Tec 4 James W. O'Brien
T/4 James W. O'Brien was born on July 15, 1923, at Schofield Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii, and was one of the three sons of Patrick & Amanda O'Brien. He was raised in Port Clinton, Ohio, where the family resided at 517 West Fifth Street. He was called "Jimmy" by his family.
Jim joined the Ohio National Guard's H Tank Corp with his best friend from high school, Bob Gerding, while they still were in high school. In the fall of 1940, Jim and Bob were given the choice to stay in school or go to Fort Knox, Kentucky, with their tank company. Bob chose to stay in school, while Jim went with the company to Ft. Knox when the company was called to federal duty on November 25, 1940.
At Ft. Knox, the company was designated C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. It was at this time that Jim was trained as a motorcycle messenger. After ten months of training Jim took part in maneuvers with his tank battalion in Louisiana. After the maneuvers the tankers were informed that they were not being released from Federal service, but that they were being sent overseas.
The reason for this decision - 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.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1 to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. On December 8, 1941, Jim lived through the attack on Clark Field. He and the other members of the company could do little more than watch as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps.
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.
About 6:45 in the morning of April 9, 1942, the tankers received the
They destroyed their tanks and waited for the Japanese to make contact with them. When Bataan was
surrendered on April 9, 1942, James became a Prisoner Of War. He took part in the death march from
Mariveles to San Fernando.
While he was out on the work detail, a new POW camp was opened at
Cabanatuan. 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.
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.
Medical records from the camp show that James was admitted to the camp
hospital and assigned to Zero Ward, where he died on Tuesday, June 30, 1942, at approximately 2:00 P.M., from
dysentery. He was 19 years old. After he died, he was interred in Grave 1010, Row 0, Plot 10, and
shared his grave with fourteen other POWs. One of those POWs was Russell Simon, of HQ Company, who was also a
National Guardsman from Port Clinton.