Pvt. Arthur Thomas Poynter was born on August 26, 1921, in Barren County, Kentucky, to Cann C. Poynter and Emma J. Doyle-Poynter. He was the oldest of four sons and a daughter born to the couple. He also had four half-brothers from his father’s two previous marriages. His mother was the sister of his father’s second wife who passed away in 1920. The family resided in Cave City, Kentucky, and he completed one year of high school. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on August 23, 1939, did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion.
The soldiers were housed in wooden barracks surrounded by trees on two sides. The men were assigned weapons and issued a pistol, and possibly a machine gun or submachine gun. Basic training was six weeks long and each week something else was covered. The soldiers did the physical conditioning, but each week they also trained to master a skill. During week one, the soldiers did infantry drilling. Week two, they did manual of arms and marching to music. They learned how to fire a machine gun during week three, while week four covered the 45 caliber handgun. The Garrand rifle was the focus of week five, and week sick had the soldiers training in gas masks, pitching tents, and hiking.
After the basic training was completed, the men attended different schools for vehicle training such as tank maintenance, truck maintenance, scout car maintenance, motorcycle maintenance, and carpentry. The battalion’s machine shops, welding shops, and kitchens were all on trucks. It is known the members of the battalion often trained on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
The battalion was sent to Arkansas for maneuvers, but the day the maneuvers started, August 17, A Company was inactivated and received orders to return to Ft. Knox. The next day it was activated as the 17th Ordnance Company and after returning to Ft Knox, it received orders to go overseas. The reason the 17th Ordnance Company was created appears to be tied to the First Tank Group, and there are at least two stories of how the tank group ended up in the Philippines.
In the first story, told by Col. Ernest Miller of the 194th Tank Battalion, the decision to send the tank group overseas was the result of an event that happened earlier in 1941. According to this story, a squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down, 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 that the Japanese military used to communicate with its troops. 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, another squadron was sent to the area and found the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering what appeared to be the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In the second story, the 192nd Tank Battalion members believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the Louisiana maneuvers in September 1941. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George Patton – who had commanded their tanks as part of the Blue Army during the maneuvers – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that both battalions were part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. The group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a medium National Guard tank battalion while the 70th was regular army – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The tank group also contained the 192nd, at Ft. Knox, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th 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. 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. The 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started. It is possible that the 19th Ordnance Battalion was part of the tank group, but nothing has been found to confirm this. Creating the 17th Ordnance Company allowed the tanks of the two battalions to receive support without sending the entire battalion to the Philippines.
Traveling west the company was assigned to a train that was also carrying the M3 tanks that were assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion. The company arrived at Ft. Mason north of San Francisco, California, and was ferried by the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the company received medical examinations from its medical detachment. Men found to have medical conditions were replaced.
The members of the company spent the next several days preparing the tanks and weapons for transport overseas. This meant that all weapons had cosmoline put on them to prevent them from rusting. Since – in some areas – the hold of the ship was not tall enough to fit some of the tanks in with their turrets on, the turrets were removed. To ensure that the turret went on the tank it came off of, the tank’s serial number was painted on the turret.
The men boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge around 3:00 P.M. on September 8, and the ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. that night. The enlisted men were quartered in the hold with the tanks. During this part of the trip, the seas were rough and many of the soldiers were seasick. One tank broke free from its moorings and rolled back and forth in the hold slamming into the side of the ship’s hull until it was tied down again.
They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M. After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the replenishment oiler the U.S.S. Guadalupe. The U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer were the two ships’ escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and the date changed to Thursday, September 18. They entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M. and reached Manila several hours later. The 194th’s soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and rode a train to Clark Field. 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets. To do this, they worked all night sleeping in shifts.
The company rode a train to Fort Stotsenburg and was taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort had learned of their arrival only days earlier. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. The officers were put in two men tents while the enlisted men were assigned to six men tents. Each man had a cot, cotton pads, white sheets, a wool blanket, and a footlocker for personnel belongings. During the first night in the tents, there was heavy rain that caused his footlocker to float out of the tent.
