| Tec 4 John Kovach Jr. was born on October 7. 1922, in Gypsum, Ohio, to John Kovach Sr. and Margaret Kovach. When he was a child, his parents separated and his three sisters and him lived with their mother in Church Hill, Tennessee. The family would later live at Step 99 Portage Township, Ottawa County, Ohio. John worked as a laborer with the Civilian Conservation Corps. |
John enlisted in the Ohio National Guard's Tank Company that was headquartered in Port Clinton. In September 1940, the tank company was federalized and designated C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. In November, the company traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was suppose to be a year of military service.
Since none of the companies had enough tanks, the soldiers went to the junk yard at Ft. Knox and recovered dicarded M2A2 tanks which were known as "Mae Wests." After rebuilding the engines and making other repairs, every company was up to strength.
It is not known what John's specific job was, but in the late summer of 1941, the tankers were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to remain behind at the base.
On the side of a hill, the tankers were informed that their time in the military had been extended. Those 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion.
Over different train routes, the battalion made its way to San Francisco. Once there, they were ferried to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and given physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands.
After loading their tanks, the battalion sailed from San Francisco on October 27, 1941, and arrived at Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd. The soldiers were given shore leave to see the sights. On November 4, the ships sailed again. This time they were headed for Guam.
At one point, an unknown ship was seen in the distance. One of the escort ships was a cruiser. It's bow came out of the water as it took off to intercept the unknown ship. As it turned out, the ship was from a neutral country.
Arriving at Guam, the ships took on bananas, water, and coconuts. They sailed the same day for the Philippines arriving at Manila on Thursday, November 20. After unloading the tanks, the soldiers were taken to Ft. Stotsenburg where they lived in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.
The week of December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. Their job was to protect the airfield from paratroopers. Two crew members remained with the tanks at all times. The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were having lunch from food trucks at Clark Field. Earlier, they were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All morning long the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
At 12:45, as the tankers ate their lunches, they watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. What looked like raindrops fell from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. During the attack, the tankers hid under or in their tanks for cover. Afterwards they saw the devastation.
On December 21st, B and C Companies were sent north to Lingayen Gulf were the Japanese had landed troops. 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 27th.
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. 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.
C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that Gentry's tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.
After this battle, C Company made its way south. When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.
On December 31, 1941, Company was sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.
Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge. Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag . 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.
When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.
Kennady's platoon held its fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
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.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gun fire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made by to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to returned to the 192nd.
C 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 second method was simple. The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole and was spun around on one track. The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead. The tankers slept upwind of the tanks.
April 3, the Japanese lunched an all out attack on Bataan, and the tanks were repeatedly used to plug holes in the defensive lines. 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.
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 accomplished."
After four months of fighting, at 6:45 in the morning of April 9, the tankers heard the word "crash" on the radios of the tanks. In most cases, they circled the tanks, fired an armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank ahead of theirs, and opened the gasoline cocks, and dropped hand grenades into them. They then waited for the Japanese. They were now Prisoners of War.
From Mariveles, at the southern tip of Bataan, they started what they called "the march." The first five miles of the march were uphill. For men suffering from disease and lack of food it took great effort to make this climb. They were given little food and no water for several days. Those who fell were killed.
When they reached San Fernando, they were herded in a bullpen which was covered with human waste from the men who had previously occupied it. When they were ordered to move, they were formed into detachments of 100 POWs and marched to the train station. There, they were packed into small wooden box cars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as forty and eights since they could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.
From Capas, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army 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 looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, the were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camps 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant "wet rice." During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The farm detail was under a Japanese guard known as "Big Speedo" because he was taller than most of the Japanese. He knew very little English and used the word "Speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster. Overall, the POWs felt he treated them fairly and did not abuse them. There was also a smaller Japanese guard known as "Little Speedo," who was fair to the POWs. Smiley was another guard who the POWs quickly learned not to trust. He always had a smile on his face, but he was mean and beat the POWs for no apparent reason.
The POWs cleared the area and planted comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens. The Japanese used most of the food for themselves. When the POWs arrived at the farm, they would enter a shed. As they came out, it was common for them to be hit over the heads by the guards.
The Japanese wanted an airfield for their fighters, so the POWs were given the job of constructing it. The POWs leveled the land and moved dirt. At first, they used wheelbarrows to move the soil, but when this became inefficient, mining cars and track were brought in, and the POWs loaded the cars and pushed them to where the dirt was being dumped.
The POWs also worked planting rice. While doing this, one the favorite punishments was for a guard to push a man's face into the mud. Once his head was in the mud, the guard would step on his head to drive it deeper. Other details did go out, but usually lasted a few days. Major details, of hundreds of men, left the camp and worked on projects that lasted years. When, due to illness or death, details became depleted, more POWs left the camp for details as replacements.
The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
What is known is that John was reported as being admitted to the camp hospital on September 23, 1942, suffering from dysentery and malaria. The next recorded medical record for John was recorded on Thursday, November 19, 1942, showing that he had died from dysentery and inanition. He was one of sixteen POWs who died on that date and buried with the other men in a common grave at the camp cemetery. His parents did not receive word of his death until July 23, 1943.
After the war, the remains of John and fifteen other POWs were exhumed from the grave. Two sets of remains were positively identified, but since the Remains Recovery Team believed it could not positively identify the other remains, they were buried in a grave at the new American Military Cemetery at Manila with a cross marked "Unknown."
Through the efforts of John Eakin whose cousin, Pvt. Arthur H. Kelder, was one of the men in the grave, the grave was exhumed. Eakin also attempted to contact families of other soldiers, in the grave, who had been buried as unknowns. One of the families he was able to contact were the relatives of T/4 John Kovach Jr.
In August 2014, the Army exhumed the remains of the men from the grave for DNA testing. On April 7, 2017, the remains of T/4 John Kovach were positively identified through DNA. Since that time, his remains were transferred to Hawaii and Denver, Colorado.
The remains of T/4 John Kovach Jr. were flown to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and escorted by Port Clinton Police to the Gerner-Wolf-Walker Funeral Home in Port Clinton. His remains laid in repose at the Bataan Elementary School until a brief service was held. From there, a procession carried his remains to Riverview Cemetery where he was buried, on July 10, 2017, with full military honors.
Since T/4 John Kovach's name is on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila, a rosette will be placed in front of his name on the tablets. The rosette indicates that his remains were recovered, identified, and reburied in a known grave.
It should be mentioned that the remains of John Eakin's cousin, Pvt. Arthur Kelder, were returned home, to Chicago, in 2015 and placed in the family mausoleum. The remains of Pfc. Lloyd J. Lobdell, who was also buried in the grave, and a member of the 192nd, were also identified and reburied in Hawaii.