Gyovai, Pvt. Frank W.

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Pvt. Frank W. Gyovai was born on February 15, 1920, in Sovereign, West Virginia, to Stephen Gyovai and Ethel Pappi-Gyovai who were Hungarian immigrants. With his four brothers and one sister, he resided in Boone County, West Virginia, where his father worked as a coal miner. He attended high school for two years before he went to work as a coal miner. Frank was inducted into the U. S. Army on January 8, 1941. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training and assigned to the 19th Ordnance Battalion. During this time he attended school and qualified as a tank mechanic.

Frank and the other members of the 19th Ordnance Battalion trained on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion. During August 1941, the battalion was taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas when A Company was ordered back to Ft. Knox and inactivated.  The company was renamed and activated as 17th Ordnance Company. The same day, the company received orders that they were being sent overseas. The company traveled west by train to San Francisco. On the train with them were tanks assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion which had also been ordered overseas.  Arriving on September 5, the company removed the turrets of the tanks so they would fit into the hold of the ship. They also painted the serial number of the tank on the turret so that it would be put on the same tank. Finally, they put cosmoline on the guns to prevent them from rusting while the ship was at sea. When this was done, they were taken to Angel Island on the ferry, the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe, where they received inoculations for overseas duty from the company’s medical detachment. Men with medical conditions were replaced.

They boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed on Monday, September 8, at 9:00 P.M. The ship arrived in Hawaii on Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M. and the men were allowed ashore but had to return to the ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. The ship took a southerly route and was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria, an unknown destroyer, and the U.S.S. Guadalupe – a fleet replenishment oiler – which were its escorts. On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon and the Astoria took off to intercept the unknown ships which were from a neutral country.

The ships crossed the International Date Line on Tuesday, September 16, and suddenly, it was Thursday, September 18. On the morning of September 26 at 7:00 A.M., the ship entered Manila Bay. The soldiers disembarked at 3:00 P.M. later that day, and 17th Ordnance – with the maintenance section of the 194th Tank Battalion – remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks of the 194th and reattach the turrets. The men took turns sleeping on the ship and completed the work by 9:00 A.M. the next morning.

At the fort, the company found itself living in tents since their barracks were not finished. The area the tents were pitched in was low, so the first night when there was heavy rain, the tents flooded. On November 15, they moved into their barracks. Since they worked with the 194th, they had the same workday. The soldiers’ day started at 5:15 with reveille. After washing, breakfast was at 6:00 A.M. The soldiers worked from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was at noon. They went back to work at 1:30 P.M. and worked 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 actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon. At 5:10, they ate dinner and were free afterward.

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.

The soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms on base. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore fatigues to do the work. When they were discovered working in their fatigues, the soldiers were reprimanded for not wearing dress uniforms while working. The decision was made by Major Ernest Miller, 194th, to continue wearing fatigues in their barracks area to do their work but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, including going to the PX, they were expected to wear dress uniforms.

On December 8, 1941, he lived the bombing of Clark Field. The soldiers were putting down stone for sidewalks when their commanding officer, Major Richard Kadel, told them of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The company moved to a bamboo thicket and set up its trucks. Later that morning the alert was canceled and the company was ordered back to Clark Field. The cooks had just finished preparing lunch so they remained in the thicket. While they were eating lunch, at 12:45 the Japanese bombed the airfield. The Zeros that followed strafed the airfield and banked and turned over the thicket to straf the airfield again. They were ordered not to fire because some of the machines they had to manufacture tank parts were the only ones in the Philippines.

On Bataan, the company set up its headquarters in an empty ordnance depot which was surrounded by ammunition dumps. There they continued repairing damaged tanks and manufacturing tank parts. They also set up fuel dumps for the tanks to use as they fell back. 

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. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. 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. They 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. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined. 

When the surrender came on April 9, 1942, 17th Ordnance remained in its bivouac. The next day the Japanese made contact with the company and ordered the men to Mariveles. It was from there that they started what the prisoners simply called “the march.” When they started the march at Mariveles, they marched back and forth a number of times because the Japanese didn’t really know what to do with them. Late that evening they marched again, this time they made their way north up the zig-zag road that led out of Mariveles.

