|Pvt. John Theodore Strompolis
Pvt. John Strompolis was born on January 20,
1919, in Maywood, Illinois, to George T.
Stompolis & Eleni M.
Gounis-Strompolis. He grew up at 1916
South Sixtieth Court in Cicero, Illinois, with
his three sisters and two brothers.
While he was a child, his father died and his
mother remarried. His family would later
reside in Winfield, Illinois. After his
second year of high school, he left school and
went to work as a machine operator at
automotive parts manufacturer.
John enlisted in the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood. In September 1940, the tank company was designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 25th, the National Guardsmen reported to the armory to await transport to Fort Knox, Kentucky. On November 27th, the company marched from the armory on Madison Street, west to Fifth Avenue. Turning north, they marched to the Chicago & North Western Railroad Station.
At the station, they boarded a train for Fort Knox, Kentucky. When they boarded , they were greeted by the members of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion from Janesville, Wisconsin.
Arriving at Ft. Knox, they found that their barracks had not been completed so they were housed in tents with stoves in them. They remained in the tents for several months until the barracks were completed. During their time at the fort, they attended classes for jobs performed by members of a tank battalion. It is not known what training that John received.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers which covered all of Louisiana and part of Arkansas. At one point, the Red Army's tanks, which the 192nd was a part of, broke through the Blue Army's lines and on their way to overrun the Blue Army's Headquarters when the maneuvers were canceled. Members of the 192nd believed this was because the Blue Army was commanded by General George Patton.
After the maneuvers the members of the battalion were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of them had any idea why they had not returned to Ft. Knox. The battalion members learned that they were being sent overseas at part of Operation PLUM. Within hours most had figured out that PLUM meant Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service. Most of the members of the battalion received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
The decision to send the 192nd overseas - 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.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks. The battalion traveled over three different railroad routes to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.
On the island, the soldiers were inoculated and received physicals. Those who had minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. 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.
On Wednesday, November 5th, 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 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15th, 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 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 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 prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times. The morning of December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long as they sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed.
As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Since they had few weapons that could be used against Japanese, they could do is watch.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, where the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River had been destroyed. The tankers made and end run to get south of river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25th, 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 27th. The tankers were fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. On December 31st/January 1st, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew. 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 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6th/7th the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Haines, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blow, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver:
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were suppose to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28th, 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, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane. He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops. Three members of the company were killed.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over the area.
B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers 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 exited 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. The 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.
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 3rd. On April 7th, 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. The number of operational tanks also became more critical with C Company, 194th - which was attached to the 192nd - having only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they 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. When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
The morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45, the tankers received the order "crash." The soldiers hearing this destroyed their equipment. John and other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. When he reached the barrio, the situation was nothing but chaos and the Japanese had no idea how many Prisoners of War they had. He was one of seventeen members of the company who decided that they would attempt to reach Corregidor. The group slipped away and managed to get to a tug boat in the harbor and successfully reach Corregidor on the boat.
It is not known what duties John had on Corregidor, but he became a POW for the second time when the Japanese lunched an all out offensive on the island on May 6, 1942. He remained on Corregidor for a month in what was designated the Corregidor POW Camp, which was simply a portion of the beach on the island. When the POWs were removed from the island, they were taken directly to Cabanatuan.
At Cabanatuan, John was reunited with the members of B Company who took part in the death march. He remained in the camp for about six months. During this time he recalled that the death rate was as high as forty or fifty men a day since the Japanese did not give the POWs medical supplies to treat the sick or provide them with enough food.
John also recalled that he witnessed the execution of four POWs who had escaped and recaptured. The men were forced to dig their own graves and then shot. The Japanese camp commander, Colonel Mori stated he could not stop the execution since the orders came from Manila. John also recalled seeing Filipino soldiers beheaded by the Japanese. It should be mentioned that John's mother, as some point, was informed by the Army that he was dead and she did not learn that he was alive until June 28, 1943.
