Pvt. Willis Clayton Vincent was born in Merrill, Oregon, on May 20, 1915, to Harvey C. Vincent and Nellie A. Johnson-Vincent. His mother passed away on January 3, 1918, and his father – who was a worker for a power company – was accidentally electrocuted twelve days later. With his grandmother, he was living with his uncle and his aunt and resided at 409 East Salmon Street, in Portland, Oregon, in 1920. In 1930, he and his grandmother were living with his aunt and her husband at 719 South Central Avenue, Medford, Oregon. He completed grammar school, and his grandmother died in 1937. He worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps and was living at 305 Liberty St., Medford City, Oregon. At some point during this time, he enlisted in the Oregon National Guard and was a member of the 41st Division. His National Guard Company was federalized on September 16, 1940, and sent to Camp Murphy, Washington. They remained there until their barracks were finished at Fort Lewis, Washington. It is not known what training he received.
The 194th Tank Battalion was also at Ft. Lewis during this time. On August 1, 1941, its B Company was detached from the battalion and received orders for Alaska. The rest of the battalion was participating in the Pacific maneuvers and was ordered back to Ft. Lewis, where they learned they were being sent overseas. The fact was there were only three places they could be sent that were large enough for tanks. They were Alaska, Hawaii, and the Philippines, and one of the three places had been eliminated. After receiving their orders, men who were 29 years old or older, married with dependents, or whose enlistments in the National Guard ended while the battalion was overseas were allowed to transfer out of the battalion. Replacements of these men came from other units at Ft. Lewis including the 41st Infantry Division. It was at this time that he joined the battalion.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 13, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, 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 Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. 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 buoys on its deck covered by a tarp – 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.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th at Ft. Lewis, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st was a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a regular army tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd was at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. Major Ernest Miller was ordered to Ft. Knox by plane arriving the next day August 14th. That afternoon he received the battalion’s overseas orders. During the meeting, one of General Jacob L. Dever’s staff officers – Dever was the commanding officer of Ft. Knox – let it slip that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. On August 18th, Miller stopped in Brainerd to see his family after receiving the battalion’s orders. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. Miller later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis. Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The fact there were only three “overseas” locations the tanks could be sent which were Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines, and Alaska was already eliminated because B Company was being sent there. Ironically, a week before this, the wife a 194th officer, from St. Joseph, Missouri, wrote him a letter and asked her husband, “Is it true that your unit is going to the Philippines?”
Documents show that the entire First Tank Group was scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. 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. The 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some military documents from the time show the tank group in the Philippines was scheduled to be made up of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Other documents show the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines was also called the First Provisional Tank Group. At the same time, the men in the Philippines referred to the tank group as the First Tank Group.
After receiving orders to report to Ft. Mason, California, men with dependents, men 29 years old or older, or whose enlistments were going to end were replaced. The replacements came from the 41st Infantry Division and had absolutely no training in tanks. The remaining members and new members of the battalion – on September 4th – traveled south from Ft. Lewis, by train, to Ft. Mason north of San Francisco arriving at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated and given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men with medical conditions were replaced. These replacements appear to have come from units stationed at Ft. Ord, California. While the battalion was at Ft. Mason, the town of Salinas provided a bus so that the parents of men could go to San Francisco to say goodbye to their sons. Many had no idea that this was the last time they would be seeing them.
The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort on flatcars and were about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west by train and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason.
The tanks fit fine in the ship’s first and second hold, but the deckhead in the ship’s third hold was too low, so 19 tanks had to have their turrets removed to fit them in the hold. So that the turrets went on the tanks they came off of, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets. The ship’s captain also ordered that all ammunition, fuel, and batteries be removed from the tanks. He stated they would be sent later, but it appears the batteries were sent to the Philippines with the tanks. It was stated that the men loading the tanks on the ship learned they were going to the Philippines from the longshoremen who were also loading supplies on the ship.
The soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9 PM. The enlisted men found themselves assigned to bunks in the ship’s holds with the tanks. Those men with lower bunks found them unbearable to sleep in because of the heat and humidity. Soon, most men were sleeping on deck but learned quickly to get up early because the crew hosed down the deck each morning. Many of the men had seasickness 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 ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. At 5:00 PM that evening the ship sailed.
The next morning, the members of the battalion were called together and they were informed the battalion was going to the Philippines. On the next leg of the voyage, the ship was joined by the U.S.S. Guadalupe, a replenishment oiler. The heavy cruiser, U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer were the ships’ escorts. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge for a personnel transfer. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck as it attempted to make the transfer. When it became apparent that a small boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to the other, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16th, and the date became Thursday, September 18th. A few days past Guam, the soldiers saw the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed south along the east coast of Luzon, around the southern end of the island, and up the west coast. On Friday, September 26th, the ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were bused to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with the 17th Ordnance Company, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets.
The maintenance section and 17th Ordnance reinstalled the batteries, but they needed aviation fuel for the tanks’ engines to get them off the docks. 2nd Lt. Russell Swearingen went to the quartermaster and asked him for the fuel. He was told that they did not have any at the port so he would have to go to the Army Air Corps to get it. When he arrived at the Air Corps command, he was informed that they couldn’t give him the aviation fuel without a written order. It took two weeks to get the tanks off the docks. While all this was going on, the battalion’s half-tracks arrived as well as motorcycles. The battalion’s reconnaissance detachment had Harley-Davidsons at Ft. Lewis but the new motorcycles were Indian Motorcycles with all the controls on the opposite side of the bikes. The reconnaissance section also had peeps (later known as jeeps), but many of these were taken by high-ranking officers for their own use since they were new to the Army.
Arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that they had to live in tents and receive their meals from food trucks until their barracks were completed. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. They lived in six-man tents with dirt floors. It was so humid that their shoes would get moldy if not kept off the ground and cleaned. They received their meals from mess trucks. To eat, they lined up with their mess kits, canteen, and cup, and take their food back to the tents to eat. After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18th. The barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali. This allowed the men to have privacy as they dressed. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived so when went to bed it was hot but by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them while wearing blindfolds. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful. They also liked to go to the local bars and drink beer. It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos. Many men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency.
The 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20th. It was at this time that the process of transferring the battalion’s D Company to the 194th was begun which would give each tank battalion three tank companies. The 192nd was sent to the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radio operators for the Philippine Army. The battalion had a large number of ham radio operators and set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours after its arrival. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When it was informed it was the 192nd, they gave the battalion frequencies to use and men were able to send messages home to their families.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 194th, the tank group contained the 192nd and the 17th Ordnance Company – which arrived in the Philippines with the 194th – joined on the 29th. 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. James Weaver who had been put in command of the 192nd in San Francisco left the 192nd and was appointed head of the tank group and promoted to brigadier general. In the Philippines, the men called the Provisional Tank Group by the name of First Tank Group.
It is known that during this time the battalions went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. They 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 the base.
The tank battalions took part in an alert on November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would have been a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position below Watch Hill was among drums of 100-octane fuel and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield. The next day the tanks were ordered back to the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers after reconnaissance planes reported Japanese transports milling about in a large circle in the South China Sea. The 194th’s position was moved to an area between the two runways below Watch Hill. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. On December 7th, they loaded shells for the tanks’ main guns into the tanks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communication tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ernest Miller, Major Ted Wickord, CO, 192nd, Captain Richard Kadel, CO, 17th Ordnance Company, and Gen. Weaver read the messages of the attack. Maj. 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.
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 in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8th, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he 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. 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.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield and the airfield’s two radar units had been destroyed. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, 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. One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company fought with the 194th but retained its designation of being part of the 192nd. That evening the tankers loaded machine gun belts with bullets from WWI rifle clips with a tracer every four shells. Most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.
On the night of the 12th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13. C Company was ordered to Muntinlupa near Bilibid Prison. The battalion’s reconnaissance half-tracks were assigned to defend Batangas Bay, Balayan Bay, and Tayabas Bay. The company remained at Muntinlupa from December 14th to 24th and did reconnaissance patrols and hunted fifth columnists who used flares at night and mirrors during the day near ammunition dumps.
On one occasion, they saw someone signaling with a flashlight from a building. Lt. Bradford spotted a blinking light on the second floor of a house and said to two of his tank crew, “Gene and Frank, secure that light!” The two men (Frank Muther and Gene Stahl) left the tank about 50 yards from the house with Frank carrying his 45 and machine gun. Stahl said to him, “You take the front and I’ll go around the back.” Frank said, “Okay, but be careful.” He broke down the front door, heard something behind him, and whirled around and saw Stahl. The two men made their way upstairs and heard someone run across the room. They found the light, but the fifth columnist was gone. He had apparently jumped out the window to escape. After, this they had no more problems with fifth columnists.
The tanks spent the night at Tagatay Ridge. The tankers slept on the ground in sleeping bags. During the night they were awakened when the gasoline truck sent to fuel the tanks exploded and lit the area like it was day. Someone had placed gasoline cans on the batteries and one battery sparked and the can exploded. The next day they continued their trip south and had to cross bridges with ten-ton limits. The tanks were fourteen tons but the bridges held.
At Lamon Bay, the Japanese landed 7,000 troops at 2:00 in the morning of December 24th. After landing they began their advance toward Lucban. The commanding general, Brigadier General Albert M. Jones decided he wanted to see what was going on, so he did reconnaissance in a jeep with a half-track of the battalion to provide firepower. They were north of Piis when the half-track came under enemy fire. The driver attempted to turn the halftrack around and went into a ditch. The crew removed its guns and put down a covering fire allowing Jones to escape. The half-track crew was recommended for the Distinguish Service Cross but nothing came of it. Instead, the men – all but one posthumously – received the Silver Star after the war.
The company was 57 miles southeast of Manila in the Antimon-Mauban Area. On December 26th, the four tanks of the 2nd platoon, under the command of 2nd Lt. Robert Needham, were sent to an area on the east coast of Luzon near Lucban. Pvt. Jim Hicks who was a half-track driver volunteered to take the place of Needham’s tank driver. When he volunteered, he said, “I’ll go. I want another shot at those damn Japs.” The Japanese had troops in the area, and the American Command wanted to see what the strength of the enemy was in the area. Needham protested because he believed the tanks were entering a trap, but the tanks were ordered, by a major, to proceed, without reconnaissance, down a narrow trail. Since the area was mountainous, the tanks had a hard time maneuvering. As they went down the trail, the tanks attempted to keep their spacing so that the driver of each tank could see the tank in front of him. At one point in the trail, the tanks found that the trail made a sharp right turn. As the lead tank made the turn, it was hit by a shell fired from a Japanese anti-tank gun. The shell mortally wounded Lt. Robert Needham, who had his legs blown off and killed Hicks. As the remaining crew members attempted to leave the tank they were machine-gunned.
Sgt. Emil Morello’s tank was the second tank in the column. As it came around the corner, his driver, Pvt. Joe Gillis realized he could not see the lead tank so he sped up the tank. As it turned out, this maneuver probably saved the lives of the tankers since a shell exploded just to the rear of the tank. The shell had been fired by a Japanese 77-millimeter anti-tank gun. The driver increased the tank’s speed and zigzagged to prevent the gun from getting off another shot. He then drove the tank into the log barricade and crashed through it taking out the gun. He continued to drive the tank down the trail until he reached an opening at a rice paddy. There, he turned the tank around and went back the way that had just come. He did this because Morello realized that the only way out of the situation was the same way the tank had come into it.
As the tank approached the destroyed barricade, the crew saw the lead tank off to the side of the road. It had taken a direct hit from the gun his tank had knocked out. The fire from the gun had knocked the hatch coverings off the front of the tank. From what the tankers could see, the Japanese had machine-gunned the crew while they were still in the tank. Believing they were safe, the members of the crew began to congratulate themselves on getting out of a tough situation. Suddenly, the tank took a direct hit from another Japanese anti-tank gun. The hit knocked off one of the tracks and the tank veered off the road and went over an earthen embankment. The shell also wounded Pvt. Joe Gillis, Pvt. William Hall, and an unknown crewman. The tank came to a stop in a rice paddy. They had no idea that their little reconnaissance mission had taken them straight into the main Japanese staging area.
Morrello’s crew played dead inside their tank. The Japanese pounded on the turret hatch and asked, “Hey Joe, you in there?” After the Japanese left the area 28 hours later, the crew left the tank and made their way to Manila. According to Morrello, Needham was still alive when he organized the surviving tank crew members to make a march to Manila, Needham refused to be moved. He believed that he would be a hindrance and jeopardize the attempt to reach the lines. He asked the men to button him in a disabled tank. He died in the tank.
The next two tanks were hit by enemy fire and disabled before the gun was knocked out by one of the tanks. Sgt. Glen Brokaw’s tank took a hit killing PFC Robert Bales and Pvt. James McLeod, As Brokaw attempted to leave the tank through its turret, he was shot five times by the Japanese. The one surviving member of his crew, Pvt. Harry Sibert, was wounded and later died at a hospital. Brokaw would later state in interviews that he lost his entire tank crew that day. Sgt. Robert Mitchell’s tank was hit by enemy fire, popping a rivet that went into the neck of Pvt. Ed DiBenedetti. The tank went off the road and Mitchell, Anson, DiBenedetti, and the fourth unnamed member of the crew escaped the tank and hid in the jungle.
Brokaw and Sibert were loaded into a taxi and taken to an American field hospital near Lucbam by a Filipino taxicab. It was there that they were captured by the Japanese later the same day. Two days later they were moved to a jail. Sibert died on the 22nd. For six weeks Brokaw recalled that he was pretty much ignored by the Japanese who would change his bandages a few times. He was taken to Ft. McKinley and then to Bilibid Prison in Manila. During this time, he stated that the Japanese made him serve wounded Japanese soldiers at the hospital. He remained at the hospital until he was sent to Cabanatuan, where he was reunited with other members of his company. The other men – after leaving Brokaw and Sibert at the hospital – caught a boat that took them to Corregidor. They remained there for about a month before they returned to the 194th. When they did, the other men didn’t believe it since they presumed they were dead.
The next day C Company with other defending forces was ordered to withdraw toward Bataan a distance of 70 miles. The tanks held a line and allowed the Filipino Army to pass. Many of the poorly trained soldiers literally were given guns and sent into combat. After they had passed the tanks had orders to “hit and run.” The tankers camouflaged their tanks and waited for the Japanese. Before the Japanese arrived, they were ordered out of the area. In the middle of the night, they went through Manila which was already an open city. The tanks were going down Rizal Avenue and the last in the column as it rounded a corner saw a crowd of Filipinos cheering. Knowing his tank was going to hit the crowd the driver tried to stop the tank so it wouldn’t hit the crowd. The tank skidded and when the driver tried to turn, the rear idler hit the curb of the monument throwing a track. The company’s ordnance section re-tracked the tank, but when the driver attempted to move the tank, the tank threw the track. The maintenance section left and the crew disabled the tank’s guns and then hitched a ride on Bren Gun carriers.
The tanks served as a rearguard as the Southern Luzon forces fell back toward Bataan. The company was at Tagatay Ridge on December 31st and traveled 100 miles one night to Bocaue where it rejoined the 194th. On January 1st, 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 bridge – over the Pampanga River – about withdrawing from the bridge, and half of the defenders withdrew. 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese at Guagua on January 5th, where the tanks had set up a defensive line. Heavy artillery fire hit around them all night since the Japanese advanced quickly. When dawn came it was quiet when suddenly the tankers heard yelling and screaming. The Japanese made a frontal attack and the tanks opened up with their machine guns. It said that some of the barrels turned red hot because instead of firing bursts the machine gunners just held the triggers down. The Japanese had not expected the tanks to be there and took heavy losses. Walter Martella, was wounded when he protected Capt. Moffitt for being hit by shrapnel, Martella was taken to Hospital #2, Cabcaben, Bataan.
Other accounts state the attack took place at 2:00 in the morning when one of the battalion’s outposts challenged approaching soldiers that turned out to be Japanese. When they attacked, the Japanese were mowed down by the guns of the tanks. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located. They then charged toward the tanks, through an open field, and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night 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. Once the 192nd crossed the bridge, the engineers destroyed it ending the Battle of Luzon.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
January 8th, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.
The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. C Company was on the Hacienda Flats in an area that appears to have been used by the Japanese as a field hospital before the Philippine Army drove them back. It was said that there were arms, legs, and guts everywhere. The tankers knew that the Japanese were going to do a Banzi charge. Suddenly, there was a heavy barrage and the Japanese attacked. The fire from the tanks halted the attack. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and actually made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire.
The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers. The tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds it didn’t take the Japanese long to zero in on where the guns were located. It didn’t take long for the gun crews to learn how to “shoot and scoot.”
The tanks withdrew during the day which made them easy to spot. As they were withdrawing a Japanese artillery shell landed in front of the lead tank and its driver, Orrin Eaton, did not have time to avoid the crater and went the tank into it almost knocking out the crew. When they inspected the tank, they found there was a six-inch hole in the rear fender where a dud bomb had gone through it. At about the same time, Capt. Moffit’s leg was broken when a 2×4 hit him after a bridge was dynamited.
On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13th by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. Bill Hennessey was wounded when his half-track was hit by a 40-millimeter shell, and he was taken to Hospital #2 on the 13th. Records show that he lost his foot. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16th. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry. The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls.
On January 20th, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry. On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective because of landmines that had been planted by ordnance. The battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese was on their way. When they appeared the battalion and self-propelled mounts opened up with everything they had. The Japanese broke off the attack, at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men. It was also at this time that the Japanese ended the assault and waited for fresh troops to arrive. This lull lasted six weeks.
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later that day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Balanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, which they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given beach duty with the 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben. The half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. C Company while on beach duty would come under barrages from Japanese artillery. One night while on this duty, the B Co., 192nd, engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings. The company also noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place at a certain time and waited for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time they were met by machine gun fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
At this time, C company was ordered to the west coast of Bataan where the Japanese had landed troops. To get there, the tanks took a jungle trail. The tanks slowly moved up the trail in case there were mines or snipers. As one tank came around a turn in the road, a shell from an antitank gun flew passed the tank. The crew saw the flash of the gun and the smoke ring around the gun’s barrel. Apparently, the guns crew hadn’t had time to properly set up the gun. The tank opened up with its machine guns hitting the guns crew and a shell from the tank destroyed the gun. The tankers realized they were behind enemy lines and began to withdraw. Three tanks hit land mines and lost tracks. What saved the tanks was the Philippine Army counterattacked and pushed the Japanese back. The battalion’s maintenance section was able to put tracks on the tanks and pull them out of the area.
The Battle of the Points also took place at this time. The Japanese landed Marines behind the main line of defense in an attempt to cut the supply lines from Mariveles to Baguio. After they had landed they were quickly trapped on a point sticking out into the China Sea. When the Japanese attempted to reinforce the point, they landed on another point, and the second group was quickly trapped. The Army Air Corps men converted to infantry, the 45th and 57th Philippine Scouts. and companies from the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalion were involved in the elimination of the points. When the Japanese attempted to send in a third detachment of reinforcements, the last three P-40s appeared and strafed the barges. The strafing ended the Japanese attempt to reinforce their troops. Through a coordinated attack by the infantry and the tanks, the Japanese were pushed back to the caves below the points before being wiped out.
Tanks parts were now rare and 17th Ordnance made repairs however they were able to make them. Tanks that had damaged main guns often had the barrels cut down – similar to a sawed-off shotgun – to keep them firing. 17th Ordnance also provided anti-personnel by converting WWI shells from the Philippine Ordnance Department so that they could be fired by the tanks. The company also had to deal with the fact the tane tanks’ suspension systems were locking up after being near or in salt water. The information was sent to the War Department which replaced the suspension system on all vehicles using it.
On March 1st, the soldiers had their rations cut in half again and the men were starving. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a picture of a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to the Dutch East Indies. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined this suggestion.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended 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.
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.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 6th – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. Other tanks of C Company tanks were supporting the 2nd Battalion, 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, which was moving east on Trail 8 toward Limay. It was about 5:00 A.M. at the junction of Trails 8 and Trail 6 when the battalion was ambushed by a large number of Japanese. The 1st Platoon of Company C was acting as part of the point when the lead tank was knocked out by anti-tank fire and the following tank was forced off the trail.
It was the evening of April 8th that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Co., 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. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.)
Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” Capt. Arthur Root, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. 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. 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.”
The members of the company divided the rations they had and also the pesos from the company’s treasury. Capt. Fred Moffitt had the company march all night to get to Baguio, but they ran into a Japanese patrol. The Japanese came down a small tail and it was noted that several of them had red faces as if they had fevers indicating to the Prisoners, of War, that the Japanese were in as bad shape as they were. When one Japanese soldier fell over, the others beat him until he got up and stood on his own. The Prisoners of War spent the night near a road and formed ranks the next morning. Moffitt handed an American flag to a Japanese officer as a sign of surrender. The Japanese officer responded by throwing it on the ground, stepping on it., and he began slapping Moffit. The enlisted men believed he did this as a sign that surrendering was a disgraceful act.
The members of the company were marched to the main north-south road where they were searched again and stripped of watches, rings, wallets, and anything else the Japanese wanted. They next were made to form detachments of 100 men and made to march. The POWs march for three or four kilometers and then turned around and marched back to where they started. They were ordered to fall out and left sitting in the sun with few trees for shade. They were ordered to fall in and marched 12 kilometers to Cabcaben where they joined other POWs who had already been marched there. It was nearly dusk and more and more detachments of POWs kept arriving. The POWs were put on the airfield and given enough space to lie down for the night.
The POWs were put into detachments the next day, April 11th, and marched to a big barn at Mariveles where they remained until the next morning. They ordered out to a road where the Japanese who had no interpreters beat and clubbed the Prisoners of War until they formed ranks. As they stood on the road, a shell from Corregidor hit the barn where they had spent the night. It was at this time that the company began what they called “the march” or “the hike.” As soon as they began marching, they saw and smelled the dead along the sides of the road.
As they made their way north toward the Lamao area of Bataan. They were joined by other POWs coming from side roads and trails. There were many more Filipino POWs than Americans and the two groups mixed together. The road was hard to walk on because of the holes from the shelling and bombings. The POWs were moved to the side of the road whenever a Japanese convoy came by heading south. The Japanese soldiers tried to hit the POWs in their heads with their rifle butts as they passed them.
The guards were assigned a certain distance to cover and wanted to finish it as fast as possible so they moved the POWs at a fast pace which was hard for the POWs in worse shape. If a man fell the guards did not want to stop the column so they shot or bayoneted the man. When the guards finished their assigned part of the march, the POWs were allowed to rest, but when the new guards took over, they also wanted to finish their part of the march as fast as possible, so the POWs once again were moved at a fast pace. They made their way north to Limay where they could see the destruction caused by the shelling and bombing. The jungle had been obliterated. They passed large crows that were eating the bodies of the dead Filipinos, Americans, and Japanese. Some of the crows circled over the POWs as they made their way north.
The Japanese provided no water to the POWs. Since it was dark, men were able to fill their canteen cups at artesian wells since the guards could not see them. At a small barrio, Filipinos appeared with buckets of water for the POWs. The Filipinos were gone by the time the guards arrived to see what was going on among the POWs. The POWs were left in the compound for the day, and there was no cover from the sun that beat down on them. The Japanese gave enough water to the men to wet their tongues. The POWs did not know it, but they were receiving the sun treatment. Some men went out of their heads and drifted into comas. At 6:30 in the evening, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men. Once this was done, they resumed the trip north, but this time they were marched at a faster pace and were given very few breaks. When they did receive a break, they had to sit in the road until they were ordered to move.
The POWs made their way to Balanga where they were searched again. North of the barrio they were herded into a field. The POWs were forced to sleep on top of each other. The next morning the POWs were ordered to assemble and those who had died continued to lie on the ground. The large crows circled the field. The POWs finally received their first meal. It was also at this time that the Filipinos were separated from the Americans. When they were north of Hermosa, the POWs reached pavement which made the march easier. At 2:00 A.M., they received an hour break, but any POW who attempted to lay down was jabbed with a bayonet. After the break, they were marched through Layac and Lubao. It was at this time that a heavy shower took place and many of the men opened their mouths in an attempt to get water.
At Lubao, they were put into a bullpen the size of a football field. The next morning, the POWs marched 13 kilometers to San Fernando. Once there, they were herded into a bullpen, surrounded by barbed wire, and put into groups of 200 men. One POW from each group went to the cooking area which was next to the latrine and received a box of rice that was divided among the men. Water was given out in a similar manner with each group receiving a pottery jar of water to share.
The POWs were awakened at 4:00 A.M. and ordered to form columns again. They were marched to the train depot in the barrio. At the depot, they were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights” since they could hold forty men or eight horses. Since there were 100 POWs in a detachment, the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar for the three-hour trip. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. The POWs marched eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base. The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When the meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. The ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter asking for medical supplies to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
It is also known that the Manila Society – which was a branch of the Philippine Red Cross – collected a great quantity of clothing, medicines, powdered milk, marmalade, and oatmeal and delivered it to the Red Cross which was under Japanese control. They were told they could help make juices and packages of sweet coconut for the POWs and did so. When they were finished, the Japanese stated that it was too good for the Americans and that the packages would be given to their soldiers.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of POWs healthy enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. Many of these men returned to the camp from work details only to die. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria. When they buried the dead, the next morning many were found sitting up in their graves or dug up by wild dogs.
To get out of the camp because of the number of POWs dying each day. He volunteered to go out on a work detail to rebuild bridges. The detail was called the Bridge Building Detail by the POWs since they rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed – during the American retreat – for the Japanese Engineers, but it was not the only bridge building details. This detail was also under the command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion. He attempted to fill in the detail with as many men from the tank group as he could. To get as many tankers out of the camp, Wickord filled the roster with as many of them as he could. When the Japanese figured out what he was doing they stopped him. The detail left Camp O’Donnell on May 1, 1942, and rebuilt thirteen bridges.
The Japanese commanding officer was Captain Wakamori and his second in command was Lt. Miyasato. The Japanese engineers running the detail treated the POWs better than the POWs on other details. They allowed the POWs to roam the barrio without guards but the POWs could not go beyond the boundaries of the barrio. The Japanese also did not stop the Filipinos from giving food to the POWs. The food was good but men still quickly came down with beriberi, dysentery, and yellow jaundice. A Filipino doctor was allowed to treat the sick every day, and the Japanese allowed the POWs to take part in two celebrations in the barrio. During these fiestas, the POWs were asked to sing songs and the Japanese also sang their songs.
The POWs were organized into detachments of 20 men each that rebuilt the destroyed bridges. The work was hard, and one of the hardest jobs on the detail was driving pilings into the river banks. This the men did by hand by cranking up a pile driver that dropped a weight onto the piling. It appears six men worked the pile driver and those men were divided into teams of two men. One team of two men operated the pile driver with each man cranking part of a handle on the winch that lifted a heavy weight 18 to 20 feet above the pile. The weight was released and it fell hitting the piling and driving it into the riverbank. The POWs rotated so they had a rest, but because they were underfed they tired quickly, and by the end of the work day, the POWs were exhausted.
