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Smith, Sgt. Elmer N.

ElmerSmith_1

Sgt. Elmer Nelson Smith was born on October 9, 1920, and was the son of Amiel and Dora Smith. With his two brothers and five sisters, he lived at 117 West Second Street in Port Clinton, Ohio, and attended Port Clinton schools. He was a 1938 graduate of Port Clinton High School. When he was a junior in high school, Elmer joined the Company H Tank Corp of the Ohio National Guard which was headquartered in Port Clinton. After high school, he worked for the Standard Products Company which manufactured rubber parts for the auto industry.

After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard General Headquarters tank battalions. The GHQ tank battalions which were still considered infantry were notified they were being called up, on September 1, 1940, to create a “buffer” between the armored forces and infantry. This was done to protect the regular army tank battalions from requests from the infantry for tanks and allow them to develop into real fighting forces. If the infantry wanted tanks, the National Guard tank battalions were available to the infantry.

For Christmas, 21 members of the company, including Elmer, received furloughs home from the 14th to the 26th. A few men drove home, but most rode a chartered Greyhound bus they paid $12.00 to ride. As the bus pulled away from their barracks, on December 14th, the men – whose jobs required them to stay or were attending gunnery school which was still meeting – shouted to those on the bus about what to say to their friends when they were asked about them. They joked and told those going home not to overeat while they were there. It is known other battalion members were in the base hospital with what may have been the flu.

The base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.

Those who went home had to be back on base by 6:00 a.m. on the 26th when their furloughs expired, so they started back to Ft. Knox right after Christmas dinner. When they arrived back at the base, 1st Sgt. Andrew Migala was waiting to tell them what men were being transferred to the newly formed Headquarters Company. Being that C Company was the smallest company, only three enlisted men were transferred to HQ Company. The men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay. Since the new company did not have its barracks, the men continued to live with their original companies. The men assigned to the company’s maintenance section were the first trained since they had to rebuild 16 tanks that came out of the Ft. Knox junkyard.

The new company was the largest in the battalion and was divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks that every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.  Men were also sent to specialty schools with training in areas like tank mechanics, radio, automotive mechanics, and small and large arms. The men assigned to each company’s maintenance section were the first to be assigned to tank mechanics school since they had the job of rebuilding the 16 tanks given to the battalion that came from the junkyard at Ft. Knox.

The men assigned to the HQ Company moved into their three barracks by February. The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks. One hundred and forty-nine men from the Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10th and lived in tents located next to the barracks of each company. The tents were on concrete slabs and had electricity. The walls were wood and screened with canvas starting about halfway up the wall. In the center was a stove for heat.

Winter finally arrived on January 4th, when the high for the day was 24 degrees, and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was on January 7th that the companies had their first target practice, and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty-caliber and fifty-caliber machine guns as well as forty-five-caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired simultaneously. All those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and combat. Ten members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their complement of clothing.

The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks. One hundred and forty-nine men from the Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10th. All the men came from the home states of each company to keep them “National Guard.” The men from Selective Service lived in tents located next to the barracks of each company. The tents were on concrete slabs and had wooden walls that were screened with canvas starting about halfway up the wall. Each tent had a door. In the center of each tent was a stove for heat and each tent had electricity to light it. C Company received 52 men from Ohio. Two men who were formerly members of C Company and had been drafted into the army were assigned to the company. New men joined the company at various times as men’s enlistments in the National Guard ended and men were sent home.

The draftees were trained by 5 officers from the battalion and 18 enlisted men under the direction of the 69th Armored Force (medium). 1st Armor Division, for administration and supply. The 192nd’s tank crews and reconnaissance units trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units; later they trained with their own companies. Each company was made up of three platoons of thirty men and each company was supposed to have 17 tanks assigned to it. The one exception was Headquarters Company which was supposed to receive three tanks. 

Each company now had a maintenance tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews. Flu became an issue at this time and as many as 15 battalion members were in the hospital with it at any time.

Elmer’s sister, Virginia, John Minier‘s sister and husband, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Brown, and Miss. Virginia Jess drove ten and a half hours to visit the two soldiers for a few hours on January 11. They toured the barracks and mess hall before the two soldiers went to Louisville with them. From there the visitors returned home arriving in Port Clinton at 4:00 AM.

It is known that most of the members of the company went to Louisville regularly since buses ran to and from Ft. Knox to Louisville every hour. He was visited that day by Katherine Magrum and her mother. The majority of the company that day was in Louisville to see the Kentucky Derby. The week of May 11, the Secretary of War and Assistant Secretary of War visited the base. The 192nd was given the job of escorting them around the base using its motorcycles and 17 tanks commanded by Capt. Robert Sorensen. It is known that he arrived home on furlough on May 14 and returned to Ft. Knox on May 19.

On June 14th and 16th, 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 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. 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. 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. 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. 

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 was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from the range, their clothes were so wet that they felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4th, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, in July to be rebuilt and returned to the battalion before it went on maneuvers. The battalion finally received all its tanks and the soldiers were told to, “beat the hell out of them.”

On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. From a letter written by a member of the 192nd in August 1941, it appears that the battalion was selected to go overseas, but the decision was canceled and the 194th received its orders. Major Ernest Miller, CO, 194th, on August 14th, received his battalion’s orders to go overseas on August 14th. The next day, August 15th, the rest of the 194th received its orders to go overseas. A detachment of men received the job of requisitioning tanks from other tank units at Ft. Knox. In some cases, the tanks had just arrived at the fort and were still on railroad cars when the detachment, under 2nd Lt. William Gentry, walked up to the soldiers who were about to unload them and handed the officer in charge the War Department orders that the detachment was taking the tanks from them. About this time, the 192nd heard that the battalion’s orders to the Philippines had been canceled and that the 194th Tank Battalion stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington, was being sent to the Philippines. Many of the soldiers had attended classes with members of the 194th, but they still expressed relief that they were not being sent overseas. The tanks the detachment requisitioned were sent to San Francisco, California.

It is known that he received a furlough home the weekend of August 15th to 17th – because his grandfather was ill – before the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. Just before he went on maneuvers his mother and sister visited him from August 28th to 31st.

The battalion was also involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie. The members of the company also learned they were being sent to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, to take part in maneuvers.

Two members of each letter company and HQ Company remained behind at Ft. Knox to watch over the possessions of the members of their respective companies. Who these men were is not known. In addition, men who had not completed the schools they were attending remained on base. The final men from the Selective Service also permanently joined the battalion just before it left the base. Before the battalion left for the maneuvers, rumors were already flying that it would not be returning to Ft. Knox. One rumor printed in the companies’ hometown newspapers said the battalion was going to be sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, after taking part in the three-month 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 with the battalion’s reconnaissance men on their motorcycles serving as traffic directors. 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. During the trip, the convoy was involved in several accidents that appeared to involve the battalion’s motorcycles but no details are known. 

The other half of the battalion left Ft. Knox for the maneuvers by train on September 4th. It is known that the tanks had been loaded onto train cars and that the train had a kitchen for them to have meals. The time of departure for the train was 6:30 PM. and the arrival time in Tremont, Louisiana, was scheduled for around midnight the night of September 5th, but the train did not arrive until 3:00 AM on the 6th. When they arrived at Tremont, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station. The tanks were unloaded in the dark while the men were eaten alive by mosquitos. That night they were allowed to go to Monroe, Louisiana, and it was said there were more soldiers in the town than civilians.

When they arrived, the battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest. What made the bivouac worse was that the rainy season started and the men found themselves living in it. On one occasion the battalion was bivouac near a canal and the next morning the men found themselves in water over their shoes trying to dig ditches for drainage. The members of B Company captured a medium-sized alligator in their bivouac and pulled it around at the end of a leash made from a rope. Two days later the battalion made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army and fought with the 191st Tank Battalion as the First Tank Group. 

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 start a fire. 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. Drinking water was scarce; men went days without shaving, and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance since fresh water was at a premium. 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. Men also had stumble from beards since shaving was difficult because of the lack of water. Men also shaved their heads because of the heat. Many men wonder who thought it was a good idea to purchase Louisiana from the French.

The tankers stated that they had never seen so many mosquitoes, ticks, and snakes before. Water moccasins were the most common snake, but there were also rattlesnakes. 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 night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. 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. 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 strike if the man forced himself on the snake. It is known one member of A Company, John Spencer, was bitten by a snake but had no serious effects.

