|Major John Coffinberry
John C. Morley was the oldest of five children born
Commander John Edward Morley and Nadine Morgan
Coffinberry-Morley. He was born in Cleveland,
Ohio, on March 6, 1904, and lived at 10819 Magnolia
Avenue in Cleveland, where he attended school.
After graduating high school, John attended Yale University graduating in 1925 with a Bachelors of Arts. On June 17, 1925, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. He was nonactive in the Army Reserve during the time he went to law school at Harvard University where he earned a law degree in 1928. After graduation, he returned to active duty.
John married Gretchen, and the couple adopted a son, David. The family resided at 2912 Weybridge Road in Shaker Heights, Ohio. On February 17, 1936, he was promoted to First Lieutenant, and on November 11, 1938, he transferred to the Ohio National Guard as a 1st Lieutenant.
On February 3,
1941, John was called to federal service and
assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion at Fort Knox,
Kentucky. On July 2, 1941, he was promoted
to captain and made the commanding officer of
Headquarters Company. Later, he was given
the duty of intelligence officer, or S-2, for the
part in maneuvers in the late summer of 1941, the
192nd was informed it was being sent overseas. The
decision to send the 192nd to the Philippines was
because of an event that happened during the
summer. A squadron of American fighters was
flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots
noticed something odd. He took his plane
down and identified a buoy in the water and saw
another in the distance. He came upon more
buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the
direction of an Japanese occupied island located
hundreds of miles away. The island had a
large radio transmitter on it. The planes
returned to their flight plan south to Mariveles
before returning to Clark Field. When the
squadron landed he reported what he had
During the fight against the Japanese, John often went out on reconnaissance gathering information on Japanese positions. He also went out repeatedly, contacting the tank companies to see what their needs were at that moment. During these missions, John often came under attack by Japanese planes. He recalled in a letter home the bombings and strafing by the planes.
On one occasion, as part of his job, John was sent into the jungle to find the surviving members of a Japanese bomber that had been shot down. John returned from this assignment having captured the Japanese bomber crew.
On a different occasion. a platoon, of B Company's tanks, was sent north to Damortis. The Japanese had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf. John went north with the company where it ran out of gasoline at Gerona. The company waited for trucks to arrive with the fuel. After refueling, one platoon was sent north to support the 26th U.S. Calvary, Philippine Scouts.
25, John was in one of the tanks assigned to HQ
Company of the 192nd. The Japanese were
involved in a battle with the tanks of the 194th
Tank Battalion. The tank was parked under
the canopy of a gas station near Carmen when Pfc.
Wayne Buggs tuned the tank's radio to the 194th's
frequency. As the they listened to the
battle, Morley attempted to follow the action on a
map. John, and the tank's crew, sat in the
tank listening to the battle while shells landed
around them. As the battle got closer to
them, the decision was made to move their tank
back to a safer location.
John had lost contact with the tanks and wanted to know what had happened to them, since the tanks, not wanting to reveal themselves, had kept radio silence. All that John knew was that the tanks were in the area of Bailiuag. Late in the afternoon, John drove into the barrio looking for the tanks. The Japanese had crossed the river and had placed lookouts in the church tower at the north end of the town. Seeing John in his jeep caused a commotion among the Japanese. John realizing that he was about to blow the cover of the tanks got back into his jeep and drove away as if nothing had happened. The tanks would later attack and wipe out a platoon of Japanese tanks.
During the Battle of the Pockets, the tanks were sent north to help clear the Japanese trapped behind the main defensive line on Bataan. To get a better idea of the situation, John did reconnaissance on foot across the front. While doing this he was under constant enemy fire.
On December 31, the 192nd had been ordered to drop back to new positions. Once the battalion had established its new headquarters, John noticed that the medical detachment was missing and went looking for them. When he found them, he learned that they had never received the order to drop back. He told Capt. Alvin Poweleit that the Japanese were now behind them and that the best way to get to the new front line was to cross a river.
On February 6, 1942, while performing reconnaissance to coordinate tank action in front of two American divisions in the II Corp sector of Bataan, John received the Silver Star. According to the citation, he managed to deploy tanks in conditions that were not suitable for tanks. While doing this, he often put himself in harm's way by crossing the front-line on foot while under enemy fire. It was sometime after this that John was promoted to major. He told his wife in a letter home that he was expecting the promotion.
lunched an all out attack on April 3 against the
defenders. 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.
