Pvt. Merle Lloyd Miller was born on August 7, 1919, in Hooker, Oklahoma, to John Miller and Living Sellars-Miller. With his two sisters and brother, he grew up and worked on the family’s farm in Hardesty Township, Texas County, Oklahoma. When Selective Service Registration became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. He also indicated he was self-employed and gave his residence as RFD #1, Stooker, Oklahoma. Merle was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 24, 1941, at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. He also attended a training school at the base, but it is not known what training he received. After completing training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941. There, he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Benning, Georgia. Maneuvers were taking place at the fort, but the 753rd did not take part in them.
The 192nd Tank Battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. It was then ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. The members of the 192nd were informed that they were being sent overseas. There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made in early 1941. It was at this time that men who were married with families, men with dependents, men whose enlistments would end within a year, and men who were 29 years old or older were allowed to transfer out of the battalion. The battalion’s commander, because of his age, was replaced by Major. Theodore Wickord his executive officer. Since the battalion was made of National Guard tank companies, men who were married with dependents, men who had dependents. men who were 29 years old or older, or men whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas, were allowed to resign from federal service.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.” Once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made. Before they left Hawaii, an attempt was made to secure two 37-millimeter guns and ammunition so that the guns could be set up on the ship’s deck and the tank crews could learn how to load them and fire them, but they were unable to acquire the guns.
On Thursday, November 6th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville, and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships crossed the International Dateline.
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 soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. Each day 500 men reported to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and then painted the boats. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – beans or stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, of the leftovers of the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched their tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worst part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with ham radio operators in the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave the 192nd frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion with the 17th Ordnance Company joining the tank group on the 29th. Both units had arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, and was promoted to brigadier general. Major Theodore Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27th, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas, and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield and the bombs were haphazardly placed. 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 communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.
After hearing the news, Capt. Robert Sorensen went to his company and informed them that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. To an extent, the news of the war was no surprise to the men, and many had come to the conclusion it was inevitable. The remaining members of the tank crews, not with their tanks, went to their tanks at the southern end of the Clark Field. The battalion’s half-tracks joined the tanks and took up positions next to them.
It was lunchtime and members of the tank battalion were allowed to go to the mess hall to eat. The men assigned to the tanks and half-tracks were receiving their lunches at food trucks. At 12:45 p.m., as they stood in line to be fed they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes that was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. 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. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.
The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.
The Zeros strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As they flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had filled to capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. The battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. 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 tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau on December 12th so it could protect a highway bridge and railroad bridge against sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. It was at this time that Bill managed to send a telegram home on December 19th, which was the last time his family ever heard from him. This would be the last information his family had about him for three and one-half years.
A platoon of B Company tanks engaged Japanese tanks at Lingayen Gulf on December 22nd. One tank was lost and its crew became Prisoners of War. The other tanks withdrew, were damaged by enemy fire, repaired, and put back into use. From this time on, the tanks served as a rear guard holding roads open until all the other troops withdrew before falling back to another predetermined position to repeat the action.
A Company lost its commander, Capt. Walter Write, on December 26th. According to the story, he saw Sergeant Owen Sandmire placing landmines in the road. The mines were made by Philippine Ordnance from cigar boxes with dynamite. Write took a mine away from Sandmire and told them it looked funny. As he was placing it, it exploded in his hands. Before he died, he asked that roses be placed on his grave, but since there were no roses, the men placed a native red flower on his grave. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th when the 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
The next morning, December 30th, 2nd Lt. William Read’s tank platoon was serving as a rearguard and was in a dry rice paddy when it came under enemy fire by Japanese mortars. Read was riding in a tank when one of the enemy rounds hit one of its tracks knocking it out. After escaping the tank, Read stood in front of it and attempted to free the crew. A second round hit the tank, directly below where he was standing blowing off his legs at the knees and leaving him mortally wounded. The other members of his crew carried Read from the tank and laid him under a bridge. Read would not allow himself to be evacuated since there were other wounded soldiers. He insisted that these men be taken first. He would die in the arms of Pvt. Ray Underwood as the Japanese overran the area.
