S/Sgt. John E. Ball was born in Stuart, Iowa, to
Frederick E. Ball & Cora C. Rinehart-Ball on
September 17, 1914. He was one of the couple's
ten children. Before he and his brother,
William, moved to the Chicago area in 1940, he worked
as a machinist in a light factory. In the
Chicago area, he and his brother lived at 1035 South
Harvard Avenue in Oak Park.
John was one of the original Illinois National Guardsmen, of B Company, called to federal duty on November 25, 1940. He trained with the company at Fort Knox, Kentucky, during 1940 and 1941. During his training at Ft, Knox, he qualified as a tank mechanic.
In the late summer of 1941, he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after the maneuvers, with the release of men 28 years or older, that John was promoted to tank maintenance crew chief.
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. With the 192nd, John sailed to the Philippine Islands in November of 1941. He lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield and took part in the defense of the Philippine Islands. On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after Pearl Harbor, John lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.
That morning, the tankers were informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The tankers had been positioned around the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning, as they watched, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
At 12:45, John and the other tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. In all, they counted 54 planes. At first, they watched since they believed the planes to be American. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
For four months, John fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. Keeping the tanks running was a difficult job since there was no place to go to get spare parts. The crews had to cannibalize tanks that were no longer information.
On April 9, 1942, John became a Prisoner Of War. He took part in the death march. He and the other members of his company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. There, they were searched and the Japanese took what they wanted from them.
The POWs marched out of Mariveles. The first few miles the road gradually rose. Since many men were ill, this was too much for them. Those who fell were killed. At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. Each car could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From Capas, John walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
John was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp. The POWs stood in line for hours for a drink. Some died while doing this.
The death rate in the camp was so high, that the Japanese acknowledged that they had to do something about it. The Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan to relieve the conditions at Camp Polk, John was transferred there. Sometime during the time he was there, John developed malaria and was admitted into the camp hospital in June 1942.
S/Sgt. John E. Ball died of malaria at Cabanatuan POW Camp on Friday, July 3, 1942, and was buried in the camp cemetery. After the war, the U.S. Remains recovery Team positively identified the remains of S/Sgt. John E. Ball. At the request of his family, he was buried in Plot B, Row 9, Grave 12, at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.