Sgt. John Olin Hopple was born on July 15, 1914, in Missouri to Dwight Hopple & Maude Meddenhall-Hopple. His parents were farmers residing in Taylor County, Iowa, near the town of Bedford. He attended Valley School in South Taylor and graduated in 1932 from Hopkins High School with honors. John was also very well known in the town of Bedford and worked to clear the ground so the community could create The Lake of the Three Fires.
John next attended Maryville State Teachers College for two years. He finished his studies in electrical engineering at Iowa State College, in Ames, graduating in March 1940, and worked as a consulting electrical engineer in Des Moines. He was engaged to Gertrude Smith of Des Moines, Iowa.
He moved to the Chicago area where he was employed by the Northern Illinois Public Service Company as a rate engineer. It was while he was living in Illinois, that John joined the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard from Maywood, Illinois. In November of 1940, he was called into federal service when the tank company was federalized.
On November 25, 1940, the company officially became B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. One group of soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27th at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox. the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip one of the main topis was were they going live in tents or barracks. They reached the base late in the day on Thursday and found they were housed in barracks for the night which they would not stay in.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28th. They marched west on Madison Street to Fifth Avenue, in Maywood, and then north to the Chicago & North Western train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company. In Chicago, the train was transferred onto the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad which took them to Ft. Knox. Once at the fort they were met by Army trucks at the station which took them to the fort where they reunited with the men who drove. The soldiers lived in six-man tents which had stoves for heat since they were assigned to a newly opened area of the fort and their barracks were not finished.
At Fort Knox, Kentucky, the192nd Tank Battalion was organized. Company A was from Janesville, Wisconsin; Company B from Maywood, Illinois; Company C from Port Clinton, Ohio; and Company D from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. The formation of the battalion was according to army plans that had been put into place after World War I.
When they arrived at the base they spent the first six weeks in primary training. 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; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were 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.
1st/Sgt. Richard Danca – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. 35 men were picked because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. John was one of those assigned to HQ Company and in his case, he was promoted to corporal. HQ Company was divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks which every company had. Men were assigned various jobs which included scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.
During the training at Ft. Knox, the members of the 192nd were trained to operate various equipment in use by the battalion. 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. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. John qualified as a magneto expert for tanks and would later be assigned to tank maintenance.
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 they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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.
B Company moved into its barracks in January 1941. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space. The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the sergeant’s office, and one was in the Lt. Donald Hanes’ office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February.
The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks.
It was also at this time that all the companies had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the companies. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join their companies in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion 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 were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion 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, before returning to Ft. Knox on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. While at the lake, they swam, boated, and fished.
The 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in the maneuvers of 1941 from September 1 through 30. During the maneuvers, HQ Company did not actively participate, but it was their job to deal with any problems with the tanks.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected. It was on the side of a hill that the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Men 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. Many men received leaves home to say their goodbyes. It is known that John returned home and visited his parents on leave.
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.
He returned to Camp Polk, and traveled west by train to San Francisco, California, and was ferried to Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. At Ft. McDowell on the island, the soldiers were given physicals and received inoculations by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply released.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. 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 Date Line. 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 that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field, but he had only learned of their arrival days earlier. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was 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.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members, or half-track crew members, remained with each vehicle at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, December 7 in the United States, the 192nd was guarding the perimeter of Clark Field. A week earlier, they had been given assigned positions around the airfield. At 8:30 in the morning, the American planes took off and filled the sky. They landed at noon and lined up in a straight line, near the mess hall to be refueled. The pilots went to lunch.
The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north. The tankers believed the planes were American and commented on how pretty they looked. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes. When bombs exploded on the runways, they 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 On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write. In spite of his wounds, he continued to give orders to his company. His main concern was for his soldiers’ safety. After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
It was also at this time that the tankers were told by General Wainwright’s headquarters that he was their only commander. Up to this time, many officers held the belief that the highest-ranking officer, in an area, could countermand the tankers orders, It was only when tank command made it clear that the tanks would only take orders from it that this ended.
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.
The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible.
A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga on December 30. It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read. That night on a road east of Zaragoza, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries. The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks’ machine guns. As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac. When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened fire on them. When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion. To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
At the Gumain River, the night of December 31st to the morning of January 1st, the tank companies formed a defensive line along the south bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The Japanese were taking heavy casualties, so they attempted to use smoke to cover their advance, but the wind blew the smoke into the Japanese. When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had suffered fifty percent casualties.
At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese. Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese. The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them. The result was the loss of three tanks.
On January 1, the tanks of the 194th were holding the Calumpit Bridge allowing the Southern Luzon forces to withdrawal into Bataan. General Wainwright was attempting to hold the main Japanese force coming down Route 5 to prevent the troops from being cut off. Gen.MacArthur’s chief of staff issued orders that the troops holding the bridge should withdraw and about half did. Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the troops about who was in command. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a wild attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion, the Japanese advance was stopped allowing the Southern Luzon Forces to escape. It was not long after this date that food rations were cut in half and malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began spreading among the defenders.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese troops who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until the tank, which had been relieved, had left the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
During an engagement against the Japanese at the Little Pocket, John was credited with saving the lives of a tank crew. The tank had been set on fire with a hand grenade. John grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out saving the lives of the crew and saving the tank.
As a member of Lt. Edward G. Winger’s tank crew, John was trapped in the tank when the Japanese, for the first time in the war, used flame and oil throwers against a tank. Lt. Winger’s crew was blinded by the flames and smoke which resulted in the tank being wedged between two trees. John, with the rest of the crew, abandoned the tank while under enemy fire and made their way back to American lines. In his attempt to get back to American lines, John was wounded. He was later awarded the Purple Heart.
During the Battle of Toul Pocket at Assyrian Point, John took part in the recovery of a wounded member of the battalion. On February 18, 1942, during this recovery attempt, John was wounded by a sniper as he, Owen Sandmire of A Company, and two other members of the battalion attempted to rescue Jack Bruce. The four men crawled out to Bruce, while under fire, put him on the litter, and returned him to American lines. Three of the four rescuers were wounded.
Sgt. Owen Sandmire, of A Company, drove John and the other soldiers, who had been wounded, to the field hospital. This meant he drove down the west coast of Bataan, through Mariveles, and back up the east coast to the field hospital. Because of the tropical climate, infections set in quickly. John succumbed to his wounds on February 18, 1942, at Hospital #1 on Bataan. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, the battalion’s surgeon, Sgt. John Olin Hopple was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on February 7, 1942. This was confirmed by Brigadier General James Weaver in his short book on the operation of the Provisional Tank Group.
His parents received a telegram from the War Department at the end of February or beginning in March.
“The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son, John O. Hopple, died from his wounds in defense of his country in the Philippine Islands Feb 18. Letter Follows.
Emory S. Adams
The Adjutant General of the Army
Since his final resting place is unknown, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila. According to Deloris Brumfield, a cousin of John Hopple, John is buried next to his parents in Hopkins, Missouri, but the headstone indicates it is only a memorial stone.
According to John’s family, his mother had an extremely difficult time dealing with the death of her only child. On September 7, 1942, she attempted to commit suicide and shot herself. Several days later, she died from her wounds.