2nd Lt. William Woodgate Read was the son of Arthur D. Read and Ethel F. Woodgate-Read of West Monroe, Louisiana. He was born on February 8, 1920, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and had two sisters and two brothers. He was known as “Bill” to his family and friends.
When he was a child, Bill’s family moved to Louisiana. There, he graduated, with honors, from Bolton High School in Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1936. While in high school, he participated in debate, tennis, and the National Honor Society. It also appears that he joined the Louisiana National Guard around this time. After high school, he attended the University of Idaho where he chose to major in forestry which was the area his father worked in professionally.
While in college, Bill, was a member of Phi Eta Sigma an honorary fraternity. He received this honor for achieving a grade point average of 5.5 or higher. He was also a member of Xi Sigma Pi an honorary forestry fraternity, the Associated Foresters, and a member of the staff of the Idaho Forester. He was also a member of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity and the ROTC program at the university.
Bill graduated from college, with honors, in June 1941. After graduation, he attended the Louisiana National Guard’s Officers Candidates School in the summer of 1941 and was commissioned a second lieutenant on July 18, 1941. Upon completion of the camp, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and assigned as a tank platoon commander in A Company, 753rd Tank Battalion.
In October 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk after taking part in the Louisiana maneuvers. After officers were released from service, due to age, and others were promoted to fill these vacancies, Bill volunteered to join the battalion and assigned to A Company as a tank platoon commander. The company had a number of officer vacancies created with the release of National Guardsmen who were married or 29 years old and older. Joining the battalion meant that he went from living in a barracks where he his own room to sharing a tent with another officer. It was reported that it rained a majority of time they were in the tents and the men were always wet. Many did not take a shower for weeks.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – 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 a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island 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.
Traveling west over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, the battalion was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. The members of the 192nd received inoculations and physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to join the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto 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, but 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 2, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville, and the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.
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. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.
During this part of the trip, Bill attempted to raise the morale of the soldiers by providing them with information on the Philippines. He had taken the time to learn as much as he could about the islands and their people and would hold his information lectures on deck. For many of the soldiers, these sessions were appreciated since they were often seasick and the sessions relieved their boredom.
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 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 the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Being an officer, he was invited to have Thanksgiving Dinner with the officers of the 194th Tank Battalion. 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 from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
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,” a term they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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.
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 including going to the PX.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times. On the morning of December 8, the half-tracks of the 192nd were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field and the tank crews were brought up to full strength. A week earlier, they had been given assigned positions around the airfield to guard against enemy paratroopers. At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky. They landed at noon and lined up in a straight line near the mess hall so they could be refueled. While this was being done, the pilots went to lunch. The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes. When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the battalion’s bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as 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.
A Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau on December 12 so it could protect a highway and railroad against sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. It was at this time that Bill managed to send a telegram home on December 19, which was the last time his family ever heard from him.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River since the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
A few days later on December 29, east of Concepcion, A Company had bivouacked along both sides of a road and posted sentries. Night had fallen when the sentries heard a commotion from down the road and alerted the tankers. They grabbed their Tommy-guns and waited in silence. As they watched a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. They held their fire until the last bicycle was had passed when they opened fire. Screams and flashes of light as they fired was all that was heard and seen. When they ceased fire, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to a line from on the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. Bill’s tank platoon served as the rear guard and knocked out Japanese tanks that were following them. The next morning, December 30, Bill’s tank platoon was again serving as a rearguard and was in a dry rice paddy when it came under enemy fire by Japanese mortars. Bill was riding in a tank when one of the enemy rounds hit one of its tracks knocking it out. After escaping the tank, Bill stood in front of it and attempted to free the crew. A second-round hit the tank, directly below where he was standing blowing off his legs at the knees and leaving him mortally wounded. The other members of his crew carried Bill from the tank and laid him under a bridge. Bill would not allow himself to be evacuated since there were other wounded soldiers. He insisted that these men be taken first.
Pvt. Jack Bruce went for help, but when he did not return quickly, Pvt. Eugene Greenfield went to find help in an attempt to save Bill’s life. Staying with Bill was Pvt. Ray Underwood. As Bill lay dying, Underwood cradled him in his arms. While Underwood sat with Bill, the Japanese overran the area. When Underwood was captured, he was sitting on the ground holding Bill in his arms as he died.
Another version of the story states that after he and Underwood were captured, a Japanese officer killed Bill with his sword. Underwood would later receive a commendation for his actions while he was a Prisoner of War.
On Tuesday, December 30, 1941, 2nd Lt. William A. Read died of his wounds, under a bridge, during the Battle of the Luzon. In April 1942, he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. In May 1945, his family received a message from the War Department on his death. His family also learned the details of his death from 1st Sgt. Dale Lawton – who had been liberated at Cabanatuan – when he visited them in 1945 and told them of the events leading to Bill’s death. In 1947, Bill was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for gallantry and posthumously promoted to First Lieutenant.
After the war, the remains of 1st Lt. William W. Read were returned to the United States and were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on February 7, 1950, with his parents in attendance. He was buried in Section 34, Site 4703.
There is one last story involving 1st Lt. William W. Read. After the men had been liberated at the end of the war, they sailed for home. One of the nurses caring for them on the hospital ship repeatedly approached the former POWs and asked them if anyone had known a Lt. William W. Read. Sgt. Owen Sandmire, of A Company, heard from the other men that a nurse was asking about Lt. Read, so he went looking for her. When Sandmire found her, the nurse explained that she was Lt. William Read’s fiancé and that they had intended to marry when he came home. Sandmire told the nurse the details of Lt. William W. Read’s death.