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. 

During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. 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. 

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 for 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. It was said that the clay at Ft. Knox was not as bad as the sandy soil in Louisiana. 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 to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.

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.

The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night which at Ft. Knox 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. Several 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.

Water was rationed, so the soldiers washed in streams after making sure there were no alligators or snakes nearby. If they took a bath, they did it in cold water. Men went days without washing their faces. The popular conversation during the maneuvers was where the battalion being was being sent next. Rumors flew that after the maneuvers they were going to Ft. Ord, California, Ft. Lewis, Washington, Ft. Benning, Georgia, or Ft. Mead, Maryland. 

After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox, or another base, instead, the battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where they found themselves living in ten-man tents. While they were there, it seemed to rain nearly every day. Some men stated that they always seemed to be wet, so they did not shower for two weeks. On October 3rd, Major Bacon Moore, CO., 192nd, received the orders to send the battalion overseas. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned it was going overseas. Phil Parish, A Co., stated that Moore said, “‘You will all be going overseas somewhere and can be expected to be gone from a year, maybe two years, and maybe five or six years.’ We knew then that he knew a whole lot that he wasn’t telling.” The rumor was that they would go to the Philippines and train the Filipino Army on tanks. When they were finished in the Philippines, they would be sent to China to do the same with Chinese troops and new tanks that would be waiting there.

Those men who were married with dependents, who had other dependents, who were 29 years old or older, or whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn out of a hat. Other men came from the 3rd Armor Division, also at Camp Polk, or the 32nd Armor Regiment at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. Flyers were posted around Camp Polk stating volunteers were needed to join the 192nd which was being sent to the Philippines.

One of the battalion’s officers who could not go overseas – because he was too old for his rank – was Maj. Moore. Moore was ordered to Ft. Knox where he was placed in charge of the Armored Force Replacement Training Center. The battalion command was offered to Capt. Walter Write, A Co., since he had the most seniority but he declined the command to stay with the company. Capt. Theodore Wickord became the battalion’s command officer and was promoted to major. Officers from other units who replaced officers released from duty joined the battalion at this time.

Both the new and old battalion members were given furloughs home to say their goodbyes. It is known that Elmer arrived home on October 6th to visit family and friends and to take care of his business. He and the other men on furlough had to be at Camp Polk on October 14th. Those who did not receive furloughs had the job of inspecting the new tanks and other equipment. After their furloughs, the men returned to Camp Polk, where they prepared for duty overseas and put cosmoline on any weapon that possibly could rust while at sea. The battalion was scheduled to receive brand-new M3A1 tanks, but there was a delivery problem, and this did not happen. Instead, they were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. While some tanks had five miles on them, many of these “new” M3 tanks were only new to the 192nd and were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance. It was also stated that the battalion had to fight other battalions to get the 54 tanks they were assigned. The election of the tank was a mystery since the M3s were known for throwing their tracks.

The battalion was scheduled to receive brand-new M3A1 tanks, but there was a delivery problem, and this did not happen. Instead, they were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. While some tanks had five miles on them, many of these “new” M3 tanks were only new to the 192nd and were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance. It was also stated that the battalion had to fight other battalions to get the 54 tanks they were assigned. The selection of the tank was criticized since the M3s were known for throwing their tracks. The battalion also received half-tracks to replace its scout cars, but it is believed the half-tracks were waiting for the battalion in the Philippines.

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 was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American planes 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 Formosa 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, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the 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.

Many of the original members of the 192nd believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. The 192nd and the 191st Tank Battalion took part in the maneuvers as the First Tank Group and Patton praised the battalions for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that he selected them for duty in the Philippines.

The fact was that the 192nd was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, as mentioned, it even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. The 192nd and 194th had already arrived in the Philippines and the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When the 193rd arrived in Hawaii it was held there. It is also known that one of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st, had received standby orders to move to San Francisco for transport to the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.

HQ Company left for the West Coast a few days earlier than the rest of the 192nd to make preparations for the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over at least three 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, with equipment and spare parts, followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. HQ Company and A Company took the southern route, B and C Companies went west through the middle of the country on different train routes, and D Company went north then west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they spent five days. As the ferry passed Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” 

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. Other men were simply replaced with men – who appeared to have come from the 757th Tank Battalion at Ft. Ord, California – sent to the island for that purpose. The soldiers spent their time making preparations since they were not allowed off the island for security reasons. Some soldiers believed that the “quarantine” was done to prevent soldiers from going AWOL (Absent Without Leave). It was said that at night the San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge were beautiful. It was at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver joined the 192nd as its commanding officer.

When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.

The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. Some men stated they rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg while other men stated they rode busses to the base.

The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,”  meant they worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.

During this time, the battalion members spent much of their time getting the cosmoline out of the barrels of the tanks’ guns. Since they only had one reamer to clean the tank barrels, many of the main guns were cleaned with a burlap rag attached to a pole and soaked in aviation fuel. It was stated that they probably only got one reamer because Army ordnance didn’t believe they would ever use their main guns in combat. The tank crews never fired their tanks’ main guns until after the war had started, and not one man knew how to adjust the sights on the tanks.

Before they went into the nearest barrio which was two or three miles away, all the newly arrived troops were assembled for a lecture by the post’s senior chaplain. It was said that he put the fear of God and gonorrhea into them.

It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.

At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX. 

For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Passes were given out and men were allowed to go to Manila in small groups. 

He wrote on November 28, “Today we had a lesson & were taught to avoid the little rice snakes. They say their bite meant you were a goner & so was the P.I. cobra. They also told us that pythons 8-12 ft. long waited for a soldier in the dense undergrowths.”

When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27th, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas, and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield and the bombs were haphazardly placed. On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.

Of this, he wrote, “It’s a funny thing, today our outfit was given an alert. Just as if there was a war going on. No more than two officers could be away from the post at a time. The roads & lanes are surveyed and tested every location for radio ‘dead spots’ I don’t know what that means, but somebody said they were afraid of the Japs. But that’s nonsense. Because right now Nomura & Kuroser are in Washington making peace terms.”

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.

After hearing the news, Capt. Robert Sorensen went to his company and informed them that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. To an extent, the news of the war was no surprise to the men, and many had come to the conclusion it was inevitable. The remaining members of the tank crews, not with their tanks, went to their tanks which were north and east of Ft. Stotsenburg. The battalion’s half-tracks joined the tanks and took up positions next to them.

His diary entry for the day stated: “It’s Dec. 8 here, but Dec. 7 back home in the States. This morning we were up at 6 a.m. Some of us were strolling toward the mess tent when we heard a cook say ‘God, the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor!’ As we went in we heard the radio announcer say, ‘flights of Jap planes — smoke and flames at Pearl Harbor. Ships reported sunk by bombs,’ Breakfast was forgotten. Our immediate job was to protect Clark Field, our 3 companies of Tanks — ABC under command of Capt. Sorenson were dispersed around Clark Field at 10:45. They told us the Japs were nearing Lingayen Gulf. The first bomb fell shortly after 11:45 a.m. We found ourselves faced down in the ditches. We hardly knew what happened. I saw two buddies die. This is really war. I manage to get time to jot this down. I didn’t know if I’ll get time for any more or not. Who would have thought such a thing could happen?”  It should be noted the attack started at 12:45 and ended around 1:30.

It is known he sent a message home on the 8th telling his parents that he was okay. According to Elmer, they learned the Japanese were landing at Lingayen Gulf on December 18th. The next day he wrote that the tanks were moving north.

The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes. The tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.

C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. That night, they heard bombers fly at 3:00 a.m. on their way to bomb Nichols Field. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.

B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau on December 12th so it could protect a highway bridge and railroad bridge against sabotage. At about 8:30 a.m. the elements of the battalion still at Clark Field lived through another attack. Since it was overcast, the bombers came in low and dropped their bombs which in many cases did not explode. 2nd Lt Albert Bartz, A Co., had been wounded in his shoulder and had a broken clavicle. That night the 194th was sent to Calumpit Bridge.

