Pvt. John Byrne Aldred was born on June 20, 1918, to Alfred R. Aldred and Kathleen Byrne-Aldred. He was one of the couples’ three sons. His family resided at 2312 Kentucky Street in Louisville, Kentucky. From 1924 – 1932 he attended St. Louis Bertrand Grade School. He then attended St. Xavier High School and Ahrens Trade School and worked for the National Distillers, Inc.
On January 22, 1941, John was drafted into the U. S. Army. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. This was done because the company had been a Kentucky National Guard unit.
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 from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, 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 at Ft. Knox, John qualified as a radioman.
From September 1 through 30, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana for maneuvers. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill that they learned they were being sent overseas. Most of the men received furloughs 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 noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy, with a flag, in the water. He came upon more flagged buoys that lined up – in a straight line – for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day when a when planes were sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up and a fishing boat was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between the planes and the Navy was poor, nothing was done to intercept the boat. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The tank battalion’s companies traveled west to San Francisco over four different train routes. There, they boarded the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, for Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was 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. 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 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 transport, 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 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, 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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company. B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies, of the battalion, were sent to the Philippines. The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
On December 1, 1941, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. This was maneuver was practice for defending the airfield from enemy paratroopers. The tankers had no idea they would actually do this in a combat situation.
On December 8, 1941, the tank crews were aware that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese. The tankers were sent to the perimeter of the airfield in the morning. All morning, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.
To get lunch three tankers from each tank were allowed to go to the food truck that had been sent to the airfield to feed them. John and the other soldiers were in line at the truck when they saw planes approaching. No one was alarmed by this since they did not believe that the Japanese would attack. It was only when bombs began exploding that they realized they were wrong.
With John was Pvt. Robert Brooks standing in line when the bombs began to explode on the runways. John dove for cover, but Brooks attempted to get to his tank. He was killed trying to do so.
After the attack, D Company was ordered to Mabalac on the Delores Road. They remained there until December 10. They were next sent to Calumpit to look for paratroopers. While there, they guarded a huge bridge against saboteurs.
On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers to do reconnaissance and guard beaches. They remained there until December 23, when they were sent 100 kilometers north to Rosario to assist the 26th U.S. Cavalry because the defensive lines had broken. Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company of the 194th were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the 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 tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
The tankers were next assigned to guarding the Bataan and Cabcaban airfields. They also guarded against beach landings and paratroopers. They would continue this duty until April 7. On April 8, the tankers were sent Trail 10 and Mount Samat. The lines had broken. They fought there until receiving the news of the surrender.
On the morning of April 9, John recalled that there was bitterness among both the Japanese and Americans. Some of the members of the D Company took off for the hills but were picked up later. In his opinion, each man was on his own. He started the death march at Cabcaban on April 10, 1942. It took him two days to complete the march. He received little food and water during the march. He recalled that the march was done in groups of 100 to 200 with eight guards to a group. If anyone dropped out, the guards took turns clubbing them with their rifle butts or shooting them. John and the others marched mostly at night and were left sitting in the sun all day.
John arrived at San Fernando on April 16. He and other POWs were packed into a boxcar and rode a train to Capas. The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese 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. The ranking American officer was beaten with a broadsword after he requested additional food, medicine, and material to repair the roofs of the POWs’ huts.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine 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 scrapped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were moved to the cleaned area, and the area they had lain 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, they 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 formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
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.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. 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.
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. 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.
The camp hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building.
During his time at Cabanatuan, he lived in Barracks 13, Group II. Each barracks was built for 50 men, but it was common for 60 to 120 POWs to be housed in one barracks. He remained a POW at the camp until September 19, 1943. On that day, he went out on a work detail to Las Pinas. During this time, John recalled farming, building roads and bridges, and dams. It should be mentioned that his parents did not learn that he was a POW until April 17, 1943.
From the detail, John returned to Cabanatuan and was assigned to Barracks 13, Group 2. Medical records kept at the camp show that he was admitted on June 15, 1943. Why he was admitted and when he was discharged was not recorded. He remained in the camp until August 17, 1944, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison for processing. On August 25th, he was marched to the Port Area and boarded onto the Noto Maru. The ship left the Philippines during August 1944. During the voyage, the convoy that the ship was in was attacked by an American submarine. Another ship carrying 1500 POWs was sunk. After a brief stop at Formosa, the ship arrived at Moji, Japan on September 9, 1944. John was sent to work in a copper mine the same day.
In Japan, he was sent to Sendai #6, which was also known as Hanawa, where 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi and under company supervision. The camp was approximately 200 feet wide by 350 feet long and had a 12-foot high wooden fence around it and was located at 4,000 feet. The POWs were housed in wooden barracks, with 30-foot ceilings, and two tiers of bunks, against each long wall, with straw matting and a mattress stuffed with straw for sleeping. They also had a 4″ by 4″ by 8″ block of wood for a pillow.
The floors of the barracks were packed dirt with a center aisle. There were covered walkways, without sides, that connected the barracks. To heat the barracks, there was a small potbelly stove. If they were lucky, the Japanese gave them enough wood for an hour’s heat. The POWs – who worked in the foundry – stole coal knowing that if they were caught they would be beaten. The barracks were not insulated and the heavy snow – which was as deep as 10 feet – served as insulation.
Other buildings in the camp were two buildings that served as a hospital for the POWs and an “L” shaped building that was the kitchen and POW bath. The latrines were three low buildings, and there was one building that served as the camp office. The POWs spent several days setting up the camp.
In the camp, 500 POWs worked in the copper mine owned by Mitsubishi Mining Company and worked under company supervision. The POWs woke up at 5 A.M. and ate breakfast which was a small bowl of rice, barley or millet, and watery soup. Meals for the POWs were brought to the barracks, in buckets, and the POWs ate at tables in the barracks. After breakfast, at 5:30, roll call was taken and the POWs and the POWs left the camp. They arrived at the mine at 7 A.M., had a half-hour lunch, and worked until 5:00 P.M. before returning to camp, usually after dark, and had supper. Afterward, they went to bed.
The clothing issued to the POWs was a combination of Japanese clothing, made of thin cloth and shoes, and captured American clothing. For the winter, the POWs received a uniform made of burlap and long socks. Those who needed shoes were issued Japanese canvas shoes with webbing between two toes. They also received grass shoe covers so they could get through the snow.
Work details were set up for POWs who were machinists, electricians, mechanics. Those who did not have these skills were assigned to working at a foundry or mining. The POWs worked in a copper mine owned by Mitsubishi. Each day, the POWs were marched up the side of a mountain to the top and then down into the mine. To their amazement, their guards always seemed to be waiting for them. It turned out there was a tunnel into the mine which the guards used so they did not have to climb the mountain.
Each detail had a “honcho” who was employed by Mitsubishi and supervised the POWs. They carried a large stick which they used on the POWs when they felt they were not working hard enough. The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner received 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 was 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.
The POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. At the mine, the POWs were divided among drillers, car loaders, and car pushers, with the miners having the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Mitsubishi expected the Japanese Army to supply a certain number of POWs to work in the mine each day so men too sick to work were sent to work. The sick had to be carried between two healthier POWs to the mine. Since the Japanese found that the sick were too ill to work, the company came up with work for them to do in the camp like making nails or rope. If a POW still could not work, his rations were cut in half.
While working in the mine from November 1944 until August 15, 1945, the POWs were abused by the civilian foreman, Hichiro Tsuchiya, who was known to the POWs as “Patches.” Tsuchiya used any excuse to abuse the POWs. He was known to hit the POWs for no reason in their faces and to also use a wooden club or pickaxe handle. He also used a sledgehammer to hit the POWs on their heads. His parents received a postcard from him in January 1945.
In the camp, the Japanese withheld the Red Cross packages from the POWs and took the canned meats, canned fruit, canned milk, and cheese for themselves. Blankets and clothing intended for the POWs were used by the guards. If a POW violated a rule, the grain ration, for all the POWs, was reduced by 20 percent. At one point, 49 POWs were lined up – because one POW had broken a rule – and beaten with leather belts.
John remained in the camp for the rest of the war. On August 25, 1945, the POWs lined up for work as usual, but they were sent back to their quarters. This scene was repeated over the next few days. One morning, a Japanese officer stood on a box in front of the prisoners and announced that Japan and the United States were no longer enemies. This was the first news that the POWs had that the war was over.
On August 28, 1945, food was dropped near the camp by American planes. The Japanese civilians helped the POWs carry it into the camps. The only thing the civilians were interested in was the silk from the parachutes so that they could make clothing. Americans entered the camp on September 16 and liberated the POWs.
John sailed for home on October 10, on the U.S.S Rescue, and arrived on November 1, 1945. He was discharged from the army on January 12, 1946. John married Martina Barker on June 21, 1947. They became the parents of five children and many grandchildren.
John B. Aldred passed away on May 13, 1985, in Louisville, Kentucky, and was buried at Louisville Memorial Gardens, Shively, Kentucky.