Pvt. Stephen Kodaj was born on April 3, 1917, to Michael Kodaj and Sophie Kleich-Kodaj in Chicago, Illinois, and was the oldest of three sons born to the couple. He was known as “Steve” to his family and friends. His family moved to Lyons, Illinois, where he lived at 4029 South Anna Avenue, and attended J. Sterling Morton High School, in Cicero, Illinois, for almost two years before going to work at a nursery. On July 16, 1940, he joined the Illinois National Guard because he wanted excitement, and he knew that with the passage of the draft act that it was just a matter of time until he was drafted into the Army.
After the German tank divisions rolled through Europe in 1939 and 1940, the Army created the U.S. Armored Forces on July 10, 1940. Included in the force were the National Guard General Headquarters tank battalions. The GHQ tank battalions which were still considered infantry were notified they were being called up, on September 1, 1940, to create a “buffer” between the armored forces and infantry. This was done to protect the regular army tank battalions from requests from the infantry for tanks and allow them to develop into real fighting forces. If the infantry wanted tanks, the National Guard tank battalions were available to the infantry.
The tank company was called to federal service in the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940, at 7:00 A.M. and designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. During this time, the soldiers were given physicals, and men who were inducted into the army that morning were released from federal service that afternoon after failing their physicals. The remaining men spent the next several days living in the armory. He was one of 131 men who traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was supposed to be a year of training.
One group of 17 soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27 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 topics was if they were going live in tents or barracks. They reached the base late in the day on Thursday and were housed in barracks for the night. The next night they were moved to tents.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28. They marched down Madison to Fifth Avenue in Maywood Street and then north to the Chicago & Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. After the company’s equipment and two tanks were loaded onto the train, it entered Chicago, where the soldiers rode busses to the Illinois Central Station and boarded a train that 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 their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks which they were ordered not to abuse. Albert, as a private, was sent to communications school for training and was soon promoted to private first class.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, 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, pistols, 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. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. 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. On 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. The game that many of the men began to play was chess and one group became known as “The Chess Clique.”
Members of the company received 4½ day furloughs home for Christmas, but it is not known who went home. Those who went home on leave rode two Grayhound busses home and returned to the base on them. For those who remained at Ft. Knox, the base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets, and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, and fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.
Those men who did go home arrived back at the base just before breakfast, which was at 6:00 A.M. on December 26. 1st/Sgt. Richard Danca was waiting for them since he had the job of picking men to be transferred 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. 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 such as scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.
B Company moved into its barracks in December 1940, and the men assigned to HQ Company still lived with the 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. On 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.
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.
The lack of equipment was a major problem for the battalion. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. On December 2, each company received four additional tanks. According to information from the time, each company was scheduled to receive 17 tanks, three half-tracks, four motorcycles, two motorcycles with passenger cars, four, two-and-a-half-ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck. The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
Winter finally arrived on January 4, when the high for the day was 24 degrees and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was also in January that the companies had their first target practice and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty caliber and fifty caliber machine guns as well forty-five caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired at the same time. All those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and in combat. Ten members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their compliment of clothing.
Most of the men were attending the various schools they were assigned to on January 13 taking classes lasting until May 31. The tankers went through intensive training in the various classes at the Armored Force School which taught classes in gunnery, radio communications, tank maintenance, vehicle maintenance, tank driving, as well as other classes. The entire battalion on January 28, took part in a one-day problem that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and to put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 A.M. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. It was also at this time that each company had a tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their own tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger 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 14 and 16, 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 16. 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. 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. 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.
Congress on August 13, 1941, extended, by 18 months, the time that federalized National Guard units would serve in the regular army. It appears that the next day, the commanding officer of the 192nd, Major Bacon Moore, was informed the 192nd would be going overseas, but it is not known if he shared this information with his officers.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, where they spent the night. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, the men, and trucks who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station.
The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
During their training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.
There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm.
They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers believed they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, and Manila. There is no proof this was true. Those men 29 years old, or older, who were married, or whose enlistments in the National Guard were about to end, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion. Officers too old for their rank, including the 192nd’s commanding officer, were also released and some were replaced with officers from the 753rd. Both the new men and the old members of the battalion were given leave home to say their goodbyes. When they returned to Camp Polk and prepared for duty overseas. They were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. They also received half-tracks to replace their reconnaissance cars.
