Pvt. Vincent Charles Sykora was born in Baylor County, Texas, on January 10, 1918, to Vincent J. Sykora and Anna Krenek-Sykora and was one of the couple’s four children. His mother died in 1928, and he and his siblings were living with his grandparents in Baylor County in 1930. He graduated from Westover High School in Westover, Texas in 1938. When Selective Service became law, he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and named his grandfather as his contact person. Vincent was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 18, 1941, in Dallas, while living in Young County, Texas. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training, and after completing basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where he joined the 753rd Tank Battalion. He volunteered or had his name selected to join the 192nd Tank Battalion while still at Camp Polk. He was assigned to A Company as a replacement for a National Guardsman released from federal duty.
The 192nd was supposed to receive brand new tanks, but for some unexplained reason, not enough tanks were available for it. So it had its required tanks, the battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. Many of these tanks were within hours of their 100-hour required maintenance. The tanks were loaded onto flat cars on different trains, and the soldiers also put cosmoline on the guns and anything that they thought would rust. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried each company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. A Company took the southern route through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to Ft. Mason in San Francisco.
When they arrived at the fort, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men sent to the island as replacements.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Thursday, November 6, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country. The Louisville also intercepted two Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, 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. It is known he sent a letter home telling his parents that he was okay. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The rest of the battalion rode a train to the base.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Had the soldiers been slower getting off the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
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” that they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th 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 everywhere; including going to the PX. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, played baseball or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. Many men wrote home and told their families about how hot the weather was, the kind of food they were eating, about the countryside, and about the Filipinos.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The194th guarded the northern half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of each tank remained with their tanks and were fed from food trucks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Wickord called the officers of the 192nd to the tent and informed them of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After hearing the news, Capt. Write went to his company and informed his men 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 at the southern end of the Clark Field. The battalion’s half-tracks joined the tanks and took up positions next to them.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. All morning long American planes could be seen in every direction. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.
The tankers were eating lunch when they saw planes approaching the airfield from the north. Many of the men believed they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes in formation. As they watched, what appeared to be raindrops – because they shimmered in the sun – appeared under the planes. With the thunderous explosions of the bombs exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese. The smoke and dust from the bombs blotted out the sun and made it impossible for the tankers to see more than a few feet. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
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.
The company, on December 12, was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and protect them from sabotage. From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta. The tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. It was at this time he sent a telegram home wishing his parents a Merry Christmas and telling them he was okay. The tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write, on December 26, when the landmine he was planting exploded in his hands. Before he died, he asked that roses be placed on his grave, but since there were no roses, the men placed a native red flower on his grave.
The tank battalions were given the job – on December 26 – of holding the line against enemy armor and major thrusts until 5:00 A.M. on December 27. Maj. Ernest Miller – being the senior officer – was given authority to withdraw both tank battalions before 5:00 A.M. if he felt it was necessary. The tanks held the line but withdrew at 7:30 P.M. before the bridges they needed to cross were blown up at 11:30 P.M. that night. The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. Arrangements had been made for the tanks to pick up their rations at Tarlac Depot. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tankers found their tanks being used as “mobile pillboxes.” The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, 2nd Lt. William Read on December 30. That night, on a road east of Zaragoza, the company was bivouacked for the night and had posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks. The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
The tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge, on December 31 and January 1, 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 Companies saw movement in the distance and opened fire. They later learned that they had knocked out five Japanese tanks. While holding the bridge, they received orders – from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff – about whose command they were under and were told to withdraw from the bridge without Gen Johnathan Wainwright’s knowledge. Because of the order, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces and about half the defenders withdrew. When Gen. Wainwright became aware of the order, he countermanded it. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon forces escaped into Bataan.
From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. January that the food rations were cut in half. Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers. A Company, on January 5, 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.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. The company also was returned to the 192nd at this time. On the night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, 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. A Company was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
The next day, the battalion was 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 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks from attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge would be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, including the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
Sgt. Owen Sandmire of the A Company 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.
It was about 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.”
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.
Gen. James Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time, “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.”
On January 24, the tank battalions were ordered to cover all forces withdrawing to the Pilar-Bigac Line. The 192nd covered the withdrawal in the Abucay area. The battalions prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
On the morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point-blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
While doing this job, 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 at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked. This time they were met by fire from the 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.
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. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
Part of the battalion took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion’s surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23 until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had been caught off behind the battleline. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket.
