T/4 Robert G. Bales was born in 1920, in Carnegie, Oklahoma. It is known he had a brother, Glen, and the two brothers moved to Salinas, California, together, and were later joined by their parents Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bales. They resided at 614 New Deal Street.
To fulfill their military obligation, Robert joined the California National Guard’s 40th Divisional Tank Company in Salinas, California. On February 10, 1941, at Salinas Army Air Base, Robert’s tank company was called to federal duty as C Company, 194th Tank Battalion. His tank company was now C Company, 194th Tank Battalion.
The members of the company spent a week getting their equipment ready for movement to Fort Lewis, Washington, where it was joined by A Company from Brainerd, Minnesota, and B Company from Saint Joseph, Missouri. It was after arriving there that he was put in charge of the C Company’s reconnaissance platoon.
The weather at the camp was described as constantly rainy during the winter months. When they first arrived many men caught colds, pneumonia, and the flu and spent time in the fort’s hospital. The situation became bad enough that doctors went to the barracks to treat the men.
A typical day started at 6:00 A.M. with the first call followed at 6:30 with breakfast. During this time the soldiers made their cots, policed the grounds around the barracks, swept the floors of their barracks, and performed other duties. From 7:30 to 11:30 A.M., the men had drill followed by lunch. They again had drill from 1:00 P.M. until 4:30 P.M. Evening retreat was at 5:00 P.M. and dinner was at 5:30 P.M. After this, the men were off duty except for those assigned to the guard detail who worked two hours on and four hours off during the night.
A canteen was located near their barracks and was visited often. There was also a movie theater on the base that they visited. The theater where the tanks were kept was not finished, but when it was, the tankers only had to cross the road to their tanks.
Saturdays the men had off, and many rode a bus 15 miles northeast to Tacoma which was the largest town nearest to the base. They also went to see the Tacoma Narrow Bridge which had collapsed in 1940. On Sundays, many of the men went to church and services were held at different times for the different denominations.
One of the biggest problems for the tankers was that the regular Army seemed to have a problem with them since they were National Guardsmen. After arriving at the fort, they trained in whatever clothing they had. One day, while they were training three officers, on horseback, rode up and asked why they weren’t training in the proper uniforms. It was explained that what they were wearing was what they had. That afternoon, a truck loaded with army clothing showed up at the 194th’s barracks. As it turned out one of the officers was the chief of staff of the camp’s commander, the officer’s name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The battalion went on long reconnaissance with trucks and tanks and drove all over reservation following maps. They learned from observation what the land surrounding the fort looked like. The purpose of this training was to collect tank data which they would use later. They often had to live off the land during the training.
On April 30, 1941, the battalion went on an all-day march and ate dinner in woods brought to them by the cooks in the food trucks. The march was two hours one way and covered about 10 miles total. At one point the soldiers stopped in an abandoned apple orchard in bloom.
The battalion’s first motorcycles arrived in May 1941 and all battalion members had to learn to ride them. In early May 1941, the battalion – except men who had been drafted – went on its first overnight bivouac. The reason the new men did not go is that they did not have shelter halves. The battalion left around noon and returned around noon the next day.
Men assigned to jobs requiring special training were sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for training as mechanics, tank mechanics, radiomen, and radio repair for six weeks. Those who remained at Ft. Lewis were given the job of policing the base collecting garbage and distributing coal.
In the late summer of 1941, the 194th received orders 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 plane 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 day, another squadron was sent to the area but the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the air corp and Navy was poor, the ship escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In September 1941, the 194th, minus B Company, was ordered to San Francisco, California, for transport to the Philippine Islands. Arriving by train at 7:30 A.M., at Ft. Mason, north of San Francisco, on September 5. The company was ferried, on the U. S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received physicals and inoculations from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have medical issues were replaced.