There were at least two stories on why the battalion was being sent overseas. The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 13, 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. The story said that 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 Taiwan which 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.
The second story was told by members of the different companies of the battalion. Many of the men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks as part of the Blue Army during the maneuvers – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this story was true.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, they even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, from the 753rd Tank Battalion, for the men released from federal service, the battalion also received tanks from the 753rd and 3rd Armor Division. The battalion’s new tanks were loaded onto flat cars on different trains and at 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies headed west to San Francisco. B Company’s route appears to have gone through Arkansas and northern Texas into Colorado and west to San Francisco. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the tanks on flat cars followed by a boxcar and passenger car with members of the company in it.
Arriving in San Francisco, California, the companies were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. On the island, the battalion’s medical detachment gave the soldiers inoculations and physicals. Those who had minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced with men who appeared to have been sent to the island for that purpose.
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 four-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 U.S.A.T. 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 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, while two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home 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. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by a narrow-gauge train to Ft. Stotsenburg. A Marine was checking off their names as they left the ship. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks with 17th Ordnance. The rest of the battalion rode a narrow-gauge train to the base.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr., who 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. He made sure that they had dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
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. The tents 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 from the engines as they flew over 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 were heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” which they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the two tank battalions were put on full alert and the tanks were ordered to their positions at Clark Field to protect the airfield from paratroopers. The 194th guarded the northern half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. The airfield’s two runways were shaped like a “V” and the Army Air Corps’ hangers and headquarters were at the point of the V. The tankers slept in sleeping bags on the ground under their tanks or palm trees and received their meals from food trucks. Two members of each tank crew remained with their tank at all times. On December 7, the tanks were issued ammunition and the tankers spent the day loading ammunition belts.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while Maj. Miller went and told his officers of the attack. The 192nd’s officers went to their companies and informed the enlisted men that they were at war. Many of the men laughed because they believed it was the start of the maneuvers they were scheduled to take part in. Those men who were assigned to tanks joined the other members of their crews at the airfield. The battalion’s half-tracks were sent to the south end of the airfield and took positions next to the tanks.
All morning long on December 8, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall to make refueling easier. The men were having lunch when at 12:45, two formations of planes totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. Many of the tankers wondered if the planes were American or Japanese. As they watched, what appeared to be raindrops – because they shimmered in the sun – appeared under the planes. With the thunderous explosions of the bombs exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese. The smoke and dust from the bombs blotted out the sun and made it impossible for the tankers to see more than a few feet. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The planes did this by following a figure-eight pattern and would turn around behind Mount Arayat and return to straf the airfield again.
During the attack, the tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
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 which had bullet holes in them.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.
The tankers lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13. On the 14th the battalion was ordered to bivouac in a dry stream away from the airfield. The battalion also received Bren Gun Carriers on December 15 and sent them into an area to see if the ground could support the weight of a tank. The tank battalion received orders, on December 21, 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.
2nd Lt. Ben Morin’s platoon approached Agoo when it ran head-on into a Japanese motorized unit. The Japanese light tanks had no turrets and sloped armor. The shells of the Americans glanced off the tanks. Morin’s tank was knocked out and his crew was captured. During this engagement, a member of another tank crew, Pvt. Henry J. Deckert, was killed by enemy fire and was later buried in a churchyard.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use 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 the river in the Bayambang Province. One tank platoon went through the town of Gapan. After they were through the town, they were informed it had been held by the Japanese. They could never figure out why the Japanese had not fired on them.
It was at this time that another platoon of B Company tanks found themselves on a road holding up the Japanese advance. Five tanks took a narrow road that led to the Japanese lines. The drivers of the tanks stayed close enough so that they could see the tank in front of their tank when a shell exploded behind one of the tanks. The tanks were trapped since there was no room for them to turn around. At Ft. Knox, they were taught that if you are lost, or trapped, to double your speed. The tanks hurdled down the road running through gun nests and running down Japanese soldiers. The tanks turned around, ran through the Japanese positions again, and escaped.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. From December 31 to January 1, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. A platoon from C Company and one from B Company were holding the bridge when they noticed movement down the road and opened fire. Later they learned that had knocked out several Japanese tanks.
