of the camp.
The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria. When they buried the dead, the next morning many were found sitting up in their graves or dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
Sometime in May, his family received a message from the War Department on his status:
“Dear Mrs. E. McComas:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Sergeant James F. McComas, 20, 700, 201, 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 1st, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men and were marched to Capas, where they were put into steel boxcars. Each car had two Japanese guards. During the trip at Calumpit, the train was switched onto a track that took it to Cabanatuan. When the POWs left the cars, they were herded into a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onions soup. They were marched to the new camp which was a former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division’s home.
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.
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 double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” 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. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.”
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.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. 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. 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. The platform was covered with excrement which was made worse by the excrement dripping down from the higher platform. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
The day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.
The POWs were sent out on work details near the camp to cut wood for the POW kitchens. 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. The worst detail the POWs worked on was the latrine detail where the POWs cleaned the Japanese latrines with their bare hands. The POWs removed the feces and put it in 55-gallon drums. It is not known what happened to the feces, but it is known it was often used as fertilizer by the Japanese. Returning from the work details in the evening, the POWs – even though they were searched – somehow managed to bring medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp. The POWs ate supper but after they finished there wasn’t much time for them to do anything since dusk was an hour after supper. Later, the POWs had books to read that were sent by the Red Cross.
On August 7th, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21st and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
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.
Jim stated that the worse beating he witnessed was when a Navy Lieutenant and a Lieutenant Colonel were caught after attempting to escape. Before they were shot, they were tortured and beaten. The Lieutenant Colonel, who was named Biggs, had one ear torn from his head and an eye gouged out. Almost all of his teeth had been kicked out, and the Japanese attempted to pull his tongue out of his mouth.
From September through December, the Japanese began assigning numbers to the POWs. The first men to receive POW numbers were men assigned to sail on the Tottori Maru on October 8. It was during this time that Jim received the number 1-02483 which was his POW no matter where he was sent in the Philippines. The number “1” meant the number was assigned at Cabanatuan.
The Japanese needed 1,000 POWs to go on a work detail to Davao in October 1942. On October 24, the POWs including Jim, Joe Lamkin, and Roy Maghan were marched to the barrio of Cabanatuan, loaded onto boxcars, and sent by train to Manila arriving in the afternoon.
Unlike the trip to Camp O’Donnell, the doors of the boxcars were left open. This made the trip a great deal easier on the POWs. For whatever reason, the train stopped in several towns. When it arrived in a town, the Filipino people would come out. Many brought rice balls, fried chicken, bananas, and anything else they had with them. Because they were not allowed to approach the train, the Filipinos would throw food at the prisoners. When the train pulled into one town, the people gathered at the station. While the train set in the station, the Filipinos began to hum the song, “God Bless America.” They also called out to the POWs, “Mabuhay Joe,” which in English meant, “Long life Joe.” Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice.
When they arrived in Manila, they remained in the boxcars until after dark when they were marched two miles through the empty streets to Bilibid Prison. Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice. Bilibid had been built by the Spanish and had been a civilian prisoner before the war but the Japanese put it into use as a POW camp. The prison was a two-story mortar and brick building, that went out like spokes. surrounded by a high brick wall. At the entrance were two heavy iron gates.
Upon arrival at the prison, they were put in what had been the prison hospital and discovered that there were no beds in the prison. At night every prisoner slept on the concrete floor. The food was also of poor quality, but the one good thing about Bilibid was that the prisoners had more than enough water for drinking and washing.
Two days after arriving at Bilibid, the POWs were marched through the streets of Manila to the port area. Dewey Boulevard which had been the most modern street in the city was now lined with burnt-out empty buildings. Ashes were all that was left of the huts that had lined other streets in Manila.
At Pier 7, the POWs were boarded onto the freighter the Erie Maru. The hold was divided into box spaces and twelve men were assigned to each box. There was only enough room in a box for six men to sleep at a time. The POWs quickly became infested with bedbugs and lice. The hold smelled from the gasoline that was being stored in it and quickly was joined by the smell of human excrement. The hatches to the ship’s holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila Harbor.
Food for the prisoners was generous and well prepared, with each POW receiving a full mess kit of rice and a canteen cup filled with a thick cabbage soup containing pork. They even were given corn beef and cabbage one night.
The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo, Panay, and Cebu, Mindanao. At Iloilo, they buried one man who had died. The POWs arrived at Lansang on November 7. When they arrived at Lasang, they found another 1,000 POWs already in the camp who had been captured in the Wisayans Islands or on Mindanao. Unlike them, these POWs had been allowed to keep their possessions. At the encouragement of Capt. Albert LaFleur – who was in this group and their chaplain – the POWs shared things with the new arrivals they did not need. The new POWs were in such bad shape that the ranking Japanese officer, Mayeda, ordered them fed. They ate pork and beef, rice cabbage pinch, squash onions, potatoes, and peanuts which were all produced on the farm. From the orchards, they were given fruit which included raw and cooked plantains. The sick were given medical treatment and there was enough water for drinking, bathing, and laundry. When the recuperation took too long, their diet was cut to rice and greens soup.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight wooden barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barrack. In each barrack, were eighteen single-deck bays with wooden decks. Twelve POWs shared a bay which meant that 216 POWs lived in each of the barracks. The number was reduced to 8 men in a cage. To prevent escapes, four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs. The roofs of the building were galvanized iron. Other buildings in the compound were Nipa barracks.
The camp discipline was poor and the American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke, however, they wanted to talk to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of the POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
Meals for the POWs were initially 550 grams of rice per man per day, but this did not last. Men who could not work received 450 grams, and men doing special duty received 530 grams. Those men suffering from malnutrition received 490 grams while the ordinary workers received 570 grams. The men assigned to work in the rice fields received 600 grams. Every POW received 400 grams of vegetables each day. In March 1943, this changed to 450 grams for non-workers and 600 grams for workers. The non-workers also had their vegetables reduced to 200 grams each day while the workers received 300 grams each day. It was stated by men that they also had received 12 pounds of shark meat for each group of 100 men. During the last six months they were in Davao, fish was issued 3 to 4 times a month. Fresh fruit which was available all around the camp was not issued and the POWs were not allowed to eat any of it so it rotted in the fields.
There were various details. 30 men were assigned to work as carpenters, 25 POWs worked in the orchards, 50 POWs made rope, 20 POWs worked the bodega (storeroom) detail, and for four months the POWs cut and picked coffee. Another detail of 100 POWs worked at a lumber mill from December 1942 until February 1943. There were smaller details that took from 2 to 35 men that lasted weeks or months, while other details were continuous, such as the farm detail that 250 to 300 POWs worked on plowing fields and harvesting crops. The POWs worked ten hours a day seven days a week.
Three hundred fifty to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all of the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
Another detail of 80 POWs was sent out each day to repair roads or build bridges between the Davao Penal Colony and the main highway to Davao City over which war materials and troops were moved. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. Other men worked in a quarry that contained a great deal of coral that cut their feet. What they dug out went to build the road. They also built machine gun revetments around the POW camp. The detail existed the entire time the camp was open and every POW worked on this detail at least one week each month.
Jim was assigned to the farm detail. The POWs planted and grew food for the Japanese Army and did not benefit from their work. What made working on this detail worse was the POWs could see fruit growing on the trees that they were not allowed to eat. When they attempted to eat the fruit, they were severely beaten. Instead, it was left to rot on the trees.
The POWs were still receiving three meals – which were measured down with a sardine tin – a day and received one water buffalo a week but they were being worked harder and longer. At times, after the POWs had slaughtered the water buffalo and had it ready to cook, the Japanese made them bury it. But for the POWs who never had enough to eat, the worse thing they experienced was watching fruit growing on the trees rot because they were not allowed to eat it.
Jim believed that many of the problems between the Japanese and the POWs were caused by the two interpreters. Both men would intentionally give wrong interpretations to the guards or the POWs to create problems.
The Japanese commanding officer ordered and allowed collective punishment of all the POWs if one man broke a rule. The punishment was usually issued to groups of 10 POWs and it was common to have the POWs kneel for hours and deprive them of sleep. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep. Beatings were common, and the guards usually slapped the POWs in their faces. On occasion, there were severe beatings. This occurred if the Japanese suspected the POWs were planning an escape. When a Japanese officer, Lt. Hashimoto, discovered a pair of tin snips in the barracks and tortured all the POWs by putting a lighted cigarette to their pinuses.
On January 2, 1943, his parents received the news that Jim was a Prisoner of War.
201 Third Avenue
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son Sgt James F. McComas, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Sgt. James F. McComas, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau”
It is known that in February 1943, each POW received 2½ Red Cross boxes. It is not known if the boxes were full or if the Japanese had gone through them and taken what they wanted from them.
After the escape of Capt. William Dyess, LTC Melvyn McCoy, Maj. Stephen Mellnik, Maj. Michael Dobervitch and another POW on April 4, 1943, the remaining POWs from their barracks were moved to another compound. They had their rations reduced to one-third and were confined to quarters but could not sit down during the day. They also were put to work in the rice fields at Camp Mactan.
Major Mayeda ordered a group of 200 men put into the guardhouse. It was stated they were fed salt and rice while they were in the guardhouse. The POWs had to stand for 45 minutes every hour that they were in the guardhouse. They remained in the guardhouse from April 11 to May 8 or 9. He also ordered and allowed the collective punishment of all the POWs. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep.
Two other POWs escaped on October 25, 1943, so the 22 remaining POWs from their barracks were confined to the guardhouse for ten days. They were made to stand at attention all day in the cells. The cells were eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide. Eleven prisoners were put into each cell. At night they were beaten with sticks when they attempted to lie down. They were fed one meal a day of rice with a little salt. The 3 American officers from the barracks were taken to the camp’s headquarters and questioned. Their feet were put in a bucket of water and an electric current was applied. This was done because the Japanese believed one of the remaining POWs had something to do with the escape. When they were released, they had to work without shoes and pants.
It is known that on December 13, 1943, his parents received their second POW postcard from him. It simply indicated he was at Camp 2 (Davao) and in good health. His parents received a total of five postcards from him while he was a POW.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the 650 POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944, to build runways and revetments at an airfield that was used for training by the Japanese Army and Navy. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong.
The POW barracks were only 400 yards from the airfield and near the latrines which meant they smelled and were infested with flies. The POWs believed their location was intentional so that if American planes attacked, they would kill their own countrymen. The POWs slept on the floors.
The Japanese commanding officer imposed a “no reading” policy in the barracks which resulted in men being beaten for violating it. It is known that on one occasion, 50 POWs were made to kneel on the sharp edges of railroad rails for 30 minutes. Many had deep cuts on their legs when they were allowed to stand.
When they arrived at Lasang, the POWs refused to work on the airfield since it would be used against other Americans. The camp CO set up two detachments of guards. One detachment set up machine guns that were aimed at the POWs. The second detachment had clubs and beat any POW that they felt was not working as hard as he could. The POWs were told they were going to also build runways and taxi strips. To do this, they were divided into two detachments. One detachment built runways and taxi strips while the other was sent to a quarry to mine coral for runways. The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it onto trucks that were driven to the airfield. The POWs broke up large rocks and loaded the gravel into trucks. Other POWs unloaded the trucks and dug trenches. They also drove the trucks, tractors, and rollers to level the base of the runways. The POWs worked on the airfield from March 2, 1944, until August 19th. When the POWs slowed the pace of their work down to protest the working conditions, the Japanese resorted to torture to get them to work.
Since they were working with coral, the Japanese gave them Red Cross Shoe repair equipment to fix the soles and heals of their shoes. It worked so well that the Japanese confiscated the equipment to repair their own shoes. Soon, the coral cut into the soles of the POWs’ barefoot feet. It was stated that on two occasions the POWs were made to run barefooted over a mile barefooted on the coral runway. They were also used several times for bayonet training by Japanese troops. Although no contact was made, the screaming soldiers charged at the POWs with their bayonets aimed at them.
One day, while the POWs were digging a drainage ditch at the far end of the airfield, the POWs were working so slowly that little was getting done. The Japanese commanding officer of the detail, Lt. Hoshea, became so angry, he selected 15 POWs for punishment. A railroad rail was brought to the site and put on its side with the sharp end up. The fifteen men had to kneel on it and had sticks put behind their knees to cut off circulation. The POWs were told that the men would remain like that until the other POWs finished the ditch. The POWs worked as fast as they could, but the kneeling men could not get off the rail until all the tools were cleaned and stacked. The entire POW detachment was then made to run slightly over one and a half miles back to the camp.
On June 6, 1944, about half of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men, including those at the airfield, stayed on the island until August 19, 1944. Over the next two weeks, the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese posted guards with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily. The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments. The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.
One night at 2:00 A.M. in August, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. From the sound of the engine, they knew it was American. It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years. As the plane dove toward the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated silently. For the POWs, this was the first knowledge they had the Americans were getting closer. The planes never returned to the airfield and the POWs believed it was because they recognized the compound as a POW camp, but at night they heard the sound of Japanese ships and other airfields being bombed.
Air raids soon were nightly events. Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks. Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped around August 5, and the POWs’ food rations were reduced to 200 grams of rice per man per day. The Japanese excuse was since they were not working they didn’t need as much food. The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables. On August 19 the POWs were lined up by fours, with the outside men having a rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape. They were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon. There they were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that evening, the ship sailed.
There they were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that evening, the ship sailed. Once the POWs were in the holds the Japanese put the hatch covers on the hatches. There was no room to move and it was impossible to sit down.
According to Pvt. Walter Alexander: “An hour after the hatch was closed men began to pass out. We started to break out with heat rash. We couldn’t move. We didn’t nearly have enough water.
“The hatch was opened at night but clamped down as soon as daylight came.”
The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. An American plane flew over the ship. The sound of machine-gun fire was heard by the POWs. The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air.
Alexander said, “We were still off Davao the next morning when the bombers came over. I think they were B-24s. We felt the concussion as the bombs hit near the ship. The boat rocked and the plates rang. We estimated that one bomb missed by maybe 100 feet.
“The ship pulled out during the bombing. The next day the escort ships dropped depth charges. We were in the hold three days to Zamboanga. We laid there 12 days still in the hold. A couple of boys went crazy.”
As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves. Many of the prisoners became seasick. They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs. Over the next three days, there were several more alerts. Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.
The ship arrived in Zamboanga on August 24 and waited ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived. The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship’s holds were terrible. The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with saltwater.
On September 4, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru. 250 POWs were put in the ship’s smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were put into its larger hold. That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside the ship rocking and shaking it. The POWs prayed that the ship would be hit by a bomb
Of this, Alexander said, “Then we changed ships. They lowered a ladder in the hold and in our condition we had a hard time getting up. A lot of the men were in bad shape and a few had to be helped up.
“The fresh air felt good and the sunshine was blinding. There was another ship tied close by and were transferred to it. In this ship, they put 500 men in one hold and 250 in another. I was with the 500.”
The ship sailed on September 5 at 2:00 A.M. Before sailing, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines, and the POWs were no longer allowed on deck. Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship. For the next two days, the ship made good time.
It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes. The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076. Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe. In reality, American submarines were picking off ships in the convoy one at a time.
