Sgt. John Elmer Hobbs Jr. was born on September 12, 1919, in West Virginia to John E. Hobbs Sr. & Ethel Wieneke-Hobbs. With his two sisters, he grew up in Shadyside, Ohio, and graduated from Shadyside High School. After high school, he worked as a salesman.
A draft act had been passed in 1940, and John was inducted into the U.S. Army on January 23, 1941, at Fort Hayes, Ohio. and was sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished in seven weeks. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.
The selectees lived in tents that were pitched on concrete slabs. Each tent had four bunks, a stove in the center, and electricity running to them to provide lighting. It is not known when he and the other selectees moved into barracks.
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.
In late March 1941, the 192nd was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
From September 1 through 30, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. HQ Company did not take part in the maneuvers but did do maintenance work on the tanks. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk instead of returning to Ft. Knox. On the side of a hill, that the members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. Those men 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service and were replaced.
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.
Over different train routes, the battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Fort McDowell on Angel Island, were they inoculated and given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those who were found to have a medical condition were held back and told that they would rejoin the battalion at a later date. 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. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was also at this time the convoy stopped at Wake Island so the B-17 ground crews could disembark.
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, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan.
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 – 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 ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. They 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.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons which had been greased so they wouldn’t rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared for maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All members of the tank companies were sent to the airfield. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
The tankers were receiving lunch from food trucks when, at 12:45, they saw a formation of planes approaching the airfield from the north. At first, they thought they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes. As they watched, the saw “raindrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers 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 battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed. The battalion repeatedly dropped back as it fought the Japanese.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st 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. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river.
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 the tanks fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan, and at San Isidro, south of Cabanatuan, on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, but once again, they were able to find a crossing over the river.
The battalion took part in the Battle of the Points from January 27, 1942, until February 13, 1942. The Japanese had been landed on two points and been cut off. The tankers were sent in to wipe out these positions. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion’s surgeon, the tanks did a great deal of damage.
At the same time, there was another battle taking place known as the Battle of the Pockets which lasted from January 23 until February 17, 1942. Japanese troops had advanced and been pushed back. Two pockets of Japanese were cut off behind the battle line. Tanks from B and C Companies were sent in to wipe out the Japanese in the Big Pocket. According to members of the battalion, two methods were used to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipinos sit on the back of the tank with bags of hand grenades. As the tank passed over a Japanese foxhole, each man dropped a hand grenade into the foxhole. The reason this was done was the grenades were from World War I and only one out of three exploded.
The second method was to have the tank park with one track over the foxhole. The tank would spin on one track and grind its way into the ground killing the Japanese in the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of the tanks because of the smell of rotting flesh in the tracks.
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.”
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
It was at this time that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile. Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
The evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.
During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy was the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, ” Our last supper .”
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment, and a Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road most of the day.
The company finally boarded their trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit and wait. As they sat and watched, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat watching and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. As he drove away, the Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles and left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces that began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum which had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs who could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again, by the Japanese, and had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march. During the march, they received no water and little food. It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bullpen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bullpen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried. The Japanese ordered the POWs to form 100 men detachments and marched them to the train station where they were put into small wooden boxcars, used to haul sugarcane, and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From there, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O’ Donnell.
The Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. Tsuneyoshi also told the doctor that the only thing he wanted to know about the Americans was their names and serial numbers when they died.
The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had been laying was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
The burial detail would carry the dead to the cemetery and put the corpse in the grave. Since the water table was high, so that it could be covered with dirt, one POW held the body down with a pole while dirt was thrown on the corpse. The next day when the burial detail returned to the cemetery, the dead often were dug up by wild dogs or sitting up in their graves.
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. The trip was not as bad since the POWs had more room in the boxcars. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was formerly known at Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs fro Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. The camp was later closed and the POWs were sent to Camp 1.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 housed the POWs who had been captured on Bataan and held at Camp O’Donnell. Camp 2 was two miles from Camp 1 and was closed because it lacked an adequate water supply. It was later reopened and held Naval POWs. Camp 3 was eight miles from Camp 1 and six miles from Camp 2. It housed the POWs from Corregidor and those men who had been hospitalized when Bataan surrendered. Camps 1 and 3 were later consolidated into one camp.
The barracks were built for 50 men, but most had 60 to 120 men in them. Each man had a are two feet wide by six feet long to sleep in. The POWs slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, bedding, and mosquito netting. Disease soon spread quickly.
To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Meals on a daily basis consisted of 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, and sweet potato or corn. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The Camp 1 hospital was made up of 30 wards. One ward had been missed when the wards were being counted so it was given the name of “Zero Ward.” The ward became the place were POWs who were going to die were sent. The Japanese were so terrified by it, that they put a fence up around it and would not go near the building. Inside the buildings were two rolls of wooden platforms along the walls. The sicker POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into them. This allowed the POWs to relieve themselves without having to get off the platform. When Red Cross packages were given out, and other changes were made, the death rate dropped.
In October 1942, John was selected to go on a work detail to Davao. The POWs were taken to Manila and boarded the Erie Maru which sailed on October 26. The ship stopped at Cabu City, Cabu, and picked up more POWs and arrived on November 11, 1942, at Davao, Mindanao.
The detail was often referred to as DECAPO. The POWs on the detail worked in rice patties on a farm and later built runways at Lasang, Mindanao. At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide. A four-foot-wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks. In each barracks, were eighteen bays which were shared by twelve POWs sharing a bay. 216 POWs lived in each barracks. Four cages were later put in a bay for the POWs to sleep in at night. Each cage held two POWs.
The camp’s discipline was poor, and the commanding officer changed frequently. The junior officers refused to take orders from the higher ranking officer. The situation improved because the majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive.
At first, the work details were not guarded while the POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops. Those too sick to work in the fields made baskets. In April 1943, the working conditions varied. Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment and were beaten for not meeting quotas. The misunderstandings between the POWs and guards were often caused by the translator who could not be trusted to tell the Japanese the truth.
When American planes appeared over the camp, the Japanese decided to move the POWs. A selected group of POWs were boarded onto trucks and made to remove their shoes. They also were tied to each other, by their wrists, to prevent escape and were taken to Lasang, where, on June 6, 1944, they boarded the Yashu Maru. The POWs spent six days on the ship before it sailed on June 12 and dropped anchor off Zamboanga the same day. It sailed again and arrived at Cabu City, Cabu Island, on June 17th where the POWs were housed in a warehouse. They were transferred to an unnamed ship on June 21st which arrived at Manila on June 24th. The POWs were taken to Manila, where they remained at Bilibid Prison until late August 1944. It was at that time that John’s name appeared on a transfer list.
The POWs were taken to Pier 7 and boarded on the Noto Maru. The ship sailed on August 27, 1944, for Takao, Formosa. It arrived there on August 30 and sailed again the same day. It arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 7, and the POWs disembarked. After they disembarked, the POWs realized how bad they smelled. They smelled was so bad, that the Japanese civilians held their noses as the POWs passed.
The POWs were put on a ferry to cross the Bay of Kobe. They then were boarded onto a train. As they boarded, they noticed that there was a large number of Japanese civilians who appeared to be maimed. The men then were boarded onto a silver streamliner. It was nice inside, but there was no air conditioning. They were ordered not to touch the curtains and to leave them down. The POWs peaked out the windows and learned why. The Japanese city had suffered a great amount of damage from American bombers.
On the trip, the prisoners received the best meal that they had received in years. When the train arrived in Takaoka, a small coastal city on the edge of Honshu facing the Sea of Japan, they disembarked. From there, the POWs were marched to Tokyo POW Camp 21-D which was later known as Nogoya #6 and was also known as Nomachi.
The camp was built for 300 POWs and located near the Nomachi Smelting Plant which violated the Geneva Convention since it was in a war materials manufacturing area. When the Americans got to the camp, it appeared that the barracks had been built in a hurry. The one barracks building in the camp was divided between American and British POWs. This was done to keep order and to prevent problems with camp records. In the barracks were two tiers of platforms. The POWs climbed ladders to reach the upper tier. Six POWs slept on a platform which was 7 foot long by 18 feet wide with each prisoner had a sleeping area of three feet and a straw mattress for each POW to sleep on.
Each man received four to six blankets and four coal-burning stoves, two in each half of the barracks, provided what little heat they had. There were 24 toilet spaces, cold water showers, and a large bathing tub filled with heated water. Clothing for the POWs consisted of what they already had when they arrived at the camp, Japanese army uniforms, and some clothing from the Red Cross.
