Armato

S/Sgt. Richard C. Armato


     S/Sgt. Richard C. Armato was the son of Italian immigrants.  He was born on January 15, 1912, to Antonia Gigante-Armato and Dominick Armato.  He grew up  in Melrose Park, Illinois, and with friends joined the Illinois National Guard as a member of the 33rd Divisional Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois. 

     Before he was inducted into the army in 1940, Richard worked, as a bank clerk, at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago and lived at 741 North Waller Avenue in Chicago.  When his tank company was called to federal service on November 25, 1940, Richard was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training.  

    At Fort Knox, Richard learned to operate all the equipment that was used by the company.  He next went to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941.  It was there that the 192nd Tank Battalion was selected for duty in the Philippine Islands. 

    When news of the overseas assignment given, Richard was given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  This was done because he was 29 years old.  Since he shipped out with his company, Richard chose to remain in the service.

    By train, the company traveled to San Francisco.  Once there, they were ferried to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  On Angel Island, they were housed in barracks at Fort MacDowell.   There, they were inoculated for overseas duty.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.
   
At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
  At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.  

    The night of December 7th, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  That night, the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had reached the Philippines.  All morning as the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon the planes landed and the pilots went to have lunch.

    As Richard and the other tankers watched, planes approached the airfield from the north.  Tiny raindrops began to fall from the planes.  When the bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  When the attack ended, the American Air Force in the Philippines had been practically destroyed.

    Richard fought with his company after the Japanese invaded the Philippine Islands.  In January 1942, they entered Bataan.  The plan was to hold the Japanese off until relieved.  They had no idea at the time that no one was coming to relieve them.

    Many of the tankers, on their tanks radios, heard Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson say that in war some men would have to be sacrificed.   He and the other tankers knew that he was talking about them.

     Richard became a Prisoner of War when the Philippine Islands fell to the Japanese.   He became a Prisoner of War on April 9, 1942 and took part in the death march.

     From Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan, Richard made his way to San Fernando.  There, he and the other POWs were put into small wooden boxcars and rode to Capas.  At Capas, they disembarked and walked to Camp O'Donnell.

     Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino military base.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. As many as fifty POWs died each day.  The situation was so bad that the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.  Richard was sent to the camp and assigned to Barracks #5, Group 2.  Medical records from the camp show that Richard was hospitalized on April 13, 1943.  The records do not show why he was hospitalized or when he was discharged.

    During this time, Richard was selected to be sent to Japan.  On July 15, 1944, he was one of the POWs who boarded between 25 to 30 trucks for Bilibid Prison.  The POWs left the camp at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid at 2:00 in the morning.  The morning of July 17th, the POWs at 7:00 A.M. the POWs were marched to the port area.  When they arrived, the Japanese attempted to put 1600 POWs in the rear hold of the ship.  When they realized this could not be done, they moved 900 POWs to the forward hold. 
    The ship sailed later that day and dropped anchor off the breakwater of the harbor.  For the first day and a half, the POWs were not fed.  When they were fed, they received rice and vegetables and a canteen cup of water.  They would receive this meal and amount of water twice a day. 
    On July 23rd, the ship moved to a point off of Corregidor.  It remained there overnight and sailed the next morning as part of a convoy.  As the ships sailed to Formosa, the ships were attacked by an American submarine wolf pack.  According to POWs, they heard a bang against the haul of the ship.  They believed it had been hit by a torpedo that failed to detonate.  Other men were awakened when depth charges were dropped.  They also heard the explosions as other ships were hit.  In one case, the explosion was so great that the POWs saw the flames go over the uncovered hatches.  Four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk.     

    The POWs were calmed by Father John Curran, O. P., who told them that they could not do anything but pray.  He then began saying the "Our Father" and the screaming subsided.
   
    The remaining ships reached Takao, Formosa, the morning of Friday, July 28th.  The ships sailed again that evening for Moji, Japan.  They sailed through a storm and arrived there near midnight the night of August 3rd.

    The next morning the POWs disembarked the ship and marched to a theater.  They remained in the dark theater for hours.  The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 200 men.  The detachments were marched to the train station and boarded trains to the camps they were assigned.  From Moji, Richard was sent to Fukuoka #3.  This camp provided slave labor for the Yawata Steel Mills.

    The prisoners were given various jobs including cleaning out the debris from the blast furnaces.  Since Richard and the other POWs were slave labor, the Japanese saw no reason to allow the ovens to cool before the POWs cleaned them.

     After three and a half years as a POW, he was liberated when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.  He was discharged, from the army, on June 20, 1946, and returned home to Melrose Park.

    Richard later joined a monastery in Wisconsin where he studied to become a Catholic priest.  After leaving the monastery, he moved to San Diego, California, where his sister and brother-in-law had moved.  He worked as a title searcher for American Title & Insurance.

    Richard Armato passed away on August 3, 1985, and was buried at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego next to his brother-in-law.  He was 73 years old.





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