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Father and Son double Bronze Star Grouping: Bataan Death March Survivor and Vietnam ‘Americal’ Platoon Leader


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Hey everyone, this weekend I received an amazing grouping from two wonderful Kentucky veterans. The two are father and son and I could not be prouder to preserve their items.

I’ll start with the father, Corporal Cecil R. Vandiver. Born in Mercer County, Kentucky, Cecil worked on the family farm until joining the Kentucky National Guard in 1939 where he became a member of our famed “Harrodsburg Tankers." As a mechanic and cook in the 38th Tank Company, the unit would go on to train with M2 Stuarts and other “junk” at Fort Knox to become Company D of the new 192nd Tank Battalion in November of 1940. Training for nearly a year with new tactics and equipment, the battalion eventually underwent a month long journey which found them in the Philippines as part of MacArthur's Army.

In early December the unit was put on alert and sent to defend Clark field from possible air raids. When Cecil and the fellow cooks heard about the Pearl Harbor attack they laughed, they thought the story had been the start of their extended maneuvers which were to soon take place. This belief was upheld until noon on December 8th when the skies became full of aircraft. Thinking these were the reinforcements meant for the airfield, his levity was quickly lost as bombs began falling from the planes above him. He stood in awe watching the attackers before a CO shoved him into cover. Following the initial attack Cecil recalled how sick he felt. The airfield had been totally destroyed and everyone was trying to save the wounded, many of whom were missing limbs. That night, full of air raids and bombing, would be the last time Cecil slept on a bed until 1945. He recalled the constant retreat into Bataan and the never ending bombings. At one point an ammo dump was hit right next to his cooking station and it was then he realized the end was near.

Cecil and his company were captured the next day after destroying any and all usable equipment preventing it from capture. He and his fellow Kentuckians were then driven to the Mariveles airfield where they were stripped of any valuables and nearly executed, luckily, a Japanese officer walked by and told the soldiers to lower their guns. Suffering from lack of food and water, the move from Mariveles would begin what become the Bataan Death March. Below is a quote from Cecil

“Then the death march started, at a little town called Mariveles. We marched all night the first night. We marched on for days, it seemed endless. They would tell us food was at the next stop, but there wasn’t any. My mouth swelled up and my tongue burst open. When we came to water, the Japs would post guards around the water holes and wouldn’t let us have any.”

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.

Cecil recalled,

“The Filipinos would try to help us. One woman tried to slip us some rice wrapped in a banana leaf. The Japs saw her and knocked her down. She was pregnant. They jumped up and down on top of her until she was dead.”

Other Filipinos believed that the POWs had money and attempted to sell rice to them. One of these vendors had rice in a sock. As Cecil passed him he grabbed the sock. The Filipino yelled at Cecil to give him his money. Cecil told the man that he did not have any which caused the man to pull a gun a Cecil. Cecil was so tired that he did not care if the Filipino shot him or not. Cecil looked at the man and told him to shoot.

Of the event, he said,

“It was a nightmare. I can’t remember the number of days we walked or anything. Every water hole was a scene of a lot of people killed because we were so thirsty that we would crowd on in regardless of the Japanese and they would bayonet us down.”

What little food Cecil and the other POWs got, consisted of burnt rice, tree bark, and green banana shoots. At one point Bland (a friend from home) and Cecil got a hold of half a canteen full of burnt rice. Bland, Pvt. Earl Pratt and Cecil split the rice among them. Cecil even saw a suicide while on the march. A major jumped off a bridge that they were crossing. Before he jumped, he said, “I can’t take it another step!” He leaped off the bridge and sank into the mud of the riverbed up to his shoulders.

At another point on the march, Cecil fell out under a large tree, because he felt that he could not take another step. Bland Moore and another, Pvt. Earl Pratt, of HQ Company, carried Cecil between them so that the Japanese would not kill him. These two did this although they themselves were having a hard time walking. That night Bland gave Cecil some water and a half of a cigarette which seemed to revive him. The next day, Cecil was able to continue on the march alone.