Since the first five miles of the march were uphill, it was midnight before the Prisoners of War reached the highest ground. It was at that time that the guards gave the POWs a rest. When ordered to move, the column made its way north. At some point, he made the decision to escape into the mountains of Bataan. He escaped into the jungle with Capt. Richard Kadel, Pvt. Hayden Lawrence, PFC James Boyd, and PFC Robert Schletterer, and other POWs.

Shortly after escaping into the mountains, the men came down with dysentery and malaria. One man, Lt. H. Clay Conner, was so ill that he was left behind by the other Americans. Frank refused to leave him and stayed with him and saved his life. Being that they could not care for themselves, they survived because of the generosity of the Filipino people.

In May 1942, his family received a letter from the War Department

“Dear Mrs. E. Gyovai:

        “According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private Frank W. Gyovai, 15,016,392, 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) 
                                                                                                                                                                       Major General
                                                                                                                                                                   The Adjutant General”

In July, the family received a second letter from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it. It was the last word they received on him.

“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private Frank W. Gyovai 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.” 

During his time as a guerrilla, Frank worked with Lt. H. Clay Conner. The two men organized Force 155 and led guerilla resistance with the Filipino Negritto. Frank fought the Japanese as a guerrilla for three and a half years. In December 1943, he received a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant. He became his guerrilla unit’s supply officer. Part of his group’s job was to save downed pilots and provide information on Japanese troop strength. In addition, Frank gathered supplies used by his guerrilla unit.

On January 29, 1945, Frank and his guerillas came out of the mountains to join up with U. S. troops.  After crossing American lines, he met General Griswold of the 14th Corps and presented him with the American flag that had flown over his guerrilla headquarters. He received a second battlefield commission to the rank of captain.

Once behind American lines, he wrote the letter to his parents on January 30, 1945.

“Hello Everyone,

“I guess you will be rather surprised to hear from a little boy that has been missing for three years. Didn’t I tell mother and dad when they came down to Ft. Knox, Ky., to see that I would be back and that I was able to take care of myself?

“The past three years experience is one long story and I could write letter after letter and not cover it all, so I’ll wait until I get home and tell you about it. I don’t think that Frank Buck’s hair-raising experiences – or anyone else’s – have anything on me. Yesterday was one of the happiest moments of my life. I am in good health and raring to celebrate. I’m anxious to get all the news from home. I guess I’ve been more worried about mother’s and dad’s health than I was about myself at times. I am anxious to hear how things have been going at home for the past three years with my friends and relatives. I don’t know as yet when I’ll be home. When I come, the first thing I want to try some of mother’s cooking. I hope you are well and happy and ready to celebrate with me.

“Love and best wishes to all.

“Frank of Jungle Jim”

Before his family received the letter, the first news his family had that he was alive was a newspaper report. On February 1, 1945, his sister, Margaret, who was working for the Department of Defense in Washington D.C., read a dispatch written by United Press International reporter Frank Hewlett. The dispatch said:

“Pvt. Frank Gyovai was one of sick barefoot Americans, bearded, tired but happy, who marched up the Luzon plain with the (American) flag held high on a bamboo pole, singing as they walked back into American lines.” 

His sister could not believe what she had just read and contacted her family. The one-piece of news which was difficult for his family to tell him was that his brother, Jimmie, was killed in a plane accident over Northern Ireland.

After he left the Philippines, he was sent to New Caledonia, and later returned home to Red Dragon, West Virginia, where a celebration was held in his honor. Frank remained in the Army until June 20, 1947.

His family later moved to Aurora, Illinois, where he worked as a mailman. Frank married Clara Bank and was the father of four children. One son attended West Point. Frank Gyovai died on December 21, 1984, in Aurora, Illinois, and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Aurora.

For his courage, Frank Gyovai was inducted into the U. S. Army Ordnance Hall of Fame.

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