On December 31st, Gentry sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town, Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge. Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of Marshall was to the southwest of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge, hidden in huts, while the third platoon commanded by Capt. Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston and his tank platoon had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind but got lost.
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag and stopped in front of a hut where he was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town’s church’s steeple. The Japanese lookout became very excited. Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks’ positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village. When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Marshall’s tanks which had been radioed and were waiting. Marshall held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the barrio through buildings and under them. By the time Gentry’s unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks. This was the first American tank battle victory of World War II.
Gentry and the other tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge which they discovered had been blown up when they reached it. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops. Gentry spaced his tanks about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire. Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire and then used their 37 mm guns. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a 37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier. During the fighting, HQ Company was listening to the battle and it was stated they would make comments or cheered as if they were at a football game. The tanks broke off the attack when they ran out of ammunition.
All the defenders had withdrawn except for the tanks and they dropped back and found the Calumpit Bridge had been dynamited, but they were still able to cross it. After crossing it, just north of the bridge, there were dried rice paddies, since the rice had been harvested and was piled in stacks around the field. The tankers believed the Japanese would attack at night, so they aimed their main guns at the rice stacks. The first round they would fire would be a tracer right through the stacks setting them afire. The tanks were about 100 yards apart and to give the appearance of a large defensive force tank crews shouted at each other so the Japanese advance would be slowed.
The Japanese moved troops and equipment across the bridge from dusk to midnight and set up mortars that began firing rounds at the area of the tanks. Shells exploded among the tanks wounding men. The tanks fired and set the rice stacks on fire then opened up with their machine guns. They then used their 37-millimeter guns on the Japanese equipment. It was said that it reached the point where 37-millimeter shells were used to kill individual Japanese soldiers. This continued until they were ordered to pull out and had to San Fernando to be refueled and to pick up ammunition.
On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which 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 with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.
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.”
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the Southern forces could escape. 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. The smoke blew back into the Japanese and since they were wearing white shirts, they were lit by the moonlight. After taking heavy casualties they withdrew. That night, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. The 194th crossed the bridge covered by the 192nd and then covered the 192nd’s crossing of the bridge before it was destroyed by the engineers. The 192nd was the last unit to enter Bataan.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and the members of the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self-Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
A Company, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack.
A composite tank company was formed the following day 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. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The 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 and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. 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 a Japanese reconnaissance plane would be sent up to locate the guns. It wasn’t long after this that the Japanese would zero in on where the guns were located. The tankers and artillery crews learned how to “shoot and scoot” very quickly.
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 16th. 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.
The tankers stated that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground as the Japanese got close to the tanks. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.
During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officers 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.
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.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
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. Later in the day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio. On the morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it but tanks were still straggling in at noon. The tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn.
The tank companies also were given the job of protecting the artillery. The guns were mobile and hooked onto the tanks with a special carriage which allowed them to be moved. According to the tankers, it took a lot of preparation to set them up and a lot of preparation to take them down. The tankers didn’t like doing this job because minutes after the guns began firing, the Japanese sent up reconnaissance planes to find the guns. When they did, Zeros would appear and strafe the area. The gun crews quickly learned to “shoot and scoot.” After firing a few rounds the guns were quickly broken down and moved out of the area.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese attempted several landings on Bataan. One night while on this duty, the B Company, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.
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.
After being up all night on beach duty, B Company, on February 3rd, was strafed by Japanese planes after one of its members pulled his half-track from under the jungle canopy, onto the beach, took a pot-shot at Recon Con Joe, and missed. Recon Joe was attempting to locate the tanks. Twenty minutes later Japanese planes appeared and dropped bombs on the company that exploded in the tree tops. Two men were killed in the attack and two others later died of their wounds.
The 192nd took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops on points sticking out of Bataan but they ended up trapped. When reinforcements were landed, they landed in the wrong places. One battle was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, a second battle was the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the last battle was the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.
