Tec 4 John Kovach Jr.
Tec 4 John Kovach Jr. was born
on October 7. 1922, in Gypsum, Ohio, to John Kovach
Sr. and Margaret Kovach. When he was a child,
his parents separated and his three sisters and him
lived with their mother in Church Hill,
Tennessee. The family would later live at Step
99 Portage Township, Ottawa County, Ohio. John
worked as a laborer with the Civilian Conservation
John enlisted in the Ohio National Guard's Tank Company that was headquartered in Port Clinton. In September 1940, the tank company was federalized and designated C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. In November, the company traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was suppose to be a year of military service.
Since none of the companies had enough tanks, the soldiers went to the junk yard at Ft. Knox and recovered dicarded M2A2 tanks which were known as "Mae Wests." After rebuilding the engines and making other repairs, every company was up to straight.
It is not known what John's specific job was, but in the late summer of 1941, the tankers were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to remain behind at the base.
On the side of a hill, the tankers were informed that their time in the military had been extended. Those 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
Over different train routes, the battalion made its way to San Francisco. Once there, they were ferried to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and given physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands.
After loading their tanks, the battalion sailed from San Francisco on October 27, 1941, and arrived at Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given shore leave to see the sights. On November 4th, the ships sailed again. This time they were headed for Guam.
At one point, an unknown ship was seen in the distance. One of the escort ships was a cruiser, bow came out of the water as it took off to intercept the ship. As it turned out, the ship was from a neutral question.
Arriving at Guam, the ships took on bananas, water, and coconuts. They sailed the same day for the Philippines arriving at Manila on Thursday, November 20th. After unloading the tanks, the soldiers were taken to Ft. Stotsenburg where they lived intents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. Earlier, they were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All morning long the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, as the tankers ate their lunches, they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. What looked like raindrops fell from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. During the attack, the tankers hid under or in their tanks for cover. Afterwards they saw the devastation.
On December 21st, B and C Companies were sent north to Lingayen Gulf were the Japanese had landed troops. From this point on the tank battalions were used as a read guard so that new defensive lines could be organized. On January 7, 1942, the Battle of Bataan began.
After four months of fighting, at 6:45 in the morning of April 9th, the tankers heard the word "crash" on the radios of the tanks. In most cases, they circled the tanks, fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank ahead of theirs, and opened the gasoline cocks, and dropped hand grenades into them. They then waited for the Japanese. They were now Prisoners of War.
From Mariveles, at the southern tip of Bataan, they started what they called "the march." The first five miles of the march were uphill. For men suffering from disease and lack of food it took great effort to make this climb. They were given little food and no water for several days. Those who fell were killed.
When they reached San Fernando, they were herded in a bull pin which was covered with human waste from the men who had previously occupied it. When they were ordered to move, they were formed into detachments of 100 POWs and marched to the train station. There, they were packed into small wooden box cars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as forty and eights since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
From Capas, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army training base the the Japanese pressed into service as a POW camp. There was one water spigot for the entire camp. Men literally "died" for a drink of water. The burial detail worked endless hours to bury the dead. The death rate in the camp got as high as 50 men a day.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something to lower the death rate, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. It is not known if John was sent to the camp when it opened or if he went there after returning from a work detail. What is known is that he was reported by the medical staff as being admitted to the camp hospital on September 23, 1942, suffering from dysentery and malaria. The next recorded medical record for John was recorded on Thursday, November 19, 1942, showing that he had died from dysentery. His parents did not receive word of his death until July 23, 1943. He was buried in the Cabanatuan Camp Cemetery with other POWs who died that day.
After the war, the remains of John and fifteen other POWs were exhumed from the grave. Two sets of remains were positively identified, but since the Remains Recovery Team believed it could not positively identify the other remains, they were buried in a grave at the new American Military Cemetery at Manila with a cross marked "Unknown."
Through the efforts of John Eakin whose cousin, Pvt. Arthur H. Kelder, was one of these men, got the government to exhume the remains and extract DNA from them. John also attempted to contact families of other soldiers who had been buried as unknowns. One of the families he was able to contact were the relatives of T/4 John Kovach.
In August, 2014, the Army exhumed the remains of the men from the grave for DNA testing. On April 7, 2017, the remains of T/4 John Kovach were positively identified through DNA. Since then, his remains were transferred to Hawaii and Denver Colorado. At this time, they are awaiting the final trip home to Port Clinton for burial.