Ryan_R

 

 


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 battalion sailed, on the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott, 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, while the maintenance section remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel 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 live in tents along the road between Clark Field and Ft. Stostenburg.  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, 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:


 "However we managed to escape and join the guerrilla forces under Col. J. P. Horan.  Three of us hit for the jungles. It took us four days to cross the mountains and we were feeding on whatever we could get, along with the help of some of the natives.  We lived in the hills for several weeks and vain;y to reach our troops.  In the meantime, we would strike the at the Jap patrols and withdraw."


    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 surrender.

    "When 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."

    At 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.


    "They began to cuff us around for no reason at all.  and I'd like to bring that out of 1619 who started out as prisoners, only 230 survived.  The rest died of starvation, thirst, mistreatment, lack of medical treatment, or were just plan murdered.  When I look back on all this, I wonder if I actually lived through it, it was so unreal."


    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. 
    My first experience with the many men I was to watch die came when we were led to into Cabanatuan camp.  They were burying some of the dead.  They'd dig a big hole and just toss the bodies into it.  It made my blood run cold.  Little did I know that I was to witness many scenes much worse than this.
    I noticed the bodies they were burying were nothing but skin and bone and couldn't weigh more than 70 pounds. Later I was to realize why they were in this condition.  With sanitary conditions practically unknown and very little food, I'm surprised that as many of us survived that did.
    I didn't see a piece of meat until December, 1942, and it may sound impossible but I  actually got 30 to 40 bites oout of the meat they gave me which was about a half-inch square.  Needless to say, many of us got sick, and the only difference with being taken to what they called a hospital was that you didn't have to work."


    Bob also recalled the first American planes the POWs saw in two years.


    "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."


    Bob 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."  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 from it.
     Bob recalled:


    "On December 13th they got us onto a ship.  It was suppose to be one of their best, the Oryoku Maru. They loaded 1619 in three holds below deck.  Inside five minutes men were suffocating and dying."

     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 dawn.  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 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.


    "When the American dive-bombers came over they blasted the ship killing over half the Japs on deck. They gave us no food or water and several men died the first night."

    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 casualties.  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 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.  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."  
    As night fell, the attacks ended.  
The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night.  That night many POWs died in the holds.  The ship steamed close to shore to find a suitable landing place.


    "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."
 

    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 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 Japan."

    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 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.
     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

    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 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.  Bob recalled:


    "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 away."
 

    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 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. 
    Bob recalled his time on the tennis court:


    "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 barrio.   Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.      
    On December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs.  The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck.  Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid.  The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.

    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. 

    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.
    When they assigned me to another hold, I took a chance and sneaked back to another that wasn't as crowded.  Good fortune was with me, apparently.  Because when American bombers again attacked, the hold was hit by a bomb.  However, I was wounded slightly by shrapnel from another one shortly after.  gain, for days we were without food or water.  The death rate increased rapidly. Only 900 of the group of 1,250 remained now. We counted 40 or 50 dying each day."


    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
               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 Wisconsin Rapids.  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. 
    Robert J. Ryan passed away on August 23, 1987, and was buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids, in the East Mausoleum, South Side.


 

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