Aquila

Pvt. Andrew Joseph Aquila


     Pvt. Andrew J. Aquila was born on May 31, 1918, in what was called "Little Italy" in Cleveland, Ohio.  He was one of the few members of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, who was not from Illinois.

     Andy was drafted into the army on March 31, 1941 and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to train.  Training consisted mostly of drilling.  Very little time was devoted to operating machine guns, tanks and using chemicals.  At Fort Knox, he also went to clerical school and studied company administration.

     In mid-October, 1941, Andy was an orderly with the 753rd Tank Battalion.  There were five clerks in the battalion, and they were told that one of them would be transferred to the 192nd Tank Battalion which was scheduled to go to the Philippine Islands.  Since no one volunteered, their names were placed in a hat.  Andy's name was drawn three separate times, so when he told his family he had to go overseas he said that it was destiny.
    The decision for this move -  which had been made in 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 an Japanese occupied island which was hundred 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.  They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe.  On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  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.   The ship 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 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, 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.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, 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 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
   At the fort, 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 before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents 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.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
   
    In the Philippines, Andy ended up sharing a tent with Sgt. Thomas Savage.  Upon arrival, Andy was assigned to Company B as the company clerk.  This assignment kept him from engagements with the Japanese, but since he was in a battle zone, he experienced bombings and strafing by Japanese planes.
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, where the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River had been destroyed.  The tankers made an end run to get south of river and ran into Japanese resistance, early in the evening, but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.  Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line and was near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th.
    The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River.  The battalion's tanks were on both sides of the on December 31st at the Calumpit Bridge.
    On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6th/7th, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.

    The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.

    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, "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."
    Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
    On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane.  He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.  Three members of the company were killed.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.

    B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd.  On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted 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, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
    The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back.  The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
    It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile.  Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day.  In addition, he had over 6000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred.  At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
    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."

    When Bataan surrendered on April 9, 1942, Andy took part in the death march.  Recalling the march, he said, "The enemy guards showed no mercy. We were all so weak, sick, thirsty.  We came to an artesian well, and anyone who tried to get water was eiither bayoneted or shot.  A young fellow with malaria had asked us to help them walk.  He was crying hysterically for water.  So when we got to the well we sat him on the ground and decided to chance it.  But the guards saw.  Instead of killing us, they walked up and fired at him - point blank.  Then they kicked him to the side."
  As a Prisoner of War,  he was interred first at Camp O'Donnell.  While a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell, Andy worked for three days on the burial detail.  In one case, a POW, believed to be dead, moved his arm as the detail was preparing to bury him.  He was returned to Zero Ward at the camp.  He made it back from Zero Ward, and Andy later saw him carrying a bucket of water.  It is not known whether or not this man survived the war.  He said,
"Maybe 600 Americans were killed on the march, and when we got to San Fernando they loaded us on box cars and sent us to O'Donnell camp in Capas in the Philippines.  Our boys died there at the rate of 50 or 60 a day.  We couldn't bury them fast enough so the bodies rotted, and when we picked them up the flesh stuck to our hands."

    The second camp Andy was held prisoner at was Cabanatuan.  He was assigned to Barracks 12 in the camp.  There he worked on the farm detail.  Andy later went out to Nichols Field on a detail to repair the runways.   According to records kept at the camp he was admitted to the camp hospital on August 30, 1943.  The records do not indicate why he was hospitalized or when he was discharged.

    On July 15, 1944, Andy was one of the POWs who boarded between 25 to 30 trucks for Bilibid Prison.  The POWs left the camp at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid at 2:00 in the morning.  The morning of July 17th, the POWs at 7:00 A.M. the POWs were marched to the port area.  When they arrived, the Japanese attempted to put 1600 POWs in the rear hold of the ship.  When they realized this could not be done, they moved 900 POWs to the forward hold. 
    The ship sailed later that day and dropped anchor off the breakwater of the harbor.  For the first day and a half, the POWs were not fed.  When they were fed, they received rice and vegetables and a canteen cup of water.  They would receive this meal and amount of water twice a day. 
    On July 23rd, the ship moved to a point off of Corregidor.  It remained there overnight and sailed the next morning as part of a convoy.  As the ships sailed to Formosa, the ships were attacked by an American submarine wolf pack.  According to POWs, they heard a bang against the haul of the ship.  They believed it had been hit by a torpedo that failed to detonate.  Other men were awakened when depth charges were dropped.  They also heard the explosions as other ships were hit.  In one case, the explosion was so great that the POWs saw the flames go over the uncovered hatches.  Four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk.

    The POWs were calmed by Father John Curran, O. P., who told them that they could not do anything but pray.  He then began saying the "Our Father" and the screaming subsided.   
    The remaining ships reached Takao, Formosa, the morning of Friday, July 28th.  The ships sailed again that evening for Moji, Japan.  They sailed through a storm and arrived there near midnight the night of August 3rd.
    At 8:00 A.M., the POWs were disembarked and taken to a movie theater.  In the theater they sat in complete darkness.  The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 200 men.  They were marched to the train station and took trains to the POW camps.

    In Japan, Andy was sent to Fukuoka #3-B, there he worked at the Yawata Steel Mills doing manual labor.  The work was to shovel iron ore and rebuild the ovens.  The POWs were sent into the ovens to clean out the debris.  Since the ovens were hot, because the Japanese would not let them cool off, the POWs worked faster on this detail.  Many of the products from the mill helped the Japanese war effort.  If an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel.  Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters.

    Andy received his worst beating on this detail.  A sack of roasted soy beans broke close to where the POWs were working.  Those POWs who saw this started to pick up the beans.  Andy was too busy picking up beans to notice that the guards were coming and that the other prisoners had stopped.  He was kicked so hard he lost all the beans he had collected.  The guard continued to kick Andy until the guard was satisfied that the punishment was sufficient.  When Andy got back to camp, the American doctor could not help him with the pain because all he had was a stethoscope.
    Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages.  Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools.  To meet quotas for workers, the sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it.
    Three days a month, the POWs were allowed to exchange their worn out clothing for new clothing, but a Japanese guard beat POWs attempting to exchange their clothing.  The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beatings which resulted in men developing pneumonia
and dying.
    The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for violating camp rules, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water.  During the winter, they often had water thrown on them.  There were two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time. 
    Another incident involved an American soldier who traded with the Japanese. The war was almost over and Japan was about to surrender.  The soldier traded for roasted beans.  As it turned out, the beans had been tainted with arsenic.  The soldier died the next day.  After going through all he had suffered, the soldier died when freedom was almost his.

    While a POW, Andy witnessed different acts of cruelty.  One involved a POW who had made a bet regarding when the next American bombing raid would take place.  He made a wager that the raid would take place within a certain period of time.  When it did, he won a half-ration of rice.  The man was caught by a guard with this extra half-ration and told the truth of how he had received it.  He was beaten and clubbed in the head which made him bleed.  He returned to the barracks, but he could not stop the bleeding.  The next day he was sent to work.  When he came back from working, he was sicker then he had been before he went.  He died shortly after this.
    Andy believed that there were Japanese guards who had compassion for the POWs.  It was his belief that these guards were afraid of beatings from their superiors so they did not show it very often.

    After the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the POWs were sent back early to the camp from the mill.  They did not return to work for two or three days.  When they did go back, they again returned early.  

    The Yawata Steel Mills were the primary target for the second atomic bomb, but since the sky was extremely overcast, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.  This time, they saw  Japanese workers facing in the direction of radio speakers with their heads bowed.  The Americans thought that the emperor had passed away.  The truth was that the second atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki, and the emperor was announcing Japan's surrender.  An American ensign, who could read and speak Japanese, saw a newspaper with the announcement of the surrender.  He was the first person to inform his fellow POWs that the war was over.  They were then told the same news by a Japanese officer.

     The POWs were allowed to travel anywhere they wanted in Japan after September 2, 1945.  When Andy heard that American troops were in the southern part of the island, he went to find the Americans.  Looking back on this, Andy could not believe how "nuts" he was to do this.

    Andy returned to the United States on October 16, 1945, on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dyckman, APA 13.  When he returned to San Francisco,  he stayed at Letterman Hospital for two days, then was transferred to Birmingham Hospital in Van Nuys, California.  The reason for this was that while he had been a POW, his family had moved to California.  Andy was discharged from military service on March 7, 1946.  and later moved to Oregon.

    Andy Aquila resided in California, where his parents had moved while he was a POW.  Andy married, became a father, and resided in Northridge, California.  He passed away on November 11, 2011, with his family by his side.

    The picture below was taken of Andy while he was a POW in Japan.






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