Pvt. Ray C. Underwood was born on his family’s small hill country farm on April 31, 1917, in the Bounds Crossroads Community in Itawamba County, Mississippi. He was the son of Garvin Underwood and Mattie Lorene Buchanan-Underwood. With his four sisters, he grew up on the family farm which was east of Fulton, Mississippi. By 1930, the family was living on Bean Street at Garvin in Fulton, Mississippi, since his father was serving the county as the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Ray was enlisted in the U. S. Army in November 1938 and relisted on December 12, 1940. It is known that he did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. After basic training, he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. In the summer of 1941, his battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.
After the maneuvers that were taking place in Louisiana, the 192nd Tank Battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where the men learned that the battalion was being sent overseas. When National Guardsmen from the battalion was released from federal service, Ray either volunteered or had his name drawn, to join the battalion. He was assigned to A Company which originally was as a Wisconsin National Guard tank company.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude – noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP 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 two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, the S.S. 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 that the unknown ship was from a friendly country, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th 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.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On December 8, during lunch, the replacements were ordered to stay with the equipment while the original members of the battalion went to eat. Around 12:45 in the afternoon, the tankers heard the sound of planes approaching Clark Field from the north. As they watched the sky, they felt good about the planes in the sky and the protection they were providing them. “Raindrops” began falling from the planes. When raindrops began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Being they had few weapons that could be used against planes. they could do little more than watch the attack.
After the bombers were through, Japanese Zeros followed and strafed the airfield. To the amazement of the tank crews, most of the planes did not attack their tanks. The few that did had their bombs land between the tanks.
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, the tankers lived through several more air raids. Most slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and one-half years.
After the attack, the tanks of A Company were ordered to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, to protect a road and railway from sabotage. On December 22, A Company was sent north to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing troops. Their job was to support B and C Companies which had been sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese were landing.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the battalion made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but 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. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to a line from on the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. The tank company was east of Concepcion when it came under enemy fire. A shell hit Ray’s tank and disabled it. 2nd Lt. William W. Read, having escaped from the tank, was working to evacuate the other members of the tank crew, through the turret, when a second shell hit the tank below where he was standing and mortally wounded him.
In an attempt to save Lt. Read’s life, Pvt. Jack Bruce went for help. When he did not return, Pvt. Eugene Greenfield also went to find help. Ray sat with Lt. Read and cradled him in his arms as Read lay dying. As he sat holding Read, the Japanese overran the area. On December 30, 1941, Lt. Read died in Ray’s arms. It was on that day that Ray became a Prisoner Of War.
It is not known where Ray was first held as a POW. What is known is that the Japanese officers were impressed with the loyalty that Ray had shown Lt. Read and treated him very well. It was only when the officers were not around that Ray was beaten by the Japanese enlisted men.
It was at this time that his parents received a letter from the War Department in late May. They also received this same letter for his brother, John.
Dear Mrs. M. Underwood:
According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Roy C. Underwood, 06,930,012, 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
When Cabanatuan was opened, Ray was sent there. He actually was fat compared to the other POWs. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks.
The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
In July 1942, while he was a POW in Cabanatuan, his family received a second letter from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from the letter.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Ray C. Underwood had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
Medical records from the camp’s hospital show that Ray was hospitalized on April 6, 1943. No reason for his hospitalization or date of release is recorded on the records.
At some point, Ray was sent to Clark Field where POWs were extending the runways and building revetments. Since his name is not on the original POW draft, he appears to have been a replacement for a POW who could no longer work. The POWs worked long hours starting at 6:00 A.M. working long hours even during the typhoon season without a day off. They were fed, a cup of rice, twice a day but the amount of food was inadequate. The Japanese did not give the POWs any medical supplies, and if they had them it was because the POWs had scrounged them. They were housed in the same barracks that many of them had lived in before the war.
It should be noted that available information shows he may have also been on a work detail to Lipa Batangas. The POWs on the detail extended runways with picks and shovels
If a POW escaped, the POWs remaining POWs were forced to stand at attention and at formation for hours. On one occasion, they stood at attention until 4:00 A.M. Afterwards, they went to work. The Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule since several POWs escaped from the detail. If one man escaped, the other nine men in the group would be executed. Men were often thrown into the metal shack that served as a cellblock that had no windows and had only enough room for the man to squat. They also witnessed the execution of Filipinos who had been caught stealing sheet metal. They were tied to poles and used for bayonet practice.
Ray became ill and was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison and admitted on May 22, 1944, suffering from conjunctivitis. After three days in the ward, he was discharged on May 25 and sent to what was called “the sick hospital.” Later the same day, he was readmitted to the hospital with beriberi. It is not known when he was discharged.
