Pvt. John Franklin Ross
| Pvt. John
Franklin Ross was the son of Casper P. Ross &
Elizabeth Green-Ross. He was born on June
10, 1915, in Kaufman, Texas. With his two
sisters and two brothers, he attended local
schools in Wills Point and graduated from Wills
Point High School.
On March 19, 1941, John was inducted into the U. S. Army at Dallas, Texas. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. There, he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion.
During his training, it was found that he could operate the radio, so he was trained to be a radio operator. He was later assigned to a command tank of one of the platoons of C Company.
In the late summer of 1941, John and the rest of the 753rd were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Although at Camp Polk, the 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers. The one thing that John remembered about the maneuvers is that he and the other draftees put up verbal abuse from the "lifers" who resented them.
After the maneuvers ended, the 192nd Tank Battalion received orders that it was being sent overseas. According to John, replacements for members of the 192nd who were considered "too old" to go overseas were being sought. John took the place of a man who did not want to go to the Philippine Islands. The man was afraid that if he was sent to the Philippines, he would be killed by the Japanese. John not having any family obligations volunteered to take his place.
In the late summer of 1941, Marcus
and the other members of the 192nd
were sent to Louisiana to take part
in maneuvers. After the maneuvers,
the battalion was ordered to report
to Camp Polk. On the side of a
hill at Camp Polk, the battalion
learned that they were being sent
overseas as part of Operation
PLUM. Within hours, many of
the soldiers had figured out that
PLUM was an acronym for Philippines,
The tanks were
ordered to the perimeter of the
Clark Field to guard against
Japanese paratroopers on
December 1st to guard against
members of each tank remained with their
tank at all times. The
morning of December 8th, 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.
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 Gentry's unit was ordered to
disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out
at least eight enemy tanks.
In John's opinion, the tanks were well armed with machine guns. Japanese troops on foot were no match for the tanks, but everyone of the Japanese would shoot at the tanks when they saw them.
In the first engagements with the Japanese, John believed that the tanks did a lot of damage to the Japanese troops. The Japanese liked to dig foxholes to hide in and fight from. To clear out the Japanese, the tankers would stop with one of their tank's tracks over the foxhole. The driver would then pivot the tank on that track to make it borrow into the ground. Eventually, the Japanese soldier inside the foxhole was crushed.
After some of the heaviest engagements, John stated that the tankers slept upwind of their tanks. The reason the tankers did this was they didn't want to smell the stench from the flesh and hair caught in the tracks of the tanks.
John recalled that during some of the engagements with the Japanese that the Japanese sent soldiers against the tanks carrying cans of gasoline. The Japanese would attempt to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and attempt to set them on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun them before they got to the tanks, they would shoot them as they stood on the tanks. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crews inside the tanks.
Since the tanks were riveted, when the turrets were hit by machine gun fire, the rivets would pop and ricochet inside the tanks. The rivets sparked when when they hit the sides of the crew compartment. This situation was made worse by the loud sound of bullets from machine guns hitting the tank. The biggest danger from the rivets was the possibility that one could hit one of the tankers in the eye.
Fighting in the jungle created many problems. John stated that the Japanese liked to use the large roots of the trees for cover. Attempting to clear the Japanese out was a problem. If the tree was hit by an artillery shell, it would cut down the tree but not hurt the Japanese soldier and he would survive.
In one such incident, John told how a Japanese soldier was hiding in foxhole between the roots of a tree. The Americans fired at the soldier hitting the tree. Wood chips from the bullets fell into the foxhole slowly filling it up leaving less room for the soldier. After awhile, John and the other tankers could see his backpack. When he had been pushed up high enough, he was killed by the American soldiers.
During the retreat into Bataan, the tanks were moved at night to prevent them from being strafed by Japanese planes. In the jungle it was very dark. John was in the command tank as the tank was crossing a narrow bridge. When one of the tank's tracks slipped off the side. The tank fell off the bridge and landed upside down in the bed of a stream. When the tank hit the ground, John fell against the side of the tank. A bolt sticking through the armor hit him in the temple and went deep into his head. Afterwards, John bled a lot from the wound and suffered from headaches. After he became a Prisoner of War, John crossed the same bridge repeatedly. Each time, he would look down and see the tank still sitting upside down in the stream.
