Pvt. John B. Babb was born on April 6, 1918, in Hopkins County,
Kentucky. He was the son of Archie Babb & Minnie Lypcott-Babb and grew up in Madisonville,
Kentucky. He was in the Civilian Conservation Corps planting trees in the Morganfield, Kentucky,
area. In 1937, he married Dorothy Pleasant. The couple had a son, Charles. His wife passed away
On January 22, 1941, John was inducted into the U.S. Army in
Louisville, Kentucky, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank
Battalion. What specific training he received is not known. From September 1st through 30th, he
took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, that battalion was ordered to Camp Polk,
Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill, the battalion was informed that they
were being sent overseas, and men were given furloughs to go home and say their goodbyes.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A
squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.
He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a
straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island, with a large
radio transmitter, hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to
Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that
The next day - when another squadron of planes was sent to the area - the buoys had
been picked up - and a fishing boat was seen making its way toward shore carrying the buoys under a tarp.
Since communication between teh Navy and Air Corps was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the
decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where
they were ferried, by the
U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given
physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on
the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the
U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many
tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine
guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and
had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away
from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the
U.S.S. Louisville and, the transport,
S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they
awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had
crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the
horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the
direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas,
coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island
at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent
into harm's way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at
Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.
Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to
unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made
sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers
and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before
they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the
Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men
were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed
at the end of the rows of tents.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of D Company were
informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. They were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to
guard against Japanese paratroopers.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.
At 12:30, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch while the planes were being refueled. It was
about 12:45 when the tankers spotted planes approaching the airfield from the north. At first the
soldiers believed they were American. It was after they watched metal streamers falling from the planes
and saw the explosions from the bombs that they knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The
soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and
anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the
medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their
tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was
never completed. The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of
Luzon and the Battle of Bataan.
The 194th, with D Company, was moved, the night of the 12th, to an area south of San
Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13th, the tankers were moved 80
kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and to guard beaches. On the 15th, the battalion
received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were
used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
The tank battalions were sent to the area around the Lingayen Gulf. The company
was near a mountain, so many of the tankers climber to the top. On the mountain, they found troops,
ammunition, guns but were just sitting there watching the Japanese ships in the gulf. They had received
orders not to fire.
The tankers walked down the mountain and waited. They received orders to
drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their
equipment to the top of the mountain. The Americans finally received orders to launch a counterattack
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the
main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, made an end tun to get south of the river and not be trapped by the
Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista
Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
Christmas Day, the tankers spent in the night in a coconut grove. As it turned
out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all
the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled,
The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose
line on December 26. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which
provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and
firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Petree's platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D
Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were suppose to cross had been
destroyed. The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks,
and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not
abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro
south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the
defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the
Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they
came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces
defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st
Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January
2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force
and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M.,
the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding
its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the
192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the
engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to
three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were
used as replacements,
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to
hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive
line along the bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see
since they were wearing white t-shirts. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the
Culis Creek and entered Bataan. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the
food rations were cut in half.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this
, "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further
delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach
of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the
salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with
accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
A composite tank company was created on January 8th under the command of Capt.
Donald Haines, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to
keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been
formed. The Japanese never lunched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks
withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda
Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks,
which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that
tank platoons were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D
Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda's forces,
which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out
by landmines planted by ordnance, but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission
was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda's forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st
Infantry's command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support
infantry, but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January
26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion
that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened up on them. At
10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense
from being breached.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that
the Japanese couldn't land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline from Limay to Cabcaban.
During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At bight they were pulled out onto the
beaches. The battalion's half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks
were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been
fought to a standstill. On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were
working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel
Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point blank range. He also ran from tank to
tank directing the crew's fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle
was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese lunched a major
offensive on April 4. The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. On
the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked
out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew. On April 8,
the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
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 was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was
futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one
more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared
would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order
, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy
within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat
vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as
When the order was given, the tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor piercing
shell into the engine of the tank in front of their tank, and opened up the gasoline cocks in the crew
compartments. They dropped hand grenades into each crew compartment setting the tanks on fire.
Later in the war, the Japanese dragged the tanks out of the jungle to send to Japan as scrap metal.
It is not known if John became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was
surrendered to the Japanese or if he was one of the members of the company who escaped to Corregidor.
What is known is that John was held as a POW at Cabanatuan and Bilibid Prison, where he was held in Building
18. It was also at this time that John's parents received word, in a letter, that he was a
POW. The letter from the war department was received on April 20, 1943.
In late 1943, he was put into the hospital at Bilibid. According to records from
the medical staff, he was hospitalized because of a sprained back on November 29, 1943, and was discharged on
January 22, 1944. The same medical records show that John was readmitted to the hospital on February
27th, with beriberi and bronchitis, and that he was discharged the same day and sent to Building 18 within the
In early October 1944, almost 1800 other POWs were marched to the Port Area of
Manila. When his POW group arrived at the pier, the ship they where scheduled to sail on, the
Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in the detachment had not arrived at the
pier. Another POW detachment had completely arrived, but their ship was not ready to sail, so the
Japanese made the decision that they switch POW detachments so the
Hokusen Maru could sail.
