|Pvt. John C. Spencer
Pvt. John C. Spencer was the son of of Cecil and Rose
Spencer and was born on December 8, 1916, in Zenda
Township in Walworth County, Wisconsin. When
John was a child, his family moved to 385 Western
Avenue in Janesville. He attended grade school,
in Janesville, and was a 1935 graduate of Janesville
High School. After high school, he worked as a
truck driver for a storage company.
In late 1940, John knowing that with the start of a draft that it would just be a matter of time before he would be inducted into the army, decided to join the Wisconsin National Guard. He was the third man to join before the 32nd Tank Company was called to federal service on November 25, 1940. The company was now A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 28th, the company boarded a train for Fort Knox, Kentucky.
At Ft. Knox, John trained for nearly a year. 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. He attended radio school and qualified as a tank radio operator.
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 13th, 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. During Paul's time at Ft. Knox, he qualified as a tank driver.
In the late summer of 1941, he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st through 30th. It was during the maneuvers that John was bitten by a rattlesnake, but he had no bad effects from the bite. It turned out the area that the 192nd had been assigned for its bivouac was infested with snakes. The good things that the battalion learned from the maneuvers were how to load and unload their equipment and how to drive their vehicles over rough terrain. After the maneuvers, he and the other members of his tank battalion learned they were being sent 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.
John went home to Janesville to say goodbye to family and friend. Afterwards, he returned to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where the company traveled by train to Ft.Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. They received inoculations and physicals from the battalion's medical detachment. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some 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. They 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 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 16th, 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 that they 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. Ironically, November 20th 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.
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 as they readied their tanks to take part in maneuvers.
On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Two tank crew members had to remain with each tank at all hours.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Capt. Walter Write informed his company that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. The tanks were put on alert and took their positions around the airfield. At 8:30 A.M., American planes took off to intercept any Japanese planes. Sometime before noon, the planes landed and were lined up, in a straight line, near the pilots' mess hall. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north at about 12:45. Many of the tankers had enough time to count 54 planes in formation. As the planes approached the airfield and watched what was described as "raindrops" falling from the planes. When the raindrops began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. During the attack, they could do little since their only their machine guns were of use against the planes. For some reason, not known to the tankers, most of the Japanese did not attack the tanks. Those planes that did dropped their bombs between the tanks.
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, the tankers lived through several more air raids. Most 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 one half years.
The company was sent to the Barrio of Dau, on December 12, so it could protect a road and railroad from sabotage. From there, the company was ordered to rejoin the rest of the 19nd which had been sent to the Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing troops.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta. It was there, that the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River after the main bridge had been destroyed. 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 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to a line from on the night of December 27th and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga on December 30th. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. On a road east of Zaragoza, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At the Gumain River, the night of December 31 to the morning of January 1, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur's chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. 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. The company returned to the command of the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the retreating forces. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualti
On January 28, the tank battalions 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. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
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."
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines 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 had left 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. 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.
On February 3, 1942, during the Battle of the Pockets, as a member of S/Sgt. William McAuliffe's crew, John was involved in an attempt to recover a disabled tank. During the recovery attempt, his tank hit a landmine which resulted in S/Sgt. McAuliffe being wounded, but John was not hurt.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die." The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
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 4. 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.
The evening of April 8, 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. At 11;40, the ammunition dumps were blown up.
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."
John became a Prisoner of War, on April 9, 1942, when the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese. The tank crews circled their tanks and fired one armor piercing round into the engine of the tank in front of theirs. The crews opened the gasoline cocks inside the tanks and dropped grenades into the tanks.
John took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando. There he and the other men were forced into wooden boxcars used for hauling sugarcane. Each car could hold 40 men; the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors. At Capas, the POWs disembarked the cars and walked to Camp O'Donnell.
To get out of the camp, John went out on a scrap metal detail to San Fernando, where the POWs cleaned up the junk which was left over from the battle. The POWs tied the disabled cars and trucks together with ropes and to an operating vehicle. The POWs drove the vehicles to San Fernando where they were loaded on trucks and taken to Manila for shipment to Japan.
It was during his time at Cabanatuan that John came down with beriberi. He remained in the camp until he was selected for a work detail in Manila which was located at the Port Area. The POWs on this detail worked as stevedores loading and unloading ships. The POWs remained on the detail until July 14, 1944. On that date, the Japanese ended the detail and sent most POWs to the Port Area of Manila for transport to Japan. It appears that John remained on the detail beyond this date.
On July 17, 1944, the POWs were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru at 8:00 in the morning. The ship sailed but dropped anchor with the Manila breakwater and sat waiting for a convoy to form. The ship sailed on July 23rd, at 8:00 AM, but again it dropped anchor at 2:00 P.M. This time off Corregidor. On July 24th, the ship sailed again as part of a convoy.
The 1,033 POWs were crammed into the ship's hold back to back while standing up. When the hold was full, the Japanese closed the hatches. There was very little water and no sanitary facilities. For the men in the hold, food was not as important as water. Men began going crazy and would attack each other for the smallest reasons.
The convoy came under attack, at 3:00 A.M., from an Wolf Pack composed of the submarines; the U.S.S. Crevale, the U.S.S. Angler, and the U.S.S. Flasher. Several ships in the convoy were sunk.
During the voyage, the prisoners heard a "bang" under the ship. They assumed that it was a torpedo from an American submarine. Another ship, the Hakusan Maru, was hit by torpedoes resulting in the deaths of almost 707 POWs.
At one point, John managed to climb out of the hold of the ship, when he reached the ship's deck, he was beaten with a hose until he climbed back down the ladder into the hold.
On July 28, 1944, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, at 9:00 A.M., and remained in port until it sailed at 7:00 P.M. From July 30th to August 2nd, the ship sailed through a storm which kept submarines away. On August 3rd, the POWs were issued clothes, and the ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 4th at midnight. The POWs were disembarked at 8:00 A.M. and formed into POW detachments of 100 men.
The POW detachment John was in was marched to the train depot and boarded a train and sent to Kamioka Camp, also known as Nagoya #1-B, were they worked in a lead and zinc mine. At some point, John was sent to Nagoya #7-B a camp in the Osaka area. With him was Emerson Rex of A Company. The POWs in this camp worked in either a zinc or lead mine. John recalled that there were 576 steps that lead into the mine. He knew this because he counted them over and over again.
The main food for the POWs in the camp was barley. Once a month each man received one once of meat, and every three weeks, if they were being rewarded for working hard, they received five ounces of soy beans. At one point, John somehow got two fried clams which were a feast to him. As a POW, John's weight dropped from 170 pounds to 90 pounds.
John recalled that the Japanese could not understand how the Americans could find anything to laugh about. Although they tolerated the POWs laughing, the guards would not allow them to sing or whistle. In his opinion, this was because the Japanese believed that the prisoners should act like they were defeated.
A work day for the POWs started at 4:30 in the morning, and the men would walk four or five miles to the mine, where they worked until 2:30 in the afternoon. Then, they returned to the camp. He recalled that the POWs were expected to work the entire time that they were in the mine. If they caught a POW taking a break or having a cigarette, the guards would beat them.
The Japanese treatment of the POWs was brutal. If one POW broke a rule, all the POWs would be beaten, clubbed, or burned. When the Japanese heard news of an air raid by the Americans, they selected eight or ten POWs and punished them. Afterwards, they threw them into the guardhouse where the men were forgotten. The POWs also learned that when the Japanese called them out in the middle of the night for an inspection, it meant that the Japanese had suffered another defeat and that the Americans were getting closer.
The POWs slept 24 men to a barracks, and their beds were straw mats. The blankets they received were not much protection against the cold. The barracks were heated by coal burning stoves, but only two handfuls of coal were issued each day. To prevent the buildings from collapsing in the winter, the POWs had to clear the roofs of snow each time it snowed.
Since a certain number of POWs were needed for work each day, the sick, who could walk, were forced to work. Those who refused were beaten. In addition, the Japanese set a limit on the number of POWs who could be in the hospital at any time. At the same time, the Japanese refused to give the POWs the medicine and medical supplies sent by the Red Cross.
The sick POWs were put on "light duty." To the Japanese "light duty" was going up a mountain and hauling green muck. As it turned out, this muck was contaminated and even the Japanese guards kept away from it. The prisoners noticed that nothing would grow where the muck was dumped. The prisoners worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Every two weeks they would get one day off.
This detail was not bad during the summer because the old supervisor would allow two of the six prisoners to look for edible plants. During the winter, the prisoners had to climb the mountain through snow that was four to five feet deep. Since the Japanese did not issue the shes that were sent by the Red Cross, to protect their feet from frostbite, the POW's made socks from blackout curtains to put inside their canvas shoes. The prisoners also were never warm. They slept in pairs to share body heat and blankets.
Sometime during his captivity, in Japan, that John was sent to Sendai #6 which was also known as Hanawa. It is known he was in the camp sometime late in 1944 because he was beaten repeatedly between October 1, 1944, through September 4, 1945, with fists and rifle butts on his abscessed jaw by the Japanese guard Takahashi Asaka.
The POWs in this camp worked in a copper mine owned by Mitshubishi. The POWs would wake up at 5 a.m.and eat a breakfast of a small bowl They would arrive at ready at 7 A.M. The POWs worked under Mitsubishi supervision. The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. They had a 30 minute lunch break and worked to 5:00 P.M. The POWs returned to camp, usually after dark, had supper, then went to bed.
The miners had the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner was furnished a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men were never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins. Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
John remained in the camp until he was liberated in September 1945. He recalled that when the B-29's began dropping food to them, they had so much food that they shared it with Chinese POWs in a nearby camp. The POWs were officially liberated on September 7, 1945, and taken to Yokohama and returned to the Philippines.
John boarded the U.S.S. Rescue and arrived Guam and Hawaii before docking at San Francisco on October 10, 1945. He returned to Janesville on October 18, 1945. A little over six months later, he lost his left arm in a car accident. On October 19, 1946, he married Beatrice Preston. He and his wife later moved to Saugus, California, and he became the father of one child.
John was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with four battle stars, American Defense Presidential Unit citation with two oak leaf clusters, Purple Heart, and nominated for the Silver Star.
John Spencer passed away on August 30, 1973, in Newhall, California, and was buried at Eternal Valley Memorial Park, Newhall, California.