Pvt. Richard W. Graff was born on February 17, 1913, to Frank Graff and Frances Prusvoscky-Graff. With his two brothers and sister, he grew up in Chicago at 4354 South Princeton Avenue. He left high school after one year and was employed by the Chicago Tribune as an advertising order clerk for eleven years. He was known as “Rick” to his family while his friends called him “Dick.”.
Dick was married to Cecelia Fleischer. On January 21, 1941, knowing that it was just a matter of time until he was drafted, Richard enlisted in the United States Army, since he had always had a desire to serve his country. At the time, he had no idea how fateful this decision would be for him.
After enlisting, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. His drill sergeant was Ben Morin who trained all the draftees assigned to the battalion. At the same time, Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion had been formed creating vacancies in the rosters of the tank companies. Since B Company had been an Illinois National Guard Company and Richard was from Illinois, he was assigned to B Company as a radioman, but he was also qualified as a tank driver.
During this training, Richard and the other new members of the 192nd were housed in tents. Being it was late winter, the heaters did not always keep them warm. It was while living in the tent that Richard became friends with Ed DeGroot who had been assigned to A Company.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 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 battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. 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. Within hours, many men had figured out 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.
The company 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 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. 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.
During the trip to the Philippines, Rick wrote to his wife, “Our letters will take longer to reach each other from now on because of the distance. I’ll bet it is 10,000 miles. Don’t worry. I don’t believe I would want a furlough after all. It costs too much from where we are going, and I don’t like the idea of traveling too much. If I do go home, I want it to be for good.”
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
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.
The morning of December 1, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. Two members of each crew had to remain with their tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
All morning of December 8, the half-tracks were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield. As they watched, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men 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.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
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, when they withdrew following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line and was near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th.
On December 31/January 1, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew. 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.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blown, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
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.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
To prevent the Japanese from locating the tanks and half-tracks assigned to guarding the beaches, the tankers would move their tanks out onto the beaches at night and into the jungle during the early morning. Every morning a Japanese reconnaissance plane known to the Bataan defenders as “Recon Joe” would fly over the jungle trying to locate the tanks. Since the jungle canopy was so thick, the Japanese had no idea where the tanks where or how many tanks the Americans had.
One morning, an attempt was made by a Sgt. Walter Cigoi to end the daily flyovers of Recon Joe. Sgt. Cigoi pulled his half-track out, from under the jungle canopy, onto the beach and started shooting at the reconnaissance plane, but his attempt to shoot down the plane failed. As a result of this decision, the Japanese now had a good idea where the tanks were located. Twenty minutes later, four Japanese dive bombers flew to the location and pasted the tanks and half-tracks.
According to T/4 Frank Goldstein, when the bombs began exploding, Richard and he were about five feet apart. To hide from the bombs, Frank dove into a hole, while Richard attempted to hide beside his tank, which, unfortunately, provided very little protection. The falling bombs exploded upon contact with the tree canopy high above the tanks creating shrapnel which flew in every direction.
When the bombing ceased, Richard was found, by Frank and other members of B Company, crouching beside the side of his tank with his hands shielding the sides of his head. Frank recalled that Richard had a “peaceful” look on his face. Since they did not see any wounds at the time, they did not know that he had been hit in the back of the head by a small piece of shrapnel. Richard was 28 years old when he died.
His mother received this message from the War Department:
“The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son, Richard W. Graff, was killed in action in defense of his country in the Philippine Islands Feb 3. Letter Follows.
Emory S. Adams
The Adjutant General of the Army
It should be mentioned that Richard was also the first former employee of the Chicago Tribune to die in WWII, and the flag on top of the Tribune Tower was flown at half-staff in his honor.
Pvt. Richard W. Graff was reported Killed In Action on Tuesday, February 3, 1942. He was buried in the Cabcaban Army Airfield Cemetery in Plot B, Row 1, Grave 8. His mother received word of his death on February 7, 1942. When his wife, Cecilia, learned of his death, later the same day, she told a reporter of the Chicago Tribune, “Rick wanted to go last January and be a radio operator with the army. I was proud at the time and am prouder now.” A memorial service was held at Saint Cecilia’s Church, in Chicago, on February 11, 1942. On April 11th, the Chicago Tribune dedicated an employee service flag to honor its former employees serving in the military. Richard’s wife and mother were present at the ceremony.
On November 15, 1942, a service flag was also dedicated in his neighborhood on Chicago’s south side. Over 1000 people were present for the ceremony. The flag had 194 blue Stars and two Gold Stars to indicate the two men from the neighborhood who had died in service.
After the war, in 1946, his remains were recovered at Cabcaben Army Airfield Cemetery, and his family had his remains returned to Chicago. A funeral mass was held at St. Cecelia’s Church before he was buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, with military honors, on October 19, 1948. Today, he lies next to his mother and father at the cemetery on the southwest side of Chicago.