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.
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.
On July 16, 1940, he joined the Illinois National Guard’s Maywood tank company because he wanted excitement, and he knew that with the Selective Service Act taking effect on October 16, 1940, it was just a matter of time until he was drafted into the Army. Since the company was being called up for one year he would complete his military obligation and then could do what he wanted with his life.
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.
The tank company was inducted into 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 27th at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox. the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip, one of the main topics was whether they were going to live in tents or barracks at the fort.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28th. They marched west on Madison Street to Fifth Avenue, in Maywood, and then north to the Chicago & North Western train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. In Chicago, the soldiers rode buses to the Illinois Central train station and boarded another train. The flatcars with their tanks were transferred onto the tracks of the Illinois Central and added to the train that took the men and tanks 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 were assigned to smaller temporary barracks because their barracks weren’t finished.
Their first impression of the base was that it was a mud hole because it had rained continuously for days, and it continued to rain after they arrived. Someone at the base told them that at the fort, “You either wade to your ankles in dust or mud to your knees.” When the entire battalion arrived at the base, it had a total of eight tanks. The biggest task at Ft. Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get used to the other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fistfights. As time passed, the fights ended and the members of the battalion became friends.
Joining A and B Companies were C Company from Port Clinton, Ohio, and D Company from Harrodsburg, Kentucky. After all the companies had arrived the 192nd Tank Battalion was activated. Capt. Bacon Moore, D Co. – because of his seniority – became the battalion’s commanding officer. With the command, he was promoted to the rank of Major. Lt. Arch Rue took command of D Company. Capt. Ted Wickord, B Co., became the battalion’s executive officer, and Lt. Fred Bruni, A Co., became the battalion’s maintenance officer. One of the four letter companies was scheduled to become the battalion’s Headquarters Company but none of the companies wanted to give up their tanks. The decision was made to create a separate HQ Company creating a battalion with five companies.
Unpainted temporary barracks were their first housing since their barracks were not finished. Each man had a steel cot to sleep on. 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 allowing for 25 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom. Twenty-five men lived on each floor of the barracks. When men were assigned to the company from selective service, they lived in tents next to the company’s two barracks. The tents were on concrete slabs and had screened wooden walls and doors with canvas roofs. Each tent had a stove in the center for heat and electricity for lighting. The officers had their own barracks with private rooms for each officer. In addition, each officer had an orderly to clean his room.
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 first sergeant’s office, and one was in the captain’s 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 guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons and the cleaning of weapons.
For Christmas, members of the company received 4½ day furloughs home while other men 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, 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 26th. 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. The men assigned to the battalion’s tank maintenance section were the first sent to the schools since they had the job of repairing the 16 tanks assigned to the battalion that came from the fort’s junkyard. 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.
Winter finally arrived on January 4th, 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 on January 7th 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 as 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 complement of clothing.
The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. The 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. One hundred and forty-nine men from the Selective Service were assigned to the battalion on January 10th and lived in tents located next to the barracks of each company. The tents were on concrete slabs and had electricity. The walls were wood and screened with canvas starting about halfway up the wall. In the center was a stove for heat. 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.
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 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 12th, 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.”
Most of the men were attending the various schools they were assigned to on January 13th taking classes lasting three months. 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 28th, 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. The problems – which took place frequently – could last from one hour to twenty-four hours. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews. It was also at this time that each company had a maintenance tent set up 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.
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 castoff tanks from the regular army or junks pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox that were 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. It is known that on December 2nd, each company had received four additional tanks, but 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.
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.
On March 20th, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks were painted white, had bathing and washing facilities in them, and a day room and kitchen. The barracks kitchens had a stove and two large iceboxes. 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 each company of the battalion on March 21st after completing six weeks of basic training. Their basic training had been under S/Sgt. Henry Crowe, Sgts. Norman Goodman, Ben Morin, Roger Heilig, Stanley Laskowski, Hugh Mackle, and Pvt. Clyde Ehrhardt from B Company, and Sgts Harry K. Johnson and Cpl. Fred Jannisch of HQ Company. Both had been members of B Company. Men who were released from service when their National Guard enlistments ended were replaced by other Illinois men from Selective Service.
Each company was made up of three platoons of thirty men and each company had six tanks assigned to it. Four of each company’s tanks had been pulled out of the junkyard. The one exception was Headquarters Company which had three assigned tanks. The tankers also painted their tanks a dull green-gray with blue numbers on the running boards. Around the turrets near the bottom, they painted red and blue stripes. According to the soldiers, this made it easier to camouflage the tanks. The company also received additional tanks, trucks, light trucks, and what they called “peeps.” These would later be known as jeeps. They also took part in a 15-mile hike during the month.
The men played on volleyball teams and as the weather improved they had a chance the members of all the companies played baseball as often as they could and organized teams to play each other and the companies of other units. Many men went into Louisville on weekends. While those who remained on base used their free time to play baseball. It was said that on Sunday the most baseball games were played. Although it was stated the local hotels did not like allowing soldiers to book rooms. To get around this, one man in civilian clothes went into the hotel and paid for the room. When this was done, the rest of the soldiers came into the hotel.
Many members of the battalion went home for Easter in April. The only men left on the base were those attending schools; in particular, those assigned to radio school. The men who remained behind also had performed all the duties expected of them, such as guard duty. While doing these things, they still started their day at 4:00 A.M. They also washed the tanks in Salt River which was 14 miles from their barracks.
On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. 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.
At the end of the month, the battalion found itself at the firing range and appeared to have spent the last week there. According to available information, they were there from 4:00 a.m. until 8:30 a,m. when they left the range. They then had to clean the guns which took them until 10:30 a.m. One of the complaints they had was that it was so hot and humid that when they got back from the range, their clothes were so wet that they felt like they had stood out in the rain. Right after July 4th, the battalion went on a nine-day maneuver. Twelve of the battalion’s tanks were sent to Rock Island, Illinois, in July to be rebuilt and returned to the battalion before it went on maneuvers. The battalion finally received all its tanks and the soldiers were told to, “beat the hell out of them.”
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. From a letter written by a member of the 192nd in August 1941, the battalion was scheduled to go overseas. The 192nd heard that the battalion’s orders to the Philippines had been canceled and that the 194th Tank Battalion stationed at Ft. Lewis, Washington, was being sent to the Philippines. Many of the soldiers had attended classes with members of the 194th, but they still expressed relief that they were not being sent overseas.
