1st/Sgt. William Lloyd Swift
1st Sgt. William Lloyd Swift
was born in Illinois in September 8, 1918. He was the son of William &
Leona Swift. At some point, his family moved to Maywood,
Illinois. He attended local schools and Proviso Township High
William enlisted in the Illinois National Guard and was inducted into the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940. With his tank company he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for what was suppose to be a year of training. His tank company was designated as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. In January 1941, William was assigned to Headquarters Company when it was created with men from all four of the letter companies of the battalion.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion took part in maneuvers Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers that the soldiers learned that they were being sent overseas. Those men too old to go overseas were released from federal service.
Traveling west by train, William arrived in San Francisco. He and the other men were ferried to Angel Island. They were given physicals and inoculations. The soldiers sailed to the Philippine Islands after stops in Hawaii and Guam.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the soldiers learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. William and other sergeants of HQ Company had just finished lunch and were leaving the non-commissioned officers club, when he noticed planes approaching Clark Field from the north. William pulled out his binoculars and he, and the other sergeants, began counting the planes. They knew the planes were Japanese when they saw bombs exploding on the runway.
Being first sergeant, it was William's job to make sure that the tankers were supplied with ammunition and gasoline. The members often left these supplies near abandoned schools for the tank crews to find. It is not known how much of these supplies were ever found by tank crews since the Japanese advance was quick.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. Since the company little to do, William and the other men watched as the dead, dying and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.
That night, there was one air raid after another. Since they did not have any foxholes, William 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. Without knowing it, he had slept his last night on a cot or bed. From this point on, William slept in a blanket on the ground.
For William, the coming month was a constant, slow, falling back toward Bataan Peninsula. 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 Company's kitchen. That night the sky was lit by the fire burning at the ammunition dumps.
Word reached William 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. William ordered the other men to take 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 William became a Prisoner of War. As they ate that it Bruni told the men that it was now every man for himself. Two days later, Japanese soldiers arrived in their area.
A Japanese officer ordered the POWs out onto the road that ran by their bivouac. They were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers marching past them took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
By truck, HQ Company made its way to Mariveles. At Mariveles Airfield, the POWs were herded onto a tarmac. 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.
William 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 William 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.
William and the other POWs were lined up and marched all night the first night. They marched for days and were told there would be food and water at the next stop; but these were lies to keep the prisoners going. During every hour, the POWs received a five minute break. The Japanese would change guards and keep the POWs moving.
What made things worse 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 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 one point during the march, the POWs were stopped. The Japanese made the prisoners crowd together. After this was done, the POWs were told to lay down for the night. Since they were packed in so tightly, it was impossible for them to lay down.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars. The cars could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. From there, he walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
William was held in Camp O'Donnell from April to May of 1942. He was then sent to Cabanatuan when the new camp opened. According to U. S. Army records, 1st Sgt, William L. Swift died of dysentery on October 10, 1942 at Cabanatuan. His time of death was given at approximately 9:30 in the morning. He was buried in the camp cemetery. His family would not learn of his death for almost a year.
After the war, William's remains could not be identified. It is most likely he shares his grave with other unknown POWs at the American Military Cemetery at Manila. Since his final resting place is unknown, William is listed on the Tablets of the Missing at the cemetery.
It should be noted that on the day William's family received the news that he had been taken prisoner, his father died of a heart attack. His mother would later reside in Elgin, Illinois.