Pfc. Joseph H. Twa was born in Biggar, Saskatchewan, Canada, on May 26, 1919, and was the son of Wilbur Twa & Mabel Sirr-Twa. It is known that he had one sister and three brothers and that his family moved to Eagle Creek, Indiana. He left high school after one year and was working as a farmhand in Porter County, Indiana, in 1940.
On March 13, 1941, Joseph was inducted into the U. S. Army at Fort Harrison, Indiana, and sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, on March 26th. He was one of fourteen men from Porter County, Indiana, inducted into the Army for what was suppose to be one year of military service.
Joe took his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he trained as gunner. He was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in June 1941. The medium tank battalion had been sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, earlier in the month. On September 1st, maneuvers began but the 753rd did not take part in them.
Joe and the other members of the 753rd were informed that the 192nd Tank Battalion was looking for soldiers to fill vacancies in its roster. These vacancies had been created when the older and married members of the battalion were released from military service. Joe volunteered, or had his name drawn, to replace a National Guardsman and was assigned to B Company on October 14, 1941.
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 by the battalion's medical detachment. Those with minor health issues were held back on the island 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.
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 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 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 as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. Two crew members of each tank were ordered to remain with each tank at all times. 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 were ordered back to their tanks around Clark Field.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed 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.
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.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10th and 13th.
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 and 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.
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.
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.
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 the area.
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.
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.
On April 9, 1942 at Mariveles Point, Joe became a Prisoner Of War. With B Company, he made his way to Mariveles. It was from this barrio at the southern tip of Bataan that Joseph took part in the death march.
The first camp Joe was held at as a prisoner was Camp O'Donnell. As many as fifty men died a day in the camp from disease. To get out of the camp, he volunteered to go out on the bridge building detail. The detail consisted of several hundred POWs.
While working on the bridge near Calumpit, he and the other POWs were housed in a school. Their daily meal consisted of rice and fish. The POWs often were sick with beriberi, malaria, and dysentery. He and the other POWs were there from April until July 1st. They were then sent to rebuild a bridge near the barrio of Cabanatuan. Four POWs died on the trip there and where buried along the road between Apalit and San Fernando.
During the trip a POW escaped and the Japanese commanding officer selected the five largest POWs for punishment. At a schoolyard at Capalangan the five POWs were shot in front of the local Filipinos. They were buried in a field west of the school near a bean shaped pond.
When the detail ended, he was sent to the POW camp near Cabanatuan. After arriving at the camp, he was admitted to the camp hospital on July 3rd suffering from dysentery. Other records indicate, he was still in the hospital on July 20th. After being released from the hospital, Joe worked on the burial detail at the camp and was sent to Batanges on another detail. His family received the news that he was a POW on June 3, 1943, and a POW postcard on August 16, 1943 which was written while he was at Batanges.
Joseph remained at the camp until he was selected to go out on a work detail. In July 1943, he was sent to the Las Pinas Work Detail as a replacement. It was there that he built runways at Camp Murphy and worked on a farm. The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms. Thirty POWs were assigned to a room. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheel barrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942, and the work was easy until the extension reached the hills. When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheel barrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and "bongo," or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and half to the airfield.
After arriving at the airfield, they were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the work day, the POWs were counted again. When they arrived back at the school, they were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M. He would remain on this detail for almost seventeen months.
It was while he was a POW on the detail that his parents received a post card from him.
Just a few lines to let you know that I am in the same condition as when I left home. Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Take care of yourself. Write if you can. Say hello to everybody. Received telegram O.K. Hope to be there with you soon. Love to all."
When Joe arrived at Las Pinas, the detail had a new commander. The second commanding officer of the detail was known as "the Wolf." He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man's arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man's head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
While on the detail, Joseph was admitted to the Naval Hospital at Bilibid Prison on July 5, 1943, suffering from urinary calculus, which is a stone in the urinary system. Records show he remained at the hospital until August 3, 1943, when he was sent to Cabanatuan. It appears he was returned to the Las Pinas Detail from the camp.
Joseph developed beriberi while on the detail and was admitted to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison on September 23, 1944. Records from the ward show he was discharged on September 30th and returned to the work detail. During his time as a POW, his parents received only three post cards from him. The last one was received on June 23, 1945.
At some point, Joseph was returned to Cabanatuan. He remained there for the remainder of his time as a POW in the Philippines. Medical records from the camp show that he was admitted to the camp hospital on September 23, 1944, and discharged on October 1, 1944, and was on the POW draft to be sent to Manila.
He was later sent to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. The POW detachment he was in was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru. After arriving at the dock, the Japanese switched his detachment with another POW detachment. The reason they did this was that the Hokusen Maru was ready to sail, but the entire detachment that was scheduled to sail on it had not arrived.
The POWs boarded the ship on October 1st and the ship was moved to the harbor's breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen
Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
The POWs remained in the ship's hold until November 8th, when they disembarked. The Japanese had determined that they were not healthy enough to be sent to Japan. On Formosa, Joe was held at Toroku Camp. The POWs worked various jobs, but none of these jobs was considered hard labor. Some of the healthier POWs worked in the processing of sugarcane. Joe remained in this camp until January 20, 1945 when many of the POWs were boarded onto the Enoshima Maru. The ship sailed on January 25th and arrived at Moji, Japan on January 30th. His parents learned he was a POW in Japan on June 25, 1945.
In Japan, Joe was held at POW camp in the Sendai area, but which camp is not known at this time. When the camp was closed because of fire damage, he was sent to Maibara
Camp #10-B sometime around May 15, 1945. He remained there until the end of the war when the camp was liberated on September 11th. His parents learned he had been liberated on September 22nd.
On October 19th, he telegram-ed his parents, from Hawaii, that he was on his way home. Joe returned home and was discharged, from the army, on May 10, 1946, at Atterbury Separation Center. He married and raised a family and worked at a government warehouse in Gary, Indiana. In August 1946, Joseph became a U.S. citizen, and he would later move to California. Joseph H. Twa passed away on September 29, 1991, and was buried in Section 42, Site 592, at buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.