S/Sgt. Maurice E. Wilson was born on March 2, 1912, to Lester Wilson and Lula Britton-Wilson in Mercer County, Kentucky. He was raised, with his brother and six sisters, on the family farm and in Harrodsburg, where he attended school. He was known as “Jack” to his family and friends. Jack joined the Kentucky National Guard’s tank company, with his friend Marcus Lawson, which did not have an armory, so it met in a large hall above a store at the corner of Main and Poplar Streets.
After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard GHQ tank battalions. The GHQ battalions were still considered infantry and created a “buffer” between the armor forces and infantry to protect the regular army tank battalions from being used by the infantry when they wanted tanks. This would allow the Armor Force to develop into a real fighting force. To do this the Kentucky National Guard was informed on September 1, 1940, that the tank company was being called to federal service for one year.
It was reported that men who did not want to go to Fort Knox, Kentucky, or men who were married with dependents were excused from federal service. At 7:00 A.M. on November 25, the remaining members of the company met in the large hall on the second floor of the D. L. Moore building at 122 South Main Street and were sworn into federal service. The company used the hall above the store for its drills since its armory was in the process of being built. The remaining members of the company were sworn into the Regular Army, given physicals, and some men inducted in the morning were released by noon the same day. A flatcar for the company’s two tanks and a passenger car for some of the soldiers were added to a train for transport to Ft. Knox. Most of the company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28 that left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving at Ft. Knox at 4:30 P.M.
Their first impression of the base was that it was a mud hole because it had rained continuously for days, and it continued to rain after they arrived. Someone at the base told them that at the fort, “You either wade to your ankles in dust, or mud to your knees.” When the entire battalion arrived at the base, it had a total of eight tanks. The biggest task at Ft. Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get used to the other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fistfights. As time passed, the fights ended and the members of the battalion became friends.
Unpainted temporary barracks were their first housing since their barracks were not finished. Each man had a steel cot to sleep on. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 25 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom. Twenty-five men lived on each floor of the barracks. When men were assigned to the company from selective service, they lived in tents next to the company’s two barracks. The tents were on concrete slabs and had screened wooden walls and doors with canvas roofs. Each tent had a stove in the center for heat and electricity for lighting. The officers had their own barracks with private rooms for each officer. In addition, each officer had an orderly to clean his room.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the captain’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons and the cleaning of weapons.
For Christmas, members of the company received 4½ day furloughs home while other men remained at Ft. Knox. The base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.
Since none of the letter companies wanted to give up their tanks, the War Department allowed the battalion to form an HQ Company and keep its four tank companies. 1st Sgt. Arch Rue was given the job of picking men to be transferred to the soon-to-be-formed HQ Company. The men assigned to the HQ company still lived with the D Company since their barracks were unfinished.
The biggest problem facing the unit was the lack of equipment. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. The companies received new trucks and motorcycles in the Spring of 1941. The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies. One hundred and forty-nine men from Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes lasted 13 weeks and consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterward, they attended the various schools to which they had been assigned on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, and radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. On January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police.
During their free time, the soldiers went to the movies, went to dances held every two weeks, went to the post library, went skating every weekend, and played as members of the company’s basketball. In the spring and summer, the company had a volleyball team and a baseball team. They also had a bowling league and competed against the other companies of the battalion and against companies from other units. Men also participated in boxing. Men who lived within 50 miles of the fort were allowed to go home on weekends. The soldiers who remained on base went to Louisville 35 miles to the north of the base or Elizabethtown 16 miles to the south of the base. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
The battalion also had its first target practice at the 1st Cavalry firing range on the 7th. The men fired both the 30-caliber and 50-caliber machine guns. The next day, they fired the 45 automatic pistols. On the 9th almost every member of the company had a chance to drive a tank. On Friday, they went to the gas chamber which was filled with tear gas. After they entered with their gas masks on, they could not leave until they removed their masks. As soon as the gas hit them, tears flowed. All men who held the rank of Private First Class were ordered to report for motorcycle classes at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in the garrison and combat. Ten other men from the company were attending “trade” classes or radio school from 8 to 11:30 each morning.
The men also received their government-issued toiletries at this time and were issued a razor, savings and toothbrushes, and three towels. They also received another pair of pants for their uniforms which meant they had their full complement of clothing. The battalion also now eating from plates with silverware instead of from their mess kits.
The entire battalion on January 28, took part in a one-day problem that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 A.M. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. It was also at this time that each company had a tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their own tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
As the weather got warmer in April the topic became when would they receive their summer uniforms. The uniforms they had were a heavy material and would be uncomfortable in the Kentucky heat. During the month, the company was back in its tanks. It was on the 24th that the battalions tanks were proceeding in a column and one of the motorcyclists, from C Company, was showing off his riding skills and zoomed past the tanks. When he cut back into the column, he hit a rut of gravel and fell off the motorcycle about four feet in front of a tank. The tank crew was able to stop the tank before it ran over him.
At the beginning of June that a detachment of men went to Detroit, Michigan, to pick up 39 trucks for the battalion. The exact date they left is not known, but they spent the night at Patterson Field, Ohio, from there they went north through Springfield, Urbana, Bellefontaine, and Bowling Green, Ohio, before entering Michigan. It took the tankers two days to get to Detroit. While they were there, a large number of them crossed the Detroit River, visited Windsor, Canada, and mailed postcards home. It is known they were back at Ft. Knox before June 6.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14, while A and B Companies and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.
The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
At the end of June, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 A.M. until 8:30 A.M. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 A.M. One of the complaints they had about the firing range was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from it that their clothes felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, to be overhauled but were returned before the battalion went to Louisiana.
Another detachment of men was sent to Detroit in July. It is not known why they were sent there, but it is known they were there for 7 days. It was during this time the men began hearing the rumor that part of the battalion was being sent to South Carolina while part of the battalion would be going to Texas. They also heard that the battalion would be taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas and that after the maneuvers, the battalion was heading to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for six weeks before they were sent to the Philippines.
During August the battalion was involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie.
At some point, Jack became a tank commander. One day while training, he was coaching men on firing the machine. All day long, Jack was in the tank and sighting with his right eye. When he came out of his tank, his eye was inflamed and red. He ended up being sent to the base hospital where he spent the next 89 days. While he was hospitalized, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. When it became apparent that the army was going to release him from federal service, he fought to be reunited with his company. His wish was granted, and he rejoined the company, at Camp Polk, as the battalion prepared for overseas duty.
On October 3, Major Bacon Moore was ordered to Ft. Knox and received the battalion’s orders. He was relieved of command of the 192nd because of his age and Major Ted Wickord became the commanding officer of the battalion. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned that it had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, 29 years old or older, or whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn out of a hat to join the 192nd.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. The battalion’s new tanks – which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division – were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. Many of the tanks were only new to the battalion and were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour maintenance. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys– which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the National Guard members of the battalion believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army to go overseas. It is true that Patton praised the battalion for its performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that he personally selected them for duty 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. During the maneuvers, they even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held there. It is known one of the two medium tank battalions had received orders for the Philippines and was on standby, but the orders were canceled on December 10 because the war with Japan had started. Some documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. The battalion’s new tanks which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men sent to the island as replacements.
The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.” Once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made. Before they left Hawaii, an attempt was made to secure two 37-millimeter guns and ammunition so that the guns could be set up on the ship’s deck and the tank crews could learn how to load them and fire them, but they were unable to acquire the guns.
On Thursday, November 6, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville, and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships crossed the International Dateline.
During this part of the voyage, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. Each day 500 men reported to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and then painted the boats. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – beans or stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, they had beans left over from the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worse part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions. It is not known if D Company lived in tents or if they moved into barracks since the 194th’s barracks were already finished and the company was scheduled to be transferred to the battalion.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion and 17th Ordnance joined on the 29th. Both units arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, promoted to brigadier general, and Maj. Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. Wilson recalled, “I took all my picture albums with me, so I could look at the pictures on the weekends.”
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. Miller left the tent and informed the officers of the 194th about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank crews were ordered to their tanks which were joined by the battalion’s half-tracks.
The tank crews were brought up to full strength at the airfield and the battalion’s half-tracks joined them there. Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up, near the pilots’ mess hall – in a straight line to be refueled. While the planes were being serviced, the pilots went to lunch. The members of the tank crews received their lunches from the battalion’s food trucks.
At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the company lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers.
He recalled the attack on the airfield. “Half the boys were under a tree waiting for a chow truck to come out. The other half, two men stayed with the tank while the other two went to eat. We’ll the chow-truck didn’t come so we was underneath this tree waiting for the truck to come out. So then after the bombing raid, why the Japanese fighters came down and they commenced to shooting bullets around tracers into the airplanes which was parked on the way. Just 30 minutes before the Japanese came, the American planes was in the air. Then at that time the 55 Japanese planes got there well all the men had landed and gone to the mess hall or down to the headquarters building for a meeting which they caught practically all of them on the ground except maybe one was in the air.”
He also said, ” We thought the planes were ours. They were white and we figured they belonged to the Navy. The bombers came at first. Then the fighters dropping bullets like hail. There wasn’t a man among us who wasn’t scared.” During the attack, he took cover under a command car. Recalling this, he said, ” I thought we were being gassed so I put on my gas mask, then I took it off because I couldn’t see.”
One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was suspended indefinitely. The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Bataan and the men remained on the daily roster for the battalion and was listed on the unit citations for the 192nd, but they fought with the 194th.
The 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard beaches. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks. That night the tanks left Clark Field. Ralph and other tankers were sent to Maracot. The tanks were set up along the bank of a river. During this time, little happened, but the tankers were strafed a few times by Japanese planes.
The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climbed to the top. On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, and guns but were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf. They had received orders not to fire. The tankers walked down the mountain and waited. They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack which failed.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24, it made an end run to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug northeast of San Quintin. Christmas Day, the tankers spent the night in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed. The tanks formed a new defensive line known as the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Weeden Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that the company lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Capt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, which had not been abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. The tank commander received the Silver Star for saving the tank.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and used smoke as cover. But since they were wearing white t-shirts they were easy to see in the dark. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
On the night of January 6, the 194th crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek, covered by the 192nd, and entered Bataan. The 194th then covered the 192nd as it crossed the bridge making the 192nd the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. It was at this time, the food rations were cut in half and the tank companies were reduced to three tanks in each platoon. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never attacked allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by the 17th Ordnance Company. It was also at this time that the tank companies were reduced to nine tanks with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. While attempting to do this, two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but were recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance. The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline against Japanese landings from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
Of fighting on Bataan, he said, “There was no rear-echelon on Bataan. Bullets were always flying over your head no matter where you were. I came down with dengue fever, but there was no medicine for it. We ate anything we could find, we killed all of the horses we could find and ate them. Killed all the mules we could find.”
The soldiers on Bataan were starving and began to eat whatever they could find. Carabao was tough, but if it was cooked long enough it could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. 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 hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
During the Battle of Bataan, Jack was reassigned from a tank commander to a mess sergeant. The reason this was done was his commanding officer feared that if he got something in his good eye, he would be unable to command his tank. As a mess sergeant, Jack attempted to feed the men of D Company with anything he could find. He remembered serving horse meat from the 26th U.S. Calvary to the tankers. “I was a cook in battalion after they had taken me out of the tank because of an eye injury. They’d bring in a horse’s leg with the hide still on it. I’d have to peel the hide off, and the only way I could cook it was to run it through a meat grinder.”
He also stated, “Of course, they didn’t ration food. They gave us maybe four or five cans of salmon to feed 50 or 60 men out of. You couldn’t give a man a very big spoonful of salmon. They gave us four or five loaves of bread. They were cooked round like a cake. You had to slice it very thin to let a man have a piece of bread. And we killed all the American horses over there, and the Filipinos had, and we took the meat and ground it up on food choppers and tried to cook it, flavor it up something like that, some way or another to use it. It was so tough you couldn’t get a fork in it. That is if you didn’t grind it up.
“We killed carabaos and skinned those and usually got the Filipinos to help us and we give them the boney pieces and we took what the best meat part and we fed the boys the best way we could. Everybody was hungry and everybody was trying to get what they could but the cooks and the mess sergeants really had a time because they was trying to let every man have the same amount of food.”
Jack’s mother received a letter from him on March 1. He said, “I’m thinking about the good dinner I had at home last year. When I get back home I won’t want to travel around anymore as I have seen all I want to see. Momma, I hope you have been well this winter.”
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor. Wainwright rejected the suggestion.
For most of March, the situation on Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. The newspapers in the United States reported both sides were strengthening their lines in expectation of an all-out attack. The reports stated that the Japanese did not have air support because their planes had been shifted south in the assault on Java. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over on their way to Java.
During this time, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew’s fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack 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 Company 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.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. 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.”
Jack and the other members of D Company were informed of the surrender. Jack, Joe Anness, Marcus Lawson, Morgan French, John Sadler, and other members of D Company decided to attempt to reach Corregidor. The soldiers found an old boat and worked on the motor. They were able to get the motor running and rode it to Corregidor. The soldiers’ trip was not an easy one. They were bombed by planes, shelled by artillery, and barely avoided mines.
Once there, the soldiers were not allowed to leave. “Actually, we were going to try to get to Australia. We found a boat, but we stopped at Corregidor to let some of the men off, and they wouldn’t let us leave. They told us that Japanese ships at the entrance of bay would blow us out of the water.”
Once on Corregidor, Jack, Joe Anness, Morgan French, and John Sadler volunteered to go to Ft. Drum and were assigned to the 59th Coast Artillery. One reason they did this was that they believed that duty at the fort was better than sitting in Malinta Tunnel while the island was shelled. This was an island that had been turned into a fortress. As long as it remained in American hands, the Japanese could not use Manila Bay. He was given new clothes and the best meals that he had had in months after arriving. On the concrete battleship, Joe was assigned to load the big gun. The Japanese bombed the fort but most of the bombs exploded in the water. After the attacks, the soldiers dove into the water and collected the dead fish for dinner.
On May 6, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Gen. Jonathan Wainwright ordered all forces to surrender. An American officer swam to the fort from Corregidor and told the men that at twelve noon that they must have a white flag flying on Fort Drum. He recalled that he and the other men ate as much food as possible since they did not know when their next meal would come. The soldiers were standing on the deck of the fort at attention when the Japanese arrived on the island. After they arrived, the Japanese set up machine guns, Joe and the other men believed that they were going to be shot. The Japanese lined the prisoners up and took what they wanted from the men and beat them.
He said. “They (the Japanese) led us all out and lined us up in the hot sun in front of a machine gun. I was sure they were going to pull the trigger at any minute. But, instead, they searched us, took everything we had and the took us away.”
The POWs were herded together on a beach where they remained for a few weeks without adequate food or water, and no shade. To get out of the sun, men volunteered to bury the dead. Doing this allowed them to pick fruit from the trees. Of this, he said, “Sometimes they would just leave you standing in the sun without shirts or hats until you’d get blisters as big as chicken eggs.”
The POWs were put on small boats and taken to an area near Manila. There, they were held in a sugarcane warehouse. Around 4:00 in the afternoon, they were lined up and put on a work detail. The POWs passed rocks all night, all day and night again. As they worked, the Japanese guarding them drank from buckets of water but for three days and nights made no effort to give any water to the POWs. When a new Japanese officer took over, he treated the POWs better. The next day, after the Japanese arrived, the men were taken to the Wawa Dam over the Marikina River. The POWs worked in the area of the dam repairing roads, moving large rocks, and repairing a dock. They did this work until the work ended on May 18, and they were taken to a point near Manila by barge and swam to shore. Onshore, they formed detachments and marched to Bilibid Prison.
Recalling the march to Manila, he said, “On our way to the Bilibd Prison hospital in Manila, Filipino people had put tubs of water with 10 cups on each tub along the road. Sometimes they would throw us some cigarettes, but when the Jap guards saw them, they were beaten very badly.”
After the surrender of Corregidor, his parents received a letter from the War Department in May 1942.
“Dear Mrs. L. Wilson:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Staff Sergeant Maurice E. Wilson, 20,523,425, 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”
From the 26th to the 29th, the POWs were formed into 2000 men detachments and marched to the train station. There, they were put into boxcars and rode trains to the barrio of Cabanatuan. Wilson recalled the train ride. “Once, they moved us by train, in these little boxcars, and there would be maybe 100 guys in every car. No room to sit or stretch, and it was so hot inside that you thought you would burn up.”
Once at the barrio of Cabanatuan, they formed 100 men detachments and were told that if they fell they would be shot. They marched from the barrio past Cabanatuan #1 where the POWs captured on Bataan would be held. They passed Cabanatuan #2, which was closed because of a lack of water, to Cabanatuan #3 which had been opened for them and was six miles from Camp 1.
After all the POWs arrived, there was a total of 6,000 POWs in the camp. When they arrived the camp was not finished and there was no fence on the north side of the camp. Their first meal in the camp was an onion soup that had no onion or rice in it. After that, meals on a regular basis consisted of squash, mongo beans, tops of native sweet potatoes for soup, and rice. They also received Carabo meat once a week.
On the 30th, four POWs escaped and were captured down the road from the camp. The fours had tried to talk Jack into going with them. They were captured down the road from the camp and brought back. Near the main gate, they were tied to posts. Of the event, he said, “I had a touch of malaria and dengue fever, and said no. Next day, the Japanese caught the boys and brought them back. They tied them up, took their heats off, and strapped a two-by-four behind their knees so they had to squat, and it cut into their legs. They left the boys there for two or three days. Then they shot them. some of the prisoners wouldn’t stay to watch, but I said, ‘I’m staying; I could have been one of them.”
Before they were executed, the four men dug their own graves and each man was given a cigarette and blindfold. Three of the men took blindfolds but one man refused one and spat at the Japanese before they shot him. After they were shot, the men fell backward into the graves. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot him with his pistol. He next shot each man in his grave to make sure they were dead.
It is known that since the POWs were in better shape than the men captured on Bataan they began being sent out on details within days of arriving at the camp. It is not known if Joe left the camp and if he did when he left the camp. It is known that on June 21 the Japanese initiated the “Blood Brother” rule. The POWs were placed in groups of ten men. The men worked together, lived in the same barracks, and slept together. If one man of the group escaped from the camp, the other nine would be executed. To improve morale among the POWs, the officers organized activities for the men. Softball teams, basketball teams, volleyball teams, and ping-pong teams were formed.
Immediately after they arrived in the camp the Japanese began sending POWs out on work details. One reason was the POWs were in better shape compared to the men who had surrendered on Bataan. During this time, the camp population slowly shrunk. It was on July 9 that Jack was one of 150 POWs selected to go to Nichols Field to build runways. He had attempted to hide so that he would not be selected but was spotted by a guard as he went behind a building. The guard called him and made him get in the formation. The POWs were sent to Camp 1. There, he was briefly reunited with other men from D Company. The next day, the POWs boarded trucks and rode to Las Pinas.
The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms. 30 POWs were assigned to a room. Jack recalled the mosquitos were so bad at night that they got very little sleep. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. 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 on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills. When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them 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 six A.M., the POWs had reveille and “bongo” (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. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again, and when they arrived back at the school, the POWs were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there were only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice, and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, Lt. Moto, was called the “White Angel” because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was the commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn’t four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
The detail was under the control of the Japanese Navy and the welfare of the POWs was of no concern to them. The only concern they had was getting the runway built. If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and select men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury. Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work. 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.
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.” 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, and the White Angel told them that this was going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as “the Wolf.” He was a civilian who 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. Men on this detail often paid other prisoners a pack of cigarettes to break their arms or to injure them in some way so they did not have to work.
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.
Jack stated, “I saw several men die and saw several men killed. The Japanese would shoot them. Sometimes they would want to go to the toilet and they wouldn’t let them so they’d step off the runway to keep from using we was working at. Soon they would step off to pull their pants down to go to the toilet why the Japanese would pull up a gun and shoot him.”
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.
In Jack’s case, he got dust in his eye. The Japanese continued to make him work until the Japanese took him to Bilibid Prison on March 18, 1943. The doctors could do little for him since they had no medicine to treat his eye with. On July 1, 1943, Jack was sent to Cabanatuan #1.
During his time there he worked on the camp farm. “They had a farm there that they were raising corn on and they had some of these Braham bulls (carabao) on it with big humps on the back. And they had maybe fifteen acres of ground broke up ready to put corn in it. They didn’t have no tractors no plows. All they had was picks and shovels. They was then 150 men out there and line them up in a straight line and tell you to go digging. They had big ant hills on there looks like hay shocks back here, maybe three or four feet tall and I would say three or feet through. We have to dig those down and those big red ants would come out of there about ¾” long. And if they caught any two bus standing talking, they would tie them and put them right in them aunt hills where those ants was crawling and they would really suck the blood out of you.”
Jack was sent to the port area where he loaded and unload ships. At some point while on the detail, Jack fell and was paralyzed. He was sent to Bilibid where he was put in the Naval Hospital, but it is not known how long he was there.
In September 1943, Jack was selected for shipment to Japan and sent to Bilibid. From there, he was taken to Pier 7 and boarded the Taga Maru which sailed for Japan on September 20, 1943. The ship arrived at Formosa on the 23rd. While it was there, it came under attack by American planes. During the attack, the Japanese closed the hold’s cover trapping the POWs below deck. The ship sailed for Japan, on October 26, arriving on October 5, 1943, at Moji. On the ship with Jack were Kenneth Hourigan, Lyle Harlow, Richard Leake, and Charles Reed. After the POWs unloaded, they rode a train for seven or eight hours to Niigata, Japan. There, Jack was taken to Niigata 5-B which was also known as Tokyo 5-B.
What is known is that the camp was under the command of Tomoki Nakamura, who had been educated in the United States. The camp was established in September 1943 by three companies, Hiigata Tekko NgT), Nippon Tsu-un (NpT), and Niigata Kairiku Unso (NKU). The companies had asked the Japanese government for POWs to use as laborers. The first POWs in the camp were British, Canadians, Dutch, and some Americans from the Philippines. The camp moved several times and by the time Curly arrived, it was located in its final location
The first camp commander denied Red Cross packages to the POWs, and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs. He also sold the Red Cross boxes on the Black Market. It was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call since many of the POWs did not have shoes. The food from the packages was given to the guards, his family, and friends. On one occasion, he had the American POW cooks cook the Red Cross food for him to eat. When flour and macaroni were sent to the camp, from the main camp, Nakamura gave the food to the guards to eat.
The second camp commander treated the POWs better and tried to improve the conditions in the camp. Under him, a kitchen, bathing facilities, and larger sickrooms were added to the camp. The POWs also received heaters for their barracks. He also had barracks that collapsed under heavy show rebuilt and made sure that the POWs had one rest day a week, It was stated he increased food rations for the POWs. POWs who were beaten were beaten in the camp were beaten without his knowledge. The third camp commander, Tetsutaro Kato, was the exact opposite of his predecessor. Both the POWs and the guards were afraid of him.
The first 300 POWs in the camp were Dutch from Java, British POWs, and Canadians from Hong Kong, with the Americans, from the Philippines, arriving on October 7.
The entire camp was a two-story building with a courtyard and a smaller building. In the courtyard was a hand pump which was their only water supply, and the pump was located next to the POWs’ washroom. Thirty POWs were assigned to each room in the larger building and they barely had enough space to lie down. The building appears to have been unheated during the winter and no stoves for heat were provided. The camp kitchen was a small building next to the main building that had a stove. The building was owned by Niigata Kairiku Unso but the POWs were moved, on December 25, 1943, when another 350 POWs arrived at the camp. The new wooden barracks, that were built for the POWs, were of flimsy construction and soon became infested with lice, fleas, and rats, which also spread rapidly among the POWs. Each man had a 3-foot by 6-foot area to sleep in on a straw mat.
One building collapsed during a storm on January 1, 1944, and killed eight POWs. The other POWs had to dig them out. The Japanese decided the camp was a mistake and moved the POWs to another location. The major improvement was that the barracks had stoves for heat and the POWs could bring coal from the docks to keep the fires going. The kitchen that cooked the POWs’ food was two miles from where the POWs were housed, so the POWs seldom had a hot meal. There was also no water supply and water had to be brought to the camp in drums.
The camp had a British doctor, Major William Stewart, who attempted to keep the POWs alive without medical supplies. What served as a hospital was a room with cracks in its walls that wind and snow blew through in the winter. A Japanese medical corporal at the camp sent POWs too sick to work which resulted in some of them dying. When the POWs reported for sick call, they were beaten, hit, punched, and kicked in the face or stomach. Most of the deaths that took place in the camp were the result of men being too ill to work and being forced to work. From September 3, 1943, to December 31, a guard jumped on or kicked the POWs suffering from beriberi and malnutrition. He ordered them to stand at attention and to bow. He was also known for appropriating the Red Cross packages sent to the camp for the POWs.Any POW who did get put on sick call had his food rations cut in half. The Japanese medical personnel sent sick and weak POWs to work. They also misappropriated medical supplies sent by the Red Cross for use by the Japanese personnel in the camp. In October 1943, he had those POWs suffering from dysentery brought to him. When they arrived, he poked them in their stomachs with a stick. He also hit them on the head and body with his hands, fists, and a stick to get them to go to work since so many POWs were needed each day.
Punishment in the camp was extreme with POWs being beaten senseless and revived with cold water so they could be beaten again. Usually, the beatings took place because the POW had been caught stealing food while unloading a ship. After the POW was beaten to the Japanese satisfaction, he was thrown into the guardhouse. When he was released he went back to work. POWs caught stealing food a second time were put in the “extreme guardhouse,” after being severely beaten, without a blanket (regardless of season) without shoes, socks, or overcoat. The man’s food ration was also caught in half. When he was released the beatings continued.
When two POWs were caught stealing Red Cross packages, when Kato was camp commander, they were beaten repeatedly over several days. They then were laid on the ground and tied to stakes. They remained staked out until they died from exposure or starvation. Another POW had to sit on a hot plate and tufts of cotton soaked in gasoline were placed on his head. When the current was turned on the cotton caught on fire. His crime was stealing some beans from the camp kitchen.
It was also at this time that the Japanese announced the POWs would be receiving Red Cross Boxes, but there was a catch, The POWs had to allow Red Cross Boxes to be given to the camp staff. The POWs already knew that the Japanese were misappropriating the boxes because the guards were seen eating Red Cross sugar and cocoa. The Japanese also used canned food from the boxes as rewards so the POWs would work harder.
Since it was a two-mile walk to the docks, the POWs were most likely awakened sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. Their breakfast was usually a potato with what they called “greens.” They also had a soup once in a while that was made from seaweed which tasted pretty good. They also received grasshoppers cooked in soybean sauce once in a while. Their workday started in the dark at 5:00. At noon they received lunch which was a cold potato or soup made from radishes. Once in a great while, they received fish. The food rations for the POWs were determined by the jobs they performed. The POWs working in the factories received 600 grams a day, while those assigned to the docks received 700 grams. A typical meal consisted of rice or soybeans and the tops of daikon which were Japanese radishes. The POWs would receive a watery soup once in a while. Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles that damaged the POWs’ teeth. To supplement their meals, the POWs would smuggle food into the camp. The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks.
