Pvt. John C. Spencer

    Pvt. John C. Spencer was the son of of Cecil and Rose Spencer.  He was born on December 8, 1916, in Zenda Township in Walworth County, Wisconsin.  When John was a child, his family moved to 385 Western Avenue in Janesville.  He attended grade school, in Janesville, and was a 1935 graduate of Janesville High School.  After high school, he worked as a truck driver for a storage company.
    In late 1940, John knowing that with the start of a draft that it would just be a matter of time before he would be inducted into the army, decided to join the Wisconsin National Guard.  He was the third man to join before the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal service on November 25, 1940.  The company was now A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
    At Fort Knox, John trained for nearly a year.  He attended radio school and qualified as a tank radio operator. 
    In the late summer of 1941, he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  It was during the maneuvers that John was bitten by a rattlesnake.  He had no bad effects from the bite.  It turned out the area that the 192nd had been assigned for its bivouac was infested with snakes. 

The good things that the battalion learned from the maneuvers were how to load and unload their equipment and how to drive their vehicles over rough terrain.  After the maneuvers, he and the other members of his tank battalion learned they were being sent overseas.

    John went home to Janesville to say goodbye to family and friends.  He returned to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco.  By ferry, they were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to join 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 November 5th, 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 as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.

    The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write gathered the members of his company around him and told them of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  He then ordered the tanks to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  Being that they were expecting to take part in maneuvers, many of the men believed that this was start of the maneuvers.

   Around 12:45, planes appeared over the airfield.  It was only when bombs began to explode that the soldiers knew they were Japanese.  During the attack, John and the other tankers could do little but watch.

    For the next four months, John and the other members of the 192nd fought to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.  On February 3, 1942, as a member of  S/Sgt. William McAuliffe's crew, John was involved in an attempt to recover a disabled tank.  During the recovery attempt, his tank hit a landmine which resulted in S/Sgt. McAuliffe being wounded.  John was not hurt.
    On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese.  The tank crews circled their tanks and fired one armor piercing round into the engine of the tank in front of theirs.  The crews opened the gasoline cocks inside the tanks and dropped grenades into the tanks.

    John took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando.  There he and the other men were forced into steel boxcars used for hauling sugarcane.  At Capas, the POWs disembarked the cars and walked to Camp O'Donnell.

    To get out of the camp, John went out on a scrap metal detail.  The POWs on this detail collected cars and trucks destroyed by American troops as the retreated.  He spent several months on this detail before being sent to Cabanatuan.

    It was during his time at Cabanatuan that John came down with beriberi.  He remained in the camp until he was selected for a work detail in Manila.  The detail he was on was the Port Area Detail.  The POWs on this detail worked as stevedores loading and unloading ships.  The POWs remained on the detail until July 14, 1944.  On that date, the Japanese ended the detail and sent most POWs to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. It appears that John remained on the detail beyond this date.  

    On July 17, 1944, the POWs were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru at 8:00 in the morning.  The ship sailed but dropped anchor with the Manila breakwater.  The ship was waiting for a convoy to form.  The ship sailed on July 23rd at 8:00 AM, but again it dropped anchor at 2:00 P.M.  This time off Corregidor.  On July 24th, the ship sailed again as part of a convoy.
    The 1,033 POWs were crammed into the ship's hold back to back while standing up.  When the hold was full, the Japanese closed the hatches.  There was very little water and no sanitary facilities.  For the men in the hold, food was not as important as water.  Men began going crazy and would attack each other for the smallest reasons.   

    The convoy came under attack, at 3:00 A.M., from an Wolf Pack composed of the submarines; the U.S.S. Crevale, the U.S.S. Angler, and the U.S.S. Flasher.  Several ships in the convoy were sunk.  Like the other transports used for POWs, the conditions on the ship were terrible. 

    During the voyage, the prisoners heard a "bang" under the ship.  They assumed that it was a torpedo from an American submarine.  Another ship, the Hokusan Maru, was hit by torpedoes resulting in the deaths of almost 707 POWs. 

    At one point, John managed to climb out of the hold of the ship, when he reached the ship's deck, he was beaten with a hose until he climbed back down the ladder into the hold. 
    On July 28, 1944, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa at 9:00 A.M.  It remained in port and sailed at 7:00 P.M.  From July 30th to August 2nd, the ship sailed through a storm.  On August 3rd, the POWs were issued clothes.  The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, August 4th at midnight.  The POWs were disembarked at 8:00 A.M. and formed into POW detachments of 100 POWs.

    The POW detachment John was in was marched to the train depot and boarded a train to Hanawa.  The POWs were sent to Kamioka Camp were they worked in a lead and zinc mine.  At some point, John was sent to Nagoya #7-B a camp in the Osaka area.  With him was Emerson Rex of A Company.  The POWs in this camp worked in either a zinc or lead mine.   John recalled that there were 576 steps that lead into the mine.  He knew this because he counted them over and over again.

    The main food for the POWs in the camp was mainly barley.  At one point, John somehow got two fried clams which were a feast to him.  As a POW, John's weight dropped from 170 pounds to 90 pounds.

    John recalled that the Japanese could not understand how the Americans could find anything to laugh about. Although they tolerated the POWs laughing, the guards would not allow them to sing or whistle.  In his opinion, this was because the Japanese believed that the prisoners should act like they were defeated.

    A work day for the POWs started at 4:30 in the morning.  The men would walk four or five miles to the mine.  They worked in the mine until 2:30 in the afternoon.  Then they returned to the camp.

    John recalled that the POWs were expected to work the entire time that they were in the mine.  If they caught a POW taking a break or having a cigarette, the guards would beat them.  

    It appears that sometime during his captivity in Japan that John was sent to Sendai #6.  The POWs in this camp worked in a copper mine owned by Mitshubishi.  John remained in the camp until he was liberated in September, 1945.  He recalled that when the B-29's began dropping food to them, they had so much food that they shared it with Chinese POWs in a nearby camp. 

    John boarded the U.S.S. Rescue and arrived Guam and Hawaii before docking at San Francisco on October 10, 1945.  He returned to Janesville on October 18, 1945.  A little over six months later, he lost his left arm in a car accident.  On October 19, 1946, he married Beatrice Preston.  He and his wife later moved to Saugus, California, and he became the father of one child.

    John was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with four battle stars, American Defense Presidential Unit citation with two oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart and Silver Star.

    John Spencer passed away on August 30, 1973, in Newhall, California.  He was buried at Eternal Valley Memorial Park, Newhall, California.


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