2nd Lt. Ben R. Morin was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on August 15, 1920, to Benjamin & Josephine Morin. With his four sisters and four brothers, he lived at 1301 South 9th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois.
On October 15, 1937, Ben enlisted in the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company which was headquartered in the armory in Maywood. He graduated from Proviso Township High School in 1938, and after high school worked as a truck driver in the family’s trucking company. When he was discharged from the National Guard on October 14, 1940, as a sergeant, he re-enlisted the next day with the same rank.
In the fall of 1940, the Maywood Tank Company was called to federal service as Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training. It is known that in the fall of 1940 and early 1941, he attended chemical weapons school. Ben was also given the job of training the “draftees” who had been assigned to the battalion to fill-out the rosters of each company. At some point, he was promoted to First Sergeant which was the rank he held when he went to the Philippines.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. It was after these maneuvers that the 192nd Tank Battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. Many of the soldiers were furloughs home and get their affairs in order.
The decision for this move – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco. Arriving there, they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Some men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. The fact was that he had learned of their arrival days earlier. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
In a letter to his parents that they received toward the end of December 1941, he described the Philippines and Ft. Stotsenburg:
“Boy what a book I could write (if I could only write) after all the color I am absorbing. I hope you received my radio-gram OK. Now and then you perhaps wonder where I am. Well, get out the copy of the Officers Guide and turn to Foreign Service, then read about Fort Stotsenburg. Yes, sir. Thursday morning the ship reached Manila, what a city, where we entrained for Stotsenburg, about 60 miles north of Manila. Adjoining Stotsenburg is Clark Field, the largest military airfield in the whole Philippine Archipelago. P-40’s and B25’s are like flies around here. I intend to ride frequently in a B-25, one of the so-called flying fortresses.
“The battalion in quartered in tents for the next two or three weeks until permanent barracks are finished. The 194th is down here adjoining are area and we will operate as a group under a Colonel Weaver who came with us on the transport. The quarters are of mahogany frames with woven slit-bamboo walls. Of course, there are no windows — everything is constructed as open as possible. In the Islands, Philippine mahogany is used like pine is in the States. Everything is mahogany around here.
“Now as to the people in the Islands. In the adjoining hills around us are Negritos and the Balucas, the original inhabitants. The Baluchis are pygmies, although both races are black with kinky black hair that stands out like a brush. The Baluchis come down from the hills to sell bow, arrows and the ever-present bolo. The males only leave the villages or “barrios.” The usual dress for a male is a shirt with or without a gee-string, nothing more.
“The next races are the Igorots and Bantuks who migrated here from Asia about 2000 B.C. They are located in northern Luzon quite far from Stotsenburg. Both races are head hunters.
“The last group of people to migrate here are the Malays including Filipinos and Moros. The Filipinos are still afraid of the Moros who live in Zamboanga, a province of the southern island of Mindanao. The Moros also live on the island of Jolo in the Moro gulf near Zamboanga. There are only a few in Luzon. The Moros, of course, are Mohammedans, Moslem fanatics; they never touch pork, neither will they go to the paradise unless they kill a person and become a juramentado. The Moros wear high hats and turbans, chew betel nuts to blacken their teeth and some of the Moro sharpen their teeth to a fine point. These weird people give the Constabulary and Philippine Army no end of trouble.
“On the post are some Chinese tailors and bootmakers. I am having a few more khaki uniforms made and a pair of boots and shoes. Everything is hand-made-to-measure for half the price in the United States.
“I’ll pick up a few souvenirs here, a kris, a Moro bolo with a wavy two-edged blade and perhaps a short dagger such as the professional killers use. The ‘gorillas’ or professional murders never use a gun, always a dagger or bolo. I hope to do some hunting in the neighboring hills with a .45 pistol. The game is wild boar, wild water buffalo (carabao) a few Panthers and a small python that grows to 18 or 22 feet. There are large areas in Luzon never seen by white men, mountain regions alive with Igorots. All officers and men who go on an exploring trip in the hills are fully armed. I mean they carry sidearms and bolos.
“It’s really a fascinating country and I like it a lot. White officers are really brothers down here and chew the fat a good deal. There are practically no White women in the islands (only 12 nurses at Stotsenburg) so foreign service is strictly masculine, no frills but plenty of excitement. However, although this area is a powder keg in the Islands (as I said Clark Field is the site of the home of all the heavy bombers in the Philippine department) still it’s a safe place to be in time of war. Any large attack on the Island of Luzon will have to be by parachute troops and airborne infantry, hence our location next to Clark Field; we’re to defend the airbase. There are few roads here and moving large masses of men and equipment over the mountains and through the jungle is out of the question.
“Well folks, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’ll send the radio-grams from time to time so don’t be alarmed when you receive one. My address to January 1 will be Plum, so have all my good relatives and friends drop me a line.
I’ll write again soon, but don’t expect rapid mail service — it just ain’t. I’d suggest you get a large scale relief map of the Islands and you can point out the places I go to describe them while you sit back and travel with me in spirit.
“Love to all.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease had been put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance preparing to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion. It was during this time that Ben received a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant.
On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
During the night of December 7, the officers of the 192nd were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The tank crews were brought up to full strength at the airfield. Ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ben and the other members of his battalion lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. During the attack, the tankers could do little more than watch since they did not have weapons to use against planes.
The tankers were ordered from Clark Field. It was sometime during this period of time that Ben was discharged as an enlisted man and reenlisted as a second lieutenant.
On December 21, 1941, the tanks of the 2nd Platoon of Company B were bivouacked near Dau, Pampanga. At 12:00 noon, Capt. Donald Hanes ordered the tanks to prepare to move north. Lt. Morin’s detachment of tanks left Dau at 1300 hours heading toward Rosario. With him were the tanks of S/Sgt. Al Edwards, Sgt. Willard Von Bergen, Sgt. Larry Jordan, and Sgt. Ray Vandenbroucke. The tanks were refueled at Tarlac, Genora, and continued on their journey north.
Well after dark, the tanks stopped at Binalonan for an hour before continuing their movement north in total darkness. At Manaoag, the tanks were met by a truck full of gasoline-driven by Cpl. Russell Vertuno. After refueling, the tank crews retired for the night. At six in the morning, the tanks continued their journey through Pozurubio and on into Rosario. North of Pozurubio, the tanks came under the observation of Japanese reconnaissance planes, which observed them until they entered the town at about nine in the morning.
At Rosario, Ben’s detachment was informed that the 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts was engaged with advanced Japanese patrols. At ten or ten-thirty in the morning, Ben was given warning orders from Captain Hanes to attack the Japanese. Ben met with General Weaver, who wanted him to attack the Japanese at Agoo, 12 kilometers to the north and west of Damaris on the coastal road. They were to proceed ten kilometers further north to the barrio of Aringay and destroy the enemy forces there. It was believed that the Japanese had not been able to bring in their artillery and tanks.
At about eleven in the morning, Ben’s tanks left Rosario and were attacked by Japanese planes. Bombs dropped by the planes exploded alongside Ben’s tank. Since they were fragmentation bombs, they did no damage. At Damortis, his tanks turned to the north and proceeded toward Agoo.
Just north of Damortis, a scout car of the 26th Cavalry was parked. An American officer informed Ben that the Japanese were a half-mile ahead. The tanks proceeded north at a speed of fifteen miles an hour. At this time, Ben tried a trial shot with the 37mm cannon. This resulted in the cannon locking in recoil evidently locked out of battery. The gun would stay jammed throughout the coming engagement.
The Japanese infantry had deployed off the road and hit the dirt very fast. Pvt. Louis Zelis, Ben’s tank driver, began to weave the tank so that the stationary machine guns could fire upon the ditches more effectively. Cpl. John Cahill‘s bow gun kept jamming, but he still went through several 100 round belts of ammunition. Pvt. Steve Gados did a good job of keeping Pvt. Zelis’s guns loaded resulting with him going through 1000 rounds of ammunition. Ben was manning the coaxially mounted machine gun in the turret. After a while, because of problems, Ben had to pull the bolt back by hand before each shot.
About two miles south of Agoo, Ben’s tank was hit by a shell on the left side of the hull. The hit knocked the door loose in front of his driver’s, Pvt. Louis Zelis, position. Within seconds, a second direct hit tore the door away and left it dangling over the front slope plate of the hull. Ben signaled Pvt. Zelis to pull off the road to the right to take them out of the line of fire. Ben did this to give his crew the chance to put the door back in place before continuing the attack.
While the tank was stopped, a Japanese medium tank charged down on Ben’s crew from concealment. The Japanese tank struck Ben’s tank full in the left front at the driving sprocket. Pvt. Zelis backed onto the road again and tried to go forward. Since the left driving sprocket was sprung out of line, it was jammed in the track. The motive power of the right track pulled Ben’s tank off the road to the left. More shells struck the tank on the right side of the hull and in the right rear. One shell pierced the armor and entered the battery case causing the engines to stop. The radio and forward guns went dead, and the engine caught fire resulting in smoke entering the fighting compartment. Ben yelled “Gas!” to his men who put on their gas masks. Pvt. Zelis climbed out of his seat and turned on the fire extinguishers. Within a few minutes, the heat had become unbearable but the fire was out.
