Jacques Vaughan Merrifield
Jacques V. Merrifield was born in Amboy, Illinois,
to the Rev. Roy and Mrs. Jeanette Merrifield on
March 26, 1918. He was known as "Jack" or
"PK," which stood for "Preacher's Kid," to
Jack, with his sister and two brothers, was raised at 1113 South Fifth Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. His father, the Rev. Roy Merrifield, was the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church.
Jack graduated from Proviso Township High School, as a member of the Class of 1938, with 2nd Lieutenants Ben Morin and Richard Danca. After high school, he worked as a paint mixer at a paint and varnish manufacturer while attending the University of Chicago.
On September 23, 1940, Jack enlisted in the Illinois National Guard. His reason for doing this was that a federal draft act had been passed, and he wanted to complete his military obligation before he was drafted into the army.
Jack was called to federal service with the 33rd Tank Company from Maywood, Illinois, as a member of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The battalion trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky. During this time, he rose in rank from private first class to technical sergeant.
While Jack was at Fort Knox, he was transferred to the Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion when the company was created in January 1941. His job with the company was dealing with radio communications.
After nearly ten
months of training at Ft. Knox, the battalion
went on maneuvers in Louisiana. When the
maneuvers ended, the battalion was stationed at
Camp Polk, Louisiana. This was done so
that it could be refitted with new equipment for
overseas duty. During this time, he
rose in rank to technical sergeant.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the officers of the battalion were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. At 12:45 in the afternoon, the Japanese attacked the airfield destroying most of the Army Air Corps. With the Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands, Jack was involved in the fight against the Japanese invasion force when it landed at Lingayen Gulf.
While involved in the Battle of Bataan, Jack had his first brush with death. On December 30th, the Bren Gun Carrier he was riding in was approaching a bridge when a Japanese shell exploded next to it. The gun carrier missed the bridge and went into the river. Jack was rescued by Dr. Alvin C. Powleit, of the 192nd Tank Battalion Medical Staff. Dr. Powleit dove into the river and, after a struggle to extract Jack, pulled him from the wreckage. The driver, a Pvt. Winton Long, who was a member of the 19th Bomber Group, was rescued but could not be revived. The results of this accident was that Jack developed bronchitis and would suffer from it throughout his time as a prisoner of war. He also would have problems with his neck the rest of his life.
Sometime during this event, Jack lost his dog tags. It would be this event which would result in his parents believing that he had been Killed in Action. As it turned out, one of his dog tags was found on the body of a dead American soldier. Jack's parents were notified of his death. During his sermon on a Sunday morning, his father announced Jack's death to his congregation. It would be a year before his family learned that Jack was alive in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
On March 22, 1942, Jack was given a battlefield commission. Jack's job with Headquarters Company was that of communications officer. In this role, he witnessed the Japanese bomb and strafe the rail yard at Pampanga. A few days before the surrender, he was reassigned to C Company.
When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese, Jack became a Prisoner of War. According to his diary, he surrendered somewhere between kilometer markers 188 to 121 when he ran into Japanese. After making contact with the Japanese, he continued to Mariveles.
From April 9th through the 16th, Jack took part in the death march. In his diary, he stated that he was suffering from dysentery as he made his way to San Fernando. On the march. At San Fernando, he boarded a small wooden boxcar. The boxcars were used to haul sugarcane. At Capas, he left the boxcar and walked to Camp O'Donnell.
As a POW, Jack was held at Camp O'Donnell until
June 7, 1942 when he was then transferred to
Cabanatuan and assigned to Barracks #7. At some point Jack left
Cabanatuan and built
runways. Doing this work
aggravated his neck injury.
Jack returned to Cabanatuan. and admitted to
the camp hospital on September 7,
1942. It was while he was a prisoner
there that Jack's parents received a
postcard stating that he was alive and being
held in the POW camp. This was the
first time his parents heard that he had not
been killed during the Battle of Bataan.
While a POW at Cabanatuan, Jack and other officers of the 192nd scrounged seeds to start a garden. The vegetables they grew were eaten to supplement their meals. He also served in the camp kitchen. Since the prisoners on this detail ate better than the average prisoner, this was a coveted job.
As part of his duties, Jack would chop firewood to for the cooks. One day on this detail, the ax slipped hitting Jack's foot and almost cutting off his big toe. Since there was a lack of medicine, Jack was lucky that he did not lose his toe. The one result of this injury was that he had severe lacerations on his left foot and part of the second toe on his foot was removed. The injured toe bothered him for the rest of his life.
