Pvt. William F. Oldaker was born December 26, 1913, in El Reno, Oklahoma, to Eliza M. and Archie B. Oldaker. He was one of five children and had two sisters and two brothers. He grew up in Estella, a small rural town about five miles from Vinita, Oklahoma. There, he attended the Rock School and completed the sixth grade. He was known as "Bill" to his family and friends. |
On March 27, 1941, Bill was inducted into Federal Service at Fort Still, Oklahoma. Sometime after his induction and trained at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. In the late summer of 1941, he traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana, there he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. Although the maneuvers were taking place there, the 753rd did not take part in them.
After the maneuvers, the army began to recruit soldiers to replace members of the 192nd Tank Battalion who had been released from federal service. It was at this time that Bill joined the 192nd and became a member of B Company as a half-track driver.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and 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. President 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 Colonel 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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. Each tank had been assigned a position to defend. At all times, two crew members remained in the tanks.
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The tankers returned to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.
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. Being a half-track driver, Bill was assigned to a platoon of B Company tanks. His half track commander was Sgt. Jim Bashleben. Together, they experienced several close calls while fighting the 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. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.
After the tanks crossed the river, they went up the other slope on the other side. Bill's half-track was the last vehicle in the column and could not get up the slope. He and Sgt. Bashleben continued to attempt to get up the slope, but the front wheels would not go over the river bank. As the Japanese closed in on their position and the tanks got further away. Sgt. Bud Bardowski noticed that the half-track was missing and turned his tank around. When he found Bill and Sgt. Bashleben, their half-track was still stuck on the riverbank. Sgt. Bardowski threw them a towline and pulled the half-track up the slope with his tank. In all likelihood, he had saved the lives of the two men since the Japanese overran the area.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown. The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
On one occasion, Bill and Sgt. Bashleben were driving down a road when shells began landing around them. One shell landed to the side of their half-track in an area where an American unit was bivouacked. Sixteen men died in the explosion. On a different occasion, Bill witnessed a Japanese shell hit a school bus loaded with Filipino civilians.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and 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.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, 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.
During the withdraw into Bataan, Bill and Sgt. Bashleben were with a platoon of B Company tanks near a river. The platoon picked a grove of trees to hide in for the night. The Japanese must have seen what they were doing, because the next morning a Japanese barrage began. Shells exploded in the treetops and around them. Bill and Sgt. Bashleben jumped out of the half track and laid down on the sloped bank of the river while shells exploded around them and in the river.
When the barrage ended, the two men found that they were soaking wet.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. 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 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.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
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. The number of operational tanks also became more critical with C Company, 194th - which was attached to the 192nd - having only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they 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. When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese. 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. The 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.
On April 9, 1942, Bill became a Prisoner Of War. Being that Sgt. Bashleben had been sent to the front without him, Bill with the other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles. It was from there that Bill began what became known as the death march.
Bill believed that the worse part of the march was the lack of water and food. The sun beating down on the prisoners who were weak and often sick made the situation worse. Bill recalled that many soldiers died because they had dysentery and malaria. Others were bayoneted because they tried to take drinks from the artesian wells along the road. He also witnessed the Japanese soldiers kill Filipino children who gave food and water to the POWs.
Bill recalled that one Filipino boy ran alongside their group and hid in the jungle when the guards got close. The boy gave water to the POWs as they walked. Bill believed the boy was a "guardian angel" sent by God. He believed this because the boy was never caught by the Japanese. The rest of his life, Bill wondered what happened to the boy who had risked his life to show kindness to him and other POWs.
At San Fernando, Bill and the other prisoners boarded boxcars. They were packed in so tight that those who died remained standing. He disembarked at Capas and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Bill was later sent to Cabanatuan when the new camp opened to relieve the conditions at Camp O'Donnell. He remained there until he was went out on a work detail. The only thing known about the detail is that it is referred to in reports as the "AV. BU. Detail."
While on the detail, Bill sprained his ankle and was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid on January 5, 1944, and discharged on January 18th. After returning to the detail, he came down with dengue fever and returned to Bilibid Prison and admitted to the hospital ward on February 8th and discharged on February 13th. On March 2nd, he was admitted again. He was discharged but readmitted on April 18th suffering from malaria and benign Tatiana. He was discharged on April 22nd and sent back to the airfield to work.