Through the smoke, Ben could see the remaining four tanks of his platoon withdrawing to the south. He had hoped that Sgt. Al Edwards could have broken through the Japanese guns on the road and the second platoon would overrun the Japanese landing area at Agoo. After about fifteen minutes, the Japanese ceased firing and four Japanese light tanks approached Ben’s tank. His tank was 50 to 75 yards off the road in a dry, hard rice field. To prevent the Japanese from firing into the damaged right front of his tank, Ben climbed out of his tank and surrendered his crew.
Ben and the members of his crew spent the first three months as Prisoners of War in Agoo and Bauang. The Japanese would not acknowledge the Americans as POWs but as “captives.” They were joined by four other captured Americans. A ninth prisoner, an officer, was not allowed to associate with them. Ben believed he was later executed. As prisoners, Ben and the other men refused to bow to the Japanese, but they would salute officers. The Japanese were not happy about this, but they did not press the point.
During his time as a POW at Bauang, Ben and another American officer, Lt. W. Robert Parks, of the 57th Infantry Regiment Philippine Scouts witnessed the execution of two Filipino POWs by the Japanese. The two Americans watched as a Japanese officer beat the men to death with a baseball bat.
In late March 1942, Ben and the other prisoners were sent to Tarlac. It was there that they came under the control of the Japanese military governor Capt. Tsuneyoshi. He later became the commandant of Camp O’Donnell. The first night at Tarlac, Capt. Tsuneyoshi sent two NCOs into the jail to persuade the POWs to bow. Ben recalled being slugged and beaten. In response to this, the POWs met and decided that it would be best to bow if they hoped to survive. The next morning the POWs bowed to the Japanese. To them, they had achieved a small victory because the Japanese had to use force to make them bow.
After the surrender of Bataan and Corregidor, his family received a message from the War Department. No evidence has been found that they knew he had been captured in December 1941.
“According to War Department records you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Second Lieutenant Benjamin R. Morin who according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to give you more information. 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 of other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese government has indicated its intentions of conforming to the terms of the Geneva convention with respects 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 the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is hoped that the Japanese government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At this time you will be notified by this office in the event his name (Benjamin R. Morin) is contained in the list of prisoners of war.”
In June 1942, Ben was taken from Tarlac to Camp #1 at Cabanatuan which had just opened. It was there that Ben was reunited with the survivors of the Provisional Tank Group. Disease in the camp was rampant; Ben suffered like everyone else from dengue fever, scurvy, pellagra, beriberi, and dysentery. The thing that really shocked Ben about the camp was the “dog-eat-dog” mentality of the American soldiers and some of the officers. In the camp, there was a partial breakdown of authority. He found mistrust, selfishness, whining and complaining.
It was at Cabanatuan that Ben also received a blanket. Up to this time, all Ben had were the clothes on his back, his cavalry boots, a rag for a towel, which he used to cover his face at night against the mosquitoes, and a burlap sack which he used for bedding.
Sometime in July 1942, his parents received a letter from the War Department. The following 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, Second Lieutenant Benjamin R. Morin 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.”
On November 1, 1942, the Japanese drew 1500 POW names of men who were being sent to Japan. When the names were drawn, the POWs had no idea what was happening. Many came to the conclusion on their own that they were being sent to Japan. At 3:00 A.M. on November 5, the POWs left the camp and marched to the Barrio of Cabanatuan. Before they left the camp, each man was given his breakfast, to take with, which was a small issue of rice and what the Japanese termed “a large piece of meat.” The large piece of meat was two inches square and large next to a piece of meat they usually received at a meal.
After they arrived at the barrio, a Japanese officer lectured the POWs before they boarded train cars. 98 POWs were put into each car which allowed them to position themselves so they could move around. They remained on the train all day and arrived at Manila at 5:00 P.M. After they disembarked, they were marched to Pier 7 where they spent the night sleeping on a concrete floor in a building.
The POWs boarded the Nagato Maru at 5:00 P.M. on November 6. The POWs were pushed into the forward hold which the Japanese believed could hold 600 men without a problem. In an attempt to get the POWs into the hold the Japanese beat them. When the Japanese realized that beating them was not working, they concluded that the hold could not hold 600 men. It was at that time they lowered the number of men in the hold to somewhere between 550 and 560. This meant that nine men had to share an area that was 4 feet, nine inches, by 6 feet, 2 inches. All the holds on the ship were packed with men in the same manner.