Major Ernest Miller, CO, 194th, on August 14th, was ordered to Ft. Knox to receive his battalion’s orders. The next day, August 15th, he received the orders to go overseas and was told it was a secret move. A detachment of 192nd men had the job of requisitioning tanks from other tank units at Ft. Knox. In some cases, the tanks had just arrived at the fort and were still on railroad cars when the detachment, under 2nd Lt. William Gentry, walked up to the soldiers who were about to unload the tanks and handed the officer in charge the War Department orders that the detachment was taking the tanks from them. The tanks the detachment requisitioned were sent to San Francisco, California, for the 194th.
The 192nd was also involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias at this time. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie. The members of the company also learned they were being sent to Camp Robinson, Arkansas, to take part in maneuvers.
Two members of each letter company and HQ Company remained behind at Ft. Knox to watch over the possessions of the members of their respective companies. Who these men were is not known. In addition, men who had not completed the schools they were attending remained on base. The final men from the Selective Service also permanently joined the battalion just before it left the base. Before the battalion left for the maneuvers, rumors were already flying that it would not be returning to Ft. Knox. One rumor printed in the companies’ hometown newspapers said the battalion was going to be sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, after taking part in the three-month 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 with the battalion’s reconnaissance men on their motorcycles serving as traffic directors. 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. During the trip, the convoy was involved in several accidents that appeared to involve the battalion’s motorcycles but no details are known.
The other half of the battalion left Ft. Knox for the maneuvers by train on September 4th. It is known that the tanks had been loaded onto train cars and that the train had a kitchen for them to have meals. The time of departure for the train was 6:30 PM. and the arrival time in Tremont, Louisiana, was scheduled for around midnight the night of September 5th, but the train did not arrive until 3:00 AM on the 6th. When they arrived at Tremont, the men who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station. The tanks were unloaded in the dark while the men were eaten alive by mosquitos. That night they were allowed to go to Monroe, Louisiana, and it was said there were more soldiers in the town than civilians.
When they arrived, the battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest. What made the bivouac worse was that the rainy season started and the men found themselves living in it. On one occasion the battalion was bivouac near a canal and the next morning the men found themselves in water over their shoes trying to dig ditches for drainage. The members of B Company captured a medium-sized alligator in their bivouac and pulled it around at the end of a leash made from a rope. Two days later the battalion made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army and fought with the 191st Tank Battalion as the First Tank Group.
The mobile kitchens moved right along with the rest of the battalion. In the opinion of the men, the food was not very good because the damp air made it hard to start a fire. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili – which they called Iron Rations – that they carried in their backpacks and choked down. Drinking water was scarce; men went days without shaving, and many shaved their heads to keep cool. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance since fresh water was at a premium. 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. Men also had stumble from beards since shaving was difficult because of the lack of water. Men also shaved their heads because of the heat. Many men wonder who thought it was a good idea to purchase Louisiana from the French.
The tankers stated that they had never seen so many mosquitoes, ticks, and snakes before. Water moccasins were the most common snake, but there were also rattlesnakes. 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 night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them. 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. 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 strike if the man forced himself on the snake. It is known one member of A Company, John Spencer, was bitten by a snake but had no serious effects.
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.
During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” 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.
While 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 for a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. 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. It was said that the clay at Ft. Knox was not as bad as the sandy soil in Louisiana. 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.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders, and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night which at Ft. Knox 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. Several 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.
Water was rationed, so the soldiers washed in streams after making sure there were no alligators or snakes nearby. If they took a bath, they did it in cold water. Men went days without washing their faces. The popular conversation during the maneuvers was where the battalion being was being sent next. Rumors flew that after the maneuvers they were going to Ft. Ord, California, Ft. Lewis, Washington, Ft. Benning, Georgia, or Ft. Mead, Maryland.
After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox, or another base, instead, the battalion received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where they found themselves living in ten-man tents. While they were there, it seemed to rain nearly every day. Some men stated that they always seemed to be wet, so they did not shower for two weeks. On October 3rd, Major Bacon Moore, CO., 192nd, received the orders to send the battalion overseas. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned it was going overseas. Phil Parish, A Co., stated that Moore said, “‘You will all be going overseas somewhere and can be expected to be gone from a year, maybe two years, and maybe five or six years.’ We knew then that he knew a whole lot that he wasn’t telling.” The rumor was that they would go to the Philippines and train the Filipino Army on tanks. When they were finished in the Philippines, they would be sent to China to do the same with Chinese troops and new tanks that would be waiting there.
Those men who were married with dependents, who had other dependents, who were 29 years old or older, or whose National Guard enlistments would end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn out of a hat. Other men came from the 3rd Armor Division, also at Camp Polk, or the 32nd Armor Regiment at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. Flyers were posted around Camp Polk stating volunteers were needed to join the 192nd which was being sent to the Philippines.
One of the battalion’s officers who could not go overseas – because he was too old for his rank – was Maj. Moore. Moore was ordered to Ft. Knox where he was placed in charge of the Armored Force Replacement Training Center. The battalion command was offered to Capt. Walter Write, A Co., since he had the most seniority but he declined the command to stay with the company. Capt. Theodore Wickord became the battalion’s command officer and was promoted to major. Officers from other units who replaced officers released from duty joined the battalion at this time.
The battalion was scheduled to receive brand-new M3A1 tanks, but there was a delivery problem, and this did not happen. Instead, they were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks. While some tanks had five miles on them, many of these “new” M3 tanks were only new to the 192nd and were within 5 hours of their 100-hour required maintenance. It was also stated that the battalion had to fight other battalions to get the 54 tanks they were assigned. The selection of the tank was criticized since the M3s were known for throwing their tracks. The battalion also received half-tracks to replace its scout cars, but it is believed the half-tracks were waiting for the battalion in the Philippines.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American planes 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 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 Formosa 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, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the original members of the 192nd 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 the tanks of the Blue Army – to go overseas. The 192nd and the 191st Tank Battalion took part in the maneuvers as the First Tank Group and Patton praised the battalions for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence that he selected them for duty in the Philippines.
The fact was that the 192nd was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, as mentioned, it 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. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, but it was not the reason for the battalions going to the Philippines. The 192nd and 194th had already arrived in the Philippines and the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When the 193rd arrived in Hawaii it was held there. It is also known that one of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st, had received standby orders to move to San Francisco for transport to the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10th because the war with Japan had started. Some documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
HQ Company left for the West Coast a few days earlier than the rest of the 192nd to make preparations for the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over at least three train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar, with equipment and spare parts, followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. HQ Company and A Company took the southern route, B and C Companies went west through the middle of the country on different train routes, and D Company went north then west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island where they spent five days. As the ferry passed Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.”
On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men – who appeared to have come from the 757th Tank Battalion at Ft. Ord, California – sent to the island for that purpose. The soldiers spent their time making preparations since they were not allowed off the island for security reasons. Some soldiers believed that the “quarantine” was done to prevent soldiers from going AWOL (Absent Without Leave). It was said that at night the San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge were beautiful. It was at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver joined the 192nd as its commanding officer.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, 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 blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, 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., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. 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. Some men stated they rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg while other men stated they rode busses 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 was a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. D Company was scheduled to be transferred to the 194th Tank Battalion so when they arrived at the fort, they most likely moved into their finished barracks instead of tents that the rest of the 192nd. The 194th had arrived in the Philippines in September and its barracks were finished about a week earlier. The company also received a new commanding officer, Capt. Jack Altman.
The other members of the 192nd pitched their tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. They were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worst part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions.
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 many ham radio operators after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with ham radio operators in 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 the 192nd frequencies to use. Men sent messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion with the 17th Ordnance Company joining the tank group on the 29th. Both units had arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, and was promoted to brigadier general. Major Theodore Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.
It was at this time that the process to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion began. As part of the transfer, all the company’s medical records were organized so that they could be given to the medical detachment of the 194th. D Co. officers were transferred to other companies of the 194th.
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,” meant they worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
During this time, the battalion members spent much of their time getting the cosmoline out of the barrels of the tanks’ guns. Since they only had one reamer to clean the tank barrels, many of the main guns were cleaned with a burlap rag attached to a pole and soaked in aviation fuel. It was stated that they probably only got one reamer because Army ordnance didn’t believe they would ever use their main guns in combat. The tank crews never fired their tanks’ main guns until after the war had started, and not one man knew how to adjust the sights on the tanks. The battalion also lost four of its peeps, later called jeeps, used for reconnaissance to the command of the United States Armed Forces Far East also known as USAFFE.
Before they went into the nearest barrio which was two or three miles away, all the newly arrived troops were assembled for a lecture by the post’s senior chaplain. It was said that he put the fear of God and gonorrhea into them.
It is known that during this time the battalion went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. It traveled to Baguio on one maneuver and to the Lingayen Gulf on the other maneuver. Gen. Weaver, the tank group commander, was able to get ammunition from the post’s ordnance department on the 30th, but the tank group could not get time at one of the firing ranges.
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 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 – which were a heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the heat – 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, and badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Passes were given out and men were allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
When the general warning of a possible Japanese attack was sent to overseas commands on November 27th, the Philippine command did not receive it. The reason why this happened is not known and several reasons for this can be given. It is known that the tanks took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30th. What was learned during this alert was that moving the tanks to their assigned positions at night would be a disaster. In particular, the 194th’s position was among drums of 100-octane gas, and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield and the bombs were haphazardly placed. On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
Gen. Weaver on December 2nd ordered the tank group to full alert. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, Weaver appeared to be the only officer on the base interested in protecting his unit. When Poweleit suggested they dig air raid shelters – since their bivouac was so near the airfield – the other officers laughed. He ordered his medics to dig shelters near the tents of the companies they were with and at the medical detachment’s headquarters. On December 3rd the tank group officers had a meeting with Gen Weaver on German tank tactics. Many believed that they should be learning how the Japanese used tanks. That evening when they met Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, they concluded that he had no idea how to use tanks. It was said they were glad Weaver was their commanding officer. That night the airfield was in complete black-out and searchlights scanned the sky for enemy planes. All leaves were canceled on December 6th.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.
Most of the tankers heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor at roll call that morning. Some men believed that it was the start of the maneuvers they were expecting to take part in. They were also informed that their barracks were almost ready and that they would be moving into them shortly. News reached the tankers that Camp John Hay had been bombed at 9:00 a.m.
Captain Donald Hanes told B Company about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ordered all the members of the tank crews to their tanks. Some sources state the half-tracks took up positions alongside the tanks while other sources state they remained in the battalion’s bivouac.
It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. At 12:45 p.m., 54 planes approached the airfield from the northwest. Men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.
The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. 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. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.
The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.
The Zeros doing a figure eight strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As they flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.
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 building 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 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, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had reached its capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. When the hospital ran out of room, the battalion members set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded.
Sgt. Robert Bronge, B Co., had his crew take their half-track to the non-com club. During the 17 days that the 192nd had been in the Philippines, Bronge had spent three months of pay, on credit, at the non-com club. When they got to the club they found one side was collapsed from an explosion of a bomb nearby. Bronge entered the club and found the Aircorpsmen – assigned to the club – were putting out fires or trying to get the few planes that were left into the air. He found the book with the names of those who owed the club money and destroyed it. His crew loaded the half-track with cases of beer and hard liquor. When they returned to their assigned area at the airfield, they radioed the tanks they had salvaged needed supplies from the club.
After the attack, the tank crews spent much of the time loading bullets by hand from rifle cartridges into machine gun belts since they had gone through most of their ordnance during the attack. That night, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground. One result of the attack was that D Company was never transferred to the 194th.
The tankers recovered the 50 caliber machine guns from the planes that had been destroyed on the ground and got most of them to work. They propped up the wings of the damaged planes so they looked like the planes were operational hoping this would fool the Japanese to come over to destroy them. The next day when the Japanese fighters returned, the tankers shot two planes down. After this, the planes never returned. It was at this time every man was issued Springfield and Infield rifles. Some worked some didn’t so they cannibalized the rifles to get one good rifle from two bad ones.
The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to view the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some of the dead 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 tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9th. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. That night, they heard bombers fly at 3:00 a.m. on their way to bomb Nichols Field. The battalion’s tanks were still bivouacked among the trees when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
On the 10th, the half-tracks were in the battalion’s area watching the airfield. A formation of Japanese bombers bombed the area. As the crews sat in the half-tracks a 500 bomb exploded about 500 feet from them. The bombs fell in a straight line toward the half-tracks. One bomb fell 25 feet from the half-tracks and then eighteen feet in front of the half-tracks. The final bomb fell about 250 feet behind the half-tracks. The shriek of the bombs falling scared the hell out of the men. T/4 Frank Goldstein radioed HQ and told them about the unexploded bombs. A bomb disposal squad was sent to the area. Later, a jeep pulled up and an officer and enlisted man marked where the sixteen unexploded bombs were located. The crew could see the smoke rising from the fuses of the unexploded bombs. Another jeep and a bulldozer arrived and dirt was pushed over the bombs. The half-track’s crew radioed HQ and told them they were moving to the old tank park away from the bombs.
On December 12th, B Company was sent to the Barrio of Dau to guard a highway and railroad against sabotage. The other companies of the 192nd remained at Clark Field until December 14th, when they moved to a dry stream bed. Around December 15th, after the Provisional Tank Group Headquarters was moved to Manila, Major Maynard Snell, a 192nd staff officer, stopped at Ft. Stotsenburg where anything that could be used by the Japanese was being destroyed. He stopped the destruction long enough to get five-gallon cans loaded with high-octane gasoline and small arms ammunition put onto trucks to be used by the tanks and infantry.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21st to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. During the move north, B Company rejoined the battalion. B and C Companies were sent north but because of logistics problems, they soon ran low on fuel. When they reached Rosario on the 22nd, Cpl. Russell Vertuno was waiting for them, but there was only enough fuel for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
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 American tanks 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 when a shell hit the ball joint of the machine gun port and the concussion decapitated him. He was later buried in a churchyard. Sgt. Willard VOn Bergen bent down to talk to his driver and an armor-piercing shell went through the turret where he had been standing. The remaining tanks withdrew and reported destroyed, but all were later put back into use. This was the first tank action in World War II involving American tanks. From this time on, the tanks served as a rear guard, holding roads open until all the other troops withdrew before falling back to another predetermined position to repeat the action. The Provisional Tank Group Headquarters remained in Manila until December 23rd when it moved with the 194th north out of Manila.
On December 23rd and 24th, 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.
A Company lost its commander, Capt. Walter Write, on December 26th. According to the story, he saw Sergeant Owen Sandmire placing landmines in the road. The mines were made by Philippine Ordnance from cigar boxes with dynamite. Write took a mine away from Sandmire and told them it looked funny. As he was placing it, it exploded in his hands. Before he died, he asked that roses be placed on his grave, but since there were no roses, the men placed a native red flower on his grave. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th when the 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line. From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were supposed to hold for as long as possible. The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
The tanks were near Santo Tomas on the 28th and were spread out from east to west and were being bombed and shelled. A few minor injuries were reported. They were ordered to fall back to San Isidro which was located south of Cabanatuan where they were shelled again resulting in one tank being flipped onto its side when a shell landed near it. The crew was taken to a field hospital with minor injuries. The tank was put in an upright position and manned by another crew. It was noted that the tank crews were physically in poor condition from lack of sleep, lack of food, and constantly being on alert.
While engaged in battle with the Japanese on the 29th, a B Co. tank was disabled when it hit a landmine and lost one of its tracks. Unable to move, the tank was cut off from its support troops during the battle. Sgt. Ray Mason, Sgt. Walter Mahr, Pvt. Quincey Humphries and Pvt. LD Marrs were ordered out of their tank by the Japanese. When they got out of the tank, they expected to be taken, prisoners. Instead, they were ordered to run by the Japanese. As they ran, all four men were machine-gunned. Mason was killed, Humphries was never seen again, and Marrs was taken prisoner. Only Mahr managed to reach American lines.
The night of the 29th, A Company’s 2nd and 3rd platoons were at Zaeagosa and bivouacked for the night on both sides of a road. A noise was heard and the sentries woke up the tank crews. The tankers watched a Japanese bicycle battalion of 100 to 300 men come riding down the road and into their bivouac. The tankers opened up with everything they had. When they ceased fire, they had wiped out the entire battalion. When they were ordered to withdraw, the tanks went over the bodies.
It was at this time that a platoon of B Company tanks found itself on a road holding up the Japanese advance. without knowing it, 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. a roadblock, and running down Japanese soldiers. The tanks turned around, ran through the Japanese positions again, and escaped.
The next morning, December 30th, 2nd Lt. William Read’s, A Co., 192nd, tank platoon was serving as a rearguard and was in a dry rice paddy when it came under enemy fire by Japanese mortars. Read was riding in a tank when one of the enemy rounds hit one of its tracks knocking it out. After escaping the tank, Read stood in front of it and attempted to free the crew. A second round hit the tank, directly below where he was standing blowing off his legs at the knees and leaving him mortally wounded. The other members of his crew carried Read from the tank and laid him under a bridge. Read would not allow himself to be evacuated since there were other wounded soldiers. He insisted that these men be taken first. He would die in the arms of Pvt. Ray Underwood as the Japanese overran the area.
The Japanese had broken through two Philippine Divisions holding Route 5 and C Company was ordered to Baluiag to stop the advance so that the remaining forces could withdraw. On the morning of December 31st, 1st Lt. William Gentry, commanding officer of a platoon of C Company tanks, sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way to cross the river into the town, Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge, while Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge hidden in huts in the barrio. The third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag, and 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge. Later that day, the Japanese assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.
Major John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts on the town’s church steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks’ positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told Morley that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village. When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady’s tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting. Kennady held his fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time C Company was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
C Company withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops. The tanks were about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire which caused the rice stacks to catch fire. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a 37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.
The tank company was next sent to the Barrio of Porac to aid the Philippine Army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, they learned where the guns were located and attacked destroying three of the guns and chasing the Japanese destroying trucks, and killing the infantry. The tanks were ordered to fall back to San Fernando and were refueled and received ammunition.
The tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge, on December 31st and January 1st. 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. Platoons from B and C Company saw movement in the distance and opened fire. They later learned that they had knocked out five Japanese tanks. It was while doing this job that the defenders received orders to withdraw. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River with half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a fierce attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted and the Southern Luzon Forces crossed the bridge.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd was again holding a road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape. A Company, on January 5th, was near the Gumain River attached to the 194th Tank Battalion. It was evening and they believed they were in a relatively safe place. Lt. Kenneth Bloomfield told his men to get some sleep. Their sleep was interrupted by the sound of a gunshot. The tankers had no idea that they were about to engage the Japanese who had launched a major offensive. There was a great deal of confusion and the battle lasted until 5:00 A.M. when the Japanese broke off the attack having suffered 50 percent casualties.
