Pvt. Harley Woodrow Coulter
| Pvt. Harley
Woodrow Coulter was the son of Mack and Ora
Coulter. He was born on December 23, 1919,
in Dover, Tennessee, and had five sisters and two
brothers. Harley attended Dover Schools
until the age of sixteen, when he left school and
moved from Dover to Columbus, Georgia.
On April 3, 1939, Harley enlisted in the U. S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. There he was assigned to D Company, 66th Infantry, Light Tanks. While training at Ft. Benning, Harley qualified as a truck driver and a tank driver. He was later assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.
In the late summer of 1941, Harley with the 753rd was sent to Camp Polk in Louisiana. Although at the camp, the 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers. It was after these maneuvers at Camp Polk, that Harley volunteered to join the 192nd Tank Battalion which was preparing for duty overseas. After he volunteered he was assigned to B Company.
Harley and the other members of B Company loaded
their tanks and other equipment onto a train and
traveled west to California. Arriving in
San Francisco, the members of B Company spent a
couple of days on Angel Island awaiting the
arrival of the other companies of the 192nd.
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.
Over the next several months,
the battalion fought battle after battle with
tanks that were not designed for jungle
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
Harley did the march with other members of the 192nd. It would take them five days to complete the march. One of the men Harley marched with was Walter Tucker. Like the other prisoners, Harley went without food or water for days. This resulted in men falling out and being killed by the Japanese.
Near the end of the march, Walter Tucker had an attack of malaria. Harley's and Walter's friends knowing that if Walter fell out he would be executed, carried Walter to San Fernando. There, they were boarded onto a train and shipped to Capas. Disembarking the boxcar, the POWs walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Life in Camp O'Donnell was so bad that men died by the dozens. To get out of the camp, Harley and Walter Tucker volunteered to go out on the work detail recover destroyed vehicles as scrap metal for the Japanese.
The POWs would tie the vehicles together with ropes. Then each man would drive a vehicle as they were towed to San Fernando. From there they were taken to Manila.
When the detail ended, Harley and the other men
were sent to Cabanatuan. Medical records,
from the camp, indicate that Harley was
hospitalized on March 26, 1943. The
records do not show the cause of his
hospitalization or when he was discharged.
On December 7th, the Japanese gave orders to the medical staff at Bilibid to make a list of POWs healthy enough to survive a trip to Japan. Harley's name was on the list.
On December 12, 1944, roll call was taken and
the names of the men selected for transport to
Japan were called. At 4:00 a.m. the
morning of December 13th, Harley and the other
POWs were awakened and lined up for roll
call. As it turned out, the roll call did
not start until 7:30 and ended at 9:00.
At the pier, the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of them fell asleep as they waited to board the ship. Those had fallen asleep were awakened at about 5:00 PM and boarded onto the ship. The ship's name was the Oryoku Maru.
The ship left Manila as part of the MATA-37 convoy bound for Takao, Formosa at 3:30 A.M. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish and water. The morning of December 14th, mess was being given to the prisoners when the sound of the ships anti-aircraft guns being fired was heard. The POWs thought the gun crews were practicing since they had not heard planes. When they did hear planes, the change in the sound of the planes' engines told them that they had begun their dives at the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs.
In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying. Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
During the attack, the ship bounced in the
water from the explosions. The POWs in the
holds lived through several attacks from
American planes before sunset. Overall,
six bombs hit the ship. The ship steamed closer
The morning of December 15th, U.S. Navy planes
resumed the attack. Again, the attacks
came in waves. A wave consisted of 30 to
50 planes and lasted from twenty minutes to a
half hour. When the planes broke off the
attack, there was a 30 minute lull until the
next attack started.
and the other POWs, went over the side and swam
to shore near Olongapo Naval Station, Subic Bay,
Luzon. As they swam, the Japanese shot at
them with machine guns so that they stayed
together. Seeing the large number of men
in the water, four American planes flew low over
the water. To prevent the planes from
strafing them, the POWs began waving wildly at
them. One plane veered off and
returned. This time he flew even lower
over the POWs. The pilot dipped his wings
as a sign of recognition. The attack soon
After the POWs had abandoned ship, the planes returned and sunk the Oryoku Maru. The POWs saw that the ship stern was blown away. The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court. When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese
officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking
American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart,
that those too badly wounded to continue the
trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen
men were selected and loaded onto a truck.
They were taken into the mountains and never
On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando. Pampanga. The doors were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and, later, on a beach at San Fernando, La Union. During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of these men died.
The remaining prisoners were returned to Manila where they boarded another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru on December 27th. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The POWs on the ship were taken to Formosa. There, the ship was tied to a buoy next another Japanese ship. On January 9, 1945, the POWs had just eaten their first meal when American planes from the U. S. S. Hornet attacked the Enoura Maru. Being next to another ship made it a desirable target. During the attack, a bomb exploded in the hold George was being held in. The explosion killed and wounded 438 of prisoners. The dead were several days. Finally, the Japanese organized a burial detail and cremated the remains of 200 POWs. The rest were later buried on a beach at Takao.
The Japanese also sent medics into the holds. The medics bandaged the wounds of those who were not too seriously wounded. On January 14th, the surviving prisoners, including Harley, were transferred to a third ship, the Brazil Maru. The ship sailed on next day and made the final leg of the voyage safely. On Monday, January 29, 1945, the ship arrived at Moji, Japan. It was during the arrival that Pvt. Harley W. Coulter died in the hold of the ship.
The exact cause of Harley's death is unknown. He may have been wounded during aerial attack at Formosa and died of his wounds or, as reported in the battalion report after the war, he may have died of colitis.
It is not known if Harley's body was thrown overboard or if his remains were taken ashore and cremated. After the war, his family had a memorial dedicated to Harley at Ft. Mitchell National Cemetery in Phoenix City, Alabama. He is also memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii.