Major John Coffinberry Morley
Maj. John C. Morley was the oldest of five children born to Lieutenant Commander John Edward Morley and Nadine Morgan Coffinberry-Morley. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 6, 1904. As a child, he lived at 10819 Magnolia Avenue in Cleveland and attended school in Cleveland.
After graduating high school, John attended Yale University graduating in 1925 with a Bachelors of Arts. On June 17, 1925, he enlisted in the U.S. Army reserve and commissioned a Second Lieutenant. He was inactive in the Army Reserve during the time he went to law school. He attended Harvard University where he earned a law degree in 1928. After graduation, he returned to active duty.
John married and with his wife, Gretchen, and adopted a son, David. The family resided at 2912 Weybridge Road in Shaker Heights, Ohio. On February 17, 1936, he was promoted to First Lieutenant. On November 11, 1938, he transferred to the Ohio National Guard as a 1st Lieutenant.
On February 3,
1941, John was called to federal service. He
joined the 192nd Tank Battalion at Fort Knox,
Kentucky. On July 2, 1941, he was promoted to
captain and made the commanding officer of
Headquarters Company. Later, he was given the
duty of intelligence officer, or S-2, for the
After living through the attack on Clark Air Field on December 8, 1941, John's job was to make sure that the different tank platoons of the 192nd were in contact with Headquarters Company. He also provided information on the Japanese to the companies.
During the fight against the Japanese, John often went out on reconnaissance gathering information on Japanese positions. He also went out repeatedly, contacting the tank companies to see what their needs were. During these missions, John often came under attack by the Japanese. He recalled in a letter home the bombings and strafing by Japanese planes.
On one occasion, as part of his job, John was sent into the jungle to find the surviving members of a Japanese bomber that had been shot down. John returned from this assignment having captured the Japanese bomber crew.
A platoon of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion tanks, was sent north to Damortis. The Japanese had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf. John went north with the company. At Gerona, the company ran out of gas and waited for trucks. One platoon was sent north to support the 26th U.S. Calvary of the Philippine Scouts.
On December 25th, John was in one of the tanks assigned to HQ Company of the 192nd. The Japanese were involved in a battle with the tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion. The tank was parked under the canopy of a gas station near Carmen. Pfc. Wayne Buggs tuned the tanks radio to the 194th's frequency. As the they listened to the battle, Morley attempted to follow the action on a map. John and the tank's crew sat in the tank listening to the battle while shells landed around them. As the battle got closer to them, the decision was made to move their tank back to a safer location.
During the Battle of Bataan, a platoon of C Company tanks, under the command of Lt. William Gentry, came into contact with a Japanese force at the Filipino barrio of Bailiuag. The Japanese needed to use the bridge across the Calumpit River which had not been blown up. Gentry ordered his tank crews to hide their tanks in the huts at the south end of the barrio.
John had lost contact with the tanks and wanted to know what had happened to them. The tanks not wanting to reveal themselves had kept radio silence. All that John knew was that the tanks were in the area of Bailiuag. Late in the afternoon, John drove into the barrio looking for the tanks. The Japanese had crossed the river and had placed lookouts in the church tower at the north end of the town. Seeing John in his jeep caused a commotion among the Japanese. John realizing that he was about to blow the cover of the tanks got back into his jeep and drove away as if nothing had happened. The tanks would later attack and wipe out a platoon of Japanese tanks.
During the Battle of the Pockets, the tanks were sent north to help wipe the pockets out. John did reconnaissance on foot across the front. While doing this he was under constant enemy fire.
On December 31st, the 192nd had been ordered to drop back to new positions. Once the battalion had established its new headquarters, John noticed that the medical detachment was missing, so he went looking for them. When he found them, he learned that they had never received the order to drop back. He told Capt. Alvin Poweleit that the Japanese were now behind them and that the best way to get to the new front line was to cross a river.
On February 6, 1942, while performing reconnaissance to coordinate tank action in front of two American divisions in the II Corp sector of Bataan, John received the Silver Star. According to the citation, he managed to deploy tanks in conditions that were not suitable for tanks. While doing this, he often put himself in harm's way by crossing the frontline on foot under enemy fire. It was sometime after this that John was promoted to major. He told his wife in a letter home that he was expecting the promotion.
It was April 8th, when the news of a possible surrender began to spread among the soldiers. John like many others took the news as being free from the constant shelling and air raids. At the time, the Provisional Tank Group's headquarters was near Limay. Corregidor had no idea that the barrio was still in American hands and was shelling the area. That night, he watched as ammunition dumps were destroyed. There was a loud thud and flames shot into the sky.
Before the surrender, John saw Col. Cliff Williams of General King's staff who had come to his bivouac on the back of a motorcycle at 6:00 in the morning. Gen. King had given him a letter for Gen. Homa of the Japanese army. Williams looked at John and said, "Morley, never in my life did I ever conceive of being required to carry out such a bitter task as this." Morley offered William's the use of his jeep and driver, Cpl. William Burns.
On April 8th, John made his way to Lamao with orders to send three tank companies north, in a last stand movement, from which, he knew, few would return. About midnight. the order was revoked, and he was told to prepare the tankers to destroy their equipment. It was when the ammunition dumps went up in great explosions and flames that he knew the a decision had been made.
John was also involved in the destruction of B Company tanks. After the crews had opened the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. The last tank would not blow up, so John personally dropped the grenade into it. Afterward, he and Captain Robert Sorenson, the commander of B Company, made their way to the tank group headquarters.
