Pvt. Peter Nakavich

    Pvt. Peter Nakavich was born in Ohio in 1919, in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, to Thomas & Casimira Nakavich.  With his two brothers and four sisters, he grew up in Cleveland.

    He was inducted into the U. S. Army on March 19, 1941, and did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  At Ft. Knox, he was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  The company's purpose was to maintain and supply the tanks of the battalion.  It is not known what specific training that he received.

    In the late summer of 1941, Peter traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  HQ Company did not actively participate in the maneuvers, but kept the tanks of the battalion running. 
    After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected.  It was on the side of a hill that the battalion members learned they were being sent overseas.  The battalion was selected for this duty by General George S. Patton.  Men 29 years old or older, or married, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service, those who remained were given leaves home to say their goodbyes.

    Over  different train routes, the companies of the battalion traveled to San Francisco, California, and after arriving, ferried to Angel Island.  At Ft. McDowell, the soldiers received physicals and inoculations.  Those who were found to have minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Those with major medical conditions were simply replaced. 
   The battalion sailed, from San Francisco, on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii, as part of a three ship convoy.  The ships arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover, so the soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island.  The ships  sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam.  The ships took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the ship was from a friendly country. 
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the next day for Manila.  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.  The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, at about 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he hadn't learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He remained with the battalion until they had settled in and had their Thanksgiving Dinner.  Afterwards, he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had the grease applied to them to prevent them from rusting during the trip to the Philippines.  The soldiers also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts, since the plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion.  At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles.  Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks. 
    At six in the morning on December 8th, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort.  They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength around Clark Airfield.  The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north.  At first they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes.  As they watched, the saw "raindrops" falling from the planes.  When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
    As a member of HQ Company,  Peter remained in the bivouac of the battalion.  After the attack, the tankers saw the carnage done during the attack.  The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps. 

    For the next four months, Peter worked with the other members of HQ Company to keep the tanks supplied.  This was often a difficult task since the defensive lines were fluid.  Peter most likely never saw front line action, but he did live with the constant strafing by Japanese planes.
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   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, but they successfully crossed the river.
    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, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
    The 192nd
took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942.  The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off.  The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions.  According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
    At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23rd until February 17, 1942.  Japanese troops had been cut off behind the battle line.  Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket.  According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
    The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades.  As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole.  The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I, and one out of three exploded.
    The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole.  The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks. 

    The evening of April 8, 1942,
Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together.   He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese.  The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks.  The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move.  Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."

    The morning of April 9, 1942, Peter became a Prisoner of War, but the first Japanese soldiers did not appear in HQ company's encampment until April 11th.  A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment.  Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained on the sides of the road for hours.

    The company boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and were ordered to sit and wait.  As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them.  They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.

    As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers.  He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  As he did, the sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.

    Later in the day, Peter's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles, where the POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours without being water or food.  Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered.  Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little to protect themselves, since they had no place to hide.  Some POWs were killed from the incoming American shells.  One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit.  The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.

    It appears that at some point Peter disappeared from the march.  According to 2nd Lt. Tom Savage's records, on the 192nd, indicate that Peter never reached Camp O'Donnell.  It is known that POWs were selected by the Japanese to return to Bataan to start cleaning up the junk left behind from the battle.  At some point he was a taken to Cabanatuan.

    On October 26, 1942, Peter and other POWs were transferred to Bilibid Prison.  He remained in the prisoner for two days.  On the the 28th, Peter and the other POWs were marched to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Erie Maru.  The ship sailed the same day for Lasang, Mindanao.  During the trip, the ship stopped at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao.  It arrived at Lasang on November 11th.  For the next two years, Peter worked building runways and farming at Davao.

   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 with a total of 216 POWs living in each barracks.  Four cages were later put in a bay for the POWs to sleep in at night.  Each cage held two POWs.

    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 while the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops.  The sick POWs made baskets.  By April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied.  Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment and were beaten for not meeting quotas.  Most of the misunderstandings, between the POWs and guards, and were caused by a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.

