Cpl. J. Robert Martin
Cpl. James Robert Martin was
the son of Harry. A. Martin and Mary
O'Brien-Martin. He was born on January 2,
1918. As a child he, with his one sister and
four brothers, grew up first in Lombard, Illinois,
and then moved to 1409 South Sixth Avenue in
Maywood. He was known as "Bob" to his
friends. Bob graduated from Garfield Grade
School, in Maywood, and was a 1937 graduate of
Proviso Township High School. After high
school he worked in a sandwich shop.
In 1939, Bob joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood to be with his friend Harry K. Johnson. As it turned out, when the company was federalized on November 25, 1940, only Bob went with the company to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
At Ft. Knox, the company became B Company,
192nd Tank Battalion. There, they would be
trained to operate all the equipment of the tank
battalion and qualified as a tank driver. In
mid-summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to
Louisiana to take part in the maneuvers of 1941.
When the maneuvers began, they were unaware that
they had been selected for duty in the Philippine
Islands to boaster the American military presence
On December 8, 1941, December 7th in the United States, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tanks had been given the duty of guarding the perimeter of the airfield.
On December 22, 1941, Bob was sent north to Agoo as a member of the tank crew of S/Sgt. Al Edwards. All the members of his tank crew were from Maywood. It had been reported to the Americans that the Japanese had landed troops near there. In response, a platoon of tanks under the command of Lt. Ben Morin was sent north to Lingayen Gulf to engage the enemy and to allow the the 26th U. S. Calvary to disengage from the battle.
Bob, as the tank driver, was sitting next to his friend from Maywood, Henry Deckert. It was during the Battle of Agoo, that Bob saw Henry die when a 40 millimeter shell hit the machine gun port. The concussion from the shell came through the port and decapitated Deckert. Bob was covered in Deckert's blood but continued to drive the tank.
For the next four months, Bob would take part in the Battle of Bataan as the Filipino and American forces attempted to stall the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces on the Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. It was on this date that Bob became a Prisoner of War.
Bob recalled that many of the POWs were already ill when they began the march to Camp O'Donnell. Many of the men were barely able to march. The prisoners were covered with mud which resulted in sores. Their feet also blistered from the march.
According to Bob, the heat on the march was intolerable, and those who begged for water were beaten by the guards with their rifle butts because they had asked. Those who were exhausted or suffering from dysentery and dropped to the side of the road were shot or clubbed to death.
Food on the march was minimal, when it was given to the prisoners, each would receive a pint of boiled rice. The Filipino people seeing the condition of the prisoners attempted to aid them by passing food to the Americans. If the Filipinos were caught doing this, they were beheaded. By the time the POWs arrived at Camp O'Donnell, they were half starved and half dead. Bob would spend six weeks at Camp O'Donnell.
Bob was sent in May of 1942 to Cabanatuan Camp #1. He would remain there until July of 1943. Life in the camp was one of endless punishment. Bob remembered that the prisoners were punched in the mouths, made to stand bareheaded, at attention, in the sun until they passed out. They were also kicked in the stomach or hit with rifle butts. Hundreds died everyday due to the torture and poor health. Each morning, the surviving POWs would see the piled corpses of the men who had died during the night.
It was while Bob was in this camp that he became extremely ill. Bob was so ill that he was taken to what was called the camp hospital. The hospital was a hospital in name only since the POWs had little to no medicine to treat the sick. Bob was given a place in the hospital next to his friend from high school Bob Bronge. It was while he was in the hospital that Bob watched Bob Bronge die from dysentery.
In late July, 1943, Bob was sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila to await transport to Japan. He was boarded on the Clyde Maru in late July 23, 1943. The ship sailed and arrived at Santa Cruz, Zambales. There, it was loaded with manganese ore. Thre days later, on July 26th, it sailed again.
On July 28th, the Clyde Maru reached Takao, Formosa. On August 5th, it sailed again for Moji, Japan, arriving there on August 7th. The POWs were marched to a train station on August eight and took a two day trip to Omuta. Upon arrival in there, they were marched eighteen miles to Fukuoka #17, In Japan, Bob was given the Bongo number of 98.
The prisoners at this camp were used as slave labor to extract coal from a mine that had been closed years before because it was considered too dangerous to work. Work in the mine was dangerous, and as they worked, the miners had rats crawling all over them.
One day, as Bob worked, there was a cave-in. Bob was seriously injured and when he could walk again, he was assigned to work in the camp kitchen. While assigned to the kitchen, Bob was responsible for saving the lives of at least a dozen POWs by bringing them food while they were confined to the camp's internal guardhouse. The men in the guardhouse were aware of the risk that Bob took to do this. One of them, Lester Tennenberg, a member of Bob's own tank company, would later speak of Bob's actions for years. Both men would remain friends for life.
To do steal the food, Bob had to sneak pass the
Japanese guards without being seen. He also
had to make sure that he did not spill a grain of
rice. If he had been caught, he would have
been killed instantly. The camp mess hall
was supervised by Navy Lt. Comdr. Edward N.
Little. The other POWs in the camp
considered him to be a collaborator who had turned
in other POWs for stealing. Two of those
men, Pfc. Noel Heard, C Company, 194th Tank
Battalion, and Pvt. William Knight were executed
by the Japanese.
For Bob, life as a POW was not easy. Bob had to use every bit of strength that he could muster to stay alive. With his physical and mental condition getting worse each day, Bob did not know how long he could survive. He would pray that the war would soon end and that somehow he would make it home.
One day, Bob witnessed an explosion over
Nagasaki. To him, it was a sign that the war
would soon be over. As he watched, he kept
saying to himself that the war was over and that
they all would be going home. Like most of
the POWs, Bob believed that if the atomic bomb had
not been dropped, he and the other POWs, would
have been executed when the American invasion of
Japan had begun.
Bob returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Storm King, arriving at San Francisco on October 15, 1945. He and the other former prisoners were taken to Letterman General Hospital for further treatment. From there, he was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Fort Lewis, Washington, for processing, and finally to Hines VA Hospitall Hines, Illinois, which was the nearest Veterans Administration hospital to his home.
Bob married Minnie Faucett and raised a family. For the rest of his life, the one lasting effect of his experience on Bataan was that Bob relived Henry Deckert's death in his dreams.
Bob served the Maywood community as a fireman
until his retirement from the Maywood Fire
Department. He and his wife would later move
Bob Martin passed away on August 31, 1997, in Florida.