At HQ, he saw General Weaver. In John's opinion the general looked tired. He also believed that Weaver wanted to fight to the death instead of surrendering. John then made his way to Hospital #1 to get Capt. Alvin Poweleit. During the trip, he saw his first Japanese troops. His driver pulled the jeep into their tank column and followed them to the hospital. Since Poweleit could not leave until the evening, John made his way back to tank group command. He went to sleep that night wondering what lay in store the next morning.
The next morning John was awakened by the sound of grunts. John's field bag was packed, and he was able to put canned food and an additional set of clothes in it. When the Japanese arrived, he able to take the bag with the food with him.
On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. In a letter home, John told of how walking on the gravel trail was difficult. John recalled that he witnessed "Japanese Discipline." If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted.
When the trail the POWs were on reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separated the officers from the enlisted men. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
At one point, John saw Filipino civilians who were making their way down the road. He could not believe how thin they were. Yes, he and the other soldiers had been hungry, but these people had starved.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a school yard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp. There, he and Major Havelock Nelson shared a can of mushroom soup.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset. They were made to march as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12th at three in the morning.
At Orani, John and the others were put into a pin. They were ordered to lay down. In the morning, John and the other men realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the pin. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 that evening, John resumed the march. John recalled that this part of the march was different. The POWs were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs make their way to Hormosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete. John found that this change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets. John received one of these jabs.
The POWs continued the march. For the first time in months, it began to rain. John stated the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13th, he arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a bin. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
John recalled this was the worse part of the march. It was short, but most of the POWs were exhausted. It was during this portion of the march that Major Havelock Nelson began to have problems. He fell and was carried by John and Capt. Malcolm Fowler, 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the rest of the way to Camp O'Donnell. Arriving at the camp. the two men placed Nelson by a hut with his field bag. It was the last time John ever saw Nelson.
On June 4th, John was transferred to Cabanatuan. He remained in the camp until until October 26, 1942, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila. He remained in the prison until October 28th, when he was taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Erie Maru. The ship sailed for Iloilo, Mindanao and also stopped at Cebu before arriving at Lasang, Mindanao. The entire trip took two weeks. John's diary noted that he arrived at the Davao Penal Colony on November 11, 1942. The colony was 36 miles from the Davao City.
At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays. Twelve POWs shared a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay. Each cage held two POWs.
In the diary John kept as a POW, he wrote of the food the POWs were served. In it he stated the POWs received a dish of steam rice and salt for breakfast and a cup of ginger tea. He stated that when he first became a POW, he had to force the rice down his throat, since he found it disgusting. He noted that by July 1943, he could eat the rice and want more.
John also noted that lunch and dinner for the POWs was a dish of rice and salt and kang-kong soup. He described kang-kong soup as a leafy plant that grew in wet ditches. This soup was supplemented at times with carrots, cassava, gobbi, green papaya, and beans. In addition, fish was added to the meal.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded. The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Many of the POWs became ill with what John called, "Rice Sickness". This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into a ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent John and other POWs to Cebu by ship. From Cebu on the Teiryu Maru, he was sent back to Manila on June 24, 1944. John and the other POWs were returned to Bilibid Prison. On June 28th, he was then returned to Cabanatuan.
John was returned to Bilibid, a third time, on October 12, 1944. This time he was being processed for shipment to Japan. 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, the 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 disrepair.
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 the POWs were allowed to sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45 in the afternoon. They were awakened about 5:00 PM and boarded the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
John 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 sound 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. 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. When the U.S. Navy planes resumed their attack, the attacks came in waves. The POWs would live through three more attacks. During one attack, a bomb came through the side of the ship blowing a large hole in the aft hold and resulting in the deaths of many POWs. The other POWs noted that attack was heavier then the day before.
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.
In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many.
About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn. John made his way on deck and went over the side. He 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. As they swam to shore, four American planes flew over them at a low altitude. The POWs frantically waved to them hoping to prevent them from strafing. The planes veered off and returned flying lower over the POWs. This time, they dipped their wings to acknowledged they knew they were Americans. Once on shore, the POWs were herded onto tennis courts at the Olongapo Naval Station at Subic Bay. It was noted by the POWs when they reached shore that much of the ship's stern was blown away.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, 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. What was learned is that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. 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.
The POWs remained on the tennis court for nine days. During their time on the courts, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The evening of December 16th, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, "No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs. The POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25th until the 26th. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners 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 those 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. During the night od December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM.
After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9th. One bomb hit the ship exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 258 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. The dead were unloaded from the ship and a POW detail of twenty men took them to a large furnace where they were cremated. These men reported that 150 POWs had been killed. Their ashes were buried in a large urn. Even after this had been done, there were still dead in the ship's holds.
About 1000 POWs were transferred to the Brazil Maru on Saturday, January 13th. The ship sailed at dawn on the 14th. Sometime afternoon, the POWs received their first meal of a quarter cup of red rice for each POW.
The POWs found the first night on the ship was extremely cold. What made it worse was that most of the POWs had dysentery. The POWs received two meals a day which consisted of each man receiving a third of a cup of rice and eight teaspoons of tea. 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.
Major John C. Morley died on Thursday, January 18, 1945, in the hold of the Brazil Maru. One story is that he died of starvation, while the other is the he was wounded during one of the attacks and died from his wounds. After he died, his body was thrown into the sea. Of the original 1619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan. His name was placed on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila. His family also had his name placed on a headstone in Section 13, Row 9 - 1, at Evergreen Cemetery, Painesville, Ohio.