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 Japanese attacked on January 6th at Layac Junction. The defenders included the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the 31st Infantry Regiment, the 26th Cavalry, artillery, self-propelled mounts, and the tank group. This was the first major battle in the defense of Bataan and the defenders halted the advance. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdrawal over the bridge. The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, 192nd, noticed A Co. 192nd, was missing and ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight. He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge. After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed which made the 192nd the last American unit to enter Bataan. Each tank platoon lost one tank at this time. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements. It was on the 7th, that the food ration was cut in half, and not too long after this was done malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers.
The next day, the battalions were 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 the 17th Ordnance Company assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. The battalion’s tanks had shore duty from Abucay to Lamao on the east side of Bataan. The area took most of the Japanese artillery fire, bombings, and strafing. Self-propelled mounts were assigned to the tank group and each needed a driver so 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 tank drivers were replaced by other members of the battalion who could drive tanks. The tank battalions also received 15 Bren-gun carriers each which were driven by members of the Army Air Corps who reassigned themselves to the tank battalions. Other self-attached Army-Air Corps personnel repaired engines, welded, and served in tank crews. The battalion’s medics were scattered among the companies providing aid. The battalion dropped back to Kilometer 142 on the 12th and did not stay long. When kitchen trucks arrived, the little food they had was divided up among the men.
It is not known when, but during this time, Capt. Fred Bruni who was the commanding officer of HQ Company was made A Company’s CO to replace Capt. Walter Write. Bruni had been one of the original members of the company. At the same time Capt. Robert Sorensen replaced Capt. Donald Hanes as commanding officer of B Company. Hanes was made commanding officer of HQ Company.
Fighting the Japanese for the tankers was made more difficult by the fact that when the tank battalions arrived in the Philippines the only shells that they had been issued for their tanks’ main guns were armor-piercing shells. As it turned out, the Philippine ordnance department had an abundance of anti-personnel shells from World War I. The 17th Ordnance Company converted over 1,000 rounds for use by the tank crews against the Japanese.
A composite tank company was formed the following 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 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, 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. 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. At this time, the tanks had maintenance work done on them by the 17th Ordnance Company. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines had long past their 400-hour overhauls. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of Aubucay Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance and the tank crews had two or three days of rest. It was also at this time that tank companies were reduced to ten tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company would have tanks. It was on January 9th that the Japanese launched a major offensive on what was called the Aubucay Hacienda line that stretched from Aubucay on the east coast of Bataan to the China Sea on the west.
The Japanese attacked through the Aubucay Hacienda Plantation which was the location of most of the fighting took place. The defenders stated that the bodies of the dead Japanese piled up in front of them and made it more difficult for the next Japanese troops to advance against the line. One tanker from B Co., 192nd, said that when they walked among the Japanese dead, they found hypodermic needles on them. To him, this explained why they kept coming at the tanks even after they had been hit by machine gun fire. The defenders’ artillery was so accurate that the Japanese later stated the defenders were using artillery pieces like they were rifles. The biggest problem was that the defenders had no air cover so they were bombed and stated constantly and were constantly harassed by snipers. The tanks often had the job of protecting the artillery. None of the tank companies liked doing this job since after the guns fired a few rounds a Japanese reconnaissance plane would be sent up to locate the guns. It wasn’t long after this that the Japanese would zero in on where the guns were located. The tankers and artillery crews learned how to “shoot and scoot” very quickly.
It is not known when, but during this time, Capt. Fred Bruni who was the commanding officer of HQ Company was made A Company’s CO to replace Capt. Walter Write. Bruni had been one of the National Guardsmen from Janesville. At the same time Capt. Robert Sorensen , a National Guardsman from Port Clinton, Ohio, replaced Capt. Donald Hanes as commanding officer of B Company. Hanes was made commanding officer of HQ Company.
The defenders were ordered to withdraw on the 25th to a new line known as the Pilar-Begac Line. The tanks were given the job of covering the withdrawal with the 192nd covering the withdrawing troops in the Aubucay area and the 194th covering the troops in the Hacienda area. At 6:00 PM the withdrawal started over the only two roads out of the area which quickly became blocked, and the Japanese could have wiped out the troops but did not take advantage of the situation.
The tankers stated that because of the jungle canopy, the nights on Bataan were so dark that the tankers could not see after dark. It was at night that the Japanese liked to attack. When the attacks came, if the tankers were lucky they were able to use their tanks’ machine guns on them. They could not use the turret machine guns since they could not be aimed at the ground as the Japanese got close to the tanks. If the tank commander had attempted to use his pistol standing in the turret, he was an easy target, so the tanks would simply withdraw from the position. The tanks were at Orion on the 19th and at Kilometer 147 on the 20th. That night the Japanese attempted to land troops on a beach, but the tanks opened fire on them stopping the landing. The tankers and 17th Ordnance worked all day on the 23rd replacing tracks on the tanks.
As to prove how dark it was under the jungle canopy, the B and C Companies had bivouacked for the night, when, at 3:00 a.m., according to Pvt. Herbert Kirchhoff, all hell broke loose. “We thought we were being shelled (by the Japanese) It sounded like the end of the world.” As it turned out, the shells that were landing around them were from American artillery. A Japanese convoy had bivouacked for the night about 100 yards from the tank companies.
During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officers in the area and that they could change the tank company’s orders. Most wanted the tanks to kill snipers or do some other job the infantry had not succeeded at doing. This situation continued until Gen Weaver gave a written order to every tank commander that if an officer attempted to change their orders, they should hand the officer the order. When the officer looked up at the tank commander, the tank commander had his handgun aimed at the officer. Gen Weaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.
Companies A and C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan, B Company 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. During the day, the Japanese would bomb and strafe the airfields, and at night the engineers would repair the airfields. 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 battalions, on January 28th, 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 was defending a beach, along the east coast of Bataan, where the Japanese could land troops. One night while on this duty, 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 beaches stopped them from attempting landings.
