Capt. Alvin Charles Poweleit, M. D. was born June 8, 1908, to Charles A. Poweleit and Aurelia M. Baumbach-Poweleit. His mother passed away in 1917 and his father remarried. He had two sisters and one brother, a half-sister, and a half-brother. Alvin married, Loretta Catherine Thesing, on June 28, 1930, and attended the University of Louisville. He and his wife became the parents of a son in 1934. He graduated from the university’s medical school in 1936, and after residency, he had a general medical practice in Newport, Kentucky. With his wife, he lived at 327 East Park Avenue in Newport, Kentucky. While in school, Alvin enlisted in the U. S. Army Reserve and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He was trained in infantry tactics during the summers between school years. In 1940, he and his wife became the parents of a daughter.
On March 26, 1941, Alvin was called to federal service. Reporting to Fort Knox, he was assigned to the newly formed medical detachment of the 192nd Tank Battalion. During this time, Alvin and the other members of the detachment did basic infantry training. It was his job and the job of the battalion’s other medical officer to train the medics of the battalion. The reason for this was that the Army offered limited classes and believed hands-on training was better than classroom training.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. During this time John rose in rank from private, to private first class, to corporal, to sergeant.
At the end of the month, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 A.M. until 8:30 A.M. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 A.M. One of the complaints they had about the firing range was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from it that their clothes felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4th, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, 160 miles south of Ft. Knox. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, later that day, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station in the trucks.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchie National Forest, near DeRidder, Louisana, where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators. They described the land as swamps, woods, and shacks. They also heard they were going to North Carolina on October 6th.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called “Iron Rations” – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Water was scarce and men went days without shaving and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service. Instead, they were being sent overseas as part of “Operation PLUM.” Within hours, many of the members of the battalion believed they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. There is no proof that this was true. National Guardsmen who were married or 29 years old or older had the opportunity to resign from federal service. Other National Guardsmen whose enlistments were about to expire were transferred to other units. They were replaced by men from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original members of the battalion believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the Louisana maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George Patton – who had commanded their tanks during the maneuvers – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The reality was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion, but the 70th was Regular Army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The tank group also contained the 193rd Tank Battalion at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th Tank Battalion at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines well before June 1941.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas and the 192nd was ordered overseas in October. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived at Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs home from October 6 to 14 so that they could say goodbye to family and friends, but the men had to be back at Camp Polk by the morning of October 14. While at home, they found themselves being repeatedly asked where they believed they were being sent. A number of local newspapers stated that their destination was the Philippines.
A large number of the battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. A detachment of men from the battalion acquired other tanks using written orders from the War Department that gave them the authority to take the tanks from other units. In some cases, the tanks had just arrived on flat cars and were about to be unloaded from the flat cars when they presented the paperwork taking the tanks from the unit.
At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. When they arrived, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced with other soldiers who had been sent there for that purpose. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness when the ship sailed into a storm. Men wrote home about how other men were really seasick but never mentioned if they had been sick. Once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Thursday, November 6, 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. On 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 Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal. When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and to see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Had they been slower getting off the ship, they would have had a turkey dinner. Ironically, November 20 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 the ragged World War I 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 area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of Japanese reconnaissance planes flying over the airfield. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
Before the battalion had been sent overseas, it was issued a great deal of radio equipment. This was done because part of its job in the Philippines was to set up a radio school to train radio operators for the Philippine Army. Shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours since the battalion had a large number of ham radio operators. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely. 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 battalion frequencies to use.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” – which came from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
Poweleit and PFC Ardell Schei, the company clerk, worked to organize the military records of the battalion. Part of the reason this was done was that D Company was being reassigned to the 194th Tank Battalion. This transfer would never be completed and was suspended indefinitely in January 1942.
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 do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. Many men wrote home and told their families about how hot the weather was, the kind of food they were eating, about the countryside, and about the Filipinos.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
Since they had no weapons to use against the planes because of their altitude the members of the medical detachment ran for cover. When the Zeros began to straf the airfield, the soldiers all opened fire with their guns. The enemy plane shot down by a member of a tank battalion in WWII was shot down by a member of the 192nd. 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. (It should be noted that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened at 1:55 A.M. on December 8 in the Philippines, so the attack on Clark Field was almost 11 hours later.) Eighty-nine of the planes that had been sitting along the runway at Clark Field were destroyed, and there were approximately 236 casualties.
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 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.
The dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. It was hard for them to sleep because they were afraid and trucks, motorcycles, and trucks all sounded like planes to them. The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The tankers guarded the airfield during the day against paratroopers, and at night they enforced blackouts in the villages around the airfield. They lived through another attack on December 10, but this time the Japanese bombing started at the south end of the airfield where the tankers were located. Bombs fell between the tanks wounding men who were caught outside.
