T/5 John Peter Lawson was born on August 18, 1914, in Detroit. Michigan to John Wasilewski and Josephine Wasilewski. His birth name was Victor Peter Wasilewski, and it is known he had one brother. Both his parents died in 1916, and he was an orphan at the Saint Francis Home for Orphan Boys in Detroit. At some point, he moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a mechanic and lived at 125 Fremont Street. When the Selective Service Act took effect on October 16, 1940, he registered using the name Victor P. Wasile. He also named his friend, Nova Jewel Ashford, as his contact person. He was inducted into the U.S. Army on April 1, 1941, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for basic training and assigned to the 194th Tank Battalion.
Their basic training was condensed down to six weeks, or less, under the direction of sergeants from the HQ Company. The sergeants lived with them and dealt with all their problems or directed them to someone who could help them. They supervised the selectees’ calisthenics and drill, besides holding classes in all the different subjects they needed to be trained as tank battalion members. They lived with HQ Company until they joined their assigned company. The first group of draftees completed their training in May. He appears to have been sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for additional training.
The battalion during June trained under what was called, “wartime conditions.” On one date, orders they received orders at 2:00 A.M. to move out as soon as possible to the attack position. They found themselves in dense woods in pitch-black conditions. For the tanks to move, a soldier guided them with a small green flashlight. The soldiers were expected to have their gas masks with them and had to use them if ordered to do so.
The battalion, in July, still had only the eight M2 tanks that came with the companies to Ft. Lewis. It received some single turret tanks in late July that had been built in 1937, and a few beeps (later known as “jeeps”). It was the only unit at the base with them. On August 1st, the battalion was told it was losing B Company. The company was detached from the battalion and issued orders to Alaska. The rest of the battalion took part in what was called the Pacific maneuvers. During the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered back to Ft. Lewis and learned it was being sent overseas.
The story that Col. Ernest Miller, in his book Bataan Uncensored, told was that the decision to send the battalion overseas was made on August 15, 1941, and was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. In the story, a squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with buoys covered on its deck covered by a tarp – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The fact was that on August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. That same day, Major Miller was ordered to fly to Ft. Knox. The next day after he arrived, he was told the 194th was being sent overseas. On August 18, Miller stopped in Brainerd to see his family after receiving the battalion’s orders. When asked, he informed the Brainerd Daily Dispatch that the battalion was being sent overseas, but he did not disclose where they were being sent. He later flew to Minneapolis and then flew to Ft. Lewis.
Different newspapers speculated that the battalion was being sent to the Philippines. The reality was there were only three places where the tanks could be sent; Alaska, Hawaii, or the Philippines. Alaska was already eliminated since B Company was being sent there. The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 194th, the tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st medium tank battalions at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 70th was a regular Army while the 191st had been a National Guard tank battalion. The 193rd at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 192nd at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, were also part of the tank group. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion had sailed for Hawaii – on its way to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After it arrived in Hawaii, the battalion was held there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had received standby orders for the Philippines, but the orders were canceled on December 10 because the war with Japan had started. Some military documents from the time show the name of the Provisional Tank Group in the Philippines as the First Provisional Tank Group.
The battalion’s new tanks were sent west from Ft. Knox, Kentucky, where they had been requisitioned by an officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Lt. William Gentry, for the battalion. Gentry was given written orders from the War Department giving him authority to take tanks from any unit so the 194th had its full complement of tanks. In some cases, the tanks he took had just arrived at the fort on flatcars and were about to be unloaded when he and his detachment arrived and took the tanks from soldiers waiting to unload them. From Ft. Knox, the tanks were sent west by train and were waiting for the battalion at Ft. Mason.
It was at this time men who were 29 years old or older and/or married with dependents were allowed to be transferred from the battalion. On September 4, 1941, the 194th, without B Company, was sent to Ft. Mason, north of San Francisco, by train and arrived at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated. Those men with medical conditions were replaced with men who had never trained in tanks.
The battalion’s new tanks had to have their turrets removed to fit them in the ship’s hold. So that the turrets went on the tanks they came off of, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets. The soldiers boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge which sailed at 9 PM. The enlisted men found themselves living in the ship’s hold with the tanks. The tanks were lashed down to prevent movement, but one tank broke free and rolled back and forth – with each wave – slamming into the ship’s hull until it was lashed down again. Many of the men had seasickness during this part of the voyage. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13 in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. At 5:00 PM that evening the ship sailed, and the next morning, after eating breakfast, the enlisted men learned they were heading to the Philippine Islands.
On September 4, 1941, the remaining companies of the 194th were sent to Ft. Mason, north of San Francisco, by train and arrived at 7:30 A.M. on the 5th. From there, they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Ft. MacDowell on Angel Island where they were inoculated and given medical examinations by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men with medical conditions were replaced with men who had been sent there for that purpose. The battalion’s new tanks had their turrets removed to fit them in the ship’s hold. So that the turrets would be put back on the same tanks, the tanks’ serial numbers were painted on the turrets.
The soldiers hiked from their barracks to a ferry and rode it to San Francisco, From the pier, they rode busses to another pier and boarded the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. The ship sailed at 9:00 P.M. for the Philippine Islands on September 8th. At first, most of the soldiers were seasick. Once they had recovered, they attended classes, performed KP, did maintenance on the tanks, and painted the ship. The ship arrived at 7:00 A.M. on September 13th in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the soldiers were given four-hour passes ashore. One of the members of the company had friends stationed at Pearl Harbor, so many of the men went on a tour of Pearl Harbor months before the Japanese attack.
After leaving Hawaii, the ship took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. During this part of the trip, the ship was joined by the heavy cruiser the U.S.S. Astoria, the fleet replenishment oiler the U.S.S. Guadalupe, and an unknown destroyer. During rough weather, the destroyer approached the Coolidge. The soldiers recalled that the destroyer bobbed up and down and from side to side in the water with waves breaking over its deck. When it became apparent that a boat would be crushed if it attempted to transfer someone from one ship to another, a bosun’s chair was rigged and the man was sent from the Coolidge to the destroyer. A few of the tanks in the hold broke loose from their moorings and rolled back and forth slamming into the ship’s hull. They did this until the tankers secured them.
The ships crossed the International Dateline on Tuesday, September 16th, and the date became Thursday, September 18th. On several occasions, smoke was seen on the horizon, and the Astoria took off in the direction of the smoke. Each time it was found that the smoke was from a ship belonging to a friendly country. At one point, the ships in total blackout passed islands during the night. The ships entered Manila Bay at about 7:00 in the morning of Friday, September 26th. The soldiers remained on board and disembarked at 3:00 P.M. and were taken by bus to Fort Stotsenburg. The battalion’s maintenance section, remained behind at the pier, with 17th Ordnance, to unload the tanks and reattach the tanks’ turrets which had been removed so the tanks would fit in the ship’s hold.
Upon arriving at the fort, they were greeted by General Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that they had to live in tents and receive their meals from food trucks until their barracks were completed on November 15. He informed the battalion he had learned of their arrival just days before they arrived. After he was satisfied that they were settled in, he left them. The officers were put in two men tents while the enlisted men were assigned to six men tents. Each man had a cot, cotton pads, white sheets, a wool blanket, and a footlocker for personnel belongings.
After spending three weeks in tents, they moved into their barracks on October 18, the barracks were described as being on stilts with walls that from the floor were five feet of a weaved matting called sawali This allowed the men to dress. Above five feet the walls were open and allowed for breezes to blow through the barracks making them more comfortable than the tents. There were no doors or windows. The wood that was used for the support beams was the best mahogany available. For personal hygiene, a man was lucky if he was near a faucet with running water.
The days were described as hot and humid, but if a man was able to find shade it was always cooler in the shade. The Filipino winter had started when they arrived, and although it was warm when they went to sleep by morning the soldiers needed a blanket. They turned in all their wool uniforms and were issued cotton shirts and trousers which were the regular uniform in the Philippines. They were also scheduled to receive sun helmets.
A typical workday was from 7:00 to 11:30 A.M. with an hour and a half lunch. The afternoon work time was from 1:30 to 2:30 P.M. At that time, it was considered too hot to work, but the battalion continued working and called it, “recreation in the motor pool.” Tank commanders studied books on their tanks and instructed their crews on the 30 and 50 caliber machine guns. The tankers learned to dismantle the guns and put them together. They did it so often that many men could take the guns apart and assemble them while wearing blindfolds. They never fired the guns because Gen. King could not get Gen. MacArthur to release ammunition for them.
