Pvt. Steve Kodaj
Pvt. Stephen 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. He worked in a nursery as a
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 Camp Polk. 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. 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 island.
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 friendly country.
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 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 Cavalry.
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.
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.
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.
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
5, 1942, Steve and another 1600 POW's were sent
to the dock area of Manila, They spent two
days housed in a warehouse on the dock before
being boarded onto Tottori Maru.
The ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, on October 7
at 10:00 A.M. passing Corregidor at noon.
The prisoners were divided into two groups. One
group was placed in the holds while the other
group remained on deck. The lucky POWs
remained on deck. The conditions on
the ship were indescribable, but those in the
hold were worse off than those on deck.
The POWs were issued three loaves of bread that
were equal to one American loaf of bread.
That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a
large number slept on the deck. Each day,
the POWs were given bread for meals which most
ate in one meal, but the men rationed their
On October 9, the ship had two torpedoes from an
American submarine fired at it. The
captain of the ship maneuvered it and
successfully avoided the torpedoes. The
POWs listened as the two torpedoes fired at the
ship missed, but another ship in the convoy was
hit. Both the Japanese and POWs
cheered the captain. The POWs' meal
consisted of three candy bags of hardtack and
rice and soup.
The ship continued its voyage arriving at Takao,
Formosa, on October 12. The ship remained
at Takao for four days before sailing at 7:30 in
the morning on October 18. It returned to
Takao the same day dropping anchor at 10:30
P.M. The ship sailed again on October 18
and arrived the same day at Pescadores Islands,
where it dropped anchor. It remained off
the islands until October 27 when it returned to
Takao. During this stay, the POWs were
disembarked and washed down with fire hoses.
The ship sailed again on October 30 back to the Makou, Pescadores Islands. On October 31, the ship sailed for Pusan, Korea, as part of a seven ship convoy. During this trip, the ships were caught in a typhoon which took five days to ride out. After the storm, the ships were attacked by an American submarine sinking one ship and scattering the others.
After 31 days on the ship, the Totori Maru
docked at Pusan, Korea, on November 7.
1300 POW's got off the ship and issued new
clothing and fur-lined overcoats.
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 William Kindell.
At some point, Steve cut his
finger. Since the doctors had no medicine
to treat the POWs with, the finger became
infected. The infection 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.
On another occasion, Steve
violated a camp rule. 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 according to him, "Because if you fall
down, they kick your ribs in and your brains
In September of 1945, Steve and the other POWs were liberated by Russian troops. 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 sergeant. He returned to Illinois and married. He would move to Oakland Park, Florida, and raise a family.
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 said, "I
Steve Kodaj passed away on March 12, 2005, in Tallahassee, Florida.