Sgt. James A. Griffin was
born January 12, 1912, in Chicago. He grew
up at 6733 North Bosworth Avenue and was the son
of Judge John J. Griffin & Alice
McCabe-Griffin. His father was a Cook County,
Illinois, circuit court judge. With his
three brothers and sister, he grew up on the
northwest side of Chicago.
Jim attended St. Jerome's Catholic School, and
for high school, he attended Campion Prep, a
Catholic Prep School, in Prarie du Chien,
Wisconsin. He graduated in 1933 and
attended college. He was a highly
decorated Chicago Police Detective working in
the Summerdale Police Station on the north side
In 1941, Jim was drafted into the United States
Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for
training. He was
trained like all the members of the company
to operate all the equipment used by the
At Fort Knox,
he was assigned to
Company B, 192nd Battalion to bring the
company up to strength. He was assigned to
the company because it had originated as an
Illinois National Guard Tank Company, and he was
from Illinois. When he became a member of
Company B, he received the rank of Private First
Class. By the time he became a member, all
the "cushy" positions were already filled by the
original Illinois National Guard members.
Jim was known as having natural leadership
ability and a great sense of humor.
In the late summer, the 192nd was sent to Camp
Polk, Louisiana, to take part in
maneuvers. According to members of the
battalion, they broke through the defensive
lines of the Blue Army, whose commanding officer
was General George Patton, and it was a matter
of hours until they overran his Blue Army's
headquarters. Suddenly, the maneuvers were
When the maneuvers ended, the members of
the 192nd Tank Battalion remained behind
at Camp Polk. Many had no
idea why they were being kept
there. What they were told on the
side of a hill was that they were being
sent overseas. It was at this time that
members of the battalion, 29 years old
or older, were allowed to resign from
federal service. Thomas replaced a
National Guardsman and was assigned to B
traveled west by train to San
Francisco. Arriving there, they
were taken by ferry to Angel Island in
San Francisco Bay. At Ft.
McDowell, they were given physicals and
inoculated. Those men found
to have a minor medical condition were
held back and scheduled to rejoin the
battalion at a later date. Some
men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto
the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on
Monday, October 27th. 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
2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers
were given shore leave so they could see the
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,
another transport, the S.S. Calvin Coolidge.
Sunday night, November 9th, 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 15th, 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 20th,
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 Airfield. He made sure that
they had what they needed and received
Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his
own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was
the date that the National Guard members of the
battalion had expected to be released from
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 worked to remove cosmoline from
their weapons. The grease was put on the
weapons to protect them from rust while at
sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and
did tank maintenance as they prepared to take
part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
The grease was
put on the
belts and did
to take part
with the 194th
1st, the tanks
Clark Field to
members had to
be with their
tank at all
The morning of
As they sat in
At noon, the
and the pilots
At 12:45, the
they knew the
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. They had no idea
that they had slept their last night in a
bed. They lived through two more attacks
on December 10th and 13th.
On December 21st, Jim took
part in the first tank action by American tanks
in World War II. Jim was a tank commander
and assigned to Lt. Ben Morin's tank platoon.
Two f his crew members were Cpl. Bob Martin and Pfc. Henry Deckert.
Morin's platoon was ordered north to Lingayen
Gulf where the Japanese had landed troops.
Morin's platoon approached Agoo when it ran head
on into a Japanese motorized unit. The
Japanese light tanks had no turrets and sloped
armor. The shells of the Americans glanced
off the tanks. Morin's tank was knocked
out and his crew captured. Jim's tank took
several hits. One of the hits killed his
assistant tank driver and machine gunner, Pvt.
After the engagement, Jim and the surviving
tanks dropped back to Rosario. Deckert's
body was removed and buried. The tanks
were lost to enemy fire while being towed back
It was during at this time that
the tankers, in support of the 48th Division,
while on a coastal road, destroyed ten Japanese
tanks. They then advanced into Damortis.
23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of
Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use
to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The
tankers made an end run to get south of river and
ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening,
but they successfully crossed at the river in the
Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the
battalions formed a defensive line along the
southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on
the right and 194th on the left.
On December 25th, 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 27th, when they withdrew
following the Philippine Army, to the
Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line and was near Santo Tomas and
Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th.
On December 31st/January
1st, the tanks were stationed on both sides of
the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting
orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about
whose command they were under and to withdraw from
the bridge. The defenders were attempting to
stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would
allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward
Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the
Because of the orders, there was
confusion among the Filipinos and American forces
defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and
about half the defenders withdrew. 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 2nd to 4th, 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
The night of January 6th/7th 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.
The next day, the battalion was
between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to
enter Bataan on which was worse than having no
road. The half-tracks kept throwing their
rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned
to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous
situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery
fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was
formed, the next day, under the command of Capt.
Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to
protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open
and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to
overrun the next defensive line that was forming.
While in this position, the tanks were under
constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the
tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the
When word came that a bridge was
going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of
the area, which included the composite
company. This could have resulted in a
catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage
of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the
Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the
East Coast Road. 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. 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.
It was at this time the tank
battalions received these orders which came from
Gen. Weaver: "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."
The battalions were sent to cover
the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with
the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th.
While holding the position, the 45th Infantry,
Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at
3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of
the the column of trucks which were loading the
troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that
the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy
losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25th, both the
192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the
Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was
completed at midnight. They held the position
until the night of January 26th/27th, when they
dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along
the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to
withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the
bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had
been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw,
they had to use secondary roads to get around the
barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January
28th, were given the job of protecting the
beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coast line
from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast,
while the battalion's half-tracks were used to
patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted
that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them
from attempting landings.
during this time Jim had the chance to send a
message home to his parents, in it he said: "I'm well, send my love, could
sure enjoy a bottle of beer right now." It was the last message
that his family received from him before the
fall of Bataan.
Companies A & C were ordered
to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which
was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the
southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were
awake all night and attempted to sleep under the
jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them
from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance
planes. During the night, they were kept busy
with repeated threats both on and off shore.
On one occasion, a member of the
company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened
by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto
the beach and took pot shots at the plane. He
missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese
planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs
that exploded in the tree tops. Three members
of the company were killed.
The tank battalions, on their
own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at
Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese
paratroopers were known to be available. The
tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle
around the airfields and different plans were in
place to be used against Japanese forces.
There was only one major alert in March when 73
Japanese planes came over.
B Company 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. Doing this was so stressful
that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced
by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two
methods were used. The first was to have three
Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the
tank. As the tank went over a Japanese
foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades
into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from
WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method to use to kill
the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over
the foxhole. The driver gave the other track
power resulting with the tank spinning around and
grinding its way down into the foxhole. The
tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
In March, the amount of gasoline
was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles
except the tanks. This would later be dropped
to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food
rations were cut in half again. Also at this
time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that
a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese lunched an all out
attack on April 3rd. On April 7th, the 57th
Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks,
attempted to restore the line, but Japanese
infiltrators prevented this from happening.
During this action, one tank was knocked out but the
remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C
Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had
only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite
target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and
while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight
back. The situation was so bad that other
troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th
Cavalry turned down a tank company's offer of
assistance in a counter-attack.
On April 9, 1942, Jim became a
Prisoner of War and took part in the death march
from Mariveles to San Fernando. At San
Fernando, he and the other POWs boarded small wooden
boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty
men. One hundred men were packed into each car
and the doors were closed. Those who died
remained standing since they could not fall to the
floor. When the living left the cars at Capas,
the dead fell to the floors while the living made
their way to Camp O'Donnell.
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
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
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. The Japanese finally
acknowledge that they had to do something, so the
opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed
detachments of 100 men each and were marched to
Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars
with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the
train was switched onto another line which took it
to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were
taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked
rice and onion soup. From there, they were
marched to 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 were forced to work
in the fields 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
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.
was a POW at Cabanatuan, he was selected to be
sent to Lipa Batangas on a work detail.
There, he worked on a farm and did built
runways at an airfield. When the detail
ended, he returned to Cabanatuan.
Jim was next selected to return to
Clark Field in a work detail. While he was a POW at Clark
Field, he and the other POWs built revetments
and a runway. The Japanese guards did not
want the POWs to talk to their friends and beat
them when they did. He remained on
the detail until he became ill. Medical
records kept at Bilibid Prison show that he
arrived there on November 11, 1943, suffering
Not long after arriving at
the prison, Jim made a shortwave radio
broadcast. His family learned of it on
December 13, 1943. In it, he said, "I am under treatment
right now and happy to be able to greet
you. Received your wire recently and
glad to be able to answer it. As usual, all
my love to everybody."
At the prison, Jim was reunited
with Pfc. Frank Goldstein and Sgt. Zenon
Bardowski of the 192nd. Jim's physical
condition was poor so Frank Goldstein gave him a
handful of vitamin pills he had received in a
red cross parcel. At Bilibid, Jim was the
cellmate of Dr. Paul Ashton. While a
prisoner at Bilibid, Jim assisted the doctor in
helping the wounded and caring for those who
could not take care of themselves.
Jim had a
fantastic sense of humor and loved to play jokes
on the guards. One of his jokes would lead
to his death. Jim made placebos from
plaster and sold them to the guards to cure
their "social diseases."
Lt. Jack Merrifield, on November 29, 1943, Jim
was sent to Bilibid from a work detail because
he was suffering from dysentery. On
March 9, 1944, Jim's parents received a
transcript of a shortwave message from
Japan. In it, Jim said:
" I am now undergoing hospital
treatment. I have received numerous
letters. In answer to them all I say
thanks a million. To Marge, keep
Marge in the
message was Margaret Piper a secretary at
DePaul University, and Jim's girlfriend.
On Friday, May 19, 1944, at
3:00 P.M., while Jim was outside lying down and
sunning himself after taking a shower, a
Formosan guard came up to him and started a
conversation. During the conversation, the
guard said to Jim that he was going to shoot
him. Jim's response was "Go ahead."
The guard shot him three times.
One shot hit Jim in the neck
severing his spinal column and paralyzing him
from the arms down. According to other
POWs, the guard was unhappy with the medicine
that Jim had sold him. Medical records
kept at the prison show that Jim became
irrational six hours after being admitted to the
hospital. At some point, he developed a
fever which rose to over 106.7 degrees.
Jim died from his wounds at 9:40 P.M., on May
20, 1944. He was buried in Row 4, Grave
25, at the POW cemetery at Bilibid Prison.
Dr. Paul Ashton, heard what happened and ran out
of the cell block and up to the guard.
Without hesitating, Dr. Ashton jumped the guard
which prevented him from killing himself.
The gunshot did blow off part of the guard's
jaw. The guard was taken from Bilibid and
never seen again. For whatever reason, the
Japanese did not kill Dr. Ashton but put him
through a court-martial. As
punishment, he was not allowed to be transported
It was on
April 23, 1945, that Jim's parents learned of
his death from the war department. On May
20, 1945, his parents held a memorial for Jim at
St. Jerome's Catholic Church in
war, at the request of his family, Sgt. James W.
Griffin was buried at the new American Military
Cemetery at Manila. Today, the remains of
Sgt. James W. Griffin lie in Plot A, Row 4,
Grave 70, at the American Military Cemetery
outside of Manila.