Cpl. George William Gober
Cpl. George W. Gober was born on May 5, 1916, in Mississippi to Joseph E. Gober & Willie
Gee Nash-Gober. The couple had five other sons and four daughters. At some point, George moved to
Powell County, Montana.
On March 3, 1941, George was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Missoula, Montana, and was sent to Ft. Lewis, Washington, for basic training. After basic training, he was assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion as a medic.
The decision for this move - which had been made on August 15, 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. 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 which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. Arriving, by train, at Ft. Mason in San Francisco, they were taken by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion's medical detachment. Those men found with medical conditions were replaced.
The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship's holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, a heavy cruiser, and an unknown destroyer that were its escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16, and it became Thursday, September 18. They entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.
The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M., and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion's tanks and reattach the turrets.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since the barracks for them had not been completed. They were met by General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort who made sure they had what they needed. On November 15, they moved into their barracks.
On December 1, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November guarded the southern half. Two crew men remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the battalion was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Just hours early, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. As the tankers guarded the airfield, they watched American planes flying in every direction. At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. It was 12:45, and as the tankers watched, a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers 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.
The night of the 12th/13th, the battalion was ordered to bivouac south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge. Attempting to move the battalion at night was a nightmare, and they finally arrived at their new bivouac at 6:00 A.M. on December 13th.
George cared for the wounded members of his battalion during the Battle of Bataan. On April 9, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War. It was at that time that George made the decision to attempt to reach Corregidor. It is not known what he did on the island, but it is known that he became a POW on May 6, 1942, when the island surrendered to the Japanese.
George remained on the island for two weeks on a beach that had been turned into a temporary POW camp. The POWs were transported by barge to a point off Bataan. There, the POWs were made to jump overboard and swim to shore. After they reached shore, they formed ranks and marched to Bilibid Prison.
In George's case, on October 27, 1942, he was sent to the Philippine Experimental Farm on the Island of Mindanao. There, the prisoners from Bataan and Corregidor were joined by POWs taken in the Southern Philippine Islands. Altogether, there were 2200 POWs on the island. On the island, the POWs cut wood for lumber, grew coffee beans, grew rice, and grew hemp for rope.
During this time, George worked on a rice farm where the prisoners were responsible for planting 1600 acres of rice. George and the other POWs attempted to grow as little rice as possible. George like the other POWs would drop the rice stalks in the mud and "unintentionally" step on them.
When harvesting the rice, the POWs would "miss" the collection baskets spilling the rice onto the ground. At the threshing machine, the POWs made sure that as much of the rice as possible was blown away with the chaff. They would also "forget" to push the rice carts into the warehouse when it rained which caused the rice to get moldy.
Although they did these things, most of the rice still made it to the warehouse. Once piled inside, the prisoners often poked holes into the roof directly above the rice. When it rained, the rice would get wet and moldy.
The one good thing that happened to the POWs on this detail was that
they were given Red Cross packages. The medicine in the packages also helped to bring the number of cases
of malaria and dysentery under control.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as
many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent the POWs to
Lasang, Mindano, by truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded onto the
Yashu Maru and held in the ship's front holds for six days before it sailed. The ship sailed on the
12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga, Mindano, for two days before sailing for Cebu City arriving on June
17th. The POWs were taken off the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs were returned to the dock
and boarded an unnamed ship and arrived at Manila on June 25th.
In Manila, George was sent to Bilibid Prison. The POWs could not see anything of the outside world because of the high walls and boredom was one of their main enemies.
On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13th, Jack and the other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up roll call was taken and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in". The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila. They were allowed to sit down and sleep until they were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan.
On the ship, they were fed fish and barley. The sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around the perimeter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away.
The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water.
The POWs received their first meal at about 3:30 that afternoon. Meals on the ship consisted of a little rice, fish, and water. The prisoners had just eaten when they heard the sounds of guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it was no drill. The POWs heard the change in the planes' engines sound as they began their dive toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs. In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five air raids. The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
After the first raid, the ship was left alone by "playing possum" in the water. The fighters went after the other ships in the convoy. The moaning and muttering of men who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold. The ship reached Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning.
The POWs heard the sound of noise on deck as personnel were unloaded. During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to the Japanese wounded. One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.
The ship steamed in closer to the beach and its anchor was dropped. The POWs were told that they would be disembarked after daybreak. It was December 15th. The POWs sat in the hold four hours after daybreak when the sound of planes was heard. They would live through three more attacks. U.S. Navy planes resumed the attack. Again, the attacks came in waves. A guard shouted into the holds that the prisoners were going ashore. He also shouted that the wounded would be the first evacuated.
In the hold the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying, " Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs in the holds lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. Overall. six bombs hit the ship. One that hit the stern of the ship killed many POWs.
Finally, the Japanese ordered the POWs to abandon ship. As they were abandoning ship, the planes returned. The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying prisoners. It was not when the pilots saw the POWs climbing out of the ship's holds that they realized it was a prison ship and stopped the attack.
About one half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn. After the Americans determined that the POWs had abandoned the ship, the Oryoku Maru was sunk by the American planes.
On shore, the surviving POWs were herded onto tennis courts. When roll was taken, it was discovered that 329 of the 1,619 POWs had been killed in the attack. They remained on the tennis courts for nine days.
While the POWs were at Olongoa, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those POWs too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. Their bodies were buried at a nearby cemetery.
The evening of December 16th, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice, and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, "No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs.
On December 21st, the POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen.
December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25th until the 26th. The POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those men died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the
Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had been used
to haul cattle. The POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold,
the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get
fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. During the time in the harbor, the POWs received little water. From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.
The Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9th. The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's machineguns was heard. The explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship was also heard. The waves created from the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb that hit the ship exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285 prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. On January 11th a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. The dead were unloaded from the ship, and a POW detail of twenty men took the corpses to a large furnace where they were cremated. These men reported that 150 POWs had been cremated. Their ashes were buried in a large urn. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold.
It is not known if George was one of the POWs whose remains were cremated or one of the POWs whose body was taken ashore and buried in a mass grave on a beach at Takao, Formosa. What is known is that he was killed when the bomb exploded in the forward hold of the Enoura Maru. After the war, the remains of these POWs were exhumed and buried at the Punchbowl in Hawaii.
George Gober's name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila, Philippine Islands.
It should be mentioned that George's brother, Joe, was Killed in Action on February 17, 1943, in the Solomon Islands.
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