Dravo

 

Cpl. George Emery Dravo


    Pvt. George E. Dravo was born on June 6, 1920, in Chicago Ridge, Illinois.  He was the son of Eugene Dravo & Catherine Kreten-Dravo.  He moved to Maywood, Illinois as a child and lived at 1508 South Fourth Avenue. In Maywood, he attended the local schools.  He was a graduate of Proviso Township High School.

    Since a federal draft act had just been passed, George knew that it was just a matter of time until he was inducted into the army.  Like other men from the Maywood area, he enlisted in the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Division Tank Company in Maywood.  His reason for joining the company was that it was about to be called into federal service.  He knew that if he served one year with the company at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he would fulfill his military obligation.

    On November 25, 1940, the tank company traveled to Ft Knox for one year of military service.  The tank company was now known as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  In January, 1941, George was assigned to Headquarters Company when it was formed from the four letters company of the battalion.  George was a motorcycle messenger for Headquarters Company.

    In the late summer of 1941, the battalion took part in the Louisiana maneuvers.  It was after these maneuvers that the George and the other members of the battalion learned that they were not being released from military service.  Instead, they were being sent overseas.  He and the other men received furloughs home to say their goodbyes.

    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. 

    On December 8, 1941, George lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  For the next four months, George delivered messages between headquarters and the letter companies.  This at times was a difficult job since the companies were constantly on the move.  At some point during the fighting, George was promoted to corporal.  He also was put into command of a halftrack. 

    On April 9, 1942, George became a Prisoner Of War when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.  With the other members of HQ, he went to Mariveles. It was from there that George started what would become known as the Death March. 

    The lack of food and water were two of the most difficult things that the prisoners had to deal with.  In addition, the hot temperatures made the situation worse.  In George's opinion, the problem was that the Japanese had no tradition in their culture to handle prisoners.  They had been taught to die, not surrender.  They simply were not prepared to take and keep prisoners.  It was his belief that this was the cause of so many of the atrocities on the march and later in the camps.

    At San Fernando, George and the other men were crowded into box cars and sent to Capas.  From there, George walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.

    Camp O'Donnell was a unfinished Filipino Army Training Camp.  The entire POW population had only one water faucet for the entire camp. It was while a POW there that George is credited with saving the life of his friend, Jack Swinehamer.  Jack had been declared dead and taken to the cemetery at the camp.  After he had been laid is the mass grave, George saw Jack move.  George pulled Jack from the grave and returned him to the camp.  To help Jack regain his strength, George shared his food with him.

    George was selected to go out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges that the Americans had destroyed during their withdraw into Bataan.  The detail was divided into two groups.  George's group was sent to a sawmill to cut the lumber that would be used during the construction.  George loaded trucks with lumber and stacked boards to dry.

    On this detail, George witnessed the execution of ten POWs.  One night, one POW escaped from the detail.  The Japanese had instituted a "Blood Brother Rule."  If a POW escaped the five POWs who slept on either side of the man would be executed.  Five POWs to the right of the man, and five POWs to the left of the man were executed.  The Japanese reasoned that these men could have stopped the man from escaping.

    George also witnessed the death of Ralph Hite of Hq Company.  According to George, Ralph and five other POWs ate "Pony Candy" and became ill.  Ralph quickly developed dysentery and died.  He was buried in a hardwood coffin that the Japanese allowed the POWs to make.  After the war, George wrote to Ralph's mother and wrote about Ralph's death. 

    After the detail ended, George was sent to Cabanatuan.   According to medical records from the camp, George was in the hospital June 19, 1942.  No illness was indicated or a date of discharge indicated. 
    In September 1943, George was selected to go out on a work detail to Las Pinas.  On this detail, the POWs built runways for an airfield.  He remained on this detail until September 1944. On the September 9th, American planes appeared over Las Pinas.  On teh 21st of September, the planes began to plaster the airfield.  On September 22nd, the Japanese closed the camp and sent the POWs to Bilibid Prison.

    In October of 1944, the Americans began bombing Manila.  The Japanese knowing that it was just a matter of time until the Philippines were liberated, began to transfer the prisoners to Japan or an Japanese controlled country.  George was sent to the Port Area of Manila as part of this process.

    When George's group of POWs arrived at Manila, they were held back from being sent to Japan.  It turned out that some of the POWs in his group had not arrived from the POW camps.  As it turned out, another group of POWs were put on the ship that George was suppose to board.  That ship, the Arisan Maru, was sunk by an American submarine on October 24, 1944.

    George was boarded onto Hokusen Maru.  On October 3, 1944, the ship joined 37 other ships to form a convoy.  Due to the constant attacks by American planes and submarines, the journey to Formosa took 38 days.  The Hokusen Maru arrived at Formosa on November 11, 1944.  When they arrived in Formosa, only three ships of the 37 that had left Manila had survived the journey.

    George was held on Formosa from November 1944 until January 1945 at Inrin Temporary Camp.  The POWs were considered too ill to continue the trip to Japan and remained in the camp to regain their health.  Their housing was a school house.  During their stay, the POWs worked in a garden and grew vegetables to supplement their meals.  

    In January 14, 1945, he was boarded onto the Melbourne Maru for Japan.  The ship arrived at Moji on January 23rd, and the POWs road a train to a copper mine.  George was held at Sendai #7.  The POWs worked in a copper mine.

    George and the other POWs were issued winter clothing.  The real problem was that the shoes they were given to wear were made of straw.  These shoes froze when they got wet which meant many of the POWs suffered from frostbite.

    At some point, George was sent to Ashio #8-D.  Once again, the POWs were used as slave labor in a copper mine.  George remained at the camp until he was liberated.  He returned to the Philippines to be fattened up and then returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze arriving San Francisco on October 16, 1945.  George was also promoted to sergeant after he was liberated.  He was discharged, from the army, on June 21, 1946.

    George married Helen May Feister and became the father of two children.  He lived most of the remainder of his life in the Maywood area.  During this time, he worked as a policeman and machinist. 

    In 1989, George moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he passed away on December 3, 1993, of a heart attack.  During the autopsy, the doctor noted that George's heart had scar tissue from an earlier heart attack.  He most likely suffered this heart attack while POW.

    He was buried in Section H, Site  263 at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder, Nevada, on December 8, 1993. 


 

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