Cpl. Virgil Clarence Janes was the oldest of six sons born to Joseph H. Janes & Lavena J. Goode-Janes. He was born on January 29, 1920, and grew up, with his seven brothers, at 310 Harrison Street in Port Clinton, Ohio. He attended school in Port Clinton and later enlisted in the Ohio National Guard’s H Tank Company that was headquartered there. The company was called to federal service as C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.
The tank companies arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky, without enough tanks to train with. To solve the problem, the tank companies went to the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt M2 tanks that had been abandoned by the regular army.
In the late summer of 1941, Virgil took part in the maneuvers in Louisiana. At the end of the maneuvers, Virgil and the other members were informed that they were not going to be released from federal service. Instead, they were going to be sent overseas to continue their training.
The reason 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.
From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes. Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those with minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply released and replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. 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 2nd 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 9th, 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.
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 20th, 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, 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 tanks were put on alert on December 1 and sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against paratroopers. On December 8, 1941, Virgil lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Two members of each tank crew remained with each tank at all times. The tankers were having lunch when a formation of 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, bombs fell from the planes and exploded on the runways.
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. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
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 tankers fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able to find a crossing over the river.
At Cebu, seven tanks of the company fought a three hour battle with the Japanese. The main Japanese line was south of Saint Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle. The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there.
While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese. They then fell back to Cabanatuan.
The tanks were placed inside buildings along the road through the town. When the Japanese crossed the river into the town, the C Company tanks opened fire on them. The tanks then burst out of the buildings and chased the retreating Japanese tanks wiping most, if not all, out.
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 early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese 37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
During the Battle of the Pockets the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had broken through the main defensive line and than trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American troops pushed the Japanese back. According to members of the battalion, they resorted two ways to wipe out the Japanese.
The first method was to have three Filipino soldiers sit on the back of the tanks with sacks of hand grenades. When the Japanese dove back into their foxholes, the tank would go over it and the soldiers would drop three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the ordnance was from World War I, one out of three hand grenades would explode.
The second method was simple. The tank was parked with one track across the foxhole. The driver spun the tank on one track. The tank dug into the dirt until the Japanese soldiers were dead.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3 against the defenders. 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.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since 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.”
When the order to surrender came on April 9, 1942, the members of C Company went to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It was from there that Virgil started what would become known as the death march.
Virgil found the lack of food, the heat, and the lack of water were the hardest things to deal with on the march. In addition, the Japanese never really allowed the prisoners to get any real rest. When they were allowed to rest, the Prisoners of War were so crowded together that they could not get much sleep. Virgil took ten days to complete the march.
As a POW, Virgil was first held at Camp O’Donnell. The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese pressed 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 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 area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped 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 from 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. In September 1942, three officers were caught attempting to escape. After being beaten for a day, they were shot. In October, seven POWs were made to dig their own graves and shot. 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. One of the jobs he had in the camp was on the burial detail. He recalled as many as 24 men died each day.
Virgil left Cabanatuan on work details to Saria and Candelaria. On these details, Virgil experienced the courage and generosity of the Filipino people who gave them food and medicine at the risk of their own lives.
Virgil also was sent to Lipa Batangas on a work detail. There he and the other POWs built runways at an airfield. Virgil worked this detail with Joe Lajzer of B Company and Andy Ortega of A Company. It was while on this detail that an American sergeant escaped. During the escape, a Japanese soldier was killed. The Japanese had collected forty Filipinos and seven Americans to be executed. Virgil’s group of POWs was saved from having members selected for execution by a Japanese officer who had been educated in the United States.
The next detail he was on was at Camp Murphy. The POWs built runways at various airports. Once again, Virgil was involved in the construction of runways. When this detail ended, he was sent to Cabanatuan where he remained until late 1944.
Virgil was sent to Bilibid Prison for processing for shipment to Japan. During his time at Bilibid, he was given a punishment for breaking a rule. He was made to kneel on sharp stones for eight hours. When he attempted to shift his weight, a Japanese guard jabbed him with a bayonet.
On October 1, 1944, he and 700 other prisoners were boarded into the hold of the Hokusen Maru. He was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, but since part of his POW detachment had not arrived, the Japanese boarded another POW detachment on the ship. That ship was sunk by an American submarine.
The Hokusen Maru sailed and dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater. They spent the next three days in the ship’s hold as it waited for a convoy to form. In his opinion, this was the worse experience he had as a POW. The voyage to Japan lasted 39 days.
It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn’t quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
The POWs were crammed into a 30-foot by 40-foot ship’s hold and were packed in so tightly that they could hardly sit down. To make things worse, the Japanese covered the hatch with boards and fastened them down with chains preventing light and air from getting into the hold.
The POWs were fed twice a day. The food, rice, was poured into the hold. Those under or closest to the hatch received more food than those toward the walls of the hold. To make things worse, water was given out even more infrequently then food. The rain that came in through the hatch was often the only water the POWs received. Men began to go crazy and screamed all day and night. So many died that Virgil lost count
The only bathroom for the POWs were buckets that were pulled from the hold of the ship by rope. As the buckets were pulled out of the hold, the contents of the buckets often spilled onto the men in the hold. In addition, many of the men were suffering from dysentery which left the floor of the ship covered in human waste.
On the ship with Virgil was Sgt. Wade Chio and Pvt. Harold Beggs. Pvt. Beggs told Virgil that Chio was not doing well. So Chio could get more food, Virgil changed positions with him. The ship arrived in Hong Kong where it remained for ten days.