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 23 to 29, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. 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 2, tank platoons from A and C Companies were ordered to Anyasan and Quinauan Points where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. The C Company tank platoon commander did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision 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 Japanese, also in January, also launched an attack against the Orion-Bagac Line, but the advance was pushed back leaving two pockets of Japanese soldiers trapped behind the restored defensive line. The two pockets became known as Big Pocket and Little Pocket and tanks were sent in to help exterminate the pockets. The battle took place at the same time as the Battle of the Points and lasted from January 23 to February 17.
The tanks entered the pockets one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank that had been relieved exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and rested. The tanks of the company were replaced by the tanks of another company that had been held in reserve.
In the pockets, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank approached, the Japanese dove into the foxholes and the tank went over the foxholes. As the tank passed over a 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 dragging the unpowered track and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks because of the rotting flesh in them.
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 it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. 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.
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.
In the pockets, C Company lost one tank that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that some of the crew were killed by a hand grenade thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, it was put on its side and it was found at least one member of the crew was still alive as the Japanese filled the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it.
In another incident, a tank from B Company became wedged between two trees after its driver was blinded by a flame thrower. The crew was ordered out of the tank and told to run. As they ran, the Japanese machine-gunned them. The tank commander was killed instantly, while the other three men made it into a sugarcane field. Only one of the three men was found the next day and was sent to the hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Another man was taken prisoner, while the last man was never heard from again and died from his wounds or was killed. It appears that this tank was also recovered. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
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. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
It seemed to the members of A Company that they always seemed to have the job of protecting the 155-millimeter howitzers that the Army used in batteries of six guns. The guns were mobile and could be hooked up to the tanks with a special vehicle and moved to another location. It was recalled that moving them took preparation and setting them up also took preparation. The tankers didn’t like this duty because the guns attracted Japanese fire. Whenever the guns started firing, the Japanese would send up Recon Joe to try to locate them. Shortly after this happened, the dive bombers came in and peppered the hell out of the position. On February 3, near Bambang, Limay, at KM 144, A Company’s bivouac was near a 155-millimeter artillery battery that was attacked by Japanese planes which came in low. During the strafing and bombing, Sgt. Ivan Wilmer was attempting to reach his tank when he was hit by shrapnel from a Japanese bomb killing him instantly.
The Americans quickly learned that the strafing of the batteries could be prevented if the guns were set up on a temporary basis and fired as much as possible before being quickly moved to another position before the Japanese found them. The result of this was the damage done to the Japanese was limited, but it improved the defenders’ morale since it caused havoc with the Japanese who never knew where the guns were located.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. 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 amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. 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 down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
On April 7, 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, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.”
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with 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.”
When the Filipino and American forces were surrendered, on April 9, 1942, it appears he was among the members of A Company who escaped to Corregidor. It is not known what unit he was attached to on the island.
On May 6, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Corregidor surrendered and he remained on the island on the beach for two weeks. POWs volunteered to bury the dead since it got them out of the sun and gave them the opportunity to hunt for food.
The POWs were taken by barge to a point off Luzon and made to swim to shore. Once on shore, they formed detachments and were marched down Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison. They remained in the prison for a few days before they were marched to the train station and rode a train to the barrio of Cabanatuan. From there, they were marched about six miles past Cabanatuan Camp 1 where the POWs who were captured on Bataan were held. They marched about 3 more miles and passed Cabanatuan #2 which was closed because it lacked adequate water but later reopened to house Naval POWs. They walked approximately another 3 more miles to Cabanatuan #3 which was opened to house them and was later consolidated into Camp 1. The POWs arrived at Camp #3 from May 26 to May 29 in detachments of 1500 men each day which meant the total number of POWs in the camp was about 6,000 men.
It was at the end of May when his family received a message from the War Department:
Dear Mr. V. Sykora:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Vincent C. Sykora, 38,040,765, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General
On May 30, after arriving at the camp, the first four POWs escaped and were caught on the road that ran past the camp. They were able to escape because the north perimeter of the camp did not have a fence. The men were brought back to the camp where they had their hands tied behind their backs and a board tied between their legs forcing them into a crouching position. They were repeatedly beaten and dug their own graves before being executed the next day.
Meals at first consisted of an onion soup without any onions in it. Later, the meals consisted of 16 ounces of rice for each man each day, and 4 ounces of top greens (similar to spinach) were issued. Once a week, one ounce of carabao meat was issued. Two ounces of coconut were issued and this was used with cornstarch and sugar to make a pudding. Also, once per week for one month, one small banana was issued and this was also used for pudding. It appears that during the first month in the camp that the POWs also received 15 limes.
Filipino guerrillas ambushed a convoy that had POWs in it on June 16. Four POWs were wounded and one died the next day. The “Blood Brother Rule” was put into effect on June 21. If one POW escaped, the other nine men in his group would be executed. The Japanese allowed the first church services on June 28. The next day, the POWs organized a morale program. The POWs played volleyball, basketball, softball, and ping pong, and they created singing groups and a band.
The Japanese began to send POW detachments out on work details and began sending POWs to Camp #1. POWs leaving the camp happened on a regular basis and the number of men in the camp shrank. It appears that Vincent was in one of the detachments of POWs, but when he arrived at the camp is not known.
The Japanese needed 1,000 POWs to go on a work detail to Mindanao and Vincent was selected. On October 24, 1942, Vincent and 1000 other POWs were marched eight miles to the town of Cabanatuan. At the town’s railroad station, they were loaded into steel boxcars. The townspeople came out to watch the POWs as they boarded the trains.
During the trip to Manila, the train stopped several times. At one barrio, the Filipinos gathered at the station. While the train set in the station, the Filipinos began to hum the song, “God Bless America.” They also called out to the POWs, “Mabuhay Joe,” which in English meant, “Long life, Joe.” Because of their courage and support of the Americans – at a threat to their own lives – the POWs appreciated what they said.
When they arrived in Manila, they remained in the boxcars until after dark when they were marched two miles through the empty streets to Bilibid Prison. Once at Bilibid, they were fed mutton soup and rice. Bilibid had been built by the Spanish and had been a civilian prisoner before the war but the Japanese put it into use as a POW camp. The prison was a two-story mortar and brick building, that went out like spokes. surrounded by a high brick wall. At the entrance were two heavy iron gates.
Upon arrival at the prison, the POWs were put in what had been the prison hospital and discovered that there were no beds, so they slept on the concrete floor. The food was also of poor quality, but the one good thing about Bilibid was that the prisoners had more than enough water for drinking and washing.
Two days after arriving at Bilibid, the POWs, in 100 men detachments, were marched through the streets of Manila to the port area. Dewey Boulevard which had been the most modern street in the city was now lined with burnt-out empty buildings. Ashes were all that was left of the huts that had lined other streets in Manila.
At Pier 7, the POWs were boarded onto the freighter the Erie Maru. The hold was divided into box spaces and twelve men were assigned to each box. There was only enough room in a box for six men to sleep at a time. The POWs quickly became infested with bedbugs and lice. The hold smelled from the gasoline that was being stored in it and quickly was joined by the smell of human excrement. The hatches to the ship’s holds were left open to provide ventilation. The POWs were allowed on deck once the ship cleared Manila Harbor.
The next morning they were fed rice and spinach soup. At noon, they received rice and dried fish. For dinner, they had corned beef and rice. The POWs assigned to cooking discovered the Japanese officers had a large stock of captured American pork and slipped it to the men in the holds which resulted in many of the POWs developing dysentery.
The trip to Lasang took thirteen days because the ship made stops at Iloilo, Panay, and Cebu, Mindanao. At Iloilo, they buried one man who had died. The POWs arrived at Lansang on November 7.
When they arrived at the camp, the first thing to happen to the POWs was that a guard, who they came to call “Simon Legree,” walked passed the POWs hitting them with a whip. The POWs were in such bad shape that the ranking Japanese officer, Major Mida, ordered them fed. They ate pork and beef, rice cabbage pinch, squash onions, potatoes, and peanuts which were all produced on the farm. From the orchards, they were given fruit which included raw and cooked plantains. It was discovered that there wasn’t a single doctor in the entire detachment of POWs. The sick were given medical treatment and there was enough water for drinking, bathing, and laundry. When the recuperation took too long, their diet was cut to rice and greens soup.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight wooden barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barrack. In each barrack, were eighteen single-deck bays with wooden decks. Twelve POWs shared a bay which meant that 216 POWs lived in each of the barracks. The number was reduced to 8 men in a cage. To prevent escapes, four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs. The roofs of the building were galvanized iron. Other buildings in the compound were Nipa barracks.
The camp discipline was poor and the American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke, however, they wanted to talk to the officers. The situation improved because the majority of the POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
Meals for the POWs were initially 550 grams of rice per man per day, but this did not last. Men who could not work received 450 grams, and men doing special duty received 530 grams. Those men suffering from malnutrition received 490 grams while the ordinary workers received 570 grams. The men assigned to work in the rice fields received 600 grams. Every POW received 400 grams of vegetables each day. In March 1943, this changed to 450 grams for non-workers and 600 grams for workers. The non-workers also had their vegetables reduced to 200 grams each day while the workers received 300 grams each day. It was stated by men that they also had received 12 pounds of shark meat for each group of 100 men. During the last six months they were in Davao, fish was issued 3 to 4 times a month. Fresh fruit which was available all around the camp was not issued and the POWs were not allowed to eat any of it so it rotted in the fields.
There were various details. 30 men were assigned to work as carpenters, 25 POWs worked in the orchards, 50 POWs made rope, 20 POWs worked the bodega (storeroom) detail, and for four months the POWs cut and picked coffee. Another detail of 100 POWs worked at a lumber mill from December 1942 until February 1943. There were smaller details that took from 2 to 35 men that lasted weeks or months, while other details were continuous, such as the farm detail that 250 to 300 POWs worked on plowing fields and harvesting crops. The POWs worked ten hours a day seven days a week.
Three hundred fifty to 750 POWs were used in the rice fields. The number varied because planting and harvesting took more men. Many of the POWs became ill with what was called, “Rice Sickness.” This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into an ulcer. Most, if not all of the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
Another detail of 80 POWs was sent out each day to repair roads or build bridges between the Davao Penal Colony and the main highway to Davao City over which war materials and troops were moved. In the opinion of the POWs, they did more damage than good and intentionally kept the roads impassable. Other men worked in a quarry that contained a great deal of coral that cut their feet. What they dug out went to build the road. They also built machine gun revetments around the POW camp. The detail existed the entire time the camp was open and every POW worked on this detail at least one week each month.
Virgil was assigned to the farm detail. The POWs planted and grew food for the Japanese Army and did not benefit from their work. What made working on this detail worse was the POWs could see fruit growing on the trees that they were not allowed to eat. When they attempted to eat the fruit, they were severely beaten.
The POWs were still receiving three meals – which were measured down with a sardine tin – a day and received one water buffalo a week but they were being worked harder and longer. At times, after the POWs had slaughtered the water buffalo and had it ready to cook, the Japanese made them bury it. But for the POWs who never had enough to eat, the worse thing they experienced was watching fruit growing on the trees rot because they were not allowed to eat it.
The Japanese commanding officer ordered and allowed collective punishment of all the POWs if one man broke a rule. The punishment was usually issued to groups of 10 POWs and it was common to have the POWs kneel for hours and deprive them of sleep. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep. Beatings were common, and the guards usually slapped the POWs in their faces. On occasion, there were severe beatings. This occurred if the Japanese suspected the POWs were planning an escape. When a Japanese officer, Lt. Hashimoto, discovered a pair of tin snips in the barracks and tortured all the POWs by putting a lighted cigarette to their pinuses.
The December 3, 1942, issue of the Baylor County Banner, reported that Vincent had been reported as being Missing in Action. On January 31, 1943, his grandfather received a telegram from the War Department.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE VINCENT SYKORA IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=
This letter was followed by a letter from the War Department confirming the telegram stating that Vincent was a POW. It also stated another letter would follow providing information on writing him. A week or so after this notification, they received a letter from the War Department.
“Mr. V. Sykora
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your brother, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau”
It is known that in February 1943, each POW received 2½ Red Cross boxes. It is not known if the boxes were full or if the Japanese had gone through them and taken what they wanted from them.
After the escape of Capt. William Dyess, LTC Melvyn McCoy, Maj. Stephen Mellnik, Maj. Michael Dobervitch and another POW on April 4, 1943, the remaining POWs from their barracks were moved to another compound. They had their rations reduced to one-third and were confined to quarters but could not sit down during the day. They also were put to work in the rice fields at Camp Mactan.
Major Mayeda ordered a group of 200 men put into the guardhouse. It was stated they were fed salt and rice while they were in the guardhouse. The POWs had to stand for 45 minutes every hour that they were in the guardhouse. They remained in the guardhouse from April 11 to May 8 or 9. He also ordered and allowed the collective punishment of all the POWs. If the POWs were found to have food on them when they returned from work, they were brutally beaten. At night the guards walked through the barracks a poked the sleeping POWs with bamboo poles to disrupt their sleep.
His father also received a POW postcard, on September 24, 1943, that stated he was being held as a POW at Camp #2 which was the Davao POW camp. The paper in its December 16, 1943 issue stated that a second postcard was received and stated he was well and asked his father to write. It was stated he was under treatment and also was signed by Vincent. The April 9, 1944, issue of the paper stated that a fourth card stated he was better and that his health was fair.
When two POWs escaped from the rice planting detail on October 25, 1943, the Japanese believed someone had helped them escape. Twenty-one POWs from the detail were put into the guardhouse for ten days. They were made to stand at attention all day in the cells. The cells were eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide. Eleven prisoners were put into each cell. At night they were beaten with sticks when they attempted to lie down. They were fed one meal a day of rice with a little salt. The remaining POWs had to work without pants or shoes. Three officers from the detail were sent to the Japanese headquarters where they had their feet placed in buckets of water. For a half hour, the Japanese applied electric current to the water to get them to talk.
The Japanese ended the detail at the farm and sent the 650 POWs to Lasang on March 2, 1944, to build runways and revetments at an airfield that was used for training by the Japanese Army and Navy. The POWs thought that it would not be as bad as the farm; they were wrong.
The POW barracks were only 400 yards from the airfield and near the latrines which meant they smelled and were infested with flies. The POWs believed their location was intentional so that if American planes attacked, they would kill their own countrymen. The POWs slept on the floors.
The Japanese commanding officer imposed a “no reading” policy in the barracks which resulted in men being beaten for violating it. It is known that on one occasion, 50 POWs were made to kneel on the sharp edges of railroad rails for 30 minutes. Many had deep cuts on their legs when they were allowed to stand.
The POWs were told they were going to build runways and taxi strips. To do this, they were divided into two detachments. One detachment built runways while the other was sent to a quarry to mine coral for runways. The POWs dug out the coral, broke it up, and loaded it onto trucks that were driven to the airfield. The POWs broke up large rocks and loaded the gravel into trucks. Other POWs unloaded the trucks and dug trenches. They also drove the trucks, tractors, and rollers to level the base of the runways. The POWs worked on the airfield from March 2, 1944, until August 19. When the POWs slowed the pace of their work down to protest the working conditions, the Japanese resorted to torture to get them to work.
Since they were working with coral, the Japanese gave them Red Cross Shoe repair equipment to fix the soles and heals of their shoes. It worked so well that the Japanese confiscated the equipment to repair their own shoes. Soon, the coral cut into the soles of the POWs’ barefoot feet. It was stated that on two occasions the POWs were made to run barefooted over a mile on the coral runway. They were also used several times for bayonet training by Japanese troops. Although no contact was made, the screaming soldiers charged at the POWs with their bayonets aimed at them.
One day, while the POWs were digging a drainage ditch at the far end of the airfield, the POWs were working so slowly that little was getting done. The Japanese commanding officer of the detail, Lt. Hoshea, became so angry, he selected 15 POWs for punishment. A railroad rail was brought to the site and put on its side with the sharp end up. The fifteen men had to kneel on it and had three-inch to four-inch sticks – sharpened at both ends – put behind their knees so the weight of their kneeling would cause the sticks to go into their calves and upper leg. The POWs were told that the men would remain like that until the other POWs finished the ditch. The POWs worked as fast as they could, but the kneeling men could not get off the rail until all the tools were cleaned and stacked. The entire POW detachment was then made to run slightly over one and a half miles back to the camp.
On June 6, 1944, the POWs on Davao from the other work details were sent to Manila, while the men at the airfield stayed on the island until August 19, 1944. Over the next two weeks, the atmosphere at the airfield changed. The Japanese posted guards with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily. The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments. The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.
One night at 2:00 A.M. in August, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. From the sound of the engine, they knew it was American. It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years. As the plane dove toward the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated silently. For the POWs, this was the first knowledge they had the Americans were getting closer. The planes never returned to the airfield and the POWs believed it was because they recognized the compound as a POW camp, but at night they heard the sound of Japanese ships and other airfields being bombed.
Air raids soon were nightly events. Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks. Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped around August 5, and the POWs’ food rations were reduced to 200 grams of rice per man per day. The Japanese excuse was since they were not working they didn’t need as much food. The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables. On August 19 the POWs were lined up by fours, with the outside men having a rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape. They were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon. There they were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru. 400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold. In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold. Around six that evening, the ship sailed.
Once the POWs were in the holds the Japanese put the hatch covers on the hatches. There was no room to move and it was impossible to sit down.
According to Pvt. Walter Alexander: “An hour after the hatch was closed men began to pass out. We started to break out with heat rash. We couldn’t move. We didn’t nearly have enough water.
“The hatch was opened at night but clamped down as soon as daylight came.”
The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane. An American plane flew over the ship. The sound of machine-gun fire was heard by the POWs. The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air.
Alexander said, “We were still off Davao the next morning when the bombers came over. I think they were B-24s. We felt the concussion as the bombs hit near the ship. The boat rocked and the plates rang. We estimated that one bomb missed by maybe 100 feet.”
“The ship pulled out during the bombing. The next day the escort ships dropped depth charges. We were in the hold three days to Zamboanga. We laid there 12 days still in the hold. A couple of boys went crazy.”
As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves. Many of the prisoners became seasick. They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs. Over the next three days, there were several more alerts. Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness. The ship arrived in Zamboanga on August 24 and waited ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived. The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship’s holds were terrible. The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste. In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with saltwater.
On September 4, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru with 250 POWs put in the ship’s smaller hold, while the remaining 500 POWs put into its larger hold. That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside the ship rocking and shaking it. The POWs prayed that the ship would be hit by a bomb
Of this, Alexander said, “Then we changed ships. They lowered a ladder in the hold and in our condition we had a hard time getting up. A lot of the men were in bad shape and a few had to be helped up.
“The fresh air felt good and the sunshine was blinding. There was another ship tied close by and were transferred to it. In this ship, they put 500 men in one hold and 250 in another. I was with the 500.”
The ship sailed on September 5 at 2:00 A.M. Before sailing, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below. The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines, and the POWs were no longer allowed on deck. Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship. For the next two days, the ship made good time. It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes. The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076. Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe. In reality, American submarines were picking off ships in the convoy one at a time.
Alexander said, “This time we were right down in the bottom of the ship. Again there was barely enough room for men to sit down. What was worse, the ship had been carrying cement and we sat on an inch of cement dust. Any movement stirred up cement dust and made it almost impossible to breathe. The stench in this hold was as bad as the other.
“Our officers told us to sit still. We sat still. We sailed the same night and were down there two days.”
It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga. Someone misinterpreted the order as saying the ship would be transporting “750 military personnel” instead of “750 military prisoners” to Manila. The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.
PFC Victor Mapes talked about being in the ship’s hold, “I was down in the hold with 750 other Americans. They had us stripped down to G-strings. We’d left 22 days before from the southern Philippines — Davao.”
It was 4:00 P.M. when the convoy was spotted and the attack on the ships started. PFC Mapes recalled the event, “The Jap freighter Number 83 — was ripped apart by the Sub’s torpedo.”
Suddenly the Japanese removed the hatch covers. Of the same event, Sgt. Onnie Clem, U.S.M.C. said: “We looked up to see the Japs at both entrances with machine guns pointed at us. They started firing, spraying lead, in among the prisoners. Several hand grenades exploded among us.”
Sgt. Verle Cutter said, “We were in the hold wondering where they were taking us this time when the hatch was ripped open, we looked up to see Japs at both entrances with machine-guns pointed at us. They started firing, spraying lead, in among the prisoners. Several hand-grenades were thrown down among us exploded. How many of us were killed no one will ever know because then it happened.
“A loud explosion rocked the ship, and in the blackness of the hold, we could hear the vessel cracking up. Then after another explosion sounded in the aft hold of the vessel. We knew the ship had been torpedoed. Those Japs had tried to machine-gun and grenade us to prevent our possible escape.”
It was at 4:37 P.M. on Thursday, September 7, 1944, the U.S.S. Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point. It fired two torpedoes at the Shinyo Maru. The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold. Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship. There was a gaping hole in the ship’s side. The explosion blew some POWs out of the hold, through the hole, and into the water. Those POWs in the hold, who were still alive, saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water.
Sgt. Onnie Clem, U.S.M.C., recalled what it was like when the torpedoes hit.