“I fell one day under a fig tree. Bland Moore and another boy from Oklahoma got me up, half dragged me between them until the Japs put us up for the night. It was plain hell. It was death every day, all around us. Each day the Japs would take some boys off; we’d hear a rifle shot and the boys wouldn’t come back.”

After several days, Cecil made it to San Fernando. He was so sick at this point that he laid down in the bullpen they were put in. Bland Moore saw him and told him not to give up. When the order came to form 100 men detachments, Bland picked up Cecil and told him to go. The men were marched to the train station, there, the prisoners were crammed into wooden boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eights,” since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died could not fall to the floors. At Capas, the POWs disembarked and walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell.

While I could go on about his terrible experiences at the hands of the Japanese, I will summarize the rest. He went to spend most of the rest of the war here in hellish conditions. Random killings were often, disease was rampant, and over 50 GIs would die every day. One day, Cecil was working the burial detail when he recognized the man he was burying a friend from Harrodsburg, Edward G. Wills. Cecil did not want his friend to be buried in a mass grave and attempted to bury him alone. When the Japanese guard noticed what Cecil was doing, he pushed Cecil into the grave and had bodies thrown on top of him and began to have the POWs bury Cecil in the grave. Cecil made his way around the trench and found a spot where there was no Japanese guard and climbed out. The guard told Cecil that if he ever tried this again, he would be buried alive.

Stories and experiences like this are found constantly throughout his interviews and records. All I can say is that he went through the closest to living hell that I’ve ever heard. He transferred around Asia, traveling on a Hell Ship and ending up as a working in a gun, cement, and rubber factory in Manchuria. The rest of the war went on just as terribly as before, he was eventually freed by the Russians in 1945. He returned home, after a long hospital stay in 1946, to Kentucky and married Ruby Hawkins. The couple had two sons and a daughter. He spent the rest of his life in Harrodsburg and remained friends with Earl Pratt for the rest of his life. He received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, POW Medal, and PUC with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters for his service. Of the 67 men from Kentucky who began the war with him, only 32 returned home from imprisonment.

Part of this grouping includes the documentary "Bataan: The Harrodsburg Tankers." It is free on youtube and Cecil even begins the documentary. It is well worth the watch, but truly gut-wrenching.

One of his sons, Cecil H. Vandiver, saw the pain his dad suffered. He never fully recovered from the psychological and physical damage the Japanese has done to him, so now Cecil (this is his son from now on in this text) became head of the household and a primary breadwinner. His compassion for his dad and those suffering led him to become involved heavily with his church and created a life-long love for the poor, needy, suffering, or generally less fortunate.
He was a good student and received an ROTC scholarship at Eastern Kentucky University, graduating in 1969. Managing to avoid Vietnam as a cadet, Cecil quickly married a woman who would become his lifelong love, and traveled around serving as a lieutenant at Fort Bliss, Fort Benning, and Fort Knox.

Cecil was a quiet but determined man, and according to his wife, he was simply good. His quiet but solemn repose earned the respect of every person he came in contact with, including the many generals he served under as a staff officer at the various forts. In the summer of 1970, however, Cecil struggled over what to do next. As the war heated up he felt guilty to remain stateside and desired to serve and do his bit overseas. His wife desired him to stay in the cushy, pencil pushing jobs which had managed to keep him out of combat, but Cecil’s sense of patriotism and duty got the best of him. He soon volunteered for active duty in Vietnam.

With only 7 months remaining on his commission, Cecil was assigned as an infantry platoon leader in C Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 11th Light Infantry Brigade, 23rd 'Americal' Division and was stationed at Firebase 4-11 in Quang Ngai province. Upon arrival Cecil found many of the men in his company had personal situations quite different from his own at home. While Cecil had managed to do well for himself, at this point in the war most of the army was full of draftees, many of whom were racial minorities or from low income households. Some men had been released from prison and given service to commute their sentences. Cecil saw his father and his struggle in these men and made it his personal mission to ensure they went home in one piece. While I am still waiting to hear back from the veterans organization he contributed to, I learned a few stories from his wife whom he only told very little of the war.