Ray was again admitted to the hospital ward, at Bilibid, on July 27, with beriberi, and discharged the same day. He apparently was readmitted and stayed in the hospital until August 2 and sent to Building #18 at Bilibid.
On August 17, 1944, Ray was given a physical and determined to be healthy enough to be sent to Japan. Ray was boarded onto the Noto Maru. This ship and others became known as Hell Ships. The ship sailed on August 27, 1944, as part of a convoy that hugged the coast of Luzon to avoid American submarines. This did little good since the convoy was attacked resulting in the sinking of several ships. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, late on August 30 and sailed on August 31 for Keelung, Formosa, and arrived the same day. The ship sailed again, on September 1, and arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 4, 1944.
In Japan, he was sent to Sendai #6, which was also known as Hanawa, where 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi and under company supervision. The camp was approximately 200 feet wide by 350 feet long and had a 12-foot high wooden fence around it and was located at 4,000 feet. The POWs were housed in wooden barracks, with 30-foot ceilings, and two tiers of bunks, against each long wall, with straw matting and a mattress stuffed with straw for sleeping. They also had a 4″ by 4″ by 8″ block of wood for a pillow.
The floors of the barracks were packed dirt with a center aisle. There were covered walkways, without sides, that connected the barracks. To heat the barracks, there was a small potbelly stove. If they were lucky, the Japanese gave them enough wood for an hour’s heat. The POWs – who worked in the foundry – stole coal knowing that if they were caught they would be beaten. The barracks were not insulated and the heavy snow – which was as deep as 10 feet – served as insulation.
Other buildings in the camp were two buildings that served as a hospital for the POWs and an “L” shaped building that was the kitchen and POW bath. The latrines were three low buildings, and there was one building that served as the camp office. The POWs spent several days setting up the camp.
In the camp, 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi Mining Company and worked under company supervision. The POWs woke up at 5 A.M. and ate breakfast which was a small bowl of rice, barley or millet, and watery soup.
Meals for the POWs were brought to the barracks, in buckets, and the POWs ate at tables in the barracks. After breakfast, at 5:30, roll call was taken and the POWs and the POWs left the camp. They arrived at the mine at 7 A.M., had a half-hour lunch, and worked until 5:00 P.M. before returning to camp, usually after dark, and had supper. Afterward, they went to bed.
The clothing issued to the POWs was a combination of Japanese clothing, made of thin cloth and shoes, and captured American clothing. For the winter, the POWs were issued a uniform made of burlap and long socks. Those who needed shoes were issued Japanese canvas shoes with webbing between two toes. They also received grass shoe covers so they could get through the snow.
Work details were set up for POWs who were machinists, electricians, mechanics. Those who did not have these skills were assigned to working at a foundry or mining. The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi. Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine. To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them. It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
Each detail had a “honcho” who was employed by Mitsubishi and supervised the POWs. They carried a large stick which they used on the POWs when they felt they were not working hard enough. The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner was furnished with a carbide headlamp as his only lighting.
A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men was never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner was furnished with a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men was never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding.
Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
Mitsubishi expected the Japanese Army to supply a certain number of POWs to work in the mine each day so men too sick to work were sent to work. The sick had to be carried between two healthier POWs to the mine. Since the Japanese found that the sick were too ill to work, the company came up with work for them to do in the camp like making nails or rope. If a POW still could not work, his rations were cut in half.
While working in the mine from November 1944 until August 15, 1945, the POWs were abused by the civilian foreman, Hichiro Tsuchiya, who was known to the POWs as “Patches.” Tsuchiya used any excuse to abuse the POWs. He was known to hit the POWs for no reason in their faces and to also use a wooden club or pickaxe handle. He also used a sledgehammer to hit the POWs on their heads. His parents received a postcard from him in January 1945.
In the camp, the Japanese withheld the Red Cross packages from the POWs and took the canned meats, canned fruit, canned milk, and cheese for themselves. Blankets and clothing intended for the POWs were used by the guards. If a POW violated a rule, the grain ration, for all the POWs, was reduced by 20 percent. At one point, 49 POWs were lined up – because one POW had broken a rule – and beaten with leather belts.
At one point, the camp commandant gave the American doctor and medics an order forbidding them from treating sick and injured POWs. At some point, Ray developed pneumonia, but since the Red Cross medical supplies that could have helped him were taken by the Japanese for their own use, there was little the medical staff could do for him.
Pvt. Ray C. Underwood died on Thursday, February 15, 1945, of pneumonia. After his death, the Japanese held a Shinto funeral service for Ray, and his remains were taken to a crematorium. After the cremation, Ray’s ashes were put in a small wooden box and given to the camp commandant who held onto them to the end of the war.
Ray’s family requested that his ashes be returned to Mississippi and in 1949, Pvt. Ray Collin Underwood was buried at Mount Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery just east of Tremont, Mississippi.