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Atwell, Cpl. John R.

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Cpl. John Rawlins Atwell
Born: 13 April 1905 – Fort Dodge, Iowa
Parents: Rawlins P. Atwell & Gertrude W. Duncombe-Atwell
Siblings: 4 sisters, 1 brother
Home: Fort Dodge, Iowa
Enlisted:
– Iowa National Guard
– 1 April 1924
Education:
– Centre College, Danville, Kentucky
– two years of college – 1925 – 1927
Married: Susan W. Hawley
– 21 February 1929
Children: 3 daughters, 2 sons
Residence: 1859 8th Avenue North – Ft. Dodge, Iowa
Occupation: Owner of a florist shop
Enlisted:
– U. S. Army
– March 1941 – one-year enlistment
Training:
– Fort Lewis, Washington
– half-track commander
Units:
– 194th Tank Battalion

On August 15, 1941, the 194th received orders, from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for duty in the Philippines because of an event that happened during the summer. 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 in the water. 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, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. By the time the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.

The next morning, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat which was seen making its way toward shore. Since communication between and Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

Overseas Duty:
– 4 September 1941 –
– the battalion traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California
– Arrived: 7:30 A.M. – 5 September 1941
– ferried to Ft. McDowell, Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe
– given physicals and inoculations
– men with medical conditions replaced
– Ship: S.S. President Calvin Coolidge
– Boarded: Monday – 8 September 1941 – 3:00 P.M.
– Sailed: 9:00 P.M. – same day
– Arrived: Honolulu, Hawaii – Saturday – 13 September 1941 – 7:00 A.M.
– Sailed: 5:00 P.M. – same day
– escorted by the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Astoria, and an unknown destroyer
– heavy cruiser intercepted several ships after smoke was seen on the horizon
– ships belonged to friendly countries
– Arrived: Manila – Friday – 26 September 1941
– disembark ship – 3:00 P.M.
– taken by bus to Fort Stotsenburg
– Philippines
– lived in tents until barracks completed – 15 November 1941
Engagements:
– Battle of Luzon – 8 December 1941 – 6 January 1942
– The morning of December 8, December 7 in the United States, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
– 12:45 P.M. – the airfield was bombed destroying the Army Air Corps
– tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when the attack came
– HQ Company members remained in 194th command area
– could do little more than take cover during attack
– As the members of HQ Company watched, the wounded and dying were carried to hospital on anything that would carry them
– most had missing arms or legs
– when the hospital ran out of room, the wounded were put under the hospital
– Next day, members of the company walked around the airfield and saw the dead lying everywhere
– 10 December 1941
– battalion sent to Mabalcat
– C Company was sent to Southern Luzon to support troops
– 12 December 1941
– moved to new bivouac south to San Fernando near Calumpit Bridge
– arrived at 6:00 A.M.
– 14 December 1941
– A Co. & D Co., 192nd moved to just north of Muntinlupa
– 15 December 1941
– received 15 Bren gun carriers
– turned some over to 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts
– Bren gun carriers used to test ground to see if it could support tanks
– 22 December 1941
– sent to Rosario
– west and north of the barrio
– ordered out of the 71st Division Commander
– said they would hinder the cavalry’s operation
– 22/23 December 1941
– operating north of Agno River
– main bridge at Carmen bombed
– 24 December 1941
– operating in Hacienda Road area
– 26/27 December 1941
– ordered to withdraw – 7:00 A.M.
