Pvt. John Francis Burke
| Pvt. John F. Burke
was born on January 21, 1921, and was the second of
seven children born to Peter J. & Evelyn
Burke. He grew up at 1126 South Cherry Street in
Janesville, and by the age of sixteen, he was six feet
one inch tall. Neighborhood children followed
him around to see if he would give them rides on his
shoulders or on a pair of stilts that he built.
On Christmas Eve, he would dress up as Santa Claus and
go to the homes of children on his stilts.
At Janesville High School, he played the tuba in the school band for three years, and red curly hair which made him the easiest band member to spot when the band was on the field. He was also a member of the Janesville High School football team.
John graduated high school in 1939 and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps with some friends since jobs were scarce. While in the C.C.C., John planted trees, built dams, and did other conservation jobs.
In 1940, John joined the Wisconsin National Guard, because he knew that with the passage of the new draft law, he would sooner or later be drafted into the army. He was called to federal duty when the tank company was federalized in November 25, 1940. The company left Janesville on November 28th, by train, as A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
His company trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was there that he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas. John received a leave home to say goodbye to family and friends.
After returning to Camp Polk, the companies, of the battalion, traveled by train - over different train routes - and arrived in San Francisco, California, where they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. There, the battalion's doctors gave them physicals and inoculations. Men who had minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He remained with the battalion until every member had had Thanksgiving dinner. Afterwards, he went to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
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 as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field on December 8th, just hours after the attack and ordered to full alert. Those assigned to tanks and half-tracks joined their crew members who were already at the airfield.
About 8:30 A.M., the planes at the airfield took off and filled the sky in every direction. At noon, they landed to be refueled and were lined up in a straight line near the mess hall. The pilots went to have lunch while the planes were being refueled.
About 12:45 in the afternoon, as the tankers were eating lunch, planes appeared in the sky. At first, the soldiers thought they were American planes and had enough time count 54 planes. It was only when they heard the sound of bombs falling and saw explosions that the soldiers knew that the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The tankers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
On December 12th, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad to protect them from sabotage. On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. There, the tanks, with the 194th held the position. On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31st and January 1st. Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep. It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.
On January 1st, the tanks were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. The night of January 7th, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
On January 28th, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks being there prevented them from attempting to land on the beaches.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese troops who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until the tank, which had been relieved, had left the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
On March 2nd or 3rd, during the Battle of the Points. The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The Japanese were soon cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket. Both of the pockets were wiped out.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die." The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
John became a Prisoner Of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9 1942. He took part in the death march and was held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell. He was also held at Cabanatuan. During his time in the Philippines, John was sent out on a work detail to Baybombong on Luzon.
He was later held at Bilibid Prison and then selected to work the Bachrach Garage Detail. The POWs on this detail repaired mechanical equipment for the Japanese. With him on the detail were the Fay Baldon, John and Henry Luther, and Maurice Lustig of A Company.
On October 10, 1944, when it became obvious to the Japanese that the Philippines were about to be invaded by American forces, the POWs on the detail were sent to the Port Area of Manila. There, they were scheduled to be boarded onto the Hokusen Maru. The ship was ready to sail, but not all the POWs assigned to the detachment had arrived at the pier. Another POW detachment was also at the pier and was ready to board their ship, but their ship was not ready to sail. The Japanese decided to switch the POW detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 10th, his detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru where the nearly 1800 POWs were packed into Hold #1 of the ship which was large enough to hold four hundred men. The ship sailed, but instead of heading to Formosa it headed south. Off the Island of Palawan, the ship dropped anchor in a cove. Within the first 48 hours, five men had died. The Japanese had removed the lights in the hold but had not turned off the system's power. Some of the POWs managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system. This provided fresh air to the POWs for two days. When the Japanese discovered what had been done, they turned off the power.
After this, the prisoners began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese soon realized that if they did not do something, the ship would be a death ship. To relieve the situation in the hold, they transferred 600 of the POWs to the ship's first hold which was partially filled with coal. During the move, one of the POWs was shot and killed while attempting to escape. During this time, the POWs, each day, were allowed three ounces of water and two rations of rice. Twice every 24 hours, the POWs received half a mess kit of rice.
While the Arisan Maru was anchored off Palawan it was attacked once by American planes. The ship returned to the Manila on October 20th, where, it joined a convoy. On October 21st, after loading bananas and other foods, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese also issued life jackets to the POWs which could float for about two hours. According to survivors, all this did was reinforced in the Americans the fear of being killed by their own countrymen.
The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. In addition, U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese. To protect this secret, they did not tell the crews, of the submarines, that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for the submarines.
The evening of October 24th at about 5:00 P.M., the convoy was in the Bashi Channel, of the South China Sea, off the coast of China, when it came under attack by American submarines. The waves were high since a storm had just passed. At about 5:50 P.M., a number of POWs were on deck preparing dinner. About half the POWs on the ship had been fed. When the guards ran to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo as it barely missed the ship. The guards next ran to the stern of the ship, and a second torpedo passed behind the ship.
Suddenly the Arisan Maru shook, it had been hit by two torpedoes from the U.S.S. Shark, amidship, killing POWs while those still alive began cheering wildly. A little while later the cheering ended and the men realized they were facing death. The Japanese abandoned ship leaving the POWs to die.
The guards went after the POWs who cooking dinner and began beating them with their guns and forcing them into the #2 hold. Once they were in the hold the Japanese cut the rope ladders and slammed down the hatch covers, but they did not tie them down.
POWs in the first hold managed to make their way onto the deck and reattached the rope ladders and dropped them into the holds. The surviving POWs made their way onto the deck. On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the script." Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."
According to surviving POWs, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half but remain afloat. It was about this time that about 35 POWs swam to the nearest Japanese ship. When the Japanese realized that they were POWs, they pushed them underwater with poles and drowned them or hit them with clubs. Those POWs who could not swim raided the food lockers for a last meal. These men wanted to die with full stomachs.
Three men managed to get into a lifeboat that had been abandoned by the Japanese. But since the sea was rough and they had no paddles, they could not maneuver the boat. According to the men as the night went on, the cries for help became fewer until there was silence. The next morning, they rescued two more POWs.
Of the approximately 1800 men who had boarded the Arisan Maru in Manila, only nine survived the sinking. Eight of these men survived to see the end of the war.
Pvt. John F. Burke died in sinking of Arisan Maru on October 24, 1944. Since he was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.
On September 14, 1946, John's parents held a memorial service for him at Saint Patrick's Catholic Church in Janesville.