Graff

 


Pvt. Richard W. Graff


    Pvt. Richard W. Graff was born on February 17, 1913, to Frank Graff and Frances Prusvoscky-Graff.   With his two brothers and sister, he grew up in Chicago at 4354 South Princeton Avenue.  He left high school after one year and was employed by the Chicago Tribune as an advertising order clerk for eleven years.  He was known as "Rick" to his family.

    Richard was married to Cecelia Fleischer.  On January 21, 1941, knowing that it was just a matter of time until he was drafted, Richard enlisted in the United States Army.  He had always had a desire to serve his country.  At the time, he had no idea how fateful this decision would be for him.

    After enlistment, Richard was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  His drill sergeant was Ben Morin.  At the same time, Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion was formed creating vacancies in the rosters of the tank companies.  Since B Company had been an Illinois National Guard Company and Richard was from Illinois, he was assigned to B Company as a radio man, but he was also qualified as a tank driver.

    During this training, Richard and the other new members of the 192nd were housed in tents.  Being it was late winter, the heaters did not always keep them warm.  It was while living in the tent that Richard became friends with Ed DeGroot who had been assigned to A Company.    

    Richard finished his training as a radio operator and with Company B and was assigned to a tank.     In the late summer of 1941, Frank took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day.  About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.

    During the trip to the Philippines, Rick wrote to his wife, "Our letters will take longer to reach each other from now on because of the distance.   I'll bet it is 10,000 miles. Don't worry.  I don't believe I would want a furlough after all.  It costs too much from where we are going, and I don't like the idea of traveling too much. If I do go home, I want it to be for good."  
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
 
 

    For the next two months, he would fight the Japanese as they advanced in the Philippines.  During the Battle of Bataan, Richard and the other tank battalion members, were assigned to guard the eastern beaches of Bataan at Limay, that faced Manila, against a possible Japanese landing.  It was during this duty, that the tanks of B Company were engaged in a "fire" fight with Japanese ships.

    To prevent the Japanese from locating the tanks and half-tracks assigned to guarding the beaches, the tankers would move their tanks out onto the beaches at night and into the jungle during the early morning.  Every morning a Japanese reconnaissance plane known to the Bataan defenders as "Recon Joe" would fly over the jungle trying to locate the tanks.  Since the jungle canopy was so thick, the Japanese had no idea where the tanks were or how many tanks the Americans had.

     One morning, an attempt was made by a Sgt. Walter Cigoi to end the daily flyovers of Recon Joe.  Sgt. Cigoi pulled his halftrack out from under the jungle canopy onto the beach and started shooting at the reconnaissance plane.  His attempt to shoot down the plane failed.  As a result of this decision, the Japanese now had a good idea where the tanks were located.  Twenty minutes later, four Japanese dive bombers flew to the location and  pasted the tanks and half-tracks.

     According to Frank Goldstein, when the bombs began exploding,  Richard and him were about five feet apart.  To hide from the bombs, Frank dove into a hole, while Richard attempted to hide beside his tank.  Unfortunately, his tank provided very little protection.  The falling bombs were exploding upon contact with the tree canopy high above the tanks.  This situation resulted in shrapnel flying in every direction. 

    When the bombing ceased, Richard was found, by Frank and other member of B Company, crouching beside the side of his tank with his hands on the shielding the sides of his head.  Frank recalled that Richard had a "peaceful" look on his face.   Since they did not see any wounds at the time, they did not know that Richard had been hit in the back of the head by a small piece of shrapnel .  Richard was 28 years old when he died.  It should be mentioned that Richard was also the first former employee of the Chicago Tribune to die in WWII.  The flag on top of the Tribune Tower was flown at half-staff in his honor.

    Pvt. Richard W. Graff was reported Killed In Action on Tuesday, February 3, 1942.  He was buried in the Cabcaban Army Airfield Cemetery in Plot B, Row 1, Grave 8 .  His mother received word of his death on February 7, 1942.  When his wife, Cecilia, learned of his death the same day, she told a reporter of the Chicago Tribune, "Rick wanted to go last January and be a radio operator with the army. I was proud at the time and am prouder now."  A memorial service was held at Saint Cecilia's Church was held on February 11, 1942.  On April 11th, the Chicago Tribune dedicated an employee service flag. Richard's wife and mother were present at the ceremony.

    On November 15, 1942, a service flag was dedicated in his neighborhood on Chicago's Southside.  Over 1000 people were present for the ceremony.  The flag had 194 blue Stars and two Gold Stars to indicate the two men from the neighborhood who had died in service. 

    After the war, in 1946, his remains were recovered at Cabcaben Army Airfield Cemetery.  His family had his remains returned to Chicago.  He was buried at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery on October 19, 1948.  Today, he lies next to his mother and father at the cemetery on the southwest side of Chicago .


 


 

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