vt. Robert J. Ryan the son of Michael & Marie Ryan was born on September 12, 1916, in
With his two sisters and brother, he grew up at 641 Ninth Street
South in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.
He was known as "Bob" to his family and friends and worked in a
Bob was inducted into the U.S. Army on April 7, 1941 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he did his basic training.
It was while he was at Ft. Knox that he was selected to become a
After completing his training, he was assigned 192nd Tank Battalion's
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers.
The medical detachment did not take part in the maneuvers, but they did
treat members of the battalion for snake bites and other injuries.
It was on the side of a hill that the battalion learned that they were
being sent overseas.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. During the
maneuvers the medical detachment took care of injuries and snake bites the members of the battalion suffered
while taking part in the maneuvers. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was informed they were
being sent overseas.
The reason the battalion was being sent overseas was because of an event
that happened during the summer of 1941. 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. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line, in the direction of an Japanese
occupied island. When the squadron landed he reported what he had seen. By the time a Navy ship was
sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the
American military presence in the Philippines.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San
Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the
U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island and given physicals and inoculations. The members
of the medical detachment administered the physicals to the soldiers of the tank companies. Men with
minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
Other men were simply replaced.
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. 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 Date Line. 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 20th, 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
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the
Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men
were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed
at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline
from their weapons which had the grease put on them 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
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard
against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all
times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, there was talk of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The
tankers were positioned around Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The medics did not go
but stayed in the bivouac during the attack on Clark Field. The tank companies of the battalion were sent
north toward Lingayen Gulf. The medic detachment went with them. Somehow, Bob and two other medics
were cut off from the rest of the battalion. They made there way through the mountains and joined the
guerrillas of Col. J. P. Horan. He spent four months with the guerrillas. During this time he was
involved in ambushes of a Japanese patrols. The meals of the guerrillas consisted of rice and fish. In his
"However we managed to escape and join the guerrilla forces under Col. J. P. Horan.
Three of us hit for the jungles. It took us four days to cross the mountains and we were feeding on whatever we
could get, along with the help of some of the natives. We lived in the hills for several weeks and vain;y
to reach our troops. In the meantime, we would strike the at the Jap patrols and withdraw."
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered, but Bob and other guerrillas did not. On
May 6, 1942, Corregidor surrendered and the guerrillas received orders from General Wainwright to surrender.
"When Bataan fell, the Japs came in after us and we kept dodging around from one place to
another, eating mostly fish and rice. Finally, after the Nips forced General Wainwtight to give in, we were
ordered to surrender. It took us five days to come out of the jungles so as you can see we were
pretty far in."
At first the Japanese treated the former guerrillas pretty well to get other guerrillas
to surrender. When this did not work, the Japanese got rough on the former guerrillas.
"They began to cuff us around for no reason at all. and I'd like to bring that out
of 1619 who started out as prisoners, only 230 survived. The rest died of starvation, thirst,
mistreatment, lack of medical treatment, or were just plan murdered. When I look back on all this, I
wonder if I actually lived through it, it was so unreal."
It is known that Bob were held at some unknown location before he was sent to
Cabanatuan. According to records from the camp, Bob was in Barracks #7, Group II. On January 20,
1943, he was admitted to the camp hospital, and when he was discharged on February 6, he was assigned to the camp
hospital as a medic. On Wednesday, June 3, 1943, he was readmitted to the hospital. Again no reason
or date of discharge was given. Recalling Cabanatuan, he said:
"The first camp we were taken to, the flies were so thick that the guards made us kill 500
before we were allowed to eat. On an average, we never received more than a handful of rice to eat each day
all the time I was a prisoner. When we were taken to Cabanatuan prison, the main camp, I began seeing my
My first experience with the many men I was to watch die came when we were led to into
Cabanatuan camp. They were burying some of the dead. They'd dig a big hole and just toss the bodies
into it. It made my blood run cold. Little did I know that I was to witness many scenes much worse
I noticed the bodies they were burying were nothing but skin and bone and couldn't weigh
more than 70 pounds. Later I was to realize why they were in this condition. With sanitary conditions
practically unknown and very little food, I'm surprised that as many of us survived that did.
I didn't see a piece of meat until December, 1942, and it may sound impossible but I
actually got 30 to 40 bites oout of the meat they gave me which was about a half-inch square. Needless to
say, many of us got sick, and the only difference with being taken to what they called a hospital was that you
didn't have to work."
On October 23, 1943, he was transferred from the medical staff to Group II at the
camp. Bob also recalled the first American planes the POWs saw in two years
"On September 21, 1944, we saw the first American planes, and although we were warned against
demonstrations, we did let ourselves go some. We did get to see some dog fights and always the Americans
Bob was held in the camp until October 14, 1944, when his name was on a list of POWs
being transferred to Bilibid Prison. He was held at Bilibid until December 1944. On December 7th, the
Japanese ordered the medics to perform physicals on POWs being sent to Japan or another occupied country.