As part of a ten-ship convoy, it sailed again on October 4 and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk.
The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16. Sometime during the voyage, Virgil suffered paralysis. He also had a fever that spread among the men in the hold. On October 21, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24.
The POWs were in such bad shape that the Japanese took them ashore, on November 8, and sent them to Inrin Temporary. The camp was specifically opened for them and they only did light work and grew vegetables to supplement their diets. Many of the men recovered while in the camp.
Virgil would remain on Formosa from November 8, 1944, until January 14, 1945, when he was sent to Japan on the Melbourne Maru. He arrived in Japan on January 29 which was his 25th birthday.
In Japan, Virgil was held at an Ashio #9, which was located on the side of a mountain. Living conditions in the camp were atrocious. The camp had a limited amount of water because the water line to the camp was broken. This meant they could not wash after working and for cooking. The POW kitchen was 40 feet from the latrines resulting in flies being everywhere in the kitchen. The Japanese also did not supply lids for the cooking utensils. The Japanese guard in charge of the POW mess stole food for himself that was meant for them. POWs reported he was seen carrying sacks of rice and sugar, assigned to them, from the camp.
In the camp, the POWs slept in barracks that were inadequately heated and during the cold nights, the POWs had only thin blankets to cover themselves with. The Red Cross blankets that were sent to the camp, for the POWs, were issued to the guards.
The Japanese appropriated the Red Cross packages for themselves and stored them in a warehouse inside the camp. Besides the blankets, they also took chocolate, canned meats, fruit, and milk, and clothing meant for the POWs. Since a certain number of POWs had to report for work each day, the Japanese medic in charge of the sickbay, sent men to work who were too sick to do heavy work. The Japanese also withheld medicine and medical supplies sent for POW use and used it for themselves.
The POWs worked in the Ashio Copper mine which had been closed but reopened because of the war. Safety regulations in the mine were almost none existent and POWs were frequently injured.
He was sent to Sendai #7, on May 14, 1945. The POWs in the camp worked in a copper mine owned by the Kajima Company. The POWs would wake up at 5 A.M., eat breakfast, and arrive at the mine at 7 A.M. The POWs worked under Mitsubishi supervision, and the POWs believed these supervisors wanted to work them to death. They had a 30-minute lunch break and worked to 5:00 P.M. The POWs returned to camp, usually after dark, had supper, then went to bed.
To get into the mine, the POWs climbed up the side of a mountain and downstairs into the mine. When they got the bottom, the guards who had escorted them were always waiting for them. The POWs finally discovered that the guards used an entrance which had been cut through the side of the mountain.
The POWs worked three jobs, drillers, mine car loaders, and mining car pushers, with the miners had the worst job. The work in the mine was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Each miner received a carbide headlamp as his only lighting. A quota was set but the Japanese and the Japanese were always raising the quota. The number of carloads mined by the men was never enough. The POWs were beaten for not working hard enough or fast enough. Many shafts of the mine were so low that the miners had to crawl through to get to the ore. Some shafts had standing water with threats of sudden flooding. Lighting was poor and most areas were not even shored up to prevent cave-ins.
Accidents were frequent and many POWs were hurt. There was no gas detecting equipment and there was always the danger of setting off an explosion from the open burning carbide headlamps.
While working in the mine from November 1944 until August 15, 1945, the POWs were abused by the civilian foreman, Hichiro Tsuchiya, who was known to the POWs as “Patches.” Tsuchiya used any excuse to abuse the POWs. He was known to hit the POWs for no reason in their faces and to also use a wooden club or pickaxe handle. He also used a sledgehammer to hit the POWs on their heads. His parents received a postcard from him in January 1945.
In the camp, the POWs were denied adequate food, clothing, and medical treatment. After his arrival in the camp, the Japanese began having the prisoners stand at attention for long hours, without food or water, because a camp rule had been broken. This went on until July. Medical care in the camp was almost none existent. A prisoner had to be near death to receive medical attention. In most cases, when it was given the POW was too far gone for it to do any good.
In a different incident, Virgil was made to kneel on gravel for eight hours. To make the punishment worse, the Japanese made sure that his knees, legs, and feet had no clothing on them to protect them from the gravel. Collective punishment was also practiced with the POWs standing at attention for hours, without water or food, because someone had broken a camp rule.
Medical care in the camp was almost none existent. A prisoner had to be near death to receive medical attention. In most cases, when it was given the POW was too far gone for it to do any good. Like all the prisoners, Virgil suffered from beriberi and also had a bout of scurvy.
When the war ended, Virgil was liberated by American troops and taken by train to Tokyo. He was returned to Manila, on the U.S.S. Rescue and finally returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Howze, which sailed on September 23 and arrived on October 16 at San Francisco. After a stay at Letterman General Hospital, he was sent home arriving in Port Clinton on October 27, 1945. He was promoted in rank from corporal to sergeant. On May 3, 1948, Virgil married Joyce W. Luman. Together they raised a family.
Among the medals Virgil received were the American-Asiatic Defense Ribbon, Pacific Theater Ribbon with Bronze Star, Philippine Defense Ribbon with one Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal, the Victory Medal, and Purple Heart. He was discharged from the Army on June 17, 1946.
Virgil C. Janes passed away on June 11, 1992, in Port Clinton, Ohio. He was buried at Riverview Cemetery in Port Clinton, Ohio.