In front of the prisoners’ barracks, there was an area for calisthenics. There was also a zigzag trench that was supposedly an air raid shelter. The entire compound was surrounded by an eight-foot wooden fence.
When the Americans arrived, the Japanese commanding officer addressed the prisoners. He had only one arm having lost one fighting the Chinese. He spoke decent English and informed them that the harder they worked, the better they would get along. He also informed them that those who could not work would receive reduced rations. The 150 British prisoners who joined the Americans in the camp in early 1945 had been captured in Hong Kong. The biggest problem the two groups of prisoners had with each other was language. As for behavior and discipline, the British were no better or worse than the Americans.
The POWs worked 12 hours workdays with most of the POWs working during the day shift and a small detachment working at night. Those working at the Nomachi Smelting Company walked about 400 yards to the camp, while those working at Hokkai Dneka Smelter marched for five minutes before boarding a boat for a five-minute ride. The POWs, in most cases, were used as laborers at the smelters and mixed iron, coke, and lime before throwing it into a furnace. Others load the mixture into carts and pushed it to furnaces before throwing it into the furnaces. No protective clothing was provided to the POWs so blisters and burns were common.
In addition, the POWs stirred the mixture so that it would melt faster and puddle it when it was ready. Other POWs worked in the machine shop and operated cranes.
The attitude of the Japanese civilians at the plants varied. Some of the civilians were very friendly while others were hostile. The son of the owner of the manganese works liked associating with the POWs because he could speak English. Those who abused the POWs often had the men stand in front of the blast furnace, at attention, which resulted in the men developing blisters. As they stood at attention, they were hit in their heads. They were frequently slapped, punched and hit with 2 foot long by 2 inch wide sticks the civilian guards carried. Air raid shelters were provided, but it appeared they were not large enough to hold all the POWs. The third detail of POWs worked at a quarry where 20% of the POWs assigned to the job died due to accidents. Officers were not required to work.
Every two weeks the prisoners would change shifts. When this happened there was an eighteen-hour-long swing shift. Since the ore was heavy and the heat tremendous, the POWs worked thirty minutes on and thirty minutes off. From September 8, 1944, until September 1, 1945, the POWs were forced to work without a day off.
The food at the camp was prepared by prisoners and the rations were better at this camp than at the other camps. Although it was mostly rice, there was also barley and soybean when it was in season. They also received daikons which were an overgrown white reddish. Most of the vegetables they ate were from a garden they tended. The prisons sliced it and boiled it into a thin soup. The only meat they received was from three or four cobras that they had discovered inside a giant anthill. Once they even had real Irish potatoes.
The Japanese used collective punishment when they believed a POW had violated a rule. The food rations of the POWs were cut in half or they did not receive fuel for the stoves in the barracks. On one occasion, the Japanese denied the fuel to the POWs for seven days.
The prisoners knew that the war was not going well for Japan. When they were working in the plant, they watched how tightly the food was rationed to the civilians. The foreman gave each worker the same amount of rice. The workers made sure that the kernels that fell on the floor were picked up and put in their baskets. The rats and mice also felt the food shortage. The rats had started to kill the mice for food.
One of the benefits of working in the plant was that there was always enough hot and cold water. The hot water was the result of the furnaces. The prisoners at the plant introduced the Japanese to taking showers. A couple of POWs who worked in the machine shop got permission to make a showerhead. The Japanese liked it so much that they had one made.
While working in the plant, the Americans and the British were not allowed to be mixed in the work details. They worked in the same areas but never together.
The camp had a small wooden building with six beds that served as a hospital and no more than six POWs were allowed to be sick at a time. The camp doctor, Capt. Max Bernstein, who had been a member of 17th Ordnance of the Provisional Tank Group, was the camp doctor. He was assisted by three medics, and once a week, a Japanese doctor came to the camp to provide assistance. The Japanese Army provided no medical supplies for the POWs, but the two companies did, and additional medical supplies were received from the Red Cross. Most of the POWs who died in the camp died from pneumonia.
Being that the Japanese had a quota of POWs they needed to work on the details each day, those suffering from diarrhea or dysentery were not considered sick. At one point most of the POWs had diarrhea and still had to work. Those who were too sick to work were beaten with shovels, sticks, rocks, and anything else that was nearby, to get them to do work that they were too sick to do. They also had their meal rations reduced. The camp doctor, Capt. Max Bernstein, of 17th Ordnance, treated the sick with very few medical supplies.
The British did not tolerate stealing within their ranks. If a British soldier was caught stealing, the punishment was harsh. Those who were victimized formed a ring around the thief. They were allowed to hit the man until he could not stand or his face was a bloody mess. The thief was then carried on a stretcher to the camp hospital.
When an American was caught stealing from another POW, the ranking American officer, 1st. Lt. George Sense, knocked him down on his rear. Many of the POWs believed that this was the right thing to do because it sent the right message. The only stealing that was tolerated was stealing from the Japanese.
By November 1944, snow was everywhere, and the Japanese put markers about five feet tall on the buildings and on posts along the roads. One morning, the POWs went to work in a foot of snow. It snowed every few days until there were about four feet of snow on the ground. They had no boots and their shoes were three years old, so many of the POWs worked in the snow without shoes.
The Japanese denied the POWs food, clothing, shoes, and other items sent to the camp by the Red Cross. Instead of giving these things to the POWs, the Japanese pilfered the items for their own use. The guards were seen wearing shoes sent by the Red Cross for the POWs. The POWs knew of the air raids because the Japanese workers would bring newspapers to the mill. The POWs would sneak the papers into camp and figure out what was happening.
When Christmas 1944, approached, Phil and the other POWs hoped that they would have the day off. They hoped that the Japanese would also allow them to have decorations inside their barracks. There also was a rumor that they would receive Red Cross parcels for Christmas. As it turned out, parcels were delivered and each was shared by two men.
A few days before Christmas, the Japanese brought ornaments into every barracks. The ornaments looked just like the ones back home. As it turned out they were the same. These ornaments were supposed to have been shipped to the United States when the war started.
On Christmas, both the Americans and British POWs sang carols together. They also learned that the Japanese had received the Red Cross parcels months earlier, but had held them back to have something to give the prisoners on Christmas. The prisoners needed the food inside the parcels, but what they needed, even more, was what the packages represented. To them, the parcels meant that they had not been forgotten back home.
Men would wear out from being overworked and underfed. Then pneumonia took over and the men died in a couple of days. Their bodies would be put in a four by four-foot by two-foot box. It had handles that allowed it to be carried. A Buddhist priest from the village walked ahead of the procession in his white and gold robes. When the remains were returned to the camp, they were in a four-inch by four-inch by twelve-inch box. The man’s name and serial number were on the box. The box was kept by the camp commandant in his office.
Collective punishment was a common occurrence in the camp. When one POW broke a camp rule, all the POWs were punished. On one occasion, for 7 days, the POWs were denied coal, in the middle of winter, because someone had broken a rule
The first time the POWs saw American planes pass over the camp, the POWs cheered in spite of the Japanese trying to silence them by hitting them with their sabers. By June 1945, the air raids were getting closer. Sometimes at night, the plant would be blacked out and the POWs were returned to their barracks. Occasionally, they had an air raid drill were the POWs went into the zigzag trench. As the war went on, as the prisoners marched to the mill, they saw teenage boys being trained by army officers. They knew that it was for the expected invasion of Japan. The boys also used sticks for rifle practice.
On August 15, the POWs knew something was going on when the Japanese held a meeting. The Japanese men were sad and the Japanese women cried. They also seemed not to care if the POWs did any work, so the POWs took it easy. On August 17 and 18, the POWs were told they did not have to work. Finally, the guards came to the barracks and told the POWs that the war was over. Then the guards vanished from the camp. The Japanese civilians began bringing food to them.
The Swiss Red Cross arrived at the camp on September 5 and began to make the arrangements for the POWs to leave the camp. Later in the day, the POWs were taken to the train station and put on trains. Once on the train, they were given three days of k-rations for the trip. The POWs ate the rations the first night on the train. When they got to Tokyo, most of the POWs were sick from overeating.
They were taken to a bay 200 miles south of Tokyo and boarded the U.S.S. Rescue and was returned to the Philippines and promoted to Staff Sergeant. He returned home and married Angela Dupke on October 19, 1945, and became the father of two daughters and a son. He resided in Shadyside, Ohio, and later Wabash, Indiana.
John E. Hobbs Jr. passed away on December 21, 1971, in Wabash, Indiana, and was buried at Memorial Lawns Cemetery in Wabash.