PFC Steve George Gados Jr. was the son of Steve G. Gados Sr. and Louise Gados. He was born on August 19, 1918, in Chicago and lived at 1438 North Noble Street. His mother had been married previously and entered the marriage with seven children. Including Steve, his parents would have eight more children. After his birth, Steve’s family lived at 1311 North Wood Street in Chicago. Steve attended Kosciusko School and then Crane Technical High School for a short time. He left school and worked at Standard Steel Corporation as a power shear operator for eight years.
In 1940, Steve, along with his friends Ed Plodzien and Mike Wepsiec, joined the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company headquartered in Maywood, Illinois. As a member of the 33rd Tank Company Steve was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training in November 1940. It was there that his company became B Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion.
During this training, Steve learned how to operate the equipment used by the company. 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. 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.
From September 1 through 30, the tankers took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks of the 753rd. The decision to send the battalion to the Philippines was made on August 15, 1941.
In particular, Steve attended radio school which was extremely demanding and meant he did not get leaves other men received. He qualified as a radio operator after three months of training. In addition to operating the tank’s radio, he also trained at loading the tank’s cannon.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana from September 1 through 30. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there. On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Those who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Within hours, many men had figured out what PLUM meant, and that they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.
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 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.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion’s medical detachment. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. 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 Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and 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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers. As it turned out, this training was in combat against the Japanese invasion forces on Luzon. As a radio operator, Steve was a member of Lt. Ben Morin’s tank crew.
On December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times. On the morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield. They had received word 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, the soldiers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier. The 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. The company remained at Clark Field for the next two weeks.
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 22, 1941, at Agoo, the tank Steve was in came under heavy enemy fire. Lt. Ben Morin‘s tank platoon had been sent north to allow the 26th U. S. Cavalry to withdraw from an engagement with the Japanese near Lingayen Bay.
While advancing on the enemy, Steve worked to feed ammunition belts to keep the machine gun of Pvt. John Cahill firing. It was while his tank was advancing that it took several direct hits. With the door in front of Pvt. Cahill’s face hanging from one hinge, Lt. Morin ordered the tank to be pulled off the road. This was done to place the door back in place. As the crew attempted to do this, a Japanese tank rammed the tank damaging the left front sprocket. The tank could only go in circles.
Despite efforts by the remaining four tanks in the column, the tank Steve was in could not be rescued. Enemy fire was so bad that the crews from the other tanks assumed Steve and the other members of his tank crew were dead. Inside the tank, the Steve and the other members of the crew were asked by Lt. Morin if they wanted to fight their way back to friendly lines or surrender. The crew chose to surrender. On this day, Steve and the fellow tank crew members became Prisoners of War.
The next day, Steve and the rest of his tank crew were sent to Bauang on the backs of Japanese tanks. Steve’s hands and feet were tied to prevent him from escaping. To ensure that he made no attempt at escaping, a Japanese soldier held a short sword against the back of his neck. If he made a move that the guard interpreted as an escape attempt, his head would be cut off. Steve attempted to remain as still as possible.
At Bauang, the POWs would salute the Japanese but refused to bow to them. Steve and the other tank crew members finally bowed to the Japanese, but only after the Japanese had severely beaten them. The soldiers decided that this was a victory because the Japanese had to be them to get them to bow.
During May or early June 1942, his parents received a message from the War Department.
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of PFC Steve G. Gados Jr. who according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to give you more information. 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 of other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese government has indicated its intentions of conforming to the terms of the Geneva convention with respects 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 the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is hoped that the Japanese government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At this time you will be notified by this office in the event his name (Steve G. Gados Jr.) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
After the surrender of Bataan, Steve and the other POWs were sent to Cabanatuan. The camp was actually three camps two to eight miles from each other. Camp 1 held the POWs who had been captured on Bataan. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked adequate water. Camp 3 – which was six miles from Camp 2 – held POWs from Corregidor and men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered.
In July, his parents 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, PFC Steve G. Gados Jr. 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.”
Steve was held at the camp from May 1942, until he went out on a work detail in July 1942. The POWs on the detail were housed at the Pasay School in eighteen rooms. Thirty POWs were assigned to a room. The POWs were used to extend and widen runways for the Japanese Navy. The plans for this expansion came from the American Army which had drawn them up before the war. The Japanese wanted a runway 500 yards wide and a mile long going through hills and a swamp.
Unlike the Americans, the Japanese had no plans on using construction equipment. Instead, they intended the POWs to do the work with picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The first POWs arrived at Pasay in August 1942. The work was easy until the extension reached the hills. When the extension reached the hills, some of which were 80 feet high, the POWs flattened them by hand. The Japanese replaced the wheelbarrows with mining cars that two POWs pushed to the swamp and dumped as land-fill. As the work became harder and the POWs weaker, less work got done.
At six in the morning, the POWs had reveille and “bongo” or count, at 6:15 in detachments of 100 men. After this came breakfast which was a fish soup with rice. After breakfast, there was a second count of all POWs, which included both healthy and sick, before the POWs marched a mile and a half to the airfield.
After arriving at the airfield, the POWs were counted again. They went to a tool shed and received their tools; once again they were counted. At the end of the workday, the POWs were counted again. When they arrived back at the school, the POWs were counted again. Then, they would rush to the showers, since there only six showers and toilets for over 500 POWs. They were fed dinner, another meal of fish and rice and than counted one final time. Lights were turned out at 9:00 P.M.
The brutality shown to the POWs was severe. The first Japanese commander of the camp, a Lt. Moto, was called the “White Angel” because he wore a spotless naval uniform. He was the commander of the camp for slightly over thirteen months. One day a POW collapsed while working on the runway. Moto was told about the man and came out and ordered him to get up. When he couldn’t four other Americans were made to carry the man back to the Pasay School.
At the school, the Japanese guards gave the man a shower and straightened his clothes as much as possible. The other Americans were ordered to the school. As they stood there, the White Angel ordered an American captain to follow him behind the school. The POW was marched behind the school and the other Americans heard two shots. The American officer told the men that the POW had said, “Tell them I went down smiling.” There, the White Angel shot the POW as the man smiled at him. As the man lay on the ground, he shot him a second time. The American captain told the other Americans what had happened. The White Angel told them that this was what going to happen to anyone who would not work for the Japanese Empire.
The second commanding officer of the detail was known as “The Wolf.” He was a civilian who wore a Japanese Naval Uniform. Each morning, he would come to the POW barracks and select those POWs who looked the sickest and made them line up. The men were made to put one leg on each side of a trench and then do 50 push-ups. If a man’s arms gave out and he touched the ground, he was beaten with pick handles.
On another occasion, a POW collapsed on the runway. The Wolf had the man taken back to the barracks. When the Wolf came to the barracks that evening and the man was still unconscious, he banged the man’s head into the concrete floor and kicked him in the head. He then took the man to the shower and drowned him in the basin.
A third POW who had tried to walk away from the detail told the guards to shoot him, the guards took him back to the Pasay School and strung him up by his thumbs outside the doorway and placed a bottle of beer and sandwich in front of him. He was dead by evening.
The remains of the POWs who had died on the detail were brought to Bilibid Prison in wooden boxes. The Japanese had death certificates, with the causes of death and signed by an American doctor, sent with the boxes. The Americans from the detail, who accompanied the boxes, would not tell the POWs at Bilibid what had happened. It was only when the sick, from the detail, began to arrive at Bilibid did they learn what the detail was like. These men were sent to Bilibid to die since it would look better when it was reported to the International Red Cross.
His parents learned he was a POW on April 23, 1943, in a message sent to them from the War Department. This was the first word of him they had received in over a year.
It was while he was at Pasay that medical records kept at Bilibid Prison show he was hospitalized on April 23, 1943, with beriberi and discharged from the hospital on April 27, 1944. When he was discharged, he was sent to Cabanatuan. While there he was selected for transport to Japan on July 12, 1944.
On July 18, Steve left Cabanatuan and sent to the Port Area of Manila. From the docks of Manila, Steve boarded onto the Nissyo Maru, which sailed on July 25 arriving at Takao on July 27. The next day, it sailed for Moji, Japan. The ship arrived in Japan on August 3. During the trip to Japan, he was reunited with Carl Maggio of B Company.
Carl and Steve managed to get out of the hold. How they did this was that they began shouting that a man had passed out. Another POW and Steve carried Carl to the area below the hatch. The three men then rushed up the ladder onto the ship’s deck. To their amazement, the ship’s captain allowed them to stay topside. While they were on deck, they began eating food that was being stored on the deck. While the two men were on deck, the POWs in the ship’s hold began shouting because they were so tightly packed into the hold. The Japanese brought a machine gun to the hold and threaten to shoot. This resulted in the prisoners immediately quieting down.
The Japanese decided to resolve the problem so they opened up another hold. They then began moving prisoners, including Carl and Steve, to this hold. By the time they finished, this smaller hold was even more crowded than the original hold. The bathroom facilities were cans tied to ropes that were pulled out of the hatch. These often spilled which resulted in the hold stinking of human waste. It also resulted in maggots being everywhere and constantly biting the prisoners.