– Lt. Costigan’s platoon forced its way through Carmen
– lost two tanks
– one tank belonged to company commander – Captain Edward Burke
– believed dead, but was actually captured
– one tank crew rescued
– new line Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas-San Jose
– rest of battalion made a dash out
– lost one tank at Bayambang
– another tank went across front receiving fire and firing on Japanese
– Lt. Petree’s platoon fought its way out and across Agno River
– D Company, 192nd, lost all its tanks except one
– the tank commander found a crossing
– Japanese would use tanks later on Bataan
– 28 December 1941
– Tarlec Line
– most of the battalion withdrew from the line that night
– 29/30 December 1941
– new line at Banban River established
– tank battalions held the line until ordered to withdraw
– 30/31 December 1941
– tank battalions held Calumpit Bridge
– covering withdraw of Philippine Divisions south on Rt. 3, San Fernando
– 2 January 1942
– both tank battalions ordered to withdrawal to Lyac Junction
– 194th withdrew there on Highway 7
– 5 January 1942
– C Company and A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, withdrew from Guagua-Porac Line and moved into position between Sexmoan and Lubao
– 1:50 A.M. – Japanese attempted to infiltrate
– bright moonlight made them easy to see
– tanks opened fire
– Japanese lay down smoke which blew back into them
– 3:00 A.M. – Japanese broke off the engagement
– suffered 50% casualties
– Remedios – established a new line along a dried creek bed
– 6/7 January 1942
– 194th, covered by 192nd, crosses Culis Creek into Bataan
– both battalions bivouacked south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road
– rations cut in half
– Battle of Bataan – 7 January 1942 – 9 April 1942
– HQ Company serviced tanks and supplied crews with ammunition, gas, and food
– January 1942
– tank companies reduced to three tanks per platoon
– tanks were given to D Company
– 8 January 1942
– composite tank company made up of tanks from the 192nd and 194th sent to protect East Coast Road north of Hermosa
– their job was to keep the East Road open north of Hermosa and prevent the Japanese from driving into Bataan before the main battle line had been
formed
– the remainder of tanks ordered to bivouac for night south of Aubucay-Hacienda Road
– tankers had been fighting for a month without a rest
– tanks also needed overdue maintenance
– 17th Ordnance
– all tank companies reduced to ten tanks
– three per tank platoon
– sent to reopen Moron Road so General Segunda’s forces could withdraw
– tanks knock out an anti-tank gun
– two tanks disabled by landmines but recovered
– mission abandoned
– Gen. Segunda’s troops escaped using the beach but lost their heavy equipment
– 12 January 1942
– C Company, with D Company, 192nd, sent to Cadre Road
–  held the forward position with little alert time
– 13 January 1942
– mines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching Cadre Road
– returned to battalion
– 16 January 1942
– C Company sent to Bagac to reopen Moron Highway
– the highway had been cut by Japanese
– Moron Highway, and Junction of Trail 162
– tank platoon fired on by an antitank gun
– tanks knock out the gun
– cleared roadblock with support of infantry
– 20 January 1942
– Bani Bani Road -tanks sent in to save 31st Infantry command post
– 24 January 1942
– tanks order to Hacienda Road in support of troops
– landmines planted by ordnance prevented them from reaching road
– 26 January 1942
– the battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road
– four self-propelled mounts with the battalion
– 9:45 A.M. – warned by Filipino a large Japanese force was coming
– when the enemy appeared they opened up with all the battalion had
– 10:30 A.M. – Japanese withdrew after losing 500 of 1200 men
– prevented new defensive line being formed from being breached
– 28 January 1942
– 194th tanks given beach duty protecting southern beaches
– guarded coast from Limay to Cabcaben
– half-tracks patrolled roads
– maintained radio contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols
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.”
– February 1942
– tank battalions on their own guarded airfields
– battalions also guarded beaches to prevent Japanese from landing troops
– March 1942
– two tanks were bogged down in mud
– the tankers were working to get them out
– Japanese Regiment entered the area
– Lt. Col. Miller ordered tanks and artillery to fire at point-blank range
– Miller ran from tank to tank directing fire
– wiped out Japanese regiment
– gasoline rations cut to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks
– Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that one platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor
– Wainwright rejected idea
– 4 April 1942
– Japanese launched a major offensive
– tanks sent into various sectors to stop the Japanese advance
– 6 April 1942
– four tanks sent to support 45th Philippine Infantry and 75th Infantry, Philippine Scouts
– one tank knocked out by anti-tank fire at the junction of Trails 8 & 6
– other tanks covered withdraw
– 3rd Platoon sent up the west coast road
– near Mount Samat ran into heavy Japanese force
– the tanks withdrew to Marivales
– 8 April 1942
– at Cabcaban Field
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.”
– 10:30 P.M. – Gen. King announced that further resistance would result in the massacre of 6,000 sick or wounded troops and 40,000 civilians
– less than 25% of his troops were healthy enough to continue fighting
– he estimated they could hold out one more day
– sent his staff officers to negotiate the surrender of Bataan
– 11:40 P.M. – ammunition dumps were blown up
Prisoner of War:
– 9 April 1942
– received order to destroy equipment and report to kilometer marker 168.2.
– Provisional Tank Group Headquarters
– Japanese officers told Col. Ernest Miller to keep them there until ordered to move
– 10 April 1942
– 7:00 P.M. – started march from Provisional Tank Group headquarters
– 3:00 A.M. – halted and rested for an hour
– 4:00 A.M. – resume march
– 11 April 1942
– 8:00 A.M. -reached Lamao
– allowed to forage for food
– 9:00 A.M. – resumed march
– Noon – reached Limay and main road
– officers separated from enlisted men
– 4:00 P.M put on trucks
– officers arrived at Balanga
– Japanese find handgun in field bag of an officer
– he was clubbed and bayoneted
– because of this they were not fed
– Dusk – officers ordered to form ranks and marched
– marched through Abucay and Samal
– 12 April 1942
– 3:00 A.M. – reached Orani
– herded into a fenced in area and ordered to lie down
– in morning found they had been lying in human waste
– latrine in one corner was crawling with maggots
– Noon – fed rice and salt
– first meal
– Afternoon – enlisted men rejoin officers
– 6:30 P.M. – ordered to form 100 men detachments
– POWs marched at faster pace
– fewer breaks
– when given break, the POWs sat on road
– North of Hermosa the POWs reached pavement
– made march easier
– 13 April 1942
– 2:00 A.M. – POWs given an hour rest on road
– those who attempt to lay down are jabbed with bayonets
– POWs march through Layac and Lubao
– rains – POWs drank as much as they could
– 4:30 P.M. – reached San Fernando
– POWs put in groups of 200 to be fed
– one POW sent to get a box of rice for each group
– pottery jars of water given out the same way
– 14 April 1942
– 4:00 A.M. – POWs awakened
– formed detachments of 100 men and marched to train station
– POWs put into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane
– each boxcar could hold eight horses or forty men
– 100 POWs packed into each car
– POWs who died remained standing
– 9:00 A.M. – Capas – dead fell to floor as living left boxcars
– as POWs formed ranks, Filipinos threw sugarcane to POWs
– also gave them water
– POWs walked last 8 kilometers to Camp O’Donnell
POW Camps:
– Philippine Islands:
– Camp O’Donnell
– 1 April 1942 – unfinished Filipino training base Japanese put into use as a POW camp
– Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs
– POWs searched upon arrival at camp
– those found with Japanese money were accused of looting
– sent to guardhouse
– over several days, gunshots heard southeast of the camp
– POWs who had money on them had been executed
– Japanese took away any extra clothing from POWs as they entered the camp and refused to return it
– since no water was available for wash clothing, the POWs threw soiled clothing away
– clothing was taken from dead
– few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing
– POWs were not allowed to bathe
– only one water spigot for entire camp
– POWs waited 2½ hours to 8 hours to get a drink
– water frequently turned off by Japanese guards and next man in line waited as long as 4 hours for water to be turned on again
– mess kits could not be cleaned
– POWs had to carry water 3 miles from a river to cook their meals
– second water spigot installed a week after POWs arrived
– slit trenches overflowed since many of the POWs had dysentery
– flies were everywhere including in camp kitchens and food
– camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant
– the senior POW doctor wrote a list of medicines he wanted to treat the sick and was told by the camp commandant, Capt. Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, never to
write another letter
– Tsuneyoshi said that all he wanted to know about the American POWs was their names and numbers when they died
– refused to allow a truckload of medicine sent by the Archbishop of Manila into the camp
– 95% of the medicine sent by Philippine Red Cross was taken by the Japanese for their own use
– ranking American officer beaten with broadsword when he asked for medicine, additional food, and materials to fix leaking hut roofs
– POWs in camp hospital lay on floor elbow to elbow
– operations on POWs were performed with mess kit knives
– only one medic out of six assigned to care for 50 sick POWs, in the hospital, was well enough to work
– as many as 50 POWs died each day
– each morning dead were found everywhere in the camp and stacked up under the hospital
– ground under hospital was scrapped and covered with lime to clean it
– the dead were moved to the cleaned area and the area where they had lain was scrapped and covered with lime
– usually not buried for two or three days
– work details: if a POW could walk, he was sent out on a work detail
– POWs on burial detail often had dysentery and malaria
– Japanese opened new POW camp to lower death rate
– 1 June 1942 – POWs formed detachments of 100 men
– POWs marched out gate and marched toward Capas
– Filipino people gave POWs small bundles of food
– the guards did not stop them
– At Capas, the POWs were put into steel boxcars and rode them to Manila
– train stopped at Calumpit and switched onto the line to Cabanatuan
– POWs disembark train at 6:00 P.M. and put into a schoolyard
– fed rice and onion soup
– Cabanatuan:
– original name: Camp Pangatian
– Philippine Army Base built for 91st Philippine Army Division
– actually three camps
– Camp 1: POWs from Camp O’Donnell
– Camp 2: four miles away
– all POWs moved from there because of a lack of water
– later used for Naval POWs
– Camp 3: six miles from Camp 2
– POWs from Corregidor and from hospitals sent there
– POWs later moved to Camp 1
– Camp 1:
– work details sent out to cut wood for POW kitchens, plant rice, and farm
– when POWs lined up for roll call, it was a common practice for Japanese guards, after the POWs lined up, to kick the POWs in their shins with their
hobnailed boots
– they also were frequently hit with a pick handle, for no reason, as they counted off
– POWs on the rice planting detail were punished by having their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on
– the POWs had to go into a shed to get the tools, as they came out, they were hit on their heads
– if the guards on the detail decided the POW wasn’t doing what he should be doing, he was beaten
– many POWs on details were able to smuggle in medicine, food, and tobacco into the camp
– to prevent escapes, the POWs set up patrols along the camp’s fence
– men who attempted to escape and caught were executed after being beaten
– the other POWs were forced to watch the beatings
– daily POW meal – 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, sweet potato or corn
– Camp Hospital:
– 30 Wards
– each ward could hold 40 men
– frequently had 100 men in each
– two tiers of bunks
– sickest POWs on bottom tier
– each POW had a 2 foot by 6 foot area to lie in
– Zero Ward
– given name because it had been missed when counting wards
– became ward where those who were going to die were sent
– fenced off from other wards
– Japanese guards would not go near it
– POWs sent there had little to no chance of surviving
– 1 November 1942
– 1500 POW names drawn by Japanese
– POWs selected were sent to Japan
– POWs never were told this, they figured it out on their own
– 5 November 1942
– 3:00 A.M. – POWs left camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan
– before they left camp, they were given their breakfast to take with them
– rice and what the Japanese called a “large piece of meat”
– the piece of meat was two inches square and a quarter inch thick
– it was large compared to a piece of meat they usually received
– Barrio of Cabanatuan
– boarded train
– 98 POWs were put into each car
– the POWs could move if they worked together
– rode train to Manila
– arrived at 5:00 P.M.
– marched to Pier 7
– slept on a concrete floor inside a building
Hell Ship:
Nagato Maru
– Boarded: Manila – 6 November 1942 – 5:00 P.M.
– Japanese attempted to put 600 POWs into one hold
– settled for somewhere between 550 and 560
– 9 POWs had to share an area of 4 foot, 9 inches by 6 foot, 2 inches
– to sit, POWs had to draw their knees under their chins
– Sailed: 7 November 1942
– two latrines were supposed to service 1500 POWs
– the POWs had to stand in line to use them
– extremely sick could not reach latrines
– tubs put in holds for the sick
– to reach them, they had to walk on other POWs
– floor quickly became covered in human waste
– hold infested with lice, fleas, and roaches
– Meals: no system in place for distribution of food
– the sickest POWs did not eat
– water was almost non-existent
– holds were extremely hot
– POWs were rotated on deck
– Arrived: Takao, Formosa – 11 November 1942
– stayed three days in the harbor
– POWs were not allowed on deck for short periods of time
– Sailed: 15 November 1942
– Arrived: Mako, Pescadores Islands
– same day
– Sailed: 18 November 1942
– Arrived: Keelung, Formosa – same day
– Sailed: 20 November 1942
– POWs felt explosions from depth charges
– Arrived: Moji – 24 November 1942
– stayed on the ship until 5:00 P.M. the next day
– as they left the ship, POWs received a piece of colored wood
– the color determined what camp the POW was sent to
– POWs deloused after coming ashore
– inoculated
– new clothing
– POWs ferried to Shimonoseki, Honshu
– loaded onto train and took a long train ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to Osaka-Kobe Area
– There, they were divided into detachments based on the color of their wood chips
POW Camps:
– Japan:
Mitsushima
– also known as Tokyo #12-B
– during the trip to camp, the train the POWs were on had to stop because of a train wreck at a tunnel
– the POWs left the train and climbed a mountain at night to reach the camp
– 26 November 1942 – Americans arrived at 10:00 P.M.