Alexander said, “This time we were right down in the bottom of the ship. Again there was barely enough room for men to sit down. What was worse, the ship had been carrying cement and we sat on an inch of cement dust. Any movement stirred up cement dust and made it almost impossible to breathe. The stench in this hold was as bad as the other.
“Our officers told us to sit still. We sat still. We sailed the same night and were down there two days.”
It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from the Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. Someone misinterpreted the order as saying the ship would be transporting “750 military personnel” instead of “750 military prisoners” to Manila. The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.
PFC Victor Mapes talked about being in the ship’s hold, “I was down in the hold with 750 other Americans. They had us stripped down to G-strings. We’d left 22 days before from the southern Philippines — Davao.”
It was 4:00 P.M. when the convoy was spotted and the attack on the ships started. PFC Mapes recalled the event, “The Jap freighter Number 83 — was ripped apart by the Sub’s torpedo.”
Suddenly the Japanese removed the hatch covers. Of the same event, Sgt. Onnie Clem, U.S.M.C. said: “We looked up to see the Japs at both entrances with machine guns pointed at us. They started firing, spraying lead, in among the prisoners. Several hand grenades exploded among us.”
Sgt. Verle Cutter said, “We were in the hold wondering where they were taking us this time when the hatch was ripped open, we looked up to see Japs at both entrances with machine guns pointed at us. They started firing, spraying lead, in among the prisoners. Several hand-grenades were thrown down among us exploded. How many of us were killed no one will ever know because then it happened.
“A loud explosion rocked the ship, and in the blackness of the hold, we could hear the vessel cracking up. Then after another explosion sounded in the aft hold of the vessel. We knew the ship had been torpedoed. Those Japs had tried to machine-gun and grenade us to prevent our possible escape.”
It was at 4:37 P.M. on Thursday, September 7, 1944, the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two torpedoes at the Shinyo Maru. The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold. Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship. There was a gaping hole in the ship’s side. The explosion blew some POWs out of the hold, through the hole, and into the water. Those POWs in the hold, who were still alive, saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water.
Sgt. Onnie Clem, U.S.M.C., recalled what it was like when the torpedoes hit.
“All I could see was orange. The next thing I knew I was floating in the air…I felt like I was among fluffy balls of cotton. (He was floating in the water and the fluffy balls were the bodies of the dead or other men trying to get out.) I thought, ‘Hell, I’m dead. This is what it’s like when you’re dead.”
The surviving POWs found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion. As the water level rose, they were able to climb out. Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles. As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off. The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water.
The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded by the torpedo hits. But, the hold remained dry. Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore. It was believed that only 250 POWs made it into the water and that the remaining 500 died on the ship. According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle. The ship split in two and sunk into the sea.
Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine. When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them. They stopped strafing when they realized that there were Japanese in the water too. The good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machine guns and fired on the POWs. Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water. The boats cruised in and out of the debris field and hunted and shot the swimming Americans. If they found a man, they shot him. Jim said, “Those Japs took their guns into their boats and cruised around taking potshots at our struggling men.” He also said that he saw men picked up by the Japanese in the boats. The POWs’ hands were tied together behind their backs, they were shot, and their bodies were thrown into the sea.
One officer recalled seeing a young soldier struggling in the water and asked him if he could swim. The soldier replied, “No sir, not very well.” The officer began to say, “Don’t worry, we’ll make it somehow,” but before he could finish, a shot rang out the young soldier’s head fell into the water. There was a bullet hole in his head. What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them.
PFC Mapes recalled, “The men began swimming toward shore three miles away — like a herd of sheep. The Japs from the other ships in the convoy were cutting them to pieces. I figured that the only way to survive was to break away from the bunch and swim to the opposite side.”
The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion, and about 30 men gave up after hearing this.
Sgt. Denver R. Rose was one of the 30 men. He recalled, “They tied our hands behind us and took us to another prison ship. They roped us together and stood us in a line along the rail. They then started shooting us one at a time.
“Using his sword a Jap cut the rope to lose the first man in line. He was taken to the stern of the boat and shot in the back. He fell into the water.
