Pvt. Paul Alexander Grassick was the son of Alexander Grassick and Mabel Marks-Grassick. He was born on May 6, 1919, and raised in Mansfield, Ohio. With his two brothers, he resided at 327 East Fourth Street. Paul was a 1938 graduate of Mansfield Senior High School. After high school, he drove a truck for a dry cleaner.
He was musically talented and played the trumpet and attended Oberlin College for music. He and his brother, Bill, traveled Ohio with their band.
In late 1940, a draft act had just been passed by the U.S. Government and Paul received his draft notice. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. While there, he was assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The reason this was done was that the tank company had originally been an Ohio National Guard Tank Company from Port Clinton, Ohio, and the army was filling vacancies with men from the home states of each tank company.
He went through a condensed basic training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7, was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.
In late March 1941, the 192nd was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 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. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. Paul was sent to radio school and trained to be a radio operator.
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 they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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.
On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
In the late summer of 1941, Paul’s battalion took part in maneuvers Louisiana from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”
At Camp Polk, Louisiana, Paul, and the other members of the company were given the news that they were being sent overseas. Since the battalion was created from four National Guard Tank Companies, those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Replacements for these men came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The 192nd also received tanks and half-tracks from the battalion with additional equipment coming from the Third Armored Division.
The decision for this move – which had been made during 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 a 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.
The battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived at Ft. Mason in San Francisco and was ferried. on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
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. 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 that the unknown ship was from a friendly country, but two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
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. As they disembarked each man said his name to a Marine who checked to off. As he did, he said, “Hello sucker.” 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 General Edward 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. King remained with the battalion until they had eaten their Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – afterward, he had 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 from WW I and were pretty ragged. They 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. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the roar was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield. It turned out the planes were Japanese reconnaissance planes.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” – which came from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
On the morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The tankers were in shock as they returned to the perimeter of Clark Field.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night the tankers slept with their tanks or half-tracks. Those not in a tank or half-track crew slept outside away from their tents. Of that night. The battalion, with the exception of A Company, remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks, until they were then sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 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 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27 and fell back toward Santo Tomas.
At Cabu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese. The main Japanese line was south of Saint 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 to 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.
C Company made its way south to Cabanatuan. When the company entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. For three hours, the tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south. They were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able to find a crossing over the river.
C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baliuag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baliuag 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, 1st Lt. William Gentry, commanding officer of C Company, 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. Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while the third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, 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 steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told Morley 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 it’s 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.
The tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.
The tanks were spaced about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.
Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire. They then used their .37 mm guns. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a .37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.
The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked. Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns.
In addition to serving as a rearguard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left behind. They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese. After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across. The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets. The Japanese had launched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line. Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line. The tanks were sent into the pockets to wipe them out. One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon. The tanks would do this one at a time.
The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole. Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks. Each man had a bag of hand grenades. As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole. The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese. The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn’t have to smell the rotting flesh.
Paul said about fighting the Japanese, ” Our job was to hold out as long as we could so defenses south of us to Australia could be prepared. We would advance to the front lines, fight, and then drop back for food, ammunition, and gasoline.”
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.
After bringing in troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched an all-out attack against the defenders and broke through the east side of the main line of defense on April 7. C Company was pulled out of its 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 tanks were 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.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At midnight an order came from Gen. Weaver to stand down.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
On the morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45 the tankers received the order “crash” and destroyed their tanks. When the Japanese made contact with them, they were ordered to Mariveles where they started the death march. Of this, he recalled, “We were herded into fields by day and marched in the stifling heat at night. Those who dropped out were bayoneted.”
At Mariveles, members of C Company were mixed in with other Prisoners Of War and began the death march. Paul was in a group of prisoners that included Sgt. Albert Allen, Pvt. George Zimmerman, T/5 Earl Charles, Pvt. Merle Miller and Pvt. Robert Robinette.