– when POWs arrived at the camp, the Japanese commanding officer tried to intimidate them by saying they would never leave
Japan
– Barracks:
– 18 feet wide by 75 feet long
– divided into three sections
– 120 POWs in each barracks
– slept on two tiers
– each POW had an area of 2½ foot by 6-foot 2-inch area to sleep in and call his own
– barracks flooded when it rained
– floors were dirt and sand
– barely heated
– 3-foot by 3-foot fire pit for heat
– 10 pieces of wood each day
– each was 4 inches thick and 2 feet long
– no flu for the smoke to escape through
– barracks filled with smoke which hurt the POWs eyes
– only heated from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M.
– not enough wood provided
– Japanese intentionally did not give wood to POWs
– always used an excuse that a rule had been broken
– the wind blew through barracks because of poor construction
– barracks infested with fleas, lice, and other pests
– Latrines:
– two latrines
– each one could accommodate 30 men
– trenches that had no drainage
– POWs had to empty trenches
– Food:
– mostly a mix of barley & rice
– once in a while they received vegetables
– almost never fish or meat
– fish had to be boiled to make it edible
Note: 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.
– Clothing:
– POWs wore summer clothing
– Japanese supplied rags so the POWs could patch their clothing
– wore shoes made of straw made by POWs who were too sick to work in steel mills
– worked in rain without raincoats or change of clothes
– Note: After the war, a warehouse full of Red Cross clothing, shoes, and coats was found at the camp
– Punishment:
– Japanese practiced collective punishment when one POW violated a rule
– POWs made to stand at attention in cold for hours and had cold water thrown on them
– Japanese hit and clubbed POWs
– POWs were required to hit each other in the face
– any excuse was used to beat POWs
– POWs forced to kneel on sharp pieces of wood
– hung POWs from iron bars
– guards used jig-jitsu on the POWs
– strenuous exercise also used as a punishment
– called out of barracks at night and beaten for no real reason
– stood at attention, for hours, in winter weather for no reason
– POWs were thrown into guardhouse without bedding and had rations reduced
– Work:
– POWs worked in detachments at multiple steel mills
– shoveled coal into furnaces without proper protection
– fumes made them sick and they frequently vomited
– day off:
– no real day off
– POWs expected to clean campgrounds on a day off
– Medical Treatment:
– Japanese raided Red Cross packages
– medical supplies not issued to POWs
– medicines used by Japanese
– sick slept with soiled blankets
– sick POWs forced to do hard labor which resulted in men dying
Note: 9 guards from this camp were executed after the war for war crimes
Tokyo 16-B
– Work: carbide mill – POWs made carbide rods
– owned by Showa K Lenko Company
– worked in dangerous conditions, poor lighting, and supervision
– no safety devices for POWs
– the factory was located in a mine
– POWs worked in a carbide mill
– Collective Punishment:
– The camp commanding officer was actually kinder to POWs than commandants at other camps, but he did not stop mistreatment by subordinates
– all the POWs were punished when one broke a camp rule
– POWs were beaten while standing at attention
-15 April 1944 – 15 August 1945
– while a POW in the camp he witnessed a Japanese guard, Tatsuo Tsuchiya beat to death Pfc. Robert Gordon Teas
– the guard was known as “Little Glass Eye”
– asked Teas a question about the shirt he was wearing
– when he didn’t like the answer, he began beating him with a knotted rope
– for the next five days, Tsuchiya beat Teas with the rope
– Teas finally died
– Atwell also witnessed another POW stripped naked and made to stand in the snow by Tsuchiya
– the man also died
– Red Cross packages misappropriated by Japanese
– when POWs received boxes, it was obvious items were missing
Liberated: September 1945
– returned to the Philippine Islands
Promoted: Sergeant
Transport:
U.S.S. Yarmouth
– Sailed: Manila – not known
– Arrived: San Francisco – 8 October 1945
– sent to Letterman General Hospital
Died: 12 August 1963
Buried:
– Oakland Cemetery – Fort Dodge, Iowa
Note: The photo below is John Atwell’s POW photo

 

John Atwell - HQ Co.