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. The members of the company were sworn into the Regular Army and given physicals on November 25, 1940. Some men inducted in the morning were released by noon the same day. The company’s two tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg on November 28 at 12:30 P.M. arriving at Ft. Knox about four hours later at 4:30 P.M.
The battalion was assigned to a new containment area of the base. When they arrived, their barracks weren’t finished, so the men lived in six men tents with stoves. D Company moved into its barracks in December 1940. The barracks were adjacent to the Roosevelt Ridge Training Area. After arriving, it seemed to rain constantly during December, and it was said the mud around the barracks was two inches deep since it was a new area. The latrines were not finished and the men used latrines dug into the ground. The men also took a six-mile hike in the mud and rain on the 13th. 149 draftees were also assigned to the battalion from the home states of each company but lived away from the battalion with the 69th Armored Regiment. It was during this time that the battalion ran into a problem because none of the tank companies wanted to give up their tanks and become the battalion’s Headquarters Company. The War Department allowed the battalion to form a tank battalion with four tank companies and an HQ Company.
It also seemed to rain constantly during December, and it was said the mud around the barracks was two inches deep. The men also took a six-mile hike in the mud and rain on the 13th. 149 draftees were also assigned to the battalion from the home states of each company but lived away from the battalion with the 69th Armored Regiment. It is known that soldiers went home for Christmas, but it is not known if he was one of them on Saturday, December 21. For those who 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. It is known they had to be back at Ft. Knox by 6:00 A.M. on December 26.
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. Men were picked for the company because they had special training and received promotions because of their rating received higher pay. The men assigned to the HQ company still lived with the D Company since their barracks were unfinished. 50 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.
The company was divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks which every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties. It is known three tanks were assigned to the company which was the largest company in the battalion and divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks that every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties. Men were also sent to specialty schools with training in areas like tank mechanics, radio, automotive mechanics, and small and large arms.
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 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. 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. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. All classes they attended were under the command of the 1st Armored Division. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, 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. It is known Harry attended clerk’s school and became a clerk for the battalion.
Winter finally arrived on January 4th, when the high for the day was 24 degrees and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was also in January that the companies had their first target practice and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty caliber and fifty caliber machine guns as well forty-five caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Division Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired at the same time. At this time, all those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and in combat. Other members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their compliment of clothing.
When the battalion arrived at Ft. Knox, it had two tanks per company for a total of eight tanks. The quartermaster at the base gave the battalion some old beat-up trucks to use. The members of the battalion made frequent trips to the junkyard at the base and salvaged tanks that other tank battalions had discarded as junk. Under a three-pole circus tent, they tore the tanks apart and completely dismantled them. They drew new tank parts from ordnance and reassembled enough tanks that by the time the battalion went on maneuvers in Louisiana it almost had all its tanks. They were able to do this because a large number of the men had been mechanics in civilian life.
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 on April 9. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month.
Many members of the battalion went home for Easter in April. The only men left on the base were those attending schools; in particular, those assigned to radio school. The men who remained behind also had performed all the duties expected of them, such as guard duty. While doing these things, they still started their day at 4:00 A.M. They also washed the tanks in Salt River which was 14 miles from their barracks.
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 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. 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. 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. The battalion finally received all its tanks and the soldiers were told to, “beat the hell out of them.”
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 Lousiana. 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.
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.
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 for this move 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 – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the men 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 Gen. George Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
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, the battalion even fought as 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 – both had been National Guard medium tank battalions – at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th 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 Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived at Hawaii the battalion was held there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started. It is known at least one heavy tank battalion had been scheduled to be sent, but it appears one had not been selected.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. When they returned, the battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. 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 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.
The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan. 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. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
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, 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 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. 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 with 17th Ordnance.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. 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 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.
The 192nd 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.
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.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms, but the khaki uniforms they had been issued were heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat. 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.
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. Wilson recalled, “I took all my picture albums with me, so I could look at the pictures on the weekends.”
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 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’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ernest Miller, the commanding officer of the 194th, Major Ted Wickord, the 192nd’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, the commanding officer of the tank group, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 194th were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the north end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their barracks. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
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.”
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.
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 to fire. The tankers walked down the mountain and waited for orders. 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 that 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 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. It was at this time that D 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, that had not been abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge. The Japanese repaired the tanks and put them into use.
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 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 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 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.
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 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.”
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. 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 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.
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 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 against 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.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company, 192nd, and spoke to the men. According to a member of HQ Company, 194th, 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. 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.
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 not 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 in the line of 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.
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 was 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 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 who 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.
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.”
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 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, 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 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 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.
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.
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 soups made from radishes. Once in a great while, they received fish.
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.
The camp had a British doctor, Major William Stewart, who attempted to keep the POWs alive without medical supplies. Most of the deaths that took place in the camp were the result of men too ill to work being forced to work. What served as a hospital was a room with cracks in its walls that wind and snow blew through in the winter. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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 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 to 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.
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 1st 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.