After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18, the barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali; this allowed the men to dress. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was always cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived, and although it was warm when they went to sleep by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
Since the job of ordnance was to service the tanks, they followed the workday used by the 194th Tank Battalion. A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” It is not known what precisely the members of the company did at this time.
For the next several weeks, they spent their time removing the cosmoline from the weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. Many of them had never trained on one during their time at Ft. Knox. In October, the 194th was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf, since 17th Ordnance’s job was to keep the tanks running they went with the battalion. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
Things went well until they turned on a narrow gravel road in the barrio of Lingayen that had a lot of traffic. A bus driver parked his bus in the middle of the road and did not move it even after the tanks turned on their sirens and blew whistles. As they passed the bus, the tanks tore off all of one side of it. The company bivouacked about a half-mile from the barrio on a hard sandy beach with beautiful palm trees. The men swam and got in line for chow at the food trucks. It was then that the doctors told them that they needed to wear earplugs when they swam because the warm water contained bacteria and they could get ear infections that were hard to cure. No one came down with an ear infection. The soldiers went to sleep on the beach in their sleeping bags.
When the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20th which was Thanksgiving, the members of the company were waiting at the pier to unload the battalion’s tanks. To do this, they slept in shifts and worked all night with the battalion’s maintenance section. The one good thing is that they had a real turkey dinner on the ship.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the two tank battalions were put on full alert and ordered to their positions at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 194th guarded the north half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. The airfield two runways were shaped like a “V” and the Army Air Corps’ hangers and headquarters were at the point of the “V”. The tankers slept in sleeping bags on the ground under their tanks or palm trees. On December 7, the tanks were issued ammunition and the tankers spent the day loading ammunition belts.
Some members of the company were in the mess hall when they heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio. They ate breakfast and then went to their trucks and other vehicles. Other enlisted members of the company were putting down stones for sidewalks when they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On a map, one of the officers saw a thicket that the company could use for cover so they moved there.
The company moved to a bamboo thicket and set up its trucks. Later that morning the alert was canceled and the company was ordered back to Clark Field. The cooks had just finished preparing lunch so they remained in the thicket. The members of the company watched as B-17s were loaded with bombs but remained on the ground because they could not get the order to bomb Taiwan. They received permission to fly there but not to bomb.
While they were eating lunch, at 12:45 the Japanese planes approached the airfield from the north, The men had time to count 54 planes in the formation. As they watched, what looked like raindrops fell from under the planes, when the bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese. The Zeros that followed strafed the airfield and banked and turned over the thicket the company was located in. The planes banked and returned to straf the airfield again. The members of the company were ordered not to fire because some of the machines they had to manufacture tank parts were the only ones of their type in the Philippines.
After the attack, the company remained at Clark Field until the 192nd was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf. From this time on, wherever the tank battalions were sent the members of 17th Ordnance were there with them. The company members often made repairs to tanks on the frontlines and under enemy fire. They repaired tanks damaged by Japanese fire and those damaged by the tankers. To make the repairs they manufactured many of the parts themselves.
From the Lingayen Gulf, the tanks were sent to the Urdaneta area, they were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. Every move the tanks made, 17th Ordnance moved with them. The tanks were next at Culo and Hermosa and the half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each tank battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road in mid-January. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had long overdue maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls. The company also took over 1000 rounds of World War I anti-personnel ammunition and converted it for use by the tanks.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tanks took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February 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 going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
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.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they were had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. 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, 192nd, were able to clear the pockets by February 18. But before this was done, one tank which 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 had attempted to escape the tank, and the Japanese seemed to have expected this move. It appears that most of the crew was killed with grenades as they attempted to escape through the turret. One man apparently was still alive when the Japanese filled the crew compartment with dirt and was buried alive inside the tank. When the Japanese had been wiped out, 17th Ordnance helped with the recovery of the tank and put the tank on its side to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use after repairs were made.
It is known that the company set up its operations in a large ordnance building on Bataan which had been emptied of all its ordnance. The company remained in the building throughout the Battle of Bataan. Companies A and C, 192nd, were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Co. 192nd – 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.