The tank battalions guarded the two beaches on the eastern side of Bataan where the Japanese could attempt landings. The 194th assigned the coast from Limay to Cacaben and the 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay. The half-tracks of both battalions were used to patrol the roads. One night while on this duty, the B Co., 192nd, 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. B Company made arrangements with the PT boats to be off the beach one morning and wait for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time when the Japanese Zeros attacked, they were met by machine gun fire from the PT 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.
B Company had been up all night on beach duty. Every morning “Recon Joe” flew over attempting to locate the tanks under the jungle canopy. On the morning of February 3rd, the tankers were attempting to get some sleep. Sgt. Walter Cigoi aggravated about the plane waking him up, pulled his half-track onto the beach and took a “pot shot” at the plane but missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. When the bombs hit the treetops, they exploded. Most of the soldiers took cover in or under the tanks. When the attack was over, the tankers found Pvt. Richard Graff and Pvt. Clemath Peppers were dead. Pvt. Francis McGuire and an unknown member of the company were wounded. The unknown man had 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.
At the same time, B Company was on beach duty, the battalion took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan where the Japanese landed troops that ended up trapped on points sticking out from Bataan. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He also requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2nd, 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 4th, 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.
The tank group command reported that the tanks’ suspension systems were failing. It was determined that the volute springs were freezing up because of their exposure to salt water. This information was sent to Washington D.C. which ordered that every vehicle using the volute spring suspension system be given new suspension systems.
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 Little Pocket was on top of a hill a quarter mile behind the main line of defense. The Big Pocket was a half mile south of Trails 5 and 7. Fighting in the Big Pocket 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.
In the Big Pocket, C Company lost one tank, on February 2nd, that had gone beyond the area controlled by the defenders. The tank was disabled by a thermite mine. It appeared that the crew – Sgt. Elmer Smith, Pvt. Vernor Deck, Pvt. Sidney Rattner, and Pvt. Robert Young – were killed by hand grenades thrown into the tank as they attempted to evacuate it. When the tank was recovered, the battalion’s maintenance section removed the bodies which was a gruesome job. The bodies were so badly mangled that the only way to identify them was by matching personal possessions and clothing to the bodies. One man appeared to have been alive when the Japanese began to fill the tank with dirt from the foxhole they dug under it since a handgun with a spent bullet casing was found in the tank. The tank was put back into service.
During the Battle of Toul Pocket, Cpl. Jack Bruce, A Co., was hit by enemy fire and an attempt was made to rescue him. On February 12th. during this recovery attempt, Sgt. John Hopple, HQ Co, was wounded by a sniper as he, Sgt. Owen Sandmire, A Co., and two other members of the battalion attempted to rescue Bruce. The four men crawled out to Bruce, while under fire, put him on the litter, and returned him to American lines. Three of the four rescuers were wounded. Sandmire drove Hopple and the others who had been wounded to the field hospital. To do this he drove down the west coast of Bataan, through Mariveles, and back up the east coast to the field hospital. Because of the tropical climate, infections set in quickly. Hopple succumbed to his wounds later in the day on February 18th at Hospital #1, Little Baguio, on Bataan.
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 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. He may have died from his wounds or was killed by the Japanese. It appears that this tank was also recovered.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18th, but before this was done, one C Company tank that had gone beyond the American perimeter and was disabled with the crew inside. The tankers stated the tank just sat there, and when the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew had attempted to escape the tank and was buried inside the tank, by the Japanese who had dug a machine gun nest under it. When the tank was recovered, it was turned on its side to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. It was said that one man looked like he was still alive as the tank was filled with dirt. The crew was buried and 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 the picture of a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry they more likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The one good thing about the leaflets was they were printed on tissue paper which the men used as toilet paper.
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.
The reality was that the same illnesses that were taking their toll on the Bataan defenders were also taking their toll on the Japanese. American newspapers wrote about the lull in the fighting and the building of defenses against the expected assault that most likely would take place. The soldiers on Bataan also knew that an assault was coming, they just didn’t know when it would take place. The newspapers in the U.S. wrote about the lull in Bataan and the preparations for the expected offensive.
Having brought in combat-harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3rd supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended 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.
A Co. was attached to the 194th Tank Battalion and was on beach duty with A Co., 194th. When the breakthrough came, the two tank companies were directly in the path of the advance. When the Japanese attempted to land troops, their smoke screen blew into their troops causing them to withdraw.
On April 7th, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left. The Japanese attacked the line held by American troops on April 8th. It was said that the Japanese made what the Americans called “A Bridge of Death” where the Japanese threw themselves on the barbed wire until there were enough bodies on it so the following troops could walk over it. The defenders were not only defending against a frontal attack, but they also were defending against attacks on their flanks and rear.
It was the evening of April 8th 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. 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.”
Capt. Robert Sorensen, 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 Bayalaguin 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, it was reported the half-tracks were driven off cliffs.
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.” As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and the 17th Ordnance 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. Another jeep followed them – 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 bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
At about 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed Gen. King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from the 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. 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 the line of the Japanese advance should fly white flags. After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who 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. 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.”
Steve was among the men who decided that they would attempt to reach Corregidor. It is not known how he got there, some men rode boats, some swam using boards, and others used empty gas cans as floatation devices.
Once on the island, he was assigned to fight with the 4th Marines. It is known that a number of tankers were assigned to defend Skipper Hill which faced Bataan. It was said – whether true or not – that during the night for the following four days after the surrender of Bataan, the men on Corregidor could still see flashes from battle as troops who refused to surrender continued to fight. During this time, the Japanese set up artillery on the beach that fired on Corregidor. Most of the Japanese artillery was knocked out by the guns on Corregidor, so the Japanese set up the rest in the jungle. Men stated that at night they could count as many as 24 separate batteries firing on the island. The shelling and bombing by Japanese planes were slowly knocking out the guns and weakening the defenses. The men on Corregidor knew that a landing was going to be attempted, they just didn’t know when it would take place.
The Japanese barrage of April 29th was intense and it was said that it was because it was the emperor’s birthday. One shall hit the magazine for Battery Geary resulting in a tremendous explosion. The exchange between the Japanese guns and American guns lasted all day. The men guarding South Shore Road were moved to Monkey Point at the beginning of May. The reason this was done was that the Japanese landings were expected to take place there.
It was said that during the nights for the next four days after the surrender of Bataan, the men on Corregidor could still see flashes from battle as troops who refused to surrender continued to fight. This may be an apocryphal statement. During this time, the Japanese set up artillery on the beach that fired on Corregidor. Most of the Japanese artillery was knocked out by the guns on Corregidor, so the Japanese set up the rest in the jungle. They also set up guns among the hospital buildings of Hospital #1 using the POWs there as human shields. Men stated that at night they could count as many as 24 separate batteries firing on the island. Between the shelling and bombing by Japanese planes, they were slowly knocking out the guns and weakening the defenses. The men on Corregidor knew that a landing was going to be attempted, they just didn’t know when it would take place. Gen. Wainwright was given the opportunity to evacuate but he refused and said, “I have been with my men from the start, and if captured I will share their lot.”
The Japanese began shelling Monkey Point on the night of May 5th in preparation for the landing. The men on the island watched as Japanese barges began concentrating at various points off Bataan. The barges began to make their way toward Corregidor, and the island’s remaining guns began shelling them. It was said that one of the island’s mortar batteries got so hot that the crew had to stop firing to let the mortar cool down. Another gun turned blue from the continuous firing and its breach warped and would not open. The landing came the night of the 5th. When the Japanese landed, the defenders pushed them from the beach at Monkey Point three times. Anti-aircraft guns from Ft. Hughes were firing on the Japanese as they landed. The shells exploded above the barges killing many. When the final assault on the island took place it was said that the Japanese believed that it had failed. The first tank to land on the island was one of the tanks abandoned by a 192nd tank crew. The Japanese inflicted heavy casualties and the defenders fell back to the Malinta tunnel.
The official surrender of the island was at noon on May 6th, but many units had surrendered earlier in the morning. The Japanese herded them onto an area covered with concrete known as the 92nd Garage which they had hastily surrounded with barbed wire. The POWs were told if they left the area without a guard that they would be shot. The only POWs not to be sent there were the men who were hospitalized in the Malinta Tunnel.
The Japanese herded them onto an area covered with concrete known as the 92nd Garage – which was the servicing area for seaplanes – that they had been hastily surrounded with barbed wire. The Japanese put the POWs into detachments of 1,000 men with a colonel in charge of each detachment. The POWs were told if they left the area without a guard that they would be shot. The only POWs not to be sent there were the men who were hospitalized in the Malinta Tunnel. The area was said to be approximately 500 feet wide and 1500 feet long and was located between the beach and cliffs along Corregidor’s southern shore.
While they were on the concert slab, the Japanese soldiers took whatever they wanted from the POWs. They were not fed for three days. When they were fed, they were fed rice. Each POW was given a number which was painted on the back of his shirt or his pants if he didn’t have a shirt. The Filipino POWs were put on one side of the slab and separated from the Americans by an imaginary line. Open slit trenches were dug for the POWs to use as latrines. The surface of the latrines crawled with life and flies and other insects were everywhere which helped to spread disease.
The POWs were put to work by the Japanese cleaning up debris on the island and the POWs were used to resume construction of the airfield that was being built on the island. Any ordnance left on the island was collected and the POWs loaded the captured food fMalinta Tunnel on barges that took it to Manila. The POWs supplemented their meals with canned food they found while cleaning the debris or stealing it while it was being loaded onto barges.
One detachment of POWs had the job of collecting the dead and burying them. The Japanese combat soldiers were a lot more respectful to the POWs than those troops who had not been in combat. POWs stated that they watched a Japanese soldier make a cross for the grave of a Marine, place a jug of water in it, and step back and salute. The guards allowed the POWs working on this detail to hunt for food and water.
For two weeks, the POWs were held in the garage area without any shade and with little water. Finally, the Japanese brought barges to take the POWs to Luzon. It was said that the POWs had to swim out to the barges. POWs stated they were packed into the barges and even when it was apparent no more men would fit, the Japanese still tried to put more on the barges. The POWs were taken to a point off the coast of Luzon on the east side of Manila Bay and made to jump into the water and swim to shore. Once on shore, they were put to work filling in shell craters on a pier. Other POWs repaired a dam. When the work was done, they were marched 15 miles and up Dewey Boulevard to Bilibid Prison. At first, they thought they too would experience a death march, but to their surprise, they were treated quite well and marched at a reasonable pace.
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
From May 26th to 28th, the Japanese marched 2,000 POWs a day from Bilibid to the train station in Manila where they boarded freight cars. Each car held 75 to 80 men. In the cars, the POWs were taken to the barrio of Cabanatuan where they lived in an old schoolhouse for the night. The next morning, the POWs formed 100 men detachments and then ordered them to march. The march to the camp was 15 to 20 miles, and the POWs were warned that anyone who fell would be killed. When the first POW fell a guard ran up to him and aimed his rifle at him, but the man got up and ran back into the column. This happened several times until a POW fell and could not get up. The guard aimed his gun at the man, but when he still didn’t get up, the guard raised his arm, and in his hand was a red flag. A truck pulled up and the POW was put into it. When the prisoners saw this, it wasn’t very long until many of them were falling out and were not able to get up so they could get a ride to the camp.
The POWs walked almost six miles and passed Cabanatuan #1 – which had not opened – where the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. They next passed Cabanatuan #2 which was about four miles past Camp #1. The camp did not have an adequate water supply and was closed, but it later reopened and housed Naval POWs. They continued to Cabanatuan 3 which was about seven miles from Camp #1 and was where those men captured on Corregidor were taken. The POWs arrived at Camp #3 from May 26th to May 29th in detachments of 1500 to 2,000 men which meant the total number of POWs in the camp was about 6,000 men.
Four POWs walked away from the camp on May 30th. After they escaped, the men realized that they had no place to go, so they attempted to surrender themselves to the Japanese. The Japanese tied them to posts and left them to hang in the sun. They also beat the POWs with boards. The Japanese also showed the men water but would not give them any to drink. The next day, while the POWs were eating dinner, the Japanese marched the men to where the prisoners were eating. They had the men dig their own graves and gave each man a cigarette and water. They also offered blindfolds to the men. All the men took a blindfold except one. That man spat at the Japanese before they shot him. After they were shot, the men fell backward into the graves. When one man who had survived the execution attempted to crawl out of the grave, a Japanese officer shot him with his pistol. He next shot each man to make sure they were dead.
