Pvt. Ralph Raymond Shaffer

    Pvt. Ralph R. Shaffer was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 14, 1918.  He grew up on the north side of Chicago at 1605 North Lawndale Avenue and attended the LaSalle Grade School and Lane Technical High School.  

    In anticipation of the United States involvement in World War II, the United States Congress passed a draft act requiring males to serve one year in the military.  In 1941, Ralph was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky.  At Fort Knox, Ralph became a member of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion which had been an Illinois National Guard Tank Compauy.  The army at the time attempted to fill vacancies in federalized national guard units with men from the same state.  

    Training as a tank crew member was extremely difficult since the Company B initially had only three tanks to train with.  Due to this situation, the men of the company seldom trained with the same crew.
    In the late summer of 1941, Ralph took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed 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.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General 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 love in tents.  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, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.  

    During the next four months, the Filipino and American forces fought a delaying action against the Japanese invasion force.  The tankers would hold a position until the other units had withdrawn.  Then they would fall back.  

    Ralph believed that the soldiers knew that they were going to lose the Battle of Bataan because they had no air force, no navy, rations were very low, and they were fighting with leftover equipment from World War I.  The defenders of Bataan were told that a convoy was on its way, but because of the Japanese blockade had to go south to Australia.  When the soldiers heard this, they knew they were doomed.

    On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese.  With this act,  Ralph became a Prisoner of War.  He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando where they boarded trains.  After disembarking the train, the prisoners walked the final miles to Camp O'Donnell.  For Ralph, everything about the march was terrible.  It was too hot and there was not enough water and food.
    Being considered a healthier POW, Ralph was sent to Cabantuan when it was opened.  It is not known if he remained in the camp or went out on a work detail.  The POWs in the camp worked in the camp farm growing food mainly eaten by the Japanese.

    On October 12, 1943, Ralph was sent to to Ft. McKinley.  At the former Filipino camp the POWs collected scrap metal.  They were then sent to Camp Murphy were they extended runways at Zablan Airfield. The conditions were harsh and abuse of the POWs was common.  The camp commander killed the POWs just because he could.

   After Camp Murphy, the POWs were sent to Nielsen Airfield on January 29, 1944.  Once again they built runways and revetments at the airfield.  On February 9, 1944, Ralph witnessed an American POW, Pvt. George D. Garrett, bayoneted by the camp commander, Lt. Yoshi Koshi, for planning to escape.  According to the POWs, Garrett and two other men had planned an escape and informed on by the Navy signalman.

   As the American forces approached the Philippines, Ralph's name appeared on a transfer roster on August 20, 1944.  The POWs on the roster were sent back to Bilibid Prison.  Ralph was boarded onto the Japanese freighter the Noto Maru with 1,033 other POWs.  The ship sailed on August 27, 1944.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 29th.  It stayed in harbor for two days.  During its time in the harbor, American B-17s attacked the port but did little damage. 
    The ship sailed on August 31st and arrived at Keelung, Formosa, the same day.  After an overnight stay, the ship sailed for Moji, Japan.  During this part of the voyage, the convoy was attacked by American submarines.  The POWs could not see the flames, but the glow from the flames could seen from the hold.  The Japanese quickly covered the hold.  The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 7, 1944. 

    In Japan, Ralph was sent to Hiroshima  #6, which was known as Omine Machi.  This camp was the Japanese propaganda camp. When the Red Cross visited a camp, it was Omine Machi.  The prison camp that supplied prisoners to work in a coal mine.  Although the prisoners did not receive a great deal of outside news, there were times when they did know how the war was going.  The prisoners knew the war was over when they no longer had to go to work.
    On September 15, 1945, the POWs were liberated and taken to Wkayama, Japan, where they were boarded onto the U.S.S. Consolation.  POW records from the ship show that Ralph was not ill, but that he was malnourished.  The ship arrived at Manila on September 28th, where Ralph received medical treatment and was fattened up.

    Ralph returned to the United States in November of 1945.  He was discharged from the army on May 11, 1946, as a sergeant.  He married and was the father of two sons.  He would later move from Chicago to Indio, California, where he lived for 49 years.  He was employed by the U.S. Post Office until he retired.

    Ralph R. Shaffer passed away on May 20, 2002, in Indio, California.  He was buried at Coachella Valley Cemetery in Coachella, California.


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