Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

Kermit Lay

Kermit Lay Picture
Kermit Lay was born Jan.30, 1916 in Altus, OK.  He joined Co. A, 38th Infantry, Ft. Still, OK on Feb. 17, 1933.  Prior to WWII he was stationed at H Company, 31st Infantry, Manila, PI.  He last served with G Troop, 14th Horse Cav., Ft. Riley, KS.

On August 1, 1941, Sgt. Lay reenlisted as private, 724th Aviation Ordnance Co., Ft. Douglas, UT.  In late September 1941 the 724th was transferred to the Philippines arriving 45 days prior to World War II.  On Dec. 24, 1941 all U.S. planes were destroyed on the ground, all Air Corps Units were issued rifles (Springfield) and named Provisional Air Corps Infantry and ordered to Bataan.  On Jan. 28, 1942 Special Orders No. 24, Pvt. Kermit Lay received commission as second lieutenant, infantry.  On Jan. 28, 1942 Special Orders No. 6, he was assigned assistand provost marshall, 1st Philippine Corps.

He was taken prisoner on April 9, 1942.  After the Bataan Death March he was in the following prison camps:  O'Donnell and Cabanatuan, PI, then to Japan om Tanagawa, Zentusuji and Roko Roshi.  He was liberated on Sept. 8, 1945.  Upon return to duty he served at Ft. McClellan; occupational army duty in Germany and served on the Berlin Airlift. Upon return to the U.S. he was assigned to Ft. Sam Houston, TX, where he retired as captain.  He later became a deputy sheriff, Tarrent Co., Fort  Worth, TX and  was a  member of the Sheriff's Posse, and member of the Moslah Shrine Temple Mounted Patrol.  He was coronoted a 33 degree mason in 1985. He moved to San  Francisco where he worked and retired from the Wells Fargo Bank.  He is a past commander, 1973-1974, Western States Chapter, American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, Inc.  He was the editor of the Zentsujian, EX-POW newsletter, which he founded in 1974.  He was married to Paula for 44 years (in 1991), and had two sons and three grandsons at that time.  In 1987, he and his wife moved to Clayton,  CA.

A brief history of the 724th Aviation Ordnance Company after the defeat of Bataan and Corregidor

                                                                                 By Kermit Lay

This company has never been fully accounted for on paper by the US Military Forces after the war and liberation in 1945. They never received the recognition deserved for their courageous defense of the Philippines. About one-half of these men were Selective Service Selectees and should never have been in the Philippines in the first place, at that time, as they had no combat training, and what they did receive was too little, too late.

The 724th Aviation Ordnance Company had been a part of the 5th Air Base Group and was formed at Ft. Douglas, Utah, in 1941. In September 1941 the company was transferred to the Philippine Islands arriving on the US TASKER H BLISS on 23 October 1941, forty-five (45) days before the outbreak World War II. Nichols Field became the home of the 724th where the 5th Air Base Group was to have joined them. This never happened.

On Thanksgiving Day, 20 November 1941, & HQ Squadron, 5th Air Base Group, plus attached aviation, medical, chemical and quartermaster detachments arrived in the Philippines from Ft. Douglas, Utah, and were almost immediately sent to the island of Mindanao to open Del Monte Air Base. They were to prepare it for the arrival of the 7th Bombardment Group and its four (4) squadrons of B-17s, and other support units, including the 8th Materiel Squadron from the 5th Air Base Group.

Then World War II began. The 724th Aviation Ordnance Company became "orphaned" it never got to Del Monte Air Base. At that time the company consisted of four (4) officers and sixty (60) enlisted men, along with an assortment of ordnance vehicles, including bomb service trucks and trailers, tools and ground support equipment.

Meanwhile the ground echelon of the 7th Bombardment group, including the 8th Materiel Squadron, was en route between Hawaii and the Philippines, having left Honolulu on 29 November 1941 in convoy bearing substantial reinforcements and equipment. With the advent of the war this convoy was diverted to Brisbane, Australia.

The combat squadrons of the 7th Bombardment Group never got to Del Monte Air Base either. Two squadrons were held up in Hawaii. Two others were held in the states where they swapped their B-17s for B-24s, and eventually they were transferred to Java.