Since the 192nd Tank Battalion were assigned to tents along the main road to Fort Stotsenburg, Alvin drove to the airfield to see if he could aid the wounded and dying. He recalled that the hangers and barracks were destroyed and that the B-17s also were totally wrecked. As he was doing this, Japanese fighters began strafing the airfield. To avoid being hit, Alvin hid in a bomb crater. After the attack, Alvin continued to give first aid to the wounded. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing, and he recalled that the dead were everywhere. He and the medics treated Filipino Lavenderos – women who did laundry – and a number of houseboys. They also treated officers and men. They also saw the dead, men with half their heads torn off, men with their intestines lying on the ground, and men with their backs blown out.
The airfield was bombed again on December 10 and 13. It was on the 13th that while Alvin and three medics were crossing the airfield in a jeep, they heard the sound of engines. The driver stopped the jeep, but when he tried to start it, it wouldn’t start. The men took cover on the ground during the attack as planes strafed the area. On December 21, Alvin was with B Company when one platoon of its tanks was sent north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops. Alvin stated that Gen. Wainwright was advised, by Lt. Col. Wickord, that the tanks should not be sent into the area without reconnaissance. According to Alvin, Wainwright demanded the tanks be sent into the area. The result was that the tank platoon was lost.
One day while doing this job, Alvin, Sgt. Howard Massey, and Cpl. John Reynolds, and PFC Curis Massey encountered a Japanese patrol. The three soldiers were in a stream bed when they heard a twig snap. Carefully, they made their way back to their truck and hid in the brush. As they watched, a Japanese patrol made its way down the bed of the stream. Each of the medical detachment men aimed their guns at a specific member of the patrol. They opened fire and continued to fire until the patrol was wiped out.
The medical detachment was near San Isidro on December 28/29. The detachment did not get the order to withdraw from the area on the 30, and although given the order to abandon their equipment they loaded up their equipment and made their way south through Gapan. As they went through the barrio, there were Japanese in the streets who did not attempt to stop them. The medics were near San Fernando on the 31st and ordered to bivouac near Lubao on January 1.
The medical detachment fell back with the tanks and was near Culis on January 4. It was there they gave aid to the wounded from the 194th. On January 6, with shells flying over them and exploding around them, the medical detachment fell back to the Pilar-Bagac Road. They stayed in the area for days before dropping back through Balanga as it burned. The units were at Orion on the 19th. It was at this time the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points took place.
According to Alvin, the reason Bataan held out for four months was that Gen. James Weaver was a good tactician. Weaver, by moving the tanks around, convinced the Japanese that the Americans had a greater number of tanks than they actually did. A Japanese officer, on Formosa, would later confirm this belief in a conversation with Alvin while he was a POW there. The officer stated that the one thousand tanks the Americans had were the reason it took so long to capture the Philippines. Alvin responded that they had only slightly more than one hundred tanks. The Japanese officer was stunned.
Alvin was made the physician for the tank group on March 9, 1942. It is known that he traveled to different areas checking on the medics. It is known that his first few days doing the job he told Gen. Weaver that only half the men in both tank battalions were healthy enough to do a full day’s work. He did note that the men of 17th Ordnance were slightly in better shape. He noted that malaria, dysentery, and malnutrition were taking their toll on the men.
On March 14, he was sent to work at General Hospital #1 for two or three weeks. The hospital consisted of 16 wooden buildings with Nipa roofs that were 25 feet wide and 75 feet long. Fifteen of the buildings were used as wards and one was used as the officers’ quarters. There were also six buildings of the same construction but 18 feet wide by 27 feet long. One served as the Department Surgeon’s Office, one as Headquarters General Hospital Number One, one as minor surgery, Dental Clinic, and Laboratory, one as a Receiving Office and Pharmacy, one as the Quartermaster’s Office, and one as the Registrar’s Office for Sick and Wounded. There was one large building that was twice the size of Ward buildings that was used as the Nurses’ Quarters at one end and Officers’ Mess at the other. Another building of the same size was used as the Main Operating Pavilion. There were also ten other buildings of different sizes. Three were used as mess halls, one was the bakery, four were latrines, one was the laundry, and one was the laundry for contagious disease patients. There were also four galvanized iron buildings 80 feet wide by 100 feet long. One was used as a Convalescent Ward, another as Medical Supply, one as a storage warehouse, and the last as a drying room for hospital laundry. During his time there, he was able to send home a radiogram to his wife. It is known that while he was there that he performed surgery, treated the wounded and sick, and lived with frequent bombings by Japanese planes. He was still there when Bataan was surrendered.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack with fresh troops brought in from Singapore on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. 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 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 against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “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. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
On April 9, 1942, Alvin left the hospital and found the 192nd’s medical detachment at kilometer 192 on the west road on Bataan. It had already been given its order to surrender. They remained in their bivouac for two days until they received orders from the Japanese to report to Mariveles where the soldiers were searched. It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that Alvin started what became known as the death march. As he marched, Alvin saw the bodies of the dead lying along the road. He believed there were ten bodies for every mile. The bodies were bloated from lying in the sun and had maggots crawling on them. Alvin also witnessed three Filipinos have their heads cut off for giving rice to the Prisoners of War.
