Cpl. George Emery Dravo
Pfc. George E. Dravo was born on June 6, 1920, in Chicago RIdge, Illinois, to Eugene Dravo & Catherine Kreton-Dravo. The family moved to Maywood, Illinois, and as a child and lived at 1508 South Fourth Avenue and attended the local schools. He was a 1938 graduate of Proviso Township High School.
Since a federal draft act had just been passed, George knew that it was just a matter of time until he was inducted into the army. Like other men from the area, he enlisted in the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Division Tank Company in Maywood. His reason for joining the company was that it was about to be called into federal service, and he knew that if he served one year, with the company, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he would fulfill his military obligation.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company members readied to their equipment. On November 28th, they traveled, by train, to Ft Knox for one year of military service. The tank company was now known as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. In January 1941, George was assigned to Headquarters Company when it was formed with men from the four letters company of the battalion. George was a motorcycle messenger for Headquarters Company.
September 1st through 30th, the battalion took
part in the Louisiana maneuvers. It was
after these maneuvers that the George and the
other members were ordered to Camp Polk,
Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft.
Knox. It was on the side of a hill that
the battalion learned that they were not being
released from military service but being sent
overseas. He and the other men received
leaves home to say their goodbyes.
The battalion traveled west by train
to San Francisco, California, where
they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T.
General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft.
McDowell on Angel Island in San
Francisco Bay. At Ft.
McDowell, they were given physicals
and inoculated by the battalion's
Those men found to have a minor
medical condition were held back and
scheduled to rejoin the battalion at
a later date. Other men were
At six in
the morning on December 8th, the officers of the
battalion were called to the radio room at the
fort. They were ordered to bring their
tank platoons up to full strength around Clark
Airfield. The tankers were receiving lunch
from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a
formation of planes approaching the airfield
from the north. At first they thought they
were American planes and had enough time to
count 54 planes. As they watched, the saw
"raindrops" falling from the planes. When
bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the
planes were Japanese. At some point during
the fighting, George was promoted to corporal
and put in command of a half-track.
and drove to
just outside of
From there, they
they sat, the
POWs noticed a
line of Japanese
that this was a
firing squad and
were going to
The lack of food and water were two of the most difficult things that the prisoners had to deal with on the march. In addition, the hot temperatures made the situation worse. In George's opinion, the problem was that the Japanese had no tradition, in their culture, to handle prisoners, since they had been taught to die and not surrender. They simply were not prepared to take and keep prisoners. It was his belief that this was the cause of so many of the atrocities on the march and later in the camps.
When they reached San Fernando, the
POWs were put
in a bull pen
which had been
They were left
to form 100
When this was
to the train
Camp O'Donnell was a unfinished Filipino Army Training Camp. The entire POW population had only one water faucet for the entire camp. It was while a POW there that George is credited with saving the life of his friend, Jack Swinehamer. Jack had been declared dead and taken to the cemetery at the camp. After he had been laid is the mass grave, George saw Jack move. George pulled Jack from the grave and returned him to the camp. To help Jack regain his strength, George shared his food with him.
George was selected to go out on a work detail to rebuild the bridges that the Americans had destroyed during their withdraw into Bataan. The detail was divided into two groups. George's group was sent to a sawmill to cut the lumber that would be used during the construction. George loaded trucks with lumber and stacked boards to dry.
On this detail, George witnessed the execution of ten POWs. One night, one POW escaped from the detail. The Japanese had instituted a "Blood Brother Rule." If a POW escaped the five POWs who slept on either side of the man would be executed. Five POWs to the right of the man, and five POWs to the left of the man were executed. The Japanese reasoned that these men could have stopped the man from escaping.
George also witnessed the death of Ralph Hite of HQ Company. According to George, Ralph and five other POWs ate "Pony Candy" and became ill. Ralph quickly developed dysentery and died. He was buried in a hardwood coffin that the Japanese allowed the POWs to make. After the war, George wrote to Ralph's mother about Ralph's death.
After the detail ended, George was sent to
Cabanatuan, and according to medical records
from the camp, George entered the camp hospital
June 19, 1942. No illness was indicated or
a date of discharge indicated.
The POWs were divided into two detachments. The first detachment drained rice paddies and laid the ground work for the runway, while the second detachment built the runway. When most of the work was done in July 1944, most of the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan. Forrest was one of 300 men that remained at the airfield.
On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were working, they saw American diver bombers. This was the first time they had seen American planes since the surrender of Bataan. Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused the POWs to cheer. The next day the detail was ended.
On September 22nd, the Japanese closed the camp and sent the POWs to Bilibid Prison. In October of 1944, the Americans began bombing Manila. The Japanese knowing that it was just a matter of time until the Philippines were liberated, began to transfer the prisoners to Japan or an Japanese controlled country. George was sent to the Port Area of Manila as part of this process.
When George's group of POWs arrived at Manila, they found their ship was not ready to sail. It turned out there was another POW detachment whose ship was ready to sail, but some of the POWs in his group had not arrived from the POW camps. The Japanese flipped detachments so the Hokusen Maru could sail. The ship George was suppose to sail on, the Arisan Maru, was sunk by an American submarine on October 24, 1944.
were boarded onto the ship, on October 1st, and
it sailed on October 3rd, the ship sailed but
dropped anchor at the harbor's breakwater.
It remained there for three days and the
temperatures in the hold rose to over 100
degrees causing some men to go crazy. The
Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they
didn't quiet the men. To do this, the sane
POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit
them with canteens.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong when they received word American planes were in the area. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
The POWs were in such bad shape that the Japanese took them ashore, on November 8th, and sent them to Inrin Temporary. The camp was specifically opened for them and they only did light work and grew vegetables to supplement their diets. The healthier POWs worked at a sugarcane mill.
On January 14, 1945, he was boarded onto the Melbourne Maru for Japan. During the trip, the POWs found that below the hemp the ship was carrying were sacks of sugar and canned tomatoes; they helped themselves to the canned tomatoes. The ship arrived at Moji on January 23rd and the POWs were marched to a schoolhouse, where the Japanese made them strip off their clothes since they were infested with lice. From Moji, the POWs rode a train to Sendai #7, where the POWs worked in a copper mine.
the other POWs were issued winter clothing which
was inadequate. The real problem was that
the shoes they were given to wear were made of
straw and froze when they got wet, which meant
many of the POWs suffered from frostbite.
The POWs also did not received adequate food or
George remained at the camp until he was liberated and returned to the Philippines to be fattened up before he was returned home. While in the Philippines, he was promoted to sergeant. He returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze arriving San Francisco on October 16, 1945, and hospitalized. Because of health issues, he was not discharged from the army until June 21, 1946.
After returning home, George married Helen May Feister and became the father of two children. He lived most of the remainder of his life in the Maywood area. During this time, he worked as a policeman and machinist.
In 1989, George moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he passed away on December 3, 1993, of a heart attack. During the autopsy, the doctor noted that George's heart had scar tissue from an earlier heart attack which he most likely suffered while POW.
George E. Dravo was buried in Section H, Site 263 at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder, Nevada, on December 8, 1993.