Sgt. James Philip Bashleben
James P. Bashleben was born in Chicago on December
20, 1917, to Kuno & Frances Bashleben.
When he was ten, his mother passed away, and he
and his father lived with his grandmother at 3248
West Warner Avenue in Chicago. His father
remarried and, with his half-sister, he was raised
in Chicago until his family moved to Park Ridge,
In Park Ridge, Jim lived at 1719 Glenview Avenue. He attended Maine Township High School, played football, and was a member of the Class of 1937. After graduation, he joined the Illinois National Guard with his high school friends, Andrew Hepburn and Willard Von Bergen, and was employed by the Northern Illinois Public Service Company.
Jim ended up in the Maywood Tank Company because he, and his friends, had heard that two National Guard units from the Chicago area were being federalized. The draft act had recently been enacted by Congress which meant that the three would most likely be drafted. Since the three friends wanted to get their military obligation completed, in August 1940, they took a ride to Maywood to check out the National Guard tank company. The other unit was cavalry, and the three agreed that riding in tanks sounded better than riding on horses.
Upon arriving at the armory in Maywood, the three friends made an agreement not to join the National Guard until they had a chance to talk about it. When they entered the armory, Jim had his first experience of "divide and conquer." The entire time the three friends were in the armory, they never saw each other. It was only when they were driving back to Park Ridge that each one admitted to the other two that he had joined the National Guard. The three friends started laughing that they had enlisted. On November 25, 1940, the tank company was federalized and designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
At Fort Knox, Jim was selected by Lt. Richard
Danca to attend radio school while in the mess
hall. He recalled that Danca was looking for
"volunteers" to attend the classes, and that he
attempted to hide from Danca by not looking up at
him, but Danca saw him and told him he was going
to radio school. What sold Jim on the idea
was that he would not be on any work details.
One day, while in class at radio school, Lt. Danca walked in and informed Jim that he was now going learn to ride a motorcycle since they had enough men training to be radio operators. Jim remembered his father's words, "No, you cannot have a two wheeler bike - they're too dangerous."
As it turned out, being on a motorcycle had its advantages. Jim could get off base by telling the first sergeant that he was taking a test hop. One of the most famous war bond posters was a picture of Jim flying through the air on his Harley-Davidson Motorcycle which was taken by a photographer from the Chicago Tribune.
Jim recalled that the photographer asked him if he
could jump over a log on the bike. Jim said, "No problem!" He was lucky enough not to find
any logs to jump, so he rode down through a
deep gully and came flying out on the other side
airborne and barely survived the landing.
The photographer told Jim it looked great and
said, "Do it again so we can get
In the late summer of 1941, the
battalion was sent to Louisiana to take
part in maneuvers from September 1
through 30. It was after these
maneuvers that the battalion was ordered
to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of
returning to Ft. Knox as expected.
On the side of a hill the members of the
battalion learned they were being sent
overseas. Men 29 years old or
older were given the opportunity to
resign from federal service and replaced
with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
Mason and Jim
stopped into a
bar to have a
There, the two
told them that
them, "How about the Japanese?"
told Jim, "Are you kidding? All they have are wooden
morning of December 8, the tankers heard the
news that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Jim moved his half-track to a designated
position at the airfield. Next to his half
track was the half-track of Sgt. Zenon
Bardowski. A little over two weeks after
arriving in the Philippines, and just ten hours
after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the
Philippine Islands were attacked by the
Japanese. Jim witnessed the Japanese
destroy almost the entire American Army Air
Corps as they bombed and strafed Clark
Field. Jim was on a half-track with Zenon Bardowski and
Ray Mason, "Bud," as Bardowski was known, and
Jim were firing fifty caliber machine guns at
the planes. Jim's gun jammed, but Bud shot
down a Zero. As another Zero whistled
overhead, Jim heard Ray say, "There
goes another one of those wooden propeller
During one withdrawal, the
half-track Jim was in could not make
it up the bank of a river.
Bronge, who was in the last
tank, looked back and saw that the
half-track was missing. He
reversed his tank and found it stuck
at the bottom of the river
bank. Bronge attached a tow
cable to the half-track and pulled
Jim and the half-track William
Oldaker to safety.
