Sgt. John Elliott Rowland
Sgt. John E. Rowland was born
on July 7, 1917, in Westerville, Ohio, to Hugh and
Hazel Rowland. He was raised, just
outside of Westerville at 7010 Cleveland Avenue,
on a small farm. At that time, the town had
a population of 2,000 people, He attended
grade school and high school in Westerville and
was a member of the Westerville High School Class
of 1935. He next went to Wheeling Business
College in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Ohio State
University. He worked in the classified
advertising department of The Westerville
On January 20, 1941, John was inducted into the United States Army. He was one of the first men from Westerville to be drafted. After induction, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. According to John, he had basic training in "Tent City." He recalled the conditions were muddy and cold during the winter and hot and dusty in the summer. In March, 1941, John was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion. During his training at Ft. Knox, John was trained to do reconnaissance in scout cars and to use firearms. He recalled that the company had scout cars, motorcycles, and its own tanks.
John viewed his time in the army as a vacation. He was drafted with the belief that after a year of service, he would be released and go home. He enjoyed what he described as, "a change of life style."
In September 1941, the 192nd was sent by convoy to take part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941. He recalled that there was a shortage of equipment, especially firearms, so wooden guns were used and also wooden rifles. Tanks had signs hanging from their sides indicating what type of tank they were.
After the maneuvers, they were sent to Louisiana
to take part in maneuvers. It was after
the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to
Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to
Ft. Knox as they had expected. It was on
a side of a hill that the battalion learned they
were being sent overseas. John stated they
loaded their "new" tanks onto flat cars and
cosmolined all firearms to protect them rusting
while at sea . The "new" tanks were new to
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 2nd and
had a two day layover, so the soldiers were
given shore leave so they could see the island.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the
Clark Field, to guard against Japanese
paratroopers, on December 1st. Two members
of each tank and half-track crew remained with
their vehicles at all times. The men were
fed by food trucks which came to them.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, John lived through the bombing of Clark Field by the Japanese. He like everyone else tried to find cover, since they had no weapons to use against bombers. When the fighters came in to strafe the airfield, the tank crews fought back with their 50 caliber machine-guns.
The tank battalion was sent out of Clark Field to an area near Mount Arayat. On the December 22nd, they were sent to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese had landed troops. He recalled that after the attack, the tanks were repeated sent on wild goose chases against factious Japanese paratroopers.
John recalled that his reconnaissance platoon was sent north of Cabanatuan where it made contact with the Japanese. In John's own words, " My reconnaissance platoon went up Route 3, as far as Pozorrubia - then we came back south and cut over to Route 5, and went to a point just north of Cabanatuan. The dates I don't recall.
The Japs were coming down Route 5 were not from Lingayan Gulf, at least I was told that. I became acquainted with Jap artillery, at that time, and the Japs crossed Pampanga River while I was there. Lt. Gentry's platoon of tanks responded when we notified battalion headquarters that we were in contact with the Japs."
During the next four months he took part in the long slow withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula. Another job he had was to look for snipers. Finding snipers was never a problem.
The role of the tanks was to hold the line so the infantry could disengage and drop back to the new defensive line. Once this was done the tanks withdrew from the area.
During this struggle, John was a spectator at one of the first tank engagements involving American tanks in World War II. Near Cabanatuan, the half-track John was assigned to made contact with Japanese forces and radioed for help. C Company responded with tanks and engaged the Japanese tanks and infantry. It was evening so darkness caused a break in the engagement. During the night, C Company withdrew without any casualties. The number of Japanese casualties was unknown. John witnessed several more skirmishes as the Filipino and American Forces withdrew into Bataan.
John recalled he was sent to the center of
Bataan to hold a pass that it was rumored the
Japanese were going to attempt to use to break
their defensive line. At that moment, the
Japanese had broken through on the east side of
On April 9, 1942, by radio, John and the other members of his platoon received the news that the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan had been surrendered to the Japanese. His platoon destroyed their three half-tracks and made their way back to HQ six miles away. At first, John was relieved to know that the continual bombing and shelling by the Japanese was over, but in a very short time, he realized that this feeling of relief was a mistake. This realization occurred with the start of the death march.
John recalled that the prisoners on the march were not fed, they did not receive water, and they often received the "sun treatment" by being left sitting in the sun for hours. After this, when they were forced to proceed with the march, they realized that many men had died or had heatstroke, which prevented them continuing on the march. These prisoners were either bayoneted or shot by the Japanese guards. How long it took John to complete the march is unknown since he had lost track of the days.
At San Fernando, the POWs were herded into a fenced schoolyard. John recalled that one of the worst things he saw was the Japanese bury three Americans. Two of the Americans were still alive. One attempted to climb out of the grave and was hit with a shovel. He was than buried.
The POWs were ordered to form 10 men detachments and marched to the train station. Oncce there, they packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those POWs who died remained standing since they could not fall to the floor. At Capas, the living climbed out and the bodies of the dead fell to the floors of the cars.
John was first held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell
which 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.
John recalled that able bodied prisoners who remained in the camps dug latrines, dug graves, and carried the bodies of the dead. John stated that many of those who died were buried without being identified. These details were referred to as "bun" details because the POWs on them received a bun with their meals.
John did not remain at Cabanatuan long. On June 29, John was part of a detail that was sent out on another detail to recover scrap metal. The POWs would tie disable cars together with rope and, with an operating vehicle, drive the vehicles to San Fernando. From there, the vehicles were taken to Manila.
On this detail, John was the recipient of a second act of kindness by a Japanese soldier. The Japanese officer in charge of the detail, noticing that John appeared to be dying, called in a Filipino doctor to treat John's malaria. John believed that since the officer had been educated in the United States, he was kinder to the Americans. This detail ended on September 8th, and the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan.
Almost 1800 POWs were boarded onto the Tottori
Maru on October 7, but the ship did not
sail until 10:00 A.M. the next day and passed
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 bread
for meals 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 reached Takao, Formosa, on October 11
and the POWs were taken ashore and bathed.
They remained in port until October 16 when it
sailed at 7:30 in the morning, but because of a
storm it returned to Takao the same day at 10:30
P.M. On October 18, the ship sailed for
the Pescadores Islands arriving there at 5:00
P.M., where it remained anchored until October
27th when it returned to Takao.
The ships made their way toward Korea by sailing through a typhoon for five days. After clearing the typhoon, on November 5, they were attacked by an American submarine which sunk one ship. During the attack the other ships scattered.
After 31 days on the ship, the Totori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea, on November 7, but the POWs did not disembark until the next day. 1300 POW's got off the ship and were issued new clothing and fur-lined overcoats. They were sent north on a two day train trip to Mukden, Manchuria. The 400 POWs who remained on the ship were sent to Japan.
John was imprisoned first at Hoten Camp and sent
Prison Camp on November 11, 1942. Each
enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover
themselves with at night. The officers got
one blanket and a mattress. Meals were the
same everyday. For breakfast they had
cornmeal mush and a bun. Lunch was maize
and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun.
Other prisoners also worked away from the main
camp in the smaller satellite camps. At
these camps, the prisoners produced leather,
steel, textiles, and lumber. About 100
prisoners worked in each of these camps.
While John was a POW in the camp, a fire broke out in one of the buildings. John went into the building and saved the lives of Japanese employees who were in the building. For his action, he received a written commendation and ten packs of cigarettes.
One of the hardest things that the prisoners at the camp had to deal with was the weather. It was so cold that the POWs grew beards to protect their faces. If a prisoner died, he could not be buried until the ground had thawed in the spring, so his body was stored in a warehouse.
During John's time at Mukden, his mother
received a short wave message from West Coast
ham radio operators. In the message, John
stated he had received mail and a Red Cross
On August 16, 1945, a team from the Office of Strategic Services were dropped by parachute in the vicinity of the camp. Late in the day, they were trucked into the camp and met with the Japanese commander. On the 17th, the ranking American Officer in the camp, General Parker, was called to meet with the camp commander and the O.S.S. team. Later that day, General Parker told the POWs that there was a truce. It was not until August 20 that the prisoners learned that the war was over. A Russian officer and Russian troops came to the camp and disarmed the Japanese guards. The guards were then turned over to the POWs in a very formal ceremony. At 7:23 p.m., the POWs were declared free men.
The main body of former POWs left Mukden in two
groups. John was in the first group that
left Mukden on September 11, 1945 by train for
Darien, China. John left Darien on the U.S.S.
Relief, a hospital ship, on September
12th. After a three day trip, he
disembarked the Relief at Okinawa.
On September 19th, John was flown to Manila,
where he boarded the S.S. Robert L. Hodge
for San Francisco. After arriving in San
Francisco on September 27, John was hospitalized
at Letterman General Hospital. On October
19, 1945, John was placed on a hospital train
for Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge,
John returned to Westerville and married, Virginia Mae Weibel on March 26, 1946. He was the father of two children and lived on the family farm for most of his life. He also worked for the Veterans Administration and the Defense Supply Center. When his health began to fail, he and his wife sold the farm and moved into an assisted living community.
For his service to his country, John was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Campaign Medal, Bronze Star, American Defense Unit Citation with two Oak Leaf Clusters, American Campaign Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge. He was a past president of The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.
John Rowland passed away in February 9, 2004, in Westerville, Ohio, and was buried at Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.