Pfc. John D. Swinehamer was the son of Juliet Selcke-Swinehamer and Walter Swinehamer and was born on August 27, 1922. With his sister, he was raised at 1936 South Fourth Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. He was known as "Jack" to his family and friends.
Jack enlisted in the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard which was headquartered in an armory on Madison Street in Maywod. He was the second youngest member of the company who originally had been members of the Illinois National Guard.
In November 1940, Jack left high school, during his senior year, and went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, when the National Guard company was federalized as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. On November 29, 1940, the men marched down the Madison Street to Fifth Avenue to the Chiago North Western station in Maywood. There, they loaded their equipment and boarded a train for Ft Knox. A Company of the battalion was already on the train which had come from Janesville, Wisconsin.
In January 1941, Headquarters Company was created with men from the four letter companies of the battalion. Jack was transferred to the company when it was formed in early 1941.
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.
During his training, Jack was involved in one of the more amusing moments for the company. Jack was uncomfortable riding motorcycles, and since everyone in the company needed to learn how to use all the equipment, he had to learn to ride a motorcycle. One day during this training, Jack was told by the officer, in command of the training, to ride the motorcycle down the road a quarter of a mile and turn around and come back.
Jack obeyed orders and got on the motorcycle and proceeded to ride it as required. After fifteen minutes, Jack still had not returned so the officer got in a jeep to find out what had happened. As it turned out, Jack was found on the other side of Fort Knox still heading east on the motorcycle. When the officer asked him why he had not turned the bike around, Jack stated that he did not know how to stop it. Ironically, Jack would become a motorcycle messenger running messages between the battalion headquarters and the B Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
After training at Fort Knox, Jack went with the battalion on maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1st through 30th. It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and informed that they were to receive further training overseas. This information dashed any hopes that Jack had of being released from federal duty.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. Most of the remaining soldiers were given leaves home to say their goodbyes.
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.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
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 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 - which was "slumgullion" a stew which was slung into their mess kits - before he went to have his own. Some men didn't even get this. 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.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons, which had been greased 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.
The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Field. 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.
On April 9, 1942, when the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese, Jack became a Prisoner of War. His company made their way to Mariveles, where they were searched and anything of use to the Japanese was taken from them. The Americans were marched in groups of 100 with guns on them at all times. Each group was assigned six Japanese guards who would be changed at regular intervals. During the 70 mile march, the Americans were seldom allowed to stop and were not fed until the fifth day. Those who stopped or dropped out were bayoneted or left to die.
Hearing men who had fallen to the ground beg for help and not being able to help them was one of the hardest things they experienced on the march. The POWs who continued to march and those who had fallen both knew that to do so meant death for both men.
The lack of water and food was extremely hard the prisoners. At one point, two POWs ran to a water spigot to fill their canteens with water. Both men were shot by the Japanese.
Later in the day, the POWs were order to move to a schoolyard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which were firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little to protect themselves since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
Once at San Fernando, the POWs were put into a bullpen and ordered to sit. They had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down. They remained in the bullpen until they were ordered to form 100 men detachments. Once this was done, they were marched to the train station in San Fernando and put into a small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing - since they could not fall to the floor - until the living climbed out of the cars at Capas. From Capas, they walked the last miles to Camp O' Donnell.
The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
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 Japanese lieutenant.
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 transfer of POWs was completed on June 4.
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 Brothers.
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 "speedo." 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 consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in "Zero Ward," which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. 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.
It was at Cabanatuan that Jack became so ill that he was placed into Zero Ward. Believing he was dead, Jack was taken to the cemetery and put into a grave. George Dravo, of B Company, happened to be working the detail and noticed that Jack moved after he had been placed in the grave. Dravo and the other men on the detail removed Jack from the grave and returned him to the camp. There, he regained his strength.
Jack was next sent to Bilibid Prison for processing . From there, he was taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Coral Maru for Japan. This ship was also known as the Taga Maru. The ship sailed on September 20, 1943. After stopping at Takao, Formosa, the ship arrived in Moji, Japan, on October 5.
In Japan, he was first held in a camp near Osaka. As a POW he was held at Hirohata POW Camp. It was while a POW in one of these camps that Jack traded a piece of clothing for another POW's food. His reason for doing this was that it was winter and he was trying to keep warm. Somehow the Japanese found out about the trade and decided to punish Jack. The temperature was below zero when he was called out of formation and made to strip himself bare. For his punishment, the Japanese made him lie in the snow on his stomach. Then, the Japanese staked him out. A red hot iron was placed against his back along his spine. For the rest of his life, he carried three scars on his back.
Next, Jack was made to stand in a large tub of ice water for ten minutes. What amazed him was that he never came down with pneumonia.