“All I could see was orange. The next thing I knew I was floating in the air…I felt like I was among fluffy balls of cotton. (He was floating in the water and the fully balls were the bodies of the dead or other men trying to get out.) I thought, ‘Hell, I’m dead. This is what it’s like when you’re dead.”
The surviving POWs found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion. As the water level rose, they were able to climb out. Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles. As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off. The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water. The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits. But, the hold remained dry. Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore. It was believed that only 250 POWs made it into the water and that the remaining 500 died on the ship.
According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize. There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle. The ship split in two and sunk into the sea. Japanese seaplanes dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine. When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them. They stopped strafing when they realized that there were Japanese in the water too. The good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs.
A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water. The ship ran aground. The Japanese quickly set up machine guns and fired on the POWs. Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water cruising in and out of the debris field hunting and shooting the swimming Americans. If they found a man, they shot him.
One officer recalled seeing a young soldier struggling in the water and asked him if he could swim. The soldier replied, “No sir, not very well.” The officer began to say, “Don’t worry, we’ll make it somehow,” but before he could finish, a shot rang out the young soldier’s head fell into the water. There was a bullet hole in his head. What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them.
PFC Mapes recalled, “The men began swimming toward shore three miles away — like a herd of sheep. The Japs from the other ships in the convoy were cutting them to pieces. I figured that the only way to survive was to break away from the bunch and swim to the opposite side.”
The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion, and about 30 men gave up after hearing this. Sgt. Denver R. Rose was one of the 30 men. He recalled, “They tied our hands behind us and took us to another prison ship. They roped us together and stood us in a line along the rail. They then started shooting us one at a time.
“Using his sword a Jap cut the rope to lose the first man in line. He was taken to the stern of the boat and shot in the back. He fell into the water.
“Meanwhile, I found the frayed end of a steel cable by feeling with the fingers behind my back and rubbed the ropes across the sharp edges until I got free. I decided I just as soon be shot trying to get away as the other way, so I made a break for it. I ran to the front of the ship and slipped down into the anchor hole After a while, I heard shooting again, so I let myself down into the water.”
Rose was the only man, of the 30 POWs, not to be executed.
Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944. Pvt. Vincent Sykora was not one of these men.
Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora, along with 667 other POWs, died during the sinking of the Shinyo Maru after it was torpedoed by an American submarine on September 7, 1944. Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Vincent C. Sykora’s name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila. The military, in a note attached to the file on the ship, admitted the ship was sunk due to the misinterpreted message.
It should be mentioned that on September 9, 1944, Vincent’s family received a POW postcard, from him, that was written while he was a POW on Davao. They expressed great relief knowing that he was alive and well and had no idea, when they received the postcard, that he had died two days earlier.
In February 1945, the families who lost a son on the Shinyo Maru received the following letter. Note that the letter never indicates that the government knew the names of the survivors.
Dear Mrs. Sykora:
The War Department has now received the official list of prisoners of war on the Japanese freighter, which you were previously was sunk on September 7, 1944. It is with deep regret that I must now inform you that your son is among those listed as lost when the sinking occurred. The War Department regrets its inability to entertain a possibility of his survival and must now consider him to have died in action on September 7, 1944. The date of receipt of this final evidence was February 7, 1945, the date upon which his pay will terminate and his accounts be closed.
The information available to the War Department is that the vessel sailed from Davao, Mindanao, August 20, 1944, with 750 prisoners of war abroad. The vessel was sunk by torpedoes on September 7, 1944, off the western shores of Mindanao. The indications are that relatively few of the prisoners had the opportunity to leave the sinking ship and of those who did many were killed by enemy gunfire. A small number managed to reach shore and a close watch for others was kept for several days. The Japanese government reports all the prisoners as lost, indicating that no survivors are in the hands of that Government. There is no information as to what happened to the individual prisoners but known circumstances lead to the regrettable conclusion that all of the unaccounted for prisoners lost their lives at the time of the sinking,
It is with deep regret that I must notify you of this unhappy culmination of the long period of anxiety and suffering you have experienced. You have heartfelt sympathy.
R. W. MODERHAK
1st Lt. A.G.D.
Bureau of Public Relations
J. A. Ulio
The Adjutant General
The family also received this message from General George Marshall’s office:
General Marshall extends his deep sympathy in your bereavement. Your son fought valiantly in a supreme hour of his county’s need. His memory will live in the grateful heart of our nation.