“Meanwhile, I found the frayed end of a steel cable by feeling with the fingers behind my back and rubbed the ropes across the sharp edges until I got free. I decided I just as soon be shot trying to get away as the other way, so I made a break for it. I ran to the front of the ship and slipped down into the anchor hole After a while, I heard shooting again, so I let myself down into the water.”
Rose was the only man, of the 30 POWs, not to be executed.
Jim stated that he saw Americans, who had been picked up by the boats, have their hands tied behind their backs. The Japanese shot each man in the back of the head and threw the bodies into the water. In his own words, “These Japs took their guns into the lifeboats and cruised around taking potshots at our struggling men.”
Of the 750 POWs who boarded the ship, only 82 POWs escaped. Jim was one of these men. It took him and Joe Lamkin, also of A Company, four hours to reach shore because they spent most of the time dodging the Japanese. After reaching the shore they were rescued by Filipino guerrillas.
Cutter who had also escaped stated, “We walked all night, and shortly after daybreak the next morning we saw a Filipino on horseback. He offered to take me to a hiding place as my foot was pretty sore, and said that he would send a runner for the other men to direct them to the hiding place. He said he already had ‘several of your friends.’
“Arriving at the hiding place the Filipinos said they would send for a doctor to treat the wounded. There were several of us. The doctor arrived days later and gangrene had started in some of our wounds.
“The doctor told us that he had walked for days to get us. He treated our wounds the best he could, but he didn’t have much in the way of medical supplies and had to go home and come back to treat us again.”
The Filipinos were so happy to help the Americans that word spread of their rescue. This caused concern among the Americans for their safety. This was even truer when a party was thrown in their honor.
The guerillas made arrangements for the former POWs to be evacuated by an American submarine.
Clem said of this: “When we had about given up hope, the sub appeared and the Filipinos took us out to the craft…several hundred yards offshore…in small native boats.”
Jim and the other POWs boarded the U.S.S. Narwhal on October 20. His family was notified that he had been returned to American Military control on October 26, 1944.
Clem said of boarding the submarine: “There were tears and some of the guys broke down and cried like babies and they were not a darn bit ashamed of it. They gave us sandwiches the first night and the bread tasted like cake. It was the first bread we had in three years. The next morning the 83 of us ate 18 pounds of butter, 36 pounds of sausage, 40 loaves of bread, and eight hotcakes each. The doctor put a stop to that.”
From the Philippines, Jim was taken to Brisbane, Australia, but it appears he did not remain there long. He was returned to the U.S. and hospitalized in San Francisco where he wrote to his parents. The letter – which they received on October 23rd – was the first word they received that he was free. On October 30, 1944, his parents learned he had escaped the Japanese in the official letter they received from Gen. Robert H. Dunlop. When they received it, he was convalescing in the 42nd General Hospital in San Francisco. From there, he was sent to Ft. McDowell, California.
Jim was sent to Ft. Snelling, Minnesota and on November 8, 1944, he was given a 30-day furlough home. During his time at home, he was under orders not to talk about his rescue. On November 17, his furlough was extended for another 34 days. During this time he talked to the families of other members of the company. On February 6, he boarded a train for Hot Springs, Arkansas, and lived at The Arlington Hotel.
Jim was discharged, from the army, on July 18, 1945, and on July 20, he registered with Selective Service since had not done so before the war. His registration indicated that he was a discharged veteran. He returned to Brainerd, where he worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad for two years in the railroad shops and attended college. Later, he became a police officer, with the Brainerd Police Department and rose to the rank of captain. He married Eunice Hillyer on July 28, 1951, and became the father of one daughter.
When asked about being a POW in 1962, he said: “It just seems that it was impossible that it could have happened. I used to wake up screaming about the Japs, but I don’t do that anymore.”
Jim McComas died on September 13, 1971, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery on September 16, 1971, in Section: L Site: 2266.