Jack also recalled an incident with the Japanese, and the camp band, that took place while he was at Cabanatuan. The band always tried to learn new songs to play for the POWs. One of the songs the band learned to play was "Paper Moon." The only problem was that the song had not become popular until after the soldiers had become POWs. When the Japanese realized this, they knew the the POWs had a radio hidden in the camp. The Japanese searched the camp vigorously to find the radio and tortured many men. They never did find the radio.
Jack's health suffered while he was a
prisoner. It is known he was admitted to
the camp hospital on August 9, 1942. No
reason for the hospitalization or date given for
his discharge. He
developed a calcium deposit on his right
knee at one point and was
readmitted to the camp hospital on March
22, 1943. Surgery was performed on the
knee, and he later developed an infection and
gangrene set in. The doctors performed an
emergency appendectomy to save his life.
Medical records from the camp indicate he was
readmitted to the hospital on April 12, 1943.
It is known that on at least three occasions, Jack was beaten. At this time, the reasons for the beatings are not known. The beatings would affect his health the remainder of his life.
Jack remained at Cabanatuan until September 25, 1944. He was sent to Bilibid Prison as the Japanese prepared to send him and other prisoners to Japan. This was the processing center for POWs being sent to Japan or other occupied countries. He was given a physical and declared healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
During his time in Cabanatuan, Jack wrote down this poem. It is not known if he wrote it or if it was written by another POW.
There were strangest things done under the tropic sun
by men in khaki drill
These tropical nites held strange sights
that would make your heart stand still
Those mountain trails could spin some tails
that no man could ever like
But worst of all was after the fall when they started on the hike.
Twas the eight of December in '41
when they hit Hawaii as the day begun
Twas Sunday morning and all was calm
when out of nowhere came the bombs*!?
It didn't last long but the damage was done
America was at war with the Rising Sun
Now over the Philippines we heard the news
It shook every man clean down to his shoes
It seemed like a dream to begin
But soon every soldier was fighting man
Each branch was ready to do its part
Artillery, infantry -- Nichols and Clark
But they came on that Monday noon
They hit Clark Field like a typhoon
That Monday nite the moon was clear
They razed Nichols Field from front to rear
As days went by more bombers came
until only a few P-40s remained
The day before Christmas they said retreat
and no more soldiers could be seen on the street
So across the bay we moved at night
away from Manila and out of sight
deep in the jungle of Bataan,
were fifteen hundred to make the stand
Here we fought like a soldier should
As the day went by we spilled our blood
Tho' the runners came and went by night
that convoy never came in sight.
April the seventh was the fatal day
when word went around that we could stay
that the front line was due to fall
and troops moved back one and all.
The very next day the surrender came
and then we were men without a name
You may thin that here's where the story ends
but here is where it actually begins
Tho' we fought and didn't see victory
The story of that march will go down in history.
We marched in columns of four
sweating, living the the horrors of war.
When a man fell along the way
A-C-B would make him pay
For those four months he fought on Bataan
and they killed him because he couldn't stand
The tropic sun would sweat us dry
For the wells were few that we passed by.
On we marched for a place unknown,
a place to rest, a place to call home.
Home that you might know
but home to a man who suffered the blow
On to camp O'Donnell in a mass
some never again through the gates to pass
In Nipa Huts we lived like beasts
and rice and camotes were called a feast
Our minds wondered of days gone by
when our throats were never dry
of our wives, mothers and friends
Of bygone days, and of many sins.
About four thousand passed away
And how many more no one can say
For no grave stones mark the spot
where thirty to fifty were buried in a lot
Piled together like a rubbish heap
The remains of the men who were forced to retreat.
So I want to state and my words are straight
And I bet you think they are true
If you got to die it's better to try
to take them along with you too.
Now it's them that took you that fateful day
It's them that count you morning and nite
It's them again that you want to fight
It's them that make you as you are
But it is not them that will win this war
For the men in khaki will come some day
and take us back to the good old U.S.A.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, Jack and the other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepaired.
The Americans saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that Jack was allowed to sit down. He fell asleep and slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. He was awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
Jack was put into the ship's rear hold. 800 POWs were put in the hold. They were then fed fish and barley. The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around its diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it.
The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water.
The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 that afternoon. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water. Three fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs. The prisoners had just eaten when they heard the sounds of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill. The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs. Bullets from the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties. In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five air raids. The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack. It was hit at least three times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it. The ship bounced in the water from the explosions. Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevent most from penetrating the hull. Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours.
After the first raid, the ship was left alone by "playing possum" in the water. The fighters went after the other ships in the convoy. The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold. The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning. It was a suitable landing place.
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard noise on deck as women and children were unloaded. During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded. One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.
The ship steamed in closer to
the beach and its anchor was dropped. The
POWs were told, at 4:00 in the morning, that
they would be disembarked after daybreak.