On May 29, 1945, Jack was sent to Nagoya #9. The camp opened on May 29, 1945, and the POWs arrived the same day. They lived in two barracks which had dirt floors. The barracks had 100 feet long and 24 feet wide, with two tiers of platforms around the perimeter of each building. The POWs were given straw mats to sleep on, on the platforms. A 8 foot wide aisle ran down the center of the barracks. A ten foot high fence encircled the camp.
There was no real hospital building and one end of the barracks were used for this purpose. There was room for 20 POWs, but everyday, there were as many as 100 sick POWs. The hospital was manned by an American doctor, who was a dentist, four American medics, and one Japanese medic.
Men would wear out from being overworked and underfed. Then pneumonia took over and the men died in a couple of days. Their bodies would be put in a four by four by two foot box. It had handles that allowed it to be carried. A Buddhist priest from the village walked ahead of the procession in his white and gold robes. When the remains were returned to the camp, they were in a four by four by twelve inch box. The man's name and serial number were on the box. The box was kept by the camp commandant in his office.
Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick. The sick were beaten with shovels to get them to do work that they were too sick to do. They also had their meal rations reduced.
The meals of the POWs were primarily wheat, rice, and soybeans with some vegetables like onions and daikon a Japanese beet. They had fish, either fried or in a soup, every ten days. Their food was performed by six POWs who also prepared the POWs lunches that they took with them to work.
Most of the POWs walked three quarters of a mile and worked on the docks loading and unloading coal, rice, and beans. While working they received a hour lunch and two half hour rest periods. A work day started about 7:30 A.M. and ended at 4:30 P.M. When there was a lot of work, POWs returned and worked fro 7:00 P.M. until midnight. 100 POWs worked in the camp garden.
Clothing for the POWs came from the Japanese. Many wore Japanese Army uniforms and getas which were traditional Japanese footwear. While working the POWs wore straw shoes, hats, and raincoats for inclement weather. If the POW still had his GI shoes, the Japanese provided leather for repairs.
Collective punishment was a common occurrence in the camp and involved stealing rice or beans. When one POW broke a camp rule, all the POWs were punished. On one occasion, for 7 days, the POWs were denied coal, in the middle of winter, because someone had broken a rule. 15 POWs were accused of stealing rice from sacks that they were unloading from a ship. Once they returned to the camp, they were forced to kneel for from an 1Â½ to 5 hours to get them to confess. Six of the fifteen men confessed and the others were fed and sent to their barracks.
When the camp commandant left the camp at 8:30 that evening, all the POWs were called from the barracks by the second in command and ordered to stand at attention. They were then beaten with pick axe handles, rope, that was about 3 inches thick and five feet long, clubs, and farrison belts across the buttocks, face, and legs. Kicking was also a frequent method of punishment.
When the POWs passed out, they were either thrown into a large tub of water, with their hands and feet bound, or they had water poured on them until they revived. They once again had to stand at attention as the beating continued for a total of 3 hours. One POW counted that he received 150 blows to his face and 20 on his buttocks.
In the camp, the Japanese did not give out the Red Cross packages to the POWs. Instead, they raided the packages and took the canned meats, fruit, soup, chocolate and cigarettes from the packages for themselves. The POWs also were beaten for the slightest reason when they broke a camp rule. It is known that he had one od his worse experiences as a POW in the camp.
In a letter he wrote to his parents, Jack told how he and the other POWs learned of the end of the war.
"Dear Mom, Dad and Bev,
Well the day finally came that I knew I was getting home to you. I will try to tell you what has happened to me since August 14.
The 14th (August) we were coaling a transport. At noon there was a big radio speech going on and all the Japs were listening. After it was over, one of them called over to our sergeant in charge and told him the war was over. He (the sergeant) told us what the Nips told him, but we said he was "nuts" because we had heard that stuff for two years, and we just couldn't believe it.
The 15th we started to fall out and go to work but the Nips told us "yosama" (rest). The 16th they said it was a religious holiday. When they told us that, we knew it was over, because that was the first religious holiday they had in three years. When they told us that, we knew the war was over, because that was the first religious holiday we had in three years.
We stayed at Nagoya Camp from then until the 5th of September. We left from there by train and went to some seaport town where we met the Yanks. They took us on board the U.S.S. Rescue where we were given an examination and new clothes. We were then transferred to the U.S.S. Warner and went to Tokyo Bay, from there we went to Atsuki Airdrome where I am now writing. We are going to fly to Okinawa today, from there to Manila, and then home.
So please don't worry about me any more because you all have been doing that for three years, and I think that has been long enough."
After recuperating in the Philippines, Jack returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dychman, at San Francisco, on October 16, 1945. He returned home to Maywood, where he married Margaret Virginia Wiggins on March 16, 1948. Together they had five children, Sheryl, John, Thomas, Kevin and Kathleen. Jack reenlisted this time into the Army Air Corp and later the U.S. Air Force. At one point, he was stationed in Japan. He remained in the military and retired on July 31, 1961.
John D. Swinehamer passed away on September 5, 1979, and was buried at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.