Cpl. John Koleczek
| Cpl. John
Koleczek was born on January 10, 1915, in Ohio to
Peter & Mary Koleczek. With his two sisters
and two brothers, he grew up at 4712 Lester Street,
Cleveland, Ohio. Little is known about his
personal life except that he worked as a welder in a
John was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 25, 1941, in Cleveland, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. During his basic training, he was assigned to Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. His exact duties with the company are not known.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. HQ Company did maintenance on the battalion's tanks but did not actively take part in the maneuvers. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. Men too old to go overseas were released from federal service, and replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
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 home 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, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. 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.
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. President 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 Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received what they needed and their Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which 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.
On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All members of the tank companies were sent to the airfield. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed, to be refueled, lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying the American Army Air Corps. During the attack, the tankers fired their .50 caliber machine guns at the Japanese Zeros that were strafing the airfield. The members of HQ Company took cover in a dried up latrine near their bivouac.
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 10 and 13.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area were the Japanese had landed. 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, but they successfully crossed the river.
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, when the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able find a crossing over the river.
John took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion's surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23 until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had been caught off behind the battle line. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket. According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades. As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole. The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I, and one out of three exploded.
The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole. The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks.
The battalion 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.
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."
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 3. 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, 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.
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 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."
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks. During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. Bruni told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, "Their last supper."
The morning of April 9, John became a Prisoner of War, but it wasn't until April 11, that the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
After this the company boarded their trucks and drove to an area just outside Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a school yard in Mariveles where they were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little to protect themselves. Since they had no place to hide some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
When the POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese, they had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bull pen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two of the POWs were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.
The POWs were ordered to form 100 men detachments and marched to the train station in San Fernando. There, the POWs were put into a small wooden boxcars, used to haul sugarcane, and taken to Capas. The cars were known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly, that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From there, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O' Donnell.
The camp was an
unfinished Filipino training base which the Japanese
pressed the camp 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
In July 1943,
John's name appeared on a list of POWs that were
being sent to Japan. The POWs were taken by
truck to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto
the Clyde Maru. The ship sailed on
July 23rd to Santa Cruz, Philippine Islands,
arriving the same day. There, manganese ore
was loaded on the ship. The ship sailed three
days later on July 26th. During this part of
the voyage, 100 POWs were allowed on deck, at a
time, from 6:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. The ship
arrived at Takao, Formosa, in July 28, 1943.
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