It was December 15th. The POWs sat in the
hold four hours after daybreak when the sound of
planes was heard. They would live through
three more attacks. When the U.S. Navy planes
resumed their attack, the attacks came in
waves. Jack and the other POWs noted
that attack was heavier then the day
At 8:00 AM, a Japanese guard yelled to the POWs, "All go home; Speedo!" He also shouted that the wounded would be the first evacuated. As the POWs were abandoning ship, the planes returned. The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners. It was not until the pilots saw the POWs climbing out of the ship's holds that they realized it was a prison ship and stopped the attack.
About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn. Jack made his way on deck and went over the side. He remembered how good the water felt. Jack swam to shore near Olongapo, Subic Bay, Luzon. As he swam to shore, which was about 300 to 400 yards away. Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs to keep them in the water so they would not escape.
Jack, seeing that a number of the other POWs could not swim, repeatedly swam out to the ship to tow them to shore. He did this while under Japanese machine gun fire. When he would not stop swimming out to save his fellow Americans, a Japanese soldier bayoneted him. In spite of this wound, he continued to rescue other men. This event wound lead to his having to have an appendix operation.
After the POWs had abandoned ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk by American planes. The surviving POWs were herded onto a tennis court. When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed during the attack.
Jack also had on him a wallet that belonged to Ralph Hite, of HQ Company. Hite had died on the bridge building detail in May 1942. Hite's wallet was given to Jack so that he could return it to Ralph's mother. He said that if he survived the war, he would return to wallet to her.
While the POWs were at Olongapo Naval Station, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. They were buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed.
On December 24th, the remainder of the POWs were boarded onto trains at San Fernando, Pampanga. The widows of the train were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. From December 24th to the 27th, the POWs were held in a school house and later on a beach at San Fernando, La Union. During this time they were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of these men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando La Union where they boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
The POWs on the ship were taken to Formosa. There, Jack once again came close to death when the ship was bombed and sunk by American planes on January 9, 1945, while it was still docked. During the attack, the POWs watched as three bombs fell toward the ship. All they could do is wait to see where the bombs would hit. One bomb exploded in the hold Jack was in, but at the other end away from him. Unfortunately, his good friend, 2nd Lt. Leroy Scoville of A Company, was closer to the explosion and wounded by the bomb.
In an attempt to repair the ship, the Japanese transferred the POWs to the undamaged hold of the ship. The POWs watched as the Japanese attempted to patch the ship.
On January 14, 1945, Jack was boarded onto his third "hell ship" the Brazil Maru which left Formosa, on January 14th, and arrived in Moji, Japan, on January 29, 1945. During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day. The ship also towed one or two other ships which had been damaged. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan. His friend, Lt. Leroy Scoville, was not one of them.
Jack was held at Fukuoka #3 until the Japanese decided it was time for those that were suppose to go Manchuria to be sent there. He was boarded onto another ship, the Otaro Maru. He arrived in Pusan, Korea, on April 25, 1945, when he was sent to Mukden, Manchuria by train. According to Jack's diary, he arrived at Mukden on April 29th. There, he was held as a POW at Hoton Camp. One of the biggest problems facing Jack and the other new arrivals at the camp was the belief among the older residents that the new arrivals were stealing their food, supplies, and making their lives worse by being there. This belief caused friction among the members of the two groups.
On August 20th, Jack wrote in a journal he kept, "Allied planes over camp about 12:30 P. 5:35 P. B-24 came over camp at retreat & dropped pamphlets. 7:35 P. Russian Commander arrived and declared us free men. 8:00 P. Nips disarmed and marched before Americans. Russian Commander presents pistol to General Parker." Jack remained at Mukden until September 29, 1945, when he was listed by the Russians for transport.
Jack returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Marine Shark at Seattle, Washington, on November 1, 1945, and was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. As Aide-de-camp for the 192nd Tank Battalion, he wrote the official U. S. Army report on the men of the 192nd Tank Battalion. It was his report that was basis for this project.
While Jack was a POW, in November 1942, his father took a position at a Baptist Church in Urbana, Illinois. When Jack returned home, he visited his parents at their new home. It was while in Urbana, that Jack mailed Ralph Hite's wallet to his mother, so he would keep his word and return it to Hite's family.
Jack Merrifield married and raised a family. He made a career as a government employee with the Internal Revenue Service as a Special Agent. As an agent he resided in Colorado. When he retired from the IRS, with his second wife, Grace, Jack moved to Arizona. Jack Merrifield passed away on February 16, 1999, at a Phoenix Veterans Administration Hospital in Arizona.
As per his wishes, Jack Merrifield was cremated. His daughter and friend took his ashes out in a boat and scattered them in Lake Havasu, Arizona. His ashes were scattered in the same location as his wife who had passed away before him.