John remained at Cabanatuan until October 1942, when he went out on a work detail to Nichols Field to build runways and revetments for the Japanese Navy. The detail was also known as the Pasay School Detail since the POWs were housed in the school. There were eighteen rooms in the schoolhouse and 30 POWs were assigned to sleep in each one. It should be mentioned that
Each morning the POWs got up and did calisthenics and were counted before they fed breakfast which was a fish head soup. They were counted again and marched a mile to the airfield. While they marched, the Filipinos along the road showed sympathy for the Americans whose clothing had deteriorated to rags. This sympathy shown by the Filipinos angered the Japanese.
John recalled that the ranking American officer, Captain Henry Schutte Jr., protested the use of the POWs to build runways, since it was in violation of the Geneva Convention. The result of his protest was that he was told that they would work, and he was beaten for protesting the order by the Japanese commanding officer who was known as "The White Angel" by the POWs. The Japanese commanding officer was given this name because he always wore a spotless white naval uniform.
Although John never witnessed any POWs killed, he was very much aware that it was done. John stated that the White Angel was at his worse when he had been out on a drinking binge the previous night. The next day he ordered the POWs to line up and had the guards beat POWs that he selected.
After four months on the detail, John was sent back to Cabanatuan and remained in the camp for nearly a year when he was selected to go to Las Pinas to build airfields in October 1943. He recalled that the ranking American officer on this detail also protested the use of POWs to do this type of work and ended up with a broken arm.
The detail in his opinion was better than being at Cabanatuan, but the POWs had to work harder. Jphn saw men intentionally injure themselves to get off the work detail. John witnessed one guard on the detail who was from Taiwan, Moto Mezou, stand up a number of POWs up and beat them over their heads, backs, and arms with a pick handle.
In late 1944, John was sent to Manila. His name was on a list of POWs being sent to Manila for transport to Japan.
John's POW detachment was scheduled to be boarded on the Arisan Maru, but another ship, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but not all the POWs in the detachment had arrived at the pier. Since John's detachment was ready to sail, the Japanese swapped POW detachments so the ship could sail. This decision saved his life since the Arisan Maru was sunk in the South China Sea by an American submarine. Only nine POWs of the nearly 1800 POWs on the ship survived the sinking.
The POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru on October 1st and moved to the harbor's breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn't quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten ship convoy it sailed again on October 4th and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
After he left the ship on November 8th, John was sent Toroku Camp. The POWs were housed in a school house and the POWs did not have to do hard labor. Most did light farming, while those considered healthier worked in a sugar mill.
On January 25, 1945, John was taken to Takao and boarded the Enoshima Maru. The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 30th. After docking the POWs were taken to a schoolhouse but made to strip ,in the cold, before being allowed to enter the school. The reason was that they were infested with lice.
The POWs were organized into platoons of 100 men. They were marched to the train station and boarded a train and taken to either Tokyo #4. On May 21, 1945, the camp was closed and the POWs were sent to Maribara Camp #10-B.
In this camp the POWs built canals and drained a lake for farming and worked in steel mills and warehouses. During his time in the camp, the treatment improved with the arrival of a new commandant. As the war came to an end, the POWs were issued shoes and Japanese military uniforms.
One day a British POW entered the camp and told the men that the war was over. The prisoners decided that they were going to test this information. The guards were standing nearby, but their guns were leaning against a building. The POWs rushed the guns and so did the guards. After a short struggle, the guards let go of the guns and left. To the POW's this was the first proof that the war was over. When the Japanese gave the POWs beer, they knew the war was over. On August 19th, the camp commandant officially told them the war had ended. When American planes appeared and started to drop them supplies, the prisoners' belief was confirmed.
John remained in the camp until September 10, 1945, when the former POWs were offically liberated. He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment before returning to the United States. He was also promoted to Staff Sergeant. John returned sailed, on September 23, 1945, for the United States, on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze, arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945. He was sent to Letterman Hospital for additional medical treatment.
John reenlisted, but this time into the U.S. Army Air Corps. On February 25, 1948, he was discharged and returned to Chicago. He married Barbara Wisniewski on June 16, 1956, and became the father of a son. He passed away on October 7, 1974, in Chicago and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.