Pvt. Bernard William Johnson
Pvt. Bernard W. Johnson was the son of Joseph M. Johnson & Mary E. Martin-Johnson and was born on November 11, 1918, in Wellsville, Ohio. With his two brothers, he grew up at 3200 Audubon Boulevard in Cleveland, Ohio. He worked as an inspector at a federal building.
Bernard was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 28, 1941, in Ohio. He trained at Fort Riley, Kansas and Camp Polk, Louisiana. At some point, he was assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion. In the fall of 1941, he volunteered to replace a National Guardsman who was released from federal service in the 192nd Tank Battalion. He was assigned to B Company.
battalion travelled west over four different
train routes. At Angel Island, the members
of the battalon were inoculated for duty
overseas. 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 morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers were eating lunch when the saw a formation of 54 planes approach the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. Then, as they watched, raindrops appeared under the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways did the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.
For the next four months, the tankers fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. During this time, he took part in the Battle of the Points from January 22nd to February 13, 1942. The Japanese landed troops on the southern west coast of Bataan. Two barges were sunk by PT-34. The remaining troops were scattered. The Japanese could not break out. The battle took place in the Agloloma and Anyasas Rivers Area. The tanks were sent in to allow the infantry to disengage from the Japanese. According to Dr. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, B Company tanks, and C Company tanks, were called to help wipe out Japanese troops who had been cut off from their main units. Filipino soldiers sat on back of tanks with a bag of hand grenades. As the tank went over a Japanese foxholes, the soldiers dropped grenades into the foxholes. The tankers would also park the tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver spun the tank around so it dug lower and lower into the foxhole. The Japanese troops were completely wiped out.
On April 9, 1942, Bernard became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese. Bernard and the other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles. It was from this barrio that he started what became known as the death march to San Fernando. There, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horse. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the boxcars at Capas. From Capas, the POWs walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. After arriving there, the death rate among the POWs soared. It is known that Bernard went out on a work detail to get out of the camp.
The work detail was sent to Clark Airfield. The POWs built revetments to protect planes and runways. The Japanese guards encouraged the POWs to take their time when digging. The guards didn't care how much dirt the POWs moved all they had to do is look busy. The reason the guards did this was because they liked the detail and wanted to stretch it out as long as possible. The only time the POWs were expected to work hard was when big shots came around to expect the work.
The POWs also had to dig out volcanic rock which was used in the construction of runways. They did this work until August 1944. How the POWs did this was to sift the sand through a screen trapping the rocks. The rocks were used as base material for new runways for heavy bombers. When the rock ran out, the Japanese engineers told the POWs to use sand for the base material for the last half of the runway.
The first time a Japanese heavy bomber landed on the runway it sped across the first half of the runway. When it hit the second half of the runway, the bomber's carriage suddenly sank out of sight and the bomber flipped over. The prisoners hid their laughter.
At some point, Bernard was sent to Bilibid Prison because he was ill. Medical records indicate Bernard was admitted from Building 12 which had the designation of being "the Casual Group." It is known that on September 1, 1944, Bernard was admitted to the hospital ward suffering from acute nephritis which is a inflammation of the kidneys. How long he was hospitalized is not known. In early December, the Japanese ordered the American medical staff at the prison to put together a list of POWs healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
The morning of December 12, 1944, roll was taken and the names of the men selected were read to the POWs. Bernard's name was called. That evening the POWs were allowed to say goodbye to their friends. At 4 a.m., the POWs were woke and fed breakfast. 1,619 POWs were marched to Manila's Pier 7.
As the POWs stood on the dock, Japanese women and children were boarded onto the ship. In addition, Japanese seamen who had survived the sinking of their ships were boarded. It was not until that evening that POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru. The ship was part of MATA-37 convoy.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many fell asleep and slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. About 5:00 PM the POWs boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
It is not known which hold Bernard was held in, but the sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it.
The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water.
The POWs received their first
meal at about 3:30 that afternoon. Meals
on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish,
and water. Three fourths of a cup of water
was shared by twenty POWs. The prisoners
had just eaten when they heard the sounds of
guns. At first, they thought the gun crews
were just drilling since they had not heard any
planes. It was only when the first bomb
hit that they knew it was no drill. The
POWs heard the change in the planes' engines
sound as they began their dive toward the ships
in the convoy. Explosions were taking
place all around the POWs. Bullets
from the planes ricocheted in to the hold
causing many casualties. In all, the POWs
would have to sweat out five air raids.
The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse
attack. It was hit at least three times, by
bombs, on its bridge and stern. Most of the
POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or
shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that
exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over
it. Bullets from the fighters hit the metal
hull plates at an angle that prevent most from
penetrating the hull. Somewhere on the ship
a fire had started but was put out after several
In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard noise on
deck as the women and children were
unloaded. During the night, the medics
were ordered out of the holds by the guards and
ordered to tend to the Japanese wounded.
One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying,
and wounded were everywhere.
About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn. Those POWs still living made his way on deck and went over the side and swam to shore near Olongapo, Subic Bay, Luzon. As they swam to shore, which was about 300 to 400 yards away. Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs to keep them in the water so they would not escape.
It is not known if Bernard was killed inside the hold from ricocheting bullets or shrapnel in the hold of the Oryoku Maru, or if he was killed while swimming to shore. What is known is that Pvt. Bernard Johnson died on December 15, 1944, at Olongapo Naval Station, Subic Bay, Philippine Islands.
After the war, Pvt. Bernard Johnson's name was placed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila. His parents also had a headstone placed at Saint Elizabeth Cemetery, Wellsville, Ohio.