Hrupcho

 

S/Sgt. Joseph John Hrupcho


    S/Sergeant Joseph J. Hrupcho was the son of Michael and Mary Hrupcho.  He was born in Crabtree, Pennsylvania, on March 22, 1914.  He had two brothers and three sisters.  When he was ten, his family moved to Port Clinton, Ohio.  There he lived at 404 Lincoln Drive and was educated in both parochial and public schools.  He graduated from Port Clinton High School in 1934.

    After graduating high school, Joseph joined the Ohio National Guard with his friends Harold Collins, Steve Eliyas, John Short, Joseph Wierzchon, Arthur Burholt, John Minier, and Ken Thompson.  His reason for doing this was that he would earn extra money to add to the low wages he was earning as a carpenter at a boat company.

     In the autumn of 1940, Joseph and the 37 other members of his National Guard Tank Company were federalized as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  They were sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where other men from Ohio were added to the company. 
    A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress.  Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30.  Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the company.  The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
    At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M.  Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating.   At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat followed by dinner at 5:30.  After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
    There they trained for months learning to operate the equipment of a tank company.  In Joseph’s opinion, the best part of the training was that they were finally allowed to go home on weekends.  The soldiers often barely got back to Ft. Knox in time for reveille on Monday morning.     
    From September 1 through 30, the 192nd was sent by train to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.  In Joseph’s opinion, the best thing about the maneuvers was the night training.  It would help them during the withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula which had to be done at night because of the lack of air cover.

    After the maneuvers,  the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  Joseph and the rest of the battalion learned that they had been selected for duty overseas.  The men were given furloughs home and those determined to he “too old” were released from federal duty.      
    The decision for this move -  which had been made in August 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.
    Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends.  They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe.  On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.

    After receiving the necessary inoculations, C Company was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott on Monday, October 27, 1941.  It took the ship five days to reach Hawaii, the ship docked on Sunday, November 2, and the men received shore leave to see the sights.  They next sailed for Guam on Tuesday, November 4.  It was from this portion of the trip on that the ships were escorted by the U.S.S. Louisville.  The ships also took war time precautions during this part of the voyage.  It was at this time Joe and the other tankers attempted to learn about the M-3 tanks that they had received at Camp Polk.
    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.

   The climate of the islands was one thing Joe noticed.  It was extremely hot and there was no breeze.  The natives seemed to be extremely casual about their dress because of it. Joe remembered that the younger boys only wore upper clothing.

     After arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the tankers were assigned to tents between the fort and Clark Air Field.  General Edward P. King greeted them and apologized that they had to live in tents.  He also made sure they received dinner since it was Thanksgiving.  Once they had, he went to have his own.
    The next few weeks Joe and the other tankers spent their time working on their equipment.  They de-cosmolined  the tank guns and loaded ammunition belts.  During this time, a native people, the Igorats, came down from the mountains in the evenings to trade with the tankers. 

     The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field on December 1 to guard against paratroopers.  Two tank crew members remained with their tanks at all times.  On December 8, 1941, Joe and the other members of C Company were eating lunch when Japanese planes appeared over Clark Field.   In a letter which his mother did not receive until May 1945, after it was repatriated from the Japanese, Joe wrote telling of the start of the war.

    "Just after dinner, December 8, 1941, at Fort Stotsenburg, a group of us sat talking under a mango tree. Looking up I saw a flight of planes approaching from the north. As I watched them approaching, a number of things were entering my mind. Were they American planes or was it really true that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? My thoughts came to an abrupt halt. The next instant came a thundering explosion that rocked the earth and seemed to blow Clark Field (and all my doubts) away. 

    Smoke and dust in the air blotted out the sun and made it impossible too see beyond a few feet.  Bombs continued to fall and pursuit ships sounded like angry hornets as they flew over strafing.

    Those first moments are for me the most exciting of the war. Luckily for us, precautionary measures before the bombing saved all our boys from injury."

 

    That morning, Capt. Sorenson had ordered his tanks into the jungle surrounding the airfield.  They would remain there the rest of the day.  In the evening, Joe returned to Clark Field.  There he watched the trucks carrying the dead.  He also heard that many of the American pilots were killed in the mess hall.  Others had been killed attempting to get to their planes.  Surveying the wreckage, he saw how badly the Army Air Corp had been beaten.

    The tanks were assigned to guard the perimeter of Clark Field.  The belief was that the Japanese would use paratroopers to attack the field.  They would remain on this detail until December 21.  On that date, the Japanese landed troops at Lingayen Gulf.  The tanks were sent north to meet the invading force.  During the trip, the tankers received word that the Japanese also had landed in Southern Luzon.  Upon hearing this, General MacArthur ordered a retreat south into the Bataan Peninsula.  During the withdraw, Joe and the other tankers served as the rear guard as the Filipino and American forces fell back into the peninsula. 
    On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25, 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 27.
    The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.  
   
    At Cabu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese.  The main Japanese line was south of Saint Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle.
  The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there.  While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing.  It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered.  The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.  They then fell back to Cabanatuan.           

    On December 31, 1941, Joe saw his first action against the Japanese.  Joe's tank and the tank of 1st Lt. William Gentry's were on watch near the town of Bailug.  Eight Japanese light tanks crossed a railroad bridge and descended on the town.  Other American tanks of C Company hid inside the huts and waited.  The American tanks waited until the Japanese tanks were 800 to 1000 yards to the right of their position and opened fire. Initially, there were no hits, but the tanks preceded to chase the Japanese tanks up and down the streets of the town and through the huts.  This proved a costly engagement for the Japanese with the lost of eight or nine tanks.

    Joe was next involved in the Battle of the Pockets  Two separate Japanese landing parts had been cut off behind the main Filipino and American defensive line.  General Wainwright directed Joe to Capt. Krome whose troops had taken heavy casualties attempting flush out the Japanese.

    The Japanese were dug in and would take cover in their foxholes when the Americans attacked.  With the arrival of 2nd Lt. John Hay of C Company, a plan was developed.  Lt. Hay came up with the idea to have soldiers ride on the backs of the tanks with grenades.  As the tanks approached the Japanese, they would dive into their boroughs.  As the tanks passed over the openings, the soldiers riding on the tanks would drop grenades into the holes.  Within a matter of days, the pocket was wiped out.
    The battalion also took part in the Battle of the Points.  The Japanese had landed troops on one point and they quickly became cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to reinforce the troops, they landed them on the wrong point and these troops also were quickly trapped.
    During the battle on Agalomma Point, a tank had been knocked out and two other tanks attempted to rescue the crew.  Joe's tank provided cover until the crew was rescued.  The tank also was recovered because of his actions.

    After the battle, Joe saw General Wainwright, with his pipe in his mouth, observing the cleanup action.  Joe told him how the Japanese were courageous fighters.  He also recounted how one captured Japanese soldier begged in sign language to be executed.  Later, Joe recalled that he could not remember one other Japanese soldier surrendering to the tankers.
    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown.  The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
   
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare.  The tank battalions, on January 28, 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.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    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.
    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 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.
   
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 second method was simple.  The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole.   The driver spun the tank on one track.  The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead. 

The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.   
    Joe recalled fighting on Bataan and said, "The only thing that kept us going was rumors that said ships were coming with supplies.  We had no idea what was in store for us."
 
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile.  Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day.  In addition, he had over 6000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred.  At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
    Tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
    On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan.  C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line.  They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.  Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.

    Joe and his tank crew learned of the surrender while they were in their tank on Trail 15 covering the withdraw of troops.  They learned that the Japanese had broken through the main defensive line east of their position.  At 9:00 A.M., his crew received their order to surrender.  They destroyed their tank and took the North-South Road to the designated surrender area.

    From Marivales at the southern tip of Bataan, Joe started what became known as the "Death March."  In his opinion what made it bad was that when it took place was that the soldiers were in extremely poor health from the lack of food, exhaustion and sickness.
    Remembering the march he said, "I noticed a lot of American soldiers had died along the march.  I saw a Filipino bayoneted.  There was nothing you could do about it. The Japanese were the ones with the guns."

    The worse experience that Joe had on the march occurred at a fenced in area outside of an old rice mill.  It was evening and the men were positioning themselves on the ground as far from the fence as possible.  The reason was that the area by the fence was being used as a toilet.  A Japanese soldier came along and stopped at a spot where a Filipino soldier lay.  He started shouting at the soldier in Japanese to get out of the way.  When the Filipino looked up and grinned at him, the Japanese stabbed him five times with his bayonet.  Joseph recalled that had he had the opportunity, he would have killed the Japanese guard.  The part that bothered him was that he would have felt good about doing it.
   The Filipnos showed their support of the Americans by throwing food to them.  "The Japanese probably would have bayoneted them if they caught them.  I have to hand it to the Filipinos.  They were really on our side."
    It took Joe four days to reach San Fernando.  There he and the other POWs were packed into wooden boxcars known was "Forty or Eights."  They got this name because each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors.  Of this experience, Joe said, "It was cramped.  They packed us in .... It was suffocation for some of the guys."  At Capas the living left the train cars and walked to Camp O'Donnell.

    The first camp Joe was held at was Camp O'Donnell.  This was the worse camp that he would spend time in as a prisoner of war.  Like the other prisoners, he spent most of his time there on the water detail and burying the dead.  Conditions in the camp were so bad, that one day he watched the bodies of thirty POWs carried to the cemetery in a thirty minute period. 

    To get out of the camp, Joe volunteered to go back to Bataan on a work detail of 100 men.  This detail recovered vehicles destroyed by the Americans before they surrendered.  The POWs were sent to Camp Lemon were Joe pulled out of line to be mess sergeant.  At first he hated the job because he had no training to be a cook, but with time, he learned that cooking rice was easy.  The one thing he never learned to like about the job was setting up the kitchen.  As it turned out this was serious business.  When there was extra food, it was his decision who would get "seconds" and who wouldn't. 

   It was at Batangas that Joe dodged the worse detail.  The Japanese had caught twelve Filipinos for stealing tires.  In a nearby building the Filipinos were tortured by the Japanese.  Joe saw one man hung by his thumbs, another burned with cigarettes, a third, who had been killed, lay under tarp outside.  

    When the Japanese came looking for POWs to accompany them into the jungle with the men, Joe made himself scarce.  Those POWs who went with watched as some of the Filipinos were beheaded, others were bayoneted, a couple were shot.  Somehow, one of the Filipinos managed to escape.

   On January 1, 1943, the detail was disbanded and Joe was sent to Bilibid Prison.  There he was reunited with Capt. Harold Collins, Sgt. Joseph Wierzchon, the Luther brothers from A Company, and Sgt. Roger Heilig of B Company.

    On July 23, 1943, Joe boarded onto the Clyde Maru for transport to Japan.  The holds of the ship held 1200 POWs.  The voyage to Japan took about seventeen days because the ship zigzagged to avoid American submarines.  Conditions in the hold were so bad that Joseph passed out.  When he came through, he found himself on deck with raindrops hitting him in the face.

    His first night back in the hold of the ship Joe found that because it was so crowded that he had to sleep sitting up.  He also had to remove his shoes to keep from kicking the prisoner next to him.  Sleeping was difficult since the sound of subdued voices and men moaning was heard throughout the night.

    One day the prisoners were taken on deck and hosed down with salt water.  This was a welcomed event because of the condition they were in.  When it was Joe's turn to go on deck, he witnessed a POW being buried at sea.  The man's body was simply dropped over the side of the ship.

     The ship arrived at Moji, Japan on August 7, 1943.  Moji was a port town at the northern tip of Kyushu.  From there, the POWs were boarded onto a train and taken to the town of Kokura.  Fukuoka #3 was a camp of eight barracks had been set up for British, Australian, Dutch and American POWs.  The prisoners of the different nations were held in their own barracks except for one barracks where they mixed together.  This barracks was known as "The League of Nations." It was there that Joseph was became POW #945.

    Joe and the other prisoners worked in the Yawata Steel Mills located in the town.  Each day they were transported in coal cars to the mills located a few miles west of the camp.  To reach the mine, the coal cars went through a tunnel.  The POWs would work everyday for one month, then they would receive one day off to rest and wash their clothes.  If an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel.  Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters.

    Joe was assigned to the machine tool section of the steel mill.  There he had to put tool steel into a furnace and heat it until it was white hot.  He then pounded it in a steam hammer to various sizes to fit the lathes and metal cutting machines.  Like all the men in the camp, Joe was infested with lice. With the Japanese guard's permission, he would strip off his shirt, while he worked, and put it in a steel bucket near the furnace door.  The heat from the furnace would boil the lice in the shirt cleaning it.

    Meals for the prisoners consisted of a "Binto" box full of rice.  The box was a small wooden box about half the size of a cigar box.  It was filled to the top with rice and usually topped off with dried fish, seaweed or boiled vegetables.  Supper was the same.  Of the food, Joe said that at Christmas the Japanese gave each man a tangerine, "We ate the peels and all.  Everybody talked about what kind of food they liked....and how they liked to prepare it."

    Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages.  Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools.  The sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it.
     Three days a month, the POWs were allowed to exchange their worn out clothing for new clothing, but a Japanese guard beat POWs attempting to exchange their clothing.  The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beating.  This resulted in men developing pneumonia.  Some of these POWs died.
    The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water.  During the winter, they often had water thrown on them.  There were two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time. 
    Joe and the other POWs had very little news about the war.  Somehow they did get news that President Roosevelt had died and the atomic bombs.  How the prisoners learned of the end of the war was that the guards were assembled for a meeting.  This meeting took place about a week before the end of the war.  From the tone and expressions on the guards' faces, the POWs could tell that the mood was a somber one.  A few days later Joe remembered waking up to find that the guards were gone.

    Three weeks after the end of the war, a international group of soldiers reached the camp.  They organized the prisoners for transport by train to Nagasaki.  There they were deloused, showered and given new clothing.  After this was done, they were boarded onto a British ship and taken to Manila in the Philippines.  Joe spent a couple of weeks in a Red Cross camp and then was sent home by ship.  His mother learned he was liberated on October 13.

    Joe arrived in the United States on the Dutch ship, S.S. Klipfontein, at Seattle, Washington on October 28, 1945.  After arriving, he was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington.  This was almost four years to the day that he had left the United States for the Philippine Islands.  From Ft. Lewis, he was sent to Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.  Upon returning home, on November 13, he learned that he was one of ten survivors, from the 39 National Guardsmen, who had left Port Clinton in the fall of 1940 for Ft. Knox.

    Joe would marry Gertrude Collins, the widow of his friend Capt. Harold Collins.  He raised Capt. Collin's daughter as his own, and with his wife had two more children.  He worked at the Erie Ordnance Depot as a machinist in the recoil repair shop and became the foreman. 
    On Tuesday, January 16, 1951, Joe was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action on February 4, 1942 on Agalomma Point.  The citation said, "While two tanks attempted to rescue the tank crew, Sergeant Hrupcho led an attack covering them until the men were released.  This determined and courageous act disorganized the enemy and saved a vital tank."  When asked about this, he said, "It was a long time ago, and everything was happening pretty fast.  Every one of us doing what had to be done at the moment without any thought of reward."
    On April 3, 1967, Joe, Kenneth Thompson, John Minier, and their wives returned to Bataan for the 25 anniversary of the surrender.  During the visit, the men walked one mile of the road that they had walked so many years earlier as POWs.  They also took part in other activities to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the march.  While Joe was in the Philippines, his mother passed away.

    After his wife passed away, Joseph resided in North Carolina with his younger daughter.  He was one of the last two surviving National Guard members of C Company.  Joseph Hrupcho passed away on October 16, 2010, in North Carolina, and was buried at Riverview Cemetery in Port Clinton, Ohio.

    The picture at the bottom of this page was taken of Sgt. Joseph Hrupcho while he was a POW in Japan. 


 

 

 

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