Quang Ngai is a very flat province near the sea, the firebase stood west of the main city in the middle of a very large flatland surrounded by hills. The area had been occupied by the North Vietnamese for a long time and as such, the land was full of booby traps, mines. and tunnels. For most patrols, Cecil and his men were transported by helicopter into the brush of their AO. On one particular mission his wife recalled how they were moving through a dense brush path when all of the sudden his radioman, whom he was very close with, struck a very light wire attached to a mine. On every mission Cecil made sure his men were treated equally, sharing dangerous duty, and receiving fair breaks. Every lost man was a personal blow which Cecil never forgot. Cecil also sought to instill good habits into his men, teaching them valuable skills and trying to make sure they stayed out of destructive ones, such as taking drugs. His passion for serving others was well respected as a platoon leader and for his valorous service over the course of his tour, he was awarded the Bronze Star. An award of which he would never really tell anyone about, for he was too humble, quiet, and servant-minded.

Cecil passed away one year ago and while I was unfortunately never able to meet him, I have learned from his wife and friends that he was truly a happy, simple, quiet, and noble man. He only did what he saw as his duty and sought to help anyone in need for the rest of his life. When he returned he suffered from mild PTSD in his own way, never really seeking anyone out, but this was fine for a man like him. His sacrifice, service, and passion for people will never be forgotten.

To begin the year, I couldn’t be happier. A friend of mine mentioned my collection and display to the widow of the gentleman who was preparing to donate everything to a thrift shop. She is an extremely sweet and humble lady, luckily we were able to meet up where she told me all about her husband and his father. Coming straight from the family these items mean a lot, they will be well cherished and used to further educate the public on our military heritage.


For the items included, there are actually more than I have pictured. Most of the rest, however, is paperwork, so I have photographed the most interesting bits.

From his father I received many items, including an entire box of postwar newspapers and veteran materials. I have his Bataan Survivor veterans cap, a copy of the documentary, some editions of The Quan veteran newsletter, and a very nice book about the Harrodsburg Tankers. From the war I have the only photos of him from the war. One shows him in Kentucky, one is him with his friend Paul the day they were liberated in Manchuria, and another shows him in full dress upon returning home. I also have several pieces of foreign currency he took off of the guards and a copy of the code of conduct he kept on him. There is also one of the most beautiful challenge coins I have ever received and was only given to men from the unit at a late 90s reunion. There are also several photos of the items he brought back from the camp with him of which I still need to inquire the widow as to their location.

From her husband there is a lot. She claims he was a bit OCD and kept everything and in order. I have four of his full uniform sets (including pants and ties/bowties), one from Fort Knox, two from when he returned to the states after Vietnam, and his khakis. There are two Vietnamese pocket hangers from the 23rd Division and 11th Light Infantry Brigade. I also received some patches he brought back from Vietnam as well as the watch he wore while over there. It is scratched up and clearly saw some action. On the mannequin and in the case you will see two bib scarves, one blue for infantry and the other duck hunter camo, which I have not seen too often. As for paperwork, there is much. Some of the most interesting pieces include his Bronze Star Award and Citation, several photographs, postcards, and countless pieces from his time in the states. He also kept several of his stamps from time as a staff officer. There is a lot more in boxes but I did not have the time or ability to scan or post it all. The widow also is trying to find his photo album of pictures from Vietnam so I will update the post once she finds it.

Best,
Alex

I’ll post the photos in order, if there’s anything y’all would like to see closer just ask.