While holding the bridge, they received orders – from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff – about whose command they were under and were told to withdraw from the bridge without Gen Johnathan Wainwright’s knowledge. Because of the order, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces and about half the defenders withdrew. When Gen. Wainwright became aware of the order, he countermanded it. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon forces escaped.
From January 2 to 4, the 192nd was again holding a road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and used smoke as cover, but because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction they were easy targets. In addition, many of the Japanese were wearing white shirts that made them stand out in the moonlight. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties. On the night of January 6, the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks from attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
Around this time, drivers were needed for the Self Propelled Mounts, and tank drivers were reassigned to the SPMs. The SPMs had a crew of an American driver, a Filipino Scout sergeant who commanded the SPM, and a gun crew from the Philippine Army. The drivers were replaced by other members of the battalions who could drive tanks.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines were long past their 400-hour overhauls.
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.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. B company had the job of defending one of the two beaches where troops could be landed. One night, the company engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that their presence on the beach stopped them from attempting landings.
While doing this job, the tankers noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked. This time they were met by fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
After being up all night on the morning of February 3, the tankers of B Company attempted to get some sleep. Every morning “Recon Joe” flew over attempting to locate the tanks. The jungle canopy hid the tanks from the plane. Sgt. Walter Cigoi aggravated about being woken up, pulled his half-track onto the beach, took a “pot shot” at the plane, and missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. Most of the soldiers took cover under the tanks. When the attack was over, the tankers found Pvt. Richard Graff and Pvt. Clemath Peppers dead. Pvt. Francis McGuire was wounded and Pvt. Charles Heuel was severely wounded with his leg partially blown off. The tankers attempted to put him in a jeep, but his leg kept flopping and got in the way. To get him into the jeep, his leg was cut off by T/4 Frank Goldstein but Heuel died from his wounds.
While this was going on, the battalion also took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. 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, so he requested tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinauan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at 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 the 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.
Only 3 of 23 tanks were being used and without the support of infantry and the trick during the attack through the jungle was to avoid large trees and clear a way for the infantry to attack. This they did by thrusting into the jungle. They only became aware of enemy positions when they were fired on. The tanks were supposed to have support from mortars but the ammunition was believed to be defective. It was found that the mortars were manned by inexperienced air corpsmen converted to infantry who had no idea that the arming pins on the mortar shells had to be pulled before firing them so the shells landed and did not explode.
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, and 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 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.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.
The tank companies also took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. 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 a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
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 going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
In the pockets, C Company lost one tank that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that some of the crew were killed by a hand grenade thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, it was put on its side and it was found at least one member of the crew was still alive when the Japanese filled the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it.
In another incident, a tank from B Company became wedged between two trees after its driver was blinded by a flame thrower. The crew was ordered out of the tank and told to run. As they ran, the Japanese machine-gunned them. The tank commander was killed instantly, while the other three men made it into a sugarcane field. Only one of the three men was found the next day and was sent to the hospital where he recovered from his wounds. Another man was taken prisoner, while the last man was never heard from again and died from his wounds or was killed. It appears that this tank was also recovered.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Presidential Unit Citations
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way. 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, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left. The tanks repeatedly were sent into areas to stop Japanese advances but often could not reach them because the roads were clogged with retreating troops and civilians.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. 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 were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. the 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.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the soldiers heard a thud and the ammunition dumps went up in flames. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. The driver, Cpl. Bill Burns, was a former member of B Company. Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” Capt. Robert Sorenson, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company. After arriving there, a number of men attempted to reach Corregidor.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can. When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.” Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bombs and bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
A Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived right after this was done, and Gen. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point, King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan, but he was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
When the defenders of Bataan surrendered to the Japanese, Steve destroyed his tank, but instead of surrendering, he escaped to Corregidor and was assigned to the 4th Marines. It is known that a number of tankers were assigned to defend Skipper Hill which faced Bataan. For the next month, he lived through daily bombardments on the island. The Japanese all-out attack on the island the night of May 5, resulted in the surrender of the American forces there. When Corregidor surrendered, Steve became a Prisoner of War. The tanks abandoned by the tankers were used during the final assault.
