Pfc. Carl N. Nickols
Pfc. Carl N. Nickols was the son of Frank & Frances Nickols and was born on December 15, 1915. He was one of the couple’s four children. As a child, he attended St. Mary’s School and grew up at 462 North Washington Street in Janesville. It is known that he was in business, for himself, as a beer distributor in 1940.
In the fall of 1940, Carl was called to federal service as a member of the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard. His tank company was designated as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 28th, they boarded a train in Janesville for Fort. Knox, Kentucky.
At Ft. Knox, Carl met Bob Stewart who had joined the company knowing that he was about to be drafted into the army. Bob was the same height and weight as Carl which meant he was one of the biggest men in the company. Seeing Bob for the first time, Carl walked to him and said, ” Hi Tiny!” Stewart looked back at Carl and said, “Hello Tiny yourself!” It was at that moment that the two men became best friends.
On January 13 the members of the company were assigned to attend various schools for training. In Carl’s case, he was assigned to ordinance. It was his job to ensure that the tank crews received the gasoline, weapons, and ammunition they needed during training.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent on maneuvers to Louisiana from September 1st through 30th. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, where on the side of a hill they learned they were being sent overseas. Most of the men received leaves home to say goodbye to friends and family.
The reason for this move was because of an event that happened during the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, on a routine patrol, when one of the pilots noticed something odd in the water. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water. and saw another flagged buoy in the distance. The squadron flew toward it and came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its designated patrol and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed and reported what had been seen, it was too late to do anything that evening.
The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was on August 15 that the decision was made to send the battalion to the Philippines.
The battalion traveled by train routes to San Francisco, California, and was taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island by the ferry the U.S.A.T. Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals from its medical detachment, and those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced..
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness. Once they recovered, they spent their time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.
During this part of the voyage, on Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The cruiser that was escorting the two army transports 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.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were greeted by Col. Edward P. King who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He remained with the battalion and made sure they had what they needed and had Thanksgiving dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents 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.
The tankers spent the next eighteen days getting ready for maneuvers in which the battalion was supposed to take part. The morning of December 8, 1941, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was received by the tankers. The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by Capt. Walter Write. The tank and half-track crews were brought up to full strength. As the tankers watched, all the planes from the airfield took off, at 8:30 and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch.
At 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers were getting lunch when planes, in a “V” formation approached the airfield from the north. The tankers saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese. The men ran to their tanks or took cover. Amazingly, not one tank was hit by a bomb.
For the next four months, Carl worked to get the tanks the gasoline and ammunition that they needed to fight the Japanese. On December 21 or 22, A Company was sent north toward Lingayen Gulf in support of B Company. The tanks were used to hold the Japanese as the Filipino and Americans disengaged and formed a new defensive line.
On Christmas Day, the tankers were planting homemade mines as they withdrew from an area. The mines were eight by eight square boxes which had a flashlight battery in the center of the box. Attached to the lids of the boxes were metal strips. When the pressure was placed on the lid, the circuit was completed and the mine exploded.
Carl watched as Capt. Write began planting mines on the road. Write did this himself since he knew that the mines could go off at any time. As Carl drove away to deliver gasoline and ammunition to the tanks, he heard an explosion; a mine had gone off as Capt. Write was planting it.
After delivering the supplies, Carl returned to where Capt. Write had been wounded. Although he was fatality wounded, Write kept giving orders to his company. Carl stayed with Capt. Write and only left him to deliver supplies. The men got a jeep and moved Write to an aid station in a more secure area. The medics knew there was nothing they could do for Write, so they attempted to keep him comfortable. Capt. Write died of his wounds, but before he died, Write had asked that roses be put on his grave. After he died the men could not find roses, so Carl Nickols placed a native red flower on Write’s grave.
Carl also recalled that while A Company’s bivouac was near an American Artillery unit, the bivouac was attacked by Japanese planes which came in low. During the strafing and bombing, Sgt. Ivan Wilmer was attempting to reach his tank when he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese bomb killing him instantly.
On another occasion, Carl remembered that the tankers were listening to a San Francisco radio station on their tanks’ radios. The radio announcer spoke of how the soldiers on Bataan needed ammunition. Carl remembered thinking that they needed food not ammunition; they had plenty of ammunition! As the announcer continued to talk, he said that all was quiet on Bataan tonight. The men thought it was one of the funniest things they had ever heard since they were in the middle of one of the largest Japanese barrages of the war.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. The company returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
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. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
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 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. 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 scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
During the Battle of the Points, on March 2 and 3, the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back toward the sea and wiped them out.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. 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. 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 lost.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. The tanks were pulled out of their position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
On April 9, 1942, Carl and the other men received the word that General King had surrendered them to the Japanese. Carl and the other men destroyed their equipment and ammunition and waited for the Japanese. It was his belief that had the soldiers known what lay ahead of them, they would have fought to the bitter end.
The next day the Japanese showed up. It was at that moment that Carl officially became a Prisoner of War. The soldiers slapped the Americans and took anything they wanted from them. A short time later A Company was ordered to move to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
It was from Mariveles that Carl began what became known as the death march. In his group of POWs was his best friend, Bob Stewart. In Carl’s opinion when they started the march, sickness and hunger were the greatest enemies facing the members of A Company.
Carl and Bob were completely exhausted by the third day of the march. This was due to the fact that they had no food or water. The Japanese also liked to leave the POWs sitting in the sun for hours. Bob had already fallen twice, but he was able to get up and continue marching. When the men found shade, the Japanese started them marching again.
At some point, both Carl and Bob were too tired to go on any further, and they both fell to the ground. A Japanese guard who was supposed to bayonet anyone who fell came up to Carl and stuck his bayonet into the ground inches from Carl’s nose. He did this again near Bob. Laughing, he walked away allowing the two men to rest on the side of the road. Both men fell asleep and slept for about three hours. Carl recalled that when they awoke, they got up and continued the march.
The hardest thing that Carl faced on the march was the lack of food and water. During his time on the march toward San Fernando, Carl was fed one handful of rice. He and Bob Stewart went up to an artesian well and took water at one point. To their amazement, nothing was done to them.
The longer Carl was on the march the more stretched out his group of marchers became. Capt. Thorman, who had been in the POW group behind him, caught up to him on the march. By the time the POWs reached San Fernando, A Company was pretty much together in one group.
At San Fernando, Carl and the other POWs were packed into small boxcars used ti haul sugarcane. They were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars. At Capas, the POWs disembarked the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell. It had taken Carl six or seven days to complete the march.
Recalling the march, Carl said, “Most men will tell you the same thing. I wouldn’t do it again, but for the experience, I wouldn’t give a million dollars for it. You wouldn’t believe what a man’s body can take. It’s hard to believe you can survive with so little food or water.”
In Carl’s opinion, the Japanese hated the Filipinos more than the Americans. The reason was that the Filipinos were Asians and chose to fight with the Americans. When the Japanese captured a Filipino guerilla, they took great pleasure in torturing the man.
One of the favorite tortures used by the Japanese was what became known as the water treatment. The Japanese would stretch the man out and force a hose down his throat. The Japanese filled the man’s stomach with water beyond its limit. Next, they would jump on the man’s stomach killing the man. This was one of the favorite tortures used on the Filipino Guerrillas.
When the new camp at Cabanatuan opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O’Donnell, Carl was sent there when the transfers took place between June 1 through 4. It was his belief that there were few to no atheists in the camps. Being Catholic, Carl went to mass every day. He even recalled seeing Japanese guards at mass.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used the word when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them. “Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, they received bread.
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. In the building, there were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died. As many as 9 POWs died each day through November 1942. For Christmas, the Japanese issued Red Cross Packages which helped to slow the rate of death. In addition, other changes were made in the camp that lowered the death rate.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
To keep their spirits up, the POWs put on shows. In Carl’s opinion, they couldn’t sing or dance, but they were the best shows he had ever seen.
As the war went on and it became apparent to the Japanese that the Americans would be invading the Philippines, the Japanese began to send large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries. On November 17, 1944, Carl was sent to Ft. McKinley for processing. During the processing, he was diagnosed as being too ill to make the trip to Japan. Instead of going to Japan, Carl was sent to Bilibid Prison on January 6, 1945.
Carl recalled that he and the other POWs knew that it was just a matter of time before the Americans reached Manila. They just did not know when they would get there and if they would be alive.
The night of February 2, 1945, Carl and the other POWs listened to the battle raging around them outside the prison’s walls. The fighting continued throughout the night. Around 6:30 P.M. the next day, the fighting stopped and the following night was quiet.
Around 10:30 am, the morning of February 3, 1945, the Japanese pulled out of the prison. The Japanese commanding officer told the prisoners that they should not leave the compound. At 7:30 A.M. the morning of February 4, 1945, a boarded up window in the building holding the POWs was knocked down and American soldiers entered the building. Carl and the other men had been liberated.
To get them out of the battle area, the former POWs were taken to San Carlos. They next were flown to Leyte, and from Leyte, Carl returned to the United States on the S.S. Monterey on March 16, 1945. He was the second member of Company A to be liberated. Carl returned home in March 1945 and shared his stories of life as a Japanese POW.
Carl was discharged from the Army on April 9, 1946. He married Jeanette H. Thiele – a former U.S. Army nurse whom he met while hospitalized – in Indiana at Saint John’s Catholic Church in Goshen, Indiana, on September 29, 1946. Carl & Jeanette raised a family of six children in Janesville where he was employed by Parker Pen Company.
Carl N. Nickols passed away on December 30, 1993, and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin.