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.  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.

    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 Lingayin Bay. 

    The tanks were suppose to stop the Japanese advance, but because of the amount of territory each tank had to protect and the number of Japanese troops there was no way for them to do this.  For the next three months the tanks would fall back, hold until the other units had withdrawn and fall back again.

    One of the worse experiences that George had involved a Japanese soldier.  During an engagement, his tank crushed the soldier under its tracks.  Even though the man was the enemy,  the entire crew was so sickened that they could not eat. 

    On another occasion the tanks of C Company had pulled off a road and bivouacked for the night.  Suddenly they heard movement on the road.  As they watched, an entire Japanese bicycle battalion came riding into their bivouac.  The tankers opened fire on the Japanese and wiped out the battalion.  The images of these events would haunt George the rest of his life.

    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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