2nd Lt. John Frederick Hay
2nd Lt. John F. Hay was the
son of the Dr. Samuel H. Hay & Dr. Rachel
McMaster-Hay. He was born in Coddle Creek,
Iredell County, North Carolina, on November 8,
1919. His father would later become the
minister at the First Presbyterian Church in
Morristown, Tennessee. With his two sisters,
he grew up at 21 Church Street in
John attended Davidson College and enrolled in the college's R.O.T.C program on September 13, 1937. He was also the vice-president of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and graduated from college with a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry in June 1941. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister.
In September 1940, John accepted commission as a
second lieutenant in the Army Reserve
Corps. John was called to active duty,
during the summer of 1941 and sent to Camp Polk,
Louisiana, receiving training in tanks as a
member of A Compnay, 753rd Tank Battalion.
In the fall of 1941, he joined the 192nd Tank
Battalion as it prepared for duty in the
Philippine Islands at Camp Polk,
Louisiana. His volunteered, or had his
name drawn by lot, and filled a vacancy created
when an officer was promoted to replace a
National Guardsman who was considered "too old"
to go overseas. He was assigned, as a tank
platoon commander, to C Company.
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 island.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark
Field on December 1st to protect it from
tankers were were having lunch when 54 planes
approached the airfield from the north. As
they watched. what appeared to be raindrops fell
from the planes. When bombs began
exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the
planes were Japanese. After
the attack the wounded were
everywhere. When the hospital ran out
of room for the wounded, cots were set up
under trees and anything else that could
provide shade for the wounded.
During the battle for the Philippines, John came down with pneumonia. He was sent to the hospital. The officer in the next bed was Col. Charles Steel who had been John's R.O.T.C. unit commander at Davidson College, in 1937, when John was a freshman. It was Steel who awarded John his commission as a second lieutenant. Both men celebrated Christmas together before returning to their respective units.
According to Col. Charles Steel, during the Battle of Bataan, John and his tank platoon came to the aid of his 31st Infantry which had received orders to withdraw from their positions. Steel's command had lost so many men, that it was almost impossible for him to safely fall back to new positions. It was only after John's tanks arrived and provided support that Steel's unit was able to take the new positions.
On January 1st, conflicting orders, about who
was in command, were received by the defenders
who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance
down Route 5 and allowing the Southern Luzon
Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General
Wainwright was unaware of the orders, since they
came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
It was during the Battle of the Tuol Pocket from February 2, 1942, to February 5, 1942, that John was credited in developing a method of clearing the Japanese Marines from their positions. With the American forces, attempting to clear out the Japanese pocket, were members of the Air Corps who had been converted to infantry. The commanding officer asked John what they should do since the airmen were not trained as infantry.
John thought about the problem and came up with
this solution to it. Since the Japanese
were dug in, the tanks could not get a good shot
at them. John's solution was to have six
soldiers ride on the back of each tank. As
the tanks rolled toward the foxholes, the
Japanese would dive over their foxholes.
Each American soldier took a hand grenade from
his sack and dropped it into the foxholes wiping
out the Japanese.
John led as many as five attacks a day, into the pocket, to wipe out the Japanese. A few of the cleansing missions lasted for five hours. After several days of this, the pocket was completely cleared of enemy soldiers. For this action, John posthumously received two Silver Stars for Gallantry.
On February 8th, John wrote this letter to his parents. The letter was in a mail sack pulled from the ocean after the ship it was on was sunk by a Japanese submarine. After it was recovered, it made its way to his family.
Another week has gone by and our whole band is resting after heavy action. I have written several letters to you since my stay in the hospital but they were all lost.
Every little barrio (town) has a huge cathedral, some of them dating back to the sixteenth century. The buildings are mostly square without arches. But their plain architectural lines along with her massiveness give them a grandeur which cannot be hidden by decaying walls. I was in one the other day whose steeple was being used as an observation point for artillery fire. The church was in a village which was bombed and shelled continuously by the enemy. It alone of the many buildings was standing while all around were tangled masses of concrete, tin, and army equipment. The Japanese had concentrated on this spot but the walls of the church were so thick that no real harm could be done. This church has long since been abandoned but while we still had the surrounding territory it was certainly a haven. At the base of the tower the walls are over nine feet thick.
I am now in a mountainous region which is one of the prettiest places I have ever been in. The acacia trees which I love so much are left behind but huge mahogany trees five and six feet thick and towering many feet high along with other kinds of huge trees and large vines make this one of the wildest and yet most peaceful places that I have yet come across.
I neglected to finish telling about my health. When I left the hospital I was a mere skeleton. I feel sure that I now weigh over 160 pounds which puts me in the almost fat class. Death and tragedy do not seem to bother me - I worry that it does not. I eat enormous meals and continue to gain weight. I am sure you are suffering more than I and that all other parents and loved ones of the fellows are doing the same. The strain upon us here is terrific. We really never get any rest. But we are happy. In my last letter I told you I had no casualties in my company which was really something. By casualties I mean fatal casualties. The tropical fevers are even more dangerous than the enemy or least have been to date.
I know you would like to know how I am getting along as an officer. I led my troops in one of the heaviest and most successful actions we have as yet had. I know the team work of my platoon deserves the credit - every man did his job and we were successful. Of course it was I who received the congratulations of the colonels, generals, captains, and fellow officers. By the work of my platoon (of tanks) casualties in the supporting infantry were cut down to nothing. I know I have made the grade - my hope is that I continue in the same way - I have been lucky. God has been more than good to me and only hope I can show my thankfulness by going into his service upon my return.
I have not yet been able to contact Col. Steel since last December. He is getting along fine though. His men are doing a good but hard job.
I am about written out. I hope that this orgy is soon finished but I am afraid that we are in for a long one. I have slept in the open now for a month and a week exactly, most of the time on the ground. I can get as good a sleep on the ground as I can on a bed. I have a cot and have several times preferred the ground to the cot since putting the cot up at night and then having to repack it is a lot of trouble.
Another thing I enjoy even if there is drudgery is washing my clothes. We are all on pretty much of an edge with never a chance for our nerves to relax. Doing little jobs with my hands rests me. Today I washed .........I really had wash woman hands when I got through.
I have some some work in a religious way. In fact, I have been called a preacher a few times. Last night we had Major Dawson of California here for supper. I hope I can also get a Catholic chaplain later - Major Dawson is a Baptist.
Last Wednesday 77 of us went to Major Dawson's prayer-meeting. He complimented me in his service saying it was fine for me to bring them rather than just telling the fellows were to go. Of course I didn't really deserve the praise since I just went along. His service was very good-he taught rather than preached and said as much.
Give my regards to everybody, Give my love to Rachel, Louisa, and the other folks.
With love and longings to be home,
C Company also took part in
the Battle of
the Pockets to
the pocket one
at a time to
replace a tank
did not enter
until a tank
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.
pulled out of
along the west
side of the
portion of the
line on east side of the main defensive line on Bataan.
started up the
due to the
When Gen. King realized the situation was
hopeless, he sent his staff officers to
negotiate surrender terms.
John made his way to San Fernando, there the
POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars.
Each car could hold 40 men. The Japanese
packed 100 men into each car. Those men
who died remained standing until the living
climbed out of the cars at Capas. John and the
other POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp
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
At Cabanatuan, John saw Col. Charles Steel for
the last time. Steel shook John's hand and
said his goodbyes as he and the other senior
officers left the camp to be shipped to Formosa.
According to records kept by the medical staff in the camp, John was admitted to the camp's hospital on Friday, September 18, 1942, suffering pellagra, dysentery, and edema. It was there that he died - according to the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion by 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifield - of beriberi and dysentery. Two reports and John's headstone indicate his date of death was Saturday, October 10, 1942. According to another report, his date of death was Wednesday, October 28, 1942, and the cause of death is listed as pellagra. He was buried in the camp cemetery in Plot 2, Row 23, Grave 2960.
On July 4, 1943, Dr. Samuel Hay was officially
notified by the Army that John had died as a
Japanese POW. After the war, in 1949, 2nd Lt.
John Hay's family had his remains returned to
the United States. On April 20, 1949, a
funeral service at the First Presbyterian Church
of Morristown was held for John. During
the service, Col. Charles Steel told of his
meetings with John during the fight against the
Japanese and while they were POWs.