Pvt. James Clarence Thompson was born on May 3, 1917, in Lamasco, Kentucky, to Minnie Mathis-Thompson and Herbert E. Thompson, and known as “Curly” to his friends. As a child, he grew up in Eddyville, Kentucky, with his five brothers and two sisters. When Selective Service Registration became law on October 16, 1940, he registered for the draft and named his mother as his contact person. He also indicated he was employed by his father. On January 22, 1941, he was inducted into the U. S. Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to D Company to fill out its roster after men had been transferred to Headquarters Company.
The men from Selective Service lived in six-man tents next to D Company’s barracks. The tents had walls and doors, canvas roofs, and electricity. In addition, each tent had a stove in its center for heat. The reason the draftees lived in tents was that the battalion was assigned to temporary barracks that were smaller than the normal barracks and there was no room for them inside the buildings.
Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished in seven weeks. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion on April 9. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month.
A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly. Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed by calisthenics from 8 to 8:30. After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics. At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools. At 4:30, the tankers’ day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by an evening meal at 5:30. The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps were played.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. 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 June, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 A.M. until 8:30 A.M. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 A.M. One of the complaints they had about the firing range was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from it that their clothes felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, to be overhauled but were returned before the battalion went to Louisiana.
Another detachment of men was sent to Detroit in July. It is not known why they were sent there, but it is known they were there for 7 days. It was during this time the men began hearing the rumor that part of the battalion was being sent to South Carolina while part of the battalion would be going to Texas. They also heard that the battalion would be taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas and that after the maneuvers, the battalion was heading to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for six weeks before they were sent to the Philippines.
During August the battalion was 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 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, 160 miles south of Ft. Knox. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River, which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, later that day, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station in the trucks.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchie National Forest, near DeRidder, Louisana, where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators. They described the land as swamps, woods, and shacks. They also heard they were going to North Carolina on October 6th.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights’ cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two-and-a-half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called “Iron Rations” – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Water was scarce and men went days without shaving and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from federal service. Instead, they were being sent overseas as part of “Operation PLUM.” Within hours, many of the members of the battalion believed that they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, and Manila. There is no proof that this was true. Men who were married with dependents, 29 years old or older, or whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas, had the opportunity to resign from federal service. Replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn from a hat.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original members of the 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. It is true that Patton praised the battalion, and the 191st Tank Battalion, for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that he personally selected them for duty in the Philippines. Both tank battalions had taken part in the maneuvers as the First Tank Group.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, the battalion even fought as 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 – both had been National Guard medium tank battalions – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived in Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. It is known Morris was given a seven-day leave home. The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men sent to the island as replacements.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.” 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. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made. Before they left Hawaii, an attempt was made to secure two 37-millimeter guns and ammunition so that the guns could be set up on the ship’s deck and the tank crews could learn how to load them and fire them, but they were unable to acquire the guns.
On Thursday, November 6, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville, and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. 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 crossed the International Dateline.
During this part of the voyage, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. Each day 500 men reported to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and then painted the boats. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP. 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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
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. 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 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 Ft. Stotsenberg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – beans or stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, they had beans left over from the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They 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. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worse part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions. It is not known if D Company lived in tents or if they moved into barracks since the 194th’s barracks were already finished and the company was scheduled to be transferred to the battalion.
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.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion and 17th Ordnance joined on the 29th. Both units arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, promoted to brigadier general, and Maj. Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
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 actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27, 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 30. 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.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd 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. Miller left the tent and informed the officers of the 194th about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank crews were ordered to their tanks which were joined by the battalion’s half-tracks.
The tank crews were brought up to full strength at the airfield and the battalion’s half-tracks joined them there. Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up, near the pilots’ mess hall – in a straight line to be refueled. While the planes were being serviced, the pilots went to lunch. The members of the tank crews received their lunches from the battalion’s food trucks.
At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, that the company lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers.
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. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. 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.
On December 12, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and guard beaches. They remained there until December 23 when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U. S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken. The companies were moved again on the 12th to the south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24, it made an end run to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug northeast of San Quintin. Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
The tanks formed a new defensive line known as the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese. At Bayambang, Lt. Weeden Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, which had not been abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. The tank commander received the Silver Star for saving the tank.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. 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 bridges over the Pampanga River. 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. 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 at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements to give other crews rest.
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at 2:30 A.M., they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese, and at 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.
The night of January 6 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never attacked allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire. 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 the 17th Ordnance Company.
The 194th was sent to reopen Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. While attempting to do this, two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but both were recovered A Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed at this time. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment. The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26th with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline against Japanese troops from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
General 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.”
During February, malnutrition caused diseases to spread among the defenders, and the soldiers by this time had eaten all the available meat including mules and horses. The men killed monkeys but after killing them they could not eat them because they looked too human. They also found that jobs that had been easy to do that did not require a great deal of effort now required effort to do them. The Japanese dropped surrender leaflets of naked women to the defenders in an attempt to get them to surrender. They probably would have had better luck if the picture was of a hamburger and milkshake. American papers that the Japanese had been fought to a standstill and both sides were preparing for a final battle. Another reality was that the Japanese were suffering from the same diseases as the defenders.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor. Wainwright rejected the suggestion. For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. The newspapers in the United States reported both sides were strengthening their lines in expectation of an all-out attack. The reports stated that the Japanese did not have air support because their planes had been shifted south in the assault on Java. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to Java.
During this time, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew’s fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 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.
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. the 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, 192nd, realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed, and at midnight Companies B and D, and A Co., 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
That evening, Capt. Jack Altman the company’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender. He told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. It was emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The soldiers piled up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. The only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks.
Many of the soldiers took the news as meaning they would be free from the constant shelling and air raids. At the time, the Provisional Tank Group’s Headquarters was near Limay, and shells, from Corregidor, were falling around it. The soldiers on Corregidor had no idea that the barrio was still in American hands and was shelling the area. That night, he watched as ammunition dumps were destroyed. Usually, when one was torched, there was a loud thud and flames shot into the sky.
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 and 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.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from 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. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
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 April 9, 1942, Bataan surrendered to the Japanese. Each man made his own decision to surrender or attempt to continue to fight. Having seen men killed by the Japanese while trying to surrender, Curly and other members of D Company decided that they would attempt to escape to Corregidor. To do this, he made a raft from five-gallon gasoline cans and a stretcher. He then paddled it to Corregidor. After spending two days in the hospital on the island, he was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, of the Fourth Marines. He was the number one man in a four-man machine gun crew. It is known that a number of tankers were assigned to defend Skipper Hill which faced Bataan. The Japanese began shelling Monkey Point on the night of May 5 in preparation for the landing. The men on the island watched as Japanese barges began concentrating at various points off Bataan. The barges began to make their way toward Corregidor, and the island’s remaining guns began shelling them. It was said that one of the island’s mortar batteries got so hot that the crew had to stop firing to let the mortar cool down. Another gun turned blue from the continuous firing and its breach warped and would not open. When the Japanese landed, the defenders pushed them from the beach at Monkey Point three times. Anti-aircraft guns from Ft. Hughes were firing on the Japanese as they landed. The shells exploded above the barges killing many. Two of the four men on Curley’s machine gun crew were killed during action against the Japanese on the night of May 6. Tanks abandoned by the tankers landed on the beach. The soldiers fell back to an area where the tanks would have problems operating. It was sometime around 6:30 AM that the defenders were ordered to surrender.
Curly became a Prisoner of War when Corregidor surrendered on May 7, 1942. One of the first things the Japanese did to show the POWs they were in charge was they made the POWs strip off their clothes and pile them up until the pile was about ten feet high. Then they told the POWs they had five minutes to get dressed. At this time, a Japanese soldier took his watch and four hundred pesos from him. He was held on the island for another ten days. Ten thousand men were confined to an area that was two blocks square on the beach known as the 92nd Garage. It was the area American seaplanes used to land and service the planes. There were at least five thousand men in the area without water or washrooms. It was stated they did not receive water for three days. Men fought to work the burial detail since it got them out of the sun and allowed them to pick fruit from the trees.
After two weeks, the POWs were loaded onto barges and taken to a point off Luzon where they had to jump into the water and swim to shore. Once on shore, they were taken to a pier where they filled craters from bombs with rocks. When they were finished they formed 100 men detachments and ordered them to march. They feared the same thing was in store for them that had happened on the march out of Bataan. They were surprised when they marched at a reasonable pace and were given breaks.
It was during May that his parents received their first message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. M. Thompson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private James C. Thompson, 35,100,583, 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”
The POWs were on landing barges which took them to within one hundred yards of the shore. From there, they had to swim to shore. Those men who could not swim were helped by those who could. As far as Curly knew, no one drowned. Once on shore, they were organized into detachments of 100 men. Having heard the news of the death march, many feared the orders they received to march. The destination was Bilibid Prison According to Curly, as the POWs marched a Japanese officer rode past them and whipped them with his sword. Those men who fell out were bayoneted. During this march, Curly was fed two meals and received two half-canteen cups of water. The Filipinos were not allowed to give the prisoners anything to drink.
Curly was first held at Bilibid Prison an old Spanish prison outside of Manila. While there, the POWs received water and meals of rice twice. The first 2,000 man detachment left the prison on May 26 and the last left on the 28. They marched to stations where they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup.
The POWs were organized into 100 men detachments and marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known as Camp Pangatian. The POWs were warned that anyone who fell would be killed. Men who fell somehow made it back on their feet and continued to march after being threatened by the guards. Finally, the first man fell who could not get up even after being ordered to do so by a guard. When he didn’t get up, the guard held up a red flag and the man was put on a truck. After seeing this, a good number of the POWs fell and did not get up so they could ride to the camp. Camp 1 was where the men who were captured on Bataan were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and it was later consolidated into Camp 1.
After all the POWs had arrived at Camp 3, there were approximately 6,000 POWs in the camp. When they arrived, the camp was not finished and there was no fence on the north side of the compound. Four POWs walked away from the camp on May 30. After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese. The Japanese tied them to posts and left them to hang in the sun. They also beat the POWs with boards. The Japanese also showed the men water but would not give them any to drink. The next day, while the POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating. They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water. They also offered blindfolds to the men. All the men took a blindfold except one. That man spat at the Japanese before they shot him. After they were shot, the men fell backward into the graves. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot him with his pistol. He next shot each man to make sure they were dead.
The first meal the POWs received was an onion soup that had no onions on it or carrots in it. After the initial meal, meals usually consisted of squash, mongo beans, rice, and the tops of a native sweet potato were used to make soup. Once a week the POWs received carabao meat. Other sources state a whistle weed soup with rice in it was the main meal. It is not known how long Curly remained in the camp since POW details were sent out almost from the time they arrived. One reason this happened was the POWs were in much better shape than the men captured on Corregidor. Four POWs working on a truck detail were wounded when it was attacked by Filipino guerrillas. One of the men died.
On June 14, the officers organized the POWs into three groups. Group I and II were made up of Army personnel while Group III contained all Navy and Marine personnel. Each group had seven officers assigned to it who were in charge of detachments that made up the group. The officers, with permission from the Japanese, were allowed to administer punishments for minor offenses committed by the POWs. To prevent escapes, the Japanese instituted the “blood brother” rule on June 21. The POWs in the camp were placed in ten men groups and lived in the same barracks, slept in the same area, ate together, and worked together. If one man escaped, the other nine were executed since – according to Japanese logic – they should have been able to stop the man from escaping. The first church services were held in the camp on June 28. The next day, the officers organized activities for the POWs to improve morale. Teams were organized to play softball, basketball, volleyball, and ping-pong. In addition, sing-a-long groups were organized to entertain the POWs. 150 civilian POWs arrived in the camp on July 6. On July 17, an organized effort started to catch flies in the camp since they spread dysentery. For one milk can filled with flies, a POW received two biscuits and some cigarettes. Three hundred and sixty officers and enlisted men were sent to a work detail at Manila on July 24 followed by another 150 POWs on the 30th.
On August 1, 1942, Curly was sent to Palawan Island on a work detail to build an airfield in the scorching sun, with inadequate food, water, and clothing To build the airfield the POWs were given picks and shovels. The POW compound was the Filipino Constabulary Building at Puerto Princessa. There was no real hospital and those POWs who became ill were sent to Bilibid Prison and replaced. No sooner than they had arrived then six POWs attempted to escape. In response, the POWs in the camp were placed on 1/3 rations for three days and had their movement in the camp restricted. Two POWs were caught by the Japanese cook picking papaya from a tree inside the POWs’ compound and had their arms broken. One POW had his arm broken because he refused to admit defeat and was made to work with his arm in a sling. Two POWs escaped on August 29, and once again the POWs in the camp were again put on 1/3 rations for three days. When six POWs were found to have a small amount of corned beef, they were tied to a coconut tree in the center of the compound and were beaten with a small wire and a 3 to 4-inch diameter pole until they lost consciousness. They had water thrown on them to revive them and the beating was continued. Afterward, the POWs were returned to Manila.
Three POWs escaped the camp in February 1943. Two were quickly recaptured and were taken by the Kempei – the Japanese Military Police – to a dungeon. The third POW was recaptured at the northern end of the island. According to the Filipinos, the Japanese beheaded him and put his head on a stake as a warning to them. Another POW escaped on June 28 and was recaptured on July 4. He was severely beaten before being turned over to the Kempei who put them on a truck and drove off. From the Filipinos and Japanese guards, they learned they had been shot.
While Curly was on the island, he received one of the worse beatings as a POW when he was beaten with a four-foot paddle by a Japanese guard. He remained on the island until June 1943, when he was returned to Manila. On June 12, 1943, his name appeared on the hospital ledger from Bilibid Prison. It was recorded that he was admitted to the hospital there with a sprained back.
The War Department released a list of men known to be held as Prisoners of War of the Japanese on July 8, 1943. Curly’s name was on it. His parents received word he was a POW weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE JAMES C THOMPSON IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his family received the following letter:
“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:
“Pvt. James C. Thompson, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau
The Japanese held a draft and selected what POWs would be sent to Japan and they were sent to Bilibid on October 7 before being taken to the Port Area of Manila. There, they boarded the Kohu Maru which was also known as the Coral Maru. Previously, the Taga Maru had been identified as the ship they were put on. The ship sailed on September 20, 1943, for Takao, Formosa, and arrived around the 23rd. While it was there, it came under attack by American planes. During the attack, the Japanese covered the hatches trapping the POWs below deck. The exact day that it sailed Takao is not known, but it arrived in Moji, Japan on October 5. From there the POWs rode a train and arrived at Tokyo #5-B which was also known as Niigata Camp. Curly recalled what the camp commandant said when they arrived, “I want you people to know that you are prisoners of war, and you will be treated like prisoners of war and not like guests of Japan.”
What is known is that the camp was under the command of Tomoki Nakamura, who had been educated in the United States. The camp was established in September 1943 by three companies, Hiigata Tekko NgT), Nippon Tsu-un (NpT), and Niigata Kairiku Unso (NKU). The companies had asked the Japanese government for POWs to use as laborers. The first POWs in the camp were British, Canadians, Dutch, and some Americans from the Philippines. The camp moved several times and by the time Curly arrived, it was located in its final location
The first camp commander denied Red Cross packages to the POWs, and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs. He also sold the Red Cross boxes on the Black Market. It was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call since many of the POWs did not have shoes. The food from the packages was given to the guards, his family, and friends. On one occasion, he had the American POW cooks cook the Red Cross food for him to eat. When flour and macaroni were sent to the camp, from the main camp, Nakamura gave the food to the guards to eat.
The second camp commander treated the POWs better and tried to improve the conditions in the camp. Under him, a kitchen, bathing facilities, and larger sickrooms were added to the camp. The POWs also received heaters for their barracks. He also had barracks that collapsed under heavy show rebuilt and made sure that the POWs had one rest day a week, It was stated he increased food rations for the POWs. POWs who were beaten were beaten in the camp were beaten without his knowledge. The third camp commander, Tetsutaro Kato, was the exact opposite of his predecessor. Both the POWs and the guards were afraid of him.
The first 300 POWs in the camp were Dutch from Java, British POWs, and Canadians from Hong Kong, with the Americans, from the Philippines, arriving on October 7.
The entire camp was a two-story building with a courtyard and a smaller building. In the courtyard was a hand pump which was their only water supply, and the pump was located next to the POWs’ washroom. Thirty POWs were assigned to each room in the larger building and they barely had enough space to lie down. The building appears to have been unheated during the winter and no stoves for heat were provided. The camp kitchen was a small building next to the main building that had a stove. The building was owned by Niigata Kairiku Unso but the POWs were moved, on December 25, 1943, when another 350 POWs arrived at the camp. The new wooden barracks, that were built for the POWs, were of flimsy construction and soon became infested with lice, fleas, and rats, which also spread rapidly among the POWs. Each man had a 3-foot by 6-foot area to sleep in on a straw mat.
One building collapsed during a storm on January 1, 1944, and killed eight POWs. The other POWs had to dig them out. The Japanese decided the camp was a mistake and moved the POWs to another location. The major improvement was that the barracks had stoves for heat and the POWs could bring coal from the docks to keep the fires going. The kitchen that cooked the POWs’ food was two miles from where the POWs were housed, so the POWs seldom had a hot meal. There was also no water supply and water had to be brought to the camp in drums.
The camp had a British doctor, Major William Stewart, who attempted to keep the POWs alive without medical supplies. What served as a hospital was a room with cracks in its walls that wind and snow blew through in the winter. A Japanese medical corporal at the camp sent POWs too sick to work which resulted in some of them dying. When the POWs reported for sick call, they were beaten, hit, punched, and kicked in the face or stomach. Most of the deaths that took place in the camp were the result of men being too ill to work and being forced to work. From September 3, 1943, to December 31, a guard jumped on or kicked the POWs suffering from beriberi and malnutrition. He ordered them to stand at attention and to bow. He was also known for appropriating the Red Cross packages sent to the camp for the POWs.Any POW who did get put on sick call had his food rations cut in half. The Japanese medical personnel sent sick and weak POWs to work. They also misappropriated medical supplies sent by the Red Cross for use by the Japanese personnel in the camp. In October 1943, he had those POWs suffering from dysentery brought to him. When they arrived, he poked them in their stomachs with a stick. He also hit them on the head and body with his hands, fists, and a stick to get them to go to work since so many POWs were needed each day.
Punishment in the camp was extreme with POWs being beaten senseless and revived with cold water so they could be beaten again. Usually, the beatings took place because the POW had been caught stealing food while unloading a ship. After the POW was beaten to the Japanese satisfaction, he was thrown into the guardhouse. When he was released he went back to work. POWs caught stealing food a second time were put in the “extreme guardhouse,” after being severely beaten, without a blanket (regardless of season) without shoes, socks, or overcoat. The man’s food ration was also caught in half. When he was released the beatings continued.
When two POWs were caught stealing Red Cross packages, when Kato was camp commander, they were beaten repeatedly over several days. They then were laid on the ground and tied to stakes. They remained staked out until they died from exposure or starvation. Another POW had to sit on a hot plate and tufts of cotton soaked in gasoline were placed on his head. When the current was turned on the cotton caught on fire. His crime was stealing some beans from the camp kitchen.
It was also at this time that the Japanese announced the POWs would be receiving Red Cross Boxes, but there was a catch, The POWs had to allow Red Cross Boxes to be given to the camp staff. The POWs already knew that the Japanese were misappropriating the boxes because the guards were seen eating Red Cross sugar and cocoa. The Japanese also used canned food from the boxes as rewards so the POWs would work harder.
Since it was a two-mile walk to the docks, the POWs were most likely awakened sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. Their breakfast was usually a potato with what they called “greens.” They also had a soup once in a while that was made from seaweed which tasted pretty good. They also received grasshoppers cooked in soybean sauce once in a while. Their workday started in the dark at 5:00. At noon they received lunch which was a cold potato or soup made from radishes. Once in a great while, they received fish. The food rations for the POWs were determined by the jobs they performed. The POWs working in the factories received 600 grams a day, while those assigned to the docks received 700 grams. A typical meal consisted of rice or soybeans and the tops of daikon which were Japanese radishes. The POWs would receive a watery soup once in a while. Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles that damaged the POWs’ teeth. To supplement their meals, the POWs would smuggle food into the camp. The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks.
It was raining the first day the POWs went to work on the docks and they shivered since their clothing was meant for the tropics. Many of the POWs were assigned to work the docks unloading coal for the Rinko Coal Company and it is known they also unloaded foodstuffs. The Japanese supervisor had the nickname “Whiskers” and was brutal to the POWs. Under Whiskers were former Japanese soldiers who had been wounded in China and were no longer able to fight. These “Honchos” actually treated the POWs fairly well because they viewed them as combat veterans like themselves. Those Honchos who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often would scream at the POWs and beat men up for no reason. To get them to work, the POWs were punched and hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
The POWs would push coal cars – that could hold half of a ton of coal – along rails on a trestle that was 30 feet above the ground. At different places, they dumped it on the dock. Since there weren’t enough cars, many POWs had to carry the coal on their shoulders in baskets attached to poles. At one point, a guard took the boots away from the POWs during the winter and made them work barefooted on the trestle in cold and wet weather. He also knocked the POWs down and kicked them. The result was that their feet were bruised and cut up from the coal. The guards would often help the POWs push the coal cars and it wasn’t unusual for the guards who mistreated the POWs to have accidents. Sometimes while pushing the cars the handle was pushed and the coal fell onto the guards. The guards also accidentally slipped and fell off the trestle, but so did some of the POWs at times. When the POWs got back to their barracks after working, they were wet and could not dry themselves. They also were covered in coal dust and the only way for them to clean themselves was at the hand pump in the courtyard.
During his time as a prisoner, Curly was affected by various diseases. At one time or another, he had, beriberi or ulcers on his feet. He also suffered from dysentery while a POW. About a month before he arrived in camp, the Japanese had begun a routine of taking every fifth POW from morning roll call and making the men bow to the guards. As the men bowed, the guard kicked the men in their faces or they were hit on the back of the neck with a club while they were bent over. They continued doing this to the POWs until March 31, 1944.
The International Red Cross visited the Niigata Camp twice. To prevent the representatives from hearing about the conditions the POWs were living in and the treatment they were receiving, the Japanese would not let the representatives speak to the prisoners. The fact was that the Japanese used what was in the Red Cross packages for themselves. This included medical supplies, bandages, and medicines sent to the POWs. Only after having taken canned milk, canned meat, and chocolate from the packages, would they be given to the POWs. The Japanese also used the clothing and shoes sent for POW use for themselves. During the three-and-one-half years Curly was held as a POW, he received only three letters. The letters were all given to him on the same day. It was while James was a prisoner in this camp that he received another major beating. In December 1943, Curly was beaten with a stick by a Japanese civilian who was called “Balmer Sahn.” This was the second major beating that he received while a POW.
It was in January 1945 that the POWs saw their first B-29s fly over the camp. From this time on, the planes came over in greater numbers each day. The POWs could see where the American planes had dropped mines into the water to sink Japanese ships. The POWs also knew, by the increasing frequency of the beatings they received, that the Japanese were losing the war. The Japanese also placed an anti-aircraft gun on a hill not too far from the camp. It was reported on April 22 that the POWs watched a B-29 fly over the area and from its flight they presumed it was taking reconnaissance photos for future bombings. The POWs knew that if American planes attempted to bomb that the bombs would fall on the camp which explained why it was placed there. Many simply felt if they died at least they died so that the US would win the war.
Apparently, there was then a halt to bombing in the area and the POWs did not see a B-29 for over a month. The B-29s returned on May 25 and bombed the area. The next day the planes returned and bombed again. The POWs were sent into the hills to escape the bombing. On June 20, the bombing lasted from 12:30 until 2:30 in the morning. In July the bombings appeared to be a nightly event. It was recalled that one B-29 was hit, broke in two, and fell to the ground in flames. The POWs stated it was a glorious experience to see the planes and what they were doing, but at the same time, they were filled with dred since they could be the victims of the attacks. They also knew that inside the planes were free Americans.
An air raid that took place on July 13 targeted the Shibarua Electrical Works. The raid lasted 4½ hours and inflicted a great deal of damage. Twenty-eight POWs from the camp – mostly Australian and Dutch were killed and another 20 POWs were wounded.
Finally, the POWs learned that the war was over when they found that the guards were gone. The POWs painted Niigata #5-B on the roof of a building. American planes came over and, after seeing the name, returned to their carrier. Soon, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped food, clothing, shoes, and medicine. The POWs learned that American troops were in Tokyo, so two POWs went there. They returned not having found the Americans. Another group of 300 POWs walked to the train station and rode a train there. This time they made contact with the troops. Not long after this, Capt. Harold Stassen U.S.N., who had been governor of Minnesota flew to a local airport and rode a bus to the camp. In the door of the bus, he said, “This is no place for Americans. There will be a train here tomorrow to transport you to Tokyo.” The train arrived the next day, September 5, and the former POWs rode it to Tokyo. Once there, after being deloused and receiving a medical examination, most were flown to Okinawa.
He was returned to the Philippines to receive medical treatment and fattened up. James also was promoted to staff sergeant. He returned home on the U.S.S. Langfitt at Seattle, Washington, on October 4, 1945. He was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington. He was discharged, from the army, on February 2, 1946. James returned to farming after the war but found that the physical effects of having been a POW made the work extremely hard for him to do. On February 10, 1946, James married Lavern Thorp and together they raised two sons. He later served as a county sheriff and court judge.
James C. Thompson passed away on October 10, 1997, in Princeton, Kentucky. He was buried at Lamasco Baptist Church Cemetery in Lyon County, Kentucky.
The picture below was taken of James while he was a POW in Japan.