Cpl. Jack Vernon Bruce was the son of Mamie Bruce and born on October 28, 1921, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It appears that his father died and his mother married Joseph Bruce., who adopted Jack and his two sisters. After his mother remarried, the family moved to Milton, Wisconsin, where he attended Milton schools and Milton High School. While in high school, Jack earned money by working as a farmhand.
While Jack was junior in high school, he enlisted in the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard. The tank company was headquartered in an armory in Janesville. The company was called to federal duty during his senior year of high school.
On November 28, 1940, Jack’s tank company traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky for one year of training. During this training, Jack became a tank crew member. It is not known what specific job he had, but it is known that every member of his battalion was trained to fire machine guns and drive tanks.
In the late summer of 1940, Jack took part in maneuvers in Louisiana at part of the red army. At one point during the maneuvers, the 192nd broke through the defenses of the blue army and was about to overrun its headquarters when the maneuvers were canceled. The blue army was under the command of General George S. Patton. Instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana.
At the fort on the side of a hill, Jack and the other members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. Those men 29 years old or older were given the chance to be released from federal duty and were replaced by men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. Most of the members of the battalion were given leave home and say goodbye to family and friends.
The companies of the battalion traveled by train, over different routes, to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they received inoculations and physicals. Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. 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 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
Jack and Phil Parish went on leave together in Hawaii. On their last day of leave, as they made their way back to their ship, Jack and Phil stopped for cake at a cafe. Neither man was really hungry and could not eat the cake. While they were POWs, they would often recall this incident and ask themselves why had they left the cake at the table barely eaten.
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. 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 the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that they had what they needed and all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
After arriving in the Philippines, Jack spent two weeks preparing to supply the members of A Company with the things they needed. The preparations ended with the Japanese attack on Clark Field in the Philippines.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
As they sat in the tankers sat in their tanks the morning of December 8 just hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they watched as American planes flew overhead all morning. Around noon, all the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots parked the planes in a straight line before they went to lunch.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, planes approached the airfield from the north. Like the other men, Robert believed they were American until they saw bombs exploding on the runways. During the attack, Bob and the rest of his tank crew fired at the planes but could do little damage since they did not have the proper weapons.
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 else 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 in their tanks or in ditches which were safer then their tents. They had no idea that they had – for the last time for nearly four years – slept on a bed.
On December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it could protect a highway and railroad from sabotage. It remained there until receiving orders to rejoin the other companies of the battalion which had been sent to the Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing.
On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
From there, the company rejoined the 192nd just south of the Agno River. 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.
Sometime during the Battle of the Philippines, Jack appears to have been made a member of 1st Lt. William Read‘s half-track crew. Being a member of the crew meant that Jack was involved in various engagements against the Japanese. It was during one of these engagements that Jack’s half-track was hit by enemy fire and knocked out. A second round would mortally wound Lt. Read. Jack and Pvt. Eugene Greenfield went for help, but before they could return, the Japanese overran the area. Lt. Read died of his wounds and Pvt. Ray Underwood became a Prisoner of War.
As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River on December 31. Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep. It was that night that the Japanese launched an attack to cross the river.
As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers. The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks. To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smoke screen. Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line. When the Japanese broke off their attack, they had lost about half their men.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon forces to cross the bridge toward Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. General MacArthur’s chief of staff gave conflicting orders involving whose command the defenders were under which caused confusion. Gen. Wainwright was not aware these orders had been given.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. The company returned to the command of the 192nd.
The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan. The night of January 7, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks. The company joined the 194th west of Guagua and was returned to the 192nd on January 8, 1942.
While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops. The morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were supposed to be beyond it. That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were supposed to have withdrawn. While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point-blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that the tank companies were pulled out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
During the Battle of the Pockets, Jack somehow ended up in “no man’s land” and was wounded. He could not make it back to the American lines. Owen Sandmire, John Hopple of B Company, and two other members of the battalion crawled out to him with a stretcher. Hopple and the other men were hit by enemy fire during the rescue. Since there were no drivers, Sandmire drove them down to Mariveles and back up the East Coast of Bataan to the hospital. By the time he got there, all three were dead. Jack was later rescued and recovered.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
On March 2 or 3, during the Battle of the Points. The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line. The Japanese were soon cut off. When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket. Both of the pockets were wiped out.
The company’s last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave. When asked about the Philippines, he said, “There are times when men must die.” The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
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 sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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.”
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men. Each car held 100 POWs. The POWs who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall down. When the train reached Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors of the boxcars.
The POWs walked the last eight kilometers to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledge that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The barracks used by the POWs were built to hold 50 POWs, but the Japanese put from 60 to 120 POWs in each one. There no shower facilities and the POWs slept on bamboo strips. In addition, no bedding, covers, or mosquito netting was provided which resulted in many becoming ill.
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. Each ward had two tiers of bunks and could hold 45 men but often had as many as 100 men in each. The sickest men slept on the bottom tier. Those who died, died because they were so malnourished that their bodies could not fight off the illnesses they had. When the Japanese gave out red cross packages, the situation improved for the POWs.
Sometime in early 1943, Jack was selected for the Bachrach Garage Detail which was also known as the Cabcaban Detail. The POWs on this detail repaired cars, trucks, and other equipment for the Japanese.
It was while he was on this detail that he became extremely ill on November 22, 1943. That day medical records state he developed a fever and had back and leg pains. It was reported that his illness was bad enough to have him transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Unit at Bilibid Prison on November 26, 1943. The doctors wanted to admit him to the hospital, but the Japanese refused to allow it, so he was returned to the work detail.
Jack’s bronchitis and pneumonia got worse, so he was returned to the hospital on November 29. Records kept by the medical staff show he was vomiting, coughing up blood in his mucous, and had a 102.4-degree fever. On November 30, the cramping he was experiencing increased and so did the bloody mucous.
On Wednesday, December 1, 1943, at Bilibid Prison at 12:05 A.M., Cpl. Jack V. Bruce died from his illnesses and was buried in Row 4, Grave 16, in the POW cemetery at Bilibid. He was 22 years old. His friend, Phil Parish, attempted to visit the grave, but since Jack was buried in a restricted area, he was not allowed to do so.
After the war, Jack’s family had his remains returned to Janesville, Wisconsin. Cpl. Jack V. Bruce was reburied at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville on October 21, 1949. His headstone indicates that he died on December 1, 1943, which is also the date given on the POW death records from Bilibid Prison. This date conflicts with the date given in the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion.