Pvt. Willard Rue Yeast was born on June 27, 1915, in Mercer County, Kentucky, to John Yeast and Cordia Gerling-Yeast. With his three sisters and six brothers, he grew up on Calvary Road in Mercer County and worked on the family’s farm. Willard joined the Kentucky National Guard’s tank company, on October 7, 1940, in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. His reason for doing this is the company was about to be federalized as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and Willard knew it was a matter of time before he would be drafted into the Army. The tank company was scheduled to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky on November 28, 1940. His younger brother, Claude, was also a member of the tank company.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd 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 four hours later at 4:30 P.M. After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons.
The First Sergeant, Edwin Rue, – on December 26 – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. Many of the men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay. It was at that time that Willard became a member of 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.
D Company moved into its barracks in December 1940. 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.
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.
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. Afterward, they attended 13-week classes at 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. 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 they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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. All classes lasted 13 weeks and were under the command of the 1st Armored Division.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
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 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. 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.
In the fall of 1941, the battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” Being a member of HQ Company, he worked to keep the tanks running, supplied, and performed administrative duties, but he did not actively participate in the maneuvers.
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks of the 753rd. The decision to send the battalion to the Philippines was made on August 15, 1941.
The decision to send the 192nd overseas – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. It appears that it was at this time that Bland married Bessie Louise Carter before returning to the fort. 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. 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 2, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport, U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. On 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.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
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,” which they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms 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.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South 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 Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
Capt. Fred Bruni called the company together and told them of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Most of the men laughed and thought that this was just the start of the maneuvers they were expecting. He told them to listen up and that this was not a joke. The tank companies were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up near the pilots’ mess hall to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The tankers were eating lunch when they saw 54 planes approaching the airfield from the north. From under the planes, they saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. The members of HQ Company could do nothing but watch since they had no weapons to use against planes. Most took cover in a dried-up latrine near their tents.
All morning long, American planes filled the sky. At noon, every plane landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. recalled looking up and seeing a lot of planes approaching. Having heard the rumor that Clark Field was going to be reinforced the soldiers thought nothing about the planes approaching the airfield. The men got up and began counting the planes. The tankers believed the planes were American until what they described as “raindrops” appear to fall from the planes. When bombs began exploding around them, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
The men dove into a ditch that was near their bivouac and took cover and remained there for the entire attack. When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the company’s bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks. The fact was that anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
For the next four months, HQ Company worked to keep the tank companies operational. They often found themselves at the front lines repairing the tanks in combat situations. On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount 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. 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. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.” 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.
That evening, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The soldiers piled up their guns and ammunition and set the pile on fire. The only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
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.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” 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 no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. 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.
On April 9, 1942, the company became Prisoners of War when Bataan was surrendered. It was at this time they heard a rumor that had they held out three more days, reinforcements would have arrived. Within half an hour of hearing this, every member of the company had a working gun even though all weapons supposedly had been destroyed. The company remained in their encampment for three days before the Japanese arrived. The members of the company had their 45s on them with one bullet in the chamber. If the Japanese were going to kill them, they planned on killing themselves. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for half the day.
When the soldiers were ordered to move, they boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. They were stopped outside the barrio and from there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat and watched, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them. Sitting, watching, and waiting the POWs wondered what the Japanese intended to do. It was at that time that a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the soldiers, got out, and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. While he was driving away, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns. Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles and left sitting in the sun for hours without food or water.
The POWs were ordered to move again and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. At one point, the POWs ran past four Japanese artillery pieces that were firing at Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs, who could do little since they had no place to hide. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. A Japanese officer was on a hill directing the fire from the guns. According to members of the company, it looked like a shell hit him in the belt bucket and he disappeared in the explosion. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bullpen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down. During their time in the bullpen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two of the men were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. At some point, the Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks. They were marched in detachments of 100 men to the train station.
At the train station, the POWs were put into small wooden boxcars known as “forty or eights” because they could hold forty men or eight horses. Since each detachment had 100 men in it, the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing because they could not fall to the floors until the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Grover walked the last miles to Camp O’ Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This was often done so the Japanese could bathe and wanted more water. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who found the piping and dug the trench for the waterline. When the Japanese turned the water off, the POWs had the ability to turn it back on again without the Japanese knowing.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men but those who did sleep in one slept in a barracks it was with as many 80 to 120 men. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The ranking American officer asked the Japanese for medical supplies, additional food, and materials to repair the roofs because they were leaking. This resulted in his being beaten with a broadsword. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. The Japanese Red Cross sent a truck of medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. A second truck was sent by the Red Cross with medical supplies, but it was turned away at the gate of the camp.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, the bodies of 80 dead POWs laid under the hospital awaiting burial.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
At this time, his parents received two letters from the War Department. The first arrived in May.
“Dear Mrs. C. Yeast:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Willard R. Yeast, 20,523,503, 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”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of POWs was completed on June 4.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and it 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. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Another detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and known as Maniquis Airfield. The Japanese had the POWs build runways and revetments. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. Returning from details the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The men were also put into ten men groups known as “blood brothers” if one man escaped the other ten would be killed. The Japanese logic was these men should have been able to stop the man. The men in the groups lived together in the same barracks, slept together, and went out on work details together. The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Since the POWs were underfed, many became ill and died of malnutrition.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On 26 June 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place where POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Most of the POWs who died there died because their bodies were too malnourished to fight the diseases they had. It is known from medical records kept at the camp, that Willard was hospitalized on August 21, 1942. The records do not indicate what his illness was or when he was discharged.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter from the War Department. 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, Private Willard R. Yeast 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 August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
Fr. Bruttenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean up of the camp on November 14 and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot attempting to escape on November 16. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming is he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22. On November 23, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads. The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings.
Willard went out on a work detail to Lipa, Batangas, on December 12, 1942, to build runways at Camp Murphy. At the base. the POWs were used to collect scrap metal and lived in the barracks of the 45th Infantry Division, Philippine Scouts. Since there was limited room, the men slept shoulder to shoulder on sawale floor mats and in ten men mosquito nets issued by the Japanese. The POWs washed their clothes in buckets. The meals for the POWs were cooked in four halves of 50-gallon oil barrows. They remained there until they were done cleaning up junk that had been left from the fighting.
The next place the POWs worked was at Nielsen Field. The work started on January 29, 1943, and for the first six weeks, the POWs marched 8 kilometers from Ft. McKinley to the airfield. They were later moved to Camp Nielsen where they lived in Nipa huts that were 150 feet long by 20 feet wide which had been built for them and were taken to the airfield by truck. There, the POWs worked at constructing a northeast to the southwest runway and building revetments.
At first, tents were provided for protection against the sun and rain, but many were stolen by the Filipinos and the rest deteriorated until they were useless. There was plenty of water for drinking and adequate latrines were provided. The POWs were divided into two groups. One group worked for an hour while the other rested. This was later reduced to two 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. Later, the number of breaks was increased to three 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon.
The POWs worked from 8:00 A.M. to noon and from 1:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. The POWs were divided into two groups. While one group was working for an hour, the other group rested. The work was hard and called for the POWs to remove dirt and rock to the area where the runway was being built. Wheelbarrows were used at first, which turned out to be ineffective and resulted in many POWs being physically unable to work. The POWs received one day off a week. Small mining cars were brought in, and the POWs filled the cars with dirt and rocks before they were pushed by five men down a track from 200 feet to 500 feet long. When they reached the area where the material was wanted, they emptied the car.
On March 5, 1943, his name appeared on a list released by the War Department of men known to be Japanese Prisoners of War. His family had learned he was a POW weeks earlier.
REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE WILLARD R YEAST IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.
Within days of receiving the first message, his wife received the following letter:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Willard R. Yeast, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau”
Apparently, he was returned to Cabanatuan due to illness, since medical records show he was again hospitalized on March 23, 1943, but no illness or date of discharge was recorded.
On August 16, 1943, Willard was sent to Palawan as a replacement for another POW who could no longer work who had been sent to Bilibid Prison. The work detail was to build an airfield with picks and shovels. In September, one POW was accidentally killed by a landing Japanese dive bomber. The Japanese did not allow the POWs to give the man an adequate burial. One afternoon during muster, one POW was missing and the Japanese believed he had escaped. Ten POWs were thrown into a dungeon and beaten. It turned out the man had gotten lost coming back to the camp. After he was back, the POWs were released and he was thrown into the dungeon and beaten. It was at this time that the Japanese imposed the Blood Brother rule. If a POW escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed.
In July 1944, about half the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan since most of the work on the airfield was done. On October 3, seven POWs were punished by the Japanese. They were beaten, clubbed, and hit with swords, and had judo used on them before they were suspended above the ground and beaten again. According to Sgt. Rufus W. Smith who was in the original POW detachment sent to the island, the camp commander and guards were changed three times while they were on the island. With each change, the treatment of the POWs got worse. The first camp commander gave the POWs one day off a week and let them play baseball and basketball. There were beatings under the first and second commanders, but they were not as frequent. The third commander forgot about days off and beatings of POWs hung by their thumbs or toes was common. Of this, he said, “I never heard of a prisoner going before the Jap MPs for any reason without being beaten. I will never know how some of the men lived through them.”
On October 19, 1944, the POWs saw their first American planes in over two years when seventeen B-24s raided the airfield. The planes strafed and sank three inter-island boats, sank three sea-planes that were anchored, and then destroyed some of the planes at the airfield. Sgt. Rufus W. Smith recalled, “After that, the Japs let us fix some air raid shelters in the compound yard. They only wanted us to fix them with only one entrance, but we kept insisting they let us leave both ends open — but only wide enough for one man at a time.”
The planes returned on October 28 and strafed and bombed the airfield again. The Japanese air force squadron that was based at the airfield was moved out at that time, and the POWs were ordered to fill in craters on the runways from the bombings. Although the Japanese should have returned the POWs to Manila, no orders came to remove them from the island. After the second air raid, the POWs were ordered to dig three air raid trenches. The trenches were five feet deep and four feet wide. Each trench could hold 50 men and, at first, had one entrance. The officers had a smaller trench. The Japanese seemed to believe that the POWs were the cause of the air raids so the treatment given to them got worse.
