Pvt. John M. Pimperal
Pvt. John M. Pimperal was
born on March 13, 1919, and lived at 620 West Surf
Street in Chicago, Illinois. He was drafted
into the army and became a member of Company
B, 192nd Tank Battalion while its members were
training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
In the late summer of 1941, Frank took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. He married before going overseas.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
The battalion 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 in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover. The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands. They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam. When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water. The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay. After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked. Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King 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 love in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
For the next four months, John fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. On April 9, 1942, at about 6:45 in the morning, the tankers received the order "crash" over their radios. This meant they were suppose to destroy their tanks and equipment and wait to become Prisoners of War. John was among the members of B Company who escaped to Corregidor. He became a Prisoner of War on May 6, 1942, when Corregidor surrendered.
While a POW at Cabanatuan, a camp orchestra was organized. John was an accomplished trumpet player and became a member of the camp orchestra. To help break the routine of the camp, the orchestra played on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
As part of their propaganda campaign, the Japanese would broadcast the performances to the rest of the Philippines. During one of the broadcasts, John was allowed to ask anyone listening to contact his aunt in California. As it turned out, a short wave radio operator heard the broadcast and contacted his aunt. She in turn contacted John's mother and told her that he was alive and a prisoner in the Philippine Islands. This was the first news that his family had received from him since the surrender.
On October 5, 1942, John was sent to Japan on the Tottori Maru. The trip took 37 days before the prisoners disembarked at Osaka. During the voyage, the ship stopped at Takao. Formosa and Pusan, Korea. POWs being sent to Mukden, Manchuria disembarked the ship there. The ship reached Osaka, Japan on November 11th.
In Japan, John was sent to Kawasaki where he worked as a riveter at the Shibaura Electric Works. The camp was designated Tokyo #3B. The POWs lived in a baseball stadium. The prisoners worked nine hour days for the equivalency of two cents for the entire day. During his time as a POW, John suffered from beriberi and his weight dropped to 126 pounds.
Life as a POW in Japan meant meals for the prisoners that consisted mostly of cereal and soup. At the camp where John was held, very few prisoners were beaten by the guards. If they did poor work, they received no food that day.
On May 1, 1944, the camp was closed. John and the other POWs were transferred to other camps. At this time, it is not known what camp he was held after Tokyo #3B. John remained a POW until he was liberated by American Forces in September 1945. He weighed 115 pounds when he was liberated. John returned to Chicago where he was discharged on April 10, 1946. While John was a POW, his wife had divorced him and remarried.
John M. Pimperal passed away on July 6, 2001, in Waterville, Maine. He carried scars from the beatings for the rest of his life. He was buried in Section C, Row 1, Site 7, at Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery, Augusta, Maine.