It was raining the first day the POWs went to work on the docks and they shivered since their clothing was meant for the tropics. Many of the POWs were assigned to work the docks unloading coal for the Rinko Coal Company and it is known they also unloaded foodstuffs. The Japanese supervisor had the nickname “Whiskers” and was brutal to the POWs. Under Whiskers were former Japanese soldiers who had been wounded in China and were no longer able to fight. These “Honchos” actually treated the POWs fairly well because they viewed them as combat veterans like themselves. Those Honchos who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often would scream at the POWs and beat men up for no reason. To get them to work, the POWs were punched and hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
The POWs would push coal cars – that could hold half of a ton of coal – along rails on a trestle that was 30 feet above the ground. At different places, they dumped it on the dock. Since there weren’t enough cars, many POWs had to carry the coal on their shoulders in baskets attached to poles. At one point, a guard took the boots away from the POWs during the winter and made them work barefooted on the trestle in cold and wet weather. He also knocked the POWs down and kicked them. The result was that their feet were bruised and cut up from the coal. The guards would often help the POWs push the coal cars and it wasn’t unusual for the guards who mistreated the POWs to have accidents. Sometimes while pushing the cars the handle was pushed and the coal fell onto the guards. The guards also accidentally slipped and fell off the trestle, but so did some of the POWs at times. When the POWs got back to their barracks after working, they were wet and could not dry themselves. They also were covered in coal dust and the only way for them to clean themselves was at the hand pump in the courtyard.
On one occasion while Jack was attempting to go to a washroom, another POW did not see him and pushed a cart into him. Jack, who was too weak to get out of the way, fell off the trestle to the ground thirty-five feet below and was paralyzed for three months. He did not know it, but he had shattered a vertebra in his back. Two other POWs made a stretcher and carried Jack three miles back to their POW camp.
The hospital in the camp had no beds, so the POWs lay on the ground, and the British doctor had no medicine to treat the sick. Jack recalled that men around him died every night. Each morning the Japanese would enter the hospital and kick him to get up. He finally had another POW tie his belt to a rafter.
Recalling this, he said, “Every night someone would die in sickbay. I figured that they’d let me die also if I didn’t do something. I looped a web belt around a rafter and lifted myself every day to get the use of my legs back. I finally got so that I could walk, but I walked like I was drunk.” He did this every day for two or three weeks. One day, he told the other POWs he was going back to his barracks to sleep.
When he was back in his barracks he worked as a janitor around the camp and cleaned the grounds of the camp. To do this, he had to make a broom from long slivers of wood. The Japanese guards gave him a nickname, “They called me Paddle Feet.” They called him this because they thought he walked like a duck.
It was a few days before Christmas when the POWs were moved to a new camp that was worse than the old one. The kitchen that cooked the POWs’ food was two miles from where the POWs were housed, so the POWs seldom had a hot meal. There was also no water supply and water had to be brought to the camp in drums. It was also at this time that the Japanese announced the POWs would be receiving Red Cross Boxes, but there was a catch, The POWs had to allow Red Cross Boxes to be given to the camp staff. The POWs already knew that the Japanese were misappropriating the boxes because the guards were seen eating Red Cross sugar and cocoa. The Japanese also used canned food from the boxes as rewards so the POWs would work harder.
Jack described the barrack as a large barn with large doors at both ends. The POWs slept along both walls, and each man’s sleeping space was three feet wide. The POWs had cut a fifty-gallon drum in half – down its length – to heat the barracks, but the Japanese would not provide coal. The POWs resorted to stealing coal by hiding it in their coats. If the Japanese did a search and a POW was caught with coal, he was severely beaten.
Of the camp in general he said, “It looked like a place they had brought us where we could die off and nobody would notice. The snow was 8 feet deep, drifting as high as 30 feet in some places. we never would have made it through the winter if the war hadn’t ended.”
Food in Japan consisted of rice with scraps from the Japanese mess. When fish heads were served to the POWs, Jack recalled that the eyes rolled around in his mouth like kernels of corn. When grasshoppers were part of the meal, the burrs on the grasshopper’s legs scratched his throat. As to show how bad the food situation was – during his time in the camp – Jack found a kitten. One day he noticed it was missing. When he found the kitten, two sailors were eating it as a meal. The only time the POWs ever got a good meal was when the Red Cross representative came to the camp. The next day, the meals were back to normal.