The POWs were held on the beach for two weeks. There was no shade and water was at a minimum. The POWs volunteered to work the burial detail since it meant that they could also look for food and water. When the Japanese moved the men, they were taken to a point off the coast of Luzon and forced to jump in the water and swim ashore. The POWs were used to repair a dam and a pier. After several days, they formed detachments of 100 men and marched toward Manila. Having heard the stories about the march out of Bataan, many men were afraid they would experience the same thing. Instead, they were marched at a reasonable pace. They marched down Dewey Boulevard, as part of a Japanese victory parade, and were taken to Bilibid Prison.
After two or three days at Bilibid, the POWs were marched to the train station and rode the train to Calumpit. From there, they were marched past Cabanatuan #1, where the Bataan POWs were held, to a new camp eight miles away. Steve was first imprisoned at Cabanatuan #3.
His parents received a letter from the War Department in May.
“Dear Mr. M. Kodaj:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Steve Kodaj, 20,600,413, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age, and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
The reason Camp #3 had been opened was that the Japanese wanted to keep the Corregidor POWs separated from the Bataan POWs. The fact was they were in much better shape. From Cabanatuan, he was sent to Manila and worked at the Bachrach Motor Garage, where the POWs repaired equipment for the Japanese. The POWs working at the garage were considered to be part of the Caloocan Detail. Vehicles were collected by other POWs at different places in Luzon. Those that did not run were tied together with rope and to an operating vehicle. A POW sat in each vehicle as they were pulled by an operating vehicle to Caloocan or San Fernando. Scavenged trucks that could be fixed were sent to the Bachrach Garage for further repairs as were captured tanks. The vehicles that could not be fixed were stripped of usable parts and sent to Japan as scrap.
The Bachrach Garage Detail had been part of the Calacoon Detail but since they were repairing vehicles, the detail continued its work after the scrap metal collection was completed. It appears the POWs lived in the garage building itself. Steve was not on the detail very long when he became ill. Because he was considered too sick to work, he was sent to Bilibid. When he recovered, he was given a physical and determined healthy enough to be sent to another occupied country.
The Japanese began issuing the POWs identification numbers beginning in September. It appears the POWs being sent to Manchuria or Japan on the Tottori Maru were the first to receive POW numbers and Steve was given the number I-00434. The letter “I” may have stood for Imperial or it may simply have been a way to indicate what POW camp it was issued at or that the POW was being held in the Philippines.
In late September 1942, a POW transfer list was posted at the camp. 800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6 and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball. After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M. There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M. The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
From the train station, the men were marched to Pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila. Some of the Filipinos flashed the “V” for victory sign as they made their war to the pier. The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M. and was tired and hungry and was put in a warehouse on the pier. The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted. They also were allowed to wash.
Before boarding the Tottori Maru on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the forward hold and a larger group was put in the aft hold which appears to have been the hold Steve was in. Other POWs remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs on deck were better off. The situation the POWs were in was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage, the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon. In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship. That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck. On the first day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals – which equaled one American loaf of bread – the loaves were supposed to last two days, but most men ate them in one meal. The men did ration their water.
Two days after the ship was at sea, according to the POWs on the deck, two torpedoes were fired at it by an American submarine but the captain maneuvered the ship and they missed. The ship’s deck guns fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed. A little while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine. The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11. Since most were sick with something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The American doctors had no medicine to help the sick, and some were seen as benefiting from the sick. It was at this time that the POWs on the ship, from Mindanao, were moved to a second hold putting 500 POWs in each hold.
On October 14, foodstuffs were loaded onto the ship, and each POW got two candy bags of hardtack and one meal of rice and soup each day. The ship sailed on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but turned around at 3:30 P.M. arriving back at Takao at 10:30 P.M. It was believed the ship had turned around because American submarines were in the area.
The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Makou, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored until October 27 when it returned to Takao. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked foodstuffs were again loaded onto the ship. Of his time on the ship, he recalled, “People were dying. They were screaming for water.”
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned. They were again put into the holds and the ship and remained there until the ship sailed on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Makou, Pescadores Islands. During this time the POWs were fed two meals a day of rice and soup. The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven-ship convoy. During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea. On November 3, three more POWs died. On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine, and the other ships scattered.
The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the 1400 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until November 8 and were issued fur-lined overcoats and new clothing. Those POWs who were too ill to continue the trip to Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan. Those who died were cremated and had their ashes placed in small white boxes that were sent to Mukden.