Paul recalled that the Japanese guards were mean for no apparent reason. The guards did things to the POWs because they could do them. Paul watched the guards strip a prisoner and chain him to a stake. This was done even though it was apparent that the man was out of his head.
In another incident, a Japanese truck intentionally swerved into the POWs. Sgt. Albert Allen was hit during one of these incidents. He did not finish the march with Paul’s POW group. It took Paul nine days to complete the march.
“The men were sick and hungry. If they had just let us march, we might have made it. But it was stop and go. We were strung out with little food of water. They (Japanese soldiers) couldn’t believe soldiers would surrender. It was against their code. So we were nothing but dead anyway.”
The lack of food and water was also a major issue for the POWs. In his own words, ” I went nine days without food.” The Japanese would not allow the prisoners to drink water from the artesian wells that they marched past, but they would let the POWS drink from the ditches that ran alongside the road. For water, Paul filled his canteen with ditch water that was covered in slim. To make it safe to drink, Paul added iodine pills that he had hidden by sewing them into his clothing. On one occasion, a Japanese guard knocked the canteen from his hand. When he reached for it, the guard kneed him in his groin.
Paul was amazed at the courage of the Filipino people. He watched as they openly defied the Japanese by giving food and water to the POWs. He made his way north on the march to San Fernando. There, the POWs were herded into a bull-pin. In one corner, there was a trench that was for use as a toilet. The surface of the pit moved from the maggots on its surface. They remained in the pin until the Japanese ordered them to form detachments of 100 men. Once the groups were formed, the men were marched to the train station.
The POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars were known as “forty or eight” since they could hold forty men or eight horses. 100 POWs were packed into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas and walked the last ten miles to Camp O’Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp and believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs. When they arrived at the camp, the camp commandant told the Americans that they were not prisoners of war but captives. The Japanese also took away any extra clothing that the POWs carried with them and refused to return it. The POWs were searched and anyone found with Japanese money was separated from the other POWs and sent to the guardhouse. These POWs were accused of looting the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers. Over several days, gunshots were heard coming from southeast of the camp.
There was only one water faucet for the entire camp and men stood in line from 2½ to 8 hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guard in charge of the spigot would turn it off, for no reason, and the next man in line would have to wait up to four hours for it to be turned on again. Water for cooking food had to be hauled three miles to the camp. Mess kits could not be cleaned. Since there was no water to wash their clothing, the POWs threw away soiled clothing and stripped the dead of their clothing. Few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing.
Since most of the POWs had dysentery, the slit trenches overflowed which resulted in flies being everywhere in the camp including the camp kitchen and in the food. The camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant which also caused diseases to spread. When the ranking American doctor presented a letter with the medicines and medical supplies they needed to treat the sick, the camp commander, Captain Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, told him never to write another letter. He also said that the only things he wanted to know about the POWs were their names and serial numbers after they died.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truck full of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese refused to let it into the camp. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross told a Japanese lieutenant that they could set up a 150-bed hospital for the POWs, he was slapped in the face by the lieutenant. Medicines sent to the camp by the Red Cross were confiscated by the Japanese for their own use.
The POWs called the hospital “Zero Ward” because most of the men who entered it never came out alive. The Japanese were so afraid of contracting an illness that they put a barbed wire fence up around it. The POWs in the hospital lay elbow to elbow on the floor and operations were performed with knives from mess kits. Only one medic, out of every six assigned to treat the sick, was healthy enough to perform his duties.
Each morning, the POWs walked around the camp and collected the bodies of the dead and placed them under the hospital building. To clean the ground, the POWs moved the bodies, scrapped the ground, put down lime to sterilize the ground, moved the bodies back, and repeated the process where the bodies had been. It took two to three days to bury a man after he died.
Any POW, if he could walk, went out on a work detail for the day such as the one collected wood for the POW kitchen. Some POWs went out on work details which lasted for months to get out of the camp. The worse detail a man could be put on was the burial detail. On this detail, two POWs carried a dead man to the camp cemetery. Once there, they put the body in a grave and held the body down with a pole, since the water table was high, and covered it with dirt. The next morning, when the burials resumed, the dead were often sitting up or had been dug up by wild dogs.
What Paul remembered about Camp O’Donnell was that many men died there. Many starved to death while others died from beriberi. Paul was assigned to burial detail at the camp. On this detail, he and the other men went out to the cemetery in the morning and dug graves. They then returned to the camp to pick up the bodies of the dead. In blankets attached to poles, they carried the dead to the graveyard for burial. By the time they returned, the graves were filled with water. To bury the dead, the workers held the corpse down in the grave with a pole. So they could be identified after the war, a dog-tag was wedged between the two front teeth each dead POW.
To get out of Camp O’Donnell, Paul was selected to go out on a bridge-building detail. On the detail, the POWs rebuilt the bridges that had been destroyed during the retreat into the Bataan Peninsula. It was the rainy season and many men came down with malaria. It is known that while on the detail a Filipino doctor gave him a shot for malaria which saved his life.
While he was on the bridge detail, his parents received two messages from the War Department. The first arrived in May or early June.
“Dear Mrs. M. Grassick:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Paul A. Grassick, 35,001,190, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
When the detail ended, Paul was sent to Cabanatuan which was a former Philippine Army Base and had been the home of the 91st Philippine Army Division’s home. The camp was actually three camps. Camp One was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp Two did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp Three was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camps One and Three were later consolidated into one camp.
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. The POWs were forced to work in the fields from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Most of the food they grew went to the Japanese not them. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. What details Joe took part in from the camp is not known.
The POW barracks were built to house 50 POWs, but most held between 60 and 120 men. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, or mosquito netting. In addition, the lack of proper bathrooms contributed to many became ill.
Each morning, the POWs lined up for roll call. While they stood at attention, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be hit over the tops of their heads. In addition, one guard frequently kicked them in their shins with his hobnailed boots. 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 composed of 30 wards. The ward for the sickest POWs was known as “Zero Ward” which got its name because it had been missed when the wards were counted. The name soon meant the place where those who were extremely ill went to die. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. Each man had a two-foot-wide by six-foot-long area to lie in. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier since the platforms had holes cut in them so the sick could relieve themselves without having to leave the tier. During his time in the camp, he credited a Catholic priest and nuns who did whatever the could to help the POWs.
In July, they received a second message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Paul A. Grassick had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
On November 1, 1942, the Japanese drew 1500 POW names of men who were being sent to Japan. When the names were drawn, the POWs had no idea what was happening. Many came to the conclusion on their own that they were being sent to Japan. At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with, which was a small issue of rice and what the Japanese termed “a large piece of meat.” The large piece of meat was two inches square and large next to a piece of meat they usually received at a meal.
After they arrived at the barrio, a Japanese officer lectured the POWs before they boarded train cars. 98 POWs were put into each car which allowed them to position themselves so they could move around. They remained on the train all day and arrived at Manila at 5:00 P.M. After they disembarked, they were marched to Pier 7 where they spent the night sleeping on a concrete floor in a building.
The POWs boarded the Nagato Maru at 5:00 P.M. on November 6. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold which the Japanese believed could hold 600 men without a problem. In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 600 men. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 550 and 560. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All the holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner.
The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts. The ship sailed on November 7, 1942.
The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was at the on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line.
For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had stepped on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Formosa the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18. During this part of the trip, the POWs felt the explosions from depth charges.
The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship. As they disembarked, each POW received a chip of red or black colored wood. The color of the wood determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused and issued new uniforms.