    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 the POWs to Lasang, Mindano, by truck.  Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed.  The ship sailed on the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano, for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June 17th.  The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse.  The POWs were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25th.  On June 28th, Peter was returned to Cabanatuan.

    During Peter's time at Cabanatuan, he worked the camp farm.  One day, while the POWs were working, they saw what appeared to be a dogfight between fighters.  As they watched a plane caught fire and fell to the ground.  It crashed near the camp.  One of the other planes had followed the plane down, on this plane's wings the POWs saw white stars.  It was the first time that they had seen American planes in over three years.
    According to medical records kept in the camp. Peter was admitted to Hospital Building #15 on September 4, 1944.  No reason is given as to why he was admitted. 
A short time later, the POWs heard the artillery bombardment of Manila and Clark Field.  They now believed it would be a short period of time before they were liberated.  This hope was shattered a few days later when the Japanese read the names of 250 POWs who were being sent to Bilibid.  The next day another 250 POWs were transferred to Manila by truck.

    On October 10th, Peter, with other prisoners, was marched to the Port Area of Manila.  Peter and the other POWs were scheduled to be boarded on the Hokusen Maru, which was ready to sail, but part of the POW detachment had arrived at the pier.  Another POW detachment was on the pier and ready to sail.  The ship they were scheduled to sail on was not ready, so the Japanese swapped POW detachments so the Houksen Maru could sail.
    Peter's detachment was boarded onto the Arisan Maru and the Japanese packed nearly 1800 POWs into the ship's forward hold which was large enough to hold 400 men.  The POWs could not move and those who had lain down on the wooden bunks along the hull of the ship could not sit up.  Within 48 hours, five POW had died.

    The ship sailed but instead of heading to Japan, it headed south to Palawan Island and hid in a cove off the island from American planes.  The POWs attempting to improve their situation discovered that the lights had been taken out of the hold, but the Japanese had not turned off the power.  Some of the prisoners managed to wire the hold's ventilation system into the lighting system and the POWs had fresh air for two days.  When the Japanese discovered what they had done, they turned off the power to the lights.

    Acknowledging that the situation in the hold was extremely bad, the Japanese opened the first hold and moved 800 POWs to it.  The hold was half filled with coal so the POWs stood on it.  During the move one POW attempted to escape and was shot.  At some point during its stay in the cove, the ship was attacked by American planes.

    On October 20th, the ship returned to Manila to join a twelve ship convoy.  On October 21, 1944, the Arisan Maru sailed for Takao, Formosa.  The convoy was in the Bashi Channel of the South China sea on Tuesday, October 24th, with twenty POWs were on deck preparing dinner.  As the POWs watched, the Japanese guards on ran toward the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship.  Moments later, the Japanese ran to the stern of the ship as another torpedo passed behind the ship.

    Suddenly, the ship shook and came to a dead stop in the water.  It had been hit by two torpedoes amidships in an unoccupied hold.  The Japanese guards aimed their guns at the POWs, who were on deck, to get them back into the ship's holds.  After they were in the holds, the Japanese cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds.  A short time later, the Japanese abandoned ship.

    Since the hatch covers had not been tied down, some of the POWs made their way back on deck.   These men reattached and dropped the rope ladders to the men in the holds.  For the next two hours, the ship remained afloat but slowly sunk in the water.  Those POWs who could not swim raided the ship's food lockers so they could die on a full stomach. 
    At some point, the ship split in two but remained afloat.  Most of the POWs attempted to find anything that would float.  Some POWs swam to other Japanese ships, but they were clubbed and pushed away with poles.

    Three POWs found a lifeboat that the Japanese had abandoned but could not maneuver it since it had no oars.  The men reported hearing cries for help for several hours after dark until there was silence.  Of the nearly 1800 men who boarded the Arisan Maru, only nine survived the its sinking, and only eight of these men survived the war.  Pvt. Peter Nakavich was not one of them.

    Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. Peter Nakavich's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.



Return to HQ Company