As they marched, the civilians in the town spit on them, hit them, and made fun of the POWs. The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box that contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish. They were sent on a three-day train trip north.
In Mukden, the POWs were held at Hoten Camp. After the POWs arrived, the Japanese issued new POW numbers and Stevee was now POW 464. The first camp was a temporary camp surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with crisscrossed barbed wire between two fences. The fences were three and a half feet high and four feet apart. The POWs lived in 19 barracks built by the Russians. Each one was a long, low, and doubled-walled, wooden structure sunk about two feet in the ground. They were about 14 feet wide and 125 feet long and had three entrances. There were entrances at each end of the barracks and one in the middle of every barrack. The middle entrance was the widest entrance. The barracks were built by the Russians with half of the building in the ground and half of the building above ground. A center-bricked aisle ran down the center of the buildings with raised wooden platforms on both sides for the POWs to sleep. Each barracks also had two or three wooden blank tables and benches. The POWs received one shuttle of coal so they could heat the barracks once a day.
The temperature was something that the prisoners had to deal with on a daily basis. The Japanese gave the POWs only a bucket of coal that was supposed to heat an entire barracks and last one day and night. The POWs were so cold that they snuck out of the barracks at night to the warehouse where the dead were stored. They would take a corpse out of a box and put it in a box with another corpse. They would take the box and break it up so they could burn it to keep warm. If a POW was the first to wake up in the morning and looked down the aisle of the barracks, every man would have his blanket pulled over his head for warmth.
The clothing issued to the POWs was adequate, but each man only received one change of clothing. There are discrepancies about what sleeping supplies the POWs received. Some sources state that each enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover himself with at night. The report that was written after the war about the camp stated that each POW received six blankets, a pillowcase, sheets, and a straw mattress. If a POW was the first to wake up in the morning and looked down the aisle of the barracks, every man would have his blanket pulled over his head for warmth. Temperatures during the winter averaged 40 degrees below zero resulting in 205 POWs dying the first winter. Since the ground was frozen, the bodies of the dead were stored in a warehouse until the ground had thawed. Officers were housed separately and each officer had one blanket and a mattress. In all, each barracks held 70 to 91 men.
The camp latrines were separate from the barracks and contained approximately twenty stalls and two urinal troughs in each latrine. In each stall, there was a twenty-four by six inch slit in the floor headed by a splashboard. Unlike other camps, the latrines were cleaned by the Chinese. The camp also had a bathhouse had six tanks and was in a separate building. Each tank was 6 foot by 6 foot by 6 foot, but the POWs were not allowed in the tanks. Instead, buckets were used to remove water from the tanks so the POWs could wash. A dressing room was at one end of the building. Since there were a large number of POWs, the POWs were assigned a day each week to bathe.
The camp hospital was at first staffed by four Japanese doctors and four POW doctors. The facilities were inadequate and later expanded to include three additional barracks. The main hospital building contained the Japanese doctor’s office, the sick cell, a treatment room, and a pharmacy, but when the POWs arrived, the medical supplies were inadequate. Many of the POWs who died in the camp died due to illnesses caused by malnutrition. These men died from illnesses that could be treated if the POW doctors had been given the medicine sent in the Red Cross boxes. 205 POWs died the first winter in the camp. Most died from malnutrition.
The POWs worked either at a machine shop or a sawmill from 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day. The machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese. Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese. To prevent the production of weapons, they committed acts of sabotage like pouring sand into the machine oiling holes. The Japanese usually blamed these acts of sabotage on the Chinese in the plant because they believed the Americans were not smart enough to commit the sabotage.
In January 1943, his parents received another message from the War Department.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE STEVE KODAJ IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
4029 South Anna Avenue
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. Steve Kodaj, U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau”
When they received this message, they had no idea he had already been transferred to Hoten Camp in Mukden, Manchuria.
In July of the second year, the POWs moved to a new permanent camp by marching four miles to the camp. The sick were taken there by truck. At the camp, the company built three new barracks which were more comfortable and had electricity – but the light bulbs were only 10 watts – and running water, but the heating situation remained the same. Heat in the barracks was provided by stoves known as “patchkas” – six-foot-tall stoves – at each end of the barracks. Each stove could heat two rooms, but the POWs still only received one shuttle of coal each day. The building was divided into 10 sections with five on the ground floor and five on the second floor. Each section was divided into four 20-foot-long double-decked sleeping bays with straw mattresses that held 8 men. In all, 48 men slept in a section that was infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. There was a shelf two feet higher than the platforms for the men’s clothing and personal items.
The latrines were located in three separate one-story buildings each connected at one end of the building to each barracks. To relieve themselves, the POWs used straddle-type holes in the floor. The Japanese had set up a latrine detail that was supposed to empty them twice a week, but they failed to enforce the rule so the latrines were unsanitary and very dirty. The building also contained washrooms with running cold water and concrete sinks. The latrines were separate from the barracks and contained approximately twenty stalls and two urinal troughs. In each stall, there was a twenty-four by six-inch slit in the floor headed by a splashboard. There was also a canteen where POWs could purchase cigarettes. Later they could also purchase combs, soybean jelly candy, and hair cream.
For bathing, there was a bathhouse in a separate building and this was considered to be the best thing about the camp. There were three concrete pools and 22 showers. The pools were ten feet square with one pool containing hot water while the other two pools had cool water. The hot water came from a small heating plant in a nearby building. The enlisted POWs could bathe every other day, but they had to wash off outside the polls, and rinse off, and after doing this they were allowed in the pools. No heat was provided for the bathroom during the winter.
The mess hall was used only as a kitchen and bakery. Cooking was done in large caldrons and baking in three ovens. Meals were the same every day. For breakfast, they had cornmeal mush and a bun. Lunch was an hour long and consisted of maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun. The food was carried to each factory in buckets and given out to the POWs. The POWs had three meals a day. The food was good, but the POWs did not receive enough. Breakfast was always a cornmeal mush, soybean or maize, vegetable soup, and a bun. The buns were made of cornmeal and wheat flour. There was no rice and meat was provided once every two months. The vegetables came from the farm kept by the POWs with the excess vegetables stored in a cellar for future use. Water came from a well, but it had to be boiled for use. Since they were underfed, the POWs trapped wild dogs to supplement their meals which were mostly soybean and usually in the form of soup. They continued to trap dogs until, while marching to work, they saw one eating a dead Chinese. Rations were cut when in 1945 with the arrival of the POWs from the Oryoku Maru. After liberation, it was found that the camp warehouse had enough food to feed the POWs for three months.
The camp hospital was a two-story building that could house 150 POWs and was larger than the other buildings. On the second floor were the tubercular and isolations wards. There was also a recreation room. On the ground floor were an x-ray room, consultation rooms, a pharmacy, and a morgue. The equipment provided was the same as could be found in the Japanese hospital. There was a considerable amount of Red Cross medical supplies and they were issued very carefully in limited amounts. The POWs were vaccinated against smallpox, and they were also inoculated against dysentery, cholera, and paratyphoid. A Japanese doctor, Jiechi Kumashima, denied Red Cross medicine to the POWs and overruled the POW doctors on who was ill, so the sick were forced to work. He was later found guilty of war crimes and hanged. His Japanese medical staff consisted of three nurses and three soldier orderlies. Juro Oki was a Japanese civilian doctor who smuggled medicine into the camp for POWs. He did this knowing that he would have been shot if he had been caught. In addition, there was an American doctor, an Australian doctor, and 29 medics. POWs with problems with their teeth were not treated since there was no dentist until April 1945.
Red Cross boxes were sent to the camp but were raided by the Japanese. According to POWs, the Chinese who they worked with, told them that there was a warehouse full of Red Cross food. When the Red Cross visited the camp, the rations were larger and the sick were told to lounge around. None of the POWs were allowed to talk to the Red Cross representative. The POWs received their first Red Cross boxes in September 1944 when a single box was given for four men to share. A month later another box was issued for four men. This happened two more times so, in the end, each man received the equivalent of one Red Cross box. One result of this was that the death rate dropped to near zero. According to the POWs, the Chinese who worked with them told them there was a warehouse full of Red Cross food. When the International Red Cross visited the camp, food rations were larger and the sick were told to lounge around. None of the POWs were allowed to talk to the Red Cross representatives.
