Pvt. Robert James Ryan
Pvt. Robert J. Ryan the son of Michael & Marie Ryan was born on September 12, 1916, in Marshfield, Wisconsin. With his two sisters and brother, he grew up at 641 Ninth Street South in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. He was known as "Bob" to his family and friends and worked in a nursery.
Bob was inducted into the U.S. Army on April 7, 1941 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he did his basic training. It was while he was at Ft. Knox that he was selected to become a medic. After completing his training, he was assigned 192nd Tank Battalion's medical detachment.
In the late
summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana
to take part in maneuvers. The
medical detachment did not take part in the
maneuvers, but they did treat members of the
battalion for snake bites and other injuries. It was
on the side of a hill that the battalion learned
that they were being sent overseas.
The morning of
December 8th, there was talk of the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor. The
tankers were positioned around Clark Airfield
to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The
medics did not go but stayed in the bivouac
during the attack on Clark Field. The
tank companies of the battalion were sent
north toward Lingayen Gulf. The
medic detachment went with them. Somehow,
Bob and two other medics were cut off from the
rest of the battalion. They
made there way through the mountains and
joined the guerrillas of Col. J. P. Horan. He
spent four months with the guerrillas.
During this time he was involved in ambushes
of a Japanese patrols. The
meals of the guerrillas consisted of rice and
fish. In his own words:
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered,
but Bob and other guerrillas did
not. On May 6, 1942, Corregidor
surrendered and the guerrillas received
orders from General Wainwright to
Bataan fell, the Japs came in after us and
we kept dodging around from one place to
another, eating mostly fish and rice.
Finally, after the Nips forced General
Wainwtight to give in, we were ordered to
surrender. It took us five days
to come out of the jungles so as you
can see we were pretty far in."
first the Japanese treated the former guerrillas
pretty well to get other guerrillas to
surrender. When this did not work, the
Japanese got rough on the former guerrillas.
It is known
that Bob were held at some unknown location
before he was sent to Cabanatuan. According
to records from the camp, Bob was in Barracks
#7, Group II. On January 20, 1943, he was
admitted to the camp hospital. It is not
known why he was admitted or when he was
discharged. On Wednesday, June 3, 1943, he
was readmitted to the hospital. Again no
reason or date of discharge was given.
Recalling Cabanatuan, he said:
"The first camp we were taken to, the flies
were so thick that the guards made us kill
500 before we were allowed to eat. On
an average, we never received more than a
handful of rice to eat each day all the time
I was a prisoner. When we were taken
to Cabanatuan prison, the main camp, I began
seeing my first atrocities.
"On September 21, 1944, we
saw the first American planes, and although
we were warned against demonstrations, we
did let ourselves go some. We did get
to see some dog fights and always the
Americans were victors."
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 other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men who had been selected for transport to Japan. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." At 11:30, the men were fed a meal and than formed detachments of 100 men. They were marched the two miles 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.
At the harbor, the POWs saw that 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, it too showed damage from being bombed. Some men were amazed it was still being used. At the pier there were three ships docked, one was a run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered that one of the two nicer ships was theirs.
The POWs were allowed
to sit down on the pier. Many
fell asleep and slept to around 3:45. About
5:00 P.M., the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku
Maru for transport to Japan. It is
not known in which hold Bob was held in, but the
sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that
went around the diameter. The
POWs near the hatch used anything they could
find to fan the air to the POWs further away
The ship left
Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as
part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao,
the swells in the water, the POWs could tell
that the ship was in open water. The
POWs received their first meal at dawn. Meals
of the ship consisted of a little rice, fish,
Three fourths of a cup of water was
shared by twenty POWs. The
prisoners had just eaten when they heard the
sound of the ship's anti-aircraft 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 waves caused by the explosions caused
the ship to rock.
The POWs heard the
change in the sound of planes' engines 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
In all, the POWs would have to sweat out
five air raids during this time. The
one result of the raid was no evening meal. 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.
The worse of these attacks came at 4:30 in the
afternoon. The ship was hit by at least
three bombs on its bridge and stern. Most
of the POWs who were wounded were hit by
ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from the
exploded near the ship sent turrets of water
over it. Bullets
from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at
an angle that prevented most from penetrating.
Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was
put out after several hours. In the hold the POWs
Chips of rust fell on them from the
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."
"The second night we were
still were laying in Subic Bay as the ship
was disabled. During the night about
40 more died. Everyone was half crazy
with thirst and hunger Even though we
knew we might be killed, we were glad our
bombers were giving them hell."
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
One of the medics recalled that the dead,
dying and wounded were everywhere.
"The next night was dark
and everyone was gasping for air, food, and
water, and we began fighting among ourselves
and doing things I cannot repeat.
There was blood and a sickening stench all
over. When the bombers came over
again, one bomb hit the hold were many
officers were confined. Half of them
were killed and the other half was
wounded. As the wounded didn't receive
treatment, they died before we reached
The POWs were told, at 4:00 in the morning, that
they would be disembarked after daybreak. It was
The POWs sat in the hold for hours after
daybreak when the sound of planes was heard. They
would live through several more attacks. When
the U.S. Navy planes resumed their attack, the
attacks came in waves. The
POWs noted that attack was heavier than the
attacks of the day before. The planes
attacked in waves of 30 to 50 planes with the
attacks lasting from twenty minutes to a half
hour. After an attack there was a lull
that lasted about 30 minutes before the next
attack took place.
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions.
About a half hour
later, the ship's stern started to really burn. The
POWs made their way on deck and went over the
they swam to shore near Olongapo, Subic Bay,
Luzon, 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. Bob
"When we were told to
come out of the holds and swim for shore,
some of the guards fired into us with
machine guns, killing and maiming many.
Jap marines shot and killed any that
looked like they were escaping or floating
At the same time, American planes flew low over them. The POWs waved frantically at them so that they would not be strafed. One of the planes banked and flew even lower over the POWs. This time he dipped his wings to show that they knew that they were Americans.
When the POWs came
ashore, they were herded onto a tennis court at
the Olongapo Naval Station. While
the POWs were there, 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
it was learned that these POWs were shot and
were buried at a cemetery nearby. The
remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis
courts for nine days. During
that time, they were given water but not
"We were herded into the
tennis court, the 1,250 of us who
remained. There we sat for three more
days with nothing to eat or drink. While
we were there, we saw a man get his arm cut
off because gangrene had set in. There were
no medicines, Fortunately, the poor
fellow died shortly after and saved himself
a lot of suffering. On the fourth day
we got one sack of rice, about 100 pounds
for 1,250 of us. We each got a level tablespoonful
and chewed it raw. Meanwhile we were
eating leaves, grass, and weeds, and
anything within our grasp."
During the POWs’ time on the tennis 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 their 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.
On December 22nd, 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 viewed the theater 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
Many of the Americans began to believe
they had been taken there so that they would be
killed by their own countrymen.
After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station. They 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 men 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. 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.
prisoners were boarded
onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru. On
this ship, the POWs were held in three different
ship had been used to haul cattle, so the POWs
were held in the same stalls that the cattle had
been held in.
In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up
in companies 108 men. Each
man had four feet of space. Men
who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the
ladders were shot by the guards.
Bob recalled his time on the ship:
"When no food was
forthcoming, we stole bags of horse feed
and ate that. Men were dying on an
average of four to five a day on this
ship. People would just wouldn't
believe some of the things that happened.
The Japs piled the bodies of the
dead on the deck like cord wood, as they
were afraid to throw them overboard for
fear of submarines detecting their course.
The daily routine for the POWs was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they used ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterwards, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.
During the night of 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, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had eaten since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. The POWs received little water during this time.
From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and with a little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9th. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's anti-aircraft guns was heard. At first the POWs thought the gun crews were practicing. It was only when they heard the first bomb explode that they knew it wasn't a drill. The explosions of bombs began falling closer and closer to the ship and the waves created by the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb hit the ship and exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. On January 11th, a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. The dead were unloaded from the ship, and a POW detail took the corpses to a large furnace where they were cremated. These men reported that 150 POWs had been cremated. Their ashes were buried in a large urn. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold.
Another detail was organized to remove the remaining bodies, and the bodies of those who had died since the ship was attacked. The bodies were carried from the ship and buried in a mass grave, on a beach, at Takao. After the war, the remains were exhumed and buried in Hawaii.
On January 13th, the surviving POWs were boarded onto a third "Hell Ship" the Brazil Maru. On the ship, the POWs found they had more room and were actually issued life-jackets. The ship sailed for Japan on January 14th as part of a convoy 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
While Bob was in Japan, his parents received a letter from him. It said:
Dear Mother and Dad - Am feeling fine. Hope
you are in good health and Edward is
fine. Tell Jimmie and Mary Ann and I
hope to see
In Japan, Bob was sent to Fukuoka #3. It is not known how long he was held there, but he was transferred to Fukuoka #22, which was located at Moji. This was done since he originally was scheduled to go to Manchuria. Bob and the other survivors of the Oryoku Maru and Enoura Maru were boarded on a series of intercostal steamers. The final ship arrived at Pusan, Korea, on April 25th. In Korea he was held at Jinsen Camp. After the surrender, it was learned that the guards had received orders, four days after the surrender, to kill all the POWs.
Bob returned to the
United States and was sent to Mayo Hospital in
Galesburg, Illinois. He was
discharged on May 30, 1946, and returned to
He was elected Wood County Recorder of
Deeds six months after being discharged. Bob
married Mary E. Ryan and spent the rest of his
life in Wisconsin Rapids. He resigned as
County Recorder of deeds in 1968.