Pvt. Robert James Ryan
Pvt. Robert J. Ryan was the son of Michael & Marie Ryan. He 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. He 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 sent to Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The medics did not go stayed in the bivouac. Bob lived through the Japanese 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.
On May 6, 1942, with the surrender of Corregidor, Gen. Jonathan Wainwright ordered the guerrillas to surrender. It took Bob's guerrilla unit five days to make their way out of the jungle. When they did surrender, they were taken to Baguio. He recalled that the Japanese treated the POWs well at first, because they were trying to get other guerrilla groups to surrender. When this failed, the Japanese started to mistreat the POWs.
It is known that, at some point, Bob 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. He was held in the camp until October 14, 1944, when his name was on a list of POWs being transferred to Bilibid Prison. He was held at Bilibid until December 1944. On December 7th, the Japanese ordered the medics to perform physicals on POWs being sent to Japan or another occupied country.
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." 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.
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, 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. 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 Warren 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 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 of 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 sounds 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 waves caused by the explosions caused the ship to rock.
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 who 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 prevented most from penetrating. Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours.
After the first air 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 for hours after daybreak when the sound of planes was heard. They would live through three 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.
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
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. The POWs made their way on deck and went over the side. As 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.
At the same time, American planes flew low over them. The POWs waved frantically at them so that they would not be strafed. The planes banked and flew even lower over the POWs. This time they tipped their wings to the POWs 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 again. Later, 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 fed.
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.
The remaining prisoners were boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The 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.
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 machineguns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard. The waves created from 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 lifejackets. 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 them all and you soon. Really miss
you all. Don't worry. Write. Love to Ellen, Kathryn, Lala, you and all.
Regards to friends. Robert"
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.