When a POW died in the camp, the Americans would nail together a coffin and put the body in it. The box was put on a cart. The POWs would take the cart and pile wood on it. The cart was taken to Niigata and the body was cremated at the Sumida Crematory. The ashes were put into a small box, with the man’s POW number on it, and returned to the camp and given to the camp commandant.
On why he survived he said, “I just kept telling myself that if my mother and father weren’t worrying, I could tough through it out. I always felt that I could hold out; I just didn’t know how long it would take.”
One of the new barracks collapsed from the weight of snow on its roof on January 1 killing eight POWs. The other POWs had to dig them out. The Japanese decided the camp was a mistake and moved the POWs to another location. The major improvement was that the barracks had stoves for heat and the POWs could bring coal from the docks to keep the fires going.
It was also in January that the POWs saw their first B-29s fly over the camp. From this time on, the planes came over in greater numbers each day. The POWs could see where the American planes had dropped mines into the water to sink Japanese ships. The POWs also knew, by the increasing frequency of the beatings they received, that the Japanese were losing the war. The Japanese also placed an anti-aircraft gun on a hill not too far from the camp. The POWs knew that if American planes attempted to bomb it, bombs would fall on the camp which explained why it was placed there.
Finally, the POWs learned that the war was over. Jack recalled that one day the guards were gone. The POWs painted Niigata #5-B on the roof of a building. American planes came over and, after seeing the name, returned to their carrier. Soon, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped food, clothing, shoes, and medicine. The POWs learned that American troops were in Tokyo, so 300 of the POWs walked to the train station and rode a train there.
Finally, the POWs learned that the war was over when they found that the guards were gone. The POWs painted Niigata #5-B on the roof of a building. American planes came over and, after seeing the name, returned to their carrier. Soon, B-29s appeared over the camp and dropped food, clothing, shoes, and medicine. The POWs learned that American troops were in Tokyo, so two POWs went there. They returned not having found the Americans. Another group of 300 POWs walked to the train station and rode a train there. This time they made contact with the troops. Not long after this, Capt. Harold Stassen U.S.N., who had been governor of Minnesota flew to a local airport and rode a bus to the camp. In the door of the bus, he said, “This is no place for Americans. There will be a train here tomorrow to transport you to Tokyo.” The train arrived the next day, September 25, and the POWs rode it to Tokyo.
Once there, American nurses had them take off their new clothes and throw them away. The former POWs were sprayed with D.D.T. to kill the lice, took showers, and were issued new clothes, while the really sick men were taken to a hospital ship. From Tokyo, the former POWs were flown to Okinawa and than went to Manila. Ironically, the planes landed on a runway that Jack helped to build when he was a POW at Nichols Field.
He said of his POW experience, “I was a prisoner for three years and five months, and I never saw a biscut, an egg, or a glass of milk. I weighed 200 pounds when I was captured, and I was down to 105 when I got out.”
The POWs remained at the airfield for ten days. During that time, Americans came to the camp and asked the former POWs if they could give them the names of any Japanese who had beaten, abused, or killed POWs. Jack stated he had never bothered to learn the guards’ real names and could only give nicknames. Other men were able to give names and some of the former guards received prison sentences of 10 to 25 years, while others were sentenced to death.
Jack was sent to Manila and boarded the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman. It took the ship eight to ten days to reach the United States on October 3, 1945. When he returned to the United States, it was almost four years, to the day, that he had sailed for the Philippines. Jack was put on a train, with beds on both sides of each of the cars. Each car also had several nurses and a kitchen. He rode the train to Saint Louis, Missouri, where, he was put on another train for Louisville, Kentucky, and Nichols General Hospital. He was a patient there for eight or nine months before being sent to Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. There, he was hospitalized for almost a year. It was at this time that he was promoted to technical sergeant.
On February 5, 1947, Jack was sent to Fort Custer, Michigan, and released from federal service with 100% disability. When he got home, he tried farming but found the work too difficult because of his physical condition. He said, “I’m the only one of the Harrodsburg Boys that made a hobby of working with the Veterans Administration doing service work.”
Jack married, Rosalyn Adkinson, and lived in Harrodsburg for the rest of their lives. One of the lasting effects of his time as a POW was that he would have to wear leg braces and a back brace for the rest of his life. Another effect of his time in the Army was Jack lost the vision in his eye. He worked as a cashier at the Farmers National Bank and became the tank company’s official historian.
In 1984, he recalled, “There were 66 of us who went, and 29 died, either in prison camps or on prison ships. Thirty-seven of us came back, and 14 have died since then. There are 23 of us still alive.”
The photo at the top of the page was taken while Jack was a POW in Japan. Maurice E. Wilson passed away on May 2, 1985, and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.