Before the surrender, John saw Col. Cliff Williams of General King's staff who had come to his bivouac on the back of a motorcycle at 6:00 in the morning. Gen. King had given him a letter for Gen. Homa of the Japanese army. Williams looked at John and said, "Morley, never in my life did I ever conceive of being required to carry out such a bitter task as this." Morley offered William's the use of his jeep and driver, Cpl. William Burns.
On April 8, John made his way to Lamao with orders to send three tank companies north, in a last stand movement, from which, he knew, few would return. About midnight. the order was revoked, and he was told to prepare the tankers to destroy their equipment. It was when the ammunition dumps went up in great explosions and flames that he knew the a decision had been made.
John was also
involved in the destruction of B Company
tanks. After the crews had opened the
gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the
tanks. The last tank would not blow up, so
John personally dropped the grenade into it.
Afterward, he and Captain Robert Sorenson, the
commander of B Company, made their way to the tank
At HQ, he saw General Weaver. In John's opinion the general looked tired. He also believed that Weaver wanted to fight to the death instead of surrendering. John then made his way to Hospital #1 to get Capt. Alvin Poweleit. During the trip, he saw his first Japanese troops. His driver pulled the jeep into their tank column and followed them to the hospital. Since Poweleit could not leave until the evening, John made his way back to tank group command. He went to sleep that night wondering what lay in store the next morning.
The next morning John was awakened by the sound of grunts. John's field bag was packed, and he was able to put canned food and an additional set of clothes in it. When the Japanese arrived, he was able to take the bag with the food with him.
On April 10,
the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel
onto the road. In a letter home, John told
of how walking on the gravel trail was
recalled that he witnessed "Japanese
Discipline." If a Japanese soldier fell, he
was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a
rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the
Japanese determined that the man was exhausted and
left him alone.
At one point, John saw Filipino civilians who were making their way down the road. He could not believe how thin they were. Yes, he and the other soldiers had been hungry, but these people had starved.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11, they were put into a school yard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp. There, he and Major Havelock Nelson shared a can of mushroom soup.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12 at three in the morning.
At Orani, John and the others were put into a pen where they were ordered to lay down. In the morning, the POWs realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bullpen. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 that evening, John resumed the march and wrote that this part of the march was different. The POWs were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs make their way to Hormosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete. John found that this change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets. John received one of these jabs.
The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain. John wrote the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13, he arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a pen. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
John recalled this was the worse part of the march. It was short, but most of the POWs were exhausted. It was during this portion of the march that Major Havelock Nelson began to have problems. He fell and was carried by John and Capt. Malcolm Fowler, 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the rest of the way to Camp O'Donnell. Arriving at the camp. the two men placed Nelson under a hut with his field bag. It was the last time John ever saw Nelson.
On June 4, John
was transferred to Cabanatuan. He remained
in the camp until until October 26, 1942, when he
was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of
Manila. He remained in the prison until
October 28, when he was taken to the Port Area of
Manila and boarded onto the Erie Maru.
The ship sailed for Iloilo, Mindanao and also
stopped at Cebu before arriving at Lasang,
Mindanao. The entire trip took two
weeks. John's diary noted that he arrived at
the Davao Penal Colony on November 11, 1942.
The colony was 36 miles from the Davao City.
In the diary John kept as a POW, he wrote of the food the POWs were served. In it he stated the POWs received a dish of steam rice and salt for breakfast and a cup of ginger tea. He stated that when he first became a POW, he had to force the rice down his throat, since he found it disgusting. He noted that by July 1943, he could eat the rice and want more.
John also noted that lunch and dinner for the POWs was a dish of rice and salt and kang-kong soup. He described kang-kong soup as a leafy plant that grew in wet ditches. This soup was supplemented at times with carrots, cassava, gobbi, green papaya, and beans. In addition, fish was added to the meal.
The camp discipline was poor. The American commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers. Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers. The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded as the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. The sick POWs, who could not do this work, made baskets. In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied. The treatment the POWs at this time changed. Those POWs working the rice fields received the worst treatment. They were beaten for not meeting quotas, and there were misunderstandings between the POWs and guards. In addition, the translator could not be trusted to tell the truth.
Many of the POWs became ill with what John called, "Rice Sickness." This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into a ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
American forces got closer to the Philippine
Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to
Japan or other occupied countries as
possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent
John ,and other POWs, to Lasang, Mindano, by
truck. Once there, the POWs were boarded
onto the Yashu Maru and held in the ship's
front holds for six days before it
sailed. The ship sailed on
the 12th and dropped anchor off Zamboanga,
Mindano. for two days before sailing for Cebu City
arriving on June 17. The POWs were taken off
the ship and held in a warehouse. The POWs
were returned to the dock and boarded an unnamed
ship and arrived at Manila on June 25. From
there he was sent to Cabanatuan.