Around December 15th, after the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters was moved to Manila, Major Maynard Snell, a 192nd staff officer, stopped at Ft. Stotsenburg where anything that could be used by the Japanese was being destroyed. He stopped the destruction long enough to get five-gallon cans loaded with high-octane gasoline and small arms ammunition put onto trucks to be used by the tanks and infantry. PTG remained in Manila until December 23rd when it moved with the 194th north out of Manila.

A platoon of B Company tanks engaged Japanese tanks at Lingayen Gulf on December 22nd. 2nd Lt. Ben Morin and his tank crew became Prisoners of War. One member of the platoon, PFC Henry Deckert was killed when the concussion from a shell that hit near the bow gun port entered his tank and decapitated him. The other tanks were damaged by enemy fire and withdrew. The tanks were repaired and put back into service. From this time on, the tanks served as a rear guard holding roads open until all the other troops withdrew before falling back to another predetermined position to repeat the action.

On December 25th, 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. While they were there, he wrote, ” Xmas Day-I can hear the choir singing ‘Peace on Earth’, hear the folks at home singing age-old carols of peace and cheer. But here the 192nd we’re aboard our tanks stretching on steel flanks for a nap. This is Xmas for us. We’ve been fighting day and night without rest. Not grumbling-with grin on our lips and a prayer in our hearts.”

He also wrote on December 27th, “Just tell not to believe in rumors., here is one. We turned on the radio and heard the Jap announcer say “The entire 192nd Tank Battalion has been captured by the Japanese occupation forces. That was the first joke we heard in a long time.”

At Cebu, seven tanks of the company fought a three-hour battle with the Japanese. The main Japanese line was south of Saint Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle. The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a shortcut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.

Just south of the river at Cabu, seven tanks of the company fought a three-hour battle with the Japanese. The main Japanese line was south of Saint Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle. The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, 1st Lt. William Gentry sitting on the front of his tank was on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a shortcut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.

C Company made its way south to Cabanatuan. When the company entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. For three hours, the tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south. They were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan. It was reported at this time in local papers that one of the tank commanders stated, “During our many sallies into enemy territory, those Filipinos just rushed in front of our tanks to get at the Japs.  Hell. What do they think our tanks are here for?” It was said that the Japanese tanks attacked followed by their troops, against the tanks, resulting in them suffering heavy casualties.

The POWs were gathered together and marched to a grove of shady trees about 200 yards from the beach where they sat down and dried out the few possessions they had left. That afternoon they were moved to a single tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court, and roll call was taken. It was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs who had boarded the ship had died.

It is not known if Sgt. Elmer N. Smith died during the attack on the ship by the American planes, if he died while swimming to shore, or if he died after reaching land. What is known is that Sgt. Elmer N. Smith never realized his dream of liberation and freedom. He died during the attack on the Oryoku Maru on December 15, 1944. He was 24 years old.

The Port Clinton Herald Republican reported on January 26, 1945, that Elmer’s parents received another postcard from him. On the card he was in good health and that he weighed 160 pounds. He also said he had received mail and a parcel, saying “I can’t express joy.” He also said as he ended the note, “regards to Kovac, Eliyas O’Brien, Simon, and Argonne.” There was much speculation on the meaning of the message since there was no Argonne in the company. Some readers of the paper speculated that Elmer had been attempting to tell the members of the families of these men that they were dead. At this time, John Kovac’s and Steve Eliyas’ families had been notified they were dead. The families of the other, James O’Brien and Russell Simon had heard nothing about their sons. By ending it with “Argonne” he may have been hoping that those reading it would take the word as “are gone.” No one reading the message had any idea the Elmer was also dead.

It was not until July 25, 1945, that his parents were contacted by the War Department. 

MRS D SMITH =

                            117 SECOND STREET PORT CLINTON OH=

THE SECRETARY OF WAR DEEPLY REGRETS TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON SERGEANT ELMER N SMITH WAS KILLED IN ACTION IN THE PACIFIC AREA 15 DECEMBER 44 WHILE BEING TRANSPORTED ABOARD A JAPANESE VESSEL=
CONFIRMING LETTER FOLLOWS=
                                                                                                                                                   =EDWARD F WITSELL ACTING                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ADJUTANT GENERAL OF THE ARMY

His parents received this letter within days of receiving the telegram.

Mr. and Mrs. A. Smith
326 South Madison Street
Port Clinton, Ohio

From information available, it appears that 1,619 prisoners of war were embarked 13 December 1944 on a Japanese vessel, presumably for transfer to Japan.  The ship was bombed and sunk in Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 15 December 1944.  After considerable delay, there has been received from the Japanese government a confirmatory report of this sinking, with partial official lists of those lost and of survivors. Nine hundred and forty-two of the prisoners of war, among them your son, are officially reported by the Japanese to have lost their lives at the time. Of the survivors remaining in the hands of the Japanese fifty-nine are reported to have died and others to have been later transferred to Japan.  Only two of the prisoners of war aboard are known to have evaded recapture and returned to our forces.

I regret that the known circumstances and reports received offer no hope that your son survived this catastrophe. He will be carried on the records of the War Department as killed in action 15 December 1944. However his pay will terminate and his accounts will be closed as of 25 July 1945, the evidence of his death having been received in the War Department on that date.

“Please know that you have my heartfelt sympathy.

                                                                                                        Edward F. Witsell (signed)

                                                                                                          Edward F. Witsell
                                                                                                          Major General

His parents held a memorial service for Elmer on August 12, 1945, at Peace Lutheran Church in Port Clinton. 

The War Department sent the Smith family several letters on his death in 1945. The reason was it amended the dates of death of men as new information became available. Initially, all the POWs who died were listed as dying on December 15, 1944. A mass mailing went out to the families of men who had been on the ship.

After PFC Garrett Royalty, D Co., was liberated at Bilibid Prison in February 1945, he returned home and kept his promise to Elmer. He gave Elmer’s letters to his parents as he had promised Elmer. In the packet was the note to Royalty. It was from those letters that the quotations in this biography were taken. 

Smithetm 1

Continue C Co.

The tanks were near Santo Tomas on the 28th and were spread out from east to west and were being bombed and shelled. A few minor injuries were reported. They were ordered to fall back to San Isidro which was located south of Cabanatuan where they were shelled again resulting in one tank being flipped onto its side when a shell landed near it. The crew was taken to a field hospital with minor injuries. The tank was put in an upright position and manned by another crew. It was noted that the tank crews were physically in poor condition from lack of sleep, lack of food, and constantly being on alert.

On December 29th, he wrote, “Today Gen. MacArthur gave us orders to hold the line at Tarlac 50 miles n. of Bataan. We’re dead for sleep. The Japs are paying for every inch with blood & death.”

The tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge, on December 31st and January 1st. keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. Platoons from B and C Company saw movement in the distance and opened fire. They later learned that they had knocked out five Japanese tanks. It was while doing this job that the defenders received orders to withdraw. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a fierce attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.

From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd was again holding a road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. A Company, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack having suffered 50 percent casualties.

It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”

The Japanese attacked on January 6th at Layac Junction. The defenders included the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the 31st Infantry Regiment, the 26th Cavalry, artillery, self-propelled mounts, and the tank group. This was the first major battle in the defense of Bataan and the defenders halted the advance. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, 192nd, noticed A Co. 192nd, was missing and ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed which made the 192nd the last American unit to enter Bataan. Each tank platoon lost one tank at this time. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements. It was on the 7th, that the food ration was cut in half, and not too long after this was done malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.

The next day, the battalions were between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. The battalion’s tanks had shore duty from Abucay to Lamao on the east side of Bataan. The area took most of the Japanese artillery fire, bombings, and strafing. Self-propelled mounts were assigned to the tank group and each needed a driver so tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The tank drivers were replaced by other members of the battalion who could drive tanks. The tank battalions also received 15 Bren-gun carriers each which were driven by members of the Army Air Corps who reassigned themselves to the tank battalions. Other self-attached Army-Air Corps personnel repaired engines, welded, and served in tank crews. The battalion’s medics were scattered among the companies providing aid. The battalion dropped back to Kilometer 142 on the 12th and did not stay long. When kitchen trucks arrived, the little food they had was divided up among the men.

It is not known when, but during this time, Capt. Fred Bruni who was the commanding officer of HQ Company was made A Company’s CO to replace Capt. Walter Write. Bruni had been one of the original members of the company. At the same time Capt. Robert Sorensen replaced Capt. Donald Hanes as commanding officer of B Company. Hanes was made commanding officer of HQ Company.