In January, food rations for the soldiers had been caught in half. This resulted in illnesses spreading among them. 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 scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline 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. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
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. 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. 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. 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.”
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 Co., 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:00 P.M. the company was told it had 30 minutes to evacuate the ordnance building before the ammunition dumps on both sides of the building were destroyed. It was 11:40 P.M. when the ammunition dumps went up in flames. At midnight Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews destroyed their tanks by cutting the gas lines and throwing torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men from the company and men from 17th Ordnance. 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. 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.
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. No Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
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, his company received the news of the surrender from Major Richard Kadel their commanding officer. The men got together and cooked one more good meal with all the food they had. There wasn’t much to cook. They moved to a pass and waited an entire day for the Japanese. During this time, Japanese planes came over and dropped bombs so they took cover. It was at this time, that he and other members of the company, made the decision to attempt to reach Corregidor. It is not known how he reached the island, but it is known that he did escape to Corregidor. It is not known what he did on the island.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on the island on the morning of May 6. The first tank to land on the island was one of the tanks abandoned by a platoon of the 192nd. Later that day, the American forces were surrendered and the Japanese herded them onto a beach. For two weeks, the POWs were held on the beach without any shade and with little water. To get off the beach, POWs volunteered to bury the dead. This allowed them to hunt for food and water. On May 23, the POWs were finally taken by barges to three freighters, put in the holds, and spent the night in the holds. The ships took them to a point about 200 yards off the coast of Luzon closer to Manila and made to swim to shore. Onshore, they worked to fill craters in a pier that had been damaged by the battle for Bataan. After they finished, they formed detachments and marched to Bilibid Prison. During their time in the prison, their meals consisted of a dipper of rice the size of a tennis ball three times a day. The POWs quickly began to develop malaria, skin ulcers, and pellagra.
In May, his family received a letter from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. L. Poynter:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Arthur T. Poynter, 06,665,841, 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”
From May 26 to 28, the POWs left Bilibid in 100 men detachments that totaled 2,000 POWs each day. The prisoners were taken to a train station and boarded onto train cars. 75 to 80 men were put into each car. From Manila, the POWs were taken to the barrio of Cabanatuan. Where they were organized into 100 men detachments and the guards warned them that anyone who fell to the ground and did not get up would be shot. During the march, the first time a POW fell to the ground and the guard aimed his gun at the man, the man was able to get up and rejoin the formation. This appeared to have happened several times. Finally, a POW fell, and even after the guard aimed his gun at the man he did not get up. Instead of shooting the man, the guard raised his arm and had a red flag in it. A truck pulled up to the man and he was put on the truck. Being that other POWs saw this, it wasn’t long until a good number of POWs fell to the ground and were unable to get up. Those still marching figured these men wanted to ride to the camp.
After all the POWs had arrived at Camp 3, there were approximately 6,000 POWs in the camp. When they arrived, the camp was not finished and there was no fence on the northside of the compound. Four POWs walked away from the camp on May 30. After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese. The Japanese tied them to posts and left them to hang in the sun. They also beat the POWs with boards. The Japanese also showed the men water but would not give them any to drink. The next day, while the POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating. They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water. They also offered blindfolds to the men. All the men took a blindfold except one. That man spat at the Japanese before they shot him. After they were shot, the men fell backward into the graves. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot him with his pistol. He next shot each man to make sure they were dead.
The first meal the POWs received was an onion soup that had no onions on it or carrots in it. After the initial meal, meals usually consisted of squash, mongo beans, rice, and the tops of a native sweet potato were used to make soup. Once a week the POWs received carabao meat. Other sources state a whistle weed soup with rice in it was the main meal.
It is known that since the POWs were in better shape than the men captured on Bataan they began being sent out on details within days of arriving at the camp. It is not known if he left the camp on a detail. It is known that on June 21 the Japanese initiated the “Blood Brother” rule. The POWs were placed in groups of ten men. The men worked together, lived in the same barracks, and slept together. If one man of the group escaped from the camp, the other nine would be executed. To improve morale among the POWs, the officers organized activities for the men. Softball teams, basketball teams, volleyball teams, and ping-pong teams were formed.
POWs during this time were sent out on details and returned to the camp. On July 14, 100 POWs were sent to Manila. 26 sick POWs were transferred to Camp 1 on July 20. 360 POWs left the camp, on July 24, for a work detail in Manila. Another group of 150 men was sent there on July 30. Dysentery was a real problem in the camp and to slow the spread of dysentery, a program was started to catch flies on August 17. Any POW who turned in a full milk can of flies received two biscuits and a few cigarettes. They also dug deep latrines, which were 18 feet deep, to slow the spread of disease.
In July 1942, his parents 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, Private Arthur T. Poynter 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.”
On September 1, 198 POWs were transferred to the Manila detail, followed by another 120 men on September 8. Also on that date, 120 returned to the camp from Field Labor Detail. Another detachment of 198 men on September 1 was sent to Manila. 1oo POWs left the camp on an unnamed work detail on September 23, followed by another 100 POWs the next day. Another 32 men were sent to the detail at Manila on September 28 followed by 119 POWs the next day. On October 4, 374 POWs were sent to Manila and were joined by 526 POWs from Camp 1. The Japanese gave physicals to 344 POWs, referred to as “producers” and sent to Japan. (The term producer meant the POWs had training in areas that the Japanese wanted to exploit.) Before they left the camp, Col. Mori, the Japanese Commanding Officer of the camp gave a speech to them and said, “You men will be taken to a better place, will have better food, and you will meet your friends from Wake and Guam Islands.”
On October 5, 1942, another 676 POWs were transferred to Manila. They marched to Camp 1 and were joined by 123 men from that camp. From available information, it appears that a total of 1700 POWs were sent to Manila. The Japanese intended to give each man 2 bananas, 2 egg sandwiches, 5 biscuits, 2 rice balls, 1 roll. The only problem was they did not have enough to go around. The POWs were taken to Manila to be sent to Japan. Another 322 POWs were transferred to Camp 1 on October 21.
In an attempt to improve the food ration of the POWs, a letter was sent on October 20 to Col Mori from Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C., American commanding officer at Cabanatuan #3. It stated that at the time 65% of the POWs in the camp were suffering from a dietary deficiency which increased in number and severity each day. He also noted there were 100 cases of pellagra in the camp and they too were getting worse each day. The number of cases of beriberi was at 450 and increased each day ending in death for the worse cases. There were 130 cases of xerophthalmia due to the lack of vitamin A and it appeared in the camp at the start of October. Many of these POWs had corneal ulceration, keratitis, and panophthalmitis, rational degeneration leading to blindness. He also stated 300 men had symptoms of both beriberi and pellagra. He noted that those suffering from dysentery, malaria, and diarrhea were not included.
From this time on, small numbers of men were sent to Camp 1. Another detachment of 297 POWs was sent to the Manila Labor Detail on October 26. On October 27, Beecher was informed by Mori that all the POWs were being transferred to Camp 1. That day 74 sick POWs were transferred to the hospital at Camp 1. On October 29, 1,126 POWs boarded trucks and were driven to Camp 1. The next day, October 30, the remaining 775 POWs in the camp were taken by truck to Camp 1 and Cabanatuan officially closed.
Available sources state he went out on the work detail to Clark Field, but it is not known when he was sent there. Many of the POWs believed it was the best work detail in the Philippines. When they arrived, they were put into barracks that had been constructed for the Philippine Scouts. In the barracks, each POW had a bunk. The POWs were divided into 8 to 10 men squads to work, but they did not start working for three days. During this time they cleaned up the junk around the airfield that had been left from the fighting. While they were cleaning the grounds, they found mattresses and blankets that they were allowed to put on their bunks. Every POW had a mattress and blanket. There were also washrooms with toilets and sinks and running cold water.