When the company commander, CAPTAIN WINSTON R MAXWELL, learned that the 5th Air Base Group would not be arriving he went to COLONEL GEORGE W HURST, Senior Ordnance Officer, in the Philippines, who became the advisor and took the company under his wing. These two officers were old West Point friends.

After GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR declared Manila an open city on 24 December 1941, and all US planes were destroyed on the ground. All Air Corps units were issued rifles and named the Provisional Air Corps Infantry, 5th Interceptor Command, and was ordered to the Bataan Peninsula. Before evacuation of the 724th Aviation Ordnance Company, they were ordered to destroy Nichols Field. This was accomplished by destroying all bombs, burning of the power technic building, machine shops and air hangars.

 Upon arrival at Bataan, as a matter of survival, the company commander ordered they learn the basics of infantry combat tactics, extended order drill and skirmishes. The only person that was qualified to give training was KERMIT LAY, THEN Private but had been a former sergeant in both the Infantry and US Horse Cavalry. He had also been with H Company, 31st Infantry, in the Philippines in 1935-36.

Battlefield commission went to KERMIT LAY, Private to 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, on 25 January 1942. On the same date WINSTON R MAXWELL, was promoted from Captain to Major. Others receiving commissions were: HUGH V AMATO, Master Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, in February 1942; EUGENE GOFF, 1st Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry on 9 March 1942; THOMAS QUINLAN, Tech. Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, March 1942; WILLIAM D BEUS, Corporal to 1st Sergeant on 11 March 1942; replacing former 1st SGT Goff; HAROLD COMPTON, PFC-2nd Class Specialist to Tech. Sergeant, March 1942, replacing former T/SGT Quinlan. Privates NORMAN MARTIN and LAWRENCE TIDWELL transferred to US 31st Infantry, Companies A and G respectively. Colonel Hurst attached the following men and equipment to the 75th Ordnance, and remained on Bataan: HYRAM SANDBERG, PFC-1st Class Specialist, and RUFUS D ADAMS, Private, with machine truck. RICHARD JAMES, PFC-1st Class Specialist, and LLOYD C KISNER, PFC-4th Class Specialist, and small arms truck. WARD JENSEN, PFC-2nd Class Specialist, and ROBERT ZELKE, Private, and the welding truck.

LTS. AMATO, GOFF and PVT BLAINE SMITH were killed on Bataan; LT QUNILAN was killed on the Bataan Death March; PRIVATES LAWRENCE TIDWELL and WARD JENSEN died from after effects of Bataan death March while in O'Donnell Prison Camp. RICHARD JAMES died at Cabanatuan Prison Camp from after effects of BataanDeath March.

On 9 April 1942, the day MAJOR GENERAL EDWARD P KING, JR, surrendered Bataan, COL HURST ordered the remaining members of the 724th Aviation Ordnance Company, four (4) officers and forty-six (46) enlisted men to Creditor; they were transported by tug boats and barges, arriving at approximately 4 AM.Upon arrival they were told by the Commanding Officers, 4th US Marines, that as they were seasoned troops coming in from Bataan they were assigned to the Marines to help defend the beaches. Ten (10) enlisted men and two (2) officers were killed. PVT HAROLD JERSHEFSKI lost a leg there, and many others were wounded, with some dying later.

CAPTAIN CHARLES JAMES, LT CHARLES GAGE, T/SGT RUDOLPH MALCHER, 1st/SGT WILLIAM BEUS and a Marine major were in a foxhole; Beus left it just minutes before the Japs got a direct hit on it and killed the three (3) officers and one (1) T/SGT instantly.

