Cpl. Howard Milton Wodrich
Cpl. Howard M. Wodrich was one of four children born
to Otto and Helen Wodrich. He was born on
September 1, 1919, in Oak Harbor, Ohio, and was raised
in Port Clinton, Ohio, at 230 Adams Street.
In the fall of 1940, Howard was called to federal service when his Ohio National Guard Company was federalized. He trained for nearly a year at Fort Knox, Kentucky and took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers that Howard learned that the 192nd Tank Battalion was being sent overseas.
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.
The tank battalion was ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field on December 1st to guard against paratroopers. At all times, two members of each tank crew remained with each tank. On December 8, 1941, December 7th in the United States, Howard lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Since the tankers had no weapons to use against planes, all they could do is watch as the Japanese bombed the airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack, the wounded and dead were everywhere.
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 Baluiag. 2nd 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. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. 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. It is not known if Howard took part in the death march. What is known is that Howard was held as a prisoner at Cabanatuan. Later on, he was sent to Manila and worked on the Bachrach Garage detail. The POWs on this detail repaired trucks and other equipment for the Japanese.
In early October 1944, the Japanese, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the American forces would invade the Philippines, began sending large numbers of POWs to Japan or other occupied countries. On October 11, 1944, Howard was taken to Pier 7 in the Port Area of Manila. The POWs were boarded onto the Arisan Maru and packed into the ship's hold. The next day 80 POWs were moved to the ship's other hold which was partially filled with coal.
On October 10, 1944, John was boarded onto the Arisan Maru. On October 11th, the ship sailed but took a southerly route away from Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. During this time, one POW died.
The stay in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by American planes on ships in the Manila Bay. It is known that the ship was attacked once by American planes while in the cove. The Arisan Maru returned to the Manila on October 20th. There, it joined a convoy.
On October 21st, the convoy left Manila and entered the South China Sea. The Japanese refused to mark POW ships with red crosses to indicate they were carrying POWs. This made the ships targets for submarines.
According to the survivors of the Arisan Maru, on Tuesday, October 24, 1944, at 5:00 pm, POWs were on deck preparing the meal for those POWs in the ship's two holds. The ship was, off the coast of China, in the Bashi Channel. Suddenly, there was a sudden jar which was caused by the ship being hit by two torpedoes. The ship stopped dead in the water. Two torpedoes had hit the ship in its third hold where there were no POWs. It is believed that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the U. S. S Snook.
One of the Japanese guards took a machinegun and began firing at the POWs who were on deck. To escape the fire, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese put the hatch covers on the holds.
As the Japanese abandoned ship, they cut the rope ladders into the ship's two occupied holds. Some of the POWs in the second hold were able to climb out and reattached the ladders into the holds. They also dropped ropes down to the POWs in both holds.
All of the POWs were able to get onto the deck of the ship. At first, few POWs attempted to escape the ship. A group of 35 men swam to a nearby Japanese ship, but when the Japanese realized they were POWs, they were pushed away with poles and clubs. Japanese destroyers in the convoy deliberately pulled away from the POWs as they attempted to reach them.
As the ship got lower in the water, more POWs took to the water. Those POWs too weak to swim raided the ship's food lockers. They wanted to die with full stomachs. Many POWs attempted to escape the ship by clinging to rafts, hatch covers, flotsam and jetsam. Nine POWs found a abandoned lifeboat floating in the ocean. These men stated that most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that the ship was sinking.
The exact time of the ship's sinking is not known since it took place after dark. According to the surviving POWs, as evening became night, the cries for help became fewer and fewer until there was silence.
Cpl. Howard M. Wodrich died in the sinking of the Arisan Maru on October 24, 1944. Since he died at sea, his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.