Bill was picked for transport to Japan and put into the hold of a Nissyo Maru on July 15th. The ship sailed on July 17, 1944. The POWs were packed into the holds so tight that when someone died, the other prisoners would pass the body above their heads. They then stacked the bodies in the corner until they were lifted from the hold and thrown into the sea.
Bill was afraid to go to sleep out of fear of being attacked by other prisoners. He recalled that there were prisoners so desperate that they drank their own urine. Although he was desperate for water, Bill could never get himself to drink urine.
The convoy his ship was in was composed of six ships. Two of the ships were sunk by American submarines. The Americans had no idea that the ships were carrying POWs. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa. It is not known when the ship arrived, but it remained at Takao until July 27th. The next day, the ship sailed from Formosa for Moji, Japan and arrived there on August 3rd.
Upon reaching Japan, Bill was sent to Narumi Camp in the Osaka area on August 4, 1944. The POWs in the camp were used as slave labor for the Daido Electric Steel Company and manufactured wheels for Nippon Wheel Manufacturing Company. The POWs did manual labor. Those could operate lathes or milling machines were given jobs using those skills.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in barracks that were 25 feet wide by 140 feet long. Each prisoner had a sleeping space of six feet. The POW food varied and sometime was hulled rice, hulled wheat, and hulled koliang.
To get to the plant, the POWs had to ride a train with the Japanese civilians. The civilians would throw their cigarette butts on the floor of the train cars. The Americans who got on the trains first were able to collect the butts.
The common punishment given to the POWs was to be beaten and kicked while standing at attention. Having their clothing stripped from them, and being made to stand at attention for long periods of time. Since a certain number of POWs were needed to work each day, the sick POWs who could stand were forced to work.
It was also at this camp that the POWs witnessed a prisoner put to death for stealing. One night, the man crawled into the camp kitchen to steal food. For whatever reason, the man did not get out. Realizing he would be caught, he attempted to kill himself. The Japanese allowed the man to heal and then made him stand naked in front of the other POWs. The Japanese then proceeded to starve the man to death.
In the little free time that the POWs had, they would sit around and talk about food and the meals they would have when they got home. The prisoners would actually feel as if they had eaten after each of these sessions.
As the war went on, American bombs fell around the camp. The POWs saw craters on both sides of the camp from raids to knock out the train station. As they went to work, the POWs counted the bomb craters.
One night, the bombers destroyed the factory that the POWs worked in. No prisoners were killed because the attack came at night. It was not too long after this that the POWs heard that they were going to be moved to another camp.
One day, the POWs heard that the emperor was going to speak to his people over loudspeakers. Through the interpreter, the POWs learned of the surrender. when he told them "Between
your country and mine we are now friends." The camp was turned over to the POWs and the guards vanished. The guards left behind their weapons so the POWs posted guards to protect themselves against any possible attack. The POWs also marked the camp so that it could be spotted by American planes. The B-29s began dropping fifty gallon barrels of supplies to the former prisoners on September 2, 1945.
The strangest experience for the former prisoners was the fact the Japanese now insisted on bowing to them. It also seemed a little strange to them that the Japanese brought all the food dropped by the B-29s to them without taking anything for themselves. This was strange to the men, because they knew that the Japanese civilians did not have much more to eat than the former POWs.
American troops entered the camp on September 4th. On September 12th, the former POWs received orders to move south. They boarded trains and went to southern Japan. There they boarded the USS Rescue for medical treatment.
Bill and the other men were returned to the Philippines to be fattened up. He sailed for the United States on September 24, 1945, on the U.S.S.
Gosper, arriving at Seattle, Washington, on October 12, 1945. He was treated at Ft. Madigan Hospital in Washington state and returned home to Oklahoma. He was discharged, from the Army, on February 23, 1946..
After the war, Bill married. He and his wife, Pauline, were the parents of two children, Bill and Linda. To support his family, he first worked as an automobile mechanic, but later took correspondence classes and became a electrician.
William F. Oldaker, passed away on August 23, 2001. He was buried at Timpson Chapel Cemetery.