For the next several weeks, the tankers spent their time removing the cosmoline from their weapons. They also had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their M3 tanks. None of them had ever trained in one during their time at Ft. Lewis. In October, the battalion was allowed to travel to Lingayen Gulf. This was done under simulated conditions that enemy troops had landed there. Two months later, enemy troops would land there.
The battalion made one trip to the Lingayen Gulf. Things went well until they turned on a narrow gravel road in the barrio of Lingayen that had a lot of traffic. A bus driver parked his bus in the middle of the road and did not move it even after the tanks turned on their sirens and blew whistles. As they passed the bus, the tanks tore off all of one side of it. The tankers bivouacked about a half-mile from the barrio on a hard sandy beach with beautiful palm trees. The tankers had a swim and got in line for chow at the food trucks. It was then that the battalion’s two doctors told them that they needed to wear earplugs when they swam because the warm water contained bacteria and they could get ear infections that were hard to cure. No one came down with an ear infection. The soldiers went to sleep on the beach in their sleeping bags when they began to hear humming and scratching. When they turned on a flashlight they found their sleeping bags were covered with beetles and other bugs. They quickly moved to an uninfested area.
At the end of the workday, the men had free time. The fort had a bowling alley and movie theaters. The men also played softball, horseshoes, and badminton. Men would also throw footballs around. On Wednesday afternoons, the men went swimming. Once a month, men put their names for the chance to go into Manila. The number of men allowed on these trips was limited. Other men were allowed to go to Aarayat National Park where there was a swimming pool that was filled with mountain water. Other men went canoeing at the Pagsanjan Falls and stated the scenery was beautiful. It is known that they were paid at least once after arriving which was confusing since they were paid in pesos and centavos and men at first had to learn how much things cost in a new currency.
The 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines on November 20. It was at this time that the process of transferring the battalion’s D Company to the 194th was begun which would give each tank battalion three tank companies. The 192nd was sent to the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radio operators for the Philippine Army. The battalion had a large number of ham radio operators and set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours after its arrival. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When it was informed it was the 192nd, they gave the battalion frequencies to use and men were able to send messages home to their families.
With the arrival of the 192nd Tank Battalion, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27. Besides the 194th, the tank group contained the 192nd Tank Battalion and the 17th Ordnance Company joined on the 29th and arrived in the Philippines with the 194th. 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. James Weaver who had been put in command of the 192nd in San Francisco left the 192nd and was appointed head of the tank group and promoted to brigadier general.
It is known that during this time the battalions went on at least two practice reconnaissance missions under the guidance of the 194th. They 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 firings ranges at the base.
The tanks also took part in an alert that was scheduled for November 30. 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 below Watch Hill was among drums of 100-octane fuel and the entire bomb reserve for the airfield. The next day the tanks were ordered back to the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers after reconnaissance planes reported Japanese transports milling about in a large circle in the South China Sea. The 194th’s position was moved to an area between the two runways below Watch Hill. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communication tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ernest Miller, Major Ted Wickord, CO, 192nd, Captain Richard Kadel, CO, 17th Ordnance Company, and Gen. Weaver read the messages of the attack. Maj. Miller left the tent and informed the officers of the 194th about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank crews were ordered to their tanks which were joined by the battalion’s half-tracks.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and were lined up – near the pilots’ mess hall – in a straight line to be refueled. While the planes were being serviced, the pilots went to lunch. The members of the tank crews received their lunches from the battalion’s food trucks. At 12:45 in the afternoon, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the company lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. The tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north. At first, they thought the planes were American and counted 54 planes in formation. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes. It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that 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.
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.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, the dying, and the wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else, that could carry the wounded, was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
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.
The battalion was sent to the barrio of San Joaquin on the Malolos Road and moved to an area just south of San Joaquin near the Calumpit Bridge on December 12. The move was made at night without lights and resulted in two tanks going off the road into ditches, but no major damage was done to either tank. The battalion received 15 Bren Gun carriers that were used to test the ground to see if it could support the weight of a tank. When they left Ft. Stotsenburg, the tankers left all the personal possessions at the fort. It was the last time they saw them. On December 22, they were ordered to the Agno River near Carmen. There, they engaged the Japanese who were attempting to cross the river in several places. The tankers fired on them with their machine guns killing as many as 500 enemy troops. The night of December 22, the battalions were operating north of the Agno River when they found that the bridge they were supposed to use had been bombed. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta and found the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening, but they successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. Later on the 24, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the tanks of the 192nd holding the Agno River from Carmen to Tayug, and the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road.
The 192nd received orders to withdraw, but the 194th did not receive the order for some unknown reason. The battalion finally was ordered to withdraw and 1st Lt. Harold Costigan informed the members of A Company, and D Company, 192nd, that they would have to fight their way out. The tanks fought their way through Carmen losing two tanks but saving the crews except for Capt. Edward Burke. He had been hit by enemy fire and presumed dead. The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.
On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. 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, about withdrawing from the bridge and half of the defenders withdrawing. Due to the efforts of the Self-Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.
From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape while the 194th held the bridge open. The tanks and Self Propelled Mounts were the only units that held the line against the Japanese at Guagua on January 5. It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half. It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. On the night of January 5, the tank battalion was holding a position near Lubao. At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5th, the battalions’ outposts challenged approaching soldiers. The soldiers turned out to be Japanese. The Japanese sent up flares to show where the American tanks were located. They then charged toward the tanks, through an open field, and were mowed down. When the Japanese disengaged at 3:00 A.M., there were large numbers of Japanese dead and wounded in front of the tanks.
January 8th, a composite tank company was formed 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.
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. 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 actually 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 it didn’t take the Japanese long to zero in on where the guns were located. It didn’t take long for the gun crews to learn how to “shoot and scoot.”
On January 12th, Co. D, 192nd, and Co. C, 194th, were sent to Cadre Road in a forward position with little alert time. Land mines were planted on January 13 by ordnance to prevent the Japanese from reaching Cadre Road. C Co., 194th, was sent to Bagac to reopen the Moron Highway which had been cut by the Japanese on January 16. At the junction of Trail 162 and the Moron Highway, the tanks were fired on by an anti-tank gun which was knocked out by the tanks. They cleared the roadblock with the support of infantry.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time: “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.”
During this time, the tanks often found themselves dealing with officers who claimed they were the ranking officer 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 Weeaver had ordered the tank commanders to shoot any officer attempting to change their orders. This ended the problem.
On January 20th, A Company was sent to save the command post of the 31st Infantry. On the 24th, they supported the troops along the Hacienda Road, but they could not reach the objective because of landmines that had been planted by ordnance. The battalion held a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino warned the tankers that a large force of Japanese was on their way. When they appeared the battalion and self-propelled mounts opened up with everything they had. The Japanese broke off the attack, at 10:30 A.M., after losing 500 of their 1200 men. It was also at this time that the Japanese ended the assault and waited for fresh troops to arrive.
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 tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings. The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. One night, the Japanese attempted to land troops on a beach guarded by B Co., 192nd. There was a tremendous firefight, but the next morning not one Japanese soldier landed on the beach. The Japanese later told the tankers that the tanks were the reason why they attempted no other landings. While doing this job, the tankers noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast of Bataan they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place at a certain time and waited for the Zeros to arrive and attack. This time they were met by machine gun fire from the boats but also from the machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
The battalions took on the job of guarding the airfields in Bataan in February which had been constructed because of the belief that aid would be coming by air. Throughout the Battle of Bataan, men held the belief that aid would arrive. The Japanese bombed the airfields during the day and at night the engineers would repair them. 50-gallon drums were placed around the airfields to mark the runways, and at night fires could be lit in them to outline the landing strip. The well-camouflaged tanks surrounded the airfield and had several plans on how they would defend the airfields from paratroopers.
The Battle of the Points also took place at this time. The Japanese landed Marines behind the main line of defense in an attempt to cut the supply lines from Mariveles to Baguio. After they had landed they were quickly trapped on a point sticking out into the China Sea. When the Japanese attempted to reinforce the point, they landed on another point, and the second group was quickly trapped. The Army Air Corps men converted to infantry, the 45th and 57th Philippine Scouts. and companies from the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalion were involved in the elimination of the points. When the Japanese attempted to send in a third detachment of reinforcements, the last three P-40s appeared and strafed the barges. The strafing ended the Japanese attempt to reinforce their troops. Through a coordinated attack by the infantry and the tanks, the Japanese were pushed back to the caves below the points before being wiped out.
Tanks parts were now rare and 17th Ordnance made repairs however they were able to make them. Tanks that had damaged main guns often had the barrels cut down – similar to a sawed-off shotgun – to keep them firing. 17th Ordnance also provided anti-personnel by converting WWI shells from the Philippine Ordnance Department so that they could be fired by the tanks. The company also had to deal with the fact the tanks’ suspension systems were locking up after being near or in salt water. The information was sent to the War Department in Washington D.C. which resulted in the suspension systems being replaced on all vehicles using it.
At some point, John was hospitalized at Hospital #2 at Cabcaben, Bataan. The hospital – which was created in December 1941 – was staffed by 8 doctors, 4 dentists, 3 pharmacists, and 2 MAC or administration officers who handled the paperwork. The hospital is known to have outdoor wards for the sick and wounded but shelter halves were used to provide cover for the patients. The hospital also had an operating room, a water plant, and an operating room which was a tent with a wooden floor that could hold the weight of the surgical equipment. A second surgical room – that held four operating tables – was built with wooden walls since casualties were expected to increase. The original operating room was replaced with another operating room because it was too close to the road and dust was everywhere. There was also a dental laboratory which it was said did excellent work. The hospital was near the bank of the Real River so a channel was dug that diverted about half of the river’s water to the water filtration plant supplying the hospital with an abundant chlorinated water supply. Electricity was supplied by a generator.
Food at the hospital consisted of fruit juices, canned milk, and meat. The number of patients the hospital received increased in February, and John may have been one of them. No information has been found as to why he was admitted, but the battalion was involved in the Battle of the Points. The records kept by the medical staff indicated that casualties increased at this time and that there was a large influx of patients the night before the surrender. In addition, the medical staff stated that the closer to April the number of cases of men with food deficiency diseases increased.
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. Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 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 down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.) 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.”
The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
According to a member of HQ Company, Gen. King spoke to the men and said, “I’m the man who surrendered you, men. It’s not your fault.” He also spoke to the members of B Company, 192nd, and told them something similar. King ordered them to surrender and threatened to court-martial anyone who didn’t. Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the 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 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.”
John was still in Hospital #2 when the surrender took place on April 9, 1942. This prevented him from taking part in the march from Bataan. It was feared that the Japanese would send troops right through the hospital since it was along the main road, but Gen. King apparently told the Japanese where the hospital was because this never happened. The first Japanese – 10 to 12 men – arrived at 9 PM but set up a bivouac for the night and left the next morning. A Japanese medical officer arrived the next day and questions were asked and reports were asked for. He told the medical staff what they could and could not do. One thing that changed immediately, was that the patients would no longer receive fruit or milk. They were also told they could only use the water supply for drinking and any other use would result in death. The Filipino patients were told to leave the hospital, and 5500 of its 7000 patients left and ended up on what became known as the march. The only Filipinos left were those that were bed cases. Most of the Filipinos who left the hospital when ordered died on the march.
The Japanese occupied the area and set up artillery that completely surrounded the hospital and fired on Corregidor. On April 29, the hospital was shelled when Corregidor returned fire from Japanese artillery that was set up next to the hospital buildings. This was done to use the POWs as a human shield. Ward 14 was hit resulting in the deaths of 5 POWs and wounding 12 other patients. When Gen. Wainwright learned where the guns were firing from, he stopped his guns from returning fire. It was April 29th when they heard a terrific artillery bombardment on Corregidor. On the 3rd and 5th the bombardments were even worse. They received word that Corregidor had surrendered on the 6th.
It was known that the hospital would soon be closed although no date was known. Among the patients were mechanics who were able to get abandoned buses running. The buses were double-decked to carry as many patients unable to walk as possible. It was determined it would take two trips to do this. The patients who could walk would walk from Hospital #2 to Hospital #1. Many of the patients had recovered and wanted to leave the hospital and requested to do so. A Japanese medical officer informed them that they were better off staying in the hospital than being sent to Camp O’Donnell where 50 to 60 POWs were dying each day.