The tankers boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge on September 8th at 3:00 P.M. and sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands. To get the tanks to fit in the ship’s holds, the turrets had serial numbers spray painted on them and were removed from the tanks. They arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M., and most of the soldiers were allowed off the ship to see the island but had to be back on board before the ship sailed at 5:00 P.M.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time that it was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria – a heavy cruiser – and the U.S.S. Guadalupe – a fleet replenishment oiler – were its escorts. During this part of the trip, on several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country.
The Coolidge entered Manila Bay at 7:00 A.M., on September 26, and reached Manila several hours later. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were driven on buses to Clark Field. The maintenance section of the battalion and members of 17th Ordnance remained at the dock to unload the battalion’s tanks and reattach the turrets.
The battalion rode buses to Fort Stotsenburg and was taken to an area between the fort and Clark Field, where they were housed in tents since General Edward P. King, commanding officer of the fort had learned of their arrival only days earlier. They remained in the tents until November 15th when they moved into their barracks.
The barracks’ outside walls were opened and screened from the floors to three feet up the wall. Above that, there was woven bamboo. This design allowed air to pass through the barracks. Sanitation facilities appeared to have been limited and a lucky man was one who was able to wash by a faucet with running water.
The tankers started working 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. According to members of the battalion the term “recreation in the motor pool” meant they 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.
Off the base, the soldiers went to Mt. Aarayat National Park and swam in the swimming pool there that was filled with mountain water. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups. They also went to canoeing at Pagsanjan Falls in their swimsuits and described the country was described as being beautiful
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. When they were discovered working in their coveralls by the base’s officers, the soldiers were reprimanded for not wearing dress uniforms while working. The decision was made by Major Ernest Miller to continue wearing coveralls in their barracks area to do their work but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they were expected to wear dress uniforms, including going to the PX.
On December 1, the 194th was ordered to its position at Clark Field. Their job was to protect the northern half of the airfield from paratroopers. The 192nd Tank Battalion, which had arrived in November, guarded the southern half. Two crewmen remained with the tanks at all times and received their meals from food trucks. Anyone not assigned to a tank remained behind at the battalion’s command post.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the battalion was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. Just hours early, the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. As the tankers guarded the airfield, they watched American planes flying in every direction. At noon the planes landed, to be refueled, and the pilots went to lunch. It was 12:45, and as the tankers watched, a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers 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.
The 194th was sent to Mabalcat on December 10, and it was at this time that C Company was sent to southern Luzon where the Japanese were landing and put under the command of Brigadier General Albert M. Jones. To avoid Japanese planes, the company tried to cover the distance at night. They were successful and going 40 miles during the night but had to make a run for it during the day. They were successful and reached Muntinlupa and made it to Tagatay Ridge on December 14th.
The tanks remained at Tagatay until December 24th doing reconnaissance and hunting for fifth columnists who would signal planes with mirrors during the day near ammunition dumps resulting in the dumps being bombed and shelled. At night, the fifth columnists shot off flares near the ammunition dumps. The activity ended, when the company shot up native huts suspected as being used by the fifth columnists.
At 2:00 A.M. on December 24th, the Japanese landed 7,000 troops at Lamon Bay. The Japanese began advancing in the direction of Lucban. The company took a position to aid the 1st Infantry Regiment, Philippine Army, that was fighting the Japanese.
The next day, December 26, Lt. Needham’s platoon of tanks received orders to proceed to Lucban because the Japanese troops were in the area. When the tankers got to the Lucban area, an American officer ordered the tanks up Route 3 to see how strong the Japanese forces were in the area. This road was, in reality, a jungle trail. Part of the reason for the tanks being called to do reconnaissance was that the American command wanted to impress the Filipino troops. Lt. Needham protested this move since no reconnaissance had been made of the area. Needham believed that the tankers could be entering a trap. In spite of his protests, he was ordered to proceed up the road.
Being a member of Needham’s tank crew meant that Robert’s tank was the first tank in the column. As they went down the trail, the trail made a sharp turn. His tank made the turn and was hit by a shell from a Japanese 47-millimeter antitank gun. The shell came through the front hatch and killed Bale’s immediately. The tank swerved off the road into a ditch. The explosion caused the front hatches of the tank to be blown off. This left the surviving crew members exposed to enemy fire. As the surviving tank crew members attempted to escape the tank, they were fired at by the Japanese. T/4 Robert G. Bales was Killed in Action outside of Lucban on Friday, December 26, 1941.
From this point on, his parents would not know his status. In May 1942, his parents received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Mr. F. Bales:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Technician Fourth Grade Robert G. Bales, 20, 900, 671, 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”
In July his family received a second message from the War Department. The following are excerpts 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, Technician Fourth Grade Robert G. Bales 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.”
in 1943, they received another message from the War Department.
“Dear Mr. Bales:
“The records of the War Department show your son, Technician Fourth Grade Robert G. Bales, Infantry, missing in action in the Philippine Islands since May 7, 1942.
“All available information concerning your son has been carefully considered and under the provisions of Public Law 490, 77th Congress, as amended, an official determination has been made continuing him on the records of the War Department in a missing status. The law sited provides that pay and allowances are to be credited to the missing person’s account and payment of allotments to authorized allottees are to be continued during the absence of such persons in a missing status.
“I fully appreciate your concern and deep interest. You will, without further request on your part, receive immediate notification of any change in your son’s status. I regret that the far-flung operations of the present war, the ebb and flow of the combat over the great distances in isolated areas, and the characteristics of our enemies impose on us the heavy burden of uncertainty with respect to the safety of our loved ones.
“Very Truly Yours,
“J. A. Ulio
The Adjutant General
This was the last word that they received from the War Department until September 1945. At that time they received another message from the War Department.
“THE SECRETARY OF WAR ASKS THAT I ASSURE YOU OF HIS DEEP SYMPATHY IN THE LOSS OF YOUR SON TECHNICIAN FOURTH GRADE ROBERT G BALES WHO WAS PREVIOUSLY REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION REPORT NOW RECEIVED STATES HE WAS KILLED IN ACTION ON TWENTY SIX DECEMBER NINETEEN FORTY ONE IN THE PHILIPPINES CONFIRMING LETTER FOLLOWS=
A number of days later, his wife received the following letter.
“Dear Mrs. Bales:
“It is with deep regret that I am writing to confirm the recent telegram informing you of the death of your son, Technician Fourth Grade Robert G. Bales, 20, 900, 671, Infantry, who was previously reported missing in action.
“Information has now been received from the Japanese government through the International Red Cross stating that your son was killed in action in the Philippine Islands on 26 December 1942.
“I realize the burden of anxiety that has been yours and deeply regret the sorrow this report brings you. May the knowledge that he made the supreme sacrifice for his home and country be a source of sustained comfort.
“I extend to you my deepest sympathy,
(signed) J. A. Ulio
The Adjutant General”
After the war, a United States Recovery Team was sent to the Barrio of Piis in the Philippine Islands to recover remains on July 5, 1945. The local residents claimed that the remains of two Americans were still inside an American tank which had been destroyed during a tank battle in December 1941. The Filipinos took the Americans to the rice paddy where the tank was and remains of one man were found in the tank driver’s side of the tank, while the remains of another man were found in the assistant tank driver’s position. The residents stated that they did not bury the soldiers but filled the tank with dirt. The remains of both men were recovered and buried at Batangas as Unknowns X-7 and X-8.
The remains of one soldier were exhumed from Plot: 1, Row: 11, Grave: 323 and reburied in Plot: 4, Row: 8, Grave: 999 as Unknown X-3677 at Manila #2 on August 13, 1947. He was designated as Unknown X-4702 when the remains were moved to the new American Cemetery at Manila.
The Filipinos also explained the remains of the other tank crew members were outside of the tank and dragged away by dogs. In addition, the tank number FXN-314 was identified.
Since his final resting place is unknown, T/4 Robert G. Bales’ name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila.