Saturday, May 16, 2015

They Were Expendable

This was the name of a book and a John Wayne movie from 1945. I don't remember seeing the movie or reading the book before, but did pick up the book this week to check it out. That was after I found out it told a story that involved a distant relative.

William Henry "Sonny" Posey was the first cousin of the wife of my 2nd cousin. He was born in 1920 in Cortez, Florida to William George and Ruth Richards Posey. His father was a commercial fisherman in Cortez so Sonny grew up on the water.

Guadalupe AO-32 with PT Sq 3 boats aboard
In 1938 he joined the Navy and was trained as a cook. He volunteered for duty aboard a 77 foot Patrol Torpedo Boat and was in the Philippians when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.

A couple months later as part of Patrol Torpedo Squadron Three he helped rescue General Douglas MacArthur and the top US Military officers from the invading Japanese. From what I can determine looking at crew lists, Sonny was the cook on PT boat 41, the flagship of the Squadron, which was commanded by Lt John Bulkeley.

PT Squadron Three arrived in Manila in September 1941 aboard the USS Guadalupe. There were six boats in the squadron and they transported them from the US lashed to the deck of the Guadalupe. At the time there were only 29 PT boats in the entire US Navy.

When they arrived they found all their fuel supplies had been sabotaged. There was both water and rust in the gas. Someone had also dissolved wax into the barrels so that it clogged the engine gas filters. There was no other 100 octane gasoline available so they had to use the contaminated fuel. They would regularly have to stop and clean the filters after an hours run. The wax coated the gas tank on the boats with a half inch of congealed wax.

PT Boat 41
They took part in a number of rescue and minor conflicts with the Japanese for several months before they received orders to pick up MacArthur, his family, top military brass and the President of the Philippines and transport them over 560 miles of open ocean that was controlled by the Japanese Navy. Two of the PT boats had been destroyed so there were only four available for the mission.

MacArthur was originally supposed to be evacuated aboard a US Submarine but there were too many Japanese ships in the area to risk bringing in a Sub.

The PT boats were smaller and could maneuver easier but also weren't able to put up much of a defense if discovered by the Jap Navy. They decision was MacArthur had a better chance of getting through on the PT boat.

Lt Bulkeley's Action report
The plan was for MacArthur to board PT 41 at dusk on March 11, 1942 and it would take the lead. If the convoy was discovered by the Japanese, the other boats, with other military brass were to act as decoys so PT 41 with the General aboard could get away.

The boats left Manila Bay on schedule but started having various mechanical problems as well as rough seas and high winds and they got separated. One of the boats broke down and another had to stop mid way to clean the clogged gas filters. Most of the passengers, including MacArthur were overcome with sea sickness.

PT 41 arrived at Cagayan on time the morning of March 13th but then had to wait several hours for the B-17 transport to arrive. The other boats and passengers arrived late but made it.

Four B-17s were part of the evacuation plan. One crashed on take off, two crashed into the Australian desert on the trip over and the one that made it had engine problems so MacArthur wouldn't chance flying on it. He and his entourage would not get off the island until March 18, 1942.

As he left MacArthur made a promise not as famous as his "I shall return." He told Bulkeley "If possible when I get to Melbourne I will get you and your key men out."

A biography of MacArthur, "American Caesar" recounting the trip mentions MacArthur's young son playing with a monkey owned by the cook of PT 41 while they were waiting to be picked up by the B-17s. Sonny Posey had named his pet monkey "General Tojo." According to the book "They Were Expendable," the cook on a PT Boat was also responsible for supervising the boat motors, manning a machine gun along with cooking on an electric hot plate.

On March 19 1942 PT 41, the only one still operational went back to pick up President Manual Quezon of the Philippines to evacuate him to Cagayan.

St Petersburg Times - July 4 1942
After the second transport they patched up the boats as best they could and tried to engage and harass the Japanese ships in the area. The crews remained together but eventually ran out of spare parts as well as torpedoes and ammunition.

By April 12, 1942 they had to abandon the boats and PT 41, the only one still operational was transferred to the US Army. The Army planned to take PT 41 to Lake Lano and use it to patrol and prevent Japanese float planes from landing on the lake. The trucks taking it to the lake never made it and since the Japanese were getting too close the boat was blown up to keep it out of their hands.

On April 13, 1942 General MacArthur sent a B 17 back for Lt. Bulkeley and another one later for the other four officers.

83 officers and crew members originally started the mission across Manila Bay. Five officers were evacuated out and five men had been killed in the patrols. The others were left on the islands to fend for themselves as were all the other US military and civilians. Several found passage on passing US ships or patrols.

Nineteen were known to have joined other US military left behind as Guerrilla forces on Mindanano. Many of these survived and were rescued when Allied forces took back the Philippines several years later.

Thirty eight of the crew, including William Henry Posey were captured by the Japanese and held as POWs. Officially Posey is listed as MIA with a date of death on December 17, 1945. That would seem to indicate the date he went MIA as December 1944.

Another member of PT Squadron Three, Earnest Earl Pierson is also listed as MIA with the same date of death. Pierson was born in Michigan and grew up in Indiana. His parents moved to Aripeka in Pasco County Florida after he enlisted in the Navy.

Bulkeley receives Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt
Eight of the crew members who were taken as POWs are known to have died in captivity. Nine who joined the Guerrilla forces on the islands are known to have died also. Forty six crew members survived, either taken out with Bulkeley or the other transports or surviving as POWs or part of  the Guerrilla force.

When Lt. Bulkeley arrived home he received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt  and MacArthur's praise, who said; "You have taken me out of the jaws of death. I shall never forget it". 

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