After the Filipinos and Americans had withdrawn into the Bataan Peninsula, the tankers found themselves under attack from Japanese planes. To protect themselves from the planes, the tanks were hidden, during the day, in the jungle where the canopy from the trees was so thick that no direct sunlight came through. As a result, he and the other soldiers were very pale. To get a tan, when no planes were around, the soldiers sunned themselves in what little direct sunlight they found.
It was at this time that John had an incident with a Japanese rifle. The tanks were bivouacked, and he was walking along the far edge of their position. As he walked, he spotted a Japanese rifle on the ground. John wondered if he could hit anything with the gun, so he tied a string to the gun and moved it with the string to see if it was booby-trapped. After determining that it wasn't, John picked the gun up, racked a round into the chamber and fired at a tree. This was a big mistake! Everyone knew the sound that a Japanese rifle made. The entire camp came alive with the shot being so close. John received a royal chewing out for firing the gun.
During this time, everyone was expected to volunteer for dangerous (suicide) missions to gather intelligence on the Japanese or to destroy something. In his own words, "It was a thing you had to do." Being from the country, John believed that he had an advantage over the Japanese soldiers who most likely had grownup in the city. John had grownup shooting guns at game. He thought that most of the Japanese had never touched a gun before joining the military. So after a few shots, John would settle down and feel that his odds were better than theirs.
One of the greatest dangers facing the tankers at this time were snipers. The snipers would tie themselves onto trees and sit in them among the branches for days. One sniper had been taking shots at the tankers for days, so John crawled forward with a M-1 while using a log as cover. After the sniper took a shot and racked the rifle bolt, John determined that the sniper was in a particular tree. John began firing on the lower branches of the tree where they were attached to the trunk and worked his way up.
John believed that he must have been getting closer because while he was firing, the sniper took a shot at him. Finally, the sniper got so close to hitting John in the head that John backed off. The Americans brought a machine gun forward and raked the tree with fire where John thought the sniper was. They hit him and he fell from the branches. He jerked to a stop and hung from his belt which he had used to tie himself to a branch. An officer wanted the Japanese brought down, so John shot the belt until it snapped and the soldier fell to the ground.
John and the other members of his tank crew were assigned guard duty. Their job was to to prevent Japanese infiltrators. The tankers set up a road block along a gravel road and stopped and searched everyone coming down the road. John recalled that a Filipino man with his head down who was peddling fast approached them on a bicycle. John ordered the man to stop, but he kept on coming. John stood in the middle of the road and hollered for him to halt, but the man kept on coming and rode past John. John's orders were not to let anyone through without being searched. As the man road off, John pulled his .45 pistol and aimed it right at the man's butt. When he fired, the bullet hit the back tire near the road and threw gravel everywhere. The Filipino threw his feet straight into the air and tumbled off the bicycle. John and the other soldiers ran over to the man and inspected what he was carrying but found nothing that was of danger to the soldiers. The Filipino was skinned up pretty badly, but he took off the back tire from the rim and road off. John never knew why the man never stopped.
The morning of April 9, 1942, John and the other members of C Company received the word of the surrender from one of the battalion's officers. They were instructed to destroy their equipment and then meet the Japanese at Mariveles on the southern tip of Bataan. John recalled that they drained the oil out of some of the jeeps and trucks and ran them to burn up the engines. For others, they poured sand into the motors and ran them. They also took their guns apart and scattered the pieces so that they would not be found.
At first, the soldiers had been ordered to travel without arms, but John wanted to keep his tommy-gun to protect the soldiers from bandits or Japanese soldiers. The commanding officer of C Company, William Gentry, spoke to Headquarters over the radio and after some debate, got permission for John to keep his gun. Before they left to meet the Japanese, John and the other men removed all tanker insignia from their uniforms since the tanks had done a lot of damage to the Japanese. All during the time that he was a POW in the Philippines, Japanese guards would ask, "You tanker?" Anyone found with a tanker insignia or admitting to be a member of a tank battalion disappeared or were killed.
On the way to the meeting place, John and the other soldiers saw a bus full a Filipinos with men riding on the roof. They stopped the bus and the driver told them to get on the roof. The first man up the ladder had his hand stomped on by a Filipino soldier who also pushed him off the ladder. John climbed up the ladder and when the Filipino went to stomp on his hand, he stuck the tommy-gun in the man's face and made him back away. John made the other Filipinos make room for the tankers and they rode until they were closer to Mariveles.
