Pvt. P. Z. Eldridge
| Pvt. P.Z.
Eldridge was born on September 17, 1922, in Geneva
County, Alabama, to Leamon E. Eldridge &
Gennis Griffin-Eldridge. With his three
sisters and four brothers he lived on Rural Route
2, Slocomb, Alabama. He worked as a
P.Z. was inducted into the Army on August 6, 1940, at Fort Benning, Georgia. He did his basic training there and was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, but it did not take part in the maneuvers that were going on at the camp.
During the maneuvers the 192nd Tank Battalion performed exceptionally well. After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion remained at Camp Polk. None of the members had any idea why they were being kept there. On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. They were told that this decision had been made by General George Patton. Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. It was at that time that P.Z. Eldridge joined the 192nd as a replacement and was assigned to B Company.
The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco. By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island. They were scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.SA.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy. They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island. On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam. At one point, the ships passed an island at night. While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th. They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King. The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
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.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
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. The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.
On December 31st/January 1st, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew. 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.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
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."
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
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, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
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.
At 6:45 A.M. on April 9th, the tankers heard the order crash. The tankers destroyed their tanks and other equipment and made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Three, anything useful to the Japanese war effort was taken from them. It was from this barrio that the tankers started what they simply called "the march."
The POWs made their way north from Mariveles. The first five miles of the march were uphill. At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. They received little water and little food. When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen. In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom. The surface of the trench was alive with maggots. How long they remained in the bull pen is not known.
The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks. They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall. At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors. They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was one water faucet for the entire camp. Men literally died for a drink. The death rate in the camp began to rise until as many as 55 men dying each day. The burial detail worked non-stop to bury the dead. Often, when they returned the next morning, the wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The Japanese realized they had to do something to lower the death rate at the camp, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. It is not known if P.Z. was sent to the camp when it opened or if he was sent there after he returned from a work detail.
While P.Z. was a prisoner at Cabanatuan, he became ill and entered the camp hospital on June 18, 1942. According to medical records kept by the staff, P. Z. was suffering from dysentery and starvation. The doctors did the best they could but had little to no medicine to treat the sick. The Philippine Red Cross attempted to bring medical supplies to the camp for the POWs, but the Japanese refused to allow the supplies to be given to them.
According to the record kept by the medical staff at the camp, Pvt. P.Z. Eldridge died of dysentery and malaria on Tuesday, July 21, 1942, at Cabanatuan POW Camp at approximately 1:15 P.M. He was nineteen years old. After his death, he was buried in the camp cemetery. His family learned of his death in a telegram on June 5, 1945.
After the war, the Remains Recovery Team identified the remains of Pvt. P.Z. Eldridge. At his family's request, the remains were returned to the United States. He was buried at the Burns Assembly of God Church Cemetery in Slocomb, Alabama. On his headstone, his date of death was given as July 24, 1942.