Pvt. Steve Kodaj was born on April 3, 1917, to Michael Kodaj & Sophie Kleich-Kodaj in
Chicago, Illinois. He was the oldest of three sons born to the couple. He was known as
"Steve" to his family and friends. His family moved to Brookfield, Illinois, where he lived at 4029
South Anna Avenue, and worked in a nursery as a gardener.
On July 16, 1940, he joined the Illinois National Guard because he wanted
excitement. His tank company was called to federal service and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to train.
While at Ft. Knox, he trained as a tank driver and assigned to a tank crew.
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
13th, 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 and 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. During Paul's time at Ft. Knox, he qualified as a tank driver.
In the late summer of 1941, Frank took part in maneuvers in Louisiana
from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at
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.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A
squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf 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 that a large radio transmitter. The island was
hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before
returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The and the next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys
had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. It was at that time the
decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different
train routes. Arriving at Ft. Mason in 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 by the battalion's medical detachment. Those
with minor health issues were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date,
while others, with major 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. They 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 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, the transport,
S. S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, 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
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, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and
made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the
tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until
days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner, which was a stew thrown
into their mess kits, before he left to have his own dinner.
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.
The first week of December 1941, the
tankers were ordered to Clark Field to assigned locations. At all times, two
members of each tank crew or half-track crew had to remain with their tank or
half-track. Meals were served to the men from a food truck.
The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. All the tank crew members of the 192nd were
ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the
planes landed and the pilots went to lunch parking their planes in a straight line outside the mess
hall. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield
counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the
attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were than sent to the Lingayen
Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
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
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 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 tankplatoon, from
B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, where 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
but 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 28 and 29.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27,
and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders -
about who was in command and that the troops should withdraw - were received by the defenders who were
attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would trap the Southern Luzon
Forces withdrawing toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from
Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American
forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and half had withdrawn. 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 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to
Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., on January 6, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which was an
attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night 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.
The night of January 7, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around
Hermosa. Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the
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.
The next day, a composite tank company was formed 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 Abucay-Hacienda
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
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the
Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25. 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 25, 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 26/27, 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 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, 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.
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.
The battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle
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
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January 23 to February 17 -
to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was
stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense. 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 each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in
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
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.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline,
against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the
back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they
got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do
this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would
pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank
Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a
time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the
pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug "spider holes" among the
roots the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But
before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank
just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the
night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out,
the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put
back into use.
At the same time the company took part in the Battle of the Points on the west
coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan
points from January 23 to 29, the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan
points from January 27 to February 13. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their
tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts
followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where
they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to
eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began
to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were
cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on
them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had
been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
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
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched a 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. On April 7, 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, was attached to the 192nd and had only
seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance
was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one
more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 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
When the defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese, Steve destroyed his tank,
but instead of surrendering, he escaped to Corregidor. He was assigned to the 4th Marines and fought on for
another month until the Japanese all out attack on the island the night of May 5, resulted in the surrender of
the American forces there. When Corregidor surrendered, Steve became a Prisoner of War.
The POWs were held on the beach for two weeks. There was no shade and water was at
a minimum. The POWs volunteered to work the burial detail since it meant that they could also look for food
and water. When the Japanese moved the men, they were taken to a point off the coast of Luzon and forced to
jump in the water and swim ashore. On shore, they formed detachments of 100 men and marched down Dewey
Boulevard, as part of a Japanese victory parade, and were taken to Bilibid Prison.
After two or three days at Bilibid, the POWs were marched to the train station and rode
the train to Calumpit. From there, they were marched past Cabanatuan #1, where they Bataan POWs were held,
to a new camp eight miles away. Steve was first imprisoned at Cabanatuan #3. The reason the camp had
been opened was that the Japanese wanted to keep the Corregidor POWs separated from the Bataan POWs. The
fact was they were in much better shape. From Cabanatuan, he was sent to Manila and worked on the Bachrach
Garage, where the POWs repaired equipment for the Japanese. Steve was not on the detail very long because
he was considered too sick to work and sent to Bilibid. When he had recovered, he was given a physical and
determined healthy enough to be sent to another occupied country.
In late September 1942, a POW transfer list was posted at the
camp. 800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6, and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice
ball. After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two
buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M. There, 50
men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M. The trip to
Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
From the train station, the men were marched to pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila.
Some of the Filipinos flashed the "V" for victory sign as they made their war to the pier. The
detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M and were tired and hungry and were put in a warehouse on the pier. The
Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted. They also were allowed to
Before boarding the ship on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One
group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those
in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs those on deck were better off. This situation was made
worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many
of the POWs dying during the trip.
The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of
Corregidor at noon. In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship. That night some
POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck. The first day, the POWs were given three
small loaves of bread for meals - which equaled one American loaf of bread - the loaves were suppose to last two
days, but most men ate them in one meal. The men did ration their water. The ship was at sea, when
two torpedoes fired at by an American submarine missed the ship. The ship fired a couple of shots where it
thought the sub was, but these also missed. A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the
submarine. The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11. Since most were sick with
something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The American doctors had no medicine to help
the sick, and some were seen as benefiting off the sick. It was at this time that the POWs on the ship, from
Mindanao, were moved to a second hold putting 500 POWs in each hold.
On October 14, food stuffs were loaded onto the ship, and each POW got two candy bags of
hard tack and one meal of rice and soup each day. The ship sailed on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but turned
around at 3:30 P.M. arriving back at Takao at 10:30 P.M. It was believed the ship had turned around because
American submarines were in the area.
The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00
P.M.. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Makou, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored
until October 27 when it returned to Takao. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was
barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The
ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked food stuffs were
again loaded onto the ship. Of his time on the ship he recalled,
"People were dying . They were screaming for water."
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the
ship was cleaned. They were again put into the holds and the ship and remained there until the ship sailed
on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands. During this time the POWs
were fed two meals of day of rice and soup. The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven ship
convoy. During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan,
Korea. On November 3, three more POWs died. On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American
submarine and the other ships scattered.
Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the 1400 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until
November 8 and were issued fur lined over coats and new clothing. Those POWs who were too ill to continue
the trip to
Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan. Those who died
were cremated and had their ashes placed in small white boxes which were sent to Mukden.
As they marched, the civilians in the town spit on them, hit them, and made fun of the
POWs. The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box which
contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish. They were sent on a three day train trip north
At Mukden, the POWs were held at Hoten Camp. When they first got there, they lived
in dugouts and were later moved to a two story barracks and were later moved to a two story brick barracks that
were divided into 10 sections. Five were on the ground floor and five on the second floor. Each
section was divided into four double-decked sleeping bays which could sleep eight men each. 48 POWs slept
in each in each section which were heated by "petchka" stoves. The enlisted POW received two thin
blankets to cover themselves with at night. The officers got one blanket and a mattress. The barracks
were infested with fleas, lice, and bedbugs.
The first week in the camp, the POWs received onions for every meal. The second week in
the camp, every meal consisted of raw potatoes. Once the meals were organized the POWs, for breakfast, had
cornmeal mush and a bun. Lunch was maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun. Since they were
underfed, the POWs trapped wild dogs to supplement their meals of soy beans which usually came in the form of
soup. They continued to trap dogs until, while marching to work, they saw one eating a dead
As a POW at Mukden, Steve was sent to Branch Camp #3 which was known as the Shenyang
Camp. There, he worked in a sawmill producing lumber. Steve delighted in sabotaging the mill to stop
its operation. Even though they were in Manchuria, Steve and the other POWs knew how the war was
going. During his time at Mukden, the only member of B Company Steve was in touch with was
At some point, Steve cut his finger. Since the doctors had no medicine to treat the POWs
with, the finger became infected and became so bad that it spread up his arm. After it was examined by a
Japanese doctor, the doctor told him that it would have to be amputated the next day. According to Steve,
another POW told him to put cigarette ash on the wound to draw out the poison. He did this and to his
amazement his arm was better the next day.
The POWs were forced out into the cold and snow and made to strip when the Japanese
searched for contraband cigarettes that the prisoners had bought from the Chinese while working in the
factories. They were made to stand in the snow barefooted while the Japanese searched all 700 POWs.
Punishment was given for any infraction. Two POWs were knocked out and kicked in the
ribs for violating a camp rule. At other times, the camp's food ration was cut in half because the
Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an
unauthorized area. They would also withhold Red Cross packages. On one occasion, Lt Murado ordered the
prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with his shoes.
On another occasion, Steve violated a camp rule. Another POWs gave him advice
about how to handle the beating. For his punishment, he was hit with a bamboo stick on his shoulders and
head. The guard hit him so hard that the stick broke. He should have fallen but didn't because what
the other POW told him about falling down:
"The point is, don't lay down, don't fall. Because if you fall down, they kick your ribs in
and your brains out."
One Japanese, Eiichai Nada, who was born and raised in Berkley, California, and went to Japan
for school, would beat the POWs, at morning assembly until they fell to the ground. Once they were on the
ground, he said,
"Get up, you yellow, white son of a bitch."
In September of 1945, Steve and the other POWs were liberated by Russian troops. His
weight had dropped from 165 pounds to 65 pounds.
I was on the verge of death, maybe one day, maybe two days, maybe three days to live at most."
After he was freed, Steve's family received a letter from him dated August 23,
1945. This was the first news they had received from him since November 1941. A month after liberation,
Steve was returned to American authorities. He remained in Asia for one additional month before being
returned to the United States on the
Simon Bolivar, on October 21, 1945, at San Francisco.
Steve was finally discharged, from the army, at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on May 3, 1946, with the rank of
returned to Illinois and married. He would move to Oakland Park, Florida, and raise a
On November 11, 1988, Veterans Day, Steve was awarded the medals he should have received
after he was liberated. One of those medals was the Silver Star. When he was asked why he survived, he
"I don't know. I'm sorry that the fellows that died aren't here to receive this.
It's 45, 46 years late, but it helps."
Steve Kodaj passed away on March 12, 2005, in Tallahassee, Florida.