Griffin

Sgt. James William Griffin


     Sgt. James A. Griffin was born January 12, 1912, in Chicago.  He grew up at 6733 North Bosworth Avenue and was the son of Judge John J. Griffin & Alice McCabe-Griffin. His father was a Cook County, Illinois, circuit court judge.  With his three brothers and sister, he grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

    Jim attended St. Jerome's Catholic School, and for high school, he attended Campion Prep, a Catholic Prep School, in Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin.   He graduated in 1933 and attended college.  He was a highly decorated Chicago Police Detective working in the Summerdale Police Station on the north side of Chicago. 

    In 1941, Jim was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for training.  He was trained like all the members of the company to operate all the equipment used by the battalion.
   
At Fort Knox, he was assigned to Company B, 192nd Battalion as a replacement.  When he became a member of Company B, he received the rank of Private First Class.  By the time he became a member, all the "cushy" positions were already filled by the original Illinois National Guard members.  Jim was known as having natural leadership ability and a great sense of humor.

    In the late summer, the 192nd was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers.  According to members of the battalion, they broke through the defensive lines of the Blue Army, whose commanding officer was General George Patton, and it was a matter of hours until they overran his Blue Army's headquarters.  Suddenly, the maneuvers were cancelled.
    When the maneuvers ended, the members of the 192nd Tank Battalion remained behind at Camp Polk.   Many had no idea why they were being kept there.  What they were told on the side of a hill was that they were being sent overseas. It was at this time that members of the battalion, 29 years old or older, were allowed to resign from federal service.  Thomas replaced a National Guardsman and was assigned to B Company.
    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.A.T. 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.

   The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor just four hours earlier.  They were ordered to take their tanks to the perimeter of Clark Field and guard against Japanese paratroopers.   

    On December 21st, Jim took part in the first tank action by American tanks in World War II.  Jim was a tank commander and assigned to Lt. Ben Morin's tank platoon. Two f his crew members were Cpl. Bob Martin and Pfc. Henry Deckert.  Morin's platoon was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese had landed troops.

    Morin's platoon approached Agoo when it ran head on into a Japanese motorized unit.  The Japanese light tanks had no turrets and sloped armor.  The shells of the Americans glanced off the tanks.  Morin's tank was knocked out and his crew captured.  Jim's tank took several hits.  One of the hits killed his assistant tank driver and machine gunner, Pvt. Henry Deckert.

    After the engagement, Jim and the surviving tanks dropped back to Rosario.  Deckert's body was removed and buried.  The tanks were lost to enemy fire while being towed back for repairs.

    It was during at this time that the tankers, in support of the 48th Division, while on a coastal road, destroyed ten Japanese tanks.  They then advanced into Damortis.

    After the withdrawal into Bataan, B Company tanks were used to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been landed behind the main battle line.   This action became known as "The Battle of the Pockets."

    When the American and Filipino Forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese, Jim took part in the death march.  He was held as a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanatuan Prison Camp.  

    While Jim was a POW at Cabanatuan, he was selected to be sent to Lipa Batangas on a work detail.  There,  he worked on a farm and did built runways at an airfield.  It is believed that because of illness Jim was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila. 

    At the prison, Jim was reunited with Pfc. Frank Goldstein and Sgt. Zenon Bardowski of the 192nd.  Jim's physical condition was poor so Frank Goldstein gave him a handful of vitamin pills he had received in a red cross parcel.  At Bilibid, Jim was the cellmate of Dr. Paul Ashton.  While a prisoner at Bilibid, Jim assisted the doctor in helping the wounded and caring for those who could not take care of themselves.

     On March 9, 1944, Jim's parents received a transcript of a shortwave message from Japan.  In it, Jim said:

    " I am now undergoing hospital treatment. I have received numerous letters. In answer to them all I say thanks a million.  To Marge, keep smiling."

    Marge in the message was Margaret Piper a secretary at DePaul University, and Jim's girlfriend.

    Jim had a fantastic sense of humor and loved to play jokes on the guards.  One of his jokes would lead to his death.  Jim made placebos from plaster and sold them to the guards to cure their "social diseases."  

    According to Lt. Jack Merrifield, on November 29, 1943, Jim was sent to Bilibid from a work detail because he was suffering from dysentery.   On Friday, May 19, 1944, at 3:00 P.M., while Jim was outside lying down and sunning himself after taking a shower, a  Formosan guard came up to him and started a conversation.  During the conversation, the guard said to Jim that he was going to shoot him.  Jim's response was "Go ahead."  The guard shot him three times. 

    One shot hit Jim in the neck severing his spinal column and paralyzing him from the arms down.  According to other POWs, the guard was unhappy with the medicine that Jim had sold him.  Medical records kept at the prison show that Jim became irrational six hours after being admitted to the hospital.  At some point, he developed a fever which rose to over 106.7 degrees.  Jim died from his wounds at 9:40 P.M., on May 20, 1944.  He was buried in Row 4, Grave 25, at the POW cemetery at Bilibid Prison.

   Jim's cellmate, Dr. Paul Ashton, heard what happened and ran out of the cell block and up to the guard.  Without hesitating, Dr. Ashton jumped the guard which prevented him from killing himself.  The gunshot did blow off part of the guard's jaw.  The guard was taken from Bilibid and never seen again.  For whatever reason, the Japanese did not kill Dr. Ashton but put him through a court-martial.  As punishment, he was not allowed to be transported to Japan.

   It was on April 23, 1945, that Jim's parents learned of his death.  On May 20, 1945, his parents held a memorial for Jim at St. Jerome's Catholic Church in Chicago.  

   Today, the remains of Sgt. James W. Griffin lie in Plot A, Row 4, Grave 70, at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.


 

 


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