C Company was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, another platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4th, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that each tank could be ordered to where it was needed. John led as many as five attacks a day, into the pocket, to wipe out the Japanese. A few of the cleansing missions lasted for five hours. After several days of this, the pocket was completely cleared of enemy soldiers. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. When the attack resumed the next morning, the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the cliff’s edge out of view. They were forced out of the caves and into the sea. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd and the 45th mopped up the Japanese.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18th. But before this was done, one C Company tank that had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. 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. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. 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 of a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The one good thing about the leaflets was that they were printed on tissue paper which was used by the tankers as toilet paper.
The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks so Wainwright abandoned the idea. Since the tanks were the only vehicles receiving fuel, they were used to carry 115-millimeter shells to the artillery by attaching them to long poles. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short-wave radio. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been
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 3rd 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.
It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 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.”
That evening, Capt. Harold Collins, C Company’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. He told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. He emphasized that they all were to surrender together and that they should destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The soldiers disabled their guns, piled up the ammunition, and set the pile on fire.
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company, realized that he had white bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. on April 9th, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.”
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. Another jeep followed them – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. 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. No Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed.
King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. 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.”
On the morning of April 9, 1942, the members of C Company destroyed their equipment. They drained the oil out of some of the jeeps and trucks and ran them to burn up the engines. In the case of other vehicles, they poured sand into the motors and ran them. They also took their guns apart and scattered the pieces so that they would not be found.
In Mariveles, the company lined up in a field facing Corregidor. As they stood there, the Japanese searched them for what they called contraband. This included guns, knives, jewelry, other valuables, money, watches, and whatever else that the Japanese wanted to take. The POWs were organized into groups of 100 men. Japanese officers walked among the prisoners looking for Filipinos. The officers pulled the Filipinos out of the group and shot them in their temples. After they fell to the ground, the Japanese kicked their bodies into the ditches alongside the road.
At Mariveles, members of C Company were mixed in with other Prisoners Of War and began what they called “the Hike” or “the March,” which became known as the Bataan Death March. The Japanese guards were mean for no apparent reason and did things to the POWs because they could do them. Other men stated that if the guards were combat veterans, they treated them better because they viewed the POWs as combat veterans.
Men stated that the first guards were combat veterans who looked at them as combat veterans and treated them better than later guards. Depending on the detachment, the guards were said to let the POWs get water from the artesian wells and rest. After the guards changed, things changed for the POWs. The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace so they could finish their assigned section as fast as possible. Those men who were sick and had a hard time keeping up were bayoneted or shot if they fell. POWs who attempted to help these men were also shot or bayoneted. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The new guards also wanted to complete their assigned distance, so the POWs again found themselves moving at a fast pace.
The lack of food and water was also a major issue for the POWs. It was stated that the members of C Company went nine days without water. The POWs were amazed by the courage of the Filipino people who openly defied the Japanese by giving food and water to the POWs. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery.
On the first day of the march, they were marched until well after sundown. When they were finally given a rest it was already late. After midnight, it began to rain. Although the rain lasted for about one-half hour, the prisoners attempted to catch the rain on their tongues or lick the drops off their lips and hands. Some men stated it felt like the water was being absorbed into their skin. The rain was the first drink the prisoners received on the march.
The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours which was intentional. Men commented that they did most of the march at night. While they sat there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese passing by them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.
When the prisoners reached Cabcaban Airfield, they saw that the Japanese had set up guns and were firing on Corregidor. The marchers had to get past the guns that were firing on Corregidor. As it turned out, this was a dangerous undertaking. It was about this time that the American guns on Corregidor began to pinpoint the location of the Japanese guns. Shells were landing on the road that the POWs were marching on so they ran to get away from the battle. Men stated that a Japanese officer was directing a gun crew when there was a flash. After the smoke cleared the Japanese gun and its crew had vanished.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks which were moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier, but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was at this time that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. Looking at them, they realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.
As they crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The Air Corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell.
North of Hermosa the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they marched and reached Orani by the time the sun began to rise. There they were herded into a filthy pen that had been used by other prisoners before them and left to bake in the sun for the rest of the day. At the end of each portion of the march, the POWs would be put into another pen. Since his group was not the first to use them, they were filled with human waste. Often there were decaying bodies of American soldiers still inside the pens. The prisoners also had to deal with Blue Bottle flies, mosquitos, and maggots.
