Pvt. Grover David Whittinghill was born on July 28, 1918, in Mercer County, Kentucky, to Lillian Hendren-Whittinghill and James Whittinghill. With his two brothers, he grew up on Calvary Road in Rural Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and was a high school graduate. After high school, he worked at an unskilled textile job.
In September 1940, the local Kentucky National Guard tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and sought men to fill out its roster. Grover, knowing that since he was going to be drafted, enlisted in the tank company so that he could fulfill his one year of military service.
The tank company traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28, where they joined three other National Tank companies to form the battalion. During Grover’s time at the base, he was transferred to HQ Company when it was formed in early 1941. It is not known what specific training he received.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. HQ company did not actively take part in the maneuvers but made sure the letter companies had the supplies they needed. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of the soldiers had any idea why they were remaining at the base.
On the side of a hill, the battalion was informed that their time in the Army had been extended from one to five years. They also learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, most had figured out that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Men 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from military service, and replacements for the men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
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.
Traveling west over the southern train route, the company traveled through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and up the west coast to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California. They were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. Gen. Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, I’d rather be here than go where you all are going. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
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. After making sure the men had Thanksgiving Dinner, King went to have 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. On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
The morning of December 8, the tank crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. During the night, word had been received about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. HQ Company remained behind in the battalion’s bivouac. Having been in the Philippines for eighteen days, they believed that this was the start of the extended maneuvers. The company commander, Capt Fred Bruni, told them to listen up because what he was saying was the truth. He again told them that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and they were given guns and told to clean them. As they did this, they still believed that they had started maneuvers. It was around noon that this belief was blown away.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as “raindrops” appeared to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The members of HQ Company could do little more than watch the attack and seek shelters since they had few weapons to be used against planes so they took cover in a dry latrine trench.
Of the attack, Grover said, “I had a pork-chop sandwich in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other when they came over the base. They caught everything we had on the ground, except the tanks, which were off to the side, hidden by bushes. The raid lasted for about an hour.”
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the battalion’s bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. 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, there was one air-raid after another air raid. Since they did not have any foxholes, the men used the old latrine pit for cover. Being that it was safer in the trench than in their tents, the other men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. The next morning the decision was made to move the company into a tree-covered area. Without knowing it, he had slept his last night on a cot or bed for the next three and a half years. From this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3 against the defenders and broke through the main line of defense on April 7. The tanks were a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they 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 the evening of April 8 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 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 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 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. He also told them that from this point on, it was each man for himself. 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.” It was at this time that he told them that it was now every man for himself.
Most of the company remained in their bivouac for two days while others attempted to escape to Corregidor. The morning of April 11, a Japanese officer and troops arrived in the bivouac and ordered the soldiers out onto the road that ran past the bivouac. Once there, they were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road and placed their possessions in front of them. The Japanese soldiers who were passing them took whatever they wanted from the Americans. After a half a day, the soldiers drove their trucks to an area just outside of Mariveles.
Grover recalled, “We marched along a newly made road to join another company of the 192nd Tank Battalion, stopping to kill a mule. It was the strongest thing you ever tasted and the toughest to chew! That’s where the Japs showed up.” As they marched a Japanese plane strafed the column. The returned to their bivouac since the Japanese had given orders not to move.
The first contact HQ Company had with the Japanese was when Japanese officers entered their bivouac. They ordered the Americans to go to the road that ran past their encampment. Once on the road, they were made to kneel on both sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat and watched, the POWs 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.
Sitting, watching, and waiting, the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers, 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, while the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Grover’s group of POWs was moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours without food or water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little since they had no place to hide, and some POWs were killed. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bullpen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bullpen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the men to form ranks, and they were marched to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights” because they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Grover the last miles to Camp O’ Donnell.
The POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments. Once this was done, they were marched to the train station in San Fernando and put into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing – since they could not fall to the floor – until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. From Capas, they walked the last miles to Camp O’ Donnell.
The camp 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.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. 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. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of POWs was completed on June 4.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks.
The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
On December 12, 1942, Grover was selected to go out on a work detail to Camp Murphy. With him on the detail was William Peavler, another Kentucky National Guardsman. The POWs built runways with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows at Nielsen Field. From what is known, the POWs were abused by the guards. He remained on the detail until September 1944. A day or two before the detail ended American fighters appeared over the airfield and strafed and bombed it.
The POWs on the detail were taken to the Port Area of Manila. The detachment that Grover was in was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru. The entire detachment had arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail. Another ship, the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail, but all the POWs assigned to it had not arrived at the port. The Japanese decided to swap the POW detachments so the ship could sail. The ship he was supposed to sail on, the Arisan Maru, was sunk by an American submarine on October 24, 1944.
The POWs were boarded onto the ship, on October 1, and it sailed on October 3, the ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn’t quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten-ship convoy, it sailed again on October 4 and stopped at Cabcaben. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The convoy stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong when they received word American planes were in the area. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24.
The POWs were in such bad shape that the Japanese took them ashore, on November 8, and sent them to Inrin Temporary. The camp was specifically opened for them and they only did light work and grew vegetables to supplement their diets. The healthier POWs worked at a sugarcane mill.
On January 13, 1945, 564 POWs were boarded onto a train and taken to Shirakawa, Formosa, and boarded the Melbourne Maru on January 14 and put in a hold with hemp. During the trip, the POWs discovered that under the hemp was bags of sugar and cans of tomatoes which they helped themselves to. The ship sailed for Moji, Japan, arriving on January 23. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolhouse. Before they could enter they had to strip bare because they were infested with lice.
From the schoolhouse, the POWs were taken to Ugiusisawa Train Station and took a narrow cage train to Sendai #3-B. When they left the train, they had to walk the last miles, in deep snow and arrived at the camp on January 28.
At the camp. the POWs were used as slave labor in lead and zinc mining. The mine was operated by the Mitsubishi Mining Company. Grover remained in the camp until he was liberated on September 12, 1945.
Grover recalled, “In September ’44, I went to the Island of Honshu to work in the mines. The Japs had a mine god. Every morning we had to bow to the gentleman so that he would hold up the ceiling for us. When we came out at night, we had to bow to the gentleman again, to thank him. One morning, we were on our way to the mine, the air raid alert blew. Four Navy fighter planes came over the mountain and started diving. We ran into the mine which was filled with Japanese civilians. We didn’t stop to bow to that gentleman that day.”
After liberation, Grover was returned to the Philippines. After receiving medical treatment and being fattened up, he sailed for the United States on September 23, 1945, on the U.S.A.T. General R. L. Howze and arrived at San Francisco on October 16, 1945.
He was taken to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment. After being determined to be healthy, Grover returned home and later lived in Cornishville, Kentucky.
Grover D. Whittinghill passed away at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 7, 1980, and was buried in Section F at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.