Sgt. Nicholas Ford Fryziuk
Sgt Nicholas Ford Fryziuk was the son of Polish immigrants. He was born on July
25, 1919, to Mike Fryzuik and Maria Surchina-Fryziuk. With his brother, Nick was raised in Argo and Summit,
Illinois, and attended Argo High School. After high school, he worked maintenance at Argo Corn
Sometime in 1940, Nick joined the Illinois National Guard's Maywood Tank Company with his best friend, Frank Jendrysik . The reason he enlisted is that the draft act had just been passed, and he wanted to complete his military obligation before he was drafted.
In November, 1940, the Maywood Tank Company was called into federal service. At Fort Knox, Kentucky, the company, was designated Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. Nick trained at Ft. Knox, and since Nick always loved to work on cars he became a tank mechanic. He would later be the company's maintenance sergeant.
In the late summer of 1941, Nick took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe , to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and 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. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, 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, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge . Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. 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 16, 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, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner, which was a stew thrown into their mess kits, before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
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.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
On December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to return to the perimeter of airfield. They had received word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, 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, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything 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. Those not assigned to tanks, slept in a dried latrine since it was safe then sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 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.
The tanks were bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road on January 7. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance and their own maintenance section. Many of the tracks of the tanks were worn down to bare metal. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
Nick's job was to keep the equipment of the 192nd Tank Battalion running. In one incident, Nick saved the lives of a tank crew by working on their tank as the Japanese were advancing on their position. He got the tank running minutes before the Japanese overran their position. Throughout the Battle of Bataan, Nick continued to work and fight even though he had shrapnel wounds around his eyes and on his legs.
When Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, Nick became a Prisoner of War and took part in the death march. On the march, ninety percent of POWs in his group died due to a lack of food, water and rest.
The members of B Company were together on the march which led to Nick saving the life of Pvt. Robert Parr. Parr had been wounded in the stomach before the surrender and was having a hard time keeping up with the rest of the company. He kept telling Nick, and the other men, that he was going to drop out. Nick told Parr that if he did, he would be killed. ``You had to keep going, because if you stopped you were a dead man," he said. ``As we marched along, we'd see guys splattered all over the road. You couldn't begin to count the atrocities.'' The last thirty-five miles of the march, Nick carried Parr "piggyback" style to keep him from dropping out.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed 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 looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
Nick was a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell until he was sent back to Bataan to work to collect scrap metal. After the detail ended, he was imprisoned at Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Panagaian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp. The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. The POWs worked on the camp farms from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. The result was many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn't uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. 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 camp hospital was composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as "Zero Ward," which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two foot wide by six foot long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier.
Nick went out on another work detail to Ft. McKinley near Manila, where he was assigned the duty of driving a truck. Nick was next sent to the Manila Port Area to work as a stevedore loading and unloading ships. The POWs on this detail were known as "The 400 Thieves" because of the things they stole from the Japanese. Nick recalled that no matter where he was held, the POWs at the camps ate snake, lizard, monkey, mule and raw fish to survive.
On July 14, 1944, at Las Pinas, Nick was boarded onto the Japanese steam ship the Nissyo Maru. Three days later on the 17th, the ship sailed for Japan. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on July 27th. The next day, the ship sailed for Moji, Japan.
On August 3rd, the ship arrived in Moji. From there, Nick was sent to Osaka #3-B or Oeyama. The POWs in the camp worked in a nickel mine owned by Nippon Yakin Kogyo and at the Hachidate Branch Nickel Refinery. With a pick and shovel, he and the other POW's had to extract ore from the mine. When they loaded a car, they next had to push it to the railroad track that ran past the mine. The prisoners had to work in all types of weather and in snow as deep as six feet. Other POWs were required to walk nearly six miles to another nickel mine.
Other POWs were also assigned to do stevedore work at Miyazu Harbor and on a detail referred to as the carpentry detail. The prisoners unloaded food, coal, and coke from ships for a nickel refinery at the Miyazu docks. The food they unloaded was bound for the Japanese army, so the POWs would steal a couple of pocketful of beans everyday.
The Japanese enforced collective discipline in the camp. Sometimes work groups would be punished, other times larger groups of POWs were punished, and there were times all the POWs were punished. On one occasion a work group of twelve POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours before they were forced to swallow rope which caused them to throw up. This was done because the Japanese believed they had stolen rice. When none was found, the Japanese fed the POWs rice and sent them to their barracks.
On December 6, 1944, the entire camp was placed on half rations because one POW had violated a rule. The entire camp again was put on half rations on January 7. At various times a portion of the POWs were put on half rations. 80 to 90 POWs were put on half rations on March 7, 1944, while 60 POWs were put on half rations on April 7 and made to stand at attention in a heavy rain.
Beatings were a common event and the POWs were beaten, punched, slapped, hit with sticks, and kicked. During the winter, they were made to stand at attention in sleet and snow for long periods of time. The POWs were also forced to run as far as two and one half miles. When one or a few POWs were being punished it was not uncommon for the other POWs to have to hit the POWs. They also were forced to kneel and hold a heavy object, like a log, over their heads. One POW, who took the blame for breaking into a warehouse was forced to squat with a pole behind his knees and hold a log over his head until he passed out.
Since a certain number of POWs had to report for work everyday, illness was not an excuse for getting out of working. The camp POW doctor's recommendation that POWs not work, because they were too ill, was overruled by a Japanese medical corpsman, and men suffering from dysentery or beriberi were sent to work.
Red Cross packages were withheld from the POWs and the Japanese raided them for canned meats, canned milk, cigarettes, and chocolate. These items were seen by the POWs in the camp offices. The clothing and shoes sent for POW use was also appropriated by the Japanese.
On July 30th, B-29s bombed Miyazu, but the POWs were forced to work during the attack on the dock which resulted in two POWs being killed. About two weeks later, a massive air raid on the town took place and lasted all night until it ended about midday.
While working at the mines, Nick witnessed the atomic bomb explode over Nagasaki. A Japanese guard who had told the POWs that they would be killed, if Americans landed in Japan, told them the war was over. He remained a POW until he was liberated by American Occupational Forces on September 9, 1945. Before they were liberated, the former POWs made flags from parachutes representing the nationalities who had been held in the camp.
Nick returned to the Philippines for furhter medical treatment. I late September, he boarded the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze and sailed for San Francisco. The ship docked on October 16th and the POWs were sent to Letterman General Hospital.
Nick returned to Illinois and was discharged, from the Army, on May 4, 1946. He married, Cecilia, and raised a family. Nick had met Cecilia through his friend Frank Jendrysik. She had been Frank's fiancee. The couple would have two children a son and daughter. His son would die at the age of five. Nick never passed up an opportunity to talk to students about his experiences as a POW.
Nick Fryziuk passed away on April 1, 1993, from leukemia and was buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Justice, Illinois. His family believed that his leukemia was a result of his witnessing the atomic bomb explosion.