Massimino

Cpl. John L. Massimino


    Cpl. John L. Massimino was born July 8, 1915, in Akron, Ohio.  He was the son of Frank & Mary Massimino.  He had one sister and four brothers.  His family moved to Illinois where he lived at 640 Harrison Street in Oak Park, Illinois.  It is known that during the 1920s, his mother died leaving his father to raise his five sons and daughter.  John graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School in 1935. 
    After high school, John ran a machine for Chicago Screw Company for two years before taking a job in an Oak Park florist shop.  He joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois.  Because of his physical size, John was known as "The Mouse" to the other members of the company.


    On November 25, 1940, the Maywood Tank Company was called into federal service and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training.  Upon arrival at Fort Knox, the company was given the designation of Company B of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  John, like all the members of the company, was trained to operate tanks, half-tracks and motorcycles.  John qualified as a tank driver. 
    The battalion then went to Louisiana to take part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941.  It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to remain at Camp Polk.  On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas.  Many were allowed to return home to say goodbye to families and friends.  Others were released from federal service because of their age and replaced by men from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. 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.
   
At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and 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, who apologized that they 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.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field on December 1st to protect the airfield against enemy paratroopers.  Two members of each tank crew remained with their tank at all times. 
The morning of December 8, 1941, changed all that.  That night, news was received of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.   As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, the planes landed and were parked in a straight line outside the mess hall while the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, Japanese bombers pounded the airfield.
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing.   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.  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 at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6th/7th, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. 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. 

    B 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.

    During one tank engagement with the Japanese, Lt. Ed Winger's tank was disabled by the Japanese.  The Japanese used flame throwers on the tank blinding John the tank's driver.  The tank ended up wedged between two trees.

    After escaping from the tank and attempting to make his way to the Filipino and American lines, Lt. Winger was shot by a Filipino soldier who mistook him as an infiltrator. To save Lt. Winger's life, John carried him for three days in an attempt to reach a military  hospital.  Lt. Winger died before reaching the hospital.  For this action, John received the Silver Star.

    The night before the American forces were to surrender, John, Sgt. Jim Bashleben and a few other members of B Company stopped a supply truck.  The men gorged themselves on condensed milk.  It was John's belief that doing this helped him and the others survive the march.  He started the march on April 9th and arrived at Camp O'Donnell on April 15th.

    On the march, John witnessed several instances of brutality.  The Japanese would line the prisoners up and make them wait for hours to get a half cup of water.  He once saw a Japanese officer walk along the line and knock the cups out of the hands of the prisoners before they had a chance to drink the water.  John recalled that men who died on the march were buried where they fell.  In one case, John saw a Japanese detail burying a man who was not dead.  When the man tried to crawl out of his grave, a Japanese officer hit him with a shovel and then they buried him.  

    On the march, a Japanese guard saw that John had a small signet ring on the little finger of his left hand.  The ring belonged to Betty Jean Smith of Oak Park.  It was a link with the past life he no longer had.  He was not about to give the ring up.  He ducked in front of a slow moving group of marchers which caused the guard to lose him.

    John also received a beating as a prisoner while on the march.  One night the prisoners were herded into a small corral.  He was tired and lay down to sleep.  A Japanese officer, who was walking in the corral, stumbled over him. In anger, the officer kicked John six times in the head.  The officer finished the beating off by throwing a brick at him.  

    John was first imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell.  This was a death camp.  The POWs there could not dig graves for the dead fast enough.  At night, the dogs would dig up the bodies and chew on them.  At Camp O'Donnell, he also witnessed brutality over and over again.  In one case, a Japanese guard called a young American soldier to come across the perimeter wire to him.  When the soldier did, the guard grabbed him and said he was trying to escape.  The soldier was shot.  

    John remained at Camp O'Donnell until June 27, 1942, and then he was sent to Cabanatuan.  After arriving in the camp, John was hospitalized on Friday, June 19, 1942, suffering from malaria.  He remained in the hospital until he was discharged on August 25th.  John was again admitted to the camp's hospital on April 13, 1943.  The report does not indicate why he had been admitted or when he was discharged.
   In December 1942, he was selected for a work detail to Clark Field.  The POWs on the detail built runways.  He developed the philosophy that to survive he should do what the Japanese wanted him to do.  One day, he overslept and did not report for "tinko" or "roll call" on time.  He was beaten for oversleeping by the Japanese guards who used their rifles butts to beat him.  They aimed their blows at the lower part of his body and his legs which resulted in his legs being swollen and discolored for weeks.  He remained on this detail until the end of September 1944, when he was sent to the Port Area of Manila.

    The POWs boarded the ship on October 1st and sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor's  breakwater.  It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy.  The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men.  To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
    As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaban.  The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.

    The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and American planes were in the area.  The decision was made for the ships to go to Hong Kong.  During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships.  The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th.  While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th.  On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.

    Upon reaching Formosa, the John was held at Heito POW Camp because the Japanese were too hard pressed to send them on to Japan.  He was in the camp from November 9, 1944, until January 24, 1945.  John was in a group of 110 Americans to arrive at the camp from Luzon. 
    When they arrived at the camp, the POWs were made to stand in line.  The camp commander, 1st Lieutenant Tamaki, went down the line and searched the POWs and their bags.  In John's case, he confiscated the vitamin pills that John's sister had sent to him in a Red Cross package when he was at Clark Field.  Tamaki also took two bars of soap away from John.  The next day, the POWs met and noted that Tamarki had taken all the medicine and first aid equipment from them.

    John described the work the POWs did in the camp.  In his own words, "After we were there about five days, they started the men working.  My job was to load ballast stones on box cars.  Along  four other men, I had to load three boxcars each with ten ton of stone per day.  To perform this job we each used a basket called a 'punki.'  Those who were too ill to perform this type of work , worked on the camp farm." 
    On the treatment he saw given to POWs in the camp, he said, "On at least six different days, I saw the guards seize different men as we marched into the compound at the end of the day and throw them in a water trough in front of the Japanese guard house.  I then saw the guards hold the man under water, head and all.  I did not witness the entire proceeding in each case, but saw only a few minutes of each incident.  However, in each instance, I could hear the rest of the struggle from inside my barrack.  After the struggle in the water trough ended, I saw the man marched into the guard house.  I could hear the men screaming."

    John learned from his talks, with these men, that once the they were inside the guard house they were beaten by Lt. Tamaki.  Tamaki hit them on their backs and shoulders and their legs with a bamboo cane.  After two or three days, the POWs were released from the guardhouse.  A few of these POWs showed John the welts on their backs and legs from the beatings.
    Every two weeks, John would get a day off.  On that day, he worked in the camp garden.  As he recalled, "Because of the hard labor I was performing, I received a day off every two weeks.  On one of my days off, I was planting cabbages or some similar vegetable, right outside the guardhouse.  During that day I heard a man scream three different times, and each time I could distinctly hear Captain Tamarki  laugh.  This occurred sometime in January.  The screams occurred for three or fours minutes each time.  While the man was screaming, I could hear blows."

    John also recalled that not too long after arriving in the camp, ten Americans died from severe headaches or "brain fever."  The British POW doctor could not do anything for the men who came down with the fever since he had no medicine.  Capt Tamaki called both the American and British POWs together and had a talk with them.  He asked if any of the POWs had a fever.  About fifty or sixty POWs raised their hands.  Capt. Tamaki told the POWs that the camp had a large cemetery with a lot of room in it for all of them.  He told the POWs he was going to work hard to fill the cemetery.

    John recalled he was on the burial details for two of his friends, Sgt. John Morine, from Port Clinton, Ohio, and T/4 Ralph Madison, from Janesville, Wisconsin.  According to John, both men died from the fever.

    John also recalled that when the Japanese colonel who was in charge of making sure that the POWs were fed well came to the camp, the POWs rations were increased.  He would tell them how lucky they were to be Japanese POWs.  He mentioned meals of ducks, geese, pigs and vegetables.  All these were raised in the camp.  After the colonel left the camp, the POWs rations were reduced to 450 grams of rice and one potato a day.  John pointed out that the potatoes grown in the camp were washed, cooked and fed to the pigs that were raised at the camp.

    John and the other POWs were boarded onto the Enoshima Maru on January 25, 1945, at Keelung, Formosa.   He finally arrived in Japan in February 1945, and was sent to Naruo Camp where he worked in a graphite factory.  The graphite would produce ulcers on the POWs which would grow in size the longer that they worked in the factory.  The camp was closed May 29, 1945.

    John was then sent to Nagoya #9, outside of Toyama, in north central Honshu, Japan.  There, John worked in the kitchen.  Most of the prisoners in the camp did dock work and loaded and unloaded ships.  While a prisoner, John witnessed the bombing of the City of Toyama by 150 B-29s.  When they were through, he watched the city burn.  He thought it was a beautiful site. 

    John remained a POW until he was liberated at the end of the war.  He was returned to the Philippines and after medical treatment, he was boarded onto the Simon Bolivar arriving at San Francisco on October 25, 1945.  After receiving additional medical treatment, he was discharged, from the Army, on April 28, 1946.  Before he was discharged, on February 26, 1946, John was interviewed to give testimony against Japanese Captain Tamarki who commanded Heito POW Camp on Formosa.  Captain Tamarki had been charged with the mistreatment of American POWs.

    John returned to Oak Park, Illinois, but he did not marry the girl whose ring he had risked his life to keep.  John married and was the father of two children.  He resided in Bensenville, Illinois, and worked for Illinois Bell Telephone until his retirement.  He then moved to Seminole, Florida.

     John L. Massimino passed away on October 23, 2001, in Florida.  He was buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery, Bay Pines, Florida, in Section B, Site 282.    


 

Return to B Company

Next