Elmer wrote. “1942-Jan 1st New Year’s Day-Oh God what lies before us-Last night we had a terrible battle which was gallantly led by Capt. Collins.” 

On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road in a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16th. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry.

Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self-Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks. 

It was said that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since the guns could not be aimed at the ground. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.

During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officers in the area and that they could change the tank company’s orders. Most wanted the tanks to kill snipers or do some other job the infantry had not succeeded at doing. This situation continued until Gen Weaver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should hand the officer the order. When the officer looked up at the tank commander, the tank commander had his handgun aimed at the officer. Gen Weeaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.

The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.

It was in the jungle that the tankers found out how inappropriate the M3 tanks were for use in the Philippines. Off the road, they had to travel with their turrets backward. If the tankers did not do this, the guns would get stuck in the jungle growth. The tanks were also restricted to the roads since they would get stuck in the mud of the rice fields. The high silhouettes and straight sides of the M3 also made the tanks easy targets for the Japanese.

Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.

The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later in the day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio. The tanks held their position for six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn which prevented the Japanese from overrunning the defenders. On the morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it but tanks were still straggling in at noon.

The tank companies also were given the job of protecting the artillery. The guns were mobile and hooked onto the tanks with a special carriage which allowed them to be moved. According to the tankers, it took a lot of preparation to set them up and a lot of preparation to take them down. The tankers didn’t like doing this job because minutes after the guns began firing, the Japanese sent up reconnaissance planes to find the guns. When they did, Zeros would appear and strafe the area. The gun crews quickly learned to “shoot and scoot.” After firing a few rounds the guns were quickly broken down and moved out of the area.

On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese attempted several landings on Bataan. One night while on this duty, the B Company, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.

It is not known when, but Elmer was transferred to B Company to be the company’s cook. Why the company needed a cook is not known, but it is known that Capt. Robert Sorenson had been transferred to B Company, so it may have taken place at the same time.

During this time, the members of HQ Company had the jobs of keeping the tanks running, supplying them with food and ammunition, and recovering disabled tanks and other vehicles. It was noted that tank barrels that were damaged were cut down so they could be used. The members of the company often found themselves behind enemy lines since the defensive line was very fluid.

The battalions took on the job of guarding the airfields in Bataan in February which had been constructed because of the belief that aid would be coming by air. Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. The well-camouflaged tanks surrounded the airfield and had several plans on how they would defend the airfields from paratroopers.

While guarding the beach the members of B Company noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be off the beach one morning and waited for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time when the Zeros attacked, they were met by machine gun fire from the PT boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes. 

One result of doing this job was that it was discovered that the tanks’ suspension systems froze up after being exposed to salt water. With the 17th Ordnance Company, HQ company figured out a way to fix the systems and keep the tanks running. The information on the suspension systems freezing up was sent to Washington and resulted in new suspension systems being installed on all tracked vehicles.

After being up all night on the morning of February 3rd, the tankers of B Company attempted to get some sleep. Every morning “Recon Joe” flew over attempting to locate the tanks. The jungle canopy hid the tanks from the plane. A sergeant became aggravated about being woken up, pulled his half-track onto the beach, took a “pot shot” at the plane, and missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. Most of the soldiers took cover under the tanks. When the attack was over, the tankers found two men dead, one man was wounded, and another was severely wounded with his leg partially blown off. The tankers attempted to put him in a jeep, but his leg kept flopping and got in the way. To get him into the jeep, his leg was cut off but he died from his wounds.

The tankers took on the job of guarding the airfields on their own. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip.

The tanks took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts, so he requested tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.

On February 2nd, a platoon of C Co. 192nd tanks was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, decided to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time.

The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night. The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.

At Agaloloma Point, C Company lost one tank, on February 2nd, that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that the crew – Sgt. Elmer Smith, Pvt. Vernor Deck, Pvt. Sidney Rattner, and Pvt. Robert Young – was killed by hand grenades thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, the battalion’s maintenance section removed the bodies which was a gruesome job. The bodies were so badly mangled that the only way to identify them was by matching personal possessions and clothing to the bodies. One man appeared to have been alive when the Japanese began to fill the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it since a handgun with a spent bullet casing was found in the tank. The tank was put back into service.

Only 3 of 23 tanks were being used and without the support of infantry and the trick during the attack through the jungle was to avoid large trees and clear a way for the infantry to attack. This they did by thrusting into the jungle. They only became aware of enemy positions when they were fired on. The tanks were supposed to have support from mortars but the ammunition was believed to be defective. It was found that the mortars were manned by inexperienced air corpsmen converted to infantry who had no idea that the arming pins on the mortar shells had to be pulled before firing them so the shells landed and did not explode.

On February 4th, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as a radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.

At the same time the Battle of the Points was taking place, platoons of tanks from B and C Companies were involved in the Battle of the Pockets from January 23rd to February 17th. The Japanese launched a major offensive which was stopped and pushed back to the original battleline. Two pockets of Japanese Marines were trapped behind the defensive line.

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 would not smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.

The Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks who 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 the tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what the bullets hitting the hull of the tank did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved. 

While this was going on, General Masahara Homma – the Japanese commanding officer on Luzon – stated that the Americans were slowly being beaten back, but he also complained that the Americans could predict and defend against every Japanese plan of attack.

At the same time as the Battle of the Points, the battalion took part in what became known as the Battle of the Pockets. The Japanese had launched an offensive at the same time that troops were landing on the points. The advance was stopped and pushed back to the original defensive line. Two pockets of Japanese troops were left trapped behind the main defensive line. What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they 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. 

It appears two methods were used to eliminate the foxholes. One method was to have three Filipino soldiers on the back of the tank. Each man had a sack full of hand grenades. When the tank went over the foxhole, the men each dropped a grenade into it. Since the hand grenades were World War I munitions, one of the three grenades usually exploded. It was stated that the tanks would also park with one track over the foxhole and then the driver would only give power to one track. This resulted in the tank going in a circle grinding the unpowered track to dig its way down into the earth. The tankers stated they slept upwind of their tanks.

During the Battle of Toul Pocket, Cpl. Jack Bruce, A Co., was hit by enemy fire and an attempt was made to rescue him. On February 12th. during this recovery attempt, Sgt. John Hopple, HQ Co, was wounded by a sniper as he, Sgt. Owen Sandmire, A Co., and two other members of the battalion attempted to rescue Bruce. The four men crawled out to Bruce, while under fire, put him on the litter, and returned him to American lines. Three of the four rescuers were wounded. Sandmire drove Hopple and the others who had been wounded to the field hospital. To do this he drove down the west coast of Bataan, through Mariveles, and back up the east coast to the field hospital. Because of the tropical climate, infections set in quickly. Hopple succumbed to his wounds later in the day on February 18th at Hospital #1, Little Baguio, on Bataan. Bruce survived but later died as a Prisoner of War.

One of the greatest dangers facing the tankers at this time was snipers. The snipers would tie themselves onto trees and sit in them among the branches for days. One sniper had been taking shots at the tankers for days. After the sniper took a shot the men would attempt to determine what tree the sniper was in a particular tree. They would then begin firing on the lower branches of the tree where they believed the sniper attached to the trunk. As they fired they worked his way up the tree with their gunfire.

The tank crews were assigned guard duty. Their job was to prevent Japanese infiltrators. The tankers set up roadblocks along gravel roads and stopped and searched everyone coming down the road. The tankers anyone coming down the road to halt and if the person didn’t they opened fire. The tanks also became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks. In one case, the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.

The tankers stated that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that they could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since they could not be aimed at the ground as the Japanese got close to the tanks. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position.

During this time he wrote on February 16th, “I haven’t had time to jot down happenings, been to busy. Today my heart almost broke. I saw one of my best friends killed by the Japs. It was almost unbearable.” 

In another entry dated, February 28th, he wrote, “Today I prayed. It’s not the first time Oh no. We always prayed at home. But somehow today it was different. It seemed as if God was in the foxhole with me. Now I am sure that everything will O.K.”

By this time 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 the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The tankers stated the leaflets were printed on tissue paper that they put into use as toilet paper. On March 1st, the soldiers had their rations cut in half again and the men were starving.

Tanks parts were now rare and the 17th Ordnance Company made repairs however they were able to make them. Tanks that had damaged main guns often had the barrels cut down – similar to a sawed-off shotgun – to keep them firing. The 17th Ordnance Company provided anti-personnel shells to the tanks. The Philippine Ordnance had WWI shells that the company converted so they could be fired by the tanks. The company also had to deal with the fact the tane tanks’ suspension systems were locking up after being near or in salt water. The information was sent to the War Department which replaced the suspension system on all vehicles using it.

In March, gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons each day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. During this time, 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 March 28th, he wrote, “A month has passed since I wrote anything down. This war is terrible. The Japs have violated every rule of international law-they have sacrificed the right to be called human beings. They have revealed themselves as murderous killing beasts. That sounds harsh. Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve of me saying this about another race, but I can’t help it. They have bombed great sprawling Manila, as it lay helpless under their raiding planes, spread fire & destruction & death against a city after it had been claimed an unprotected city.”

By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When Stimson was asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost. On April 1 he wrote, “They say we have to hold.”

The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. The newspapers in the U.S. wrote about the lull in Bataan and the preparations for the expected offensive.

Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended 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.

A Co. was attached to the 194th Tank Battalion and was on beach duty with A Co., 194th. When the breakthrough came, the two tank companies were directly in the path of the advance. When the Japanese attempted to land troops, their smoke screen blew into their troops causing them to withdraw.

On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left. The Japanese attacked the line held by American troops on April 8th. It was said that the Japanese made what the Americans called “A Bridge of Death” where the Japanese threw themselves on the barbed wire until there were enough bodies on it so the following troops could walk over it. The defenders were not only defending against a frontal attack, but they also were defending against attacks on their flanks and rear.

It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.” 

On April 8, 1942, Elmer wrote this entry in his diary: “Rumors have reached us that tomorrow Gen. Wainwright is going to surrender. Oh God what there is in store for us. We have been out here to defend this land against the greatest of all foes, nothing to fight with and the full might of an enemy’s military power thrown against us. Where will we go after the white flags go up? This is the greatest humility the Stars and Stripes have suffered. But the U.S. will not let us down. They’re come to free us. But how long will it be? Will we be in prison camps for years, will we escape, will we be put to death, or will we be rescued? Only God knows. I’m not only praying for myself and my buddies, but for the folks back home. I can still hear the voice of God, as we sat side by side in that foxhole on “Bataan” as he said —-Fear not, I am with thee always.”

Capt. Robert Sorenson, the B Company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. 

Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment.  It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you; you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. Another jeep followed them – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.

At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed.

King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.

Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”

On the morning of April 9, 1942, the members of C Company destroyed their equipment. They drained the oil out of some of the jeeps and trucks and ran them to burn up the engines. In the case of other vehicles, they poured sand into the motors and ran them. They also took their guns apart and scattered the pieces so that they would not be found. They then waited for the Japanese to make contact with them. The company was on the west side of Bataan when the surrender came and the Japanese did not make contact with them until April 11th. They were officially Prisoners of War and were ordered to assemble with their possessions in front of them. As they stood there, the Japanese took what they wanted from the POWs.

The tankers had removed all tanker insignia from their uniforms since the tanks had done a lot of damage to the Japanese and they had heard a rumor that the Japanese were looking for them. All during the time that they were POWs in the Philippines, Japanese guards would ask, “You tanker?” It was said that anyone found with a tanker insignia or admitting to being a member of a tank battalion disappeared or was killed, but this has not been confirmed. 

The Japanese ordered the company to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. After they arrived there, they found themselves on a beach for two or three days facing Corregidor. They were finally ordered to form 100 men detachments. As they stood there, the Japanese searched them for what they called contraband. This included guns, knives, jewelry, other valuables, money, watches, and whatever else that the Japanese wanted to take. Japanese officers walked among the prisoners looking for Filipinos. The officers pulled the Filipinos out of the group and shot them in their temples. After they fell to the ground, the Japanese kicked their bodies into the ditches alongside the road.

C Company was mixed in with other Prisoners Of War and began what they called “the Hike” or “the March.” American newspapers would call it the Bataan Death March. The POWs were placed in columns of four and twenty-five rows deep. Men stated that the first guards were combat veterans who looked at them as combat veterans and treated them better than later guards. Depending on the detachment, the guards were said to let the POWs get water from the artesian wells and rest. One detachment that tankers were in was allowed to take a swim. After the guards changed, things changed for the POWs. The new guards were mean for no apparent reason and did things to the POWs because they could do them. Men were beaten, kicked, or bayoneted. The guards were assigned to march a certain distance so they often made the POWs march at a faster pace so they could finish their assigned section as fast as possible. Those men who were sick and had a hard time keeping up were bayoneted or shot if they fell. POWs who attempted to help these men were also shot or bayoneted. When the distance was covered, the column was stopped and allowed to rest and the guards were replaced. The new guards also wanted to complete their assigned distance, so the POWs again found themselves moving at a fast pace.

The lack of food and water was also a major issue for the POWs. It was stated that the members of C Company went nine days without water. The POWs were amazed by the courage of the Filipino people who openly defied the Japanese by giving food and water to the POWs. It was said that every 200 or 300 yards were artesian wells, but the POWs were not allowed to drink from them. As men became more desperate, they would run to the wells only to find that the Japanese had sent advance teams ahead who shot or bayoneted those attempting to get water from them. The further north they marched the more bloated dead bodies they saw. The ditches along the road were filled with water, but many also had dead bodies in them. The POWs’ thirst got so bad they drank the water. Many men would later die from dysentery.

On the first day of the march, they were marched until well after sundown. When they were finally given a rest it was already late. After midnight, it began to rain. Although the rain lasted for about one-half hour, the prisoners attempted to catch the rain on their tongues or lick the drops off their lips and hands. Some men stated it felt like the water was being absorbed into their skin. The rain was the first drink the prisoners received on the march.

The column of POWs was often stopped and pushed off the road and made to sit in the sun for hours which was intentional. Men commented that they did most of the march at night. While they sat there, the guards would shake down the POWs and take any possession they had that they liked. When they were ordered to move again, it was not unusual for the Japanese passing by them in trucks to entertain themselves by swinging at the POWs with their guns or with bamboo poles.

When the prisoners reached Cabcaban Airfield, they saw that the Japanese had set up guns and were firing on Corregidor. The marchers had to get past the guns that were firing on Corregidor. As it turned out, this was a dangerous undertaking. It was about this time that the American guns on Corregidor began to pinpoint the location of the Japanese guns. Shells were landing on the road that the POWs were marching on so they ran to get away from the battle. Men stated that a Japanese officer was directing a gun crew when there was a flash. After the smoke cleared the Japanese gun and its crew had vanished.

The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese horse artillery and trucks which were moving south. At times, they would slip on something wet and slippery which were the remains of a man killed by Japanese artillery the day before. When dawn came, the walking became easier, but as the sun rose it became hotter and the POWs began to feel the effects of thirst. It was at this time that the POWs saw a group of Filipinos being marched by the Japanese. Looking at them, they realized that they had been hungry, but the Filipinos had been starving.

As they crossed the Lamao River, they smelled the sweet smell of death. The Japanese had heavily bombed the area causing many casualties and many of the dead lay partially in the river. The Air Corps POWs in front of them ran to the river and drank. Many would later die from dysentery at Camp O’Donnell.

North of Hermosa the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they marched and reached Orani by the time the sun began to rise. There they were herded into a filthy pen that had been used by other prisoners before them and left to bake in the sun for the rest of the day. At the end of each portion of the march, the POWs would be put into another pen. Since his group was not the first to use them, they were filled with human waste. Often there were decaying bodies of American soldiers still inside the pens. The prisoners also had to deal with Blue Bottle flies, mosquitos, and maggots. 

They continued the march, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.

At San Fernando, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and got food for the group. Each man received a ball of rice and four or five dried onions. Water was given out with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share. The area where the POWs sat was covered in human feces from the POWs who had occupied the bullpen before them. How long the man remained in the bullpen varied from hours to days. Some men remained in it for four or five days.

The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were about thirteen feet long and ten feet wide and known as “forty or eights” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. Since the detachments had 100 men in them, the Japanese put 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Since the POWs were packed in so tightly, men suffocated from the lack of air but could not fall to the floors since there was no room to fall. At Capas, the living left the boxcars and the dead fell to the floors as they left the boxcars. The POWs walked the eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. The POWs were held in two camps with the Americans held on one side of the road while the Filipinos were held on the other side of the road.

When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. They received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water. The guards allowed the POWs to lie on the road. The rain revived many of the POWs and gave them the strength to complete the march.

At San Fernando, the POWs were put in another bullpen. In one corner was a slit trench that was the washroom for the POWs. The surface of it moved from the maggots. It is not known how long he was held in the bullpen and if he was fed while there. At some point, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and were taken to the train station. There they were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights” since they could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each detachment had 100 POWs in it, the Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors of the cars. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floors of the cars. When the prisoners got off the train, there were Japanese offering them money to buy food. The POWs had no idea why they were doing this. From Capas, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942, because the Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. The POWs were held in two camps with the Americans held on one side of the road while the Filipinos were held on the other side of the road.

At Camp O’Donnell, the POWs were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money or other items on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on the back of a flatbed truck, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.

There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.

The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. Some men said it was slop and made men violently ill. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. Men stated that men would push the food away and not eat gradually starving themselves. When they realized that they were dying they tried to eat but had completely lost their appetites for any food. By May 1st, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.

There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.

There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including 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, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away.

The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.

The Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.

Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. 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 awaiting burial.

The dead were carried to the cemetery in litters and placed in a grave with four other POWs. It was not unusual for a POW working this detail to die and be put into the grave with the other dead. Before they were buried, the dead were stripped of their clothing, which was boiled in hot water and then given to another POW who needed clothing.

Each morning the POWs would return to the cemetery to dig graves for the men who had died during the night. When they got there, they found the arms and legs of the dead sticking out of the ground and wild dogs pulling on them. The men would chase off the dogs, knock the arms and legs down, and rebury them.

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. When these men returned to the camp many died. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. 

It is possible that Elmer went out on a work detail. There were two details with large numbers of tank group men on them. One was a scrap metal detail and the other was the bridge building detail with 275 members of the tank group on it. No evidence has been found that he left the camp.

The Japanese finally acknowledged they needed to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The only POWs left at Camp O’Donnell were those too ill to be moved. Most of those POWs would die.

Near the end of May, his parents received this letter:

Dear Mrs. D. Smith:

        According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Sergeant Elmer N. Smith, 35,001,737, 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) 
                                                                                                                                                                       Major General
                                                                                                                                                                   The Adjutant General

Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered the camp if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp, tied to posts, and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave. The Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POWs successfully escaped from the camp.

The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. What is known is that he was assigned to Barracks #8 in the camp. With him in the barracks were PFC John Robinette and Pvt. Joseph Pevey of C Company.

The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads..

Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.

During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff antibiotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. From medical records kept at the camp, John was reported in the camp hospital on June 23, but no illness was given, on the report, nor was a date of discharge given. On June 26, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.

In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing and the man would be buried naked. The dead man’s clothing would be washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.

The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. The death rate at the camp was still 9 POWs a day into November 1942, which dropped in December when the Japanese issued Red Cross Packages for Christmas. In addition, other changes were made that lowered the number of deaths.

From September to December, the Japanese assigned numbers to the POWs. The first POWs to receive numbers were those being sent to another camp in the Philippines or being sent to another part of the Japanese Empire. Elmer became POW 1-01336. This was his POW number no matter where he was sent in the Philippines.

The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.

The work day started an hour before dawn when the POWs were awakened. They then lined up and bongo (roll call) was taken. The POWs quickly learned to count off quickly in Japanese because the POWs who were slow to respond were hit with a heavy rod. A half-hour before dawn was breakfast, and at dawn, they went to work. Those working on details near the camp returned to the camp for lunch, a tin of rice, at 11:30 AM and then returned to work. The typical workday lasted 10 hours.  

The POWs were organized in groups on November 11th. Group I was made up of all the enlisted men who had been captured on Bataan. Group II was the POWs who had come from Camp 3, and Group III was composed of all Naval and Marine personnel from both Camps 1 and 3 and any civilians in the camp. It was also at this time that an attempt was made to stop the spread of disease. The POWs dug deep drainage ditches, and sump holes for only water, and the garbage began to be buried, and the grass in the camp was cut. 100 POWs worked on Sunday, November 15th digging latrines and sump holes. Since Sunday was a day off, Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C., made sure each man received 5 cigarettes. On November 16th, a Pvt. Peter Laniauskas was shot trying to escape. Two other POWs were tried by the Japanese for being involved in the escape attempt. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement and the other 30 days.

Fr. Antonio Bruddenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12th. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14th and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peter Lankianuskas was shot while attempting to escape on November 16th. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20th, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21st. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22nd. On November 23rd, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.

Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 10th without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away.  He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. A POW Pvt. Art Self was beaten so badly on December 12th, that he died. Fr. Bruddenbruck returned on December 24th with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box was milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work. It should be mentioned that Fr. Buddenbroucke was executed after he was caught snuggling messages to the POWs and from them.

Each month on the eighth, the Japanese read the Japanese declaration of war on the United States to the POWs. This usually got them wound up and the POWs knew that the number of beatings they received would increase. On January 11th, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18th, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. Twelve hundred POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th. 

The Japanese installed a radio in the hospital so the POWs could hear their version of the war. During February they heard that the Russians were driving the Germans from Russia but Japan would continue to fight on its own. They also heard the Allies were winning the European War and that there had been a battle in the Marshall Islands between the Japanese and Americans.

Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1,255 to 1,450 POWs on them. Men who worked near the camp came back at about 11:30 AM for a tin of rice and then returned to work again to finish out a 10-hour day. After they had supper, there wasn’t much for the POWs to do. The Red Cross had sent books, but the Japanese censors took them away a few days after they arrived. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7th. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them, but it is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued blankets by the Japanese on February 22nd. A program was started by the POWs to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3rd, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.

While there, he did clerical work in the camp’s office. It was also during this time that his family learned he was a POW on April 2, 1943, in a telegram from the War Department. 

REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON, SERGEANT ELMER N SMITH IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=

Shortly afterward his parents received another notification from the War Department.

Dear Mrs. Smith:

                      Report has been received that your son, Sergeant Elmer N. Smith, 20,500,737, Infantry, is now a prisoner of war to the Japanese Government in the Philippine Islands. This is to confirm my telegram of April 2, 1943.

                      The Provost Marshall General, Prisoner of War Information Bureau, Washington, D. C., will furnish you the address to which mail may be sent. Any future correspondence in connection with his status as a prisoner of war should be addressed to that office.

                                                                                                                                             Very truly yours,

                                                                                                                                                 J. A. Ulio (signed)
                                                                                                                                                  Major General,
                                                                                                                                            The Adjutant General.

This was quickly followed by another message.

Mrs. Dora Smith
117 Second Street
Port Clinton, Ohio

The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:

It is suggested that you address him as follows:

Sgt. Elmer N. Smith., 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.

                                                                                                                                                “Sincerely

                                                                                                                                               Howard F. Bresee
                                                                                                                                               Colonel, CMP
                                                                                                                                               Chief Information Bureau

In August, the rainy season had started, and all the extra food was long gone. The Japanese planned to move the hospital to the same area as the healthy POWs to reduce the size of the camp so they could reduce the number of guards. On September 22nd, the hospital was moved. The POWs also were ordered to stop cooking their food. For the sick, this was bad news since meals for them were being cooked individually. The POWs adopted a system where a group placed an order for food 24 hours before they wanted the food. The supplies were debited from that group’s supplies.

His parents on August 10, 1943, received a preprinted POW postcard from him. On the card were boxes that were checked off on his health. It said, “I am interred at Philippine Military Prison Camp No. 1, My health is good, I am under treatment, and I am improving.” There was a short handwritten message, “Regards to all … Kate and family, Elmer.”

He was held at Cabanatuan until September 1943, when he was selected to go to Las Pinas as a replacement for a POW who had died or was sent to Bilibid Prison because he was ill. The POWs were held at Las Pinas School and slept 30 men in a room in a building with eighteen classrooms. Their food was leftovers from the Japanese kitchen.

At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and “bongo,” or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men and then exercises. After this came breakfast which was fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and a half to the airfield.

