Cpl. J. Robert Martin
Cpl. James Robert Martin was
the son of Harry. A. Martin and Mary
O'Brien-Martin. He was born on January 2,
1918. As a child he, with his one sister and
four brothers, grew up first in Lombard, Illinois,
and then moved to 1409 South Sixth Avenue in
Maywood. He was known as "Bob" to his
friends. Bob graduated from Garfield Grade
School, in Maywood, and was a 1937 graduate of
Proviso Township High School. After high
school he worked in a sandwich shop.
In 1939, Bob joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood to be with his friend, Harry K. Smith. As it turned out, when the company was federalized on November 25, 1940, only Bob went with the company to Ftort Knox, Kentucky.
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 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.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. HQ Company supplied the tanks and half-tracks with supplies and fuel. They also did maintenance work on the vehicles but did not actively take part in the maneuvers.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. Most of the remaining soldiers were given leaves home to say their goodbyes.
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.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin 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 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. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 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, another transport, the 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, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The morning of December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. Two crew members of each tank remained with their tanks at all times. On December 8, 1941, December 7th in the United States, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tanks had been given the duty of guarding the perimeter of the airfield.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st 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 22, 1941, Bob was sent north to Agoo as a member of the tank crew of S/Sgt. Al Edwards. All the members of his tank crew were from Maywood. It had been reported to the Americans that the Japanese had landed troops near there. In response, a platoon of tanks under the command of Lt. Ben Morin was sent north to Lingayen Gulf to engage the enemy and to allow the the 26th U. S. Calvary to disengage from the battle.
Bob, as the tank driver, was sitting next to his friend from Maywood, Henry Deckert. It was during the Battle of Agoo, that Bob saw Henry die when a 40 millimeter shell hit the machine gun port. The concussion from the shell came through the port and decapitated Deckert. Bob was covered in Deckert's blood but continued to drive the tank. According to members of 17th Ordnance, Bob was in shock when they removed the body of Henry Deckert from the tank.
On December 23rd and 24th, 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 25th, 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 at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw 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. 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
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 28th, 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.
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.
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.
On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces on the Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. It was on this date that Bob became a Prisoner of War. Bob recalled that many of the POWs were already ill when they began the march to Camp O'Donnell. Many of the men were barely able to march. The prisoners were covered with mud which resulted in sores. Their feet also blistered from the march.
According to Bob, the heat on the march was intolerable, and those who begged for water were beaten by the guards with their rifle butts because they had asked. Those who were exhausted or suffering from dysentery and dropped to the side of the road were shot or clubbed to death.
Food on the march was minimal, when it was given to the prisoners, each would receive a pint of boiled rice. The Filipino people seeing the condition of the prisoners attempted to aid them by passing food to the Americans. If the Filipinos were caught doing this, they were beheaded. By the time the POWs arrived at Camp O'Donnell, they were half starved and half dead. Bob would spend six weeks at 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 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 and was known as Camp Panagaian.
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. Camp 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. The 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 one was 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. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of "Big Speedo" who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs "speedo." Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was "Little Speedo" who was smaller and also used "speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them. "Smiley" was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought, or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned. 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 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.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
He would remain there until July 1943. Life in the camp was one of endless punishment. Bob remembered that the prisoners were punched in the mouths, made to stand bareheaded, at attention, in the sun until they passed out. They were also kicked in the stomach or hit with rifle butts. Hundreds died everyday due to the torture and poor health. Each morning, the surviving POWs would see the piled corpses of the men who had died during the night.
It was while Bob was in this camp that he became extremely ill. Bob was so ill that he was taken to what was called the camp hospital. The hospital was a hospital in name only since the POWs had little to no medicine to treat the sick. Bob was given a place in the hospital next to his friend from high school Bob Bronge. It was while he was in the hospital that Bob watched Bob Bronge die from dysentery.
In late July, 1943, Bob was sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila to await transport to Japan. He was boarded on the Clyde Maru in late July 23, 1943. The ship sailed and arrived at Santa Cruz, Zambales. There, it was loaded with manganese ore. Thre days later, on July 26th, it sailed again.
On July 28th, the Clyde Maru reached Takao, Formosa. On August 5th, it sailed again for Moji, Japan, arriving there on August 7th. The POWs were marched to a train station on August eight and took a two day trip to Omuta. Upon arrival in there, they were marched eighteen miles to Fukuoka #17, In Japan, Bob was given the Bongo number of 98.
The prisoners at this camp were used as slave labor to extract coal from a mine that had been closed years before because it was considered too dangerous to work. Work in the mine was dangerous, and as they worked, the miners had rats crawling all over them.
One day, as Bob worked, there was a cave-in. Bob was seriously injured and when he could walk again, he was assigned to work in the camp kitchen. While assigned to the kitchen, Bob was responsible for saving the lives of at least a dozen POWs by bringing them food while they were confined to the camp's internal guardhouse. The men in the guardhouse were aware of the risk that Bob took to do this. One of them, Lester Tennenberg, a member of Bob's own tank company, would later speak of Bob's actions for years. Both men would remain friends for life.
To do steal the food, Bob had to sneak pass the Japanese guards without being seen. He also had to make sure that he did not spill a grain of rice. If he had been caught, he would have been killed instantly. The camp mess hall was supervised by Navy Lt. Comdr. Edward N. Little. The other POWs in the camp considered him to be a collaborator who had turned in other POWs for stealing. Two of those men, Pfc. Noel Heard, C Company, 194th Tank Battalion, and Pvt. William Knight were executed by the Japanese.
For Bob, life as a POW was not easy. Bob had to use every bit of strength that he could muster to stay alive. With his physical and mental condition getting worse each day, Bob did not know how long he could survive. He would pray that the war would soon end and that somehow he would make it home.
One day, Bob witnessed an explosion over Nagasaki. To him, it was a sign that the war would soon be over. As he watched, he kept saying to himself that the war was over and that they all would be going home. Like most of the POWs, Bob believed that if the atomic bomb had not been dropped, he and the other POWs, would have been executed when the American invasion of Japan had begun.
After he was liberated and in the Philippines, Bob sent this telegram home:
Bob returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Storm King, arriving at San Francisco on October 15, 1945. He and the other former prisoners were taken to Letterman General Hospital for further treatment. From there, he was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Fort Lewis, Washington, for processing, and finally to Hines VA Hospitall Hines, Illinois, which was the nearest Veterans Administration hospital to his home.
Bob married Minnie Faucett and raised a family. For the rest of his life, the one lasting effect of his experience on Bataan was that Bob relived Henry Deckert's death in his dreams.
Bob served the Maywood community as a fireman
until his retirement from the Maywood Fire
Department. He and his wife would later move
Bob Martin passed away on August 31, 1997, in Florida.