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An ironic card mentioning surrender, the money was supposedly taken from a guard when he was liberated. The photo on the right shows them the day they were liberated
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Awesome challenge coin
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Photos show the company in KY, the Philippines, at ODonnell, and a mass grave like Cecil was nearly buried in alive
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The photo on the right here is the only one I have from him directly that shows his platoon in the field, it apparently shows a communion service.
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GEN. David R. Atchinson- MO State Guard              ACW

PVT. John H. Drury- Co. A, 27th Ky IR                      ACW               Died of Typhoid

PVT. Henry E. Thomas- Co. I, 17th Ky IR                  ACW

PVT. Joseph E. Drury- Co. E, 356th IR, 89th ID       WWI                WIA

SGT. Edward P. Drury- 51st QM Training Co.           WWII

PFC. Delmer C. Koonter- Co. I, 142nd IR, 36th ID    WWII              WIA

SC3c Michael C. Drury- LCS (L) (3) 70                     WWII

SGT. Steven D. Koonter- 5th Cav, 1st Cav Div         Vietnam

SGT. John M. Drury- 227th AVN Bn. 1st Cav Div     Vietnam

 

Contact me with items from the 36th Infantry Division or any IDd uniforms of European Theater Infantry Divisions

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Uniform from Knox, left behind when he went over

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Watch and patches he wore in Vietnam

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I didn’t mention, nearly everything from the son came in it’s original packaging. Apparently he kept every single box, bag, or package and stored them as if he had just bought them.

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Hangers are Vietnam made

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GEN. David R. Atchinson- MO State Guard              ACW

PVT. John H. Drury- Co. A, 27th Ky IR                      ACW               Died of Typhoid

PVT. Henry E. Thomas- Co. I, 17th Ky IR                  ACW

PVT. Joseph E. Drury- Co. E, 356th IR, 89th ID       WWI                WIA

SGT. Edward P. Drury- 51st QM Training Co.           WWII

PFC. Delmer C. Koonter- Co. I, 142nd IR, 36th ID    WWII              WIA

SC3c Michael C. Drury- LCS (L) (3) 70                     WWII

SGT. Steven D. Koonter- 5th Cav, 1st Cav Div         Vietnam

SGT. John M. Drury- 227th AVN Bn. 1st Cav Div     Vietnam

 

Contact me with items from the 36th Infantry Division or any IDd uniforms of European Theater Infantry Divisions

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Firebase 4-11

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Men of company C during his tour

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This might be Cecil, I don’t see glasses but the watch looks to match the person in his platoon communion photo. Will not know until I receive the full album

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GEN. David R. Atchinson- MO State Guard              ACW

PVT. John H. Drury- Co. A, 27th Ky IR                      ACW               Died of Typhoid

PVT. Henry E. Thomas- Co. I, 17th Ky IR                  ACW

PVT. Joseph E. Drury- Co. E, 356th IR, 89th ID       WWI                WIA

SGT. Edward P. Drury- 51st QM Training Co.           WWII

PFC. Delmer C. Koonter- Co. I, 142nd IR, 36th ID    WWII              WIA

SC3c Michael C. Drury- LCS (L) (3) 70                     WWII

SGT. Steven D. Koonter- 5th Cav, 1st Cav Div         Vietnam

SGT. John M. Drury- 227th AVN Bn. 1st Cav Div     Vietnam

 

Contact me with items from the 36th Infantry Division or any IDd uniforms of European Theater Infantry Divisions

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and again, I apologize moderators but apparently the quotation marks in the title are not allowed on tapatalk and would appreciate a manual removal lol

GEN. David R. Atchinson- MO State Guard              ACW

PVT. John H. Drury- Co. A, 27th Ky IR                      ACW               Died of Typhoid

PVT. Henry E. Thomas- Co. I, 17th Ky IR                  ACW

PVT. Joseph E. Drury- Co. E, 356th IR, 89th ID       WWI                WIA

SGT. Edward P. Drury- 51st QM Training Co.           WWII

PFC. Delmer C. Koonter- Co. I, 142nd IR, 36th ID    WWII              WIA

SC3c Michael C. Drury- LCS (L) (3) 70                     WWII

SGT. Steven D. Koonter- 5th Cav, 1st Cav Div         Vietnam

SGT. John M. Drury- 227th AVN Bn. 1st Cav Div     Vietnam

 

Contact me with items from the 36th Infantry Division or any IDd uniforms of European Theater Infantry Divisions

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These are amazing groupings from two incredible veterans. The atrocities the poor death march survivor endured are extremely hard to even imagine. My Grandmother worked at an assisted living center and she cared for a man who also survived the death march. He was nearly blind after the war because he was beaten over the head too many times by his captors. He started to discuss his war time experiences in a POW camp near the end of his life and they were horrible. Thank you for sharing the history of these veterans with the forum.

