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.  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.  They spent the next seven days preparing their equipment for use in the maneuvers they expected to take part in.
    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.  

    B Company were sent to Lingayen Gulf in an attempt to stop the Japanese from landing troops.  Lyle, along with the other members of Company B, fought the Japanese for four months. They did this with little food and no hope of being relieved.

    At Gumain River, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river.  When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts.  It was there the tankers noted that the Japanese soldiers were high on drugs when they attacked.  Among the dead Japanese, the tankers found the hypodermic needles and syringes.  Bud's worst memory was of this battle.  He recalled that the Japanese attempted to break the Filipino-American line of defense.  The Japanese attacked after dark and the fighting went on all night. The line of defense held by the 192nd almost broke.   When dawn came, the tankers had held onto their position.  The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks. 
    The tankers soon found themselves in given the job of holding a defensive line so that the other troops could disengage and form a new defensive line further south.  They repeated t
his action over and over again.

    During the Battle of the Points the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back.  According to members of the battalion they resorted two ways to wipe out the Japanese.
    The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades.  When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would explode.
    The second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole.   The driver spun the tank on one track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
 
    The morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45, the tankers received the order "crash."  The soldiers hearing this destroyed their equipment.  The members of B Company made their way to Mariveles where the Japanese took blankets and other items from the POWs that they could use.  The tankers striped anything from their uniforms that indicated that they were tankers.  They heard the rumor that the Japanese were looking for them.
    From Mariveles, the tankers made their way north toward San Fernando.  They were given little food or water.  When they arrived at San Fernando, they were put in a bull pen.  In one corner was a slit trench that was the washroom for the POWs.  The surface of it moved from the maggots. 
    The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men.  They were taken to the train station and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were known as forty or eights since they could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese put 100 POWs into each boxcar.  Those who died remained standing since there was no place to fall.  At Capas, the POWs disembarked and the dead fell to the floor of the cars.  The POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
   
    Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  There was one water spigot for the entire camp.  Men stood in line for hours just to get a drink.  The lack of medicine meant that disease ran wild among the POWs with as many as 55 men dying each day.  The situation got so bad in the camp that the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. 
    When the camp opened, John was sent there.  According to records that were camp at the camp's hospital, John was in the camp hospital on June 10, 1942.  He was apparently been testing for tuberculosis on that date.  On long he remained in the hospital is not known since no date of discharge was given.

    It should be mentioned that John's mother, as some point, was informed that he was dead by the Army.  She would not learn that he was alive until June 28, 1943.
    John was held as a POW at Cabanatuan until October 1944 when his name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Manila for transport o Japan.  The POWs were taken to Bilibid Prison and given what the Japanese called a physical.  Those who passed were marched to the Port Area of Manila.

    John's POW detachment was scheduled to be boarded on the Arisan Maru.  Another ship, the Hokusen Maru was scheduled 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 1803 POWs on the ship survived the sinking.

    The POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru on October 1st and remained in the ship's holds for two days before it sailed on October 3rd as part of a convoy.  During the trip to Hong Kong four of the eight ships were sunk by American submarines.  One torpedo that was shot at the ship missed.  On October 16th, the ship survived an attack by American planes on the harbor.
    On October 21st, the ship sailed for Formosa and arrived at Takao on October 24th.  The POWs remained in the ship's holds for fifteen days before they were unloaded on November 8th. 
    After he left the ship, 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 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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