Pvt. J. M. Lillard
Pvt. J. M. Lillard was born on July 21, 1914, in Leonard, Texas, to Bill and Ethel
Lillard. With his four brothers and six sisters, he grew up in
J. M. was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 18, 1941, in Dallas, Texas. It is known that he completed his basic training at Fort Knox, and that he trained as a mechanic. After basic training at Camp Polk, he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion. In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Although the battalion did not take part in the maneuvers going on there, members of the battalion volunteered to replace National Guardsmen, from the 192nd Tank Battalion, who were released from federal service. J. M. volunteered to join the battalion and was assigned to HQ Company.
Traveling west by train from Camp Polk, J. M.'s company arrived at San Francisco. Once there, the company was ferried to Angel Island for physicals and inoculations. Sailing from San Francisco, the battalion arrived in Manila. They were sent to Fort Stotsenburg where they lived in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.
The morning of December 8, 1941, J. M. and his battalion received the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese just ten hours earlier. The battalion's tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company was ordered to the north end of the main runway.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, while the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, J. M. and the other soldiers thought the planes were American. It was only when they heard the whine of the bombs and watched as they exploded on the runway that the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. Since J. M. and his company did not have weapons to fight planes, they could do little more than watch.
For the next four months HQ Company worked to keep the tanks running and supply them with gasoline and shells. In early January, the 192nd was the last American unit to enter the Bataan Peninsula before the last bridge was blown up. Although J. M. most likely did not see front line action, he lived with the constant air raids and strafing by Japanese planes.
The morning of April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. J. M. was now a Prisoner of War.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered J. M.'s company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road. They were told to put their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
J. M. and his company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, J. M.'s group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese. J. M. and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march he received no water and little food. At San Fernando, he was put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the car. From Capas, J. M. walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink.
J. M. remained in at Camp O'Donnell until a new camp opened at Cabanatuan. He was also held as a POW at Corregidor. Later, he was returned to Cabanatuan. When the Japanese began transferring large numbers of POWs to other parts of their empire, J. M. remained behind at Cabanatuan. This most likely was that he was considered "too ill" to be moved. He was still a POW there when the camp was liberated by U. S. Army Rangers on January 30, 1945.
After the war, J. M. remained in the military and took part in the Korean War. He was also stationed in Germany. He later married Florence Krueger. He retired, after seventeen years of service on November 26, 1956, as a Sergeant First Class. After he retired, he moved to Pilot Point, Texas. It was there that he died on September 2, 2003, and was buried at Pilot Point Community Cemetery in Pilot Point, Texas.