Meals at first consisted of an onion soup without any onions in it. Later, the meals consisted of 16 ounces of rice for each man each day, and 4 ounces of top greens (similar to spinach) were issued. Once a week, one ounce of carabao meat was issued. Two ounces of coconut were issued and this was used with cornstarch and sugar to make a pudding. Also, once per week for one month, one small banana was issued and this was also used for pudding. It appears that during the first month in the camp, the POWs also received 15 limes.
After arriving at Bilibid Prison, it appears he was selected to go to the Bachrach Garage where a detachment of POWs were repairing vehicles for the Japanese. The detail had several names. One that was used by the POWs was the Calacoon Work Detail. The original 150 POWs on the detail left Camp O’Donnell in May and went to San Fernando, Calacoon, or the Bachrach Garage in Manila. Other POWs with mechanical skills and welding skills were sent from Cabanatuan 3 in early June. Most of the POWs collected disabled vehicles and drove them to San Fernando or Calacoon where other POWs attempted to get them running. If they did get them running, the vehicles were sent to the Bachrach Garage where more repairs were made. The non-running vehicles were stripped for parts and sent to Manila where they were crushed and shipped to Japan as scrap metal. It appears he was not on the detail very long when he became ill and was sent to Bilibid and then Cabanatuan #1.
Cabanatuan which was three camps opened to replace Camp O’Donnell. Cabanatuan 1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the march were held. Cabantuan 2 was two miles from Cabanatuan 1 and was where Bataan Hospital #2 patients were sent from Bilibid. It had an inadequate water supply and was closed, but it later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan 3 was three miles from Cabanatuan 2 and was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. It was consolidated into Cabanatuan 1 on October 30th.
From September to December, the Japanese issued identification numbers to the POWs. The first men to receive them were those men leaving the Philippines on the Tottori Maru. It was at this time that Steve became number 1-00434. His number indicated he had been selected to leave the Philippines.
In late September 1942, the names of 800 POWs were posted in the camp. The POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6th 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. It was then that they heard that they were being sent to Japan. The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
They rode the train to the train station in Manila and from there they marched to Pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila. As they made their way to the pier, it was said the Filipino faces showed that they had left them down. Some of the Filipinos flashed the “V” for victory sign to show they knew the Americans would be back. The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M. and was tired and hungry and was put in a warehouse on the pier. Other POWs were sent to the pier from Bilibid Prison outside Manila. The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted. They also were allowed to wash. They then went to a building and found places to sleep. It was there they met other POWs going to Japan.
Before boarding the Tottori Maru on October 7th, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs on deck were better off. 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. The ship was at sea when two torpedoes fired by an American submarine missed the ship. It was stated that the Japanese soldiers who were in another part of the hold tramped over the POWs to get out of it. The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was located, but these also missed. A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine. The POWs were fed three bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, each day and received water daily.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 12th. Since most were sick with something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The POWs also were allowed to take a bath. 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. During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck to bathe. On October 14th, 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 15th at 7:30 A.M. but turned around at 3:30 P.M. and arrived 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 18th and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Mako, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored until October 27th when it returned to Takao. During this time, the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on the 27th and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked foodstuffs were again loaded onto the ship.
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 29th. 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 the 31st, 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. The storm kept submarines away from the ships. On November 3rd, three more POWs died. On the 5th, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine, and the other ships scattered.
The ship arrived at Fusan on November 7th, but the 1400 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until the 8th 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 with their names on them that were sent to Mukden. The remaining POWs marched through the streets to the train station and were spit on by the civilians. 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 to Mukden, Manchuria, The 400 men still on the ship were sent to Japan.
Of his time on the ship, he recalled, “People were dying. They were screaming for water.”
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 into 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 barracks. The middle entrance was the widest. 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 daily. 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 in 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 look 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 bathhouse in the camp had six tanks and was in a separate building. Each tank was 6 feet by 6 feet by 6 feet, 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 hospital at the camp 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 have been 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 useful to 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.
At the factory, the Japanese used the POWs to run lathes, drill presses, and other machinery. When the Japanese believed that the POWs were good enough, they put them to work making gun barrels. The POWs intentionally messed up and ruined the barrels and also dropped sand into the oiling holes of the machines. When the Japanese realized what they were doing, they responded by making them work outside stacking the lumber.
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.
“Mr. Michael Kodaj
“Report had been received that your son, Private Steve Kodaj, 20,600,413, Infantry, is now a prisoner of war to the Japanese Government in the Philippine Islands. This is to confirm my telegram of January –, 1943.
“The Provost Marshall General, Prisoner of War Information Bureau, Washington, D. C., will furnish you the address to which mail may be sent. Any future correspondence in connection with his status as a prisoner of war should be addressed to that office.
Very truly yours,
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General.
This was quickly followed by a third 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”
In the spring of 1943, four Americans escaped and made their way to the Russian border, where Chinese villagers turned them over to the Japanese. The men were returned to the camp and placed in cells for several months before they were taken to a cemetery and shot.
In July 1943, 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 camp’s 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 before they could bathe, they had to wash off outside the pools and rinse off. 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 of soybeans which usually came in the form of soup. They continued to trap dogs until – while marching to work – they saw a dog eating the corpse of a dead Chinese.
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 daily. From the raw materials, they manufactured what they needed. The POWs also committed acts of sabotage that the Chinese workers were blamed for committing. In one case, when a new concrete floor was laid, they threw in parts from a machine to make it inoperable.
Punishments were given out for no reason or for violating a rule. 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, 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. They had all 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.
Eiichi Nada, who was born, raised, and educated, in Berkley, California, was considered to be the worst 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 one occasion, Lt. Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with his shoes.
With the arrival of the POWs who had been on the Oryoku Maru and Enoura Maru, the POW rations were reduced to feed the new POWs. This caused the original POWs to resent the new arrivals because they believed they were taking their food.
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 commanding officer 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 20th, one POW slipped around the guards, climbed over the camp wall, and saw Russian tanks passing the camp. A POW who 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. Steve , whose 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.”
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. The pilot circled the plane 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.
An American Recovery Team arrived at the camp on August 29th. 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 arriving at Okinawa, the men were flown to the Philippines. Steve remained in the Philippines for one additional month before being returned to the United States on the S.S. Simon Bolivar, on October 21, 1945, in San Francisco.
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.
“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”
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.