I was 19 when World War II broke out. I turned 20 going into Bataan on my birthday, the 12th of December 1941. I was in the antitank company, 31st Infantry, the only American infantry unit in the Philippines. We had between 1800 and 1900 men in the unit when the war started. The whole 31st regiment was called “Manila's Own." and it was formed there in 1916. They'd seen duty in China and Siberia. They were America’s Foreign Legion. They never served in the United States until long after World War II.
I enlisted on the 28th of February 1940, but they wouldn’t swear us in the next day since it was a leap year. So they swore us in on the first day of March. I wanted to go to the Philippines because it seemed that if any action was going to start, that would be the most logical place. And then of course, all the old soldiers that had been stationed there did tell you how far your money went in the Philippines. You got two pesos for every dollar, and things were very cheap. I took a short discharge in February of '41 and reenlisted for three years so I could be sent there.
We were stationed right in Manila when I first went there, at Santa Lucia barracks in the old walled city, Intermuros it was called. We went over there on the old USAT Republic. We made about 11 knots and it took 22 days. That was the start of the troop buildup.
Every month there was other transports that came in behind us up until a week before the war started. Now, the majority of those probably came in 1941. Nearly all of the air corps units, the 192nd, 194th tank, the ordnance company, chemical companies, like that. We weren't well prepared, it just sounds like we were. For example, they had a new weapon in the infantry units, a 60mm mortar. We had scads of 60mm mortars, but we had no ammunition for them.
In April of ‘41, all the military dependents that lived west of the Mississippi River were ordered home. Then the next month all of the dependents on the east side of the Mississippi were shipped out, and civilian personnel were advised that they’d better go back to the States. When the State Department starts ordering dependents to leave, look out. You're going to see combat. It’s just a question of time.
We weren't too worried about it. We were filled with all this malarkey, the slant-eyed little bastards couldn’t see and they couldn’t fly an airplane. The paper was full of that. We were pretty confident we were going to win that war in about three weeks. Everybody’s full of piss and vinegar.
Eight months later, when the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor, it was Monday, December the 8th, to us in Manila since we were across the dateline. The charge of quarters came into the barracks and said Pearl Harbor has been attacked, and then everybody starts, well, where's Pearl Harbor? Very few people knew enough geography to even know where Pearl Harbor was.
That same day they bombed Aparri, which is the northern end of Luzon Island, and they bombed Iba Field over in Zambales Province, Clark Field, and Camp John Hay Baguio. We could see the aircraft way off in the distance there, and of course, the news was out that they're bombing Clark Field. Our training schedule that morning called for extended order drill, and we had no other orders, so we just followed our training schedule. Then they brought us in around 11:00 or so in the morning, and we were told we were to pack all our personal effects that we wanted shipped home in foot lockers. And of course, they never made it. The foot lockers were stored in a big gymnasium in the Cuartel de Esparia, where the headquarters and 1st Battalion of the 31st were, and they were all looted when the Japanese got in. Never saw any of it again.
My company, about 85 of us, left our barracks and convoyed to Bataan the 12th of December '41, my 20th birthday. That's the only reason I remember the date. We didn't have enough trucks to take all of our equipment, so we commandeered buses from the different bus companies in Manila. I was in one of the rifle squads assigned to provide infantry support for the 37mm guns.
Not a great deal happened once we got to Bataan. We did dig a few defensive positions and establish some lines of defense a little ways in from the beach, but the greater period of the first couple of weeks was taken up playing double-deck pinochle and hunting cigarettes, more than anything. The Japs hadn’t landed yet. They didn’t effect their landing in Lingayen Gulf, I don’t think, until the 22nd of December. So for almost a month you sat there with your thumb in your butt wondering what's going on.
In our first encounter, on the 6th of January, they just kicked our butts with artillery. We had a critique in the afternoon of the 5th, and the company commanders of the whole regiment called their troops out, pointed out the objective. Tomorrow morning when we jump off from here, by nightfall we're going to be on top of that high ground there. That’s our objective.
The Japs come down through Luzon, and this is clear down at the mouth of Bataan, at what’s called Layac Junction, where the road turns west and goes to Olongapo and Subic Bay, and that was our objective over there. Well, the Japs opened up the next morning with this artillery, and by the time that artillery barrage was over, our lines were broken, and that evening after dark we started pulling back.
We never assaulted anything. We were just pinned down all day with artillery.
You learn real quick listening to a round of artillery being fired whether that round’s going to hit in front of you, whether it’s going to go beyond you, or whether it's going to be real close.