By ferry, the POWs were taken to Himoneski, Honshu, where they were loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There, the prisoners were divided into two groups according to the color of the wood they had. In Paul’s case, he was assigned to Mitsushima Camp, outside of Tokyo, which was also known as Tokyo #12-B. The trip to the camp turned out to be extremely difficult. Most of the POWs were suffering from dysentery, beriberi, or enteritis, and were weak from the lack of food, water, and rest. Many POWs had died during the trip from the Philippines, and one POW died on the train trip to the camp. Because of a train wreck, which blocked a tunnel, the POWs had to leave the train and walk several miles over a mountain at night. When they reached the camp, they were exhausted and some could not walk.
After arriving in the camp, Capt. Sukeo Nakajima, the camp commander had them line up and stand in formation dressed in tropical clothing. The camp was located in the mountains. He made a lengthy speech in which he threatened to kill them for the slightest reason. The speech lasted an hour and a half. The next morning, the POWs were made to strip off their clothes and were given their first medical examination outside in the cold.
That night the POWs slept in cold barracks. The situation was made worse by the fact they had tropical clothing and there were few blankets. The barracks were heated by 3-foot by 3-foot fire pits that were only used from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. since each barracks received ten – 4-inch wide by two-foot-long – pieces of wood each day which did not supply adequate heat. Since there were no flues for the smoke from the fire pits filled the barracks which irritated the POWs’ eyes. Often, during the winter, the Japanese used excuses about rules having been violated so that they did not have to give the POWs firewood. In addition, the barracks were poorly constructed and the wind blew through the cracks at night. The floors were dirt and sand which meant the barracks flooded when it rained.
There were two latrines in the camp each of which could hold 30 men at a time. The latrines did not have a drainage system which meant that they had to empty the trenches by hand. Every POW had a turn doing this job.
The Japanese did not provide the Red Cross winter clothing or shoes sent to the camp for the POWs. After the war, a warehouse of clothing, shoes, and coats was found at the camp. Instead, the POWs wore their tropical clothing and straw shoes which were made by POWs too sick to work. The Japanese did supply rags so that the POWs could patch their clothes. The POWs also worked in the rain without raincoats or a change of clothes.
Red Cross medical supplies withheld from sick and the sick slept on soiled blankets since the POWs could not wash them since there were no washing facilities. The Japanese misappropriated Red Cross supplies for themselves and were seen wearing clothing and shoes meant for the POWs.
Collective Punishment was practiced in the camp. From post-war, war crime records, 45 POWs were punished because of the actions of a few. Eight Japanese guards repeatedly abused these POWs denying them – at various times – food, shelter, and clothing, between November 26, 1942, and his death. At night, POWs were called out into the cold and made to stand at attention. While standing there, they were slapped for no apparent reason. Eight Japanese guards repeatedly abused these POWs denying them – at various times – food, shelter, and clothing, between November 26, 1942, and August 5, 1944. Nine guards from this camp were executed for war crimes after the war. Paul received one of the worse beatings as a POW in the camp when a Japanese guard punched him in the face. The impact of the punch broke Paul’s jaw and nose. At some other time, his arm was broken. Paul remained on this detail for one and a half years.
It was common practice in the camp for the Japanese to call the POWs out of the barracks at night and make them stand at attention for no reason. One guard, Sgt. Masaru Mikawa would walk down the line and get in the faces of the POWs. If the man flinched, he walloped the man as hard as he could. Those POWs put in the guardhouse had no bedding and had their rations reduced.
The Japanese intentionally failed to give the POWs adequate food, and the Japanese supervisor of the POW kitchen, Tomotsu Kimura, also known as “The Punk” was known to take sacks of rice – meant for the POWs – home. The food the POWs did receive consisted of under-cooked rice and barley, and a soup that was made from mountain greens and weeds. On very few occasions, the POWs received vegetables, meat, or fish. To make the fish edible, the POWs boiled it until they could eat it. The portions given to the prisoners were smaller than they should have been because Kimura skimmed food from the POWs and gave it to the guards.
