Sgt. Kenneth Eugene Thompson
Sgt. Kenneth E. Thompson was born on September 24, 1915, to Lloyd & Anna Thompson
in Plymouth, Ohio.
He grew up in Graytown, Ohio. He was the brother of
Gertrude Collins the wife of Capt. Harold Collins of C Company.
Ken joined the Ohio National Guard's Tank Company which was headquartered in an armory in Port Clinton. On November 25, 1940, the tank company was federalized as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. Ken traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he trained for nearly a year.
After taking part in maneuvers in Louisiana, Ken was given a furlough home before going overseas. He returned Louisiana and left Camp Polk for California by train. Arriving in San Francisco, Ken was taken by ferry to Angel Island. There, he was inoculated and given a physical. He then sailed for the Philippine Islands.
Arriving in the Philippines, Ken spent the next two weeks preparing for maneuvers. The morning of December 8, 1941, C Company learned that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Four hours later, the Japanese bombed Clark Field. Ken and the other tankers had been stationed around the perimeter of the airfield to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers. During the attack, all the tankers could do was watch.
On December 21st, C Company was sent north to Lingayen Gulf in support of B Company. Ken spent the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. During this time, he broke his nose while in a tank.
On April 9, 1942, Ken became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. He and the other members of the company remained in their bivouac for two days until ordered to Mariveles. It was from this town at the southern tip of Bataan that Ken started what became known as the death march.
During the march, Ken helped his brother-in-law, Capt. Harold Collins, who was suffering from heat stroke. Capt. Henry Stickney, a member of the Corps of Engineers, also helped Ken carry Capt. Collins.
Ken made his way north to San Fernando. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars and transported to Capas. The POWs who died during the trip remained standing since they could not fall to the floor. It was only when the living POWs got out of the cars that the dead fell to the floor.
The first camp Ken was held in was Camp O'Donnell. The camp was so bad that as many as 50 POWs died each day. To get out of the camp, Ken was selected for a work detail to rebuild bridges that had been destroyed as the Americans had retreated. The American officer in charge of the detail was Lt. Col. Ted Wickord of the 192nd.
It was while Ken was on this detail that he hurt his leg while working. A piece of metal hit his leg gashing it. Ken soon developed an infection in the wound. The Japanese doctors wanted to amputate his leg above the knee, but Col. Ted Wickord and the Japanese commanding officer, who had lived in Detroit for 19 years, prevented this from being done. Ken's leg was saved. The one result was that he had a blood clot in his chest.
When the detail ended, Ken was sent to Cabanatuan. During his time in the camp, he remembered that they ate snake, dogs and monkeys. How long he remained in the camp is unknown.
Ken was next sent to Bilibid Prison outside Manila. The POWs in the prison, including Ken, made pills from plaster that they would sell to the Japanese guards. The guards would take the pills in an attempt to cure their social diseases.
Ken remained in the Philippines until July 1944 with Capt. Harold Collins. His last meal with Capt. Collins was a can of corned beef from which they made a stew by adding hogweed and water.
On July 2nd, Ken was taken to the Port Area of Manila, where he was boarded onto the Noto Maru. The ship sailed on July 4th, but returned to Manila. It sailed a second time on July 16th. According to Ken, the entire trip took 62 days for the ship to reach Moji, Japan. During the trip six POWs died.
From Moji, Ken was taken to Fukuoka #5, which was known as Omine Machi. In the camp with Ken was John Short from Port Clinton. The POWs in the camp worked in a coal mine.
While Ken was at Omine Machi, he narrowly escaped being killed for violating a camp rule. The POWs had received Red Cross packages, and Ken lit a cigarette in a restricted barracks. A Japanese guard caught him and could have killed him. Ken offered the guard a cigarette. The guard took the cigarette, smiled and let Ken go. A couple of days later, this same guard killed another POW who he caught smoking in a restricted barrack.
In September 1945, Ken was liberated from Omine Machi. He weighed 118 pounds when he was liberated. After receiving medical treatment, he returned to Graytown to his family. He was discharged, from the army, on June 11, 1946.
Kenneth E. Thompson married Lucille A. Snider on February 1, 1947. He passed away on May 31, 1972, in Port Clinton, Ohio.