They continued the march, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.
At San Fernando, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share. The area where the POWs sat was covered in human feces from the POWs who had occupied the bullpen before them. How long the man remained in the bullpen varied from hours to days. Some men remained in it for four or five days.
The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were about thirteen feet long and ten feet wide and known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments had 100 men in them, the Japanese put 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Since the POWs were packed in so tightly, men suffocated from the lack of air but could not fall to the floors since there was no room to fall. At Capas, the living left the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors as they left the boxcars. The POWs walked the eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. 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, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a 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 with the issuing of 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 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 in 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 to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. 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.
The Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.
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. When this was done, 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.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. 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.
To get out of the camp, he went out on a work detail that left the camp on May 21st for Clark Field. It is believed that he was in the original POW detachment that arrived at Clark Field on May 22nd. When they arrived, the POWs assigned as cooks had made their first meal from a rancid pig. The POWs ate it without complaint. Since the airfield had been an American base before the war, each of the POWs had a bunk and mattress. The POWs were used to repair the runways that had been bombed by the Japanese on the first day of the war. Men who were on the detail stated that somewhere around 700 POWs were on the detail, but only 630 were healthy enough to work each day.
The POWs spent about a year clearing junk and unexploded ordnance from the airfield. To do this, the POWs were broken into detachments under the command of a sergeant. While doing this, they were able to come up with bandages and some medicines that they could use. The only thing they did not find was quinine.
They were fed twice a day but the amount of food, two cups of rice, was inadequate. Once in a while, they got soybeans and greens The Japanese did not give the POWs any medical supplies, and if they had them it was because the POWs had scrounged them. There was no real medical facility at first. Those POWs who came down with malaria did not have to work since the Japanese knew the symptoms of malaria. POWs who had been injured while working also did not have to work. If they developed wet beriberi, the POWs were soaked in cold water to bring down the swelling.
Many of the POWs considered this the best POW camp in the Philippines. When they arrived, they were put into barracks that had been constructed for the Philippine Scouts. Each POW had his own bunk and while cleaning up the junk from the fighting, the POWs found mattresses and blankets They also had washrooms with toilets and sinks with running water. They also had a commissary where the POWs were allowed to purchase items. The POWs were paid and at the commissary, they could buy tobacco, mung beans, or brown sugar. All the items were measured with a canteen cup. They were also able to purchase salt that they could use as seasoning on their rice.
The barracks they lived in were surrounded by a single strand of barbed wire and escapes could have happened at any time since it would have been easy. The Japanese also put the POWs in “Blood Brother” squads. If one POW from their group escaped, the other nine men would be executed. It was stated that they chose not to escape since there was no place to go if they did, but that didn’t mean that POWs didn’t try.
The guards were from Formosa and POWs stated that they actually were pretty decent when Japanese officers were not around. The guards were combat veterans who didn’t care how much dirt the POWs moved. They liked the detail and wanted it to last as long as possible. All they expected from the POWs was that they looked busy. The only time the POWs were expected to work hard was when officers came around to expect the work. The one thing the POWs were not allowed to do was talk to each other while they worked.
While he was on the detail, his parents received several messages from the War Department. They received the first in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. L. Miller:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Merle L. Miller, 38,021,074, 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”
POWs who committed a serious violation of a camp rule were put into the camp cooler. It was said it was designed to be uncomfortable and made of sheet metal with only one opening which was the door. It was too low for a man to stand up and too short for a man to lie down. The POW had to squat or curl up. It was placed in a location so the sun beat on it throughout the day. At night it cooled off but the mosquitos came out and continued the misery.
They also witnessed the execution of Filipinos who had been caught stealing sheet metal. The Filipinos’ hands were tied behind their backs and they were hanged so their feet were barely touching the ground. Some men stated the Filipinos were hanged until they died while others said the Japanese used them for bayonet practice. The worst thing for the POWs was that they had to walk past them on their way to and from work.
One POW escaped on April 1, 1943, and the Japanese responded by lining up the POWs in front of machine guns that were aimed at them. They also told them that they were going to be killed. The next time a POW escaped the POWs were not fed, they could not use the latrines, and they could not smoke. They also lost their commissary privileges.
On July 10, 1943, local papers listed Merle as a Japanese POW, but his family received the news he was a POWearlier in another message from the War Department.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON, PRIVATE MERLE L MILLER IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN MUKDEN MANCHURIA LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=
A few days to a week after this notification, they received a letter from the War Department.
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Merle L. Miller, 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”
After the guards were replaced, a typical workday started with breakfast at 6:00 AM which was usually a cup of steamed rice. Supper for the POWs was at 6:00 PM and was again a cup of steamed rice. On March 20, 1944, the POWs were broken into two groups, and work on the airfield started in earnest and the POWs built runways and revetments. One group built the airfield and the other dug rock from the ground for the base of the runway. One POW reported they built seven runways, that they built eight hundred revetments, and that they emplaced numerous anti-aircraft guns. A third POW escaped, on May 30th, and the remaining POWs were not fed and they sat in the sun without head coverings. The 19 POWs who were working with him received this treatment for three days. The Japanese also offered the Filipinos a 100-pound bag of rice for turning in escaped POWs.
Since no rock was available from a gravel pit, the POWs dug the rock out of the ground, with picks and shovels, and screened it. The POWs worked in squads of eight to ten men and were given a quota of how much rock they needed to collect that day. If they were lucky, they found a place where they could dig out the quota of rock by 4:00 PM, if they weren’t lucky, they worked until they reached their quota. It was said that at times squads worked until midnight. Some POWs stated that there were no days off while other men stated that if they completed their quotas by Friday, they got the weekends off.
As they neared the completion of the runway, the rock the POWs used, for the base of the runway, ran out. The Japanese engineers decided that sand would be used for the base on the last part of the runway. After the runway was finished, the first Japanese bomber that landed on it had its landing gear sink into the runway, where the sand had been used, and the plane flipped over on its back. The POWs wanted to cheer but couldn’t.
While working on the airfield, the POWs were in contact with the Filipinos who would smuggle newspapers to them. The papers were written in English and heavily censored by the Japanese. Although the Japanese never admitted they were losing the war, the POWs knew it was not going well for them since the papers would say the Japanese had moved prepared positions in the rear.
On August 8, 1944, Merle was sent to Bilibid Prison because he may have been ill. The prison was the processing center for POWs being sent to Japan or another occupied country. He was given a rudimentary physical and declared healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
According to some POWs, they were taken by barges to the Noto Maru. The POWs boarded the ship and they were sent down into one of its holds which was extremely hot. Another company of POWs arrived by barge and were also put into the ship’s hold. The last two companies also entered the hold. According to men who were on the ship they boarded and disembarked the ship two more times. The last time they boarded the ship was on August 25th. Some men believed this happened because American submarines had been seen in the area. After they were in the hold, the Japanese removed the ladder. The ship finally sailed on August 27th, but it spent the night in Subic Bay.
Since all the POWs were in one hold, there was no place for anyone to lie down to sleep. The POWs either stood or squatted. The POWs lost their tempers with each other at times, but it appeared they understood they were all in the same situation and there were no major fights.
A large barrow cut half length-wise below the hatch was supposed to serve as the latrine but it was almost impossible to get to it. To get to it the POWs had to crawl over other men. When the man was finished, he found someone else had taken his place. Many men simply could not make it to the tub, so the floor of the hold was soon covered with human waste. When the half-barrow was hoisted out of the hold, human feces fell on the men below in the hold. The smell coming out of the hold was so bad that the Japanese covered the hatch which made the hold get hotter and made the smell worse.
The ship remained in the bay until three other ships were ready to sail. The ship finally sailed as part of a convoy on August 28th. Once at sea, the convoy was hunted by American submarines. The POWs chanted for the subs to sink the ship. At least two torpedos were fired at the ship, but since they ran deep, the torpedos went under the ship. It is known that several other ships in the convoy were sunk. One POW said, “That is an eerie feeling. Here, it’s an American sub firing at you. You’re below the waterline.”
