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.
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 The tankers would hold a position until the other units had withdrawn.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.
After Camp O'Donnell, Ralph was sent to Nielson
Field. There he repaired damage done
during the battle for the Philippines.
After this detail, he was sent to Cabanatuan. On October 12, 1943,
Ralph was sent to Camp Murphy. The POWs
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.
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
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.
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,