Hrupcho

 

S/Sgt. Joseph John Hrupcho


    S/Sergeant Joseph J. Hrupcho was the son of Michael and Mary Hrupcho.  He was born in Crabtree, Pennsylvania, on March 22, 1914.  He had two brothers and three sisters.  When he was ten, his family moved to Port Clinton, Ohio.  There he lived at 404 Lincoln Drive and was educated in both parochial and public schools.  He graduated from Port Clinton High School in 1934.

    After graduating high school, Joseph joined the Ohio National Guard with his friends Harold Collins, Steve Eliyas, John Short, Joseph Wierzchon, Arthur Burholt, John Minier, and Ken Thompson.  His reason for doing this was that he would earn extra money to add to the low wages he was earning as a carpenter at a boat company.

     In the autumn of 1940, Joseph and the 37 other members of his National Guard Tank Company were federalized as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  They were sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where other men from Ohio were added to the company.  There they trained for months learning to operate the equipment of a tank company.  In Joseph’s opinion, the best part of the training was that they were finally allowed to go home on weekends.  The soldiers often barely got back to Ft. Knox in time for reveille on Monday morning.

    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent by train to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  In Joseph’s opinion, the best thing about the maneuvers was the night training.  It would help them during the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula which had to be done at night because of the lack of air cover.

    After the maneuvers, Joseph and the rest of the battalion learned that they had been selected for duty overseas.  The men were given passes to go home and those determined to he “too old” were released from federal duty.

     By train, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco and boarded ferries to Angel Island.  As they passed Alcatrez, Joe thought of how barren and lonely it looked.  He also thought of the gangsters that were held in the prison. 

    After receiving the necessary inoculations, C Company was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott on Monday, October 27, 1941.  It took the ship five days to reach Hawaii, the ship docked on Sunday, November 2nd, and the men received shore leave to see the sights.  They next sailed for Guam on Tuesday, November 4th.  It was from this portion of the trip on that the ships were escorted by the U.S.S. Louisville.  The ships also took war time precautions during this part of the voyage.  It was at this time Joe and the other tankers attempted to learn about the M-3 tanks that they had received at Camp Polk.
    The ships arrived at Guam.  The soldiers were not allowed to go on shore since they would be sailing the next day.  While they were docked, coconuts, bananas, vegetables, and water were loaded.  The ship sailed the next day for Manila.

    The ship entered Manila Bay around 8:00 A.M.  After it docked the soldiers disembarked and were boarded onto buses.
   The climate of the islands was one thing Joe noticed.  It was extremely hot and there was no breeze.  The natives seemed to be extremely casual about their dress because of it. Joe remembered that the younger boys only wore upper clothing.

     After arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the tankers were assigned to tents between the fort and Clark Air Field.  General Edward King greeted them and apologized that they had to live in tents.  He also made sure they received dinner since it was Thanksgiving.  Once they had, he went to have his own.
    The next few weeks Joe and the other tankers spent their time working on their equipment.  They de-cosmolined  the tank guns and loaded ammunition belts.  During this time, a native people, the Igorats, came down from the mountains in the evenings to trade with the tankers. 

     On December 8, 1941, Joe and the other members of C Company were eating lunch when Japanese planes appeared over Clark Field.   In a letter which his mother did not receive until May 1945, after it was repatriated from the Japanese, Joe wrote telling of the start of the war.

    "Just after dinner, December 8, 1941, at Fort Stotsenburg, a group of us sat talking under a mango tree. Looking up I saw a flight of planes approaching from the north. As I watched them approaching, a number of things were entering my mind. Were they American planes or was it really true that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? My thoughts came to an abrupt halt. The next instant came a thundering explosion that rocked the earth and seemed to blow Clark Field (and all my doubts) away. 

    Smoke and dust in the air blotted out the sun and made it impossible too see beyond a few feet.  Bombs continued to fall and pursuit ships sounded like angry hornets as they flew over strafing.

    Those first moments are for me the most exciting of the war. Luckily for us, precautionary measures before the bombing saved all our boys from injury."

 

    That morning, Capt. Sorenson had ordered his tanks into the jungle surrounding the airfield.  They would remain there the rest of the day.  In the evening, Joe returned to Clark Field.  There he watched the trucks carrying the dead.  He also heard that many of the American pilots were killed in the mess hall.  Others had been killed attempting to get to their planes.  Surveying the wreckage, he saw how badly the Army Air Corp had been beaten.