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 13th, the other POWs were awakened.
By 8:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men who had been
selected for transport to Japan. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to
"fall-in." At 11:30, the men were fed a meal and than formed detachments of 100 men. They were
marched the two miles 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, the POWs saw that 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, it too
showed damage from being bombed. Some men were amazed it was still being used. At the pier there were three
ships docked, one was a run down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered
that one of the two nicer ships was theirs.
The POWs were allowed to sit down on the pier. Many fell asleep and slept to
around 3:45. About 5:00 P.M., the POWs were boarded onto the
Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. It is not known in which hold Bob was held in, but the sides of
the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around the diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they
could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it.
, "On December 13th they got us onto a ship. It was suppose to be one of their best, the
Oryoku Maru. They loaded 1619 in three holds below deck. Inside five minutes men were suffocating
The ship left Manila on December 14th, at about 3:30 AM, as part of the MATA-37 a
convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open
water. The POWs received their first meal at dawn. Meals of the ship consisted of a little rice,
fish, and water. Three fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs. The prisoners had just
eaten when they heard the sound of the ship's anti-aircraft guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were
just drilling since they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit that they knew it
was no drill. The waves caused by the explosions caused the ship to rock.
"When the American dive-bombers came over they blasted the ship killing over half the
Japs on deck. They gave us no food or water and several men died the first night."
The POWs heard the change in the sound of planes' engines as they began their dive
toward the ships in the convoy. Explosions were taking place all around the POWs. Bullets from
the planes ricocheted in to the hold causing many casualties. In all, the POWs would have to sweat out five
air raids during this time. The one result of the raid was no evening meal. The POWs in the holds
lived through seventeen attacks from American planes before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship.
One hit the stern of the ship killing many. The worse of these attacks came at 4:30 in the afternoon.
The ship was hit by at least three bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs who were wounded were
hit by ricocheting bullets or shrapnel from the 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 prevented most from penetrating. Somewhere on the ship
a fire had started but was put out after several hours. In the hold the POWs crowded together.
Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next
attack started. A Catholic priest, Fr. Duffy, began praying
, "Father forgive them. They know not what they do."
As night fell, the attacks ended. The moaning and muttering of men who were
losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night many POWs died in the holds. The ship
steamed close to shore to find a suitable landing place.
"The second night we were still were laying in Subic Bay as the ship was disabled.
During the night about 40 more died. Everyone was half crazy with thirst and hunger Even though we
knew we might be killed, we were glad our bombers were giving them hell."
Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard noise on deck as women and children were
unloaded. During the night, the medics in the ship's hold were ordered out by a Japanese officer to tend to
the Japanese wounded. One of the medics recalled that the dead, dying and wounded were everywhere.
"The next night was dark and everyone was gasping for air, food, and water, and we began
fighting among ourselves and doing things I cannot repeat. There was blood and a sickening stench all
over. When the bombers came over again, one bomb hit the hold were many officers were confined.
Half of them were killed and the other half was wounded. As the wounded didn't receive treatment, they
died before we reached Japan."
The POWs were told, at 4:00 in the morning, that they would be disembarked after
daybreak. It was December 15th. The POWs sat in the hold for hours after daybreak when the sound of
planes was heard. They would live through several more attacks. When the U.S. Navy planes resumed
their attack, the attacks came in waves. The POWs noted that attack was heavier than the attacks of the day
before. The planes attacked in waves of 30 to 50 planes with the attacks lasting from twenty minutes to a
half hour. After an attack there was a lull that lasted about 30 minutes before the next attack took place.
At 8:00 AM, a Japanese guard yelled to the POWs
, "All go home; Speedo!"
He also shouted that the wounded would be the first evacuated. As the POWs were
abandoning ship, the planes returned. The pilots of the planes had no idea that the ship was carrying
When the attack resumed, the ship bounced in the water from the explosions.
About a half hour later, the ship's stern started to really burn. The POWs made
their way on deck and went over the side. As they swam to shore near Olongapo, Subic Bay, Luzon, which was
about 300 to 400 yards away. Japanese soldiers fired on the POWs to keep them in the water so they would
not escape. Bob recalled:
"When we were told to come out of the holds and swim for shore, some of the guards fired
into us with machine guns, killing and maiming many. Jap marines shot and killed any that looked like they were
escaping or floating away."
At the same time, American planes flew low over them. The POWs waved frantically
at them so that they would not be strafed. One of the planes banked and flew even lower over the
POWs. This time he dipped his wings to show that they knew that they were Americans.
When the POWs came ashore, they were herded onto a tennis court at the Olongapo Naval
Station. While the POWs were there, 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. Later, it was learned that these POWs were shot and were buried at a cemetery
nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for nine days. During that time, they
were given water but not fed.
Bob recalled his time on the tennis court
, "We were herded into the tennis court, the 1,250 of us who remained. There we sat for three more
days with nothing to eat or drink. While we were there, we saw a man get his arm cut off because gangrene
had set in. There were no medicines, Fortunately, the poor fellow died shortly after and saved himself a
lot of suffering. On the fourth day we got one sack of rice, about 100 pounds for 1,250 of us. We
each got a level tablespoonful and chewed it raw. Meanwhile we were eating leaves, grass, and weeds, and
anything within our grasp."
During the POWsâ€™ time on the tennis courts, American planes attacked the area
around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out
of their 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. 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.
Later that day, 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 viewed the theater as a dungeon.
During 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 countrymen.
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. 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. They 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 men were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. 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.
They walked two kilometers to a school yard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25 until
the 26, the POWs were held in a school house. The morning of December 26, the POWs were marched to a
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 men died.
The remaining prisoners were boarded onto another "Hell Ship" the
Enoura Maru. On this ship, the POWs were held in three different holds. The ship had
been used to haul cattle, so the POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the
lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who
attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.
Bob recalled his time on the ship:
"When no food was forthcoming, we stole bags of horse feed and ate that. Men were
dying on an average of four to five a day on this ship. People would just wouldn't believe some of the
things that happened. The Japs piled the bodies of the dead on the deck like cord wood, as they were
afraid to throw them overboard for fear of submarines detecting their course.
When they assigned me to another hold, I took a chance and sneaked back to another that
wasn't as crowded. Good fortune was with me, apparently. Because when American bombers again
attacked, the hold was hit by a bomb. However, I was wounded slightly by shrapnel from another one shortly
after. gain, for days we were without food or water. The death rate increased rapidly. Only 900 of
the group of 1,250 remained now. We counted 40 or 50 dying each day."
The daily routine for the POWs was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on
deck, they used ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterwards, the men
on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea.
During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding
in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM. After
arriving, each POW received a six inch long, 3/4 inch wide piece hardtack to eat. This was the first bread
they had eaten since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. The POWs received little water
during this time.
From January 1 through the 5, the POWs received one meal and day and with a little
water. This resulted in the death rate among the POWs to rise. On January 6, the POWs began to
receive two meals a day.
Enoura Maru also came under attack by American planes the morning of January 9. The POWs were
receiving their first meal of the day, when the sound of ship's anti-aircraft guns was heard. At first the
POWs thought the gun crews were practicing. It was only when they heard the first bomb explode that they
knew it wasn't a drill. The explosions of bombs began falling closer and closer to the ship and the waves
created by the explosions rocked the ship.
One bomb hit the ship and exploded in the corner of the forward hold killing 285
prisoners. The surviving POWs remained in in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from
the dead filled the air. On January 11, a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed
from the hold. The dead were unloaded from the ship, and a POW detail took the corpses to a large furnace
where they were cremated. These men reported that 150 POWs had been cremated. Their ashes were buried
in a large urn. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold.
Another detail was organized to remove the remaining bodies, and the bodies of
those who had died since the ship was attacked. The bodies were carried from the ship and buried in a mass
grave, on a beach, at Takao. After the war, the remains were exhumed and buried in Hawaii.
On January 13, the surviving POWs were boarded onto a third "Hell Ship" the
Brazil Maru. On the ship, the POWs found they had more room and were actually issued
life-jackets. The ship sailed for Japan on January 14th as part of a convoy and arrived in Moji, Japan, on
January 29, 1945. 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. Of the original
While Bob was in Japan, his parents received a letter from him. It said:
" Dear Mother and Dad - Am feeling fine. Hope you are in good health and Edward is fine. Tell
Jimmie and Mary Ann and I hope to see
them all and you soon.
Really miss you all. Don't worry. Write. Love to Ellen, Kathryn, Lala, you and
Regards to friends.
In Japan, Bob was sent to Fukuoka #3. It is not known how long he was held
there, but he was transferred to Fukuoka #22, which was located at Moji. This was done since he originally
was scheduled to go to Manchuria. Bob and the other survivors of the
Oryoku Maru and
Enoura Maru were boarded on a series of intercostal steamers. The final ship arrived at Pusan,
Korea, on April 25th. In Korea he was held at Jinsen Camp. After the surrender, it was learned that
the guards had received orders, four days after the surrender, to kill all the POWs.
Bob returned to the United States and was sent to Mayo Hospital in Galesburg,
Illinois. He was discharged on May 30, 1946, and returned to Wisconsin Rapids. He was elected Wood
County Recorder of Deeds six months after being discharged. Bob married Mary E. Ryan and spent the rest of
his life in Wisconsin Rapids. He resigned as County Recorder of deeds in 1968.
Robert J. Ryan passed away on August 23, 1987, and was cremated. His ashes were
interred at Forest
Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids.