Pimperal

Pvt. John M. Pimperal


     Pvt. John M. Pimperal was born on March 13, 1919, and lived at 620 West Surf Street in Chicago, Illinois.  He was drafted into the army and  became a member of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion, while its members were training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. 
    A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly.  Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed buy calisthenics from 8 to 8:30.  After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics.
    At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools.  At 4:30, the tankers day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by evening meal at 5:30.  The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps was played.
    From September 1 through 30, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.  He  married before going overseas.
    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.
    The battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived at Ft. Mason in San Francisco and were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island, where they given physicals and inoculated by the battalion's medical detachment.   Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. 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 Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to prevent them from rusting at sea.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
    On December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times.  The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
    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 for the next three and a half years.  They lived through two more attacks on the airfield on December 10 and 13.
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21 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 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 27.


    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.  On December 31/January 1,  the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge.  The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew.  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 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
    At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover.  This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions.  At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
    The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
    The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road.  The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations.  After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
    A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd.  Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire.  The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
    When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company.  This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
    The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road.  It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance.  It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.  The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance.  Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
    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."
    The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25.  While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M.  One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops.  The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
    Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads.  When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire.  To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
    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, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
    Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
    On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane.  He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.  Three members of the company were killed.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.

    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.
    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 3rd.  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.  The number of operational tanks also became more critical with C Company, 194th - which was attached to the 192nd - having only seven tanks left.
    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. 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 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."  
    On April 9, 1942, at about 6:45 in the morning, the tankers received the order "crash" over their radios.  This meant they were suppose to destroy their tanks and equipment and wait to become Prisoners of War.  John was among the members of B Company who escaped to Corregidor.  He became a Prisoner of War on May 6, 1942, when Corregidor surrendered.    
    
    John and the other POWs remained on the island until they were transported by barge close to the shore of Luzon.  They were then ordered to jump overboard and swim to shore.  On shore, they filled in crater holes on a pier.  When they had finished, they were order to form ranks and told they were to be marched to Manila.  Having heard of the march from Bataan many feared they would be treated the same way.  To their surprise, they were treated very well by the Japanese guards.
He first worked on the docks of Manila loading and unloading ships.  He was then sent to Cabanatuan for four months.

    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.  Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools.  As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
    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.
    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.

    While a POW at Cabanatuan, a camp orchestra was organized.  John was an accomplished trumpet player and became a member of the camp orchestra.  To help break the routine of the camp, the orchestra played on Wednesday and Saturday nights.  

    As part of their propaganda campaign, the Japanese would broadcast the performances to the rest of the Philippines.  During one of the broadcasts, John was allowed to ask anyone listening to contact his aunt in California.  As it turned out, a short wave radio operator heard the broadcast and contacted his aunt.  She in turn contacted John's mother and told her that he was alive and a prisoner in the Philippine Islands.  This was the first news that his family had received from him since the surrender.

    800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6, and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball.  After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M.  There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M.  The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
    From the train station, the men were marched to pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila.  Some of the Filipinos flashed the "V" for victory sign as they made their war to the pier.  The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M and were tired and hungry and were put in a warehouse on the pier.  The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted.  They also were allowed to wash.
    Before boarding the ship on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs those on deck were better off.  This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
    The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon.  In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship.  That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck.  Each day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals - which equaled one American loaf of bread - which most ate in one meal, but the men rationed their water.  The ship was at sea, when torpedoes fired at by an American submarine but the torpedoes missed the ship.  The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed.  A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine.  The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
    The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 12, and were bathed on the dock.   They sailed again on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but returned to Takao at 10:30 P.M. the same day because of a storm.  At this time, the POWs were receiving two bags of hardtack and a meal of rice and soup each day.  The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M., where it remained anchored off the islands for several days.  During this time two POWs died, and their bodies were thrown into the sea.
    The ship sailed again on October 28 and returned to Takao the same day.  The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned.  They were again put into the holds and the ship sailed again on October 30 and arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands.  The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven ship convoy.
    During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea.  On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered.  The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the POWs did not disembark until November 8.  Most of the POWs were disembarked, but 400 POWs remained on the ship since they were going to Japan.
    The ship sailed and arrived at Osaka, Japan, on November 11.  The POWs disembarked and were taken to the train station where they boarded a train at 8:30 P.M.  The trip was enjoyable because the cars were heated and comfortable and the POWs were dropped off in camps along the way.

    In Japan, John was sent to Kawasaki where he worked as a riveter at the Shibaura Electric Works.  The camp was designated Tokyo #3B, and the POWs lived in a baseball stadium.  The prisoners worked nine hour days for the equivalency of two cents for the entire day.  During his time as a POW, John suffered from beriberi and his weight dropped to 126 pounds.

    Life as a POW in Japan meant meals for the prisoners that consisted mostly of cereal and soup, and a bowl of rice, which they received three times a day.  The POWs were often beaten by the head guard for not working hard enough, and they received no food that day.
    The Japanese doctor in the camp failed to treat the POWs who was sick and often allowed POWs too ill to work to be sent out to work.  When medicine and medical supplies were received from the Red Cross for the POWs, the doctor did not give them to the POWs but commandeered the supplies for the Japanese military.

     On May 1, 1944, the camp was closed. John and the other POWs were transferred to other camps. At this time, it is not known what camp he was held after Tokyo #3B.  John remained a POW until he was liberated by American Forces in September 1945. He weighed 115 pounds when he was liberated.  The one lasting effect of his time as a POW was that John carried scars from his beating as a POW.
    John returned to the Philippines, on the U.S.S. Benevolence, a hospital ship, for medical treatment before being flown to the United States by the Air Transport Command.  He returned to Chicago where he was discharged on April 10, 1946.  When he returned home, he learned that while he was a POW, his wife had divorced him and remarried.  In 1949, John married Frances Westover in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.
   
John M. Pimperal passed away on July 6, 2001, in Waterville, Maine, and was buried in Section C, Row 1, Site 7, at Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery, Augusta, Maine.





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