Pvt. Edward George Wills Jr.
Pvt. Edward George Wills
Jr. was the son of Edward G. & Susan Bell Mattingly-Wills. He
was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on March 8, 1918, and was one of the
couple's nine children.
Little is known about his life in Harrodsburg. What is known is that he was called, "E.G." by his family and friends, and that one of his sisters died when he was 20 years old. He was working as a house painter when he joined the Kentucky National Guard in Harrodsburg on August 1, 1940. The reason he did this was the draft act had been passed, and he knew he was going to be drafted. The tank company was scheduled to be federalized for one year of military service in the fall of 1940.
On November 25, 1940, the 38th Divisional Tank Company of the Kentucky National Guard was designated D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. There, Edward trained with D Company until he was transferred to Headquarters Company when the company was created in January 1941.
After taking part in maneuvers in Louisiana, Edward and the other members of the 192nd learned that they were being sent overseas. Their mission was to train the Philippine Army in tank usage.
Traveling west by train, Edward and the other soldiers were sent by ferry to Angel Island. They were given physicals and inoculated before being sent to the Philippine Islands. The battalion arrived in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day 1941.
On December 8, 1942, Edward lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The attack took place just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Edward like the other members of his company could do little but watch since they had no weapons to use against planes.
That night, there was one air raid after another. Since they did not have any foxholes, Edward and the other men used an old latrine pit for cover. Being that it was safer than their tents, he and the other men slept in the pit. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. The next morning the decision was made to move the company into an tree cover area.
For Edward, the coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward Bataan Peninsula. As they withdrew, supplies and food that could have aided in the fight against the Japanese, were often left behind.
During this time, the soldiers were bombed and strafed. The morning before the surrender the Japanese bombed the ammunition dumps which were close to where HQ was bivouacked. That night the sky was lit by the fire burning at the ammunition dumps.
Word reached Edward and the other members of HQ Company that the order had been given to surrender the morning of April 9, 1942. That morning they were suppose to join up with other troops and surrender together. Edward and the other men took their ammunition and weapons and put them in piles in the last tank and half-track they had. They poured gasoline into the tank and on the half track. Both were set both on fire.
Captain Bruni took the men of HQ Company into the jungle near their camp site and fed them what would become their last supper. It consisted of Pineapple juice and bread. It was on this day that Cecil became a Prisoner Of War. He said to them as they ate that it was now every man for himself.
HQ Company made its way to Mariveles. At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded. The Japanese soldiers had the POWs lined up for an inspection. The Japanese took the prisoners' jewelry and other items that had any meaning to them.
As the soldiers stood facing the Japanese guards, it appeared that the Japanese were going to execute the prisoners. Out of the car climbed a Japanese officer, the officer gave orders to the soldiers that they were not to kill the POWs. After doing this, he got back into the car and it drove off.
Edward and the other POWs were ordered to move to a school yard where they were made to kneel in the sun without food or water. They soon realized that behind them were Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor. The American guns on the island began returning fire. Shells from the American guns began landing around the POWs. The men had no place to hide and several were killed. Three of the four Japanese guns were also destroyed.
It was from Mariveles late in the afternoon that Edward began what would later become known as the Bataan Death March. The first night the POWs were marched all night. The fist place that they were allowed to stop was near a Japanese machinegun nest. Corregidor was shelling the area and several of the shells landed among the POWs killing them.
What made things worse for Edward and the other prisoners was as they marched, they came across artesian wells and watering holes, but they were denied their request for water. The Japanese would chase the POWs away from the wells. It got to the point that even though the Japanese attempted to keep the prisoners from the water they POWS still went to the wells. This resulted in the deaths of many men who were bayoneted while getting water.
The lack of food and water caused physical disabilities; such as, the prisoners' mouths swelling and their tongues splitting open. If the prisoners drank the water, they were often killed.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The boxcars were small and could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. The POWs were packed in so tightly, that the dead remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
Edward made his way to Camp O'Donnell. The camp, an unfinished Filipino traing base had one water faucet for 12,000 POWs. Men died waiting for a drink, while others died from the diseases that ran wild among the sick POWs. The situation was so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. Being one of the healthier POWs, William was sent to the new camp.
After arriving at Cabanatuan, William came down with dysentery. On July 3, 1942, at approximately 3:00 in the morning, William died. He was buried in the camp's cemetery.
On February 17, 1950, the remains of Pvt. Edward G. Wills Jr. were returned to the United States. Since they could not be positively identified, he was buried Section 78, Graves 1004, 1005, and 1006, with seven other POWs at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint. Louis, Missouri. Cpl. Raymond J. Graham and Tec 5 Kent W. Hughes Jr, who share the grave, were members of the 192nd Tank Battalion, In memory of Edward, his parents had a headstone placed at the Berea Christian Church Cemetery, off the Mackville Road, about four miles southwest of Harrodsburg.
Edward's sister, Mary Lyle, flew two flags in front of her house in memory of her baby brother. She flew the flags both day and night, summer and winter. After she died and the family sold the house, the last thing to come down from in front of the house were the flags.
The photo at the top of the page is of Edward Wills and his nephew.