When they finally started working, the workday started at 6:00 A.M. with breakfast which was mostly rice. This was followed by roll call before the POWs went to work. The original guards were combat veterans and soon realized that this was an easy detail and wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. As the POWs worked they did not force them to work at a fast pace. At first, they made repairs to the runways that had been damaged during the fighting by filling in craters. When this was done, they built revetments and a runway. The Japanese realized that the work was progressing slower than expected, so they changed the guards. When the guards were changed, the climate changed and the POWs found themselves working faster harder pace. A base was needed for the runway, so the POWs went to a quart and mined rock with picks and shovels. When the quarry ran out of rock, the POWs began digging rocks out of the ground and screened the rock to get rid of the dirt. If the POW squad met its quota for the day, they were allowed to return to their barracks early. If they did not meet their quota by the end of the workday, they worked until it was met. When rock became hard to find, the Japanese decided to use sand as the base. The result was that the first time a Japanese bomber landed on the runway it flipped over onto its back when its landing gear sank into the concrete supported by the sand. The POWs who witnessed this happen wanted to cheer but remained silent. The POW workday ended at 6:00 P.M. roll call was taken, and they had dinner which again was mostly rice.
The Japanese did not give the POW medical personnel any medicine. Like so much in the camp, the POW scrounged up medicine while they were cleaning up the debris. The Japanese did not make POWs who had malaria work, and they allowed the injured to rest too. But, they regularly checked the POWs to sure that they were sick or injured and could not work.
At first, if a POW escaped, they made the remaining POWs stand at attention for hours. On one occasion, the POWs stood at attention until 4:00 A.M. when they were dismissed. Shortly after this, reveille was held and they went to work. To stop escapes, the Japanese instituted the “blood brother” rule since several POWs escaped from the detail. If one man escaped, the other nine men in the group would be executed. Men were often thrown into a small metal shack made from corrugated steel that had no windows and had only enough room for the man to squat. Anyone put into it had his rations cut and received very little water. The POWs witnessed the execution of two Filipinos who were caught stealing corrugated sheet metal. They were tied to poles and used for bayonet practice by the Japanese. In addition, there were also the daily punishments like being hit over the head with a saber by one Japanese lieutenant. Other men were beaten with a golf club.
While the POWs were working at Clark Field, two Filipinos were caught stealing corrugated metal from the airfield. The Japanese tied them to posts and used them for bayonet practice while the POWs were forced to watch. If a POW broke a rule, he was put into a sheet metal shack that the Japanese built as punishment. There were no openings and it was out in the sun so it became extremely hot. The POWs who were put in it were not fed or given water, and it was low enough where they could not stand in it so they squatted or curled up. When one POW escaped, the remaining men had to stand in the sun at formation.
At some point, it appears that Arthur became ill or was injured while working on the detail. He was sent to the Naval Hospital at Bilibid Prison outside of Manila. It is not known when he arrived at the prison.
On September 21, 1944, the first American planes in almost three years flew over the prison. The POWs cheered. Many of the POWs believed that this would end the transfer of POWs to Japan. It didn’t. When the Americans didn’t arrive, the POWs soon began to ignore the planes as they flew over. Like the other prisoners, he only had rumors of the advancing American forces. The one story the prisoners heard was those men who were still at Cabanatuan had been liberated by American forces at the end of January 1945. They hoped that this would soon happen to them. On February 2, the last American POW died in the prison of dysentery.
The night of February 2nd, the POWs heard a series of detonations that lasted for over an hour to the southeast at 10:30 P.M. There were some small ones and big ones too that we mixed together. The POWs heard the echoes of explosions all night long. The POWs began to believe that it was just a matter of days before they were free. On February 3 was a normal day for the POWs who went around performing their chores. They told each other the latest rumors as they ate their evening meal. It was at that time that six American planes flew over the compound flying very low and very slow. At 6:00 P.M. they took part in an evening roll call. At 6:30, they heard the sound of artillery in the distance. Then they heard heavy machine-gun fire which got closer and closer and closer. All hell broke loose and there was light artillery fire or fire from tanks, heavy machine-gun and light machine-gun fire, rifle fire, and pistol fire all coming from the north and east of the prison. At 10:30 P.M., the electricity went out. The POWs heard the sound of guns and the ammunition dumps going up. The sound of moving tanks, artillery fire, small arms explosions continued until 2:00 A.M. when everything got quiet except for heavy artillery that could be heard in the distance.
On the morning of February 4, the POWs talked about what they had heard. They also noticed that the Japanese guards seemed to be getting ready to leave. The senior American medical officer was called to the Japanese commanding officer’s office and told that they were freeing the POWs, but he also told them to stay inside the prison. Before the camp commandant left, he posted a typed document stating the Japanese were releasing the POWs.
“1. The Japanese army is now going to release all prisoners of war and internees here on its own accord.
“2. We are assigned to another duty and shell be here no more.
“3. You are at liberty to act and live as free persons but you must be aware of probable dangers if you go out.
“4. We shall leave here foodstuffs, medicines, and other necessities of which you may avail yourselves for the time being.
“5. We have arranged to put signboard at the front gate bearing the following context: ‘Lawfully released prisoners of war and interests are
quartered here. Please do not molest them unless they make positive resistance.’”
The POWs had posted guards to prevent anyone from leaving the prison. They recalled that the windows of the buildings were boarded up and it was 6:00 PM on the evening of February 4 when the POWs heard the sound of rifle butts hitting the wooden shutters of the barred windows. As it turned out, the Americans had completely surrounded the prison and had been trying to get into it to see what was inside. One rifle butt knocked a small rectangular hole from a window and a hand and then a dirty face appeared in the opening. At first, the POWs thought the soldiers were Germans because of their helmets and uniforms. One finger on the hand of the soldier in the window was nervously on the trigger when the face of the soldier showed he recognized the men inside the prison as Americans. It was only when the soldier spoke to them in English that the POWs knew that they had been liberated. He asked, “How the hell do you get in there?” A POW responded, “How the hell do you get out of here? We’ve been trying to find that out for three years!” According to the former POWs, there wasn’t a dry eye among the POWs or the liberating troops. The freed POWs asked the men about how things were in the States, but as it turned out, their liberators hadn’t been home since 1942 and previously had fought on New Guinea.
The POWs remained in the prison since the possibility existed that the Japanese may attempt to retake the prison. The 37th Infantry Division from Ohio came to the compound and visited the POWs. They were followed by 148th Infantry, 7th Division. The Americans gave their cigarettes and K rations to the former POWs and seemed unable to do enough for them. They even gave the former POWs their whiskey, beer, and cigars that the Filipinos had given them. Many tears were shed by both the POWs and the liberating troops. At 9:00 P.M. on February 5, there was gunfire on three sides of the prison so the decision was made to move the former POWs to the Ang Tibay shoe factory on the outskirts of Manila. The members of the 148th Infantry carried POWs out on litters and they were evacuated in ambulances and on jeeps. The soldiers also helped the weak onto trucks and made sure that all the POWs were out of Bilibid. The move was completed by 11:35 P.M. after all the former POWs had been moved to a brewery where they drank beer.
On February 6, the former POWs were ordered back to Bilibid since it had better sanitary facilities. When they got there, they found it had been looted and much of their personnel effects were gone. They received their first American food that morning which was canned ham and eggs, cereal milk, K biscuits, butter, jam, and coffee with milk and sugar. The former POWs who were seriously ill and needed better medical treatment were sent to Santo Tomas on February 9. On the 10th, more men were sent there while those men not able to make the trip were sent to Quezon Institute while the remainder were transferred to the 12th Replacement Battalion.
Once they were behind American lines, the kitchens were kept open for them so they could eat whenever they wanted. From there, the former POWs were taken by plane to Leyte and boarded a landing barge there. They were amazed by the barge since they had not existed when they were fighting on Bataan. The barge took them to the ship that was taking them back to the States. The men boarded the S.S. Monterey that sailed on February 24. During the trip home, a dance was held on the ship and those men who were well enough danced. The ship arrived in San Francisco on March 16 and trucks and ambulances were waiting at the dock to take them to Letterman General Hospital where they received additional medical treatment. It was while he was in the hospital that he was promoted in rank.
Arthur returned to Barren County, Kentucky, married Gracie May Toms in late 1945. He passed away on July 28, 1969, in Glasgow, Kentucky, and was buried at the Glasgow Municipal Cemetery.