The POWs were fed boiled barley once a day and given water once or twice a day. A POW was lucky if he received a tablespoon of water. As the ship made its way to Japan men died of sickness and starvation. With each death, there was more room in the ship’s hold. The dead were hoisted from the hold by rope and thrown into the sea. The suction of the ship’s propellers pulled the bodies into them and resulted in the bodies being cut up.
The ship arrived at Takao on August 30th. While it was docked, the smell from the hold was so bad that the POWs who could walk were brought up on deck, taken ashore, and hosed down with salt water. The Japanese also washed down the hold to clean out the waste on the floor. After the POWs went back into the hold, the temperature dried the water off them but left a layer of salt on their skin.
It arrived in Moji, Japan on September 4th, and the POWs were given a piece of colored wood as they left the ship. The color of the piece of wood determined what camp the POWs were going to be sent to. When the POWs left the ship, the Japanese civilians held their noses to show them how bad they smelled.
Once at Moji, the POWs were broken into two groups. After the Japanese disembarked them from the ship, the POWs realized how bad they smelled. Their smell was so bad, that the Japanese civilians held their noses as the POWs passed.
The POWs next were put on a ferry to cross the Bay of Kobe. They then were boarded onto a train. As they boarded, they noticed that there was a large number of Japanese civilians who appeared to be maimed. The men then were boarded onto a silver streamliner. It was nice inside, but there was no air conditioning. They were ordered not to touch the curtains and to leave them down. The POWs peeked out the windows and learned why. The Japanese city had suffered a great amount of damage from American bombers.
Once at Moji, the POWs were broken into two groups. After the Japanese disembarked them from the ship, the POWs realized how bad they smelled. Their smell was so bad, that the Japanese civilians held their noses as the POWs passed.
The POWs next were put on a ferry to cross the Bay of Kobe. They then were boarded onto a train. As they boarded, they noticed that there was a large number of Japanese civilians who appeared to be maimed. The men then were boarded onto a silver streamliner. It was nice inside, but there was no air conditioning. They were ordered not to touch the curtains and to leave them down. The POWs peeked out the windows and learned why. The Japanese city had suffered a great amount of damage from American bombers.
The POWs were sent to Nagoya # 6-B, which took its name from the railroad station. The camp was built for 300 POWs and located near the Nomachi Smelting Plant which violated the Geneva Convention since it was in a war materials manufacturing area. When the Americans got to the camp, it appeared that the barracks had been built in a hurry. The one barracks building in the camp was divided between American and British POWs. This was done to keep order and to prevent problems with camp records.
In the barracks were two tiers of platforms. The POWs climbed ladders to reach the upper tier. Six POWs slept on a platform that was 7 feet long by 18 feet wide with each prisoner having a sleeping area of three feet and a straw mattress for each POW to sleep on. Each man received four to six blankets and four coal-burning stoves, two in each half of the barracks, provided what little heat they had. There were 24 toilet spaces, cold water showers, and a large bathing tub filled with heated water. Clothing for the POWs consisted of what they already had when they arrived at the camp, Japanese army uniforms, and some clothing from the Red Cross.
In front of the prisoners’ barracks, there was an area for calisthenics. There was also a zigzag trench that was supposedly an air raid shelter. The entire compound was surrounded by an eight-foot wooden fence.
When the Americans arrived, the Japanese commanding officer addressed the prisoners. He had only one arm having lost one fighting the Chinese. He spoke decent English and informed them that the harder they worked, the better they would get along. He also informed them that those who could not work would receive reduced rations. The 150 British prisoners who joined the Americans in the camp in early 1945 had been captured in Hong Kong. The biggest problem the two groups of prisoners had with each other was language. As for behavior and discipline, the British were no better or worse than the Americans.