Some POWs from the camp were selected to be used in Japanese germ warfare experiments done by Unit 731. The POWs were injected with deadly diseases while some of these men were dissected alive. The Japanese also tan blood and feces. They also had parts of their bodies frozen and anthrax put into wounds. Still, others were infected with bacillus, cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. The POWs stated that in November 1942, Japanese wearing face masks sprayed a liquid into the faces of prisoners and administered injections. About 300 of these POWs died.
According to post-war reports, the enlisted POWs were allowed to send home three postcards a year. While the officers were allowed to write three letters and three postcards. The POWs received very little mail, and if they did get mail it was 7 to 8 months old. After the camp was liberated, 65 bags of mail were found in a warehouse. Some of the letters were two years old.
Stealing from the Japanese was a way of life, and the POWs stole the raw materials for what they needed on a daily basis. From the raw materials, they manufactured what they needed.
Punishments were given out for no reason or for violating a rule. The commandant of the camp frequently took part in the beatings. The POWs being slapped in the face was a common event. The POWs were beaten, hit with bamboo poles, kicked, hit with shoe heals, hit with clubs, and punched with fists as they stood at attention. At other times, the camp’s food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. The Japanese, on one occasion, made the POWs come out of their barracks and line up at attention as they searched the barracks and had the POWs stripped bare because they believed some POWs had bought cigarettes from the Chinese.
A Lt. Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with the man’s shoes. All the POWs stood barefooted in the snow, for 45 minutes, as the Japanese searched 700 POWs. Another time, when three POWs escaped and were recaptured, the other POWs watched as they were hit on their heads, shoulders, and backs with sticks for hours. At other times, the POWs’ food rations were cut in half because the Japanese believed POWs were not working as hard as they should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. They would also withhold Red Cross packages.
One guard, Eiichi Nada, who was born, raised, and educated, in Berkley, California, was considered to be the worse abuser of the POWs. It was common while the POWs were lined up at morning assembly for him to hit men for no reason. He continued to hit them until they fell to the ground and said, “Get up, you yellow, white, son of a bitch.” Another guard walked through the barracks and hit the POWs, with a 3-foot club, for no real reason.
On another occasion, Steve violated a camp rule and another POW gave him advice about how to handle the beating. For Steve’s punishment, he was hit with a bamboo stick on his shoulders and head. The guard hit him so hard that the stick broke. He should have fallen but didn’t because of what the other POW told him about falling down was, “The point is, don’t lay down, don’t fall. Because if you fall down, they kick your ribs in and your brains out.”
The Japanese began splitting the POWs up into smaller groups and sent them in groups of 100 to different factories. The POWs were assigned to three branch camps. Each morning, the POWs were marched three miles to the shop where they worked manufacturing weapons for the Japanese. To prevent the production of weapons, they committed acts of sabotage like pouring sand into the machine oiling holes. When they were pouring a concrete floor, the POWs took parts from the machines and dropped them into the cement. The Japanese usually blamed these acts of sabotage on the Chinese in the plant because they believed the Americans were not smart enough to commit the sabotage. The one good thing about working in the factory was that it was well-heated. At Camp #1, 150 POWs worked at the MKK factory which attempted to airplane parts, tools, and dyes. The workdays – for the groups of POWs – were 7:30 A.M. until 5:30 or 6:00 P.M. each day. The POWs claimed that the machine shop never produced anything that was useful to the Japanese. At camp #2, the 150 POWs worked at a textile mill, while 125 POWs worked at a combination steel and lumber mill.
At some point, Steve cut his finger. Since the doctors had no medicine to treat the POWs with, the finger became infected and became so bad that it spread up his arm. After it was examined by a Japanese doctor, the doctor told him that it would have to be amputated the next day. According to Steve, another POW told him to put cigarette ash on the wound to draw out the poison. He did this and to his amazement, his arm was better the next day.
The POWs were forced out into the cold and snow and made to strip when the Japanese searched for contraband cigarettes that the prisoners had bought from the Chinese while working in the factories. They were made to stand in the snow barefooted while the Japanese searched all 700 POWs.
