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 was headquartered in a building in Harrodsburg. He was called to federal duty when the tank company was federalized on November 25, 1940, and was now a member of D Company, 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion. The company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28th and its tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving about four hours later at 4:30 P.M.
D Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The barracks were adjacent to the Roosevelt Ridge Training Area. The men assigned to the Hq Company still lived with the D Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. 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 50 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. The company shared its mess hall with A Company until that company’s mess hall was finished.
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 consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. 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.
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 which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanic classes, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
On June 14th and 16th, 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 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. 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. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
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 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. 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.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude – noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
According to Jack, the tankers spent days putting cosmoline on anything that would rust. After everything was loaded onto flat cars, the battalion left Camp Polk on October 18. It arrived in San Francisco, California, and the soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those found to have minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, 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, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – which was a stew thrown onto their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
D Company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion so when they arrived at the fort, they moved into their nearly finished barracks. Harry was reassigned to C Company of the 194th.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon. Wilson recalled that they spent most of their time learning about their tanks and guns.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The tankers followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the China Sea. 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 portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company. B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines. The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
On December 1, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half of the airfield. Two members of each tank crew remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. Headquarters Company remained in the battalion’s bivouac.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. Jack recalled that the bullets from the Zeros sounded like hail hitting the hauls of the tanks.
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.”
Recalling the event, he 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.”
A few days later, D Company was sent out to a dam to protect it from saboteurs. Jack recalled that once Japanese troops landed, his company withdrew through Manila toward Bataan. He recalled that as the tanks went through Manila, the city already showed damage from being bombed. It was during this withdraw, that a platoon of D Company would have to abandon their tanks because they had no way to cross a river.
The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The company was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climber to the top. On the mountain, they found troops, ammunition, 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 24/25, 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 in 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 held 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 D Company, 192nd, 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, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
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. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
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 at Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. But since they were wearing white t-shirts they were east 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.
The night of January 6/7 the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan. The 192nd was 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. At this time, the food rations were cut in half. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. 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 launched an attack 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 17th Ordnance. 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 the 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.
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.
For most of March, the situation 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 the 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 but did not bomb them. 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 21st, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
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.
He recalled, “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.”
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by planes and artillery. 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. The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew. On April 8, the 192nd was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
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. 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.
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 and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) 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 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 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.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. 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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
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 Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, 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 inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances 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.
When the order came for the Filipino and American forces on Bataan to surrender, Jack and fifteen other members of the company attempted to escape to Australia. They found a boat and got it running. As they approached Corregidor, an American officer pulled out his service revolver and ordered the boat to land on the island. 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.”
A few days later, Jack volunteered to go to Ft. Drum. One reason for doing this was that the Corregidor was under constant shelling. 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. At Ft. Drum, Jack became a member of a gun crew. He also was given new clothes and the best meals that he had had in months.
He remained there until General Wainwright ordered all forces to surrender on May 6. 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 sent to Bilibid Prison. He remained there until May 26, when he and the other POWs were marched to the train station. From there, they rode the train to Calumpit, disembarked, marched to Cabanatuan #3 arriving on May 25.
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”
Cabanatuan 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’s surrender was 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 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 work detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. Maurice was on this detail and stated that the wood they collected was used to cook the POWs food.
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 was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building.
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.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Staff Sergeant Maurice E. Wilson had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
On July 9, 1942, Jack went out on a work detail to Pasay School. 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 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 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 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, a 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 selected 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 what 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 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 onto 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.
In Japan, Jack worked as a stevedore. The POWs would shovel coal into a net. After it was pulled from the hold, other POWs would shovel it onto a conveyor belt. The coal would then be dumped into rail cars. If no cars were there, the POWs would dump it onto the ground before having to carry the coal in two baskets that were attached to a pole that they carried on their shoulders.
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.
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.
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 had 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 into Niigata and the body was cremated. 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.
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.
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 the POWs 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. 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, they took showers, and were issued new clothes. The real sick men were taken to a hospital ship. From Tokyo, the former POWs were flown to Manila. Ironically, the planes landed on a runway that Jack helped to build when he was a POW at Nichols Field.
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 his life. 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.
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.