As the ships got closer to Japan, American submarines attacked the convoy. These attacks continued for three nights in a roll. The POWs heard torpedoes pass under their ship and cheered when they heard the explosions of a tanker hit by torpedoes. The Japanese got angry over the cheering and again brought a machine gun to the hatch of the hold. They threatened to open fire on the prisoners if the cheering did not stop.
Steve arrived at Moji, Japan, on August 8, 1944, and was sent to Fukuoka #3-B at Yawata, Japan, where the POWs worked at the Yawata Steel Mills doing manual labor shoveling iron ore and rebuilding the ovens. The POWs were also sent into the ovens to clean out the debris. Since the ovens were hot, because the Japanese would not let them cool off, the POWs worked faster on this detail. If an air raid took place while the POWs were at the mill, they were put into railway cars and the train was pulled into a tunnel. Those POWs further from the tunnel took cover in two air raid shelters. They worked 9 to 10 hours a day and received a half-hour lunch.
The barracks that the POWs lived in were always cold since the Japanese heated them on a minimal basis and infested with fleas, lice, and bedbugs. Only the sick rooms had heat. All POWs who died were reported to have died in the camp hospital. Food for the POWs consisted of a main dish of rice, wheat, wheat flour, corn, and, Kaoliang, a millet. To supplement their diets, the POWs in the camp would hunt rats at night for meat. On two occasions, the Japanese gave the POWs meat. In both cases, the meat was given to them because it was rotten.
Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was sent to the camp. Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with a hacksaw and crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools. To meet quotas for workers, the sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it. If a POW had a fever 102 degrees or lower, he was sent to work.
Three days a month, the POWs were allowed to exchange their worn-out clothing for new clothing, but a Japanese guard, in charge of giving out the clothing, beat POWs attempting to exchange their clothing or shoes. The POWs went without clothing or worked in the snow in bare feet, to avoid the beatings. This resulted in men developing pneumonia and dying.
The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for violating camp rules, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water. In one incident an entire barracks was slapped in the face, by the guards, because some POWs had smoked in the barracks. During the winter, POWs who were being punished often had water thrown on them. A group of about 60 POWs was made to crawl on their hands and knees, while carrying other POWs, on their backs. As they crawled, they were hit with bamboo sticks, belts, and rifle butts. There were two brigs in the camp which had as many as 20 POWs in them at a time.
Another incident involved an American soldier who traded with the Japanese. The war was almost over and Japan was about to surrender. The soldier traded for roasted beans. As it turned out, the beans had been tainted with arsenic. The soldier died the next day. After going through all he had suffered, the soldier died when freedom was almost his.
The Yawata Steel Mills were the primary target for the second atomic bomb, but since the sky was extremely overcast, the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. This time, they saw Japanese workers facing in the direction of radio speakers with their heads bowed. The Americans thought that the emperor had passed away. The truth was that the second atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki, and the emperor was announcing Japan’s surrender. An American ensign, who could read and spoke Japanese, saw a newspaper with the announcement of the surrender. He was the first person to inform his fellow POWs that the war was over. They were then told the same news by the camp commandant.
American planes appeared over the camp and dropped food and clothing to the POWs. Many of them overate and became sick. On September 17, 1945, Steve was liberated by American troops. The next day, September 18, 1945, he was sent to Nagasaki and saw the damage done by the atomic bomb. From there, he was transported by ship to Okinawa. Hours after arriving there, Steve was taken to Okinawa and later flown back to the Philippines where he spent a number of weeks undergoing examinations and “fattened up,” before being sent back to the United States.
His parents received this message from the War Department:
“Mr. and Mrs. Steve Gados Sr: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, PFC Steve G. Gados Jr. was returned to military control Sept. 17 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
On October 10, Steve left the Philippines, for home on, the U.S.S. Marine Shark arriving on November 1, 1945, at Seattle, Washington. The men were taken to Madigan Hospital at Ft Lewis, Washington. It was a little over four years since he had left San Francisco for the Philippines. On November 5, he was sent to Vaughn General Hospital outside Chicago, arriving there on November 8. He was discharged at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on May 26, 1946.
Steve returned to Chicago, married, and raised three daughters; Mary, Carol, and Linda. He spent the rest of his life in Chicago.
Steve G. Gados Jr. passed away on September 16, 1987, and was buried at Maryhill Catholic Cemetery in Niles, Illinois. The picture below was taken of Steve while he was a POW in Japan.