Verba

 

Pvt. George Michael Verba


    Pvt. George M. Verba was the son of Michael Verba & Mary Zemoyan-Verba.  He was born on May 1, 1917, in Nelsonville, Ohio, and had five sisters and four brothers.  He grew up in Colerain Township, Belmont County, Ohio.  Like many men of his day, George had only a grade school education.

    In January 1941, George was inducted into the U. S. Army while living in Barton, Ohio.  He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to C Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  The reason for this was that C Company had originally been an Ohio National Guard Company from Port Clinton, Ohio.  Because of this, the army filled vacancies in the company with men from Ohio.  At Ft. Knox, he trained as a tank driver.  In the Philippines, he would be a tank commander.

    After training at Fort Knox, George went on maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941.  After the maneuvers, he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.  George received a furlough and returned home to tie up any unfinished business. 
    Over different train routes that companies of the battalion made their way to San Francisco, California.  Also arriving with them were their "new" M3 Tanks.  Once in San Francisco, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island.  There they received physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands. 
    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.  They 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.  After several hours the soldiers disembarked and most and the were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  The maintenance crews remained behind to unload the tanks from the ship.
    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.
   
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.

    The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers.  Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times.  On December 8, 1941, George lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  After several days of guard duty around the perimeter of Clark Field, the tanks of the 192nd were sent to guard a dam against saboteurs.  They were next sent north Lingayen Gulf. 

    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 fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.  
   
    At Cebu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese.  The main Japanese line was south of Santa Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle.
  The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there.  While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing.  It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered.  The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.  They then fell back to Cabanatuan.            
    C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks.  It was at Baluiag that Gentry's tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.       

    After this battle, C Company made its way south.  When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment.  The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.
  
  On December 31, 1941,  Company was sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag.  The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way.  Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.       
    Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge.  The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks.  A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.
    By the afternoon, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in a rice field on the north end of the barrio. 
One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge.  Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.       
    Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag.  He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple.  The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.  Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.          
    When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge.  The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks.  Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.

   
Kennady's platoon held its fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt.  The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them.  By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
    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.  
   
C 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.
  During an engagement, George's tank crushed a Japanese soldier under its tracks.  Even though the man was the enemy,  the entire crew was so sickened that they could not eat. The tankers slept upwind of their tank.
   
The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line, on Bataan, on April 7th.  C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line.  They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.  Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.

    On April 9, 1942, George became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino-American forces were surrendered to the Japanese.  For George, the death march started at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  The lack of food and water were the most difficult things he had to deal with on the march.  He also recalled that what made things worse was that the Japanese left the POWs sit in the sun for two to three hours each day.  Among the prisoners, this became known as "The Sun Treatment."

    While he trudged along, George watched men bayoneted by the Japanese because they could not keep up.  He also saw men shot for the same reason.  It was not until George reached San Fernando, after six or seven days, that he was fed some rice and received water. 

    George was next loaded into a wooden boxcar with 99 other prisoners.  The POWs were so packed into the cars, that they could not sit down.  Those who died remained standing until the car was emptied at Capas four hours later.    

    From Capas, George marched the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.  This was a death trap with almost one hundred men dying each day.  In Camp O'Donnell, the POWs lived in bamboo barracks.  They also had to wait in line for water for hours, if not days, because there was only one spigot for the entire camp.  For cooking, water was carried in buckets from a stream that ran near the camp.

During his time as a POW there, George developed beriberi.  Like the other prisoners, there was nothing that could be done for him since there was no medicine in the camp.  This resulted in the high daily death rate.  George went out on a work detail, but at this time it is not known which one.  He was sent.

    After the work detail ended, George was sent to Cabanatuan.  This camp had opened to releave the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.  George remained in Cabanatuan until he was selected to be sent to Manchuria.  On October 5th, he and the other POWs were awakened and taken by train to Manila.  There, they were housed in a warehouse on Pier 7 for two days.  George, with the other prisoners, was boarded onto the Tottori Maru on October 7th.  The ship was also loaded with scrap metal bound for Korea. 

    The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck.  This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed.  Many POWs died during the trip.
   
The ship sailed for Formosa on October 8th at 10:00 A.M. and passed Corregidor at noon.  The next day, the ship was attacked by an American submarine firing two torpedoes at it.  The captain maneuvered the ship so that the torpedoes passed alongside of it.  At another point, the ship barely missed a mine that had been laid by a submarine.  

    The ship continued its voyage arriving at Takao, Formosa on October 11th.  On October 16th the ship sailed from Takao at 7:30 A.M. but returned when the Japanese thought that American submarines were in the area.  It dropped anchor at 10:00 P.M.  The ship remained in harbor for two more days.

    On October 18th, the ship sailed for the Pescadores Islands.  It dropped anchor off the islands the same day.  It remained off the islands until October 27th when it returned to Takao.  The POWs were ordered off the ship.  They were lined up and sprayed with fire hoses.  After this was done, they were put back into the holds of the ship.  Food stuffs were also loaded onto the ship.

    The ship finally sailed on October 30th and went to Makou, Pescadores Islands.  When it sailed again, it did as part of a seven ship convoy.  For five days, the ships sailed through a typhoon.  After the typhoon, the ships were attacked by an American submarine which sunk one of them.  During the attack, the surviving ships scattered. 

    After 31 days on the ship, the Tottori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea on November 7th.  1300 POW's got off the ship.  George and the other men received new clothes and fur-lined overcoats.  They were then marched through the streets.  The civilians in the town spit on them, hit them, and made fun of the POWs.  The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box which contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish.  They rode the train for two days.

    At Mukden, George worked in a machine tool and die factory.  The POWs were expected to make weapons to aid in the Japanese war effort.  To prevent this, the POWs would drop sand ito the oiling holes on the machines.  Very few POWs were ever punished because the Japanese believed that the Chinese civilians were doing this. 
    During the first winter at the camp, the daily meals were three small bowels of soy bean soup a day.  To supplement their food, the POWs learned to make snares to catch the wild dogs that roamed into the camp.  They did this until one detachment of POWs saw a dog eating the body of a dead Chinese civilians. 
    As time went on, George began to withdraw from the other prisoners.  He wanted to be alone as much as possible.  He avoided situations in the camp that put him in a group of prisoners.

    One day, American paratroopers were dropped into the camp.  This was how the POWs learned that the war was over.  A few days later, the Russian army appeared.  They then made the Japanese go through a formal surrender ceremony in front of the liberated prisoners.  He returned to the Philippines for medical treatment before sailing for the United States on the U.S.S. Yarmouth which arrived at San Francisco on October 8, 1945.  After further medical treatment at Letterman General Hospital and other hospitals, he was discharged on July 15, 1946.

    George returned to Ohio and married.  He and his wife raised a family in Cleveland.  But the effects of his years as a POW stayed with him the rest of his life.  He avoided crowds until the day he died.  He also became dependent on alcohol which led him to die from cirrhosis of the liver.

    George M. Verba passed away in October 6, 1978, and was buried at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio.



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