On May 12th, the hospital closed and the POWs were marched on the 12th and 13th to Hospital #1 at Little Baguio. As they marched they saw the dead still lying along the sides of the road in the ditches since the carnage had not been cleaned up. The POWs were identified as the Cabcaben Detachment on May 19, 1942. When they arrived at Hospital #1, they were held in an area north of the hospital that had been used by the Ordinance Department before the surrender. It is known that a roster of Prisoners of War from Hospital #2 who were patients was taken and John’s name was on it. The POWs remained at Little Baguio until May 26th when they were taken by a truck convoy to Bilibid Prison near Manila. In Tagalog, the word “bilibid” means prison but the Japanese now called it a hospital and turned it over to US Naval medical personnel as a hospital. The trucks carrying the men from Hospital 2 passed through a massive archway and two sets of iron gates in the cement and brick wall that surrounded the prison. Inside there was a third wall that divided the grounds. The trucks stopped in front of a three-story building that had once been the prison hospital. There was no roof over the third floor and when it rained, the rainwater seeped down to the second and first floors.
The POWs got out of the trucks and lined up to be counted. After this was done, they were sent to the second floor of the former hospital and took the floor over. The second floor was described as a big bare room, with stairs at both ends, without one cot and only a few mattresses lying on the floor. Most of the really sick lay on the concrete floor. Wherever the other POWs threw their belongings became their spot.
The other buildings in the prison were long narrow one-story wooden structures where the patients lay with their heads against the wall and their feet toward the center aisle of the building. Some of the sick had mattresses, others lay on blankets on the floors. Many of the POWs had no real clothing. It was stated that there were six or seven of the buildings and each had a pharmacist’s mate in charge of it. Men stated that the Naval personnel kept the buildings clean and sanitary.
The POWs had rigged a long flushing latrine described as an open depression. At the end was an automatic flusher made from half a gasoline drum they rigged up that allowed for a steady stream of water from the city water main to flow through it. When the drum filled, it tipped and flushed the latrine. It then swung back into position to fill and then repeated the process.
The prison guards carried rifles with bayonets attached. The guards seemed to be everywhere. They were outside the prison, walked the grounds, and walked through the hospital wards. When they did, the POWs were expected to stand up and bow to the guards or be beaten. This was a completely different experience than Baguio where – except for the one area that they were forbidden to enter – the POWs were allowed to walk where they wanted without Japanese interference. They also had never had a “bango” but now they did it daily until their first morning in the prison. The Japanese expected all the POWs to line up. This included the sick. The senior officer checked the POWs then they stood until every POW in the prison – from every building – was counted and a comparison was made of the count to the books with the recorded number of POWs being held. Sometimes it took as many as three counts before the numbers matched.
Most of the POWs from the Bataan hospitals remained at Bilibid until May 30 when they were moved to Cabanatuan. By train, they were taken to the barrio of Cabanatuan. From the barrio, they marched passed Cabanatuan #1 which had not opened and would house most of the POWs who had done the march. They marched to Cabanatuan #2, and those men who fell were not killed but beaten until they got up. It was stated that if they did not get up, they were put on a truck and driven to the camp. When they arrived there was no water supply, so men dug holes in the ground and sucked on the moist soil. That night it rained which probably saved many lives.
In May, his friend received a letter from the War Department.
“Dear Miss N. Ashford:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Technician Fifth Grade John P. Lawson, 39,231,831, 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”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of the healthier POWs was completed on June 4.
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Cabanatuan #1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were held. Cabanatuan #2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Cabanatuan #3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. Once in Cabanatuan #1, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp. The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Another detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit and known as Maniquis Airfield. The Japanese had the POWs build runways and revetments. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp. By July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-toxin to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August. On June 26, 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
On Saturday, June 20, 1942, he was admitted to the camp hospital with cerebral malaria and assigned to Barracks 14. Since the POW medical staff had no medicine to treat him, he grew worse. According to records kept at the camp by the POWs, he died on Sunday, July 12, 1942, from cerebral malaria at approximately Noon. He was the 797 POW to die in the camp and records show he had no possessions. He was buried in the camp cemetery in
His friend received a second message from the War Department in July 1942. This is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Technician Fifth Grade John P. Lawson had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
It is not known when his friend and brother learned of his death.
After the war, his remains were not identified, so he was reburied at the new American Military Cemetery at Manila as an unknown. His name appears on the Walls of the Missing at the cemetery.