1st Lt. Willie Stokes Heard Jr.
Lt. Willie S. Heard Jr. was born on September 8, 1913, to Willie S. Heard
Sr. & Maud Howell-Heard. 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.
Willie joined the 192nd Tank Battalion after maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941. He was a volunteer from the 753rd Tank Battalion which had been sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana to provide tanks and men as replacements to the battalion. Upon joining the battalion, he was assigned to B Company as a tank platoon commander.
Traveling west over four different train routes, the 192nd arrived in San Francisco where they were ferried to Angel Island. They received their inoculations for duty in the Philippine Islands.
During the journey to the Philippines the ships stopped at Hawaii and Guam. The battalion arrived at Manila on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. They would spend a little over two weeks preparing their equipment for use on maneuvers.
The morning of December 8th, December 7th on the other side of the international date line, the soldiers heard the news of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Willie and the other tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against paratroopers. The rest of the morning American planes filled the skies. At 12:30 the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. Fifteen minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the airfield wiping out the American Army Air Corps.
During the attack, the tankers could do little more than watch since they had no weapons to use against aircraft. Some of the halftracks had .50 caliber machine and fired on the planes, They were credited with shooting down several planes.
On December 20th, the 192nd was ordered north toward Lingayen Gulf where Japanese troops were landing. A platoon of the battalion's tank would fight the first tank battle of WWII, involving American tanks, on December 22nd.
Willie's tank platoon was used as a last line of defense. It was often their job to hold the Japanese back while other military units disengaged and withdrew toward Bataan. During one of these moves, B Company's tanks fought a frantic battle against the Japanese and held their position for three days. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter the Bataan Peninsula before the last bridge was destroyed.
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 he 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. Once there, they were packed into small wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold eight horses of forty men; 100 men were packed into each car. When the train arrived at Capas, themen 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. The Japanese put it into use as a POW camp. There was one water spigot for 12,000 POWs. Men died while waiting for a drink. The death rate in the camp was as high as fifty men a day.
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. He remained there until he was selected to go out on a work detail.
The POWs boarded onto the Interisland Steamer, on July 1, 1942, at Manila and were taken to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs arrived at Davao on July 6th.
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. Around June 20, 1944, Willie and other POWs were taken to Cebu City and boarded onto the Teiryu Maru. They arrived at Manila on June 24th.
Willie was returned to Cabanatuan until he was selected to shipment of Japan. Only those POWs considered to ill to be sent to Japan would remain in the Philippines.
Willie and other prisoners were marched 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 group were boarded in their place.
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 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 hotwired the ventilation system into the lighting system. For several days the POWs had fresh air. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they cut off the power.
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. That evening, twenty POWs were on deck preparing dinner. Suddenly, 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.
The ship shook and came to a dead stop in the water. It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships. A Japanese guard aimed his machinegun at the POWs and fired at them. The POWs dove into the ship's holds. After they were in the holds, 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 second hold made their way back on deck. These men reattached and dropped rope ladders to the men in the holds. For the next two hours, the ship remained afloat. The POWs who could not swim stuffed themselves with food from the ship's kitchen. Others attempted to find anything that would float. 35 POWs swam to another Japanese ship, but they were pushed away with poles and hit with clubs.
As the ship sank lower in the water, many POWs tried to escape. At some point, the ship split in two. Five of the 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 it turned away. The men in the boats listened to the cries for help. As time went on, there were fewer cries. Then there was silence.
Of the 1803 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, also died in WWII in the Pacific. His name also appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.