Red Cross packages which arrived at the camp were commandeered by the Japanese for themselves. If the POWs did receive packages, it was evident that they had been gone through. This was especially true from November 26, 1942, until August 5, 1944.
The camp hospital was a hospital in name only, and the POWs were given little to no medicine when they were sick. The medicine sent by the Red Cross for the POWs was used by the Japanese. In addition, there were no bathroom facilities for the sick. The POWs had to sleep on soiled blankets that could not be cleaned since there were no facilities to wash them.
The POWs were divided into detachments and taken to different steel mills. The working conditions were extremely bad at the antiquated furnaces where the POWs shoveled coal into the ovens. The POWs frequently became ill and vomited from breathing in the sulfur fumes.
On July 2, 1943, the War Department released the names of men known to be held as Prisoners of War in the Philippines, Paul’s name was on the list. His parent received another message from the War Department.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE PAUL A. GRASSICK IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Paul A. Grassick, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
Howard F. Bresee
Chief Information Bureau”
In August 1943, his mother received a letter he wrote while he was at Cabanatuan. In the letter, he asked her to send concentrated foods. His family received a second letter from him on March 17, 1944.
On April 16, 1944, Paul was transferred to Kanose Camp, also known as Tokyo 16-B, with 49 other POWs. The POWs worked in a carbide plant that was located in a mine shaft. No safety equipment was given to the POWs and they had little supervision. He spent the remainder of the war on this detail.
The camp commander was fairly decent in his treatment of the POWs, and did not force the sick to work in the factory, but he did not stop his subordinates from abusing them. In May 1945, his parents received a message from the War Department with the content of a shortwave radio broadcast he had made.
Red Cross boxes and supplies were not issued to the POWs and guards were known to take the food, medicines, and clothing for their own use. One day, representatives of the International Red Cross came to the camp. Before they arrived, the Japanese handed out Red Cross boxes to the POWs but told them that if they touched anything in the boxes they would be severely punished. After the Red Cross left the camp, the Japanese confiscated the boxes.
The POWs working at the camp had no idea how the war was going, until the day, the POWs were in the plant working when they were suddenly sent back to the camp. This was the first sign that something was up. When Paul and the other POWs returned to the camp, they were informed that the war was over.
The POWs were transported to Yokohama Docks and boarded a transport on September 7, 1945, for the Philippines. For him, one of the most meaningful events was to see an American ship flying the Stars & Stripes. On September 12, his family learned that he had been liberated.
Paul was boarded onto a ship and returned to the Philippines for medical treatment. Later, he was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh Rodman and arrived at San Francisco on October 3, 1945. It was almost four years after he had sailed from the city for the Philippines. He was sent to Letterman General Hospital and then to the John P Fletcher VA Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.
During his time as a POW he kept a diary in which he spoke about how a Catholic priest and nuns did whatever they could for the POWs, the treatment the POWs received, and a Japanese guard, in Japan, who did what he could for the POWs. He would later testify against Japanese guards who had abused American POWs. The majority of these guards were later executed. He was discharged, from the army, on April 1, 1946, but called to testify about his treatment as a POW in 1947.
Paul married LeVerbne Mitchell and with his wife raised two daughters and a son. Paul worked for Tappen Corporation until he retired. When his wife died, he married, Audrey, and became the stepfather to three daughters and two sons.
In April 1967, the employees of Tappen contributed money so that Paul and his wife could return to the Philippines for the 25th Anniversary of the surrender of Bataan. The lasting effects of his time as a POW was that he had a crooked jaw and a mangled arm.
During the Vietnam war, Albert Allen, who also was in his tank company, and Paul collected signatures for “Project Humanity.” This organization was set up to get the North Vietnamese to follow the terms of the Geneva Convention in their treatment of American POWs.
Paul Grassick passed away in Bellville, Ohio, on March 25, 2009. After services at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, he was buried at Mansfield Cemetery in Mansfield, Ohio.