The POWs had barely enough room to sit down if their knees were drawn up under their chins. The heat was also unbelievable, so the Japanese allowed small groups of POWs up on the deck at night in shifts. The Nagato Maru sailed on November 7, 1942.
In the hold, he was reunited with Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, Capt. Ruben Schwass, Lts. Tom Savage and Richard Danca, and Sgt. Jack Griswold. Capt. Schwass, Lt. Danca and Sgt. Griswold were in bad shape. Lt. Richard Danca died while the ship was docked at Takao, Formosa, on November 11, 1942. His body was taken ashore and cremated. Ben believed his ashes were given to Col. Wickord for safekeeping.
The Japanese had set up two latrines for the POWs. One was at the on each side of the ship’s deck and since so many of the POWs had dysentery and diarrhea, it soon became obvious not going to work. The sick who tried to use the latrines were beaten and kicked by the Japanese for making too much noise passing through the Japanese quarters. When they reached the deck, they ended up waiting in line.
For the extremely ill POWs, the Japanese sent down, into the hold, tubs for the extremely ill to use. The sick crawled, rolled, and stumbled to reach the tubs. Because the POWs were dehydrated, the POWs urinated frequently. In addition, those with dysentery and diarrhea could not make it to the tubs which resulted in the POWs standing into several inches of human waste. If they did try to reach the tubs, the men had to step on the bodies of other POWs.
The ship reached Takao, Formosa, on November 11. While it was docked there, the POWs could not leave the holds. The ship sailed on November 15 and arrived at Mako, Formosa the same day. They remained in the holds with the fleas, lice, and roaches. The ship sailed again on November 18. During this part of the trip, the POWs felt the explosions from depth charges.
The trip to Japan ended on November 24, when the ship reached Moji late in the day. At 5:00 P.M. the next day they disembarked the ship and each POW received a chip of colored wood which determined what camp the POW was sent to. In addition, once onshore, they were deloused, showered, and issued new uniforms.
By ferry, the POWs were taken to Shimonoseki, Honshu, where they were loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There, the prisoners were divided into two groups according to the color of the wood they had. Ben, along with 500 other POWs, was sent to Tanagawa outside of Osaka.
“We marched into Tanagawa at nightfall. There were five new barracks very flimsily constructed with dirt floors and paper-thin walls coming to six inches off the floor. The barracks were very cold. There were two decks of bunks with a ladder going up every twenty feet to the second deck which was 8 to 10 feet off the ground. Shoes had to be taken off at the foot of the ladder. At the foot of each bunk were five synthetic blankets made out of peanut shell fiber and a rigid pillow in the shape of a small cylinder packed with rice husks. The barracks had no heat and with temperatures falling below freezing, the conditions were pretty tough. After coming from the tropics, this was quite a shock to your system.”
The camp was a “hell hole” and proved to be a death camp. It was there that Ben had his first experience with lice. He also suffered from diarrhea and intestinal cramps. The officers in the camp were not required to build the breakwater with the enlisted men, but they were assigned duties. The officers were required to clean the camp. One of the things they were expected to clean were the latrines. They also had the job to take the dead to be cremated. Both enlisted men and officers were beaten daily. Within a couple of weeks, Sgt. Jack Griswold, who had graduated from Proviso Township High School with Ben, wasted away to a skeleton and died. Ben was unaware of Sgt. Jack Griswold’s death.
One day, he was assigned to the burial detail working with 2nd Lt. Henry M. Knox of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The two soldiers went to the designated area to pick up a body of a POW who had died. To share the work, one man would pull the cart while the other man pushed. The two men lifted a body onto the burial cart. After the body was on the cart, Ben looked down and recognized the dead POW as Sgt. Jack Griswold, his high school classmate from Proviso. Morin and Knox collected the necessary wood and took Sgt. Griswold’s remains to a crematorium. They then returned his ashes to the camp commandant.
The POWs, regardless of rank, were required to work at removing the side of a mountain for a Japanese Navy dry dock in violation of the Geneva Convention. The POWs were subjected to daily beatings during morning and evening muster. At many of them, they were forced to stand at attention from 2 to 6 hours sometimes resulting in them not receiving their next meal. Shoes, rifle butts, belts, sticks, shovels, clubs, fists, and even furniture were used in the beatings.
