Schwass

Capt. Ruben H. Schwass


    Little is known about Capt. Ruben H. Schwass's early life except that he was born on July 5, 1901.  He was the son of Henry & Augusta Schwass and the  brother of Chris and grew up in Proviso Township.  There is also evidence that his family had a long history of residing in River Forest, Illinois.

    Capt. Ruben H. Schwass lived at 1305 West Chicago Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois, with his wife, Helen, and his daughter, Ruth.  He was employed, as a meter inspector, by the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois as a meter tester.

    Ruben joined the Illinois National Guard's newly formed tank company in Maywood on July 14, 1924, as a private.  He rose through the ranks and resigned from the National Guard as a Master Sergeant on November 19, 1940.  He reenlisted four days later and was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant on November 23, 1940.

    On November 25th, Ruben was called to federal service when the tank company was federalized.  With this order, the name of the company was changed to Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion.  The company traveled by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky.  On April 7, 1941, he was promoted to captain.  He was the battalion's supply officer.

    Ruben trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then took part in maneuvers in Louisiana during the late summer of 1941.  It was after these maneuvers, at Camp Polk, the the 192nd was informed that their stay in the military had been extended, and that they were being sent overseas.  Being forty years old, Ruben was given the opportunity to resign from active duty.  For whatever reason, he chose to go overseas with the battalion.
    When the maneuvers ended, the members of the 192nd Tank Battalion remained behind at Camp Polk.   Many had no idea why they were being kept there.  What they were told on the side of a hill was that they were being sent overseas. It was at this time that members of the battalion, 29 years old or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. 
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.

    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.
   
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 were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
   At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
   
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.

    In December of 1941, Capt. Ruben Schwass and the other members of 192nd Tank Battalion found themselves involved in some of the first combat action of World War II involving American tank personnel.  After four months of battling the Japanese invasion forces, he became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. 

    As a POW, Ruben took part in the Death March and was first held as a Camp O'Donnell.  He was next held at Cabanatuan and then the Port Area of Manila.  In November of 1942, Ruben was sent to Japan on the "hell ship" Nagato Maru.  When the ship left for Japan, he was already extremely ill.  On the ship, were other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion. One of of these men was 2nd Lt. Ben Morin.   

    The ship arrived in Moji, Kyushu, Japan, on November 25, 1942, which was Thanksgiving Day.  The POWs disembarked in bitter cold and wind and were next sent by train to Tanagawa which was outside of Osaka.  The camp was a "hell hole" infested with lice.  It was terribly cold during the winter, and the food was terrible with little or no protein.  It was while he was a POW in Japan that his wife finally received word that he was POW on December 11, 1942.

    Since Ruben was extremely ill with dysentery, he was placed in the "infirmary" section of the camp.  The chances of surviving an illness there were not very good since the medics had no medicine.  

    While Ruben lay ill in bed, his body was covered with lice.  2nd Lt. Ben Morin would visit him and clean him the best he could.  In an attempt to delouse Ruben, Lt. Morin would remove Ruben's shirt and pick the lice from it.  Lt. Morin would also wash Ruben's underwear in ice cold water and hang them on the barbwire fence in the cold air to shock the lice.  By doing this, Lt. Morin could clean the lice from the underwear and guarantee that Ruben had "clean" underwear for another day.

    At the age of 42, Capt. Ruben H. Schwass died from dysentery and catarrh pneumonia on April 6, 1943, at 2:30 A.M. near Zentsuji Camp, Japan.  According to Lt. Col. Ernest Miller of the 194th Tank Battalion, on April 7th at 8:30 AM, Schwass' funeral was held.  Officers lined the path on both sides.  The pallbearers brought the casket, which was covered with a black cloth, out of the bathhouse to benches and a salute was given.  Those present sang, "Sleep Comrade Sleep,"

    A chaplain said a prayer and next there was a minute of silence.  Officers were posted in two lines from the bathhouse to the camp gate.  The two chaplains led the procession followed by the pallbearers carrying the casket.  At the gate, the pallbearers placed the casket on a galley cart and took his remains to the crematorium.  It is known that 2nd Lt. Henry Knox and 2nd Lt. Ben Morin were two of his pallbearers.  Both were members of the 192nd.

    At 1:00 PM, Chaplain John May, of the Australian Army, Lt. Morin, and Lt. Knox went to the crematorium and picked up Schwass' ashes.  The three men took the ashes to the camp cemetery and buried them.  They returned to the camp at 2:30.

    In December, 1943, his wife approached the National Jewish Welfare Board for information on him.  It was through their efforts that she confirmed his death.  A memorial service was held for Capt Ruben Schwass at Saint Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Melrose Park on October 23, 1943. 

    After the war, his remains were returned to the United States at the request of his family.  On August 3, 1949, the remains of Capt. Ruben H. Schwass were reburied at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois,  next to his wife, Helen, who had passed away in early September 1944.


 

 

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