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
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
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 8:40 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.