All these things built up in Alvin until he snapped. When a Japanese guard approached to hit a POW, Alvin grabbed him and snapped his neck. He and other POWs hid the guard’s body and a gun in the undergrowth. As he continued the march, he heard the guards call the missing guard’s name. As far as Alvin knew, the guard’s body was never found.
At San Fernando, the POWs were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights.” The name meant they could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each POW detachment had 100 men in it, the Japanese pushed 100 men into each car. Those POWs who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors. They rode the cars until they reached Capas. There, the living disembarked from the cars and the dead fell to the floors. The POWs walked the last six miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When 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, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
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. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan. Alvin remained to administer medical aid to the sick who were too ill to be moved from the camp.
It was in May that his wife received their first letter from the War Department.
Mrs. L. Poweleit:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Captain Alvin C. Poweleit, O,344,885, 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 ”
In July 1942, his wife received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Captain Alvin C. Poweleit had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
Alvin remained at Camp O’Donnell until he went to Capas with the sick released Filipino prisoners. He returned to Camp O’Donnell and remained there until January 23, 1943, when he was sent to Cabanatuan. Alvin did not remain in the camp long, because he was sent to Bongabon on February 7, 1943, and remained there until October 1943, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.
On May 17, 1943, his wife was informed by the War Department that he was a Prisoner of War. This was the first news she had of him since the initial letters in 1942.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR HUSBAND CAPTAIN ALVIN C POWELEIT IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your brother, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Capt. Alvin C. Poweleit, 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”
The camp hospital at Cabanatuan was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place where POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. It is known that Alvin was the surgeon for Ward 10, and he also held the jobs of the sanitary officer and utility officer after he returned to the camp.
On October 18, 1943, 103 telegrams were brought to the camp but only 21 men present in the camp received them. It appeared that other men were out on work details. Four days later, 175 telegrams arrived at the camp, but only 65 were distributed. It was noted that some had been received in Tokyo that same month.
The POWs received on December 7, 1943, ½ a pound of sugar, 2 cans of soluble coffee, 2 chocolate emergency rations, 1 pound of prunes, and a ½ pound cheese. The items were perishable goods that came from the Red Cross Christmas boxes sent to the camp. That night they received a Japanese “news sheet” that told of the terrible American losses in the southwest pacific. According to the sheet, the U.S. had lost most of its navy. It also stated that the U.S. lost 5 carriers, 2 cruisers, and a battleship in the Gilberts, and 37 ships were lost at Bougainville. On the 11th, they received more coffee, two cans of cheese, two chocolate bars, and two boxes of raisins.
On Christmas eve the Japanese gave each man an unopened Red Cross box. Inside the POWs found cigarettes which usually were missing from the boxes. From 9:00 P.M. until midnight on Christmas eve, carolers were all over the camp. Christmas started with midnight mass for the Catholics with Protestant services at 5:30 A.M. Bango was at 7:00 A.M. instead of 6:30. The Japanese also handed out to each man an unopened Red Cross box.
One of the changes that took place in January 1944 was that the POWs on the work details were no longer beaten. The farm detail where the POWs received the worse beatings was considered the best detail to be on. It is known that Alvin worked on this detail. Officers were put to work because with the shipments of POWs to Japan there were fewer men in the camp. The POWs received in January another Red Cross box around the 19th. Inside was 3 cans of beef, 4 cans of butter, 1 spam, 1 purity loaf, 1 salmon, 1 Pate, 1 canned milk, and jam. In addition, the POWs received packs of cigarettes. Those who received ¼ of sugar on December 7 received ½ a pound of cocoa.
In February 1944, the rumor spread among the POWs that the Marshall Islands and Gibert Islands had been retaken. They also heard that the Marianas Islands had been bombed and that there had been a sea Battle in the Java Sea. They also heard that the Filipino food ration had been cut to 120 grams of rice a day and that no one was allowed to leave Manila.
