Little is known about Capt. Ruben H. Schwass's early life except that he was born on
July 5, 1901. He was the son of Henry & Augusta Schwass and the brother of Chris. With his brother, he
grew up in Proviso Township. There is also evidence that his family had a long history of residing in River
Capt. Ruben H. Schwass lived at 1305 West Chicago Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois, with
his wife, Helen, and his daughter, Ruth. He was employed, as a meter inspector, by the Public Service
Company of Northern Illinois as a meter tester.
Ruben joined the Illinois National Guard's newly formed tank
company in Maywood on
July 14, 1924, as a private. He rose through the ranks and resigned from the National
Guard as a Master Sergeant on November 19, 1940. He reenlisted four days later and was commissioned a 1st
Lieutenant on November 23, 1940
On November 25, Ruben was called to federal service when the tank company was
federalized. With this order, the name of the company was changed to Company B, 192nd Tank
Battalion. The company traveled by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. On April 7, 1941, he was
promoted to captain and became the battalion's supply officer.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers
were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed
by calisthenics at 8:00 to 8:30. Afterwards, the tankers went to various schools within the
company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal
equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was
from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on
January 13, such as: mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a
day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at
5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in
until 10:00 when Taps was played.
In September 1941, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1
through 30. It was after these maneuvers, at Camp Polk, the the 192nd was informed that their stay in the
military had been extended, and that they were being sent overseas. Being forty years old, Ruben was
given the opportunity to resign from active duty, but he chose to go overseas with the battalion.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A
squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf 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 that a large radio transmitter. The island
was hundred of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before
returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been
picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air
Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the
American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the members of the battalion were given leaves home. When they returned
to Camp Polk, the loaded their tanks, which came from the 753rd Tank Battalion on flatcars and traveled west by
train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco. Arriving there, they were taken by the ferry, the
U.S.A.T Gen. Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they were given
physicals and inoculated by the battalion's medical detachment. Those men found to have a minor
medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were
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 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 Gen. Edward King. The general apologized that the
men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they
all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own. Their dinner was described by one member
of the battalion as a
(a stew) slung onto their mess kits. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard
members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
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. 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 worked to remove cosmoline from their
weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded
ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
During the first week of December, the tanks and half-tracks were
ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each crew remained with
their tank or half-track at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
The morning of December 8, 1941, all the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the
airfield. They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. As they sat in their
tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and the
pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the
north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
In December 1941, Capt. Ruben Schwass and the other members of 192nd Tank Battalion found
themselves involved in some of the first combat action of World War II involving American tank personnel.
In March, his wife received a telegram from him. After four months of battling the Japanese invasion
forces, he became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan were surrendered to the
As a POW, Ruben took part in the Death March and was first held as a 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 as the POWs were executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two
to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and
the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This
situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing
when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the
camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon
overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp
including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American
doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies,
he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical
supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross
sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six
medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the
Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to
the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried
in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground
under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were
placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave
a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs
needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work. The
death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. 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 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
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
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 the word 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.
In November of 1942, Ruben was sent to Japan on the "hell ship"
Nagato Maru. When the ship left for Japan, he was already extremely ill. On the ship, were
other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion. One of of these men was 2nd Lt. Ben Morin.
The ship arrived in Moji, Kyushu, Japan, on November 25, 1942, which was Thanksgiving
Day. The POWs disembarked in bitter cold and wind and were next sent by train to Tanagawa which was
outside of Osaka. The camp was a "hell hole" infested with lice. It was terribly cold
during the winter, and the food was terrible with little or no protein. It was while he was a POW in
Japan that his wife finally received word that he was POW on December 11, 1942.
In maid-January 1943, Ruben and other officers were transferred to Zentsuji POW
Camp. Since Ruben was extremely ill with dysentery, he was placed in the "infirmary" section of
the camp. The chances of surviving an illness there were not very good since the medics had no
While Ruben lay ill in bed, his body was covered with lice.
2nd Lt. Ben Morin would visit him and clean him the best he could. In an attempt
to delouse Ruben, Lt. Morin would remove Ruben's shirt and pick the lice from it. Lt. Morin would
also wash Ruben's underwear in ice cold water and hang them on the barbwire fence in the cold air to shock
the lice. By doing this, Lt. Morin could clean the lice from the underwear and guarantee that Ruben had
"clean" underwear for another day.
At the age of 42, Capt. Ruben H. Schwass died from dysentery and catarrh pneumonia on
April 6, 1943, at 2:30 A.M. near
Japan. According to Lt. Col. Ernest Miller of the 194th Tank Battalion, Schwass' funeral was held on
April 7th at 8:30 AM, with the officers lined up on both sides of the path. The pallbearers brought the
casket, which was covered with a black cloth, out of the bathhouse to benches and a salute was given.
Those present sang, "Sleep Comrade Sleep,"
A chaplain said a prayer and next there was a minute of silence.
Officers were posted in two lines from the bathhouse to the camp gate. The two chaplains led the procession
followed by the pallbearers carrying the casket. At the gate, the pallbearers placed the casket on a galley
cart and took his remains to the crematorium. It is known that
2nd Lt. Henry Knox and 2nd Lt. Ben Morin were two of his pallbearers. Both were
members of the 192nd.
At 1:00 PM, Chaplain John May, of the Australian Army, Lt. Morin, and Lt.
Knox went to the crematorium and picked up Schwass' ashes. The three men took the ashes to the camp
cemetery and buried them. They returned to the camp at 2:30.
In December, 1943, his wife approached the National Jewish Welfare Board for information on him. It was
through their efforts that she confirmed his death. A memorial service was held for Capt Ruben Schwass at
Saint Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Melrose Park on October 23, 1943.
After the war, his remains were returned to the United States at the request of his family. On August 3,
1949, the remains of Capt. Ruben H. Schwass were reburied at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois,
next to his wife, Helen, who had passed away in early September 1944.