John was returned to Bilibid, a third time, on October 12, 1944. This time he was being processed for shipment to Japan. On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent out. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. the morning of December 13, the POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up, roll call was taken, and the names of the men selected for transport to Japan were called. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to "fall-in." The men were fed a meal and than marched to Pier 7 in Manila. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the street cars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair.
At the harbor, they saw that the American bombers were doing a job on the Japanese transports. There were at least forty wrecked ships in the bay. When the POWs reached Pier 7, there were three ships docked. One was a old run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.
It was at this time that the
POWs were allowed to
sit down. Many of the POWs slept until 3:45
in the afternoon when they were awakened.
The POWs boarded the Oryoku Maru for
transport to Japan. The high ranking
officers were the first put into the ship's
afthold. Being the first on meant that they
would suffer many deaths. Around the
perimeter of the hold were two tiers of bunks for
the POWs. The heat was so bad that men soon
began to pass out. One survivor said, "The fist fights began when
men began to pass out. We knew that only
the front men in bay would be able to get
enough air." The
POWs who were closer to the hold's hatch used
anything they could find to fan air toward
those further away from it.
covered the holds and would not allow the slop
buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those
POWs who were left holding the buckets at first
asked for someone else to hold it for
awhile. When that did not work, they dumped
the buckets on the men around them.
Overall, six bombs hit the ship. At four-thirty in the afternoon, the ship experienced its worse attack. It was hit at least three times, by bombs, on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs were wounded by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from explosions. Bombs that exploded near the ship sent turrets of water over it. Bullets from the fighters hit the metal hull plates at an angle that prevent most from penetrating the hull. Somewhere on the ship a fire had started but was put out after several hours. One bomb hit the stern of the ship killing many before the attacks ended when dusk came. The one result of the raid was no evening meal.
Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th
Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John
Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the
cargo deck and said, "There's a hole
knocked in the bulkheads down
there. Between 30 and 40
men have already died down
would never reach Japan. The
attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for
about 20 to 30 minutes. When
the planes were ran out of bombs
they strafed. Afterwards, the
planes flew off, returning to their
carrier, and there was a lull of
about 20 to 30 minutes before the
next squadron of planes appeared
over the ships and resumed the
attack. This pattern repeated
itself over and over during the day.
While the POWs were at Olongapo, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and never seen again. What was learned was that these men were taken to a cemetery and shot. They were also buried at the cemetery. The remaining POWs remained on the tennis courts for nine days. During this time, they were given water but not fed.
While they were on the tennis court, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of the dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs, dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact.
Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes.
The evening of December 16, the Japanese brought 50 kilo bags of rice for the POWs. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of holes in them. Each POW was given three spoons of raw rice and a quarter of a spoon of salt.
At about 8:00 AM on the morning of December 22, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. At about 4:00 PM, a Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, "No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid." The guard knew as little as the POWs. The POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there about four or five in the afternoon. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw as a dungeon.
their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs
lived through several air raids.
The reason for the
air raids was the barrio was military headquarters
for the area. Most of the civilians had been
moved out of the barrio. Many of the
Americans began to believe they had been taken
there so that they would be killed by their own
On December 23, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid while the remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.
After 10:00 AM on December 24, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards inside each car. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.
On December 25, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and disembarked. They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. On December 25, the POWs were being held in a school house. The morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to the beach. During this time, the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater. Many of those who drank the seawater died.
The remaining prisoners at San Fernando, La Union, where they boarded onto the other "Hell Ships" the Brazil Maru or the Enoura Maru. During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31 and docked around 11:30 AM.
at Takao, Formosa, each POW received a six inch
long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat.
This was the first bread they had since receiving
crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942.
During the time in the harbor, the POWs received
little water. On January 6, all the POWs
were consolidated in the holds of the Enoura
Maru, and the amount of food they received
The Enoura Maru also came
under attack by American planes the morning of
January 9. One bomb hit outside the
starboard side of the bow blowing hole in
it. A second bomb came through the open
hatch and exploded. Together the two bombs
killed approximately 258 prisoners. The
surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three
more days with the dead since the Japanese did
nothing to remove the corpses. Taking
matters into their own hands, the POWs stacked the
dead under the hatch opening so they would be the
first thing the Japanese saw and smelled when they
looked into the hold.
During this part of the trip, as many as 30
POWs died each day. The ship also towed
one or two other ships which had been
damaged. The POWs received two
meals a day which consisted of each man
receiving a third of a cup of rice and
eight teaspoons of tea.