Bashleban

Sgt. James Philip Bashleben


     Sgt. James Philip Bashleben was born in Chicago in on December 20, 1917, to Kuno & Frances Bashleben.  When he was ten, his mother passed away.  His father and him would live with his grandmother at 3248 West Warner Avenue in Chicago.  His father  remarried and, with his half-sister, he was raised in Chicago until his family moved to Park Ridge, Illinois.  

    In Park Ridge, Jim lived at 1719 Glenview Avenue.  He attended Maine Township High School and played football in high school.  He was a member of the Class of 1937.  After graduation, he joined the Illinois National Guard with his high school friends Andrew Hepburn and Willard Von Bergen.  He was employed by the Northern Illinois Public Service Company.

    Jim ended up in the Maywood Tank Company because he, and his two high school friends, had heard that two National Guard units from the Chicago area were being federalized.  The draft act had recently been enacted by Congress which meant that the three would most likely be drafted.  Since the three friends wanted to get their military obligation completed, in August 1940, they took a ride to Maywood to check out the National Guard tank company.  The other unit was cavalry, and the three agreed that riding in tanks sounded better than riding on horses. 

    Upon arriving at the armory in Maywood, the three friends made an agreement not to join the National Guard until they had a chance to talk about it.  When they entered the armory, Jim had his first experience of "divide and conquer".  The entire time the three friends were in the armory, they never saw each other.  It was only when they were driving back to Park Ridge that each one admitted to the other two that he had joined the National Guard.  The three friends started laughing that they had enlisted.  On November 25, 1940, the tank company was federalized and designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.

    At Fort Knox, Jim was selected by Lt. Richard Danca to attend radio school while in the mess hall.  He recalled that Danca was looking for "volunteers" to attend the classes, and that he attempted to hide from Danca by not looking up at him.  Danca saw him and told him he was going to radio school.  What sold Jim on the idea was that he would not be on any work details.

    One day, while in class at radio school, Lt. Danca walked in and informed Jim that he was now going learn to ride a motorcycle since they had enough men training to be radio operators.  Jim remember his father's words, "No, you cannot have a two wheeler bike - they're too dangerous."

     As it turned out, being on a motorcycle had its advantages.  Jim could get off base by telling the first sergeant that he was taking a test hop.  One of the most famous war bond posters was a picture of Jim flying through the air on his Harley-Davidson Motorcycle.  

    Jim recalled that the photographer asked him if he could jump over a log on the bike.  Jim said, "No problem!"  He was lucky enough not to find any logs to jump, so  he rode down through a deep gully and came flying out on the other side airborne.  He barely survived the landing.  The photographer told Jim it looked great and said, "Do it again so we can get your picture."

    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. 

    While in Hawaii, Ray Mason and Jim stopped into a bar to have a drink.  There, the two soldiers got into a conversation with two sailors.  The sailors told them that they were going to school to identify enemy planes.  The sailors stated that they were learning to identify German, Italian, and Russian planes.  Jim asked them, "How about the Japanese?"  The sailors told Jim, "Are you kidding?  All they have are wooden propeller bi-planes." 
    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.

    A little over two weeks after arriving in the Philippines, and just ten hours after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Philippine Islands were attacked by the Japanese.  Jim witnessed the Japanese destroy almost the entire American Army Air Corps as they bombed and strafed Clark Field.  Jim was on a half-track with Zenon Bardowski and Ray Mason, "Bud," as Bardowski was known, and Jim were firing fifty caliber machine guns at the planes.  Jim's gun jammed, but Bud shot down a Zero.  As another Zero whistled overhead, Jim heard Ray say,  "There goes another one of those wooden propeller bi-planes."

    For the next four months, the Filipino and American forces would fight gallantly using, in many cases, World War I equipment.  During the Battle of Bataan, Jim's job was that of reconnaissance sergeant.  It was his role to locate the enemy and inform headquarters of their position.  

    During one withdrawal, the half-track Jim was in could not make it up the bank of a river.  Sgt. Bob Bronge, who was in the last tank, looked back and saw that the half-track was missing.  He reversed his tank and found it stuck at the bottom of the river bank.  Bronge attached a tow cable to the half-track and pulled Jim and the half-track William Oldaker to safety.

