Pvt. William Franklin Oldaker
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 halftrack driver.
From Camp Polk, Bill with his new company traveled west to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. They were given physicals and boarded onto ships for transport to the Philippine Islands. After a stop in Hawaii, the ship he was on sailed for Guam and then the Philippines. He arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941.
For the next two weeks, most of Bill's time was spent readying equipment for use. On the morning of December 8, 1941, he and the rest of the soldiers in the 192nd heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.
Being a halftrack 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 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 halftrack 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.
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 halftrack 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.
The tank platoon they were with crossed the river and went up the other slope. Bill's halftrack 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 as the Japanese closed in on their position and the tanks got further away. Sgt. Bud Bardowski noticed that the halftrack was missing and turned his tank around. When he found Bill and Sgt. Bashleben, their halftrack was stuck on the riverbank. Sgt. Bardowski threw them a towline and pulled the halftrack up the slope with his tank. In all likelihood, he had saved the lives of the two men since the Japanese overran the area.
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 sent to Manila. There, he was held at Bilibid Prison and processed for shipment to Japan.
Bill was 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. The POWs in the camp worked manufacturing wheels or in a railroad yard lifting barrels into boxcars. One day, Bill was working in the railroad yards when he saw an explosion. He remembered seeing a blast and hearing an explosion. He had no idea that he was witnessing the atomic bomb exploding until after the war.
Bill and the other POWs learned of Japan's surrender when the guards opened the gates of the camp and walked out. It was August 16, 1945. The former prisoners made their way to the closest town and were surprised that the people ignored them. He and the other men rode street cars around town.
Bill and the other men were returned to the Philippines to be fattened up. He sailed for the United States on September 24, 1945. He was treated at Ft. Madigan Hospital in Washington state. He was discharged on February 23, 1946, and returned home to Oklahoma.
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.