On October 10, the POWs boarded the Arisan Maru and 1775
prisoners were crammed into the first hold of the Arisan Maru which could hold 400 men. They were
packed in so tightly that they could not move. Those POWs who had lain down in the wooden bunks along
the haul could not sit up because the bunks were so close together. Eight large cans served as the
latrines for the POWs. Anton Cichy stated
, "For the first few days, there were 1800 of us together in one hold. I don't know how
big the hold was but we had to take turns to sit down. We were just kind of stuck there."
Calvin Graef said
, "We were packed in so tight most men couldn't get near the cans. And, of course, it was a
physical impossibility for the sick in the back of the hold, the men suffering the tortures of diarrhea and
dysentery. We waded in fecal matter. Most of the men went naked. The place was alive with
lice, bedbugs and roaches; the filth and stench were beyond description."
Later in the day on October 11, the ship set sail but took a southerly route away from
Formosa. The ship anchored in a cove off Palawan Island where it remained for ten days. The
Japanese covered the hatch with a tarp so during the night, the POWs were in total darkness. Within the
first 48 hours, five POWs had died. Being in the cove resulted in the ship missing an air raid by
American planes, but the ship was attacked once by American planes while there.
Each day, each POW was given three ounces of water and two half mess kits of raw
rice. Although the Japanese had removed the lights in the hold, they had not turned off the power to the
lights. Some of the prisoners were able to hot-wire the ship's blowers into the light power
lines. This allowed fresh air into the hold, until the power was disconnected, two days later, when the
Japanese discovered what had been done.
After this was done, the POWs began to develop heat blisters. The Japanese
realized that if they did not do something many of the POWs would die. To prevent this, they opened the
ship's number two hold and transferred 600 POWs into it. At this point, one POW was shot while
attempting to escape.
Of this time, Graef said
, "As we moved through the tropical waters, the heat down in the steel-encased hell hole was
maddening. We were allowed three ounces of water per man every 24 hours. Quarts were needed under
these conditions, to keep a man from dehydrating.
"While men were dying of thirst, Jap guards--heaping insults on us--would empty
five gallon tins of fresh water into the hold. Men caught the water in pieces of clothing and sucked
the cloth dry. Men licked their wet skins. It was hell all right. Men went mad."
Arisan Maru returned to Manila on October 20, where it joined a twelve ship convoy. On October 21,
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 making them targets for American submarines. In addition,
U.S. military intelligence was reading the Japanese messages as fast as the Japanese. To protect this
secret, they did not tell the submarine crews that ships were carrying POWs which made the ships targets for
the submarines. The POWs in the hold became so desperate that they prayed for the ship to be hit by
Graef described the deaths of the POWs hold.
"There were so many (that died) out 1800. The conditions in the hold.....men were just dying in
a continuous stream. Men, holding their bellies in interlocked arms, stood up, screamed and died.
You were being starved, men wee dying at such a pace we had to pile them up. It was like you were
choking to death. Burial consisted of two men throwing another overboard."
, "The Japs told us that they'd be in Formosa the next day to pick up some cargo. They had
to make room on deck so they tossed a whole bunch of life preservers down into the hold. I held onto one but
didn't think anything about it."
It was about 4:00 P.M. on October 24, and some of the POWs were on deck preparing dinner for the
POWs in the ship's holds and had fed about half the POWs. The waves were high since the ship had been
through a storm in the Bashi Channel of the South China Sea. Suddenly, bells and sirens sounded warning
of submarines. The POWs in the holds chanted for the submarine to sink the ship. The Japanese on deck ran
to the bow of the ship and watched a torpedo pass in front of the ship. They next ran to the stern of the
ship and watched a second torpedo pass behind the ship. The ship shook and came to a stop. It had
been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, killing some of the POWs.
The waves were high since a storm had just passed. At about 4:50 P.M., about half
the POWs had been fed. As the POWs watched, the Japanese ran to the bow of the ship and watched as a
torpedo passed in front of it. Moments later, the Japanese ran to the ship's stern and watched as a
second torpedo passed behind the ship. There was a sudden jar and the ship stopped dead in the
water. It had been hit by two torpedoes, amidships, in its third hold where there were no POWs. At
first the POWs cheered wildly until they realized they were facing death. Cichy recalled
, "When the torpedo hit everybody in the hold hollered 'Hit her again!' We wanted to get it
Lt. Robert S. Overbeck recalled
, "When the torpedoing happened, most of the Americans didn't care a bit--they were tired and weak
and sick." He also said, "The third torpedo struck squarely amidships and buckled the vessel
but it didn't break in two."
Overbeck also commented on the reaction of the POWs in the holds.
"For about five second there was panic among us, but there were five or six chaplains who prayed
fervently and quieted the men. By then the Nips--300 of them on deck--were scurrying about, scared as
hell. The boilers exploded. I don't think any of us got hurt in the torpedoing or the
explosion. Most of the prisoners were American, with a few British. The Japs took the two lifeboats
aboard as all 300 abandoned ship. That was about 5:00 P.M." It is believed
that the submarine that fired the torpedoes was the
U.S.S. Snook or the
The guards took their guns and used them as clubs on the POWs who were
on deck. To escape, the POWs dove back into the holds. After they were in the holds, the Japanese
cut the rope ladders and put the hatch covers on the holds, but they did not tie them down before they
abandoned the ship. Cichy recalled
, "The Japs closed the hatches and left the ship in lifeboats. They must have forgot about the
prisoners on deck who had been cooking. When the Japs were off the boat, the cooks opened the hatches
and told us to come up. I was just under the deck, but there were a lot of guys down below. One
of them escaped by simply walking into the water from a hole in the bulkhead. He was Lt. Robert S.
, "The Japs had already evacuated ship. They had a destroyer off the side, and they were saving
Some of the POWs from the second hold climbed out and reattached the ladders and
dropped them to the men in the holds. The POWs left the holds but made no attempt to abandon ship.
On the ship's deck an American major spoke to the POWs, he said
, "Boys, we're in a hellva a jam - but we've been in jams before. Remember just one
thing: We're American soldiers. Let's play it that way to the very end of the script."
Right after he spoke, a chaplain said to them
, "Oh Lord, if it be thy will to take us now, give us the strength to be men."
Overbeck also stated
, "We broke into the ship's stores to get food, cigarettes, and water -- mainly water, we were so
thirsty. All of us figured we were going to die anyway. The Japs ships, except for the
destroyers, had disappeared. All we had were life belts which the Japanese had fortunately thrown down
the hold the day before.
"But as darkness settled and our hopes for life flickered, we felt absolutely no
resentment for the Allied submarine that had sent the torpedo crashing in. We knew they could not tell
who was aboard the freighter, and as far as the Navy could have known the ship could have been carrying Jap
troops. The men were brave and none complained.
"Some slipped off their life preservers and with a cherry 'so long'
The ship slowly sank lower into the water.
According to surviving POWs, the ship stayed afloat for hours but got lower in
the water. At one point, the stern of the ship began going under which caused the ship to split in half
but the halves remained afloat. Most of the POWs were still on deck even after it became apparent that
the ship was sinking. Some POWs attempted to escape by putting on lifebelts, clinging to hatch covers,
rafts, and other flotsam and jetsam. When they reached other Japanese ships, the Japanese pushed them
away with poles. Glenn Oliver said
, "They weren't picking up Americans. A lot of the prisoners were swimming for the
destroyer, but the Japanese were pushing them back into the water."
, "I could see people still on the ship when it went down. I could see people against the
skyline, just standing there."
In the water, he watched as the ship went under.
"I kept getting bumped by guys wearing life jackets. Nobody wanted to share my planks. I
didn't ask them."
Three POWs found an abandoned life boat and managed to climb in but found it had no
oars. With the rough seas, they could not maneuver it to help other POWs. According to the
survivors, the Arisan Maru and sank sometime after dark on Tuesday, October 24, 1944. Oliver, who was not
in the boat, stated he heard men using what he called "GI whistles" to contact each other. "They
were blowing these GI whistles in the night. This weird moaning sound. I can't describe
it." The next morning there were just waves. Olvier and three other POWs were picked up by a
Japanese destroyer and taken to Formosa. They later were sent by ship to Japan. The men in the boat
picked up two more survivors and later made it to China and freedom. Pvt. John B. Babb was not one of
Pvt. John B. Babb lost his life when the
Arisan Maru was torpedoed in the South China Sea.
Of the 1775 POWs on the ship, onl
ine survived the sinking.
Only eight men would survive to the end of the war.
On October 26, 1945, his family received this message:
"The information available to the war department is that the vessel sailed from Manila on October 11,
1944, with 1775 prisoners of war aboard. On October 24 the vessel was sunk by submarine action in the south
China Sea over 200 miles from the Chinese coast which was the nearest land. Five of the prisoners escaped
in a small boat and reached the coast. Four others have been reported as picked up by the Japanese by whom
all others aboard are reported lost. Absence of detailed information as to what happened to the other
individual prisoners and known circumstances of the incident lead to a conclusion that all other prisoners
listed by the Japanese as aboard the vessel perished."
Since he was lost at sea, Pvt. John B. Babb's name is inscribed on
the Tablets of the Missing at the
American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.
It should be noted that on the Tablets, it shows that John was a member of the 194th
Tank Battalion. Although D Company was attached to the 194th, it was never officially transferred to the
battalion and remained a part of the 192nd Tank Battalion throughout the Battle of Bataan.