The Japanese pressed the local Filipinos into working on the bridge. The Japanese treated them just like they treated the POWs. One reason was that at night something always seemed to happen that slowed down the work on the bridge. Equipment that worked perfectly well the day before would malfunction for no reason or completely break down. The pile drivers were sabotaged so once the weight was in position, it could not be released.
It is known that it was in this barrio that the POWs and Japanese played their first baseball game against each other. The Japanese engineer in charge of the detail played for both teams. No one seemed to recall who won the game, but it was said the POWs cheered for both teams.
While at Calauan, the POWs got word that one of the POWs on the sawmill detail had escaped. The word was that ten men from the detail would be executed. Col. Wickord was sent to the sawmill to witness the execution and warn his men about the consequences. When he returned, he informed his men that the commanding officer had been told to select ten men for execution. The officer had a terrible time doing this and finally chose the five men who slept to the escapee’s right and the five men who slept to his left. The officer surmised that the night the man had escaped one of them must have heard something and could have prevented it.
The “selected” were made to dig their own graves. One pleaded with the ranking American officer to do something. All he could tell the man was that there was nothing he could do. Another regretted that he would never see Denver again. One of the men was the brother of another man on the detail. Even though other POWs volunteered to take his place, the Japanese would not allow it. The men were offered blindfolds but refused them. They were then shot. After falling into their graves, the Japanese shot them again.
On May 15, 1942, the Filipinos began to collect a large amount of food. When the Filipinos had enough food, they held a special meal for the POWs at the local Catholic church on June 1. Just before the POWs were sent to Batangas to rebuild other bridges, an order of Catholic Sisters – who had been recently freed from custody – invited the Japanese commander and Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner the last night in the barrio. Six of the POWs were Protestants and six were Catholic. During the dinner, the local Catholic priest walked among the prisoners dropping packs of cigarettes on the floor for them. To signal them about what he was doing, the priest looked down to the ground. The POWs looked down and picked up a pack of cigarettes.
While he was on the detail, his family received two messages from the War Department. It appears he named his aunt as his contact person.
“Dear Mrs. Jess Johnson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Willis C. Vincent, 20,934,631, 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 rode trucks for about 2½ hours to the barrio of Batangas. Once in Batangas, the POWs went to a two-floor school. The Japanese lived on the first floor and the POWs lived on the second floor. Bernard Fitzpatrick, 194th, stated that the building was clean and the POWs could look out of the windows and see the harbor. He also said that the building had lush lawns around it and the POWs were allowed to sleep outside in good weather. Many of the POWs ended up with dysentery from the water. Once again, the people of the town did whatever they could to help the Americans. An order of Roman Catholic sisters brought the POWs food and clothing that they scrounged up. Because of the work, most of the uniforms of the POWs had disintegrated.
In the school was a globe. The Japanese guards pointed to Japan and said Nipon. The POWs would point to North America – they were liberal and included Canada – and said to the guards, “America.” It wasn’t very long until the guards caught onto the size difference between the two countries. The geography lesson ended when a Japanese sergeant saw what was going on and took the globe.
When their work was finished on the bridge, the POWs boarded trucks and went to Candelaria to rebuild their final bridges. Unlike the other barrios, the Filipinos kept their distance from the POWs. At this barrio, the POWs slept in a coconut processing mill with a fence around it. During the nights, since they were locked in, the building grew hot. The food at this time also deteriorated in its quality and many of the POWs came down with malaria, scurvy, and pellagra. The Japanese brought the Filipino doctor from Calauan to the work site and he told the Japanese to give the POWs limes. The POWs’ health improved after they received the limes. While the POWs worked, the Filipinos were allowed to bring them food which also resulted in their health improving.
The POWs found themselves repairing a concrete bridge that had been extensively damaged. Instead of replacing it with a wooden bridge, they repaired the existing bridge. The sand and cement were brought to a large flat-bottomed box with wheelbarrows and dumped into the box. Water was dumped into it from buckets that were carried by the POWs to the box. They then mixed it by hand with Japanese shovels which was the hardest part of the job. When the work on this bridge was finished, they built a wooden bridge near the barrio. It was said they built 30 bridges while on the detail.
It is known that the POWs took part in a baseball game there against the Japanese. According to Fitzpatrick, the game ended when a Japanese colonel from Manila arrived for an inspection and decided the POWs were unworthy to play against the Japanese soldiers.
The Japanese held a ceremony commemorating the bridge and the POWs were in the audience. They then were taken to a market in San Pablo where the Japanese guards bought them fruit and sweet cakes that they put into their sacks. They then returned to the warehouse and were given a week off to rest before they boarded the trucks and were taken to Cabanatuan which had opened to replace Camp O’Donnell. When they arrived at Cabanatuan, none of the POWs were searched because their bags had tags on them – issued by the Japanese engineers – that allowed them to be brought into the camp without being searched. Inside the bags, many of the POWs carried food and other items that would have been taken from them if they had been searched.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Cabanatuan #1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Cabanatuan #2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed, but it was later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and consolidated into Camp #1 on October 30th.
Once in Cabanatuan #1, 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. He was assigned to Barracks 9, Group 2.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to ensure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
On August 7th, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12th and were recaptured on September 21st and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 29th, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate, and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14th the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
It appears that Willis went out on a work detail about this time. Where he went is not known. From records kept at Bilibid Prison, Willis was admitted to the Naval Hospital in December 1942 and remained in the hospital until February 1943. The records indicate he was malnourished, suffering from a heart problem, and also had beriberi. No date of discharge has been found.
Recalling his time he said: “A lot more would have died if it hadn’t been for the Red Cross boxes. By the time the first boxes came, Christmas of 1942, my gums were in such shape it seemed that all my teeth were going to come out.”
It is not too clear but it appears that he was returned to Cabanatuan. Each month on the eighth, the Japanese read the Japanese declaration of war on the United States to the POWs. This usually got them wound up and the POWs knew that the number of beatings they received would increase. On January 11th, the POWs watched and heard the explosions as Japanese dive bombers bombed and strafed something about 30 kilometers away. They later heard a barrio was attacked killing 102 men, women, and children and wounding 60. On the 13th, the commissary supplies ended. According to the Japanese, this was because guerrillas had burned down half of Cabanatuan which included the warehouse where the supplies were stored. The Japanese issued toilet kits to the POWs on January 14th that had to be shared by four POWs. On January 18th, the same area was bombed again by the Japanese. The Japanese issued Red Cross Boxes to the POWs on January 24th which had to be shared by two POWs. 1200 POWs left the camp on a work detail on January 27th.
Multiple work details left the camp each day and returned each evening. Some details were small while others had 1255 to 1450 POWs on them. The POWs received Christmas telegrams on February 7th. The POWs watched the Marx Brothers’ movie “Room Service” on the 11th and many Japanese propaganda news clips. It was recorded on February 12th that there had not been a death in the camp in eight days. Three POWs died the next day. The Japanese also ordered that the POWs turn in all radios to them. It is not known if they received any. POWs who did not have blankets were issued a blanket by the Japanese on February 22. A program was started to stop the spread of dysentery. For every full milk can of flies, the POWs turned in, they received cigarettes in return. It was noted that on March 3rd, 12 million flies had been turned in and 320 rats had been turned in.
On March 6, 1943, the War Department released his name on a list of known Japanese Prisoners of War. Weeks earlier his family had learned he was a POW.
KLAMATH FALLS OR
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR NEPHEW PRIVATE WILLIS C VINCENT IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message.
“Mr. Walter Vincent
4618 Cannon Avenue
Klamath Falls Oregon
“Report has been received that your nephew, Private Willis C. Vincent, 20,934,631, infantry, is now a prisoner of war of the Japanese Government in the Philippine Islands. This will confirm my telegram of February –, 1943.
“The Provost Marshal General, Prisoner of War Information Bureau, Washington, D. C. the address to which the mail may be sent. Any future correspondence in connection with his status as a prisoner of war should be addressed to that office.
“Very Truly Yours
A third message quickly followed.
“Mr. Walter Vincent
4618 Cannon Avenue
Klamath Falls Oregon
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your nephew, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Willis C. Vincent, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippines 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”
A large POW detachment also started work at the camp cemetery, on April 1st, but what they did was not known. Two POWs, PFC Holland Stobach and Pvt. Ernest O. Kelly escaped while working on the water detail outside the camp on the 6th. They had an hour’s start on the Japanese and it appears they were successful at evading the guards. The only punishment given to the other POWs was the show they expected to see was canceled. On the 11th, the workday changed for the POWs. Revelle was at 5:30 A.M. with breakfast now at 6:00 until 7:00 when they left for work and worked until 10:30 A.M. when they returned to the camp for lunch at noon. They returned to work and worked from 1:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M. Dinner was at 6:30. Roll call was taken at 7:00 P.M. and again at 9:00 P.M. Pvt. John B. Trujillo who was one of the POWs assigned to guard against escapes attempted to escape but was caught. At 9:00 A.M. he was taken to the schoolyard in the barrio of Cabanatuan and executed.
The POWs were also allowed to hold shows for entertainment. They performed comedy skits and other shows. They also formed a band that performed on Wednesday and Saturday nights and had a request portion of the program performing songs the other POWs wanted to hear. On one occasion they performed a song that became popular in the U.S. after they had become POWs. The Japanese realized that they had a radio and searched the camp looking for it. They never did find the radio.
On June 3, 1943, Willis was sent to the Las Pinas Detail as a replacement for a POW who had died or was sent to Bilibid Prison because he could no longer work. The detail was considered one of the most brutal details that a POW could work on. There were 800 POWs on the detail by December 1942, and they were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms with thirty POWs assigned to each room. Only two latrines for 500 men. Cans were put in the rooms for the POWs to use as toilets. There were eleven showers that were shared by the POWs. 300 POWs shared seven showers while the remaining 500 POWs shared four showers. POWs waited for over an hour to take a shower.
The first commanding officer of the work detail, Capt. Kenji Iwataka, of the Naval Construction Department, ran the detail at the school and airfield from July 1, 1942, unit March 15, 1944. He was responsible for the POWs not only when they were at Nichols Field but at the Pasay School. The POW camp at Pasay School was under the command of a Japanese Lt. Imoto from July 1942 until October 1942. While at Nichols Field the POWs were under the command of Lt. “Mabe” Matsumura. Both men took their orders from Iwataka. The second overall commanding officer of the detail was Capt. Inokichi Matsumoto. A Lt. JG. Hideo Suzuki ran the camp at the school and a civilian, Matsumura Norigana, who was known as “the Wolf,” was in charge of the POWs at the airfield. He was a civilian but wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man’s arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
The main meal was 240 grams of boiled rice which was from sweepings of a warehouse floor and had nails, worms, dust, glass, and bottle caps were often in the rice. This was later cut to 120 grams of rice. The POWs picked through the rice to eat it. The POWs grew squash, gourds, green beans, eggplant, and sweet potatoes but these were taken by the Japanese. What they received was the scraps from the Japanese mess which did not meet their nutritional needs. If they received fish, it was a fish that was bony and used as fertilizer by the Japanese. Each week they received 250 pounds of potatoes – which the Japanese allowed to rot before issuing it to the POWs – for 500 men. They also were issued 80 pounds of flour a week and 20 pounds of meat a week for 800 POWs. Although fruit grew at the airfield, the POWs were not allowed to eat it and were beaten if they did. When Red Cross packages were given to POWs the Japanese cut the food rations by one-fourth for 15 days.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and “bongo” or count at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and a half to the airfield. After arriving at the airfield, the POWs were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp. Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans to use construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The POWs were divided into two detachments. The first detachment drained rice paddies and laid the groundwork for the runway, while the second detachment built the runway.
The work was easy until the extension reached the hills some of which were 80 feet high. The POWs flattened the hills by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheelbarrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again, and when they arrived back at the school the Japanese counted them again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, they were counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, “Tell them I went down smiling.” There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The American captain told the other Americans what had happened. The White Angel told them that this was going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
On another occasion, a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man’s head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin. A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway, and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The POW doctor was only allowed to keep 20 POWs from working each day. If the doctor put more men on the “quarters list” he was beaten by the Japanese. The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in wooden boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
The medical treatment of the POWs was poor. The Japanese issued little of the Red Cross medical supplies that came into the camp. The POW doctors said there was not enough medicine to cure an ailment but just enough to prolong the ailment. Many of the POWs had malaria but there was a lack of quinine and carborine, and there was no emetine to cure amoebic dysentery. The doctors’ requests for medicines were repeatedly turned down by the Japanese commanding officer. If they performed surgery, the operations were performed without anesthetics or proper medical equipment. The Japanese only allowed 80 POWs to be on sick call each day, and the Japanese determined which men were sick enough not to work.
The bodies of those who died on the detail were sent in sealed coffins to Bilibid Prison. Once there, the POW doctors were expected to issue death certificates with causes of death dictated by the Japanese. The sick POWs who arrived from the detail were described as skeletons. They also told about the brutality and how other POWs on the detail were killed by the Japanese. Willis became ill and was sent to Cabanatuan on August 14th and sdmitted to the hospital. After he recovered, he was sent to Cabanatuan, possibly because he was still ill.
In August 1944, the POWs found themselves working to move the hospital to the same area as the POW barracks. The reason was that the Japanese wanted to reduce the size of the camp so they would need fewer guards. The POWs were keeping their own gardens and growing their own food, but the Japanese now insisted that the POWs stop cooking their own food. The POWs adopted a group cooking policy where the POWs in a group placed an order for food 24 hours before they wanted it, and the food was deducted from that group’s food stock. The POWs were also able to purchase coffee. They noticed that the Japanese attitude also had changed and that they wanted the POWs more involved in the running of the camp.
The food situation in the camp also had grown worse during the month and POWs resorted to gutting down papaya trees to eat the trunks which had no nutritional value. What it did do is make the man feel full and the worse effect was some diarrhea or an upset stomach. Cutting down the trees, preparing them for cooking, then eating them gave them something to do and temporary pleasure. Their rations continued to be reduced.
On September 21, 1944, the POWs were finishing work for the day when they heard the sound of planes, but the sound of these planes was different from the sound of Japanese planes. They looked up and saw a formation of 80 planes fly over, but the planes were too high for them to see any insignias. The planes seemed to agitate the Japanese so the POWs whispered to each other that they may be American. After entering the camp, they got their answer as they watched a dogfight directly above the camp. Some of the planes flew low over the camp and on the planes they saw the U.S. Navy insignias. A loud wild cheer came out of the mouths of thousands of POWs. When one of the Japanese planes involved in the dogfight crashed to the ground in flames, another wild cheer went up. As they watched, wave after wave of American planes flew over the camp. Even the hospital patients crawled out of their beds to get a look at the planes. Next, they heard the explosions of anti-aircraft shells over Clark Field. After the attack ended many of the POWs sobbed. Many of the POWs believed this would end the transfer of the POWs to Japan. Not long after this, 150 guards left the camp by truck for duty at other places.
The POWs heard a rumor from the guards that Americans were on Mindanao Island. It turned out the rumor was false. The POWs heard and saw explosions from the heavy bombing of Clark Field on October 29th. From a map in an October 30th, Japanese paper, they learned that American troops were on southern Luzon. In addition, American planes flew over the camp that night. The Japanese guards admitted, on November 2nd, to the POWs that American troops were on Leyte and Mindoro. On November 5th, American bombers flew over the camp all day long. To see how close the Americans were, the POWs looked for land-based planes but saw none. The next day, the POWs watch two planes circle the camp. As they watched, the planes strafed and bombed Cabanatuan Airfield. The airfield was bombed and strafed three times that day.
The POWs learned that there are only about 1000 American POWs left in the Philippines from talking to the guards. The rest had been sent out on ships for Japan or other parts of the empire. The POWs knew there were about 500 POWs at Cabanatuan so the remainder had to be at Bilibid Prison outside Manila. By November 13th, the POWs no longer excited by American planes flying over the camp. What they wanted to know was where the troops and tanks were. On November 24th, a large convoy of Japanese trucks passed the camp at night heading north. The POWs also received mail that was postmarked May and June 1944 which was the fastest they had ever received mail before. During this time the meals got worse and they received less rice and instead of fish, they were given fish powder. The POWs’ breakfast was plain lugao. To supplement their meals they ate dog soup. From November to December food was the main focus of the POWs.
American planes again appeared over the camp on December 14th and bombed to the north and west of the camp. For the first time, the POWs believed the planes were land-based. The next day before dawn, American planes flew over on their way to bomb Clark Field. The POWs heard and saw anti-aircraft fire as the planes attacked Later that day, they saw more planes fly over and bombed the Cabanatuan Airfield twice in one day. The next night, December 16, the POWs were sleeping when explosions from six bombs from an American plane dropped on a Japanese convoy on the road that ran past the camp woke them. At first, the POWs thought the camp was being bombed and took cover. A few days later the POWs heard that 38 Japanese soldiers had been killed and 20 wounded during the attack. That same day at 8:00 P.M., the Japanese moved some tanks, armored trucks, and small artillery pieces into the camp and stored them in old barracks and mess halls that had been abandoned.
The Japanese camouflaged the camp with nets, ropes, wires, and tree branches on December 18th, and the next day the POWs heard the news that Americans had landed on Mindoro Island south of Luzon. It was at this time that two truckloads of Japanese troops and equipment entered the camp, as well as, several truckloads of lumber and supplies were brought into the camp. Approximately 100 Japanese troops with full combat gear entered the camp after dark. Food again was an issue, and the POWs noted their food was radish tops and some meat. When they received fish, the dried fish issued to them was mostly scales and bones since worms had eaten the meat.
The POWs watched heavy American bombers attacked by a single Japanese plane on December 22nd, and one plane crashed. The POWs hoped that it was the Japanese plane. A few days later, on December 24th, 21 American bombers flew over the camp on their way to bomb Clark Field. In the distance, the POWs heard the ack-ack fire from the Japanese anti-aircraft guns. As the planes flew over the camp on the way back from the bombing, the POWs counted that all 21 planes had survived the mission.
On Christmas Day, the POW watched American fighters and bombers attack Clark Field. Again, they heard the bombs exploding the fire from the anti-aircraft guns. The next day they heard a rumor that all the POWs at Bilibid had been sent to Japan. Two days later, on December 28, the POWs were awakened by the sound of Japanese tanks and trucks passing the camp. Someone was able to see that the Japanese soldiers were dressed as Filipino civilians.
On the morning of January 7, 1945, the Japanese abandoned the camp and told the POWs that they were no longer prisoners of war. Before they left, the camp commander told them that if they stayed in the camp they would be safe but if they went beyond the fence they would be shot. The POWs wondered if the Japanese were going to return to kill them. When they did leave, they would not tell the POWs where they were being sent. Before they left the camp, the Japanese told them there were about 30 days of rations in the warehouse and that if they wanted food they must help themselves. They also told them they were no longer prisoners but that they should not leave the camp or they would be shot. The gardens that the Japanese grew their vegetables in were also turned over to the POWs. The prisoners raided the camp warehouse for food and clothing.
Retreating Japanese soldiers spent the nights in the camp but did not bother the POWs. Ironically, they asked the POWs for food. The POWs on January 9, heard shelling from American guns in the distance. Many wondered when the troops and tanks would reach them. The next day, Japanese troops returned to the camp and posted guards who had been wounded in combat. They also returned the POWs to the hospital area of the camp.
The U.S. 6th Rangers left on the mission to liberate the camp on January 27, and at 2:00 P.M. the Rangers crossed into Japanese territory. They stealthily made their way through enemy lines covering 29 miles until they reached an area just north of the camp in the late afternoon of the 29th It was at that time that the Rangers learned that there were 1000 Japanese troops bivouacked in the camp, so the decision was made to wait until the 30th to attack. The next day the Japanese troops pulled out of the camp. The Rangers reached the camp at 5:45 P.M. and broke into two detachments. The first group took nearly two hours to crawl into position behind the camp. The second group crawled for an hour and a half to get into position for a frontal attack on the main gate. The Rangers heard what they thought was a gunshot and believed they had been seen. When nothing happened they continued their mission. It turned out the “shot” was a Japanese truck backfiring as the Japanese attempted to get it running. By 7:30 P.M., all the Rangers were in position.
The initial shot that started the assault was made by the Rangers who had taken positions beneath the rear guard tower. The shot killed the guard in the tower and bedlam broke out. At 7:40 P.M. the Rangers opened fire on the guard tower. Another Ranger was about to shoot the lock off the main gate when his ammunition clip fell to the ground. He reached for his pistol, but the guard at the gate had recovered from his initial shock and knocked it from his hand. The Ranger recovered the gun killed the guard and shot off the lock.
Gunnery Sergeant Harry Arnold, U.S.M.C. said, “We were sitting around batting the breeze when shots rang out through the camp. We thought the Japs were going to murder every prisoner in the camp.
“Then I raised my head in time to see a big guy come tearing across the yard. Jees, he was tall — he must have stood at least seven feet.
“As he neared us he shouted ‘We’re Yanks!’ All of you Americans get the hell out of here!
“Needless to say, we didn’t waste time clearing out.”
The Rangers poured through the main gate while the second group of Rangers came through the rear gate. The Rangers who came through the main gate came upon a guard tower but didn’t see anyone, so 18 Rangers continued moving. As the last men went past, a guard, in perfect English yelled “Stop,” but he didn’t fire. One Ranger stayed behind. The Rangers reached the Japanese barracks and opened fire. One Japanese soldier came to the door and fell face-first to the ground. They never saw any others. The one Ranger who remained at the guard tower killed the guard. Another Ranger detachment cleared out a pillbox at the corner of the camp with four rockets from a bazooka. 150 Japanese who were leaving the camp in a convoy were killed in a shed when it was hit by bazooka fire. Inside were 150 Japanese soldiers waiting to leave the camp as part of a convoy. They had been held up because they could not get a truck running.
Many of the POWs had just bedded down for the night but quickly woke up believing it was the Japanese returning to kill them. The Rangers shouted, “We’re Yanks!” They also yelled that the POWs should go toward the main gate. Seven minutes after the start of the raid, the first ragged POWs made it through the gate. 15 minutes after the start of the raid all the POWs had made it through the gate, but the Rangers searched the barracks to make sure no one was left behind. By 8:15 P.M. the camp was secured and the POWs had been rescued without any POW casualties. Two POWs later died because of health issues.
The Rangers recalled that the freed POWs rushed up to them and kissed them on their cheeks. Of the rescue Pvt. LeRoy Myerhoff of the Rangers stated that a POW said to him, “Don’t leave me for I may need your help.” The Rangers were well supplied with cigarettes and gave them out freely to the rescued men. One Ranger gave a POW a canteen full of coffee which was the first the man had in almost three years. He drank about half the canteen and broke down and cried.
Hearing the commotion, 800 Japanese troops came rushing down the road from Cebu, shouting and firing as they ran. The Filipino guerrillas held their fire until the Japanese were in range, then opened fire resulting in Japanese bodies piling up on the road. It was estimated the guerrillas had killed 400 of the Japanese before Japanese tanks arrived pinning down the guerrillas. It was 8:40 when the signal was given that all the POWs had been rescued and the guerrillas should withdraw. In all, 21 guerrillas and two Rangers were killed. Two other Rangers were wounded.
It was said that the entire operation took 27 minutes. The Rangers carried the sick POWs two miles to 20 waiting carabao carts. One Ranger carrying a POW began crossing what he thought was a river when he slipped and fell to his knees. he realized, from the smell, it was the drainage ditch and began to swear. The POW said to him, “Please don’t be angry. I’m a Catholic priest, Lt Hugh Kennedy.” The Ranger asked Kennedy to forgive him for swearing. Kennedy said, “Son, you are forgiven because there is a time and place for everything — and this is the time and place.” The Rangers and former POWs reached Plateros at 10:00 P.M. and a radio message was sent that all POWs had been rescued. The fact was one POW who had hidden during the attack had been left behind.
At 11:30 P.M. the column left Plateros for American lines with the Japanese in pursuit until they reached the Pampanga River where the pursuit ended. The trip was hard because the carabao became tired and had to be driven, pulled, and helped across streams. The former POWs not in the carts were barefooted and the Rangers also had to drive the POWs to keep them moving. Between the column and the Japanese were Filippino guerrillas protecting the column’s flank. The good news was the American line had moved forward by ten miles. During the day, American planes protected the group which successfully reached American lines on February 1, 1945. As the column of Rangers and former POWs neared Sibul they passed through long lanes of American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas who stood at rigid attention presenting their arms. Ambulances were waiting for the former POWs and they were taken to the 92nd Evacuation Hospital. Once behind American lines, the former POWs were given cigarettes, coffee, and a meal of eggs, meat, grapefruit, biscuits, and jam.
The one POW who had been left behind also was rescued. The next morning, he found the camp empty when he went looking for the other POWs. He went back to his barracks and gathered his possessions together and left the camp through the main gate. In the jungle, he was found by Filipino guerrillas who took him to the American lines.
Of the rescue, Staff Sgt. Charles W. Brown of the Rangers said, “It was a moot question whether we or the prisoners were the happiest. I know that I was happier than I have ever been before to see those prisoners when they knew they were free at last.”
The former POWs received medical treatment before being returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General A. E. Anderson sailed on February 11, 1945, from Tacloban, Leyte, Philippine Islands. The ship had a two-day layover at Hollandia, New Guinea, from February 18th to 20th, before it sailed for the U.S. arriving in San Francisco on March 8, 1945. The ship carried between 272 and 274 of the POWs rescued at Cabanatuan. It is believed a large number of the former POWs had been flown home before the ship arrived. It is known he was promoted to corporal.
What is known about the arrival in San Francisco is that as the ship approached the Golden Gate Bridge, American planes and Navy Blimps flew over to greet the former POWs. The ship followed a tug boat with a siren blaring and a banner flying behind it that read, “Welcome Home.” 20 WACs boarded the ship and handed out messages and mail to the former POWs. The Anderson tied up to the Embarcadeo Pier where many of the men had family members waiting for them. The crowd pushed against the police line attempting to see their relatives. As they left the ship they were given lapel pins which guaranteed them free rides in cabs and to other things. The last two former POWs to leave the ship were on stretchers. All the former POWs boarded trucks or were put in ambulances and taken to Letterman General Hospital. He was next sent to a hospital closer to home and was discharged from the army on December 8, 1945.
Vincent registered for Selective Service on December 14, 1945, and named his uncle, Walter Vincent, as his contact person. He indicated his identifying characteristic was a scar on his right leg the size of a fifty-cent piece that he received as a POW. It is also known he resided in Klamath Falls, Oregon, and was unable to work because of his POW experience.
Willis C. Vincent passed away on February 13, 1975, in Multnomah County, Oregon, and was buried at Willamette National Cemetery, Portland, Oregon, in Section L, Site 4224.