The POWs worked 12-hour workdays with most of the POWs working during the day shift and a small detachment working at night. Those working at the Nomachi Smelting Company walked about 400 yards to the camp, while those working at Hokkai Dneka Smelter marched for five minutes before boarding a boat for a five-minute ride. The POWs, in most cases, were used as laborers at the smelters and mixed iron, coke, and lime before throwing them into a furnace. Others load the mixture into carts and pushed it to the furnaces before throwing it into the furnaces. No protective clothing was provided to the POWs so blisters and burns were common.
In addition, the POWs stirred the mixture so that it would melt faster and puddle it when it was ready. Other POWs worked in the machine shop and operated cranes.
The attitude of the Japanese civilians at the plants varied. Some of the civilians were very friendly while others were hostile. The son of the owner of the manganese works liked associating with the POWs because he could speak English. Those who abused the POWs often had the men stand in front of the blast furnace, at attention, which resulted in the men developing blisters. As they stood at attention, they were hit in their heads. They were frequently slapped, punched, and hit with 2-foot long by 2-inch wide sticks the civilian guards carried.
Air raid shelters were provided, but it appeared they were not large enough to hold all the POWs. The third detail of POWs worked at a quarry where 20% of the POWs assigned to the job died due to accidents. Officers were not required to work.
Every two weeks the prisoners would change shifts. When this happened there was an eighteen-hour-long swing shift. Since the ore was heavy and the heat tremendous, the POWs worked thirty minutes on and thirty minutes off. From September 8, 1944, until September 1, 1945, the POWs were forced to work without a day off.
The food at the camp was prepared by prisoners and the rations were better at this camp than at the other camps. Although it was mostly rice, there was also barley and soybean when it was in season. They also received daikons which were an overgrown white reddish. Most of the vegetables they ate were from a garden they tended. The prisoners sliced it and boiled it into a thin soup. The only meat they received was from three or four cobras that they had discovered inside a giant anthill. Once they even had real Irish potatoes.
The Japanese used collective punishment when they believed a POW had violated a rule. The food rations of the POWs were cut in half or they did not receive fuel for the stoves in the barracks. On one occasion, the Japanese denied fuel to the POWs for seven days.
The prisoners knew that the war was not going well for Japan. When they were working in the plant, they watched how tightly the food was rationed to the civilians. The foreman gave each worker the same amount of rice. The workers made sure that the kernels that fell on the floor were picked up and put in their baskets. The rats and mice also felt the food shortage. The rats had started to kill the mice for food.
One of the benefits of working in the plant was that there was always enough hot and cold water. The hot water was the result of the furnaces. The prisoners at the plant introduced the Japanese to taking showers. A couple of POWs who worked in the machine shop got permission to make a showerhead. The Japanese liked it so much that they had one made.
While working in the plant, the Americans and the British were not allowed to be mixed in the work details. They worked in the same areas but never together.
The camp had a small wooden building with six beds that served as a hospital and no more than six POWs were allowed to be sick at a time. The camp doctor, Capt. Max Bernstein, who had been a member of the 17th Ordnance Company of the Provisional Tank Group, was the camp doctor. He was assisted by three medics, and once a week, a Japanese doctor came to the camp to provide assistance. The Japanese Army provided no medical supplies for the POWs, but the two companies did, and additional medical supplies were received from the Red Cross. Most of the POWs who died in the camp died from pneumonia.
Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick. At one point most of the POWs had diarrhea and still had to work. Those who were too sick to work were beaten with shovels, sticks, rocks, and anything else that was nearby, to get them to do work that they were too sick to do. They also had their meal rations reduced. The camp doctor, Capt. Bernstein treated the sick with very few medical supplies.
The British did not tolerate stealing within their ranks. If a British soldier was caught stealing, the punishment was harsh. Those who were victimized formed a ring around the thief. They were allowed to hit the man until he could not stand or his face was a bloody mess. The thief was then carried on a stretcher to the camp hospital.
When an American was caught stealing from another POW, the ranking American officer, 1st. Lt. George Sense knocked him down on his rear. Many of the POWs believed that this was the right thing to do because it sent the right message. The only stealing that was tolerated was stealing from the Japanese.
By November 1944, snow was everywhere, and the Japanese put markers about five feet tall on the buildings and on posts along the roads. One morning, the POWs went to work in a foot of snow. It snowed every few days until there were about four feet of snow on the ground. They had no boots and their shoes were three years old, so many of the POWs worked in the snow without shoes.