    On another occasion, B Company was in its bivouac when it came under fire from a sniper.  Capt. Donald Hanes called Jim and his half-track driver, William Oldaker, over and said he wanted them to take care of the sniper.  Hanes pointed to a tree down the road and told them that he believed the sniper was in it.  The two soldiers climbed into their half-track and made their way down the narrow road.  As they went forward, Jim realized that they were sitting targets in the open half-track.  Oldaker stopped the half-track and Jim fired its .50 caliber machine gun into the tree zigzagging as he he fired up the trunk.  Jim wasn't sure if he hit the sniper, but he did see something fall from the tree.

    Another time, Jim and Oldaker pulled their half-track into a palm grove for the night.  The Japanese must have seen them do this, because the next morning shells began landing around the half-track.  The shelling got so bad that Jim and Oldaker made their way to a nearby river bank and lay against it.  Shells landed in the river behind them.  The explosions drenched both men.  After the shelling, they made their way back to the half-track which was still intact.

    Jim and Oldaker were separated when Jim was sent north to attempt to make contact with B Company tanks.  It was while attempting to do this that Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese.

    On April 8th, Jim received orders to surrender to the Japanese.  The surrender would officially take place the next day.  He and the other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at Bataan's southern tip.  It was from this barrio that Jim took part in what he referred to as "the march".

    The Americans were marched in groups of 100 with guns on them at all times.  Each group was assigned six Japanese guards who would be changed at regular intervals.  During the 70 mile march, the Americans were seldom allowed to stop and were not fed until the fifth day.  Those who stopped or dropped out were bayoneted or left to die.

    For Jim, hearing men who had fallen to the ground beg for help and not being able to help them was one of the hardest things he experienced on the march.  The POWs who continued to march and those who had fallen both knew that to do so meant death for both men.

    The lack of water and food was extremely hard on Jim and the other prisoners.  He watched as two POWs ran to a water spigot to fill their canteens with water.  Both men were shot by the Japanese.  Jim felt he was luckier than many of the other POWs since he had drunk three cans of condensed milk and eaten a can of corn-beef hash before starting the march.  This food in his opinion helped him make it through the march. 

    The first camp Jim was interred  at was Camp O'Donnell.  Jim like other POWs wanted to get out of the camp because of the number of POWs dying each day.  He volunteered, with his high school friend, Sgt. Willard Von Bergen to go out on a work detail to rebuild bridges.  The detail, later known as the "Lumban Bridge Detail" rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed during the American retreat for the Japanese Engineers.  This detail was also under the command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord the commanding officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion.

     Jim first worked at Calauan.  There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication.  They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.

     One day, while on a break from bridge building, Jim was sitting on a log, with Bob Stewart of A Company, having a smoke.  A jeep pulled up in front of the two men and stopped.  A Japanese Naval Officer, in full dress uniform, got out and sat down next to the two prisoners.

     Bob Stewart looked at Jim and asked him if they should offer the officer a smoke.  Jim said to Bob that, "If he wants a cigarette, let him get his own."  At that moment, the officer took out a cigarette and said to them, in perfect English, that he knew how they felt.  The officer then told them that he had a wife and son in the United States, and that he had returned to Japan because his mother was dying.  After she had died, he tried to leave the country but could not.  The officer preceded to tell them that he had traveled all over the United States and saw the might of American industry.  He stated that he knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans would begin to win the war.  The Japanese officer said that his only regret was that he feared he would never see his family again.  

    When the officer got up to leave, he looked at Bob and Jim and pulled out a pack of American cigarettes and threw the cigarettes to them and said, "Smoke something good."  He got back into the jeep and drove off.

     Jim was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge.  Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed.  Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.

     On the detail with him was his high school buddy Willard Von Bergen.  Von, as he was known as, had joined the National Guard with Jim.  It was during this time that he became ill and sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan.

    The next bridge Jim and the other POWs were sent to build was in Candelaria.  Once again, the people of the town did what ever they could to help the Americans.  An order of Roman Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and twelve POWs for a dinner.  Wickord picked the twelve sickest looking POWs.  Jim must have looked like he needed a good meal, because he was one of the twelve men selected by Wickord.

    After several months, the bridge building detail ended, Jim was sent to "Camp One" at Cabanatuan where he worked on a farm.  At Camp One, the prisoners ate rice and lived in crude huts.  If a prisoner was late or missed a detail, that POW was made to kneel on a ladder with a pole placed behind the knees to cut circulation.  The prisoner stayed like this until he fell over.   

    After coming off a work detail, Jim checked himself into the camp "hospital" at Cabanatuan on Thursday, May 20, 1943.  He was suffering from dysentery and also bleeding from his rectum.  He believed it was just a matter of time until he would die.  He entered the hospital ward and the sergeant in charge told him to climb into a top bunk.  Each bunk held five men.  Jim went to the bunk and counted five men in it.  He told the sergeant it was full.  The sergeant and a medic walked up to the bunk and pulled the body of a dead GI from the bunk.  Jim climbed into the bunk and slept the night.

    The next morning Jim woke and wanted to get out of the bunk because his name had been called.  He nudged the man next to him and discovered the man was dead.  He then nudged the POW on his other side to tell him the first man was dead and discovered that he too was dead.  Jim called for the medics who removed the first dead man so that Jim could get out of the bunk.  

     Jim heard a medic calling his name and answered.  He was told that he had someone at the barbed wire fence that surrounded the hospital ward looking for him.  The Japanese were so afraid of the sick GIs that they had erected a barbed wire fence around the ward.  Jim went outside and saw that the person wanting him was Sgt. Zenon Bardowski of B Company.  "Bud" had seen Jim entering the hospital.

    Jim went to the fence and Bud handed him a tinfoil package.  Jim opened it and found two yellow sulphur pills in it.  Bud told him to take the pills.  At that moment Jim knew that Bud was truly his friend because he was offering him pills that possibly could one day save his own life.  Jim took the pills and placed the tinfoil wrapped pills in his waistband.  

    Jim went to sleep that night with the pills still in his waistband.  The next morning, when he awoke, the dysentery and bleeding had stopped.  He had never touched the pills.  When he was released from the hospital, Jim returned the pills to Bud.  Bud would later give them to a member of C Company and save his life.

    After he was released from the camp hospital, Jim went looking for Von Bergen.  From other members of B Company, he learned that Von had died from his illness.

    Jim came down with wet beriberi.  Since he could not go to the washroom, his body began to swell like a beach ball.  His skin appeared to be transparent.  Knowing lying down to sleep would mean his death, Jim remained standing when he slept.  He did this by leaning against a wall.

    One day, Jim made the decision to go to the slit trench that served as the toilet and remain there until he went to the bathroom.  He could not recall how long he stood there attempting to urinate, but once he started it seemed as if he was there for hours.

    The longer that Jim was held at Cabanatuan, the worst the the food situation became.  He and the other POWs worked in the camp farm, yet rations for the POWs were shrinking on a daily basis.  He also worked building runways while a POW in the camp.

    At some point, Jim spent five days in a small punishment box, without food or water, because he had violated a camp rule.

    According to Jim, the guards were given nicknames by the POWs.  Donald Duck was a guard who would jump up and down and scream when he became excited.  The POWs would tell him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star.  Another guard was known as "P-40" because he would frequently attack the POWs for no reason.

    It was around this time that Jim made the decision that volunteering for transport to Japan may be a good idea.  He believed that in Japan, the POWs would be fed better since they were in the Japanese homeland.

    On July 4, 1944, Jim was boarded onto a ship for shipment to Japan.  He spent 62 days crammed in the hold of the Canadian Inventor.   The ship sailed but returned to Manila.  On July 16th, the ship sailed again.  After stops at Takao and Keelung, Formosa, the ship sailed for Naha, Okinawa, before arriving at Moji, Japan.  It arrived there on September 4, 1944.

    Jim was imprisoned at Fukuoka Camp #17 and given the number 1165.  At Fukuoka,  the POWs worked in a condemned coal mine.  At the mine, each prisoner was expected to load three cars of coal a day.  The POWs worked 12 hour work days being given only three rations of rice each day.  To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens and seaweed.

    At some point, Jim recalled, two POWs were tied to a post and left to die.  This was done they had violated a camp rule.

    Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners.  To prevent this from happening, the POWs would "buddy up" with each other.  While one man was working in the mine, the POW who was not working would watch the possessions of the other man.  Jim's buddy was a Navy seaman who was too sick to work in the mine.  He also told Jim the latest camp news.

    One day after working in the mine, Jim's buddy told him the latest news.  He told Jim that he could not believe how stupid the Japanese were.  When Jim enquired why he believed this, the POW said that that morning he saw the greatest explosion he had ever seen in his life.  He concluded that the explosion was caused by a Japanese ammo dump exploding from being bombed.  

    In reality, on August 9, 1945, what the POWs had seen was the atomic bomb that had been dropped on Nagasaki.  Shortly after this, the Japanese became more tolerant, which caused the prisoners to hope that liberation was near.  The Japanese guards soon disappeared from the camp. 

    One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News entered the camp.  He told the POWs that there were American troops on Honshu.  Jim and other POWs left the camp and contacted the troops.  On August 14, 1945, Jim was liberated and sent to the Philippines.  It was at this time that Jim received the rank of staff-sergeant.  Jim finally returned to the United States on the USS Dickman

     After being liberated and returned to the Philippines, Jim wrote home.

 

"Dear Folks ---

 

    Arrived here by plane on the fifteenth and having the time of my life.  Everyone is treating me swell.  I left Fukuoka and went by train and ferry to Konoye Field and the southern tip of Kyushu where we were flown by plane (C-47), one of the "Jungle Skippers" to Okinawa, where we were put on a B-24 and flown to Manila.  It took us 20 days to go from P. I. to Japan in 1944 ---- 4 hours to come from Japan to P. I. No wonder the Nips lost the war.

    I weighed 123 lbs. when I left Japan and when I reached here I had already gained 27 lbs.  Probably weigh around 170 now and  going strong.  All we do here is eat, eat and sleep.  You can imagine having American food 3 times a day after rice and seaweed watery soup for 3 years.  All my cravings have been satisfied (all the candy, meat, bread that we want).  I still look forward to a pineapple upside down cake, Bernie so practice up (also Dressel's cake).  Used to think about those until I was ready to go nuts.

    Got my physical exam and so far I'm o.k. slightly underweight, but by the time I pull into P. R. I hope to be the well rounded rounded lad you last saw (224lbs).  Received 3 mos. back pay, $324.  Nothing here to buy worthwhile, and what little that is here costs a fortune. 

    An idea of what this place is like is --- we live in tents.  Japanese P.O.W.'s clean up the tents and pull all the work details (Ha! Ha!) --- no sympathy from us. Four separate buildings: (1) Px, where we get our beers, 4 cigars, 2 pkgs. of cigarettes, 3 candy bars a day) --- all the coca cola we want; (2) a doughnut shop (free fruit juice, coffee and doughnuts); (3) writing room; (4) library.

    Fellows from the outfit are drifting in.  Sure is good to see some of the old faces after 3 years. 

    I imagine things at home have changed quite a bit.  Hope everyone is o.k.  How are Alvin, Len, Sam, Hep, and the others are doing?  I hope their still home.

    Would sure like to see a picture of Donna (his sister). I'd bet she's quite a lady now. 

    Please write and send some pictures if possible.  Say "Hello" to everyone for me.  Will be home as soon as I can get there.  Expect to leave here within the next few days. 

 

                                                                                 See you soon ---- Jimmie

 

    Jim returned to Park Ridge and to his job at the Northern Illinois Public Service Company.  When the company was split into several utility companies, he became an employee of Northern Illinois Gas. 

    While he was recovering in Galesburg, Illinois at Mayo Hospital, he met a nurse, Joyce Peyron, that he would marry on June 16, 1946.  He was discharged, from the army, three days later on June 19, 1946.  He and his wife raised two sons. 

    Ironically, Joyce Peyron passed a war bond poster, from the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company, of a motorcycle messenger flying through the air on his Harley.  She did this everyday going to work.  The man in the poster, which was taken at Fort Knox in 1941, was of the same man that she married. 

    Jim Bashleben resided in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  He passed away on July 30, 2009, in Arlington Heights and was cremated.  His ashes are at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Arlington Heights.


 


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