 On 6 May 1942 LT GENERAL JONATHAN M WAINWRIGHT surrendered Corregidor. About two weeks later the Japanese took the prisoners-of-war to Manila Port Area by barge and cargo steamer. Upon arrival the wounded were put on trucks and sent to Bilibid Prison where most of them remained until liberated by a unit of the 37th Infantry Division in February 1945. Others from Corregidor were marched approximately four to five miles to the train station and sent to Cabanatuan Prison Camp. A clarification is necessary here: the ones left on Bataan, that were not killed, made the Bataan death March; those captured on CORREGIDOR DID NOT MAKE THE BATAAN DEATH MARCH AS IT WAS ALREADY PAST HISTORY WHEN THEY WERE CAPTURED. Most of those that died in Cabanatuan were those who suffered effects of the horrible Bataan Death March. On 1 June 1942 the Japs moved the Bataan Death March survivors from the hellhole O'Donnell Prison Camp to Cabanatuan as a Japanese officer said too many were dying there. The POWs from Corregidor that were in Cabanatuan, were in shock when they saw the condition of the Bataan Death March survivors, who were suffering not only from maltreatment by the Japanese, but bordered on starvation and were disease ridden from lack of food, water and medicine.At least 1,500 Americans died at Camp O'Donnell.

At Cabanatuan Prison Camp the Japanese put the prisoners-of-war in "BLOOD BROTHER" groups of then (10); if one (1) escaped the other nine (9) would be executed. Nine were shot and one was beheaded and witnessed by the entire camp. Norman Martin just missed being shot by two minutes. The Japs had a surprise roll call in the middle of the night and he had been outside the fence getting food and came back in just as the sergeant was calling his name. It was after the executions the Japs started the Blood Brother Groups. Some of the prisoners would end up on the infamous hell ship, the Oryoku Maru, which was sunk. It was on this ship that former CO, MAJ WINSTON R MAXWELL. JR., LT MILO SMITH, CPL EMIL BARLOW, CPL WESLEY SALSMANN and PVT DONALD killed. The survivors were put on a second ship, which was also sunk; they were put on a third ship, which finally made it to Japan.
l/SGT WILLIAM BEUS was the only company member to survive the bombings, strafings and torpedoing of these three ships. Originally there were approximately 1,619 prisoners-of-war on Maru, and when the third ship had finally completed the voyage there were less than 400 survivors. The Japs refused to mark the ships. Six weeks later approximately 100 more die.

On 28 January 1945, two units from the 6th Army, Rangers and Alamo Scouts, liberated Cabanatuan. PFC FRANK FRANCHINNI, a cook from the 724th Aviation Ordnance Company, was among the 516 POWs liberated there. 3,000 had already died there.

S/SGT EDWIN RAYNOR, 724th Aviation Ordnance Company, was the last P.O.W. to be beaten at Bilibid Prison, by a Japanese doctor, who was run over, and killed, by a US tank when Bilibid was liberated by a unit of the 37th Infantry Division, 6th Army, on 4 February 1945.

After liberation in September 1945, and return to the United States, nine (9) of the original company members went on to have military careers and retired from service. A positive list is the following: KERMIT LAY, Captain, US Army; NORMAN MARTIN, Warrant Officer, US Army; WILLIAM BEUS, Chief Master Sergeant, US Air Force; WILLIS ELLIS, Master Sergeant, US Air Force; EDWIN RAYNOR, Senior Master Sergeant, US Air Force, all of whom are still living.

The following are now deceased, but retired prior death: TED BRESKE, Master Sergeant, US Army; TED AITKENS, Master Sergeant, US Air Force; PETER MOSKALICH Master Sergeant, US Army, and THOMAS BRECHT, Master Sergeant, US Air Force.

Out of the four (4) original officers, and four (4) that received commissions KERMIT LAY is the only survivor of the eight (8) officers, and the only Private on Bataan to receive a commission. To this day, of all the printouts and listings of all organizations on Bataan and Corregidor, the 724th Aviation Ordnance Company does not appear and therefore unaccounted for. Also, they did not receive any credit whatever for their role in the defense of Corregidor.

All information in this write-up has been verified by WO NORMAN MARTIN, CH M/SGT WILLIAM BEUS, M/SGT WILLIS ELLIS, SR M/SGT EDWIN RAYNOR, HAROLD JERSHEFSKI, ALBERT MOSS, and other living survivors. I wish to thank, and acknowledge MAJ WALTER C REGEHR, USAF RETIRED, a former member of HQ SQDN, 5th Air Base Group, for his contributions.