It was December 11, and an American convoy was spotted approaching Palawan, and the Japanese believed this was an invasion force heading to the island. According to Smith, “The Japs starting running madly through the camp going on beach defense. We picked up from some of them that an American convoy was nearby.” The fact was the convoy was heading to the Island of Mindoro just south of Luzon.
On December 13, two Japanese officers told the POWs that they were going to work early the next day. The POWs were unaware that the Japanese command at the airfield had received this message on the evening of December 13. “At the time of the enemy landing, if the prisoners of war are harboring an enemy feeling, dispose of them at the appropriate time.”
On December 14, the POWs knew something was going on. After working that morning they returned to the camp at noon. During lunch, there were two air raid warnings and the POWs went into the trenches. As they entered into the trenches, they noticed that extra guards had been placed around the compound. Around 2:00 P.M., another air raid warning was given. Since they had been through two false alarms that day, the POWs did not go into the trenches until forced to do so by the Japanese. Once the POWs were in the trenches, the Japanese armed their guns.
Of this, Smith stated, “They brought us in from work at noon, something that had never happened before. About 12:40 p.m. am air raid and we went to our shelters.
“Presently a small group of Jap guards accompanied by two or three officers entered the compound yard. They told us to stay in our shelters and not to look out.”
One of the survivors, at the post-war trial in 1948, described what happened.
“No sooner were the last men ‘safely’ hidden from the dangers of an American air raid than two companies of Japanese soldiers armed with buckets of gasoline, torches, rifles, machine guns, fixed bayonets and hand grenades entered the compound and preceded to carry into effect the plan for the annihilation of every single POWs”
The Japanese approached the first trench, threw lit torches into it and one or two buckets of gasoline. which set the POWs on fire. Those who ran from the shelter were shot. Those who begged to be shot in the head were shot or bayoneted in the stomach. The Japanese laughed at the POWs as they killed them. The guards also fired into the other trenches and threw hand grenades into them.
Sgt. Douglas W. Bogue who was in a trench said, “I looked out and screaming heathens were pouring gasoline into A Company’s shelter and tossing torches inside. When the yanks in flames came scrambling out, they mowed them down (with machine guns).
Smith was able to see what was going on and stated, “I saw the Japs throw gasoline in each end of the biggest shelter and toss torches in after it. They did the same thing immediately after at two other shelters. Men screamed. Men moaned, Men broke from the shelters, their clothes, faces, and hands afire. Japs shot them down. Laughing. Japs jabbed them in their guts with bayonets.
“In our shelter, they didn’t believe me at first when I saw and quickly told what was going on. Two others looked out. We went out through our hole.”
He also said, “The ones that managed to get out of the fire and on their feet, well, they were shot, bayoneted, knocked down where they couldn’t do any damage and left there to suffer until they died.”
The POWs who escaped were hunted down. Men who attempted to swim to safety were shot in the water by Japanese soldiers in boats. Those who hid in the crevices in the cliffs were killed when the Japanese dynamited them. Seven POWs were behind a huge rock. A passing patrol boat saw a leg sticking out from behind it and opened fire and hit the man. After he had been hit, the man came out from behind the rock and was machine-gunned to death saving the lives of the other six men. Believing they had killed the only man there, the patrol boat left the area. The POWs who did survive manage to make the swim to another island at night. On the island, they were protected by Filipinos until rescued by American forces.
When American forces landed on Palawan Island, on February 28, 1945, they found personal items in the POW compound. The graves of the murdered POWs were exhumed between March 15 and 23. In all, the remains of 123 were found. Many of the skulls had bullet holes in them.
Willard’s family did not receive the official word of his death until September 11, 1945. At that time, they received this communique or a similar one.
“Mr. and Mrs. John Yeast
Rural Route 3
“It is with deep regret that I am writing to confirm the recent telegram informing you of the death of your son, Private Willard R. Yeast 20,523,503, infantry, who was previously reported a prisoner of war.
“Pvt. Willard R. Yeast was in the brutal massacre of 150 members of the U.S. army, navy, and marine corps in a gigantic gasoline bonfire on December 14, 1944, at Puerto Princess prison camp, Palawan, in the Philippine Islands.
“This group of prisoners was attacked without warning by their Japanese guards who attempted to massacre the prisoners to the last man. Ten prisoners succeeded in escaping and these were the only survivors. It had now been officially established by reports received by the war department that all the remaining prisoners perished as a result of this ruthless attack.
“Edward F. Witsell, acting adjutant general of the army“
After the war, at the request of the families, some of the remains of men who could be identified were returned to the families and buried at the cemeteries of their choice. The remains of the remaining POWs – including Pvt. Willard R. Yeast – were reburied at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint Louis, Missouri, on February 14, 1952, in Section 85, Site 14 – 66.