The Japanese denied the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and other items sent to the camp by the Red Cross. Instead of giving these things to the POWs, the Japanese pilfered the items for their own use. The guards were seen wearing shoes sent by the Red Cross for the POWs. The POWs knew of the air raids because the Japanese workers brought newspapers to the mill that the POWs brought into camp and figured out what was happening.
When Christmas, 1944, approached, the POWs hoped that they would have the day off. They hoped that the Japanese would also allow them to have decorations inside their barracks. There also was a rumor that they would receive Red Cross parcels for Christmas. As it turned out, parcels were delivered and each was shared by two men.
A few days before Christmas, the Japanese brought ornaments into every barracks. The ornaments looked just like the ones back home. As it turned out they were the same. These ornaments were supposed to have been shipped to the United States when the war started.
On Christmas, both the Americans and British POWs sang carols together. They also learned that the Japanese had received the Red Cross parcels months earlier, but had held them back to have something to give the prisoners on Christmas. The prisoners needed the food inside the parcels, but what they needed, even more, was what the packages represented. To them, the parcels meant that they had not been forgotten back home.
Men would wear out from being overworked and underfed. Then pneumonia took over and the men died in a couple of days. Their bodies would be put in a four-by-four-foot by two-foot box. It had handles that allowed it to be carried. A Buddhist priest from the village walked ahead of the procession in his white and gold robes. When the remains were returned to the camp, they were in a four-by-four-inch by twelve-inch box. The man’s name and serial number were on the box. The box was kept by the camp commandant in his office.
Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick. At one point, most of the POWs had dysentery and were too sick to work. The sick were beaten with shovels, sticks, shovels, and anything else available to get them to do work. They also had their meal rations reduced.
Collective punishment was a common occurrence in the camp. When one POW broke a camp rule, all the POWs were punished. On one occasion, for 7 days, the POWs were denied coal, in the middle of winter, because someone had broken a rule.
It was in March 1945, that his mother received letters and postcards from people who had heard a Japanese shortwave radio broadcast made by a POW identifying himself as Pvt. Merle L. Miller.
“I am well and hope you are still well and happy. Send pictures of yourselves in your next letter. Please tell all my friends to write if possible. Tell Vera and Millie hello for me. All my love. Merle”
The first time the POWs saw American planes pass over the camp, the POWs cheered in spite of the Japanese trying to silence them by hitting them with their sabers. By June 1945, the air raids were getting closer. Sometimes at night, the plant would be blacked out and the POWs were returned to their barracks. Occasionally, they had an air raid drill where the POWs went into the zigzag trench. As the war went on, as the prisoners marched to the mill, they saw teenage boys being trained by army officers. They knew that it was for the expected invasion of Japan. The boys also used sticks for rifle practice.
On August 15th, the POWs knew something was going on when the Japanese held a meeting. The Japanese men were sad and the Japanese women cried. They also seemed not to care if the POWs did any work, so the POWs took it easy. On August 17th and 18th, the POWs were told they did not have to work. Finally, the guards came to the barracks and told the POWs that the war was over. Then the guards vanished from the camp. The Japanese civilians began bringing food to them.
The Swiss Red Cross arrived at the camp on September 5th and began to make arrangements for the POWs to leave the camp. Later in the day, the POWs were taken to the train station and put on trains. Once on the train, they were given three days of k-rations for the trip. The POWs ate the rations the first night on the train, and when they got to Tokyo, most of the POWs were sick from overeating.
Merle was taken to Okinawa and later returned to the Philippines for medical treatment on the U.S.S. Rescue. His family learned that he had been liberated at the end of September. He returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Tryon on October 24, 1945. After further medical treatment, he was discharged from the Army on June 9, 1946. He married Wilma Sellers and became the father of two daughters and two sons. With his family, Merle resided in Guymon, Oklahoma.
Merle L. Miller passed away on March 29, 1990, in Guymon, Oklahoma. He was buried at Elmhurst Cemetery in Guymon.