Strompolis

 



Pvt. John Theodore Strompolis
    Pvt. John Strompolis was born on January 20, 1919, in Maywood, Illinois, to George T. Stompolis & Eleni M. Gounis-Strompolis.  He grew up at 1916 South Sixtieth Court in Cicero, Illinois, with his three sisters and two brothers.  While he was a child, his father died and his mother remarried.  His family would later reside in Winfield, Illinois.  After his second year of high school, he left school and went to work as a machine operator at automotive parts manufacturer.
    John enlisted in the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood.  In September 1940, the tank company was designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  On November 25th, the National Guardsmen reported to the armory to await transport to Fort Knox, Kentucky.  On November 27th, the company marched from the armory on Madison Street, west to Fifth Avenue.  Turning north, they marched to the Chicago & North Western Railroad Station.
   
    At the station, they boarded a train for Fort Knox, Kentucky.  When they boarded , they were greeted by the members of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion from Janesville, Wisconsin.
    Arriving at Ft. Knox, they found that their barracks had not been completed so they were housed in tents with stoves in them.  They remained in the tents for several months until the barracks were completed.  During their time at the fort, they attended classes for jobs performed by members of a tank battalion.  It is not known what training that John received.
    In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers which covered all of Louisiana and part of Arkansas.  At one point, the Red Army's tanks, which the 192nd was a part of, broke through the Blue Army's lines and on their way to overrun the Blue Army's Headquarters when the maneuvers were canceled.  Members of the 192nd believed this was because the Blue Army was commanded by General George Patton.

    After the maneuvers the members of the battalion remained behind at Camp Polk.  None of them had any idea why they had not returned to Ft. Knox.   The battalion members learned that they were being sent overseas at part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours most had figured out that PLUM meant Philippines, Luzon, Manila.  Those 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service.  Most of the members of the battalion received leaves home to say their goodbyes. 

    After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks.  The battalion traveled over three different railroad routes to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. 
    On the island, the soldiers were inoculated and received physicals.  Those who had minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.   

    The 192nd 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.  For many, it would be the last time that they would ever see the United States.  The battalion 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.  

    Seventeen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Harold and the other members of Company B arrived in Manila.  The battalion was deployed Fort Stotsenburg. 
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King, who  apologized that they 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.  They spent the next seven days preparing their equipment for use in the maneuvers they expected to take part in.
   
On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times.  The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  All morning long as they sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed.
    As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  Since they had few weapons that could be used against Japanese, they could do is watch.  

    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
   
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown.  The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
    
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare.  The tank battalions , on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.  
    
B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
   
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.  The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
   
    The morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45, the tankers received the order "crash."  The soldiers hearing this destroyed their equipment.  John and other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. When he reached the barrio, the situation was nothing but chaos and the Japanese had no idea how many Prisoners of War they had.  He was one of seventeen members of the company who decided that they would attempt to reach Corregidor.  The group slipped away and managed to get to a tug boat in the harbor and successfully reach Corregidor on the boat.
    It is not known what duties John had on Corregidor, but he became a POW for the second time when the Japanese lunched an all out offensive on the island on May 6, 1942.  He remained on Corregidor for a month in what was designated the Corregidor POW Camp, which was simply a portion of the beach on the island.  When the POWs were removed from the island, they were taken directly to Cabanatuan.
    At Cabanatuan, John was reunited with the members of B Company who took part in the death march.  He remained in the camp for about six months.  During this time he recalled that the death rate was as high as forty or fifty men a day since the Japanese did not give the POWs medical supplies to treat the sick or provide them with enough food.

    John also recalled that he witnessed the execution of four POWs who had escaped and recaptured.  The men were forced to dig their own graves and then shot.  The Japanese camp commander, Colonel Mori stated he could not stop the execution since the orders came from Manila.  John also recalled seeing Filipino soldiers beheaded by the Japanese. It should be mentioned that John's mother, as some point, was informed by the Army that he was dead and she did not learn that he was alive until June 28, 1943. 
    John remained at Cabanatuan until October 1942, when he went out on a work detail to Nichols Field to build runways and revetments for the Japanese Navy.  The detail was also known as the Pasay School Detail since the POWs were housed in the school.  There were eighteen rooms in the schoolhouse and 30 POWs were assigned to sleep in each one. 
It should be mentioned that

    Each morning the POWs got up and did calisthenics and were counted before they fed breakfast which was a fish head soup.  They were counted again and marched a mile to the airfield.  While they marched, the Filipinos along the road showed sympathy for the Americans whose clothing had deteriorated to rags.  This sympathy shown by the Filipinos angered the Japanese. 
    John recalled that the ranking American officer, Captain Henry Schutte Jr., protested the use of the POWs to build runways, since it was in violation of the Geneva Convention.  The result of his protest was that he was told that they would work, and he was beaten for protesting the order by the Japanese commanding officer who was known as "The White Angel" by the POWs.  The Japanese commanding officer was given this name because he always wore a spotless white naval uniform.
    Although John never witnessed any POWs killed, he was very much aware that it was done.  John stated that the White Angel was at his worse when he had been out on a drinking binge the previous night.  The next day he ordered the POWs to line up and had the guards beat POWs that he selected. 
    After four months on the detail, John was sent back to Cabanatuan and remained in the camp for nearly a year when he was selected to go to Las Pinas to build airfields in October 1943.  He recalled that the ranking American officer on this detail also protested the use of POWs to do this type of work and ended up with a broken arm.

    The detail in his opinion was better than being at Cabanatuan, but the POWs had to work harder.  Jphn saw men intentionally injure themselves to get off the work detail.  John witnessed one guard on the detail who was from Taiwan, Moto Mezou, stand up a number of POWs up and beat them over their heads, backs, and arms with a pick handle.
   
In late 1944, John was sent to Manila.  His name was on a list of POWs being sent to Manila for transport to Japan. 

John's POW detachment was scheduled to be boarded on the Arisan Maru, but another ship, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but not all the POWs in the detachment had arrived at the pier.  Since John's detachment was ready to sail, the Japanese swapped POW detachments so the ship could sail.  This decision saved his life since the Arisan Maru was sunk in the South China Sea by an American submarine.  Only nine POWs of the nearly 1800 POWs on the ship survived the sinking.

    The POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru on October 1st and moved to the harbor's breakwater.  It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy.  The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men.  To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
    As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaban.  The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.

    The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong.   During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships.  The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th.  While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th.  On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
    After he left the ship on November 8th, John was sent
Toroku Camp.  The POWs were housed in a school house and the POWs did not have to do hard labor.  Most did light farming, while those considered healthier worked in a sugar mill. 
    On January 13, 1945, John was taken to Takao and boarded the Melbourne Maru.  The ship sailed the next day.  During this part of the trip the ship was attacked by American planes.  The ship arrived at Moji, Japan on January 30th.  One reason for this was another ship in the convoy, the Brazil Maru was towing another ship.
    After the POWs disembarked the ship, they were organized into platoons of 100 men.  They were marched to the train station and boarded a train and taken to
Osaka #18 which was known as Wakinohama .  There, the POWs worked as stevedores for the Kamiguni Company.  The prisoners were still beaten; but, by this time, they were so used to it that it did not seem to bother them.  On May 21, 1945, the camp was closed and the POWs were sent to Maribara Camp #10-B
    In this camp the POWs built canals and drained a lake for farming.  John remained in the camp until the end of the war.  He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment before returning to the United States.  He was also promoted to Staff Sergeant.  John returned sailed, on September 23, 1945, for the United States, on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze, arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945.  He was sent to Letterman Hospital for additional medical treatement.
    John reenlisted, but this time into the U.S. Army Air Corps.  On February 25, 1948, he was discharged and returned to Chicago.  He married Barbara Wisniewski on June 16, 1956, and became the father of a son.  He passed away on October 7, 1974, in Chicago and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.





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