As more and more POWs were sent to Manila for shipment to another part of the Japanese empire, the officers were put to work on the camp farm with the enlisted men. In August 1944, the POWs found themselves working to move the hospital to the same area as the POW barracks. The reason was that the Japanese wanted to reduce the size of the camp so they would need fewer guards. The POWs were keeping their own gardens and growing their own food, but the Japanese now insisted that the POWs stop cooking their own food. The POWs adopted a group cooking policy where the POWs in a group placed an order 24 hours before they wanted it, and it was deducted from that group’s food stock. The POWs were also able to purchase coffee. They noticed that the Japanese attitude also had changed and that they wanted the POWs more involved in the running of the camp.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs were finishing work for the day when they heard the sound of planes, but the sound of these planes was different from the sound of Japanese planes. They looked up and saw a formation of 80 planes fly over, but the planes were too high for them to see any insignias. The planes seemed to agitate the Japanese so the POWs whispered to each other that they may be American. After entering the camp, they got their answer as they watched a dogfight directly above the camp. Some of the planes flew low over the camp and on the planes they saw the U.S. Navy insignias. A loud wild cheer came out of the mouths of thousands of POWs. When one of the Japanese planes involved in the dogfight crashed to the ground in flames, another wild cheer went up. As they watched, wave after wave of American planes flew over the camp. Even the hospital patients crawled out of their beds to get a look at the planes. Next, they heard the explosions of anti-aircraft shells over Clark Field. After the attack ended many of the POWs sobbed. Many of the POWs believed this would end the transfer of the POWs to Japan. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places.
Not long after this Alvin was among the POWs who were sent to Manila and held at Bilibid Prison. The POWs were taken to Pier 7 in Manila on October 1, 1944, and the detachment of POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru. The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater where it remained for three days. The hold soon became a latrine and smelled like one. At first, the POOWs were allowed on deck to relieve themselves. But this was changed to buckets tied to ropes that were used to haul the excrement from the hold. As they were pulled up, the buckets hit the hold’s walls spilling the waste onto the POWs. At 5:00 P.M., steamed rice was sent down in buckets, but most of the POWs were too sick to eat. Those who could eat ate as much as they could. Water was also sent down in pockets, and it appears that each POW received about a pint of water. The temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn’t quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten-ship convoy, it sailed again on October 4 and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk. The attacks continued for the next several days and the POWs lived in fear of the ship being sunk. The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong when it was informed American planes were in the area. The ships changed course during this part of the trip and attempted to reach Hong Kong. The ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships.
The ship arrived in Hong Kong on October 11 and the POWs were allowed on deck 50 at a time. Some of the POWs were allowed to wash with seawater. While it was in port on October 16, 27 B-29s bombed the harbor followed by 8 P-51s. The ship nearest to the Hokusen Maru took several hits and was a wreck. The ship left the dock on October 18 and moved around the harbor. A bomb from a sole plane hit near the ship while it was maneuvering in the harbor. On October 21, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa. Two days later, the POWs heard explosions as several ships were hit by torpedos from American submarines. Poweleit said that the ships were sinking before the debris from the explosions hit the water. The ships were close enough to Formosa for the Japanese to send out planes that dropped depth charges.
The ship sailed through a storm and the hatches were covered. During this time several POWs died. On October 29, four survivors of the Arisan Maru were put on the ship. One of the men was dying but the other three were in good health. When they were allowed to talk to the other POWs, they told them about the ships sinking and how the POWs were left to die.
According to some sources, only three of the ten ships in the convoy reached the island. The ship finally arrived at Takao, Taiwan, on November 5. The POWs were brought up on deck for physicals by Japanese doctors. Some were so weak that they had to be pulled from the holds with ropes. It was at this time that it was estimated that 200 POWs had died during the trip. The POWs were marched down the gang blank and taken ashore that same day. The POWs formed detachments of 100 men and marched through Takao. The Chinese threw stones at them. The POWs were sent to Inrin Temporary which was specifically opened for them. Those who were really weak only did light work. The healthier POWs were sent to a sugar mill where they were worked pretty hard.
On Formosa, Alvin was held at Shirakawa and Taihoku POW camps. He would remain at the second camp until the end of the war. He and the other POWs learned of the war had ended on August 10, 1945. Returning to the Philippines, he received medical treatment and boarded the U.S.S. Marine Shark and arrived at Seattle on November 1, 1945, and was taken to Madigan General Hospital.
Alvin returned to Kentucky and was discharged, from the army, on September 9, 1946. He went back to school and became a specialist in eye, ear, and throat medicine. He opened a practice in Covington, Kentucky, from which he retired. He became known for his aggressiveness in fighting cancer through surgical procedures that were considered risky in the 1950s. He was viewed as someone who took this type of surgery from primitive medicine to modern medicine.
On July 13, 1997, Dr. Alvin C. Poweleit died of injuries he received from a car accident. He was 89 years old. He is buried at Saint Stephen’s Cemetery in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.