When the Americans met up with the Japanese, they took John's tommy-gun and searched everyone. The Japanese took what they wanted and looked for unit identification or insignia. Seeing what the Japanese were doing, John dug a hole with the heal of his boot and slipped the photo he had of his aunt into it without being observed.
From Mariveles, John, with the other members of C Company, started what became known as the death march. On the march, John went without food and had little water. He also witnessed atrocities committed by the Japanese. The worst thing that he saw happened when a Japanese soldier started yelling at an officer for moving too slow. Without warning, the guard shot the officer in the stomach. The man fell to the ground in agony to the ground. As he lay there, he kicked, rolled and screamed. The guard did not allow any of the other Americans help the officer. So, he slowly died.
At San Fernando, John and the other POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars. They were packed in so tightly that the men who died remained standing. When the survivors climbed off the cars at Capas, the bodies of the dead fell out of the cars. From there, John walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
During John's time at Camp O'Donnell, he went
out on work details. He did this
regardless of how sick or starved he was.
On these details he cut down trees, drove supply
trucks, built roads and did farm work.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training
base that was pressed 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.
Of all the details that John worked, the worst was the burial detail. He first worked this detail at Camp O'Donnell and continued working it at Cabanatuan after the new camp opened. He recalled that at Camp O'Donnell the bodies were put into a metal shed until they could be buried. The bodies stacked up faster than they could bury them. The POWs on the detail worked in teams. They would carry the body in a sling on a pole. The pole rested on their shoulders.
When selecting a body, John would climb the pile and select the smallest and least ripe body that he could find. Some of the dead had had wet beriberi and were swollen and very heavy, so he did not chose those. If the body had been dead for awhile, the skin would come off in the hands of the two men while they picked it up. To get the skin off their hands, the POWs would rub their hands together and roll the skin into balls. They would then put the body into the sling and attempt to standup at the same time.
John stated that if he had a good partner, they would stand up at the same time. The two men then would walk in a rhythm with the bounce of the sling. Some men couldn't or wouldn't do this right. So when working with these men, John would get up quicker and put the weight of the lift on the other man. The one lasting effect from working this detail on John was that he never liked to handle peaches because their peals felt too much like the skin of a corpse.
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 transfer of POWs was
completed on June 4.
The Taga Maru arrived at Moji, Japan on
October 2, 1943. John was taken to Niigata
#5-B, where the POWs and worked in a
foundry feeding the the rollers with hot steel
for eight hours a day. The first morning
in the camp, the commandant had the men strip
their clothes off. The prisoners then
stood in the cold for an hour and a half.
Once they began to turn blue, the commandant
addressed them. He said, "I want you people to
know that you are prisoners of war, and you
will be treated like prisoners of war and
not like guests of Japan."
John worked there until April 1, 1944, when he was sent to Tokyo 15-B - which was also known as Hiigashi #15-B - where the POWs also worked in a steel mill. What is known is that two of the camps - at different times - were under the command of Tomoki Nakamura, who had been educated in the United States. Again, those POWs who were too sick to work were sent to work.
During his time at each camp, Nakamura
denied Red Cross packages to the POWs which
would have supplied them with food, clothing,
and shoes. Nakamura and the camp guards
were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for
the POWs. It was noted that in the snow
blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll
call, since many of the POWs did not have shoes.
During his time at Sendai #5, John worked as a
stevedore unloading and loading ships. He
also did other jobs at the steel mill. He
and the other POWs had no idea of how the war
was going. All they had to go on were
rumors. In John's opinion, those men who
placed their hope on the belief that they would
be rescued by a certain date often gave up hope
and died after the date came and went without
On September 15, 1945, John was liberated by American forces and later returned to the Philippine Islands. On the U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes, he arrived at Seattle, Washington, on October 9, 1945, and sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington. He returned to Texas and was discharged, from the army, on October 31, 1946. He married Edna Lewis Mickey, and together, they raised four children. John went to college, on the GI Bill, and became a high school science teacher at Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas, where he taught biology and chemistry.
John F. Ross passed away on January 16, 2004, and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Fort Worth, Texas.