KoleczekJ

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.  After the maneuvers, on the side of a hill, the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  According to members of the battalion, General George Patton told them the news.  Men too old to go overseas were released from federal service.  Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
    Many of the members of the battalion were given leave so that they could say goodbye to family and friends.  They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to San Francisco, California.  From San Francisco, the tankers 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.
    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. 
The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  They sailed the same day for Manila.  The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general 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 Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
 
   At six in the morning, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort.  They were ordered to move their platoons to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  The 192nd had been assigned to the southern portion of the airfield.  The tankers watched that morning as the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as 54 planes approached the airfield.  As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    As a member of HQ Company, John remained in the bivouac of the battalion.  The members of the company could do little more than take cover during the attack.  After the attack the tankers saw the carnage done by the attack.  The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps.  The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
    John
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.
    On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M.  The members of the HQ Company remained in their bivouac.  Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  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.  Somehow Bruni came up with enough food to have what he called, "their last supper."


    On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment.  John was now a Prisoner of War.  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.  They were told to put 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.

    The company boarded their trucks and drove to 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. The POWs 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.  These two islands had not surrendered.  Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs.  The POWs 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.  The POWs 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 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.

    At San Fernando, The POWs were put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas.  The cars could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car.  Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars.  From Capas, 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.  It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day.  There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp.  To get a drink, men stood in line for days.  Many died while waiting for a drink.  The death rate among the POWs was as high as fifty men a day.  Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
    The dead, at Camp O'Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves.  The reason for 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 rate of death among the POWs was so high that the Japanese knew they had to do something to lower it.  They opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.  The Japanese sent the healthier POWs to the camp.  John was one of these POWs.  It is not known if John went out on any work details while a POW in the camp.
    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.  They 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 POW.  The POWs left the train and were marched 18 miles to
Fukuoka #17.  The POWs in the camp 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.  He was sent home where he was discharged on Many 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.


 


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