HobbsJ

Sgt. John Elmer Hobbs Jr.


    Sgt. John E. Hobbs Jr. was born on September 12, 1919, in West Virginia to John E. Hobbs Sr. & Ethel Wieneke-Hobbs.  With his two sisters, he grew up in Shadyside, Ohio, and graduated from Shadyside High School.  After high school, he worked as a salesman.
    A draft act had been passed in 1940, and John was inducted into the U.S. Army on January 23, 1941, at Fort Hayes, Ohio. and was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  During basic training, he was assigned to Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. 
    From September 1st through 30th, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  HQ Company did not take part in the maneuvers but did do maintenance work on the tanks.  It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  On the side of a hill, that the members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  Those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and were replaced.
    The decision for this move -  which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance.  He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away.  The island had a large radio transmitter.  The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
     When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.  The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore.   Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
    Over different train routes, the battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Fort McDowell on Angel Island were they inoculated and given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment.  Those who were found to have a medical condition were held back and told that they would rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. 
    Upon arrival of at Ft. Stotsenburg, the tankers were greeted by Gen. Edward King who apologized to them for having to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.   King made sure that the tankers received what they needed and their Thanksgiving Dinners before he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days, Matt, and the other members of his company, worked to ready the equipment of the battalion for use in maneuvers they expected to take part in with the 194th Tank Battalion. 
    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion.  At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles.  Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
    The morning of December 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  All members of the tank companies were sent to the airfield.  HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac. 

    The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north.  At first they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes.  As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents.  They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.  They lived through two more attacks on December 10th and 13th.
    The battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area were the Japanese had landed.  The battalion repeatedly dropped back as it fought the Japanese.
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.  The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.

    The battalion took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942.  The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off.  The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions.  According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
    At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23rd until February 17, 1942.  Japanese troops had advanced and been pushed back.  Two pockets of Japanese were cut off behind the battle line.  Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket.  According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
    The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades.  As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole.  The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I and only one out of three exploded.
    The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole.  The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks. 
   
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks.  This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day.  At the same time, food rations were cut in half again.  Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
    The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd.  On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening.  During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew.  C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
    The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back.  The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of assistance in a counter-attack.    
   It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile.  Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day.  In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred.  At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.  
    Tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished." 
    The evening of April 8, 1942,
Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese.  The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks.  The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."

    On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment, and a Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment.  Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.  They remained along the sides of the road most of the day.

    The company finally boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit and wait.  As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them.  They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.

    As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers.  He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  As he drove away, the Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles and left sitting in the sun for hours.  The Japanese did not feed them or give them water.  Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered.  Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little since they had no place to hide.  Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells.  One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit.  The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

    The POWs were ordered to move again, by the Japanese, and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march, they received no water and little food.  It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando.  Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it.  In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs.  The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots.  The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down. 

    During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs.  Two were still alive.  When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.   The Japanese ordered the POWs to form 100 men detachments and marched them to the train station where they were put into a small wooden boxcars, used to haul sugarcane, and taken to Capas.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors.  The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  From there, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell. 

    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a POW camp.  The camp was a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.  There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp which men had to stand in line for hours to get a drink.  Many died while waiting for a drink.  Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp. 
    The dead in the camp were buried in camp cemetery in shallow graves.  The reason f
or this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep.  Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth.  The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.

    The Japanese knew that the death rate at the camp had to be lowered, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanataun.  The death rate dropped when the Japanese distributed Red Cross packages to the POWs. 

    In October 1942, John was selected to go on a work detail to Davao.  The POWs were taken to Manila and boarded the Erie MaruOn November 11, 1942, John arrived at Davao, Mindanao, on a detail often referred to as DECAPO.  The POWs on the detail worked in rice patties on a farm and later built runways at Lasang, Mindanao. At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide.  A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks.  In each barracks, were eighteen bays which were shared by twelve POWs sharing a bay.  216 POWs lived in each barracks.  Four cages were later put in a bay for the POWs to sleep in at night.  Each cage held two POWs.
    The camp's discipline was poor, and the commanding officer changed frequently.  The junior officers refused to take orders from the higher ranking officer.  The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
    At first, the work details were not guarded while the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops.  Those too sick to work in the fields made baskets.  In April 1943, the working conditions varied.  Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment and were beaten for not meeting quotas.  The misunderstandings between the POWs and guards were often caused by the translator who could not be trusted to tell the Japanese the truth. 
    When American planes appeared over the camp, the Japanese decided to move the POWs.  A selected group of POWs were boarded onto trucks and made to remove their shoes.  They also were tied to each other, by their wrists, to prevent escape.  They were taken to Lasang, where on June 6, 1944, they were boarded the Yashu Maru and spent six days on the ship before it sailed on June 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboango the same day.  It sailed again and arrived at Cebu City, Cebu Island, on June 17th where  the POWs were housed in a warehouse.  They were transferred to an unnamed ship on June 21st which arrived at Manila on June 24th.  The POWs were taken to Manila, where they remained at Bilibid Prison until late August 1944.  It was at that time that John's name appeared on a transfer list.
    The POWs were taken to Pier 7 and boarded on the
Noto Maru.  The ship sailed on August 27, 1944, for Takao, Formosa.  It arrived there on August 30th and sailed again the same day.  It arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 7th, and the POWs disembarked, were divided into detachments, and boarded onto a train.  The 150 man detachment John was in was sent to Nomachi and arrived on September 8th. The camp's name came from a nearby railroad station.
    The camp was
located on the property of Nomachi Smelting Company.  About half the POWs worked at Hokkai Denka, Fushiki. The POWs were used on three different details.  Most of the Americans worked at a smelter owned by the Hokkai Denka Company, others worked at a second magnesium smelter owned by a different company, while still others worked in a quarry on the third detail.
    John remained in the camp until September 14, 1945, when the heard the news that the war had ended.  The POWs left the camp and took over a train and forced engineer to go to Tokyo where they contacted American troops.

    After he was liberated, John was returned to the Philippines and promoted to Staff Sergeant.  He returned home and married Angela Dupke on October 19, 1945, and became the father of two daughters and a son.  He resided in Shadyside, Ohio, and later Wabash, Indiana.
    John E. Hobbs Jr. passed away on December 21, 1971, in Wabash, Indiana, and was buried at Memorial Lawns Cemetery in Wabash.


 

 

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