The POWs on this detail worked at Nichols Field where the Japanese wanted to build one of the biggest runways in the Philippines. To do this, the POWs were expected to remove hills with picks and shovels. The plans for the runway were drawn up before the war by the American Army Air Corps, but unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans of using construction equipment.

When Elmer was sent to the detail, it was already under a new commander. The second commanding officer of the detail was known as “the Wolf.” He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man’s arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.

On another occasion, a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man’s head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.

A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School, strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway, and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.

The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in wooden boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death already signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learned what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.

Around December 10, 1943, his parents received a POW postcard from him. On it he indicated he was in good health. He also said, “Take care of Ron (his small brother). Give regards to Donald Below (his nephew).”

It appears that at some point he became too ill to work and was sent to Bilibid Prison. The Japanese were known for sending sick POWs from Las Pinas to the prison to die. The week of August 7, 1944, his parents received another postcard from him. He indicated he had received mail from them. He also said, “I am OK. Write regards to Kate and Don God bless you.”

On September 21, 1944, the POWs saw the first American planes fly over the camp on their way to bomb Manila. This was the first sign that American forces were getting closer to the Philippines. Life in the prison was monotonous since the walls prevented them from seeing anything. 

In a series of diary entries he made while at Bilibid from November to December 1944, he described his life as a POW. Elmer indicated that he knew that Bilibid was the clearing point for Americans being sent to Japan or another Japanese-occupied country. He also described the daily life of the POW: “Another day is wearing itself away in slow monotonous, dreary hours…I visit Collins (Capt. Harold Collins of LaCarne, Ohio) now and then…We discussed everything already…nothing new to speak of.”

As if to reinforce this, he wrote on November 7, 1944: “Another day begun. Nothing of interest insight so far, two meals each day. One-half portion of Lugoa is our main concern. It’s very weak. Next meal 3:00 p.m. May be camote soup today. Yesterday and the day before heavy raids. The food is the important item. What little we do have is issued by our hosts (the Japs) is so highly prized men will do anything to get it. Scrape it off the ground, grass, peelings, etc. We all mix water with our food; eat as slow as possible and lick our kits afterwards.”

In a letter written three days before he was sent to Manila for shipment to Japan, he wrote: “Weather rather unsteady. Rained for the past three days. Now and then the sun tries to shine. Still getting colder. Christmas will be here in three weeks. Christmas. The day will come and go here, and a Merry Christmas will be in order. But the drab environment that surrounds us and the conditions we live in permits us no joys or harmony.”

One reason for the bad feelings among the prisoners at Bilibid Prison was that the 1100 prisoners lived in extremely crowded conditions. As if to demonstrate this, Elmer like every prisoner had a 22-inch wide sleeping space on a concrete floor.

In a letter dated, December 9, 1944, Elmer revealed how the items the prisoners received would have been taken for granted at home. Things which would seem unimportant were extremely important to him: “On Dec. 8, each man received one-third bag of tobacco. That is a great help, it is like getting a package from home.”

Elmer described the old stone hospital he lived in within the walls of Bilibid Prison. He wrote of the high walls and electric fences which kept him from seeing or hearing anything of the outside world. But the one thing that the prison walls could not stop him from seeing the airplanes. Above the prison, Elmer could see the American planes on the way to bomb Japanese installations in Manila. These planes brought him memories and desires for a life he no longer had.

He wrote: “There, just a few thousand feet above us are free Americans-free! Free to talk, write home, and sleep without fear. Free to go back and eat what they want and laugh and smoke. It makes a fellow wonder if he will appreciate more what he had before. I know I will.”

Elmer also wrote that rumors of the war were what kept the prisoners going. As time in the prison went on, he was tired of these rumors. He wrote: “There have been no planes for weeks. We get rumors and that is all, but they are started by some moronic officer in his pensive mood or some Tanoan guard wanting a good joke. If one percent of the rumors had been true that I’ve heard while in prison, I would have been home two years ago. There’s no sign of Red Cross this year. I’m down to 138 pounds but haven’t given up hope. Last night (Dec. 11, 1944) we had the best mess since arriving from Rigul. 540 grams of wet, steamed rice and 12 ounces of green soup with bean meal.”

In an earlier letter dated December 4, 1944, he commented on the health of the prisoners at Bilibid. He also indicated knowledge that American forces had returned to the Philippines. “We have many cripples, aenemics, and plain cases of starvation here. Now, we are living in hope that in a few days the Yanks will be here to liberate us. It’s my prayer it will be soon. There have been a lot of deaths lately; average one a day in the wards. Only thing now that does it is little chow.”

He described how he had learned to speak, write, and interpret Japanese fairly well. This allowed him to act as an interpreter for his fellow POWs, a job he had held at Las Pinas. Elmer wrote of how, at the start of the war, he had wanted to return to the Philippines, because he saw it as a place of endless opportunities to make money. But, by December 1944, he just wanted to get out of the prison camp and return home.

In the notebook, he wrote about his plans for the future when he got home. Some of his entries were about his plans for a farm. Another was about staying in the army until he could afford to buy a small restaurant or a bar. Still, a third entry spoke of his wildest plan of traveling around the world in a sailboat.

In mid-December, 1944, Elmer marked an anniversary of a fateful event in his life. “Three years ago today (Dec. 12, 1941) we received a severe bombing at Fort Stotsenburg, Pampanga…They bombed us most of the day…about seven raids…we moved to Barrio Dam after dusk that evening and stayed there until we were sent north to Lingayen Gulf on the 23. (Dec. 23, 1941).”  The battalion moved north toward Lingayen Bay on December 21.

In early December, the Japanese ordered the American medical staff at the prisoner to put together a list of POWs who were healthy enough to be sent to Japan. On the morning of December 12, roll call was taken and Elmer’s name and the names of the other POWs being sent to Japan were read off. Before he left Bilibid Prison, Elmer gave his letters to PFC Garrett Royalty of D Company. According to Royalty, Elmer said to him, “If I don’t get out alive, will you see that my family gets these notes.”

From December 3rd through 13th, a typhoon prevented American planes from raiding Manila. During this time, the Japanese were able to get several ships into the harbor. On December 12th, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out and a list of names was posted. Those POWs selected to leave the Philippines were awakened at 4 a.m. on the 13th and once they were up they were fed. A roll call was taken at 7:30 a.m. which took 2 hours since there were 1,619 men in the draft. At 9:30 a.m., they were ordered to “fall out” and allowed to roam the prison. At 11:30, they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men, fed, and marched 2 miles to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the streetcars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair. The Filipinos lined up along the street and gave the“V” for victory sign to the Americans when they thought the Japanese wouldn’t see them. They noticed there were bicycles, pushcarts, carts pulled by men or animals, and some Japanese cars and trucks on the street. Japanese soldiers seemed to be everywhere. They also noticed that grass along the street was now full of weeds and the street was also in terrible shape.

When the POWs reached Pier 7, which was severely damaged. In the water were hulks of burned-out Japanese ships. At the dock were three ships. One was an old run-down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship. The POWs were allowed to sit, and many of them fell asleep since they remained on the dock most of the afternoon while Japanese civilians and children were put on the ship. At 2:00 in the afternoon, the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru and put in one of the ship’s holds. The high-ranking officers were the first put into the ship’s forward hold while most of the other POWs were put in the aft hold. Very few POWs were put in the middle hold.

Eight hundred POWs were put into the hold. Those who were the first ones into the hold would suffer many deaths. The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it. The heat was so bad that men soon began to pass out. One survivor said, “The fist fights began when men began to pass out. We knew that only the front men in bay would be able to get enough air.” The POWs who were closer to the hold’s hatch used anything they could find to fan air toward those further away from it. 

Their evening meal was fish and rice. Very little water was given to them and those who did have water drank all of it. The only ventilation was the air blowing in through the open hatch, so the officers attempted to have the men rotate so everyone got air. Those nearer to the hatch used whatever they could find to fan air to the men further back in the hold. Not long after this, these men attacked and killed other men to drink their blood.

The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.” 

At 3:30 A.M. the ship was bound for Takao, Formosa, as part of MATA-37 a convoy. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold them for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing.

As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. It is known that 25 POWs died in the forward hold on the first night. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who were out of their minds into it. On the walls of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds. 

The POWs received their first meal at dawn consisting of a little rice, fish, some water, and three-fourths of a cup of water that was shared by 20 POWs. Those further back from the opening got nothing. It was noted that one American plane flew over the ships at 6:00 A.M. At 8:30 A.M., the convoy was off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill. At first, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit had made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play-by-play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us.”

