Pvt. Frank W. Gyovai was born on February 15, 1920, in Sovereign, West Virginia, to Stephen Gyovai & Ethel Pappi-Gyovai. His parents 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 19th Ordnance trained on the tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion. During August 1941, Company A, 19th Ordnance Battalion was designated 17th Ordnance Company. In the late summer, his company received orders that they were being sent overseas. The company traveled west to San Francisco and arrived on September 5. 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. Men with medical conditions were replaced.
The company spent their time on the island removing the turrets of the tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion so they would fit in the ship’s holds. They boarded the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed on Monday, September 8, at 9:00 P.M. The ship arrived Saturday, September 13 at 7:00 A.M. and the men were allowed ashore but had to return to ship before it sailed at 5:00 P.M. The ship took a southerly route and was joined by the U.S.S. Astoria and an unknown destroyer which were its escorts.
On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon and the Astoria took off to intercept the unknown ship. Each time the ship was from a neutral country.
The ships crossed the International Date Line on Tuesday, September 16, and suddenly, it was Thursday, September 18. 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 7:00 A.M. the next day.
Arriving in the Philippine Islands on September 28, 17th Ordnance prepared itself to work on the tanks of the 1st Provisional Tank Group. With the arrival of the 192nd Tank Battalion in November 1941, the unit was officially activated.
The morning of December 8, the members of 17th Ordnance heard the news of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. The decision was made to move the company to a bamboo thicket away from the base which offered cover. After arriving at the thicket, they set up their machine shop trucks and other equipment. At noon they received orders to return to the base since no Japanese planes had been seen.
On December 8, 1941, Frank with his company watched the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield from Ft. Stotsenburg. For the next four months, the 17th Ordnance serviced the tanks and kept them running. Each day they saw Japanese planes fly overhead and lived through the bombings. During the Battle of Bataan, the company was headquartered in an abandoned ordnance depot building.
Frank was involved in the recovery of a tank of C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion that had been knocked out during the Battle of the Pockets. The crew of the tank had been suffocated by the Japanese who filled the tank with dirt. When the tank was at kilometer post 168, Frank went into the tank and removed the bodies of the crew.
The morning of April 9, 1942, Frank and his company received the news of the surrender of all Filipino and American forces on Bataan. Frank started the death march north to San Fernando, but during the march, 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 all of the 17th Ordinance.
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.
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.
Once behind American lines, he wrote the letter to his parents on January 30, 1945.
“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 on 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.
Frank was made a captain because of his work as a guerilla. 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.