1st Lt. Willie Stokes Heard Jr.
| 1st Lt. Willie S. Heard Jr. was born on September 8, 1913, to Willie S. Heard Sr. & Maud Howell-Heard in Quachita, Louisiana. With his three brothers, one of whom was his twin, he grew up at 110 Filhiol Avenue and attended school in West Monroe, Louisiana. He was a member of the ROTC program and graduated from Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge in 1933, with this twin brother, Howell. He was also commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves. After college, he attended law school, passed the bar exam, and worked as a lawyer before being called up to federal service. |
Willie joined the 192nd Tank Battalion after maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941. It is not known if he was assigned to the battalion from the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to provide tanks, and men as replacements, to the battalion. It is also possible that the joined the battalion on Angel Island. Upon joining the battalion, he was assigned to B Company as the company's executive officer.
Traveling west over four different train routes, the 192nd arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried to Fort McDowell on Angel Island. They received their inoculations for duty in the Philippine Islands from the battalion's medical detachment. Men found to have minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some 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.
During the attack, the tankers could do little more than watch since they most of their weapons were of no use against aircraft except the .50 caliber machine guns on their tanks. Some of the half-tracks had .50 caliber machine guns which fired at the planes. For some strange reason, the most of the planes left the tanks alone. Those that did go after the tanks had their bombs land between the tanks. The battalion was credited with shooting down several planes.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and 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.
On January 1st, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
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.
On April 9, 1942, the order crash was given and the tankers circled their tanks. Each tank fired one round into the engine of the tank in front of it. The tankers then opened the gasoline cocks, allowed the compartments to fill with gas before dropping hand grenades into the tanks.
Willie and the other members of his platoon made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It was from this barrio that they started what became known as the "death march".
During the march the Prisoners of War received little water and no food for days. They made their way north to San Fernando, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold eight horses of forty men, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. When the train arrived at Capas, the men who had died fell to the ground as the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, Willie walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Base that the Japanese put it into use as a POW camp. There was one water spigot for 12,000 POWs, and men died while waiting for a drink. Without medicine the death rate in the camp was as high as fifty men a day and reached the point that the Japanese acknowledged they had to do something to lower the death rate.
In May, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan in an attempt to lower the number of deaths. Willie was sent to this camp and remained there until he was selected to go out on a work detail to Davao, Mindanao.
The POWs boarded onto the Interisland Steamer, on July 1, 1942, at Manila and were taken to
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks there were eighteen bays and twelve POWs shared a bay to sleep. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay for the POWs to sleep in at night. Each cage held two POWs.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
During his time at Davao, Willie built runways and worked on a farm. When it became apparent to the Japanese that American forces were approaching the Philippines, they began to transfer the POWs back to Manila. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano. for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25th.
Willie was returned to Cabanatuan until he was selected to shipment of Japan. Only those POWs considered too ill to be sent to Japan would remain in the Philippines.
Willie and other prisoners boarded trucks and taken to the Port Area of Manila. His group was scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru, but since all the POWs had not arrived at the pier and the ship was ready to sail, the POWs from another detachment, which had completely arrived, were boarded in the ship so it could sail.
Willie's detachment of POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru on October 11th. The ship sailed but instead of heading to Japan, it headed south to Palawan Island. In a cove off the island, the ship hid from American planes. During this time, the ship was attacked by at least once by American planes.
The POWs in the hold discovered that the Japanese had removed the lights from the hold, but that they had not turned off the power. Some of the prisoners hot-wired the ventilation system into the lighting system. For several days the POWs had fresh air, until the Japanese discovered what had been done and turned off the power.
The situation in the hold grew worse and the POWs began to develop heat blisters. A few days later, the Japanese realized that unless they did something many of the POWs would die. To solve the problem, the Japanese transferred POWs into the ship's number two hold. During the transfer one POW attempted to escape and was shot.
On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila. The next day, October 21, 1944, the Arisan Maru sailed for Takao, Formosa, as part of a twelve ship convoy. The evening of October 24th, the ship was in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea and POWs were on deck preparing dinner. Suddenly, alarms and sirens were sounded, and the Japanese on deck ran toward the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of it. Moments later the Japanese ran to the stern of the ship as another torpedo missed the ship. In the holds, the POWs cheered.
The ship shook and came to a dead stop in the water. It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships killing some of the POWs. The Japanese guards began to hit the POWs with the butts of their guns to drive them into the holds. The POWs dove into the ship's holds, and the Japanese put the hatch covers on but did not tie them down. A short time later, the Japanese abandoned ship. Before they left, they cut the rope ladders hanging down into the holds.
Since the hatch covers had not been tied down, some of the POWs in the first hold made their way back on deck and reattached and dropped rope ladders to the men in the holds. The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck. On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the script." Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."
As the ship sank lower in the water, many POWs tried to escape, and at some point the ship split in two. Three POWs found a lifeboat that had been abandoned by the Japanese. Since it had no oars, they could not maneuver it.
A Japanese destroyer came near to the boat and looked like it was about to open fire on it. The POWs played dead and at the last second the ship turned away. The men in the boats listened to the cries for help. As time went on, there were fewer cries until there was silence. The next morning two more POWs, who were floating on some wreckage, made it to the boat.
Of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived the its sinking. Eight of these men survived the war. 1st Lt. Willie S. Heard was not one of them.
Since he was lost at sea, 1st Lt. Willie S. Heard Jr.'s name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila. His parents also had a headstone placed in Hasley Cemetery in West Monroe, Louisiana, in his memory.
It should be mentioned that 1st Lt. Willie S. Heard's brother, Lt. (jg) Travis H. Heard, a Naval pilot, also reported Missing in Action on July 4, 1943, near Guadalcanal, and was later declared dead. 1st Lt. Willie Heard's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.