Pfc. John Daniel Swinehamer
| Pfc. John D. Swinehamer was the
son of Juliet Selcke-Swinehamer and Walter
Swinehamer and was born on August 27, 1922.
With his sister, he was raised at 1936 South
Fourth Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. He was
known as "Jack" to his family and friends.
Jack enlisted in the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard which was headquartered in an armory on Madison Street in Maywod. He was the second youngest member of the company who originally had been members of the Illinois National Guard.
In November 1940, Jack left high school, during
his senior year, and went to Fort Knox,
Kentucky, when the National Guard company was
federalized as B Company, 192nd Tank
Battalion. On November 29, 1940, the men
marched down the Madison Street to Fifth Avenue
to the Chiago North Western station in
Maywood. There, they loaded their
equipment and boarded a train for Ft Knox.
A Company of the battalion was already on the
train which had come from Janesville,
During his training, Jack was involved in one of the more amusing moments for the company. Jack was uncomfortable riding motorcycles, and since everyone in the company needed to learn how to use all the equipment, he had to learn to ride a motorcycle. One day during this training, Jack was told by the officer, in command of the training, to ride the motorcycle down the road a quarter of a mile and turn around and come back.
Jack obeyed orders and got on the motorcycle and proceeded to ride it as required. After fifteen minutes, Jack still had not returned so the officer got in a jeep to find out what had happened. As it turned out, Jack was found on the other side of Fort Knox still heading east on the motorcycle. When the officer asked him why he had not turned the bike around, Jack stated that he did not know how to stop it. Ironically, Jack would become a motorcycle messenger running messages between the battalion headquarters and the B Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
After training at Fort Knox, Jack went with the
battalion on maneuvers in Louisiana. It
was after these maneuvers that the battalion was
ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and informed
that they were to receive further training
overseas. This information dashed any
hopes that Jack had of being released from
On April 9, 1942, when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese, Jack became a Prisoner of War. He took part in the death march and was held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell. He was next held as a prisoner at Cabanatuan. It was at Cabanatuan that Jack became so ill that he was placed into "Zero Ward." POWs in the ward were expected to die.
The burial detail at the camp took the bodies of those who died to the camp cemetery and buried them in a mass grave. Jack was taken to the cemetery and put into a grave. George Dravo, of B Company, happened to be working the detail and noticed that Jack moved after he had been placed in the grave. Dravo and the other men on the detail removed Jack from the grave and returned him to the camp. There, he regained his strength.
Jack was next sent to Bilibid Prison for processing . From there, he was taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Coral Maru for Japan. This ship was also known as the Taga Maru. The ship sailed on September 20, 1943. After stopping at Takao, Formosa, the ship arrived in Moji, Japan on October 5th.
In Japan, he was first held in a camp near Osaka. As a POW he was held at Hirohata POW Camp. It was while a POW in one of these camps that Jack traded a piece of clothing for another POW's food. His reason for doing this was that it was winter and he was trying to keep warm. Somehow the Japanese found out about the trade and decided to punish Jack. The temperature was below zero when he was called out of formation and made to strip himself bare. For his punishment, the Japanese made him lie in the snow on his stomach. Then, the Japanese staked him out. A red hot iron was placed against his back along his spine. For the rest of his life, he carried three scars on his back.
Next, Jack was made to stand in a large tub of ice water for ten minutes. What amazed him was that he never came down with pneumonia.
On May 29, 1945, Jack was sent to Nagoya Camp #9 near Honshu. There he worked on the docks coaling ships and unloading iron ore for the steel mills. It was also there that he had his worse experience as a POW.
In a letter he wrote to his parents, Jack told
how he and the other POWs learned of the end of
"Dear Mom, Dad and Bev,
The 14th (August) we were coaling a transport. At noon there was a big radio speech going on and all the Japs were listening. After it was over, one of them called over to our sergeant in charge and told him the war was over. He (the sergeant) told us what the Nips told him, but we said he was "nuts" because we had heard that stuff for two years, and we just couldn't believe it.
The 15th we started to fall out and go to work
but the Nips told us "yosama" (rest). The
16th they said it was a religious holiday.
When they told us that, we knew it was over,
because that was the first religious holiday
they had in three years. When they told us that,
we knew the war was over, because that was the
first religious holiday we had in three years.
After recuperating in the Philippines, Jack returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dychman, at San Francisco, on October 16, 1945. He returned home to Maywood, where he married Margaret Virginia Wiggins on March 16, 1948. Together they had five children, Sheryl, John, Thomas, Kevin and Kathleen. Jack reenlisted this time into the Army Air Corp and later the U.S. Air Force. At one point, he was stationed in Japan. He remained in the military and retired on July 31, 1961.
John D. Swinehamer passed away on September 5, 1979, and was buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.