The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock. Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day. Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan.

In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only its 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship. At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worst and last attack on it. The POWs felt the ship shake as it was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs that came through the hatch. Some bombs exploded near the ship throwing water spouts over the ship. The POWs actually rooted for the bombs to hit the ship. During the attack, Chaplain William Cummings – a Catholic priest – led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the hull, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.

At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened was that the ship’s rudder had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered. Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. They could hear boats being rowed, people shouting and the sound of children and babies crying until about 3:00 A.M. They also heard the voices of the men in the forward hold shouting and the words “quiet” and “at ease men” over and over.

During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded men, women, and children were everywhere. The ship steamed closer to the beach at Subic Bay and at 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark in one or two hours at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold; most had suffocated.

It was December 15th and the POWs were sitting in the ship’s holds when Mr. Wada, the translator, shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. They were told all they could take were their mess kits, canteens, shoes, and any clothing they had, and if they were caught carrying anything else they would be shot. The POWs selected 35 wounded and sick to be evacuated when planes appeared at 8:00 A.M. The POWs took cover but the planes circled around and did not attack. Since there was no ack-ack fire from the ship and no movement on deck, the POWs guessed that the pilots believed the ship had been abandoned. Three men who tried to go up the ladder without permission were shot and killed. About a half-hour later, they were ordered to send up the wounded. Ten minutes later a guard shouted that the next 25 men should be sent up. As the POWs were coming up, the guard suddenly looked up and motioned to them to get back into the hold. He shouted, “Planes, many planes!” As the POWs were abandoning the ship the planes returned and continued the attack.

The POWs quickly realized that this attack was different. From the explosions, they could tell the bombs were heavier and all aimed at the ship which bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs felt the ship shake every time a bomb hit it. There was a tremendous explosion when the aft hold was hit by a bomb. Small holes appeared in the hull and when a bomb fell near the ship water came into the holds through the holes. The stem of the ship was hit by a bomb which also allowed water to enter the holds. In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold, a Catholic priest, Chaplain John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned the ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs in his limited English that they needed to get off the ship to safety. Of abandoning ship Lt. Walter Scott said: “However, we did not get off it before the bombers had come back again and scored a direct hit on the middle hold of the ship.” The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. As they swam to shore, which was about a mile away, the Japanese fired at them, with machine guns to prevent them from escaping.

Around 9:30 or 10:00 A.M. as the POWs waited a Japanese guard who had been at Cabanatuan yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. The POWs scrambled up the ladders and stairway. As they left the holds they knew that there was a good chance they would have to swim to shore. When they got on deck they found that the ship was parallel to the shore and about 400 to 500 yards away from it. They also saw on the deck large containers of corned beef, powdered milk, and butter from the Red Cross that were never given to them.

The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned the ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. They also found that it was a sunny day and the sky and water were blue. The water toward shore was filled with swimming Americans and Japanese all headed toward shore while Japanese machine guns fired on the POWs to prevent them from escaping. The ship was still floating okay, except the stern was sitting lower in the water and was listing. Another bomb hit the ship. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air.”

Many of the men, climbed onto the railings and jumped into the water – which was somewhere between 30 feet and 50 feet below them – feet first. Many of the POWs lost their canteens and mess kits when they entered the water which revived them. The better swimmers helped the weaker swimmers get to anything that floated. The stronger swimmers kept an eye out for anyone having problems swimming. As they swam away from the ship, for the first time they saw how badly it had been damaged. An entire section of the stern had been blown away and the ship looked like a pile of scrap metal. The entire ship was pitted, bent by bullets, or twisted or bent. The POWs in the water shouted to those on deck to get off the ship because it only had about 2 to 3 minutes more before it went under. It was noted that the fire was raging on the ship. As they reached shore and the water was shallow, they were able to walk.  

Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically and shouted at the planes so they would not be strafed. One of the planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilot dipped his wings to show that he knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship’s stern began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks. The stronger swimmers returned to the ship and encouraged the poor and non-swimmers to jump into the water. Once in the water, they made sure they had a plank to float on and make it to shore. The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. If they believed the men were attempting to escape they shot at them. Jack had been on the Proviso swim team and went out several times to help POWs who could not swim. This resulted in him being bayoneted by a guard when he returned to shore. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed that as many as 30 men died in the water.

There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape. When they looked at the water, it was full of dead fish of many sizes killed by the bombs. The men ate salted beans that were in a tub that had been looted from the ship.

The POWs were gathered together and marched to a grove of shady trees about 200 yards from the beach where they sat down and dried out the few possessions they had left. That afternoon they were moved to a single tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court, and roll call was taken. It was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs who had boarded the ship had died.

It is not known if Sgt. Elmer N. Smith died during the attack on the ship by the American planes, if he died while swimming to shore, or if he died after reaching land. What is known is that Sgt. Elmer N. Smith never realized his dream of liberation and freedom. He died during the attack on the Oryoku Maru on December 15, 1944. He was 24 years old.

The Port Clinton Herald Republican reported on January 26, 1945, that Elmer’s parents received another postcard from him. On the card he was in good health and that he weighed 160 pounds. He also said he had received mail and a parcel, saying “I can’t express joy.” He also said as he ended the note, “regards to Kovac, Eliyas O’Brien, Simon, and Argonne.” There was much speculation on the meaning of the message since there was no Argonne in the company. Some readers of the paper speculated that Elmer had been attempting to tell the members of the families of these men that they were dead. At this time, John Kovac’s and Steve Eliyas’ families had been notified they were dead. The families of the other, James O’Brien and Russell Simon had heard nothing about their sons. By ending it with “Argonne” he may have been hoping that those reading it would take the word as “are gone.” No one reading the message had any idea the Elmer was also dead.

It was not until July 25, 1945, that his parents were contacted by the War Department. 

MRS D SMITH =

                            117 SECOND STREET PORT CLINTON OH=

THE SECRETARY OF WAR DEEPLY REGRETS TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON SERGEANT ELMER N SMITH WAS KILLED IN ACTION IN THE PACIFIC AREA 15 DECEMBER 44 WHILE BEING TRANSPORTED ABOARD A JAPANESE VESSEL=
CONFIRMING LETTER FOLLOWS=
                                                                                                                                                   =EDWARD F WITSELL ACTING                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ADJUTANT GENERAL OF THE ARMY

His parents received this letter within days of receiving the telegram.

Mr. and Mrs. A. Smith
326 South Madison Street
Port Clinton, Ohio

From information available, it appears that 1,619 prisoners of war were embarked 13 December 1944 on a Japanese vessel, presumably for transfer to Japan.  The ship was bombed and sunk in Subic Bay, Luzon, Philippine Islands, 15 December 1944.  After considerable delay, there has been received from the Japanese government a confirmatory report of this sinking, with partial official lists of those lost and of survivors. Nine hundred and forty-two of the prisoners of war, among them your son, are officially reported by the Japanese to have lost their lives at the time. Of the survivors remaining in the hands of the Japanese fifty-nine are reported to have died and others to have been later transferred to Japan.  Only two of the prisoners of war aboard are known to have evaded recapture and returned to our forces.

I regret that the known circumstances and reports received offer no hope that your son survived this catastrophe. He will be carried on the records of the War Department as killed in action 15 December 1944. However his pay will terminate and his accounts will be closed as of 25 July 1945, the evidence of his death having been received in the War Department on that date.

“Please know that you have my heartfelt sympathy.

                                                                                                        Edward F. Witsell (signed)

                                                                                                          Edward F. Witsell
                                                                                                          Major General

His parents held a memorial service for Elmer on August 12, 1945, at Peace Lutheran Church in Port Clinton. 

The War Department sent the Smith family several letters on his death in 1945. The reason was it amended the dates of death of men as new information became available. Initially, all the POWs who died were listed as dying on December 15, 1944. A mass mailing went out to the families of men who had been on the ship.

After PFC Garrett Royalty, D Co., was liberated at Bilibid Prison in February 1945, he returned home and kept his promise to Elmer. He gave Elmer’s letters to his parents as he had promised Elmer. In the packet was the note to Royalty. It was from those letters that the quotations in this biography were taken. 

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