No real reason was needed for the beatings, but a violation of some camp rule usually was the given reason. If a workgroup of POWs did not remove their quota a material from the worksite, they received a beating. Usually, the reason they failed to meet the quota was they were too hungry and weak to do the work. While being beaten, the POWs were forced to hold a heavy log or rock above their heads. On one occasion 30 officers were made to stand at attention so that the Japanese found out who had misplaced a Japanese book
In mid-January 1943, Wickord was one of 150 officers who left Tanagawa and sent by rail to the Island of Shikoku to a camp at Zentsuji and arrived on January 15, 1943, which was to be his home for the next two and one-half years. The camp was used in Japanese propaganda to show how well the POWs were being treated. In all, there were 700 officers and enlisted men in the camp, and he met American officers who were not captured in the Philippines, as well as, British and Australian officers
In mid-January 1943, Ben was one of 150 officers who left Tanagawa and sent by rail to the Island of Shikoku to a camp at Zentsuji and arrived on January 15, 1943, which was to be his home for the next two and one-half years. The camp was used in Japanese propaganda to show how well the POWs were being treated. In all, there were 700 officers and enlisted men in the camp, and he met American officers who were not captured in the Philippines, as well as, British and Australian officers.
It was in January 1943, that his parents received word from the War Department that Ben was a Prisoner of War.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON SECOND LIEUTENANT BENJAMIN R MORIN 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=”
Not long after this, they received a letter from the War Department that stated:
1301 South 9th 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:
“2nd Lt. BenR. Morin, 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 camp, two guards were known for their mistreatment of the POWs. One was called “Leatherwrist” and the other was known as “Clubfist,” because both men had right hands that been injured. The two hit POWs, but since their right hands were of little use, they usually knocked them to the ground and kicked them with hobnail boots. In addition, POWs were often beaten for no apparent reason with kendo sticks, bayonets, and rifle butts.
The POWs worked as stevedores at rail yards and a port. When the areas around a train station and the train yards were bombed, the Japanese locked the POWs in the baggage and boxcars and took shelter in air raid shelters.
At this time, Capt. Ruben Schwass was in the infirmary because he too was on the verge of death. Ben would visit Capt. Schwass and remove his lice covered shorts to clean them since Schwass was suffering from dysentery. Ben would wash the undershorts and allow the cold water and temperature to shock the lice which made them easy to remove. Ben would hang the shorts on the barbed wire fence surrounding the camp. The next day Capt. Schwass would have “clean” shorts to wear. Without adequate food, Capt. Ruben Schwass died from the disease. When Ben was asked why he had done this for Schwass, he said, “Everyone should die with dignity.”
On June 11, 1945, Ben was caught by the Japanese crawling under the wire outside the compound. According to him, he was on his way to the bakery to steal hardtack. He was taken to the camp office and beaten around the face with a web belt for 10 minutes. When the beating was over, his face was badly swollen and cut. The Japanese refused to allow him to have medical treatment and took him to the guardhouse. There, he had to strip down to his shorts and spent 9 days on half rations.
Ben was one of the officers selected to another camp. The POWs were boarded into boxcars and baggage cars. By this point in the war, American planes roamed the skies over Japan at will. During the trip, on several occasions, the Japanese uncoupled the engine from the cars and left the cars sitting on the rails as a target, when they believed the train was going to be strafed. The POWs made it safely to their new camp.
The final camp Ben was held at was Rokuroshi which opened on June 25, 1945. During his time in the camps, Ben was repeatedly beaten by the Japanese because he challenged their treatment of the POWs. He would repeatedly tell them that their actions were in violation of the Geneva Convention. The POWs were liberated from the camp on September 7, 1945, and the next day rode a train to Yokohama. There, the former POWs were greeted by an American band playing the song, “California, Here I Come.” Many of the POWs became overwhelmed by their emotions. They were taken down to the docks where a meal of hotcakes, jam, butter, and coffee was waiting for them. The men were returned to the Philippine Islands.
He returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Rescue, at San Francisco, on October 10, 1945. When he returned to Maywood, he found that his parents had purchased a new home, and he didn’t know where they lived. He was discharged on June 30, 1946, but was awarded the Legion of Merit in October 1946. The citation read:
“He performed heroic service on December 22, 1941, north of Damortis, Luzon, Philippine Islands. Aggressively led his unit to meet an approaching enemy force, and in the vicinity of Agoo engaged in the first American tank vs. tank engagement of WWII.”
Ben joined the Society of Jesus which is better known as “The Jesuits” on September 1, 1946, and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. He worked as a missionary in Peru for 38 years before retiring to the Jesuit retirement home in Clarkston, Michigan, where he resided until his death on April 23, 2015.
Ben Morin was the last surviving officer of the 192nd Tank Battalion and was buried in the cemetery at Columbiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan, on April 28, 2015.
On a final note, Ben Morin’s brother, Arthur, served in the 15th Air Force with Harry Martin the brother of Bob Martin. Bob Martin was a high school classmate of Ben’s and also a member of the 192nd Tank Battalion.