RowlandJ

Sgt. John Elliott Rowland


      Sgt. John E. Rowland was born on July 7, 1917, in Westerville, Ohio, to Hugh and Hazel Rowland.  He was raised, just outside of Westerville at 7010 Cleveland Avenue, on a small farm.  At that time, the town had a population of 2,000 people,   He attended grade school and high school in Westerville and was a member of the Westerville High School Class of 1935.  He next went to Wheeling Business College in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Ohio State University.  He worked in the classified advertising department of The Westerville Dispatch.

    On January 20, 1941, John was inducted into the United States Army.  He was one of the first men from Westerville to be drafted.  After induction, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training.  According to John, he had basic training in "Tent City."  He recalled the conditions were muddy and cold during the winter and hot and dusty in the summer.  In March, 1941, John was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  During his training at Ft. Knox, John was trained to do reconnaissance in scout cars and to use firearms.  He recalled that the company had scout cars, motorcycles, and its own tanks.

    John viewed his time in the army as a vacation.  He was drafted with the belief that after a year of service, he would be released and go home.  He enjoyed what he described as, "a change of life style." 

    In September 1941, the 192nd was sent by convoy to take part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941.  He recalled that there was a shortage of equipment, especially firearms, so wooden guns were used and also wooden rifles.  Tanks had signs hanging from their sides indicating what type of tank they were.

    After the maneuvers, they were sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected.   It was on a side of a hill that the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  John stated they loaded their "new" tanks onto flat cars and cosmolined all firearms to protect them rusting while at sea .  The "new" tanks were new to the 192nd. 
    By train, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco where they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.   Once there, the soldiers were inoculated and given physicals.  Some men had minor medical conditions and held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.  During this time John rose in rank from private, to private first class, to corporal, to sergeant. 

    The 192nd Tank Battalion left Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay, for the Philippine Islands on the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott on Monday, October 27th.  During the voyage, he recalled that the only special training the soldiers received was not to eat the local food or drink the water in the Philippines.  After a stop in Hawaii, from November 2nd to November 4th, John and the other members of the battalion sailed 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. 
   
Stopping at Guam, the ships were loaded with bananas, coconuts, water, and vegetables.  They sailed the next day for the Philippines. 
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 would soon be at war.  The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, at 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.  The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind and unloaded the battalion's tanks.
    The 192nd was housed in tents on the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  Colonel Edward King, the commander of the base, met the tankers and made sure they had what they needed.  He also apologized that they had to live in tents, but he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived.  He made sure they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
     It was at Fort Stotsenburg, that the reconnaissance platoon received new half-tracks to replace the reconnaissance cars that they had trained with at Fort Knox.  The half-tracks were armored and the bodies of the half-tracks had 3/8 of an inch armored plating. 

     The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field, to guard against Japanese paratroopers, on December 1st.  Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times.  The men were fed by food trucks which came to them. 
    The morning of December 8, 1941, about 6:30 AM, John's company was in their chow line when they heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  He recalled that the battalion was put on full alert.  At noon, he and other members of his company were listening to Tokyo Rose.  She reported that Clark Field had been bombed.  He and the other men got a good laugh out of this report since they were at Clark Field and there wasn't a Japanese plane in sight.  At 12:45 that afternoon, this would all change.

    Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, John lived through the bombing of Clark Field by the Japanese.  He like everyone else tried to find cover, since they had no weapons to use against bombers.  When the fighters came in to strafe the airfield, the tank crews fought back with their 50 caliber machine-guns.  

    The tank battalion was sent out of Clark Field to an area near Mount Arayat.  On the December 22nd, they were sent to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese had landed troops.  He recalled that after the attack, the tanks were repeated sent on wild goose chases against factious Japanese paratroopers.  

    John recalled that his reconnaissance platoon was sent north of Cabanatuan where it made contact with the Japanese.  In John's own words, " My reconnaissance platoon went up Route 3, as far as Pozorrubia - then we came back south and cut over to Route 5, and went to a point just north of Cabanatuan.  The dates I don't recall.

    The Japs were coming down Route 5 were not from Lingayan Gulf, at least I was told that.  I became acquainted with Jap artillery, at that time, and the Japs crossed Pampanga River while I was there.  Lt. Gentry's platoon of tanks responded when we notified battalion headquarters that we were in contact with the Japs."

    During the next four months he took part in the long slow withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula.  Another job he had was to look for snipers.  Finding snipers was never a problem.

    The role of the tanks was to hold the line so the infantry could disengage and drop back to the new defensive line.  Once this was done the tanks withdrew from the area.

    During this struggle, John was a spectator at one of the first tank engagements involving American tanks in World War II.  Near Cabanatuan, the half-track John was assigned to made contact with Japanese forces and radioed for help.  C Company responded with tanks and engaged the Japanese tanks and infantry.  It was evening so darkness caused a break in the engagement.  During the night, C Company withdrew without any casualties.  The number of Japanese casualties was unknown.  John witnessed several more skirmishes as the Filipino and American Forces withdrew into Bataan. 

    John recalled he was sent to the center of Bataan to hold a pass that it was rumored the Japanese were going to attempt to use to break their defensive line.  At that moment, the Japanese had broken through on the east side of Bataan.
    On April 7th, C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line.  They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.  Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.

    On April 9, 1942, by radio, John and the other members of his platoon received the news that the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan had been surrendered to the Japanese.  His platoon destroyed their three half-tracks and made their way back to HQ six miles away.  At first, John was relieved to know that the continual bombing and shelling by the Japanese was over, but in a very short time, he realized that this feeling of relief was a mistake.  This realization occurred with the start of the death march. 

    John recalled that the prisoners on the march were not fed, they did not receive water, and they often received the "sun treatment" by being left sitting in the sun for hours.  After this, when they were forced to proceed with the march, they realized that many men had died or had heatstroke, which prevented them continuing on the march.  These prisoners were either bayoneted or shot by the Japanese guards.  How long it took John to complete the march is unknown since he had lost track of the days.

    At San Fernando, the POWs were herded into a fenced schoolyard.  John recalled that one of the worst things he saw was the Japanese bury three Americans.   Two of the Americans were still alive.  One attempted to climb out of the grave and was hit with a shovel.  He was than buried.

    The POWs were ordered to form 10 men detachments and marched to the train station.  Oncce there, they packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men.  The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors.  Those POWs who died remained standing since they could not fall to the floor.  At Capas, the living climbed out and the bodies of the dead fell to the floors of the cars.

    John was first held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanatuan.  At each camp, he was a member of work details.  He recalled that able bodied prisoners who remained in the camps dug latrines, dug graves, and carried the bodies of the dead.  John stated that many of those who died were buried without being identified.  These details were referred to as "bun" details because the POWs on them received a bun with their meals.

    While at Camp O'Donnell, on May 8th, he was went back to Bataan as part of a scrap metal detail.  The prisoners on this detail savaged vehicles that were shipped to Japan as scrap.  It was also on this detail that John experienced his first act of kindness from a Japanese guard.  A  guard seeing that John was ill, gave John B-1 tablets to help him with his beriberi.  When the detail ended on June 20th, John was sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan. 

    John did not remain at Cabanatuan long.  On June 29th, John was part of a detail that was sent out on another detail to recover scrap metal.   The POWs would tie disable cars together with rope and, with an operating vehicle, drive the vehicles to San Fernando.  From there, the vehicles were taken to Manila.

    On this detail, John was the recipient of a second act of kindness by a Japanese soldier.  The Japanese officer in charge of the detail, noticing that John appeared to be dying, called in a Filipino doctor to treat John's malaria.  John believed that since the officer had been educated in the United States, he was kinder to the Americans.  This detail ended on September 8th, and the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan.

    On October 6, 1942, John and another 2000 POW's were sent to the dock area of Manila.  On October 7th, they were boarded onto Tottori Maru and shipped north.  The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  John was one of the lucky POWs who remained on deck.   According to him, conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck.  This was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed.

    The ship sailed from Manila on October 8th at 10:00 A.M. and passed Corregidor at noon.  The next day the Tottori Maru came under a torpedo attack by an American submarine.  John watched as all three torpedoes shot at the ship missed.   This was due to the fact that the ship's captain successfully maneuvered the ship to avoid being hit.  Later, the ship avoided a mine laid by the submarine.
    The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on October 11th and remained in port until October 16th when it sailed at 7:30 in the morning.  For an unknown reason, the ship returned to Takao the same day at 10:30 P.M.  On October 18th, the ship sailed for the Pescadores Islands arriving there the same day.  It remained there until October 27th when it returned to Takao.
    Arriving at Takao, food stuffs were loaded onto the ship.  The POWs were taken ashore and bathed with a fire hose, and the inside of the ship's holds were also cleaned at the same time.  On October 30th, the ship sailed for Makou, Pescadores Islands, and dropped anchor.  The next day it sailed as part of a seven ship convoy.
    The ships made their way toward Korea by sailing through a typhoon for five days.  After clearing the typhoon, on November 5th, they were attacked by an American submarine which sunk one ship.  During the attack the other ships scattered. 

    After 31 days on the ship, the Totori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea, on November 7th.  1300 POW's got off the ship and were issued new clothing and fur-lined overcoats.  They were sent north on a two day train trip to Mukden, Manchuria.  The 400 POWs who remained on the ship were sent to Japan.

    John was imprisoned first at Hoten Camp and sent to Mukden Prison Camp on November 11, 1942.  Most of the POWs at Mukden worked at a machine tool and die factory.  There, they were suppose to be producing a German copy of the American Brown & Sharp Automatic screw machine.  The POWs committed acts of sabotage so the machines broke down.  One was to drop sand into the oiling holes of the machines. 
    John worked as a janitor and hauled coal from the coal pile to the boilers. In addition, he worked in the office at the camp and also made wooden cubes to be used in charcoal burning vehicles.  To John's knowledge, none of the machines they were suppose to be manufacturing was ever completed or shipped in the three years he was there.  

    Other prisoners also worked away from the main camp in the smaller satellite camps.  At these camps, the prisoners produced leather, steel, textiles, and lumber.  About 100 prisoners worked in each of these camps.
    Food for the POWs consisted of a soup made from soy beans that they received three times a day.  To supplement their meals, the POWs learned make snares to catch the wild dogs that roamed into the camp.  They did this until the day a detachment of POWs saw a dog eating the dead body of a Chinese civilian.

    While John was a POW in the camp, a fire broke out in one of the buildings.  John went into the building and saved the lives of Japanese employees who were in the building.  For his action, he received a written commendation and ten packs of cigarettes. 

    One of the hardest things that the prisoners at the camp had to deal with was the weather.  It was so cold that the POWs grew beards to protect their faces.  If a prisoner died, he could not be buried until the ground had thawed in the spring, so his body was stored in a warehouse.

    During John's time at Mukden, his mother received a short wave message from West Coast ham radio operators.  In the message, John stated he had received mail and a Red Cross package.
    As the war went on, the POWs saw American planes.  On one occasion, while on a bombing run, a barracks in the camp was hit by a bomb killing twenty POWs.  The POWs learned later that this happened because the Japanese had placed three ammunition dumps in line with the camp.

    On August 16, 1945, a team from the Office of Strategic Services were dropped by parachute in the vicinity of the camp.  Late in the day, they were trucked into the camp and met with the Japanese commander.  On the 17th, the ranking American Officer in the camp, General Parker, was called to meet with the camp commander and the O.S.S. team.  Later that day, General Parker told the POWs that there was a truce.  It was not until August 20th that the prisoners learned that the war was over.   A Russian officer and Russian troops came to the camp and disarmed the Japanese guards.  The guards were then turned over to the POWs in a very formal ceremony.  At 7:23 p.m., the POWs were declared free men.

    The main body of former POWs left Mukden in two groups.  John was in the first group that left Mukden on September 11, 1945 by train for Darien, China.  John left Darien on the U.S.S. Relief, a hospital ship, on September 12th.  After a three day trip, he disembarked the Relief at Okinawa.  On September 19th, John was flown to Manila, where he boarded the S.S. Robert L. Hodge for San Francisco.  After arriving in San Francisco on September 27th, John was hospitalized at Letterman General Hospital.  On October 19, 1945, John was placed on a hospital train for Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio. 
    On October 27, 1945, John made his first visit home.  Almost four years to the date that he had last seen his family.  John was discharged from the army on April 8, 1946, but before he was discharged, he was also promoted to staff sergeant. 

    John returned to Westerville and married, Virginia Mae Weibel on March 26, 1946.  He was the father of two children and lived on the family farm for most of his life.  He also worked for the Veterans Administration and the Defense Supply Center.  When his health began to fail, he and his wife sold the farm and moved into an assisted living community.

    For his service to his country, John was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Campaign Medal, Bronze Star, American Defense Unit Citation with two Oak Leaf Clusters, American Campaign Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge.  He was a past president of The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

    John Rowland passed away in February 9, 2004, in Westerville, Ohio, and was buried at  Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.


 


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