Cpl. John Patrick Cahill was born on October 6, 1916, in Butte, Montana, to John T. Cahill and Teresa Tighe-Cahill. He was the oldest of the couple’s four children. His father died in 1920, and his mother remarried. With mother and half-sister, he resided at 608 Clemens Court in Saint Louis, Missouri. The family moved to Chicago and lived at 4822 North Kenmore Avenue. He graduated high school and worked as a stock boy. At some point, he and his brother moved to 825 South Scoville Avenue in Oak Park, Illinois.
John joined the Illinois National Guard with his brother, Pvt. James A. Cahill. Together they were called to active duty when the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard was federalized in November 1940. The company left Maywood, Illinois, on November 28, and arrived at Ft. Knox. Kentucky, where they lived in six men tents since their barracks were not finished.
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. Afterward, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
John trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he learned how to operate motorcycles, tanks, and half-tracks. He attended school and qualified as a tank driver. Next, he took part in the Louisiana maneuvers from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and learned they were being sent overseas. Most of the members of the battalion received leaves home to say goodbye to family and friends.
The decision for this move – which had been made in 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 hundreds 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 by train to San Francisco, California, and was taken by ferry to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the ferry the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated for overseas duty. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. 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 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 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 received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was a stew thrown into their mess kits – 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. The grease was put on the weapons 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.
On December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. Two crew members remained with their tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks. The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field and told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, John lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. He and the other tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American. They then saw what looked like raindrops falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that 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. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
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.
It was John’s tank platoon which was selected to continue to the Lingayen Gulf. John was a member of a tank crew that consisted of himself, Lt. Ben Morin, Pvt. Steve Gados and Pvt. Louis Zelis, which meant that he was in the lead tank. Tanks from his platoon, under the command of Lt. Ben Morin, were sent to Damortis after reports came in that a Japanese cyclist or motorized unit was approaching the town. John’s unit did not encounter the Japanese there so they went on to Agoo. Since the tanks could not maneuver in the fields and had a tendency of getting stuck, they moved down the main highway in single file.
As the tanks went around a bend in the road, the tanks from Company B ran into a column of Japanese light tanks that had set up a roadblock. These light tanks had sloped sides, a low silhouette, and no turret. The American tankers found it extremely difficult to score a disabling hit on them. Due to the high silhouettes of the American tanks, they were easy targets for the Japanese 47-mm guns.
John’s tank was repeatedly hit by fire and left the road to maneuver out of the trap. It was during this maneuver that the tank took a disabling hit. The remaining four tanks attempted to come to the aid of the tank but had to give up due to heavy anti-tank fire. The members of the crew discussed if they were going to do what they called “an Alamo” or if they would surrender. Morin decided that he would let the crew members vote. They voted to surrender and take their chances with the Japanese.
John, along with Morin, Gados, and Zelis, became the first American tank personnel to become Prisoners of War during World War II. John would spend the next three and one-half years as a POW at various camps. On April 4, 1942, he was sent to Cabanatuan #3. The camp was used by those men who had not taken part in the death march.
After his capture, John’s mother and brother received a telegram from the War Department.
“THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR SON CPL JOHN P CAHILL HAS BEEN REPORTED MISSING IN ACTION SINCE THE 22 DECEMBER IN THE PHILIPPINES IF FURTHER DETAILS OR INFORMATION ARE RECEIVED YOU WILL PROMPTLY BE NOTIFIED
“ADAMS THE ADJUTANT GENERAL”
The camp was later closed and the POWs were sent to Camp One which held the POWs who were captured when Bataan surrendered. After arriving in the camp, John attempted to find his brother, Jim. John learned from other members of Company B that his brother, Jim, had died during a Japanese bombing. As a result of this, John refused to salute the Japanese and their flag. He was repeatedly beaten for his disobedience, but he never did salute their flag.
In January 1943, his mother received a telegram from the War Department.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON CORPORAL JOHN P. CAHILL IS A PRISONER OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN THE PHILIPPINES LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVORST MASHALL GENERAL=
“ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.”
Within days of being notified that her son was a POW, John’s mother received another message.
4126½ North Sheridan Road
“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:
“Cpl. John P. Cahill, 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”
On March 23, 1943, he was admitted into the camp hospital. The medicals records do not indicate the illness he was suffering from or when he was discharged.
It should be mentioned that his mother was given the opportunity to send John a recorded message. What those recording the message did not know was that she recently received word that John’s brother, Jim, had been killed in action on Bataan. In what was recorded, she said, “Dearest son John, This is mother. I’m well and want you to know how very proud ……” It was at that point she began crying.
After Cabanatuan, John was sent to Agoo and finally Japan. The ship, the Coral Maru, was also known as the Taga Maru and left Manila on September 20. During the trip the ship stopped at Takao, Formosa, arriving there on September 23, and sailing on September 26. It arrived at Moji, Japan, on October 5 and the POWs rode a train that arrived at Hirohata #12-B on October 6.
In the camp, where Cpl. Erwin Glasenapp and Pvt. Wallace Marston of B Company. There he was assigned POW number 579. The POWs were housed in two 50′ by 100′ wooden barracks that were not insulated. 240 POWs lived in each barracks and slept on straw mats placed on two rows of platforms in the barracks. The top platform was sixteen feet above the floor. They received their meals from a camp kitchen which was a small wooden structure. Ten POWs were assigned to the kitchen and cook the meals in thirteen cauldrons. An additional 30 POWs were assigned to maintaining the camp.
The POWs were used as slave laborers in the Seitetsu Steel Mills which was a few miles from the camp. Regardless of the weather, the POWs marched to the mill. They loaded pig iron on ships and trains and unloaded ore. They loaded and unloaded coal cars at the mills, worked in the machine shops, worked at the blast furnaces, and cleaned the slag from the furnaces. If they were caught stealing, they were severely punished.
During his time in the camp, POWs were beaten with belts, ropes, clubs, and fists. In addition, the POWs had water forced down the nostrils, they were submerged in cold water and afterward forced to stand nude in the cold. Men also had their heads put into a trough and when they attempted to take their heads out of the water were hit in the back of their heads with a club. One guard drilled the POWs and beat them if they missed a step even though the orders were being given in Japanese.
Making the POWs kneel appears to have been a common practice in the camp. 40 POWs were made to kneel for eight hours, while on another occasion, every POW in the camp, during mustard, was made to kneel for five hours. Another sixteen POWs – who were accused of steal rice – were lined up, with their hands behind their heads, and each was slapped in the face with a large, double up, belt.
The guards also stole food assigned to the POWs and canned meat and fruit, cigarettes, and other items from the POWs’ Red Cross packages. They also stole the Red Cross clothing and shoes sent for the POWs.
The camp hospital was always filled with 50 POWs who were too ill to work. An American doctor was in charge of the hospital but was at the mercy of a Japanese corpsman, who frequently changed his diagnosis and refused to issue medicine to the sick. He forced men running fevers to go to work.
John’s mother received a POW postcard from him on February 2, 1945, which was written while he was at Cabanatuan. This was the first time that she had heard from him since he had been taken as a prisoner. On the card, he said: “working every day except Sunday” and “in good health, considering.”
John was liberated from Hirohata 12-B on September 9, 1945. His mother received a telegram from the War Department.
“OFFICIAL CONFIRMATION HAS NOW BEEN MADE THAT YOUR SON CORPORAL JOHN P CAHILL RETURNED TO MILITARY CONTROL NINTH SEPTEMBER
“J A ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL.”
After he was liberated he was taken by the U.S.A.H.S. Marigold to Saipan. From there, he was taken to Marianas and flown by the U.S. Air Transport Command to Hawaii and then the Hamilton Airfield north of San Francisco. He returned to Illinois and was discharged, from the army, on May 1, 1946.
It was after his return to Chicago that he learned that his younger brother, Joseph, also had died in the war when his bomber crashed at sea between Greenland and Iceland on August 30, 1944. Eugene had joined the Army Air Corps to avenge Jim’s death.
John P. Cahill would later live in San Antonio, Texas, but returned to Chicago. He passed away on October 20, 1992, in Niles, Illinois, and was buried in Maryhill Cemetery in Niles.