The Line at Tarlac
Wainwright HQ in Bacalor
Where Capt. Write Was Killed
Tanks Blast Jap GunsJuly 16, 1942
Lieut. Emmett F. Gibson and the men of the old Maywood Tank Company landed in the Philippines on Thanksgiving Day, 1941, and within a few days were plunged into the inferno of war. They were bombed at Fort Stotsenburg, saw the aircraft at Clark Field virtually destroyed, were hurled head-on against Jap shock troops. Thousands of Japs dropping on Luzon by parachute were slain by the gallant Filipinos. A Maywood officer, single-handed, stopped a Jap force trying to cross a river. A Filipino mayor killed the entire crew of a Jap tank. The Maywood Tank Corps fought day and night without rest to rescue trapped Filipino forces. Now go on with the story:
Maywood’s sons were fighting day and night without rest.
That;’s easy to say. I want you to understand what it means. I want you to realize what those boys went through– without a grumble, with a grin on their lips and a prayer in their hearts.
I want you to see those boys as they fought; to live with them, to understand what utter exhaustion is, and hunger and thirst — to know what it is to have your nerves go to hell, your stomach screaming for food, your eyes heavy with sleep, you knees buckling under you — and still fight and fight and fight!
The last time I saw Capt. Don Hanes, 1803 S. Fifth av., Maywood, was December 26th.
It was morning: a hot, steaming tropic morning. His company had fought all night. That was the way tanks operated. They sailed into the enemy in the evening to cover the withdrawal of infantry units, American and Philippine.
They slashed into the heart of an overwhelming force. they crashed the Jap tanks, artillery mortars and anti-tank guns on the nose, and thumbed noses at them.
Speed to Rescue of Trapped Filipinos
Don Hanes and his men knew they were living on borrowed time. Since the war began, they’d been crashing into superior numbers of men and tanks. And this night had been a tough one.
What was left of the Philippine Twenty-sixth Cavalry was in a pocket. The Japs had trapped is in a morass of rice fields, circled about by rugged hills. The Twenty-sixth was being slowly cut to pieces — and the tanks had to get it out.
Hanes and his men rolled into that cul de sac. They stormed positions that all the rules of warfare called impossible for tanks. A shell — it must have come from a gun of the caliber of a 75 — whammed into the rear of his tank.
The tank leaped into the air. The men were thrown against its sides. There was a flash of supreme pain. Lightning ran through their eyes. Concussion knocked them out.
They don’t know just what happened. There was a period of darkness — for a second, for a minute, for five minutes.
One of the boys said later:
“All I can remember is the flash, and the shock, and me thinking: ‘This is the you die.'”
Tank Rumbles On — But Towards Home!
But it wasn’t. Not the way those boys were to die. They came to again. Their tank was rumbling on. But it was going the other direction — it was going BACK!
They have two theories for that.
One is that the impact of the shell turned it around on its tracks. But the other theory — and they swear it’s probably what happened — is the tank was literally knocked for a loop; that it did a dipsy-doodle in the air, and came down headed for home.
The boys felt their bones. Nothing broken. They waited for the tank to collapse. It didn’t. It was made of good American steel, by honest, skilled American workmen. It stood up, and kept on going. The boys turned it around, and went back into the fight.
When they had time to think, they thanked God for American men at the assembly lines back home — men who made fighting tools for fighting men, These wasn’t anything wrong with the stuff we had — we just didn’t have enough of it.
Hanes and his company fought all through the night. Another tank in his company had a shell rip through its motor, and came back under its own power — as Sergt. Edwards’ tank did in his first fight with the Japs.
Sweat ran in rivers from their bodies in the stifling interior of their tanks. The odor of oil and gas choked them, and made them sick. The fumes of powder — their own and the Japs — gagged them. The ceaseless drumming of fire deafened them.
Uniforms Reduced to Clammy Rags
Their uniforms were clammy rags. Three changes of uniforms a day are the rule in the tropics — but there had been no change for them for more than a week. Their clothes were so rotten with sweat that they tore like waterlogged felt.
The hadn’t slept — literally had gone without closing their eyes — for three nights. They were fighting blind, in the darkness, wallowing in rice fields; bumping and pounding and tossing over rocks; crushing their way through inky black forests.
It was the black heart of hell, lighted by flashes of cannon. There’d be a flash, a roar, — and in the split second of the flash an enemy tank would loom up. They’d let go with everything they had at it — and once, some time past midnight they saw a tongue of flame out of the darkness. It grew until it was a torch, outlining the riddled hulk of an enemy tank.
A single Jap jumped out of it. Fire was running over his body, licking at this clothes. He was screaming, and then he dropped and lay still, while the flames crackled on.
The boys remembered afterwards that they had no more feeling than they’d seen a log burning. War does that — covers sensitive nerves with a hard shell. Makes death a normal thing.
Cavalry Gets Out Under Cover of Tanks
Hanes’ company pulled out at dawn. the Twenty-sixth Cavalry had extricated itself under cover of the tanks, and had established a new line. The tanks came to rest in a flat valley of sugar cane and rice.
The men dropped to sleep where they were. Drivers collapsed at their wheels. A few crept from the stifling insides to sleep on hard steel outside. One or two stumbled into the shade of cocoanut palms and collapsed.
They thought they’d reached the very end of human existence; that nerves and muscle and minds would do no more.
They were wrong.
There was another job to be done. The Japs were only two miles away, driving a knife into the heart of a U.S. Army regiment.
It was calling for tanks.
Tanks to send the Japs reeling back. Tanks to prevent a breakthrough in our lines, tanks to prevent a sudden disaster.
But there weren’t any that could reach that spot in time — none but Don Hanes’ exhausted crew. General Wainwright turned to me. I was tank liaison man — I was the one to answer for Hanes.
“Can he do it?”
Do it? He’d have to do it. I answered:
“Of course he’ll do it!”
Awakened Capt. Hanes Grabs His Gun
A driver roared back roads with me. We found Capt. Hanes and his men. They looked like dead men, with native scouts on guard. I went to where Hanes slept, and shook him. I shouted:
“Don! Don! Wake up! There’s a job to do!”
His reaction was automatic. Even men of peace, like Hanes, reach the point in warfare at which killing is the first thought. They reach for a gun when they’re disturbed. Anything abnormal means an enemy.
Don grabbed his gun. He swung it toward me. His eyes were opening, but his mind was still closed — drugged with sleep.
I leaped aside. The gun followed me. I cried:
“Don! Don! It’s Gibby! Gibby!”
He shook his head trying to clear it. He looked up at me without recognizing me. His hand still held the gun. I called my name again. Then, at last, he knew me.
He stood up, and asked:
“What do they want now?”
I told him:
“You’ve got a job to do.”
He swore. He said:
“What the hell do they think we are — machines? I can’t ask those men to get up and fight again.”
I told them there was no one else to do the job. Then he said:
“O.K. Don. I see how it is. Of course you can’t do it. I’ll tell them at headquarters it’s an impossibility.”
Hold Back Japs to Save Regiment
I started to walk away, but he stopped me, as I knew he would. He said:
“Wait, you damned fool. We’ll do the job.”
He shook his non-coms awake. They shook and called and bullied the men into wakefulness. The men walked like dummies. Their legs were wooden, their hands were stiff. They were unshaven, their eyes were great harsh shadows of blue, sunken in baggy cheeks.
But they got their tanks going. They fought that day. They drove the Jap back long enough for the infantry regiment to withdraw. Then Hanes’ company withdrew itself.
A Jap observation plane sighted them on the road.
The planes went home to report — and bombers came out to see. They bombed the road Hanes was following, beat a devil’s tattoo with their bombs. But the tanks came through — and that night they were lucky.
They got three hours’ sleep.
By Emmett F. Gibson, 1st Lt., 192nd Tank Bat.
As Told to David Camelon
(Originally published in the Chicago Herald-American, July 16, 1942)
(This presentation (c) 2000, Stephen Gibson)
July 16, 1942