Pvt. Albert K. Walker was born in Joseph, Oregon, on September 18, 1919, to Jesse D. Walker & Ruby Hazel Millhollen-Walker. He was the third of four sons born to the couple and was known as “Keith” to his family. With his three brothers, he grew up at 1309 East Third Street in Enterprise, Oregon. As a child, he attended Enterprise Grade School and graduated from Enterprise High School in 1937. After high school, he became the manager of a J.C. Penney Store in Enterprise, Oregon.
On March 19, 1941, he was inducted into the U.S. Army. Keith was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he did his basic training. During this time, he trained as a radio operator. To do this, he was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, to attend radio operators school.
He was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, which had been ordered there from Ft. Benning, Georgia. He received a furlough home and married Jean Buchanan on September 5, 1941. He was married only eighteen days when he returned to Camp Polk on September 24.
At the end of September, the 192nd Tank Battalion had taken part in maneuvers and had been sent to the base after them. After arriving, the members of the battalion were informed they were being sent overseas. Since the battalion had originated as National Guard companies, those men 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. It is not known if Keith volunteered, or had his name drawn, but he joined the battalion and was assigned to HQ Company.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and 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.
After he returned to Camp Polk, the 192nd was sent by train west to San Francisco and were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers received inoculations and physicals. Those men found with major health issues were replaced. Other men were held back but scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner which was a sew thrown into their mess kits. Afterward. he went and had his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th was assigned the northern half of the battalion while the 192nd was assigned the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew were to remain with their vehicles. HQ Company remained in the battalion’s bivouac.
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying the American Army Air Corps. The members of HQ took cover since they had no weapons to use against the planes. After the attack, they witnessed the devastation caused by the bombing and strafing.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed. The battalion repeatedly dropped back as it fought the Japanese.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27 and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlac-Cabanatuan Line and were near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28 and 29.
The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River. The battalion’s tanks were on both sides of the on December 31 at the Calumpit Bridge.
On January 1, conflicting orders, about who was in command, were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 and allowing 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 with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at 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 withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
The night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, 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 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 long past their 400-hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took potshots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the treetops. Three members of the company were killed.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. Edward P. 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 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.” He then told them that it was now each man for himself.
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. George was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
HQ Company finally boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit. As they sat and watched, Keith and the other Prisoners of War noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat there watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers. The officer got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off, and the Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Keith’s group of POWs was moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles. In the schoolyard, they found themselves sitting in a field between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed by incoming American shells. The American guns did succeed at knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, he received no water and little food. To keep water in his mouth, Keith employed a trick that he had learned as a boy scout. He placed a pebble in his mouth which caused him to produce saliva which kept his mouth wet. This helped him not to think about how thirsty he was.
Before the company drove to Mariveles, Keith filled one of his socks with raw rice. He ate this uncooked rice on the march. Although it helped keep his hunger under control, chewing the raw rice wore away the crowns of his teeth.
At San Fernando, the POWs were put in a schoolyard that had surrounded with barbwire and turned into a holding pen for the POWs. At some point, the POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station.
At the train station, he was put into a wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. According to Keith, “The boxcars were so crowded, you couldn’t sit down and we had a long way to go.” At Capas, the POWs climbed out of the boxcars and walked the last miles to Camp O’ Donnell, which was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from 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.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi 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.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic 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.
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 ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
Keith recalled, “Conditions there were terrible. There was no place there to sleep or get under cover from the rain or the sun.” To get out of the camp, Keith volunteered to go out on a work detail to Tarlac Provence which left the camp in early June 1942. About 100 POWs went to the Barrio of Carangian, Tarlac Provence. The detail job was to rebuild a bridge that had been destroyed by a massive flood on the Tarlac River.
The POWs were housed in a small house in Carangain which did not have room for 100 men. The Japanese did not issue the POWs blankets and some had to sleep on the floor. One of the few good things about the detail was that the POWs had enough clean drinking water.
The POWs worked side by side with Filipino civilians which was another good thing about the detail since it allowed the Filipinos to smuggle cigarettes, food, and medicines to the POWs. When the Japanese caught a Filipino doing this, the person was beaten.
The Japanese commanding officer on the detail was Capt. Yukesaki who was later tried for war crimes. The POWs were required to work even if they were sick or weak from disease and were beaten with sticks, other objects, and fists, for not working hard enough. Ironically, the POWs felt their treatment on the detail was better than the treatment they received on other details.
Keith remained on this detail until early August 1942, when he sent to Bilibid Prison. It is not known when, but Keith became the orderly for General Weekes. It was at this time that Keith was taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Nagara Maru.
The ship sailed for Formosa on August 12 and arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 14. Albert and the other POWs were disembarked from the ship and boarded onto the Susuya Maru the next day. They sailed for Krenko, Formosa, arriving there on August 17th, where Keith was held at the Karenko POW Camp. His parents learned he was a POW on Formosa on January 20, 1943.
On March 25, 1943, his wife heard a Japanese announcer read a message from him. The message said, “In good health and receiving treatment. Having medical attention. Living in a good climate in a beautiful place. The Japanese authorities are considerate of our care and welfare. Am eagerly awaiting the time that we can be together again. Let the folks know and tell them to write and send latest pictures.”
It should be mentioned that the authenticity of everything said in POW broadcasts was questioned by the U.S. Government. His wife would hear a second radio broadcast from him on May 27, 1944.
In January 1945, Keith and other POWs were moved to Keelung, Formosa, where they boarded onto the Enoshima Maru. The ship sailed on January 25 and arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 30. From there, the POWs were taken by train to Tokyo 23-D. In the camp, Keith was assigned to the kitchen. Since the cooks cooked meals for the Japanese, as well as the POWs, they were able to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Most of the other prisoners were not as lucky and worked in the Kawasaki shipyard.
During Keith’s time in the camp, the air raids became more frequent. On May 22, 250 American B-29’s dropped incendiary bombs on Kawasaki. The bombs landed on all sides of the camp, but not one bomb landed within the camp, even though the air raid lasted for four hours. Keith later said that the POWs welcomed the bombers. On June 30, 1945, Tokyo 23-D was closed and the POWs were sent to Kawasaki #1-B.
During his time in the camp, he was allowed to make another radio broadcast to his family during July 1945. In the broadcast, he said he was fine, that he could not wait to get home, sent his love to his family, and spoke of his brother’s new baby. The last item proved he had received his wife’s letter to him. He also said he wanted to return to his job and could not wait to start building his new home. He also told his family he was in good health and not to worry.
Keith remained in Kawasaki 1-B until the end of the war. On September 4, he wrote a letter to his wife and stated he was getting ready to board a plane for Okinawa. He did say in the letter that he was too excited to write much. He was returned to the Philippines before returning to San Francisco on the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman on October 3, 1945. From there, he was sent to a Veterans Administration Hospital in Spokane, Washington, and later transferred to another hospital in Tacoma, Washington, suffering from beriberi and dysentery.
Keith was discharged from the army on June 1, 1946, and went to Eastern Oregon State College on the GI Bill. He received an associates degree in accounting. He worked several accounting jobs in La Grande, Oregon, before taking a job with the Standard Insurance Company. He remained in this job until he retired. Jean and Keith became the parents of two children.
It should also be mentioned that on January 20, 1953, Keith testified at the court-martial of Sgt. John D. Provoo who was accused of collaborating with the Japanese, Keith stated that he had never heard Provoo say or do anything that was harmful to other Americans.
Albert Keith Walker passed away on August 23, 1999.