Verba

 

Pvt. George Michael Verba


    Pvt. George M. Verba was the son of Michael Verba & Mary Zemoyan-Verba.  He was born on May 1, 1917, in Nelsonville, Ohio, and had five sisters and four brothers.  He grew up in Colerain Township, Belmont County, Ohio.  Like many men of his day, George had only a grade school education.

    In January 1941, George was inducted into the U. S. Army while living in Barton, Ohio.  He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and assigned to C Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.  The reason for this was that C Company had originally been an Ohio National Guard Company from Port Clinton, Ohio.  Because of this, the army filled vacancies in the company with men from Ohio.  At Ft. Knox, he trained as a tank driver.  In the Philippines, he would be a tank commander.

    After training at Fort Knox, George went on maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941.  After the maneuvers, he and the other members of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.  George received a furlough and returned home to tie up any unfinished business. 
    Over different train routes that companies of the battalion made their way to San Francisco, California.  Also arriving with them were their "new" M3 Tanks.  Once in San Francisco, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island.  There they received physicals and inoculated for duty in the Philippine Islands. 
    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.   They 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, the transport, S. S. 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, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
    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.

    The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1st to guard against paratroopers.  Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times.  On December 8, 1941, George lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  After several days of guard duty around the perimeter of Clark Field, the tanks of the 192nd were sent to guard a dam against saboteurs.  They were next sent north Lingayen Gulf. 

    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 was destroyed, so the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they 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.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.  
   
    At Cebu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese.  The main Japanese line was south of Santa Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle.
  The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there.  While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing.  It was only when a Japanese soldier tried take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered.  The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese.  They then fell back to Cabanatuan.            
    C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks.  It was at Baluiag that Gentry's tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.       

    After this battle, C Company made its way south.  When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment.  The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.
  
  On December 31, 1941,  Company was sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag.  The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way.  Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.       
    Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge.  The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks.  A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.
    By the afternoon, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in a rice field on the north end of the barrio. 
One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady were to the southeast of the bridge.  Gentry's tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.       
    Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag.  He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town's church's steeple.  The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off.  Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.          
    When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge.  The tanks then came smashing through the huts' walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady's tanks.  Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.

   
Kennady's platoon held its fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt.  The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them.  By the time Bill's unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
    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:  "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."
    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.  Just after the infantry evacuated a column of Japanese came marching down the road and were taken by surprised by the tanks and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese  This stopped the Japanese advance and the tanks withdrew without any problems.
    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.
    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.
   
C 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.
  During an engagement, George's tank crushed a Japanese soldier under its tracks.  Even though the man was the enemy,  the entire crew was so sickened that they could not eat. The tankers slept upwind of their tank.
   
The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line, on Bataan, on April 7th.  C Company was pulled out of their position along the west side of the line.  They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line.  Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.

    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 was also 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.   
    On April 9, 1942, George became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino-American forces were surrendered to the Japanese.  For George, the death march started at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  The lack of food and water were the most difficult things he had to deal with on the march.  He also recalled that what made things worse was that the Japanese left the POWs sit in the sun for two to three hours each day.  Among the prisoners, this became known as "The Sun Treatment."

    While he trudged along, George watched men bayoneted by the Japanese because they could not keep up.  He also saw men shot for the same reason.  It was not until George reached San Fernando, after six or seven days, that he was fed some rice and received water. 

    George was next loaded into a wooden boxcar with 99 other prisoners.  The POWs were so packed into the cars, that they could not sit down.  Those who died remained standing until the car was emptied at Capas four hours later.    

    From Capas, George marched the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.  This was a death trap with almost one hundred men dying each day.  In Camp O'Donnell, the POWs lived in bamboo barracks.  They also had to wait in line for water for hours, if not days, because there was only one spigot for the entire camp.  For cooking, water was carried in buckets from a stream that ran near the camp.

    During his time as a POW there, George developed beriberi.  Like the other prisoners, there was nothing that could be done for him since there was no medicine in the camp.  This resulted in the high daily death rate.  George went out on a work detail, but at this time it is not known which one.  He was sent.

    After the work detail ended, George was sent to Cabanatuan.  This camp had opened to releave the conditions at Camp O'Donnell.  George remained in Cabanatuan until he was selected to be sent to Manchuria.  On October 5th, he and the other POWs were awakened and taken by train to Manila.  There, they were housed in a warehouse on Pier 7 for two days.  George, with the other prisoners, was boarded onto the Tottori Maru on October 7th.  The ship was also loaded with scrap metal bound for Korea. 

    The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck.  This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed.  Many POWs died during the trip.
   
The ship sailed for Formosa on October 8th at 10:00 A.M. and passed Corregidor at noon.  The next day, the ship was attacked by an American submarine firing two torpedoes at it.  The captain maneuvered the ship so that the torpedoes passed alongside of it.  At another point, the ship barely missed a mine that had been laid by a submarine.  

    The ship continued its voyage arriving at Takao, Formosa, on October 11th.  On October 16th the ship sailed from Takao at 7:30 A.M. but returned when the Japanese thought that American submarines were in the area.  It dropped anchor at 10:00 P.M.  The ship remained in harbor for two more days.

    On October 18th, the ship sailed for the Pescadores Islands.  It dropped anchor off the islands the same day.  It remained off the islands until October 27th when it returned to Takao.  The POWs were ordered off the ship.  They were lined up and sprayed with fire hoses.  After this was done, they were put back into the holds of the ship.  Food stuffs were also loaded onto the ship.

    The ship finally sailed on October 30th and went to Makou, Pescadores Islands.  When it sailed again, it did as part of a seven ship convoy.  For five days, the ships sailed through a typhoon.  After the typhoon, the ships were attacked by an American submarine which sunk one of them.  During the attack, the surviving ships scattered. 

    After 31 days on the ship, the Tottori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea on November 7th.  1300 POW's got off the ship.  George and the other men received new clothes and fur-lined overcoats.  They were then marched through the streets.  The civilians in the town spit on them, hit them, and made fun of the POWs.  The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box which contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish.  They rode the train for two days.

    At Mukden, George were held at Hoten Camp.  When they first got there, they lived in dugouts and were later moved to a two story barracks.  Each enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover themselves with at night.  The officers got one blanket and a mattress.  Meals were the same everyday.  For breakfast they had cornmeal mush and a bun.  Lunch was maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun.

    George worked at a machine shop from 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day.  The machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese.  Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese.  To prevent the production of  weapons, they committed acts of sabotage like pouring sand into the machine oiling holes.  The Japanese usually blamed these acts of sabotage on the Chinese in the plant because they believed the Americans were not smart enough to commit the sabotage. 
    During the first winter at the camp, the daily meals were three small bowels of soy bean soup a day.  To supplement their food, the POWs learned to make snares to catch the wild dogs that roamed into the camp.  They did this until one detachment of POWs saw a dog eating the body of a dead Chinese civilians. 
    As time went on, George began to withdraw from the other prisoners.  He wanted to be alone as much as possible.  He avoided situations in the camp that put him in a group of prisoners.
    When the Japanese looked for contraband cigarettes, in the barracks, that had been bought from the Chinese workers in the factories, the POWs were forced out into the cold and snow, made to strip, and made to stand in the snow barefooted while the Japanese searched all 700 POWs.
    Punishment was given for any infraction.  Two POWs were knocked out and kicked in the ribs for violating a camp rule.  At other times, the camp's food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area.  They would also withhold Red Cross packages.  On one occasion, Lt Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes.  After they had, he hit each man in the face with his shoes.
    In the spring of 1943, four Americans escaped and made their way to the Russian border.  Chinese villagers turned them over to the Japanese.  The men were returned to the camp and placed in cells for several months before they were taken to a cemetery and shot.
    As the war went on American planes began to appear over Mukden.  On one occasion, in December 1944, a bomb, from one B-29, hit the camp killing 20 POWs.  The air raids became more frequent until the end of the war.

    One day, American paratroopers were dropped into the camp.  This was how the POWs learned that the war was over.  A few days later, the Russian army appeared.  They then made the Japanese go through a formal surrender ceremony in front of the liberated prisoners.  He returned to the Philippines for medical treatment before sailing for the United States on the U.S.S. Yarmouth which arrived at San Francisco on October 8, 1945.  After further medical treatment at Letterman General Hospital and other hospitals, he was discharged on July 15, 1946.

    George returned to Ohio and married.  He and his wife raised a family in Cleveland.  But the effects of his years as a POW stayed with him the rest of his life.  He avoided crowds until the day he died.  He also became dependent on alcohol which led him to die from cirrhosis of the liver.

    George M. Verba passed away in October 6, 1978, and was buried at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon, Ohio.



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