Cpl. John Koleczek

    Cpl. John Koleczek was born on January 10, 1915, in Ohio to Peter & Mary Koleczek.  With his two sisters and two brothers, he grew up at 4712 Lester Street, Cleveland, Ohio.  Little is known about his personal life except that he worked as a welder in a steel mill.
    John was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 25, 1941, in Cleveland, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  During his basic training, he was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  His exact duties with the company are not known.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers.  HQ Company did maintenance on the battalion's tanks but did not actively take part in the maneuvers.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected.  On the side of a hill, the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  According to members of the battalion, General George Patton had personally selected them.  Men too old to go overseas were released from federal service, and replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
    Many of the members of the battalion were given leaves home so that they could say goodbye to family and friends.  They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd
, and the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam by taking a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was during this part of the trip smoke, from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon.  The heavy cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and ship shot off in the direction of the unknown ship.  As it turned out, the ship belonged to a neutral country. 
    When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing the next morning for Manila.  It was during this part of the voyage that the ships, in total blackout, passed an island one night.  Many of the men took this as a sign that they would soon be at war.  The ships entered Manila Bay the morning of Thursday, November 20th and docked at Pier 7 later the same day.  Three hours after docking the soldiers disembarked and taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  The maintenance section remained behind and unloaded the battalion's tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received what they needed and their Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared to take part in maneuvers 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. 
    All morning the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, they were lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying the American Army Air Corps. 

    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.
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 been caught 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 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.
    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. Bruni 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.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."

   The morning of April 9th, John became a Prisoner of War, but it wasn't until April 11th, that the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment.  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.

    After this the company boarded their trucks and drove to an area just outside Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  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.  The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles where they were 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 to protect themselves.  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.

    When the POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese, they had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march, the POWs 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 of the POWs 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 POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments and marched to the train station in San Fernando.  There, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars, used to haul sugarcane, and taken to Capas.  The cars were known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men 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 Prisoner of War camp.  There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp.  To get a drink, men stood in line for days.  Many men died while waiting for a drink.  The death rate among the POWs was as high as fifty men a day, so men went out on work details to get out of the camp.
    Those who died, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves.  The reason for the graves being shallow was that the water table was high and the graves would fill with water.  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 that the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
    The Japanese finally acknowledged that they needed to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan and sent the healthier POWs to the camp.  After arriving in the camp, John went out on a work to collect scrap metal and ordnance on Bataan. 
While on the detail, he crushed a finger on his left hand in a working accident.  Working with him was Roy Flippen - who also had been a member of HQ Company - who had a finger, on his right hand, crushed.  The two men were sent to Bilibid Prison and was admitted on May 21, 1943.  John was discharged on May 26th and sent to Cabanatuan.

    In July 1943, John's name appeared on a list of POWs that were being sent to Japan.  The POWs were taken by truck to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Clyde Maru.  The ship sailed on July 23rd to Santa Cruz, Philippine Islands, arriving the same day.  There, manganese ore was loaded on the ship.  The ship sailed three days later on July 26th.  During this part of the voyage, 100 POWs were allowed on deck, at a time, from 6:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, in July 28, 1943. 
    The ship sailed again on August 5th, at 8:00 in the morning, as part of a nine ship convoy.  Two days later, on August 7th, the ship arrived at Moji, Japan.  On August 8th, the POWs were disembarked from the ship and marched to the train station and boarded a train which departed at 8:00 A.M.  The POWs rode the train for two days before arriving at Omuta, Japan, at 7:30 P.M.  The POWs left the train and were marched 18 miles to
Fukuoka #17, where the POWs worked in a condemned coal mine. 
    John remained in the camp until the end of the war.  According other members of the 192nd who were also in the camp,  George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News, arrived at the camp and told them that there were Americans on the island.  John was officially liberated in September 1945.  He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment, and when he was sent home.  He was discharged on May 5, 1946.
    John spent the rest of his life in the Cleveland area and worked in the food industry.  It is known that he never married.  John Koleczek passed away on July 29, 1987, in Broadview Heights, Ohio, and was buried at All Saints Cemetery, Northfield, Ohio.


Return to HQ Company