The Line at Tarlac

Wainwright HQ in Bacalor

Where Capt. Write Was Killed

How Two Old US Planes Put Jap Armadas To Rout

July 18, 1942
Gen. MacArthur at Bataan
2nd Lt. Arthur Holland
Major Havelock Nelson
Sgt. Al Edwards
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:
MacArthur ordered us to hold the lines at Tarlac, fifty miles north of Bataan.

The forces in Southern Luzon were catching it hard. We had to hold on until they could draw back, to give them time to join us in Bataan where we could make a stand in the rugged peninsula.

It was another of those impossible things that HAD to be done.

Hold? MacArthur’s men — and the Maywood Tank corps among them — would have marched into Hades and taken Satan from his fiery throne if MacArthur had ordered it.

Maywood’s sons again were called on for heavy duty. Headquarters was at Cabanatuan, east of Tarlac. Our tanks were a bastion, anchoring MacArthur’s right flank. Our men knew that, if they yielded, the Japs could roll up on MacArthur’s forces from east to west, and the war would end there.

Japs Pay for Gains in Blood and Death

They were dead with sleep. Hunger gnawed at their stomachs/

But they held. The Japs had to pay for every inch with blood and death.

The main Jap drive, as we have seen, was at the center of our line, smashing along the railroad through Tarlac, and San Fernando, toward Manila.

And there, in the center, tremendous odds were telling. Our center yielded. Japs poured in, making a deep bulge. The Maywood Tank Company was exposed to attack from the west, from its left flank.

I met Lieut. Holland at Wainwright’s headquarters. We were at Bacalor, almost on the edge of Bataan. I hadn’t heard from tank headquarters, but I presumed they would drop back to prevent the Japs from cutting them off. I asked Holland:

“Where are we now? Where’s Wickord and the men?”

He looked surprised and said:

“At Cabanatuan, of course. And the tanks are at San Manuel.”

Delivering Supplies Almost Impossible

They had been told to hold — and they’d stay there until further orders. I told Holland:

“For God’s sake, get back and tell Maj. Nelson to withdraw while he’s still got time.”

The front was irregular. Jap spearheads were everywhere, and communications were uncertain. Supply was almost impossible. Holland still had in tow the three carloads of ammunition that I’d seen him with six days before. He told me:

“I’ve been all over Luzon with it. I took it to Tarlac, and had to withdraw. I had it at Bambam. I’ve tried to get it to Cabanatuan I can’t find the coast artillery that’s supposed to get part of it. They’re fighting somewhere, but every time I catch up with them, they’ve moved. What’ll I do with the stuff?”

Bataan seemed the best place. We’d all be back there soon — we knew that. And we’d need that ammunition when we got there. Holland shipped it off and went back to tell Nelson to withdraw from Cabanatuan

They Grow ‘Em Tough In Maywood

Nelson responded. He had to fight his way out — but he went back to Santa Anna, where he was relatively safe. At the moment, at least, the Japs couldn’t outflank him.

They were tough men, those Maywood boys. And the least tough was Staff Sgt. Al Edwards.

I saw him in San Fernando on the 28th, coming out of the hospital. I said:

“I didn’t know you’ve been wounded again.”

He laughed, and answered:

“I haven’t been. Just had them take that chunk of metal out of my neck — the chunk I picked up at Agoo that first day!”

For nearly ten days, he’d been fighting almost ceaselessly with a fragment of a Jap shell in his neck. He explained:

“I’ve been too damned busy before to have the docs work on it. But I had to come into for something else today, and I figured I might as well have it done now.”

I went up to the new battalion headquarters at Santa Anna for a reunion with Nelson, Capt. Thorman, Capt. Bruni, Sergt. Bertram, and others among my friends.

Their appearance was shocking, but their courage was unabated. Nelson only wanted one thing:

“We’ve had a little trouble over our gasoline supply, (a masterly understatement — for we wondered how they managed to keep their tanks going at all) but we think we’ve got it solved. We’ve found a gasoline truck.”

He paused. I didn’t ask him where he found it. You didn’t ask questions that might be embarrassing. You simply accepted such gifts as fate might leave in your way, and thanked her for them. Nelson continued:

“Now, if we only had a tractor to pull it, we’d be o/k/ I don’t supposed you know where you could lay your hands on one?”

A tractor! That’s all he wanted — just a tractor. A gallon of ice water in the desert — a bucket of gold at the foot of the rainbow! A tractor wasn’t any scarcer than that.

I said:

“Sure, I’ll keep my eye out. I’ll send you the first one I run across.”

I asked him how things were, and he said:

“Well, I’m doin’ all right. We’ve got a little game here. See that bridge over there?”

He pointed to where the road crossed a stream, a hundred yards or so form headquarters and said:

“Well, the Japs have their eye on that bridge. They want to wipe it out, and every couple of hours they send a bomber over to do the job. The patient little Jap comes over, and misses, and comes over again, and misses, and he never seems to get tired of it. So we lay bets on how wide his misses will be — and how close to headquarters. I’ve been sizing up his marksmanship pretty well, and I’m winning my share of the bets.”

There was grim news, too — news of the men who would never fight again, and of others who had been wounded. Capt. Walter Write of Janesville, commanding a company, died in particularly tragic fashion.

He was laying out antitank mines in a road, when one exploded in his hand. Sergt. Edward Trebs of Janesville had been wounded in the leg by shrapnel. Others’ faces were missing.

Trebs went to Australia on a hospital ship, and is still there. Capt. Write is survived by his wife Jessie, and two children, Lloyd Lee, 6, and Janice, 2.

By Emmett F. Gibson, 1st Lt., 192nd Tank Bat.
As Told to David Camelon
(Originally published in the Chicago Herald-American, July 17, 1942)

(This presentation (c) 2000, Stephen Gibson)

Chicago Herald-American
July 17, 1942