On December 7, 1944, B-29s started bombing Mukden. The camp was accidentally bombed because it was lined up with military targets. Since the Japanese believed that the camp would not be bombed, they did not construct air raid shelters. Two of the bombs exploded inside the camp compound wounding over 30 POWs and killing 21 POWs. The other POWs were not angry, instead, they were happy to know that American forces were close enough for the planes to reach Manchuria. After this, the POWs were allowed to dig air raid trenches. After one air raid, the Japanese medical officer, Jiechi Kuwashima, asked the POWs, wounded from the bombings to write letters asking the Allies to stop the bombing of Mukden. The POWs did write the letters but told the Allies that they wouldn’t mind more frequent bombings.
On August 16, 1945, American OSS officers parachuted into the Mukden from a B-24. The team was intercepted by a Japanese detachment of soldiers who ordered them to stop and kneel. As they knelt, the Japanese made menacing gestures with their bayonets. One of the team produced a piece of paper and read to the guards the news of the surrender. They laughed when they heard it and refused to believe the war was over. Another OSS man produced a paper signed by Gen Wedemeyer stating they were an advance team bringing relief to the prisoners. At that moment, a Japanese officer rode up on horseback and spoke to the guards whose entire attitudes suddenly changed. Another officer arrived and apologized to the OSS team. News of the surrender had just been received at the camp. The Japanese were still cautious and blindfolded the members of the team and put them on a truck. They were taken to the local military police headquarters but still were denied access to the camp. After arguing with the Japanese for an hour, they were taken to the camp, but the camp CO refused to give the team access to the POWs. The team protested, but he still did not give them access to the POWs. The team was taken to a local hotel for the night while the camp CO contacted his superiors.
The next day, August 17, 1945, the OSS team members were driven to the camp and met with the prisoners. The POWs were overjoyed and had a million questions. During the conversation, the team learned that Gen. Johnathan Wainwright and other high-ranking officers had been moved to another camp at Sian more than 100 miles away. The POWs at Mukden had been liberated. When the Russians entered Mukden on August 20, one POW slipped around the guards, climbed over the camp wall, and saw Russian tanks passing the camp. The POW could speak some Russian and Polish told the Russians that behind the wall were POWs. The Russians turned around one of the tanks and came through the camp’s gate. The tank stopped near the POWs and the crew disarmed the Japanese and gave the guns to the freed POWs. The Russian general made the Japanese go through a formal surrender ceremony where the camp was turned over to the former POWs. Shortly after this, B-29s dropped 50-gallon drums attached to parachutes to the men in an area marked by lit oil drums. The lead plane came down and saw the POWs. It circled and dropped medical supplies, food, and clothing to them. The planes also dropped walkie-talkies to the former POWs so that they could talk to aircrews. This allowed them to tell the aircrews what they needed. The planes dropped everything from ice cream to strings for a fiddle.
In September 1945, Steve and the other POWs were liberated by Russian troops. His weight had dropped from 165 pounds to 65 pounds. ” I was on the verge of death, maybe one day, maybe two days, maybe three days to live at most.”
His parents received this message from the War Department.
“Mr. Michael Kodaj: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. Steve Kodaj was returned to military control Aug. 20 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
An American Recovery Team arrived at the camp on August 29. Their job was to process the former POWs for transport. The really ill former POWs were flown out while the remaining men took a train to Darian, China. Most boarded the U.S.H.S. Relief and were taken to Okinawa. During the trip, the ship went through a terrible storm, and another shop in the group hit a mine resulting in one death.
After he was freed, Steve’s family received a letter from him dated August 23, 1945. This was the first news they had received from him since November 1941. A month after liberation, Steve was returned to American authorities. He remained in Asia for one additional month before being returned to the United States on the S.S. Simon Bolivar, on October 21, 1945, in San Francisco.
Steve was finally discharged, from the army, at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on May 3, 1946, with the rank of sergeant. Even though he had been a Prisoner of War, he still registered with the Selective Service after the war on the same date he was discharged. He initially went to work at Western Electric Company in Cicero but later moved to Oakland Park, Florida, where he bought a motel and raised a family.
On November 11, 1988, Veterans Day, Steve was awarded the medals he should have received after he was liberated. One of those medals was the Silver Star. When he was asked why he survived, he said, “I don’t know. I’m sorry that the fellows that died aren’t here to receive this. It’s 45, 46 years late, but it helps.”
Steve Kodaj passed away on March 12, 2005, in Tallahassee, Florida.