On December 25, 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 27.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6/7, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
The night of January 7, the tank battalions were
covering the withdrawal of all troops around
Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the
bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the
192nd crossed the bridge.
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.
On another occasion, B Company was in its bivouac when it came under fire from a sniper. Capt. Donald Hanes called Jim and his half-track driver, William Oldaker, over and said he wanted them to take care of the sniper. Hanes pointed to a tree down the road and told them that he believed the sniper was in it. The two soldiers climbed into their half-track and made their way down the narrow road. As they went forward, Jim realized that they were sitting targets in the open half-track. Oldaker stopped the half-track and Jim fired its .50 caliber machine gun into the tree zigzagging as he he fired up the trunk. Jim wasn't sure if he hit the sniper, but he did see something fall from the tree.
Another time, Jim and Oldaker pulled their
half-track into a palm grove for the
night. The Fifth Columnists must have seen
them do this, because the next morning shells
began landing around the half-track.
Jim and Oldaker were separated when Jim was sent
north to attempt to make contact with B Company
tanks. It was while attempting to do this
that Filipino and American forces were
surrendered to the Japanese. Tank
battalion commanders received this order and
issues it to their men,
"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
On April 8, Jim received orders to surrender to the Japanese. The surrender would officially take place the next day. He and the other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at Bataan's southern tip. It was from this barrio that Jim took part in what he referred to as "the march".
The Americans were marched in groups of 100 with guns on them at all times. Each group was assigned six Japanese guards who would be changed at regular intervals. During the 70 mile march, the Americans were seldom allowed to stop and were not fed until the fifth day. Those who stopped or dropped out were bayoneted or left to die.
For Jim, hearing men who had fallen to the ground beg for help and not being able to help them was one of the hardest things he experienced on the march. The POWs who continued to march and those who had fallen both knew that to do so meant death for both men.
The lack of water and food was extremely hard on Jim and the other prisoners. He watched as two POWs ran to a water spigot to fill their canteens with water. Both men were shot by the Japanese. Jim felt he was luckier than many of the other POWs since he had drunk three cans of condensed milk and eaten a can of corn-beef hash before starting the march. This food in his opinion helped him make it through the march.
The first camp Jim was interred at was Camp
O'Donnell which the Japanese pressed the camp
into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese
confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had
and refused to return it to them. They
searched the POWs and if a man was found to have
Japanese money on them, they were taken to the
guardhouse. Over the next several days,
gunshots were heard to the southeast of the
camp. These POWs had been executed for
Jim like other POWs wanted to get out of the
camp because of the number of POWs dying each
day. He volunteered, with his high school
friend, Sgt. Willard Von Bergen to go out on a
work detail to rebuild bridges. The
detail, later known as the "Lumban Bridge
Detail" rebuilt bridges that had been destroyed
during the American retreat for the Japanese
Engineers. This detail was also under the
command of Lt. Col. Ted Wickord the commanding
officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The
detail left Camp O'Donnell on May 1, 1942.
Once out of the camp, the POWs were broken into four detachments of 250 men each. Jim's detachment was sent to Calauan. There, the POWs were amazed by the concern shown for them by the Filipino people. The townspeople arranged for their doctor and nurses to care for the POWs and give them medication. They also arranged for the POWs to attend a meal in their honor.
One day, while on a break from bridge building, Jim was sitting on a log, with Bob Stewart of A Company, having a smoke. A jeep pulled up in front of the two men and stopped. A Japanese Naval Officer, in full dress uniform, got out and sat down next to the two prisoners.
Bob Stewart looked at Jim and asked him if they should offer the officer a smoke. Jim said to Bob that, "If he wants a cigarette, let the son-of-bitch smoke his own." At that moment, the officer took out a cigarette and said to them, in perfect English, that he knew how they felt. The officer told them that he had a wife and son in the United States, and that he had returned to Japan because his grand-mother was dying. After she had died, he tried to leave the country but could not. The officer preceded to tell them that he had traveled all over the United States and saw the might of American industry. He stated that he knew it was just a matter of time before the Americans would begin to win the war. The Japanese officer said that his only regret was that he feared he would not be alive to see the end of the war.
When the officer got up to leave, he looked at Bob and Jim, pulled out a pack of American cigarettes, and threw the cigarettes to them and said, "Smoke something good." He got back into the jeep and drove off.
Jim was next sent to Batangas to rebuild another bridge. Again, the Filipino people did all they could to see that the Americans got the food and care they needed. Somehow the Filipinos convinced the Japanese to allow them to attend a meal to celebrate the completion of the new bridge.
On the detail with him was his high school buddy Willard Von Bergen. Von, as he was known as, had joined the National Guard with Jim. It was during this time that he became ill and sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
The next bridge Jim and the other POWs were sent
to build was in Batangas. Once again, the
people of the town did what ever they could to
help the Americans. An order of Roman
Catholic sisters, who had been recently freed
from custody, invited Lt. Col. Wickord and
twelve POWs for a dinner. Wickord picked
the twelve sickest looking POWs. Jim must
have looked like he needed a good meal, because
he was one of the twelve men selected by
After coming off a work detail, Jim checked
himself into the camp "hospital" at Cabanatuan
suffering from dysentery and also bleeding from
his rectum. He believed it was just a
matter of time until he would die. He
entered the hospital ward and the sergeant in
charge told him to climb into a top bunk which
held five men. Jim went to the bunk and
counted five men in it and told the sergeant it
was full. The sergeant and a medic walked
up to the bunk and pulled the body of a dead GI
from the bunk. After this was done, Jim
climbed into the bunk and slept the night.
Jim worked on a farm in rice fields. Each
morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs
went into a tool shed to get their tools.
As they left the shed, the guards hit them on
their heads. While working in the fields,
the favorite punishment given to the men in the
rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into
the mud and stepped on by a guard.
Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were
given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they
somehow managed to get into the camp even though
they were searched when they returned.
The longer that Jim was held at Cabanatuan, the worst the the food situation became. He and the other POWs worked in the camp farm, yet rations for the POWs were shrinking on a daily basis. He also worked building runways while a POW in the camp.
At some point, Jim
spent five days in a small punishment box,
without food or water, because he had violated a
camp rule. The Japanese also practiced
collective punishment when a rule was violated
by one POW. It was not uncommon for all
the POWs to be hit when a rule was violated by
According to Jim, the guards were given nicknames by the POWs. Donald Duck was a guard who would jump up and down and scream when he became excited. The POWs would tell him that Donald Duck was a big American movie star. Another guard was known as "P-40" because he would frequently attack the POWs for no reason.
It was around this time that Jim made the decision that volunteering for transport to Japan may be a good idea. He believed that in Japan, the POWs would be fed better since they were in the Japanese homeland.
On July 4, 1944, Jim was boarded onto a ship for shipment to Japan. He spent 62 days crammed in the hold of the Canadian Inventor. The ship sailed but returned to Manila. On July 16th, the ship sailed again. After stops at Takao and Keelung, Formosa, the ship sailed for Naha, Okinawa, before arriving at Moji, Japan. It arrived there on September 4, 1944.
Jim was imprisoned at Fukuoka
#17 and given the number 1165. At
the camp, the POWs worked in a condemned coal
mine where each team of POWs was expected to
load three cars of coal a day. The POWs
worked 12 hour work days with the constant
threat of rocks falling on them. Those
POWs who the Japanese believed were not working
hard enough were beaten. The POWs worked
in three shifts with a 30 minute lunch and one
day off every ten days.
Life at Fukuoka
#17 was hard and there were prisoners who
would steal from other prisoners. To
prevent this from happening, the POWs would
"buddy up" with each other. While one
man was working in the mine, the POW who was
not working would watch the possessions of
the other man. Jim's buddy was a Navy
seaman who was too sick to work in the
mine. He also told Jim the latest camp
news when he returned from the mine.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at
the camp. The guards beat the POWs for
slightest reason and continued until the POW was
unconscious. The man was then taken to the
guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without
food or water for a long period of time.
One day after working in the mine, Jim's buddy told him the latest news. He told Jim that he could not believe how stupid the Japanese were. When Jim inquired why he believed this, the POW said that that morning he saw the greatest explosion he had ever seen in his life. He concluded that the explosion was caused by a Japanese ammo dump exploding from being bombed.
In reality, on August 9, 1945, some of the POWs
saw the atomic bomb that had been dropped on
Nagasaki. Those who saw it described that
it was a sunny day and the explosion still lit
up the sky. The pillar of smoke that rose
from the bomb was described as having all the
colors of the rainbow. Afterwards, the
POWs saw what they described that a fog
blanketed Nagasaki and that the city had
vanish. Shortly after this, the Japanese
became more tolerant, which caused the prisoners
to hope that liberation was near. The
Japanese guards soon disappeared from the camp.
One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago
Daily News entered the camp. He told the POWs that there were
American troops on Honshu. Jim and other
POWs left the camp and contacted the
troops. On August 14, 1945, Jim was
liberated and sent to the Philippines. It
was at this time that Jim received the rank of
staff-sergeant. Jim finally returned to
the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T.
Dychman arriving at San Francisco on
October 16, 1945, eleven days short of four
years since he had sailed for the Philippines.
After being liberated and returned to the Philippines, Jim wrote home.
"Dear Folks ---
Arrived here by plane on the fifteenth and having the time of my life. Everyone is treating me swell. I left Fukuoka and went by train and ferry to Konoye Field and the southern tip of Kyushu where we were flown by plane (C-47), one of the "Jungle Skippers" to Okinawa, where we were put on a B-24 and flown to Manila. It took us 20 days to go from P. I. to Japan in 1944 ---- 4 hours to come from Japan to P. I. No wonder the Nips lost the war.
I weighed 123 lbs. when I left Japan and when I reached here I had already gained 27 lbs. Probably weigh around 170 now and going strong. All we do here is eat, eat and sleep. You can imagine having American food 3 times a day after rice and seaweed watery soup for 3½ years. All my cravings have been satisfied (all the candy, meat, bread that we want). I still look forward to a pineapple upside down cake, Bernie so practice up (also Dressel's cake). Used to think about those until I was ready to go nuts.
Got my physical exam and so far I'm o.k. slightly underweight, but by the time I pull into P. R. I hope to be the well rounded rounded lad you last saw (224lbs). Received 3 mos. back pay, $324. Nothing here to buy worthwhile, and what little that is here costs a fortune.
An idea of what this place is like is --- we live in tents. Japanese P.O.W.'s clean up the tents and pull all the work details (Ha! Ha!) --- no sympathy from us. Four separate buildings: (1) Px, where we get our beers, 4 cigars, 2 pkgs. of cigarettes, 3 candy bars a day) --- all the coca cola we want; (2) a doughnut shop (free fruit juice, coffee and doughnuts); (3) writing room; (4) library.
Fellows from the outfit are drifting in. Sure is good to see some of the old faces after 3½ years.
I imagine things at home have changed quite a bit. Hope everyone is o.k. How are Alvin, Len, Sam, Hep, and the others are doing? I hope their still home.
Would sure like to see a picture of Donna (his sister). I'd bet she's quite a lady now.
Please write and send some pictures if possible. Say "Hello" to everyone for me. Will be home as soon as I can get there. Expect to leave here within the next few days.
See you soon ---- Jimmie
Jim returned to Park Ridge and to his job at the Northern Illinois Public Service Company. When the company was split into several utility companies, he became an employee of Northern Illinois Gas.
While he was recovering in Galesburg, Illinois at Mayo Hospital, he met a nurse, Joyce Peyron, that he would marry on June 16, 1946. He was discharged, from the army, three days later on June 19, 1946. He and his wife raised two sons.
Ironically, Joyce Peyron passed a war bond poster, from the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company, of a motorcycle messenger flying through the air on his Harley. She did this everyday going to work. The man in the poster, which was taken at Fort Knox in 1941, was of the same man that she married.
Jim Bashleben resided in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He passed away on July 30, 2009, in Arlington Heights and was cremated. His ashes are at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Arlington Heights.