    The tanks were assigned to guard the perimeter of Clark Field.  The belief was that the Japanese would use paratroopers to attack the field.  They would remain on this detail until December 12th.  On that date, the Japanese landed troops at Lingayen Gulf.  The tanks were sent north to meet the invading force.  During the trip, the tankers received word that the Japanese also had landed in Southern Luzon.  Upon hearing this, General MacArthur ordered a retreat south into the Bataan Peninsula.  During the withdraw, Joe and the other tankers served as the rear guard as the Filipino and American forces fell back into the peninsula.  

    On December 31, 1941, Joe saw his first action against the Japanese.  Joe's tank and the tank of 1st Lt. William Gentry's were on watch near the town of Bailug.  Eight Japanese light tanks crossed a railroad bridge and descended on the town.  Other American tanks of C Company hid inside the huts and waited.  The American tanks waited until the Japanese tanks were 800 to 1000 yards to the right of their position and opened fire. Initially, there were no hits, but the tanks preceded to chase the Japanese tanks up and down the streets of the town and through the huts.  This proved a costly engagement for the Japanese with the lost of eight or nine tanks.

    Joe was next involved in the "Battle of the Pockets."  Two separate Japanese landing parts had been cut off behind the main Filipino and American defensive line.  General Wainwright directed Joe to Capt. Krome whose troops had taken heavy casualties attempting flush out the Japanese.

    The Japanese were dug in and would take cover in their foxholes when the Americans attacked.  With the arrival of 2nd Lt. John Hay of C Company, a plan was developed.  Lt. Hay came up with the idea to have soldiers ride on the backs of the tanks with grenades.  As the tanks approached the Japanese, they would dive into their boroughs.  As the tanks passed over the openings, the soldiers riding on the tanks would drop grenades into the holes.  Within a matter of days, the pocket was wiped out.

    After the battle, Joe saw General Wainwright, with his pipe in his mouth, observing the cleanup action.  Joe told him how the Japanese were courageous fighters.  He also recounted how one captured Japanese soldier begged in sign language to be executed.  Later, Joe recalled that he could not remember one other Japanese soldier surrendering to the tankers.

    Joe and his tank crew learned of the surrender while they were in their tank on Trail 15 covering the withdraw of troops.  They learned that the Japanese had broken through the main defensive line east of their position.  At 9:00 A.M., his crew received their order to surrender.  They destroyed their tank and took the North-South Road to the designated surrender area.

    From Marivales at the southern tip of Bataan, Joe started what became known as the "Death March."  In his opinion what made it bad was that when it took place was that the soldiers were in extremely poor health from the lack of food, exhaustion and sickness.

    The worse experience that Joe had on the march occurred at a fenced in area outside of an old rice mill.  It was evening and the men were positioning themselves on the ground as far from the fence as possible.  The reason was that the area by the fence was being used as a toilet.  A Japanese soldier came along and stopped at a spot where a Filipino soldier lay.  He started shouting at the soldier in Japanese to get out of the way.  When the Filipino looked up and grinned at him, the Japanese stabbed him five times with his bayonet.  Joseph recalled that had he had the opportunity, he would have killed the Japanese guard.  The part that bothered him was that he would have felt good about doing it.

    The first camp Joe was held at was Camp O'Donnell.  This was the worse camp that he would spend time in as a prisoner of war.  Like the other prisoners, he spent most of his time there on the water detail and burying the dead.  Conditions in the camp were so bad, that one day he watched the bodies of thirty POWs carried to the cemetery in a thirty minute period. 

    To get out of the camp, Joe volunteered to go back to Bataan on a work detail of 100 men.  This detail recovered vehicles destroyed by the Americans before they surrendered.  The POWs were sent to Camp Lemon were Joe pulled out of line to be mess sergeant.  At first he hated the job because he had no training to be a cook, but with time, he learned that cooking rice was easy.  The one thing he never learned to like about the job was setting up the kitchen.  As it turned out this was serious business.  When there was extra food, it was his decision who would get "seconds" and who wouldn't. 

   It was at Batangas that Joe dodged the worse detail.  The Japanese had caught twelve Filipinos for stealing tires.  In a nearby building the Filipinos were tortured by the Japanese.  Joe saw one man hung by his thumbs, another burned with cigarettes, a third, who had been killed, lay under tarp outside.  

    When the Japanese came looking for POWs to accompany them into the jungle with the men, Joe made himself scarce.  Those POWs who went with watched as some of the Filipinos were beheaded, others were bayoneted, a couple were shot.  Somehow, one of the Filipinos managed to escape.

   On January 1, 1943, the detail was disbanded and Joe was sent to Bilibid Prison.  There he was reunited with Capt. Harold Collins, Sgt. Joseph Wierzchon, the Luther brothers from A Company, and Sgt. Roger Heilig of B Company.

    On July 23,1943, Joe boarded onto the Clyde Maru for transport to Japan.  The holds of the ship held 1200 POWs.  The voyage to Japan took about seventeen days because the ship zigzagged to avoid American submarines.  Conditions in the hold were so bad that Joseph passed out.  When he came through, he found himself on deck with raindrops hitting him in the face.

    His first night back in the hold of the ship Joe found that because it was so crowded that he had to sleep sitting up.  He also had to remove his shoes to keep from kicking the prisoner next to him.  Sleeping was difficult since the sound of subdued voices and men moaning was heard throughout the night.

    One day the prisoners were taken on deck and hosed down with salt water.  This was a welcomed event because of the condition they were in.  When it was Joe's turn to go on deck, he witnessed a POW being buried at sea.  The man's body was simply dropped over the side of the ship.

     The ship arrived at Moji, Japan on August 7, 1943.  Moji was a port town at the northern tip of Kyushu.  From there, the POWs were boarded onto a train and taken to the town of Kokura.  Fukuoka #3 was a camp of eight barracks had been set up for British, Australian, Dutch and American POWs.  The prisoners of the different nations were held in their own barracks except for one barracks where they mixed together.  This barracks was known as "The League of Nations." It was there that Joseph was became POW #945.

    Joe and the other prisoners worked in the Yawata Steel Mills located in the town.  Each day they were transported in coal cars to the mills located a few miles west of the camp.  To reach the mine, the coal cars went through a tunnel.  The POWs would work everyday for one month, then they would receive one day off to rest and wash their clothes.

    Joe was assigned to the machine tool section of the steel mill.  There he had to put tool steel into a furnace and heat it until it was white hot.  He then pounded it in a steam hammer to various sizes to fit the lathes and metal cutting machines.  Like all the men in the camp, Joe was infested with lice. With the Japanese guard's permission, he would strip off his shirt, while he worked, and put it in a steel bucket near the furnace door.  The heat from the furnace would boil the lice in the shirt cleaning it.

    Meals for the prisoners consisted of a "Binto" box full of rice.  The box was a small wooden box about half the size of a cigar box.  It was filled to the top with rice and usually topped off with dried fish, seaweed or boiled vegetables.  Supper was the same.

    Joe and the other POWs had very little news about the war.  Somehow they did get news that President Roosevelt had died and the atomic bombs.  How the prisoners learned of the end of the war was that the guards were assembled for a meeting.  This meeting took place about a week before the end of the war.  From the tone and expressions on the guards' faces, the POWs could tell that the mood was a somber one.  A few days later Joe remembered waking up to find that the guards were gone.

    Three weeks after the end of the war, a international group of soldiers reached the camp.  They organized the prisoners for transport by train to Nagasaki.  There they were deloused, showered and given new clothing.   After this was done, they were boarded onto a British ship and taken to Manila in the Philippines.  Joe spent a couple of weeks in a Red Cross camp and then was sent home by ship.

    Joe arrived in the United States on the Dutch ship, S.S. Klipfontein, at Seattle, Washington on October 28, 1945.  This was almost four years to the day that he had left the United States for the Philippine Islands.  Upon returning home, he learned that he was one of ten survivors, from the 39 National Guardsmen, who had left Port Clinton in the fall of 1940 for Ft. Knox.

    Joe would marry Gertrude Collins, the widow of his friend Capt. Harold Collins.  He raised Capt. Collin's daughter as his own, and with his wife had two more children. 

    After his wife passed away, Joseph resided in North Carolina with his younger daughter.  He was one of the last two surviving National Guard members of C Company.  Joseph Hrupcho passed away on October 16, 2010, in North Carolina.  He was buried at Riverview Cemetery in Port Clinton, Ohio.

    The picture at the bottom of this page was taken of Sgt. Joseph Hrupcho while he was a POW in Japan. 


 

 

 

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