2nd Lt. John Frederick Hay
2nd Lt. John F. Hay was the
son of the Dr. Samuel H. Hay & Dr. Rachel
McMaster-Hay. He was born in Coddle Creek,
Iredell County, North Carolina, on November 8,
1919. His father would later become the
minister at the First Presbyterian Church in
Morristown, Tennessee. With his two sisters,
he grew up at 21 Church Street in
John attended Davidson College. He enrolled in the college's R.O.T.C program on September 13, 1937. He was also the vice-president of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and graduated from college with a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry in June 1941. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister.
In September 1940, John accepted commission as a
second lieutenant in the Army Reserve
Corps. John was called to active duty,
during the summer of 1941 in the U. S. Army and
sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, receiving training
in tanks. In the fall of 1941, he joined
the 192nd Tank Battalion as it prepared for duty
in the Philippine Islands at Camp Polk,
Louisiana. His name was drawn by lot and
he replaced a National Guardsman who was
considered "too old" to go overseas. He
was assigned, as a tank platoon commander, to C
The 192nd was
boarded onto the
and sailed from
San Francisco on
27th, for Hawaii
as part of a
They arrived at
given leaves so
they could see
the ships sailed
At one point,
the ships passed
an island at
they did so in
for many of
was a sign
that they were
Ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, John lived through the Japanese bombing of Clark Field. He spent the next four months fighting to slow the inevitable conquest of the Philippines by the Japanese.
During the battle for the Philippines, John came down with pneumonia. He was sent to the hospital. The officer in the next bed was Col. Charles Steel who had been John's R.O.T.C. unit commander at Davidson College in 1937 when John was a freshman. It was Steel who awarded John his commission as a second lieutenant. Both men celebrated Christmas together before returning to their respective units.
According to Col. Charles Steel, during the Battle of Bataan, John and his tank platoon came to the aid of his 31st Infantry which had received orders to withdraw from their positions. Steel's command had lost so many men, that it was almost impossible for him to safely fall back to new positions. It was only after John's tanks arrived and provided support that Steel's unit was able to take the new positions.
In an attempt
to defeat the Filipino and American forces
quicker, the Japanese landed troops behind the
main line of defense on Bataan. Since
these troops were landed in the wrong spot, they
were quickly cut off with no possibility of
being reinforced or receiving supplies.
The Japanese made an attempt to relieve the
troops, but the second group of Japanese Marines
were once again landed in the wrong
location. They too were quickly cut
off. This would become known as the Battle
of the Pockets.
It was during the Battle of the Tuol Pocket from February 2, 1942, to February 5, 1942, that John was credited in developing a method of clearing the Japanese Marines from their positions. With the American forces, attempting to clear out the Japanese pocket, were members of the Air Corps who had been converted to infantry. The commanding officer asked John what they should do since the airmen were not trained as infantry.
John thought about the problem and came up with
this solution to it. Since the Japanese
were dug in, the tanks could not get a good shot
at them. John's solution was to have six
soldiers ride on the back of each tank. As
the tanks rolled toward the foxholes, the
Japanese would dive over their foxholes.
Each American soldier took a hand grenade from
his sack and dropped it into the foxholes wiping
out the Japanese.
John led as many as five attacks a day, into the pocket, to wipe out the Japanese. A few of the cleansing missions lasted for five hours. After several days of this, the pocket was completely cleared of enemy soldiers. For this action, John posthumously received two Silver Stars for Gallantry.
On February 8th, John wrote this letter to his parents. The letter was in a mail sack pulled from the ocean after the ship it was on was sunk by a Japanese submarine. After it was recovered, it made its way to his family.
Another week has gone by and our whole band is resting after heavy action. I have written several letters to you since my stay in the hospital but they were all lost.
Every little barrio (town) has a huge cathedral, some of them dating back to the sixteenth century. The buildings are mostly square without arches. But their plain architectural lines along with her massiveness give them a grandeur which cannot be hidden by decaying walls. I was in one the other day whose steeple was being used as an observation point for artillery fire. The church was in a village which was bombed and shelled continuously by the enemy. It alone of the many buildings was standing while all around were tangled masses of concrete, tin, and army equipment. The Japanese had concentrated on this spot but the walls of the church were so thick that no real harm could be done. This church has long since been abandoned but while we still had the surrounding territory it was certainly a haven. At the base of the tower the walls are over nine feet thick.
I am now in a mountainous region which is one of the prettiest places I have ever been in. The acacia trees which I love so much are left behind but huge mahogany trees five and six feet thick and towering many feet high along with other kinds of huge trees and large vines make this one of the wildest and yet most peaceful places that I have yet come across.
I neglected to finish telling about my health. When I left the hospital I was a mere skeleton. I feel sure that I now weigh over 160 pounds which puts me in the almost fat class. Death and tragedy do not seem to bother me - I worry that it does not. I eat enormous meals and continue to gain weight. I am sure you are suffering more than I and that all other parents and loved ones of the fellows are doing the same. The strain upon us here is terrific. We really never get any rest. But we are happy. In my last letter I told you I had no casualties in my company which was really something. By casualties I mean fatal casualties. The tropical fevers are even more dangerous than the enemy or least have been to date.
I know you would like to know how I am getting along as an officer. I led my troops in one of the heaviest and most successful actions we have as yet had. I know the team work of my platoon deserves the credit - every man did his job and we were successful. Of course it was I who received the congratulations of the colonels, generals, captains, and fellow officers. By the work of my platoon (of tanks) casualties in the supporting infantry were cut down to nothing. I know I have made the grade - my hope is that I continue in the same way - I have been lucky. God has been more than good to me and only hope I can show my thankfulness by going into his service upon my return.
I have not yet been able to contact Col. Steel since last December. He is getting along fine though. His men are doing a good but hard job.
I am about written out. I hope that this orgy is soon finished but I am afraid that we are in for a long one. I have slept in the open now for a month and a week exactly, most of the time on the ground. I can get as good a sleep on the ground as I can on a bed. I have a cot and have several times preferred the ground to the cot since putting the cot up at night and then having to repack it is a lot of trouble.
Another thing I enjoy even if there is drudgery is washing my clothes. We are all on pretty much of an edge with never a chance for our nerves to relax. Doing little jobs with my hands rests me. Today I washed .........I really had wash woman hands when I got through.
I have some some work in a religious way. In fact, I have been called a preacher a few times. Last night we had Major Dawson of California here for supper. I hope I can also get a Catholic chaplain later - Major Dawson is a Baptist.
Last Wednesday 77 of us went to Major Dawson's prayer-meeting. He complimented me in his service saying it was fine for me to bring them rather than just telling the fellows were to go. Of course I didn't really deserve the praise since I just went along. His service was very good-he taught rather than preached and said as much.
Give my regards to everybody, Give my love to Rachel, Louisa, and the other folks.
With love and longings to be home,
Although Bataan surrendered on April 9, 1942, John did not become a POW until April 11, 1942, since the Japanese did not enter the bivouac area of C Company for two days. After making contact with the Japanese, John and the other members of his company went to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. From there, he started the death march.
John made his way to San Fernando, there the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars. Each car could hold 40 men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those men who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. John and the other POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
In Camp O'Donnell, John saw Col. Charles Steel for the last time. Steel shook John's hand and said his goodbyes as he and the other senior officers left the camp to be shipped to Formosa.
Conditions at Camp O'Donnell were so bad that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. John was sent to the new camp when it was opened. According to records kept by the medical staff in the camp, John was admitted to the camp's hospital on Friday, September 18, 1942, suffering pellagra, dysentery, and edema. It was there that he died - according to the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion by 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifield - of beriberi and dysentery. Two reports and John's headstone indicate his date of death was Saturday, October 10, 1942. According to another report, his date of death was Wednesday, October 28, 1942, and the cause of death is listed as pellagra. He was buried in the camp cemetery in Plot 2, Row 23, Grave 2960.
On July 4, 1943, Dr. Samuel Hay was officially
notified by the Army that John had died as a
Japanese POW. After the war, in 1949, 2nd Lt.
John Hay's family had his remains returned to
the United States. On April 20, 1949, a
funeral service at the First Presbyterian Church
of Morristown was held for John. During
the service, Col. Charles Steel told of his
meetings with John during the fight against the
Japanese and while they were POWs.
Today, 2nd Lt. John F. Hay rests in Elmwood Memorial Gardens in Columbia, South Carolina. His parents, who later lived in Columbia, are also buried there.