Kovach

 





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 Corps.
    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 strength.
    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.  It's bow came out of the water as it took off to intercept the unknown ship.  As it turned out, the ship was from a neutral country.
    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 in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.
    The week  of December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  Their job was to protect the airfield from paratroopers.  Two crew members remained with the tanks at all times.  The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were having lunch from food trucks at Clark Field.  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. 
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.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    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.
    The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.  
   
    At Cabu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese.  The main Japanese line was south of Saint Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle.
  The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there.  While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing.  It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered.  The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.  They then fell back to Cabanatuan.   
  
  C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks.  It was at Baluiag that Gentry's tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.       
    After this battle, C Company made its way south.  When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment.  The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.

   
    On December 31, 1941,  Company was sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag.  The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way.  Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. 

    Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge.  The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks.  A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.  

    Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.  One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge.   Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.  

    Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag.  He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple.  The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.  Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.

    When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge.  The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks.  Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.

    Kennady's platoon held its fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt.  The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them.  By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks. 

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown.  The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
   
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare.  The tank battalions , on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.  
   
C Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
   
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole and was spun around on one track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.   The tankers slept upwind of the tanks.
    On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan.  C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line.  They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.  Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.       
    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 which had been a Filipino Army base.  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 and inanition.  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 the men in the grave, the grave was exhumed.  Eakin also attempted to contact families of other soldiers, in the grave, who had been buried as unknowns.  One of the families he was able to contact were the relatives of T/4 John Kovach Jr. 
    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 that time, his remains were transferred to Hawaii and Denver, Colorado. 
    The remains of T/4 John Kovach Jr. were flown to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and escorted by Port Clinton Police to the Gerner-Wolf-Walker Funeral Home in Port Clinton.  His remains laid in repose at the Bataan Elementary School until a brief service was held.  From there, a procession carried his remains to Riverview Cemetery where he was buried, on July 10, 2017, with full military honors.
    Since T/4 John Kovach's name is on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila, a rosette will be placed in front of his name on the tablets.  The rosette indicates that his remains were recovered, identified, and reburied in a known grave.
    It should be mentioned that the remains of John Eakin's cousin, Pvt. Arthur Kelder, were returned home, to Chicago, in 2015 and placed in the family mausoleum.
  The remains of Pfc. Lloyd J. Lobdell, who was also buried in the grave, and a member of the 192nd, were also identified and reburied in Hawaii.






 



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