Always interested in WW2 or Korean War helmets and uniforms from the 3rd infantry division.

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4 or 5 men from my town were in the 192nd. One came home. Extremely touching history there , my friend.

Looking for the following:

452nd and 447th Bomb Group items

Anything 12th Armored- especially uniforms

155th Assault Helicopter Company, Camp Coryell, or Ban Me Thuot Vietnam items[/center]


WWII US Navy Uniforms from the Battle Off Samar: USS Johnston DD-557, USS Hoel DD-553, USS Samuel B. Roberts DE-413, USS Heermann DD-532, USS Dennis DE-405, USS John C. Butler DE-339, USS Raymond DE-341, USS Fanshaw Bay St. Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay...


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4 or 5 men from my town were in the 192nd. One came home. Extremely touching history there , my friend.

 

Thank you all for the replies, it isn't the most flashy grouping but it's full of a lot of personal and state history which needs to be saved. I cannot say I was completely dry-eyed as I read through his accounts of the march and life as a POW, it was truly harrowing and some of the worst things I have read about in awhile.

GEN. David R. Atchinson- MO State Guard              ACW

PVT. John H. Drury- Co. A, 27th Ky IR                      ACW               Died of Typhoid

PVT. Henry E. Thomas- Co. I, 17th Ky IR                  ACW

PVT. Joseph E. Drury- Co. E, 356th IR, 89th ID       WWI                WIA

SGT. Edward P. Drury- 51st QM Training Co.           WWII

PFC. Delmer C. Koonter- Co. I, 142nd IR, 36th ID    WWII              WIA

SC3c Michael C. Drury- LCS (L) (3) 70                     WWII

SGT. Steven D. Koonter- 5th Cav, 1st Cav Div         Vietnam

SGT. John M. Drury- 227th AVN Bn. 1st Cav Div     Vietnam

 

Contact me with items from the 36th Infantry Division or any IDd uniforms of European Theater Infantry Divisions

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hey everyone, just got a brief update on this group. When I met with Mrs Van Diver she mentioned a photo album from her husband which she had been unable to find. Well, after a few weeks she managed to come across it. The lot included around 40 photographs from his time in Vietnam ranging from September of 1970 to July of 1971. Subject matter varies from Fire Support Base 4-11, operations around Quang Ngai, locals, and more. I’ve scanned them all and the many captions he wrote on the back. I’ve picked out some more interesting ones and included them below.

Enjoy!

 

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Cecil receiving his BSM and the firebase

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Officer board with his name and a resupply chopper

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Some Slicks, photo of an eagle flight from his helicopter, field ops using flares for resupply, and a field communion service

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Cecils platoon in the field, Xong their Kit Carson Scout washing himself in the river, and one of his men on road sweep duty. It’s hard to see in the scan but clear in the original, there is a peace sign graffitied on his helmet

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Cecil by their bunker, the bunker for his platoon, a truck blown up by a VC mine, and the view of local farms from a resupply chopper

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GEN. David R. Atchinson- MO State Guard              ACW

PVT. John H. Drury- Co. A, 27th Ky IR                      ACW               Died of Typhoid

PVT. Henry E. Thomas- Co. I, 17th Ky IR                  ACW

PVT. Joseph E. Drury- Co. E, 356th IR, 89th ID       WWI                WIA

SGT. Edward P. Drury- 51st QM Training Co.           WWII

PFC. Delmer C. Koonter- Co. I, 142nd IR, 36th ID    WWII              WIA

SC3c Michael C. Drury- LCS (L) (3) 70                     WWII

SGT. Steven D. Koonter- 5th Cav, 1st Cav Div         Vietnam

SGT. John M. Drury- 227th AVN Bn. 1st Cav Div     Vietnam

 

Contact me with items from the 36th Infantry Division or any IDd uniforms of European Theater Infantry Divisions

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